Book Review & Giveaway! “Tables in the Wilderness”

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Preston Yancey is a favorite of mine. He has an artist’s soul and a deep and wide knowledge of theology and literature. His first book is officially launching TODAY, and I recommend it to you.

As you read, you must come to peace with the truth that Preston is ridiculously young. Yes, he is. He might deny this, but I know it to be true. In many ways, he is an old soul and that adds gravitas to his words, burnishing them with lived experience and grace.  

This memoir slice is the story of a relatively short season of life — the college years. The years of growing up and growing out, of finding lifelong friends, discovering what you love and what you don’t, and maybe, if you’re truly blessed, finding your life partner.

Over the pages of this lovely book, he does all of these things — he grows up, he grows out, he makes (and loses) friends, he discovers what and whom he loves. And in the process, he learns a lot about God — something that he was certain he already knew.

That’s the way with us humans, isn’t it? We think we know so much. And then . . . we don’t. Preston tells us about his faith journey, about the professors who inspired him, about the parents who loved and honored him, about a few girls he dated and the one he married. And he does it in the inimitable Yancey way. . . by talking in beautiful, lyrical circles.

So my primary word of advice is this: carve out a half day and read this book in one sitting. I did not do this and I wish I had — because Preston circles back to where he began more than once, as the quote above boldly tells us. Take it from me that tracking names and relationships can get a little more difficult when you’ve let time elapse between reading spells. 

And the second word of advice is like unto the first: as you read this lovely story, try to remember as much of your own growing up years as possible. If you read “Tables” in one sitting, this remembering will be easier to do. 

Most of us who’ve lived a bit longer than Preston will recognize ourselves as we read. We’ll remember what it feels like to love and lose, to visit strange congregations, to wonder if God has forgotten us, and to discover our faith all over again. 

I think that kind of remembering is one of the primary joys of reading memoir. It’s a good thing to find companions on the way, even ones we’ve never met. And Preston Yancey is a very fine companion, indeed.

I happen to have one extra copy of this book and if you’d like to put your name in the hopper for a chance to win it, just leave me a comment. I’ll draw names one week from today — Tuesday, October 7, 2014 and I’ll post the winner here that evening. Please be sure to leave me your email address!

 

A Grand New Book: 50 Women Every Christian Should Know

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A funny thing happened to my dear friend, Michelle DeRusha, on the way to getting her fabulous memoir published earlier this year. She wrote another book!

And friends, it’s a doozy! I will admit that I am partial to her memoir — it’s the best one I’ve read in ages, filled with real life wonder, humor and redemption. But. . . this one right here? It’s a tremendous resource for all kinds of reasons, a book that should be on the shelf of every church library and in the hands of every young Christian. (And older ones, too.)

What started out as an assignment, blossomed into a powerful and moving testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts and lives of women. Women across the centuries and around the world. Every chapter is a stand alone, in some ways. Well-researched, well-written and inspirational stories of gifted, called, obedient and very human women, all of whom have been conduits for the grace of God in various and wondrous ways.

From Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century, through Susanna Wesley in the 18th through more familiar saints in the 20th and 21st centuries, each chapter is a rewarding read. Some of these names you are familiar with, some you are not. All of them are worth reading about and learning from.

I am pleased and proud to be the owner of a pre-launch copy and am honored to be able to review it for you here. If you’d like to enter a drawing for a free copy, please hop on over to Michelle’s place today and leave a comment. And while you’re there, you can read a whole passel of other reviews and comments at the link-up she is hosting today.

You can purchase this book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent bookstore. Please do it. In fact, order several, and give copies to young women you know, women who might need encouragement and inspiration. This book will provide plenty of both. I promise.

“Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World” – a reflection

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From the very first words I ever put out on this blog, this has been my theme and my call:

“Tell stories, Diana. Tell your stories.”

When I first began to write in this space, I didn’t have a strong rationale for that stance, I just knew in my spirit that this was to be a place of story-telling. Not argument, not academic theological wrestling, not diatribe.

A sermon or two? Well, yes – those always included stories.

Some prayers once in a while? Those, too, are part of my own story, my journey as a disciple and as a pastor.

