Growing into Love — A Book Review

I have this friend. I met her in Texas, of all places. She’s sorta tall, sorta not tall, very willowy and has a lovely, large smile. She is also one of the funniest people I know. And the smartest. She admits to being very type “A,” and I’ll give her that. I get it, really I do. She wants to do All the Things, and to do them over-the-top-to-perfection-and-beyond. Her name is Michelle DeRusha.

Michelle has been on a wonderful journey over the 6-7 years we’ve been acquainted, not all of it easy. She owned her ambition and admitted it might be a bit Too Much. And she earnestly sought to find her way to a place of contentment with less ‘success’ than she had dreamed about. All through that journey, she wrote about it on her blog. She wrote about it exceptionally well.

Michelle writes exceptionally well, period. I did tell you that, right? Well, she does. Boy, does she. She wrote a memoir called, “Spiritual Misfit: a Memoir of Uneasy Faith,” that I absolutely adored — in fact, it is my very favorite of the many, MANY such books I have read over these years. Read and reviewed, for some very talented writers. It didn’t sell all that well and that made me very sad.

It broke her heart.

Then she got a strange ‘assignment’ through her talented and faithful agent — a book about Christian women in history, 50 of them, to be exact. Very different kind of writing from that memoir. Very different. But you know what? She hit it outta the park — right outta that park, she hit it. 

Then she got another assignment, sorta like that second one. Now this isn’t the style of writing she hoped she’d be doing. It isn’t her favorite, not by a long shot. And this topic? It pretty much scared the pants off her.

Why? Because one of the two main characters is among the most widely researched and written about in all of Christendom. But the other person? Not so much. And it was that part that hooked her. She’d already done a bit of research about that second person — Katharina Luther – for her 2nd book and she was smitten, very much smitten, by her strong personality and sense of self . . . in the early to mid 16th century, no  less!

So with fear and trembling and more than a few tears, she took on this latest assignment: to write about the marriage of Martin and Katharina Luther. She dug in, did her homework (and then some) and today, TODAY, her book launches out into the world.

Friends, you need to read this book. You need to buy it, in multiples, and give it to your friends and family, especially any daughters/sisters/granddaughters/mothers you may be privileged to know. Michelle did an outstanding job,  weaving in pieces of history, reflecting on things like family dynamics, faith, the impact and import of the Protestant Reformation, wealth and poverty in the 16th century, cloistered life, married life, childbirth, the plague, loss, grief, and the power of personal fortitude in the face of opposition and false accusation. 

Perhaps my favorite thing about this story and the way Michelle has chosen to tell it is this: Martin and Katharina did not love one another when they married — they chose one another out of obedience to God (Martin) and expediency due to societal pressure (Katharina). But over time, especially through the lovely letters that we still have from Martin to Kate, it is clear that they came to care for one another, deep and true. They built a real partnership, a remarkable thing to do, given Luther’s stated ideas about hierarchy and the realities of the time. Growing into love is a delightful thing to see, even 5 centuries in retrospect.

You can find the book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your favorite neighborhood bookstore. Don’t miss this opportunity to re-affirm your faith and to learn something new about people you’ve heard about all your life. An added bonus for me was the wellspring of gratitude that spilled over in my spirit simply because I live in the time and place that I do. 

Given our current climate of rancor, fear, discord and disappointment, that gratitude is no small thing, friends. It is good to remember that some pretty remarkable forward movement has happened over the last 500 years (yup, this is the 500th Anniversary of those famous 95 Theses of Martin’s). Yes, we still have a long ways to go, a long ways. But think about these things for a minute:  women’s rights, the speed of communication, ease of travel, majorly upgraded standards of health care — all of these are exponentially better now than they were then. It was good for me to be reminded of the progress we have made as a culture during this difficult season of serious back-sliding. Very good.

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I received an advanced reader’s PDF of this book in exchange for writing a review. Something I am OVERJOYED to be able to do.

In Praise of Small Books — A Review and a Recommendation

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Kelly Chripczuk is one of the best writers on the internet. Period. She is thoughtful, lyrical, honest, funny, kind and tender. She and her husband and their four children moved to a ‘dream home’ in the last couple of years, an oldie-but-goodie that needs work and love. And in the process of making this place their own, Kelly bought some chickens. Yup. The real, live things that peck the ground, produce endless amounts of poop and, if you’re really blessed, lay beautiful, edible, sellable eggs.

