Here is the list of books I read in 2019. I had started this list of descriptions and had almost completed it by Jan. 1 when I had originally planned to post it. But then I just couldn’t—sometimes when you’re grieving, everything else seems meaningless. It felt inauthentic to post something that didn’t relate to David and my experience of grieving for him during this time.
Even as I was writing the descriptions in this list, it became emotional for me because I see them as two different groups: 1) the books I read before David died, and 2) the books I read after David died. There are a few books on this list that I was in the middle of reading during the days right before his death, and it was a long time before I could pick them up again because they remind me that I had no idea that I was about to lose my brother. In one of them I even found a prayer that I had written for his surgery days before he went into the hospital, and it’s still just really hard.
But this week I decided that I did want to go ahead and post this because each of these books have been a gift of encouragement and/or enlightenment to me. I want to remember that God gave me these books in this season, and I want to share them with others so they can decide if they want to read them too.
Earlier this year I decided to subscribe to the Audible app, which means that I can choose one new audio book to download each month. For me, this has been a great fit because I drive so much, and I like to listen to books in the car. I have found that I don’t like listening to research type of books because they lose my attention if I’m not looking at the words. But I especially love listening to memoirs that are narrated by the author (instead of another person) because when I hear the author’s voice reading the words, it seems more heartfelt. I have marked which books I listened to on Audible.
1. Faith, Hope, & Connection: A 30-Day Devotional for Adoptive & Foster Parents by Melissa Corkum & Lisa Qualls
I loved this little book. Each day’s devotional is written by a different adoptive or foster parent. They share verses that have meant a lot to them in their adoptive/fostering journey. It was really encouraging to me, so I ordered it to give to a few friends who are adoptive & foster parents.
2. Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel by Drew Hill
I want to buy this for all my friends who are teachers in middle schools and high schools. Technically, it’s written for parents and youth pastors of teenagers. This was good for me to read when I felt frustrated as a parent! I liked the prayers at the end of each chapter.
3. Remember God by Annie Downs (AUDIO)
I’ve followed this author for several years, and it was good to hear the life lessons she shares in this book. It’s a memoir, but it held my attention like a novel. Among a lot of other things like work and losses, Annie discusses singleness in her late thirties.
4. Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry (AUDIO)
This author fascinates me. I think I listened to this all in one weekend because I kept wanting to hear more. This is her personal story of coming to know Jesus and trusting Him with every aspect of her life. I encourage everyone to hear her story. And if you’re on Instagram, you should follow her because her videos of her husband and daughters are hilarious.
5. Psalms of Ascents by Beth Moore
I love the book of Psalms, and this Bible study focuses on Psalms 120-135. Beth Moore describes how the Israelites would sing these psalms together as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem each year. I loved the history and studying the meaning of each psalm.
6. Where the River Ends by Charles Martin
I want to read more by this author. This book is fiction, and he has published a lot of fictional books. This was not suspenseful, but it was very good.
7. Job: A Story of Unlikely Joy by Lisa Harper
This is an easy read for a bible study on the book of Job. It meant a lot to me as I studied it in my time of grief this summer.
8. The Book of Comforts by Faires, Faires, Wenet, and Wilder
My friend gave me this book after my brother’s death. It is a beautiful devotional book. I sat on my porch a lot this summer, reading the short stories. It’s not specifically for grieving deaths—although there are stories of people grieving—but it’s also about finding comfort in God through the various hard disappointments and losses in life. It’s a great gift for someone who is going through a difficult season.
9. Psalm 23: The Shepherd with Me by Jennifer Rothschild
I’m so thankful for this book. After my brother died, I felt God drawing me in to learn more deeply about Him in Psalm 23. God was stirring this in my heart, and I watched a video study on RightNow Media on Psalm 23 by Matt Chandler. Then I heard about Jennifer Rothschild’s book on Psalm 23 and decided to order it. I loved it. I worked through the lessons slowly because I didn’t want it to end.
10. The Complicated Heart: Loving Even When It Hurts by Sarah Mae (AUDIO)
This is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching, but redemptive and hopeful story of Sarah Mae’s relationship with her alcoholic mother. She describes her experiences as a teenager living with her mother and how her mother’s alcoholism hindered her mother’s ability to parent and nurture her. Sarah explores how living with the pain of her “mother wound” affected her in her adulthood and how she sought healing from it. At the end of each chapter, Sarah includes portions of her mother’s journals to show a window into her mother’s pain and perspective. Sarah’s mother passed away in 2016, and she shares how God helped bring restoration to their relationship in their last years together.
