Life unfolds in its own pattern, different for each of us and yet remarkably the same. We are born, we grow, we love, we grieve, we grow older and eventually we come to the end of it all. It is a well-worn path. What is the purpose of this journey? What are we to make of the path and the others on it? Five new books offer different perspectives, and all are worthy guides.

God works in mysterious ways
A Field Guide to God: A Seeker’s Manual, by Patty Kirk, begins by recounting a period in life when the author ceased to believe in God. Rather than a willful decision, it came to her as a gradual slipping away of her childhood faith—the simple confidence she once had that God was present slowly faded into an overwhelming sense of absence. As a young woman, she concluded that her former faith had been a fantasy, and fell into atheism. But something would not let her go. A longing, a yearning that she could not explain, drew her to seek again for God, until years later—grown, married and pursuing life as a writer and teacher—she discovered God again. This journey, and the subsequent growth in her Christian faith, is woven throughout the book, offering a masterful and beautiful examination of what faith is, who God is and what a life with God can be. Her words are powerful and thoughtful, gentle yet full of conviction, an offering of hope to anyone wondering, “Where has God gone, and why is He absent?” Through her own experiences wrestling with these questions, Patty Kirk creates a guidebook for faith that can be treasured by both the seeker and the lifelong believer.

A journey of faith is also behind Regina Brett’s God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours. The book began as list of 50 short “life lessons” for Brett’s column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, written in celebration of turning 50. Each pithy statement related to areas of her own life, from her years as a single mother, to discovering love at 40, to surviving breast cancer at 41. The list went viral, traveling across the world in emails and on websites, with readers everywhere responding to her simple message. Now Brett has expanded upon each of these lessons, drawing stories from her life, her other columns and most of all, her faith, to explain the power and truth behind her list. The result is both wise and moving, and a remarkable testimony to the power and love of God.

Finding your own path
What if the journey of faith actually came with a map? That is the unique premise behind David Murrow’s The Map: The Way of All Great Men. The book begins like a suspense novel, with Murrow himself in pursuit of an ancient map, supposedly given by Jesus to his disciple Matthew, which now lies hidden within a remote Greek monastery. It’s an ingenious approach, creating both an appealing read and an excellent allegorical illustration for what Murrow unveils as the real map—a visual guide for men seeking to follow Christ’s example. Murrow gleans “The Map” from the book of Matthew, which presents thematically similar events from Christ’s life together, rather than in chronological order. Viewed in this thematic arrangement, Murrow posits, Matthew’s account reveals a life pattern for Christian men—“The Map” of the title. (Murrow hints that another book will cover a similar map for women.) Depicted as a zigzagging path up a mountain, Murrow’s map follows Christ through periods of submission, strength and sacrifice, a pattern that Murrow points to in other great lives of faith. The Map offers a compelling call to the modern church to re-examine what it means to be both a man and a disciple of Christ. The result is an invigorating spiritual tonic for men who wonder, “What’s next?” in their Christian journey. For many, this will be a map worth following.

God, love and marriage
Men and women journeying together will find an equally compelling guide in Love & War: Finding the Marriage You’ve Dreamed Of by John and Stasi Eldredge. Married for 25 years, the Eldredges return to the idea of life as a story, a theme John has explored in best-selling books such as Wild at Heart and Captivating (also written with Stasi). In this book, the story is marriage, and the tale is one of adventure, danger and, of course, love. Sharing the struggles that have tested their own marriage, John and Stasi tear aside the happily-ever- after images of newlyweds to reveal the difficult, treacherous waters that every marriage must face— “like taking Cinderella and Huck Finn, tossing them in a submarine, and closing the hatch.” But while any such journey will be tempestuous, it also has the power to be something beautiful, a blessing not just to husband and wife, but to all they encounter. Love & War offers advice for recognizing the brokenness each person brings to a marriage and acknowledging that healing comes from God, not each other. In their ups and downs, mistakes and triumphs, the Eldredges demonstrate how they learned to help each other through that healing, and how they’ve worked with God to create a marriage of strength, purpose, passion and joy. The wisdom they share is both soul-stirring and practical, and will be appreciated by any couple seeking to build a life together, whether they’re just starting out or have been in that marriage submarine for quite a while.

Living the Christian message
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Father Gregory Boyle, tells the stories of many faith journeys, some inspiring, some tragic, but all immeasurably powerful. Part memoir, part message, Tattoos on the Heart is the story of Homeboy Industries, Father Boyle’s lifelong mission in the barrios of Los Angeles—gangland central—to stand against gang violence and to help young men and women find hope in a hopeless world. Written with humor, understanding and unmatchable heart, Father Boyle’s tale is a challenge to the reader to cast aside assumptions and see past the coarse exterior of the barrios into the hearts of the children he works with every day—and buries all too often. For Father Boyle, the solution to gang violence is the same solution that heals hurting hearts everywhere— the love of God.

As you laugh and cry along with the children of the barrios, you will learn truths about God, forgiveness, redemption and love—and just maybe about yourself as well. Read it, and journey to a place your heart will not return from unchanged.

Howard Shirley is a Christian writer in Franklin, Tennessee.

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