Now, having chickens in my backyard has never been a dream of mine — I have to be honest, here. My grandmother had them behind her Los Angeles bungalow and they scared me! They pecked everything in sight, including me, and sort of took over the entire backyard. So, I have not ever even considered the blessings that caring for such critters might bring. 

Until now.

Don’t get me wrong — I will not be purchasing  feathered friends anytime soon. But . . . for the first time, ever, the idea is appealing to me. In the process of writing something in a much longer format (which I sincerely hope she will work on, edit, polish and produce-for-purchase), Kelly began to write down her reflections on life and family and chicken-raising — and the result is pure joy.

Only about 75 pages long, this little book is well worth the reasonable purchase price of $7.99 for a paperback and $1.99 for a Kindle version. You can find it here, at Amazon. It is a lovely piece of writing, laced with anecdote, reflection, and humor. As her youngest children (twin boys) get ready to begin kindergarten, Kelly opts to add to her chicken family, purchasing chicks from an ad on Craig’s list, of all things.

What she discovers during her weeks of intentional written reflection is rich:

“After ten years of almost full-time mothering, my babies were leaving the nest. I wondered what I would do and, more importantly, who I would be in the face of  so much open time and space. I felt the urge to pursue a life of writing and spiritual direction rooted in my life at home, but I was afraid to pursue it. I was afraid to fail, and more deeply, I was afraid of losing a new sense of self that had emerged after years of wrestling with my roles as a writer, a mother and a minister of the gospel.

“I wanted chickens, but on some semi-conscious level what I really wanted was something to wed me more deeply to the life I already have. I wanted something to tie me to this place and to help me grow deep roots in the person I’ve become.” (pg.6)

So, right there, you know why I love this writer — and this book. She is a seeker. She is a pastor. She is a mother. She is a spiritual director. She is a writer. So am I — all of the above. Although I am much further along the road of life than she is, and though we have never met in person, we are soul sisters. Like the fine preacher she is, Kelly draws wonderful analogies and truths about God while caring for her home, her children, her chickens. “A chicken’s love for her chicks is fierce; a mother’s love for her children is fierce; and God’s love for us is fierce, too.” (pg. 26)

She ends this little book with an announcement: they’re buying more chickens! And she is pretty sure that adding to the group will be, “a mess, but that’s what happens when you step out into life. Things get complicated, quickly, chaos blooms and yet, somehow, hidden somewhere right in the middle of the dirt and the poop and the brokenness are all the little treasures we covet most, like beauty, joy and love.” (pg. 76)

Treat yourself to this sweet collection of wisdom and wonder. You won’t be sorry.

 

I received an advance reader’s copy of this book. In return, I have posted an honest review.

This Broken Life

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It began with a glorious sunrise, pinks and purples spreading across the landscape, a low layer of fog sitting right over the city below us. We moved to this home, this new-to-us-home, because as we gazed out at the future, we began to see . . . brokenness, the brokenness that comes to each of us as we age, as we wend our way through space and time. The great gift that landed in our laps when we chose to step into rather than avoid that inevitable kind of broken is this: this view of mountain and sea, of city and sidewalk, of sky, sky, sky.

A few hours later, the glory of early morning gave way to a sweet, crisp clarity at midday. I slipped behind the steering wheel and drove down the hill to my mama’s ‘home,’ that room-with-a-bath in the dementia unit, the only home she has had for the past four years. “I’ll take her down to the beach today,” I said aloud, to the closed chamber of my Honda CR-V, maybe saying it to God, as well. “She’ll love that.” 

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Mama and I have been living in the middle of a whole lot of broken for a long time now, the kind of broken that cannot be mended, this side of heaven. Our twice-weekly lunches out make her smile and because she cannot remember anything further back than the last two minutes, each trip is brand new to her, and therefore, quite wonderful. 

The conversational themes for this particular outing are a trio of repeated questions: “How did you come to find me and take me out today?” “How long has this place been here?” “Do you live near here somewhere?”

I pray for patience as I answer each query, over and over and over again. “I found you because I know you, because you are my mother and I love you.” “This town has been built over the last 250 years of so, Mama.” “Yes, Mom, I do live near here. Just a little ways up that hill.”

She is surprised, as she always is, that I am her daughter, that I have always known her. On this day, she does not turn to me with that anguished look and ask, “What is wrong with me, that I don’t know that??” This day, I don’t have to carefully tell her that her memory is broken and cannot be fixed. This day, I don’t have to see the sweet relief flash quickly over her face when she takes in the truth that something really is broken, broken beyond repair.

