On My Shelf: Life and Books with Glenna Marshall – Ivan Mesa

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.

I asked Glenna Marshall—author of Everyday Faithfulness: The Beauty of Ordinary Perseverance in a Demanding World (Crossway/TGC, 2020) and blogger at glennamarshall.com—about what’s on her nightstand, favorite fiction books, influential biographies, and more.

What’s on your nightstand right now?

I never read just one book at a time, so I’m currently in the middle of three. I’m reading The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. This book recounts the true stories of the young women who painted watch faces with radium-based paint during and just after World War I. The results were disastrous, though the women weren’t told radium was a dangerous substance. I’m also reading Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Calahan, which is a fictionalized account of the relationship between Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis, and Humble Calvinism by Jeff Medders, which is a well-deserved heart check.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I’ve read two contemporary novels recently that I loved and will likely re-read. The first was A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman, a beautiful story of what happens when profound loneliness is interrupted by annoying and loving neighbors. I also read This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger earlier this year, and I so enjoyed that reading experience. The story takes place in a Minnesota town at an orphanage/school for Native American children taken from their reservations during the Great Depression. Two newly orphaned brothers are constantly at odds with the abusive superintendent and manage to escape with two other children. They set out on a canoe to ride the Gilead River toward freedom. Think Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn meets Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River, but with a bit of a darker edge. It’s beautifully written. 

What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

I read John G. Paton’s autobiography for the first time about 12 years ago after hearing John Piper’s biographical sketch. When Paton announced he planned to take the gospel to the New Hebrides, he was told he’d be eaten by cannibals as the last two missionaries who traveled there had been. Paton went anyway. Though he faced monumental losses and grave danger at every turn, he trusted the Lord with his call to bring Jesus to the people there. The suffering and persecution Paton experienced are difficult to grasp, but the way the Lord was with him is profoundly encouraging. An entire island came to faith in Christ as a result of his ministry. 

I also must include Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot. Many know the story surrounding Jim Elliot’s death in 1956 as a missionary in Ecuador, but this collection of letters and journals prior to his death are compelling and convicting. He was frank about his desire to be singularly focused on Christ when the pull of the world was strong. I always come away from his writings wanting to love Christ more deeply. Is anything more important than that?

What are some books you regularly re-read and why?

I picked up a copy of A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin at a TGC conference a few years ago, and I re-read it every year. It’s a concise, accessible manual on following Jesus in worth, thought, and deed. The section on suffering is full of highlighter ink in my copy. This would be a good book to give to a new believer. 

I also frequently re-read Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss. I received this book as a gift from the dean of students at the university where I graduated from college and later worked. Written in journal entries, the story follows a young woman named Katherine through her teenage and adult years as she learns what it means to follow Christ in New England in the late 1800s. The writing is quaint but poignant and, though the book is old, the applications are timeless. I loved it so much that after the fourth or fifth time through, I ordered a copy of the author’s biography and was gratified to see that some of the novel is autobiographical. Prentiss is also known for writing the hymn, “More Love to Thee.” 

What books have most shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?

A few years ago—at the end of a difficult ministry season—my church read and discussed Jared C. Wilson’s The Imperfect Disciple. We experienced healing during that book study, especially when discussing the chapter on how much we need one another within the body of Christ. Being more aware of my need for forgiveness and grace from my brothers and sisters helps me to extend both more readily. The picture of church community that Wilson paints is one we were hungry for—and by the Lord’s grace, we’re enjoying it today.  

Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick was a formative book during my 20s. I misunderstood sanctification for a long time, thinking I had to take the lead in becoming like Jesus once he saved me. I didn’t understand that we obey, not to be loved by God but because we already are. Elyse helped me to see that truth more clearly. 

What’s one book you wish every woman read?

Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Everyone has unfulfilled desires, and many of us idolize the things we can’t have. I chased the dream of motherhood for many years without success; this book landed in my lap exactly when I needed it. No matter where a woman is in life, she’ll not find satisfaction until she treasures Christ most. The things we desire in life can be found and lost in a moment, but we’ll never lose Christ or his love (see Rom. 8:31–39).

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

I’ve been studying the Matthew’s Gospel for an entire year, and I’ve been richly encouraged and convicted by the theme of lordship. If we belong to Jesus—really belong to him—then he has absolute authority over our lives. He has the first and final say over how we live. That includes how we spend our time, money, and dreams. Belonging to him means a whole lot more than mental assent or showing up at church now and then. When you follow Jesus, everything in your life is his. Belonging to him means demolishing our little kingdoms and embracing his instead. But the mystery is that we find lasting joy and peace in taking up our cross to follow him. Losing your life means gaining it. True satisfaction is found in serving him rather than being served. It’s an immeasurable gift to belong to such a Savior.

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