This book contains some of the tragic realities of their life. Sarah Mae does a good job of handling these parts of the story sensitively.
11. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (AUDIO)
I was hooked on this book. It’s the true story of a young attorney who decides to represent prisoners on death row who have been convicted unjustly. There is a movie coming out on this book, and there is no way the movie will be as good as the book. This would be a perfect book for a book club because it made me want to talk to everyone about the stories in this book!
12. The Bible Experience: A Dramatic Audio Bible Performed by 400 of Today’s Biggest Stars (AUDIO)
I know there are a lot of great ways to listen to the Bible, and this might not be the easiest way because the individual books are not clearly marked. But I do enjoy this version!
13. Start with Amen: How I Learned to Surrender by Keeping the End in Mind by Beth Guckenberger
I heard Beth speak at a conference I went to in March. She and her husband founded Back to Back Ministries, which ministers to orphans in several countries. Between biological, foster, and adopted children, they have raised 10 kids. I loved listening to her and was eager to begin reading her books. I really enjoyed this book, which shared her journey of faith in parenting and ministry in Mexico. I have to say that I almost love hearing her speak even better and would recommend listening to a few of her messages on youtube:
14. Grief Share: Your Journey from Mourning to Joy
My family and I have together gone through the workbook and video series of Grief Share. It as been a helpful tool in giving us understanding of the complex emotions we feel in losing David. It was important for us to talk about these things together, and I'm so glad we have had this resource.
15. Something Needs to Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need by David Platt (AUDIO)
In this book, David Platt tells about his trip to villages in the Himalayan Mountains. I have never studied this region or heard firsthand accounts of conditions from this area, so I was really intrigued to hear the details of his trip. He was very moved and overwhelmed by all the urgent physical and spiritual needs. He is honest with the despair he felt in witnessing this, but he also shares how he plans to respond.
Dave’s birthday is today. I can’t help but feel a little ticked at Dave—like hey, man, how are you having your birthday party in heaven and celebrating without us?
But I’m glad he’s in God’s presence, feeling the fullness of peace, joy, and love like never before. Maybe he’s a good dancer in heaven. Maybe he’s dancing with our little niece Rhea or telling jokes to our Grandpa Nolen, Uncle Stanley, cousin Timmy, and Pop (our great-grandpa who lived with us for 7 years), making them belly laugh the way he would make Dad laugh. I bet their laughs sound similar to Dad’s laugh—that Kentuckian Nolen laugh! Grandpa Nolen passed away a few months after Dave was born, so maybe this is a really special birthday that they finally get to celebrate together.
So I guess I’m jealous that I don’t get to be there with them today. Jealous that I’m still here trying to figure out life with its various burdens. But I’m reminded again that God’s gift of life to us is so precious. Every single one of our lives is important. My family has been so blessed by the gift of Dave’s life—that the gift of a son and little brother came into the Nolen home back in 1991.
At Dave & Stephanie’s wedding shower, my sisters and I gushed as we all told the story of the day David was born. I want to gush again today and share it with you all.
The story actually starts before Mom even knew that she was pregnant with Dave. She hadn’t had any symptoms of pregnancy yet, but she felt that God told her she was pregnant with a little boy. Mom had already had 4 daughters, so this would be a surprise for the whole family. A few years ago at a Thanksgiving dinner, Dave found out that Mom and Dad hadn’t planned to get pregnant with him. He was shocked at this news, and he looked at Mom like he felt so betrayed. Mom laughed and said, “I wanted you all the same!”
Back to the day of David’s birth… It was a Sunday morning, January 6, 1991. My dad was getting ready to go preach at church. Mom knew that her labor was progressing, so she told Dad that he needed to take her to the hospital instead of going to church. When they got to the hospital, the staff asked Mom what number of pregnancies this was for her. Her contractions were so intense that she couldn’t speak, so she lifted up her hand to show 5 fingers, indicating that this was her fifth pregnancy. The nurses jumped into action when they realized that this meant she would likely have a quick delivery. They put Mom in a wheelchair and got her to a room.