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There is a table available, right on the concrete that abuts the sand at Leadbetter Beach; I carefully steer her walker towards it, pulling out the plastic chair, being careful to seat her exactly right and then pushing her safely beneath the table. She spreads her hands out in front of her, crying out: “Oh, lovely, lovely! The sun is so warm! I am so happy to be here. Thank you so much for bringing me!”

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And just like that, the broken fades away for a moment and I can drink in her delight. Ann Voskamp, in her beautiful new book, “The Broken Way: a daring path into the abundant life,” talks about, “losing the day in love,” and finding a way to “break brokenness” by letting it fully come. 

Slowly, slowly, I am learning to let the brokenness of aging come. I see it in my mother, I see it in my husband, I see it in myself. And I am asking the kinds of questions that Ann asks: 

“Why are we afraid of broken things? . . . Why are we afraid of suffering? What if the abundance of communion is only found there in the brokenness of suffering — because suffering is where God lives? . . .What if I made a habit of every day pressing my wounds into the wounds of Christ — could my brokenness be made into a healing abundance for the brokenness of the world?” – pg. 34

I do not want to be afraid of aging, I do not want to be afraid of dying, I do not want to be afraid of the brokenness that is part and parcel of who we are as human creatures. I want to learn more about embracing the broken bits, about discerning the differences that Ann references between ‘good’ broken and ‘bad’ broken; I want to live into my identity as the Beloved for as long as I breathe. And then I want to celebrate the goodness of God in that place where every bit of our brokenness will be redeemed, transformed, burnished to a high gleam and offered as a gift of gratitude to our Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer — Father, Son, Spirit.

Mom and I enjoyed our lunch, even though, as soon as she withdrew her hands from the warm sunlight in the center of the table, she became vividly aware that the breeze was cool. At least three times she asked me if the visor I was wearing was helping me to stay warm by blocking that breeze. Three times, I tried to explain that a sun visor only works against the sun, not the wind. Finally, I took the visor off of my head and put it onto her lovely one. And she relaxed, convinced that now she would be warm enough.

On the way back to her unit, she began to sing, “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” Most of the time, I join with her as she sings in the car. But this time, I listened. And I thanked God that broken as she is, my mother knows who she is. She no longer knows her own name, nor any of the details of her story. But she knows who she is — she is a friend of Jesus.

And there is nothing broken about that. Not one thing.

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I received an Advanced copy of Ann Voskamp’s book in exchange for writing about it and featuring it on social media. It is my joy and privilege to invite you to read this book for yourself, to take your time with it, to read with a pen in hand and with fingers ready to turn down a page here and there. This one is a keeper.

Some Fine Books on Marriage — a Book(s) Review

Three of them, to be exact — each one unique, each one valuable for different reasons. One is a daily devotional guide that provides thoughtful and humorous reflections on the realities of married life, one is a memoir about a difficult marriage, one that ultimately did not hold together, and one is a lovely apology for marriage and fidelity in an age when neither is of high value to the larger culture.

First up, “Love at First Fight,” by Dena and Carey Dyer. A disclaimer here — Dena is a dearly loved friend of mine and member of an ongoing Facebook small group that has prayed faithfully for one another for over four years, so I am a tad prejudiced. She and her husband are both talented singers, entertainers and writers and their book displays that talent beautifully (except for the singing – though a search of YouTube yields golden examples of that, as well!). Designed to be read by couples, this is a thoughtful and well-written daily guide to the ins and outs of living side-by-side with another human person, one to whom you’ve spoken words of commitment in a public setting and who then proceeds to drive you absolutely crazy on a regular basis. Humor is sprinkled heavily throughout this little book along with some pretty solid advice. They gently tackle topics like family of origin differences, personal quirks, differing energy levels, disagreements about everything from raising kids to who does what when. Both Dena and Carey are honest, sincere, funny and ultimately, kind to the core. And that is a rare gift in this crazy world of ours.

The second book was a best seller before it was released, “Love Warrior,” by Glennon Melton. I am grateful for Glennon’s presence on the web, impressed by her good works and huge readership, a group of thousands which has become a generous sister warrior community. She is outspoken, intelligent, and a clear voice for those who are marginalized and suffering. She is also a recovering alcoholic, someone who has known her share of personal sorrow and struggle. This book takes an honest look at a marriage that was troubled from the beginning and walks the reader through her husband’s infidelity and how they made their way back to some kind of wholeness in the aftermath. Just before the book’s release, however, she announced that they are now living separately (on the same street) and will soon be divorced. The writing is raw, and sometimes hard to read, but most of those who are fans will undoubtedly love every bit of it. I did not. That is a highly personal response and does not mean much, to tell you the truth. Oprah loved it, however, so what do I know??