An occasional book review? Yup, those, too. Because reading is a vital part of writing, especially helpful in the writing of personal stories. 

And there have always been a lot of photographs, too. Because, well — you guessed it! Pictures tell stories, sometimes better than words do.

Over these last four years of more regular blogging, the theme of story has come front and center for me, and time after time, my choice to be a story-teller has been confirmed and validated.

Being invited to write at A Deeper Story was a great and miraculous gift, one that allowed me to tell some of my stories to a larger audience, in a place that welcomed whatever it is I have to bring to the story-telling table.

So now, the Editor-in-Chief of ADS has written a book. A fine book, an easy-to-read book. And guess what it’s about? Well, of course it is — it’s about telling YOUR story, because YOUR story is important.

And it’s about telling your story because that is a much better, gentler, more effective way to interact with one another in this online space and in everyday life. On the back cover of this delicious new book, Nish Weiseth asks this critical question:

“How would your life be different if you shared your stories rather than your opinions?

Can I get an ‘amen’ to that??

How many times a day do you find yourself in a situation where you feel frustrated, ignored, misunderstood, even rejected by the words and/or actions of someone else? Maybe a someone you don’t know all that much about. And what if knowing that someone’s back-story might help you understand why he/she acts the way they do?

Because knowing someone’s story makes a huge difference in how we see them, how we approach them, what we say to them and how we say it. Stories are powerful and effective ways for us to see one another as whole people. People who have been wounded, who have survived, who have made mistakes, who have learned from some of those mistakes and repeated too many of them. When we know someone’s story, we are able to hear them differently, to hold their words and actions with a greater sense of equanimity and compassion.

Stories can change the world. Surely, Jesus thought so — he used all kinds of them during his ministry years. This faith that we hold dear is built on THE story, the one about grace and love and finding and seeking and life and death and resurrection. I stake my life on that story.

Woven throughout Nish’s wonderful book are eight examples of story-telling from the pages of A Deeper Story, a lovely addition to the overarching theme, each one a stellar example of how vulnerable, searching story-telling touches hearts and changes lives.

What if instead of arguing with one another, we told each other our stories? What if we committed ourselves to learning about one another before offering judgment? What if we stopped the frantic searching for how-to, if we took a break from finding a-new-and-better-program? What if we began asking, “Who are you?” “Why are you here?” Rather than, “How can I make you stay and look like everybody else here at this church?”

What if we trusted that God is going before us in each person who comes through our doors, that God has been at work long before we ever came along, that the newcomer or the millennial or the senior or the one who doesn’t look like the rest of us is already on the way into the kingdom?

What if our role is simply to tell our story and then listen to the other’s? Could it be that straight-ahead, that personal, that simple?

Oh, I think Nish is onto something. Really, I do.

You can find Nish’s new book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, LifeWay, or Christianbook.com

I received an advance copy and am absolutely delighted to write about and recommend this book. I took it down to the beach and read it in 2.5 hours, front to back. And marked it up a lot, too. 

Finding Home

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I was young. Really young. Married at 20, midway through my senior year at UCLA, planning a Big Trip soon after graduation. I looked forward to that trip with eager anticipation, eagerly awaiting a chance to Get Out, Get Away, Be On Our Own.

Actually, it was a bit more than a trip. It was a two-year commitment to live and work in a country far from our home in southern California, a two-year trek to a very different life, a very different place. I’ve written about it here (see the African Journey page up top to see those six posts) and I’ve mentioned it here and at other places around the web.

But I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what it was like to come home again, to find my way back to the familiar, to re-enter our larger family circles, this time as a new mom and a more thoughtful and experienced world traveler.

It was good. And it was hard.

It was good because I desperately wanted our brand new, 5-month-old daughter to know her grandparents and other extended family. It was good because we were eager to see where God would lead us next. It was good because we both come from loving, involved family systems and we had missed that. A lot.

It was hard for many of the same reasons. Going away for two years was one of the best gifts we ever gave our marriage. Both number-one children, each of us deeply infected with perfectionism and performance pressure, it was good for us to move very far away, where there were no family resources to rely on, where we would be forced to rely on one another and to make our way into a complex, new-to-us cultural venue — or two. Zambian and missionary cultures presented two very different sets of challenges. 