Soon Mom gave birth to David, and my parents gave him the name David Gerald Nolen. My parents had always known since their early years of marriage that “David” would be the name they would give a son. In the Bible, King David had a heart after God’s own heart. My parents wanted to name their son after King David’s example of worship and prayer. For those of you who knew our Dave during his twenties, you know that he certainly developed a heart of worship and prayer to connect with God!
“Gerald” is my dad’s middle name. My grandma was excited for this new grandson to have her son Hubert’s middle name, and my parents agreed. So Dad and Dave share this middle name, which is fitting because Dad and Dave have always had a close relationship.
My parents had not discovered the gender of this baby before he was born. Mom knew in her heart that he was a boy because God had told her, but this was an exciting surprise to everyone else. Our church family was still in the service at church that Sunday morning when Dave was born, so when they got the news, someone got a sign that said, “It’s a boy!” and ran up and down the aisles in the sanctuary with the sign as everyone clapped.
My parents love all their children and wouldn’t want us to ever say that they loved Dave more, so I won’t imply that. But I will say that Dave made Mom and Dad laugh more than any of their other children. Because he was their fifth child, they were more seasoned and relaxed as parents and just really enjoyed the funny things he did. We often joked even as Dave was a teenager that he was our parents’ “baby boy.” Sometimes we used it as his nickname:
“Mom made Mac n cheese for ‘Baby Boy.’”
“Dad’s making ‘Baby Boy’ mow the yard.”
We were explaining this to Dave’s wife Stephanie, and she said, “Yes, I remember one time that we were talking about asking your mom to help us with something. Dave said, ‘Of course, she’ll help us. I’m her ‘baby boy.’”
Throughout David’s life, Mom believed that the fact that Dave was born on a Sunday morning during church service was a wink from God that Dave would go into ministry like his father. But as Dave was beginning college, he did not want to pursue working in ministry. My parents never pressured him to do so. Dave was interested in working in business. I always said that Dave would be a good salesman. He had worked as a cashier at a grocery store during high school, and he had fun being charming to all his elderly women customers. Those older ladies sure did love him!
But when Dave was about 21 years old, he experienced some disappointments in life, and he began praying to God for new direction. One night he was at home praying, and he believed that God spoke to him. He told us that God had said to him, “David, your dad has had the goal to plant 200 churches. Why have you not wanted to have anything to do with that?” Dave said he had wondered before if he should go into ministry, but wasn’t sure if that was that was simply the haunting of being a pastor’s son. But on this night, he knew for sure that he should go into ministry. He walked to my parents’ bedroom and said, “Dad, God just told me to help you in ministry!” This brought so much joy to my parents’ hearts.
I’m reminded that even before Dave began working with Dad to cofound the Hope Center, he served in ministry in different ways. He led a bible study for middle schoolers on Wednesday evenings at our church, and then he began leading a small group of middle school boys at youth group on Sunday evenings. He started helping at the Yeshua Society, which was a ministry that served people living in impoverished conditions in Indianapolis. Dave also coached JV basketball at our high school one year, which showed his heart to want to be a good influence for young boys. Dave also went on two mission trips with Dad—one to Brazil, and one to India. There he was able to travel with Dad as they preached and prayed with people. As I think about each of these ways that Dave committed to serve and influence others for Christ, I think about how God sees when we are faithful to follow through with an assignment, whether it is a few weeks or a few years. Each of those areas of service were important to God because Dave was being faithful to share the love of Christ at those times and in those places.
Then in 2016, when my dad stepped aside from his position of senior pastor at Brookville Road Community Church, my brother joined him in seeking God for His vision for the Hope Center. David wrote a blog post about his first day of going to the campus that they would soon create to be the Hope Center. I encourage you to read it. He entitled it “Day 1. Overwhelmed & Excited.” David also shared his perspective of getting started at the Hope Center in a video interview that you can watch.
Today in the midst of feeling sad and missing Dave, we try to look up and thank God for the gift of eternal life that he gave David.
Happy Birthday, Big Dave! I love you so much!
Mary works at Brookville Road Community Church, where she leads children's ministry and women's ministry. She is the author of She Won't Shrink Back: A Story of Building & Believing.