The third book is a gem. “Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity,” by Katherine Willis Pershey is rich with personal story-telling, a case study or two, and some lovely thinking about why marriage matters and what covenant keeping looks like. Katherine is a fellow former writer for Deeper Story, a website which I miss to this day, so we have had some internet connection over the years. I also loved her first memoir, “Any Day A Beautiful Change” — a favorite read several years ago. This second book does not disappoint.

No less a figure than Eugene Peterson — my absolute favorite pastor-who-also-writes (also — Barbara Brown Taylor, so maybe not absolutely absolute!) — has this to say about the book: “. . . without question, the very best book on marriage I have ever read — and I have read many.” He also writes the forward for this book — that alone is reason enough to purchase and read it, at least in my opinion.

I need to tell you that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review, but I would happily buy it — and I will. It will be a pleasure to give it as a gift for anyone I know who is either planning on getting married or struggling to decide if their marriage is worth salvaging. There is a winsomeness to Katherine’s writing — she is honest, admits their areas of struggle, is strongly in favor of good marital counseling, and doesn’t shy away from the hard parts of the marriage journey. But throughout every page of this book is a strong, almost palpable sense of joy and gratitude, a thread that pulls the reader along on a gentle wave of gladness. That is a gift, one that I appreciate and celebrate. I am ‘very married’ myself — for 51 years on the 18th of December this  year, and I found myself nodding with recognition all along the way. For a long list of reasons, this sweet book comes with a high personal recommendation — it is definitely worth reading.

The Joy of Poetry — a Book Review

I don’t ‘do’ poems. But I do do poetry. I have always loved it. Maybe because my first, early foray into public speaking involved reading one dramatically. Remember “Casey at the Bat?” Yeah, well, I recited it for a teacher’s luncheon when I was in grade school, coached by my mama. It was well received and quite fun, as I recall. So I kept reading poetry. Regularly.

I am not a particular fan of studying poems, to tell you the truth. Dissection is not my forte. But reading it is a favorite pastime — I have a couple of entire shelves in my personal library dedicated to poetry collections, some of them quite worn and threadbare.

So when I discovered my friend Megan Willome was working on a book about poetry, I was delighted and waited eagerly for that tome to fall into my greedy little hands. She does not disappoint, this Megan. No, she does not. At all.

“The Joy of Poetry: how to keep, save, & make your life with poems,” is exactly what the title says it is — a joy. She sprinkles all kinds of poems throughout this small book, among them some of her own, written in a time of grief and loss as her mother was dying of cancer. I read that entire cycle of poems on her blog before I ever met her and felt as if I had discovered a sister heretofore unknown to me. My own mom was beginning the long downhill slide into dementia and I resonated with every word of her beautiful collection. Every word.

Be advised that I know nothing about poetic forms, styles, line breaks or other specialized vocabulary. I simply know what I like, what ‘speaks’ to me, what makes me think/cry/laugh/wonder/reflect. Because I know so little about the formal grammar of the genre, I have never attempted to create what I always understood to be ‘poetry’ with my own hand and mind. However, as I read through Megan’s lovely reflections, as I marked lines and printed small asterisks and dogeared page corners, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ve been going about this whole poetry thing the wrong way.

Megan’s book underlines the importance of integrating the poetic into everyday life, it encourages us to look for poetry in the mundane, in our favorite music, in the books we read, in our conversations, in our lived experience. And after I finished the book (which took me little time at all, even with all the ah-ha-ing and the underlining), I had a great big ah-ha moment of my own. Because of my own particular faith and professional journey, the poetry of my life — and the poetry that has come via my own mind and hand — looks like this: prayer. The prayers I love to read, the prayers I memorize, the prayers I write . . . are pretty much all poems. Who knew??

Although I know faith to be part of Megan’s own story, it does not make much of an appearance in this particular book. For me, that’s a small hole in the fabric of an otherwise gorgeous tapestry of love and delight. I loved reading about her ‘poetry buddy’ relationships with a couple of other friends of mine and appreciated the practical suggestions that serve as a kind of appendix to the end of this slim volume. Most of all, I loved Megan’s own words. Here are a few of my favorites:

on spying a small purple flower in an alleyway: “Between the trash can and the gas meter stood spring.”

“But taking poems in small doses, one a day, or even one a week, is like a soaker hose for the soul.”

While pondering her mom’s imminent death:
After she’s gone will I still orbit her earth?

     Will her tides still move my every wave?”

“How much more good poetry might be generated if we didn’t endlessly evaluate our efforts — if we wrote, and wrote and wrote and got through the bad, the sentimental, the therapeutic and made way for the occasional good poem?”

“Why write poetry? Because poets have perfect pitch.”

“Poetry has the power to transform the truth.”

“Poetry is my prescription for adversity. It can touch hidden places in ways prose can’t. When I am heartbroken and read a poem that seems to have been written from someone else’s dark place, I can sit among the broken eggshells and know I’m not alone. I don’t need to know how the eggshells got broken.”

So here’s the upshot for me: I loved reading this book. I loved learning a little bit more about her life, about how she thinks, about how she works. I loved the poems she selected and the topics she wrote about. Maybe most of all, I love that her thoughtful work has pushed me to think more poetically about about my life, about my relationship with my mom, about why poetry is so important to me. An added bonus is the impetus for new prayer writing/wrangling, which seems to be the way in which I can personally wrestle with the poet within. Maybe a small collection for each Sunday of the year? Yeah, that’s a poetry joy for me.

Thank you, Megan! And thank you, T.S. Poetry Press.

Here is a link to this lovely volume – it’s available in paperback and Kindle format.

Dearest Addie . . . (a letter, a book review and a synchroblog)

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Do you remember this lovely box, exploding with sunshine?

I surely do. It arrived on my doorstep in the earliest days of my recovery from nasty foot surgery, in mid-June, 2014. I’d injured myself and then discovered there was a whole lot more goin’ on in that dang foot than what I’d done to it. I was facing into a long recovery (much longer than we knew back then) and I was feeling L O W.

And then a lot of my internet friends did some remarkable things, and YOU were among the first. YOU sent me this box of yellow love. Every bright and lovely piece of this glory broke right through my sadness, my loneliness, my pain (both physical and emotional), and helped me to hang on during a long and difficult time in my life.

Now, sweetheart — look again at that date up there, okay? 2 0 1 4. Just a few short months after the journey you took with your boys, that long trek to Florida and back, the one you’ve written about so magnificently well in this new book of yours:

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I had no idea you had struggled so earlier in that year. But somehow, it seemed important, as I write this strange epistle/review/blog post, it seemed important for me to remind you of how good, kind, thoughtful, insightful, intuitive and gifted you are even when you’re in the middle of a long, dark season in your own spiritual journey.

BTW, that cover? One of the best depictions of what’s actually inside the book that I’ve about ever seen. Genius! Not all of this tender journal was easy to read. I hate that you do battle with depression, that you sometimes have such a low view of your own, wonderful self. So some of this was painful to read. 

But all of it was so good to read. Because what you come to, where you arrive, as you drive through the cold and the dark, as you deal with two pre-schoolers caged inside a small space for hours at a time, as you read your first book aloud in small town libraries and book stores and church basements, as you stay with friends and family, as you struggle to get those boys to sleep, as you eat at way too many MacDonald’s, and do a little bit (a very little bit) of sight-seeing — what you come to, in the end, is yourself. 

And that, my dear, is the point. The goal. The reward. In this second book, you continue to do the good work started in “When We Were on Fire,” the good work of jettisoning the crap gathered in way too many rah-rah, emotion-heavy, guilt-inducing, misguided youth events. And you begin to see the light. The LIGHT. The truth that the Jesus walk is not so much about ‘re-discovering’ the emotional highs of adolescence, but about the steady, day-by-day commitment to putting one foot in front of the other.

It’s about seeing the light in small things, like the sun shining on your son’s hair, or smelling the first real cup of coffee after too many cups of tea, (or, if you’re a tea-drinker like I am, savoring the spicy scent of chai after too many stale coffee-breath greetings from friends!). It’s about accepting the truth that ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are pretty much meaningless terms when we’re talking about real life. It’s about letting go of the lists — you know the lists! Those things we’re ‘supposed’ to do to be ‘good’ Christians, the things we’re supposed to feel, or even believe, in order to pass muster.

It’s about letting go of all of that, and leaning hard into the truth of grace. It’s about learning to trust that there is not one thing we can do or not do that will make God love us any less or any more than God already does. It’s about breathing in and breathing out and saying the name of Jesus when we do. It’s about seeing and being seen. It’s about really, really, living. Not ‘living it up,’ not living on an emotional high forever, not even ‘living for Jesus,’ whatever the heck that means.

It’s about living real. Because I’m here to tell  you, there is NOTHING more real than God, even when God seems absent, even when you’re driving in the dark of night, even when you’re struggling hard to re-create old experiences that simply are no longer possible or even desirable. You put it beautifully on page 225 (and a lot of other places, too, but this one’s the shortest:

“It’s not up to me to flip on the lights. the Light is already here.”

YES, Addie!! Yes, yes, yes. The Light is already here.

Thank you for writing this searingly honest book, for owning your own weaknesses, for showing us the shadow side. And here’s why I thank  you — because with  your exceptional writing grace, your skill, you illustrate this powerful truth: the shadow side is our teacher. Yes, there are parts of the shadow that we need to shine a bright, harsh light on, that we need to clean up and clear out. BUT . . . those shadow parts of us are also primary avenues through which God can show us more about grace, more about love, more about the human condition, more about truth than anywhere else. Like Barbara Brown Taylor (another one of my FAVES) in “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” you have shown us more about the light than any 1000 titles about sunshine-theology. 

So, I thank you. I thank you for the box of sunshine at a dark time in my own journey. And I thank you for this beautiful book. May you be blessed beyond measure by the way people respond to it.

Much, much love,

Diana

Oh! Before I go, I wanted to share with  you a couple of quotes that landed in my inbox today from a journal I subscribed to for many years, one that I used frequently in sermon prep and for devotional reading. It’s called “Weavings,” and if you don’t know it, I highly recommend it. These were in a monthly devo kinda thing, but each of them spoke to some of what “Night Driving” deals with, so I thought maybe you might enjoy them:

As people of faith, we need to remember that the resurrection tosses out all standard expectations and measurements of failure and success. Neither failure nor success is good or evil; both can result in growth, stagnation, or regression. In our struggle with failure and success, we may find a hidden strength as we commend our spirits to our Creator and seek to yield our lives to love. Our challenge is to have faith—in failure, in success, in whatever life brings. The unexpected turns, the painful endings, the precarious beginnings are all part of the path of faith, where we are reminded with each step that the resurrection did not happen only once long ago—it happens each day of our lives.  — Jean M. Blomquist, “Weavings”

Pure faith hears the full silence of God, and believes—for the absence of God touches one’s thirst more than the presence of everything else. “In the desert we go on serving the God whom we do not see, loving [the God] whom we do not feel, adoring [the God] whom we do not understand, and thanking [the God] who has taken from us everything but [God’s self]” (Charles Cummings,Spirituality and Desert Experience). In time, the search becomes the goal, the longing becomes sufficient unto itself, and the perseverance transforms the meaning of success. Then some quiet evening, perhaps by full moon, it becomes strangely self-evident that we would not be searching had we not already been found. And the desert blooms when we find ourselves willing to be last—not because the last may become first, but because the game of “firsts” and “lasts” is no longer of interest.” — W. Paul Turner, “Weavings.” 

Eyes to See — A Book Review . . . and a Giveaway!!

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This book is a beautiful and deeply true gift to the world. It is a book to be savored, read over time, with pen in hand and fingertips at the ready — ready to bend down corners of page after page after page . . .

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Christie Purifoy invites us into her life, one year in her life, to be exact. Moving through the seasons from autumn through summer, from late pregnancy to early toddlerhood, from the wilderness of Florida to the welcoming joys of a very old house on a hilltop in Pennsylvania, she lets us see life through her eyes.

And what beauty-seeking eyes she has! Her reflections on the life she lives are deep, rich, honest and gloriously articulate and thoughtful. Maplehurst is an old, brick farmhouse, now surrounded by a brand-new neighborhood of tract homes, a place far from family, yet a place that becomes home in every way you can think of.

Along the way, she reflects on things like post-partum depression, sleep deprivation, gardening (oh my, gardening!!!), the liturgical year, life, death, joy, sorrow. She reflects on this life we live, all of us, but she does it in a way too few of us take the time to — and with a skill very few of us enjoy. 

I’ve pulled out some sloppy photos of a few favorite passages, but believe me when I tell you this — there are too many to count. 

On what following in the steps of the Magi might really be about:

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On caring for the dying of things as well as the living of things:

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On enjoying beauty — the beauty that is easy to spot and the beauty that we must earnestly seek, each and every day.

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I am delighted to offer a brand new copy of this remarkable book. If you are interested in having your name dropped in the hat, please say so in the comments. I’ll select a winner one week from today and post your name on the blog and on Facebook. I can’t think of a better gift to offer you, my friends. Truly.

“Coming Clean” — A Book Review

Coming Clean

This year, I have said ‘yes’ to too many friends about reading and reviewing their books. I love doing it, I do. But suddenly, at this point in the year, I am feeling overwhelmed, more than a little bit guilty, and very, very late. Seth’s gorgeous book debuted at the end of October.

Sigh.

And I LOVED it.

Sigh, again.

So . . . better late than never, right??  RIGHT??

This book, this amazing book — “Coming Clean, A Story of Faith” — is its own strange and wonderful animal. Part memoir, part journal, part devotional, ALL honest and true. And so very, very good. In fact, this is one of the best books I’ve read. Ever.

And I’ve read a whole lotta books.

Seth has really important things to say and he says them so well. He had me at the preface, which contained this gem of a chunk, to which I wrote a very large, very red YES in the margin:

“Read this less as a book about alcoholism and more as one about the pains and salves common in every life. My alcoholism is not the thing, see. Neither is your eating disorder, your greed disorder, or your sex addiction. Your sin is not the thing. The thing is under the sin. The thing is the pain. Sin management without redemption of life’s pain is a losing proposition.

“There is an antidote for the pain. It was taught to us, commanded of us. It is simple in word and sometimes impossible in deed. It is free, but it isn’t cheap.

“Are you ready to explore with me? Are you ready to find the medicine?

“This is an open invitation to come clean.” (pg. 14)

And the book continues to unfold exactly what he means by these words. Journeying through it is at one and the same time delightful and exquisitely painful. Why? Because I recognized myself on almost every page — and I have never had an entire drink of alcohol in my life. “My alcoholism is not the thing, see.” 

Oh, yeah. I see. I see.

The pain became overwhelming for Seth when his youngest son Titus was critically, unexplainably ill. Going from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, finding no answers. None. They watched this beautiful little boy slowly wasting away. And to stop the pain, Seth began to drink, finding in alcohol a friend and a comfort and a salve, albeit quite temporary, for the ache inside.

Seth is a thinking Christian, an intelligent man and a loving one, and as he walked this hard road, he began to wrestle with the things he had always believed. He saw no sign of an active God in his world or anywhere else. He knew that his own personal battle with the bottle would not be a welcome topic of conversation in most church gatherings — sad, but oh-so-true, I am sorry to say. And he began to journal. Early in that process, he found one person who was safe, a person who had walked the road to sobriety before him, and with her gentle help, Seth slowly began to turn in a different direction.

Here’s what I love about this story. First of all, it is masterfully written. Seth has taken his journal entries from the first 90 days of his ‘coming clean’ journey, edited and thought about them and created a small work of art in these 219 pages. Just for the language choice and the thoughtfulness, this is a worthwhile read.

In addition, he has told the truth as he was learning it. He asks the right questions and he wrestles hard with the answers, freely admitting that he cannot always find them. The journal moves into memoir when he writes of his early life, especially of his early faith, of meeting and knowing God in the sound of wind through the mesquite trees of his Texas childhood. He remembers his own early feelings of tranquility and assurance that all is right with the world because there is a benevolent God present in it. 

Thirdly, he frankly admits and swears by the therapy he received in this process. I am a big believer in good therapeutic intervention, having found it to be life-changing, maybe even life-saving. And Seth writes it true, true, true. A good therapist asks the right questions and listens beyond listening, getting to the heart of things in ways most of us either cannot or do not. An encounter with a faith-healer in childhood, and the skillful way in which his therapist wove together technique and prayer to help him understand why that experience was so deeply formative, is a wonder to behold and a critical piece in Seth’s recovery process. I believe that reading some of these scenes in a group setting could be liberating and life-changing for many, and I was delighted to read that this book will be part of a group study in an Indiana prison.

That’s  the kind of book this is, my friends. An instrument of grace, a means of revelation and a call to honesty, openness and hard, personal work. Read it.

And then do it.

You won’t be sorry.

One of a Kind: A Book Review . . . Bandersnatch!

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My friend Erika Morrison is one of a kind. Earthy, funny, stubborn, passionate, highly intelligent and filled to the brim with Jesus-love. And I thank God for her!

She has written a lovely, challenging, heartfelt book that is just like she is.

Bandersnatch — An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul, is 230 pages of alliteration, story-telling, question-asking (and answering), and thought-provoking ideas. It takes time to read this book, time to absorb it properly, and those questions she asks will stick with you for a long time after you close the cover.

Her basic premise is one I’ve been gently espousing here at my blog and in my work as a spiritual director: discover who you are, the one God loves, the one God designed, and become that person with your whole heart. Of course, Erika being Erika, she says it a whole lot better than that and she surrounds that central point with four lovely facets, each one offering a challenge to re-think who you are and how you live as a follower of Jesus.

This is her 4-part “A” list: Avant-Garde, Alchemy, Anthropology, Art — and she delves into each one with her characteristic verve and insight, offering personal stories and asking soul-searching questions from all four compass points. She borrows her title from a character in Carroll’s, ‘Through the Looking Glass:’ “A bandersnatch is . . . a rather untamed and frightening beast with unpredictable habits and unconventional attitudes, he is also good because his fierceness, his troublemaking, his nuisance-bearing disposition is . . . submitted to a better cause — the dominion of the kind and good white queen.” (pg. xii) 

She boldly calls us to become like that bandersnatch — submitted to the dominion of the Kingdom, sold out to Jesus, and in touch with who we are, how we’re wired and how we might best bring that Kingdom into the lives we live, the worlds we inhabit, the people we meet, and the families we create.

I would not call this book an easy read. But it is a good read, a challenging one and potentially, a life-changing one. I highly recommend it. It’s available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble and wherever Christian books are sold. 

“Every Little Thing” — A Review, and a Give-Away

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When you read a book written by a friend, you can feel a little nervous, you know? What if I can’t get through it? What if it’s tough to find something positive to say? How do I handle it if I really wouldn’t recommend this to anyone else?

Well, my friend Deidra Riggs has written a book that is launching next week. And, yes, I was a tad nervous as I began the rough draft I received as an advance copy (only the format was rough, by the way — not the writing!). You know what? By the first sentence, I was hooked. And also? Relieved and so very grateful.

“Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You are,” is a gem of a book. An absolute gem. Every page glistens with love, attention to detail, lovely writing and thoughtful theology. Yes, theology. Deidra would tell you (and she does) that she is ‘no theologian,’ but I beg to differ. She is the best kind of theologian, in my book, because she takes the truth that she finds in scripture and the truth that she discovers in her own walk as a follower of Jesus and she wrestles with it, distills it, and serves it up with joy and delight. That’s what I call theology. She lets her own experience of the surprising grace of God shine through her words, looking at characters in scripture and telling pieces of her own story along the way.

The heart of her message is exactly what the church needs right now: the beauty of the ordinary, the truth that small acts done in love can change the world, that no one is unimportant to the work and health of the kingdom in this place. “Every little thing” done with heart and commitment is what it’s about, beloved church. Every.Little.Thing.

Not big programs
Not big numbers
Not a business plan
Not even a visioning process.

No. The simple, beautiful truth is that WE — you and I, every single one of us — are the church, the hands and feet of God, the living, breathing presence of grace and gospel good news in this world. And none of us is too little, too unworthy, too insignificant for the task and the joy that is ours. Not one.

Every chapter is rich, but the two on wilderness and breathlessness are simply stunning. And I mean that with everything that is in me. Stunning. And exactly what I needed right now. Maybe you need them, too? If you would like to be entered in the drawing for the beautiful, brand new copy I have in my hands, just leave me a comment and I’ll pick a name from a hat and send it off to the lucky recipient. Last date to leave a comment is Launch Day, October 6th – that’s next Tuesday!

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I have six typed pages of favorite quotes from this little book and I’ll leave you with one from each of my two favorite chapters:

“I have to be honest and tell you that a God-sized dream might surprise you because of its smallness. It will push you to the very edge of your comfort zone and right into the desolation of the wilderness. And it won’t always stop there. . . the wilderness is uniquely suited for putting us in a situation where God can get a hearing from us. Without resources, stretched far beyond our abilities, and with hope consigned to the garbage bin, we want out of the wilderness, but God desires to bring us through. And he is right there with us. He doesn’t send us into the wilderness and wait for us to emerge on the other side. No. God walks every step of the wilderness journey with us, and he shapes us as we make our way through.”

“God is in the wilderness. Go there. You can trust him to meet you right in the middle of your wild and worn and weary places. Take off your shoes. Tear off your pretense. Skip over the polite conversation. It’s you he wants. Simply you.”

And from the one on breathlessness:

“Sometimes breathing is the only prayer we can pray, and God hears our sigh and once again breathes the breath of life into us. We exhale, and it seems like such a little thing. But some days, it is everything. It is communion — intimate and more than breathing oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. It is sacred and it is holy: this agreeing with God that we need God, for all of everything, and his joyful entering into our lives and ourselves and our very souls to make us one with him.”

Yeah, you need this book. You really do. I happen to know and love Deidra. But even if I didn’t – I would be thrilled to send you this book. And if you don’t win? BUY ONE. You will not regret it.