The first two months back found us in my parents’ small guest house — really my dad’s study in their backyard — with no bathroom and no kitchen. For two l o n g months, while we waited out the job search and began to resettle into 20th century American life. Overall, it was a good time, a rich reminder of the blessings that were ours because of the families in which we grew up.

But it’s always tough to move back in with your parents after you’ve left home, isn’t it? And my relationship with my mom has always been fraught with multiple levels of complexity. We love each other very much, but I gotta tell you, there is no one on this earth who can get under my skin like she can!

I began a lifelong battle with my weight while we lived there for those two months. All of my growing up life, my mother worried about how I looked. She had me taking diet pills in high school, sent me with cottage cheese for lunch, worried that I’d be both too tall and too heavy to get a man. 

And once we came home from Africa, beautiful new baby in tow, almost her first words to me were, “Gettin’ a little broad across the beam, aren’t you?”

And I had gained a few pounds with that baby. A few. But I look at those pictures now and I wonder — what in heck was she talking about?

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I’ve often wondered if my complicated relationship with food isn’t directly related to that kind of offhand, semi-snide comment from my mother. Mom’s fears about me took root and I responded in a strange and opposite way. I think maybe it was the only form of rebellion I could muster, because I was a very, VERY good girl while I lived in their home.

But once that baby was here — and another one less than two years later, and another one just 2.5 years after that? Well, let’s just say, something in me — both physiological and psychological — shifted, and I began piling on the pounds.

Eventually, my mom seemed to find peace with the ‘real me,’ and now, in her dementing years, she cannot stop telling me how wonderful I look, what a fine person I am, how proud she is of me.

And how jealous she is of me, too.

That last one has been a stunner for me, a slice of real-life cognitive dissonance that I haven’t yet fully internalized. We’ve been home for 45 years now — and I’m still finding my way.

Because coming home is hard to do. And finding home can take a lifetime. Emily Wierenga has written a brand-new memoir, releasing today, called, “Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look.” It’s a rich memoir, laced with poignant story-telling and honest reflection. She, too, traveled far to find out that home was right where she left it.

I encourage you to read this intriguing story, to reflect with Emily as she discovers that her parents, whom she never felt loved her very well, truly do love her, with all their hearts.

Described as a ‘travel memoir, this book is actually a beautiful story of two marriages, her own and her parents’. And the revelation that sang to me was this one: when her mom became so very ill that her father became a primary caregiver, Emily’s parents found one another in ways both new and beautiful.

Emily has said elsewhere that her parents’ changing marriage became the beautiful one that it now is because her sometimes acid-tongued mom began to submit herself to her husband’s caring leadership. But as I read it, it seemed so much more than that. I saw a couple blossoming into newness of love because they each submitted to the other, in the process discovering each other all over again.

Emily and Trenton go through a long and often difficult process of rediscovery as well. And there, too, what Emily describes is a lovely journey for each of them, as they both learn to love and submit, love and submit.

It’s a beautiful book, one I recommend to you for it’s lyrical prose and it’s heartfelt commitment to truth telling. I received an advanced reader’s copy of “Atlas Girl,” and am grateful to have read it and more than happy to review it. Reading it prompts a lot of personal reflection on the meaning of home and what it means to find home after a long season of wandering. I encourage you to read it yourself. 

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Atlas Girl is more than a book; it’s a journey in which Emily Wierenga takes you by the hand and invites you into the broken places in her life. She shares the unexpected beauty God has created in those places as he’s made her heart whole again, and how he can do the same for you. If you’ve ever been hurt or gone through a hard time, this book will give you hope and a new understanding of God’s love for you.” ~ Holley Gerth, bestselling author of You’re Already Amazing

“The best memoirs combine the storytelling elements of a novel–smart pacing, tactile details, people you care about–with the deep insights and spiritual takeaway of great nonfiction. Emily Wierenga deftly serves up that rich blend in Atlas Girl, a nonlinear, wholly moving account of her life’s journey so far. Her honesty is raw, real. Her faith is hard-won. And when it finally pours out, her love–oh, her love soars off the page and makes a nest in our hearts. Brilliant and beautiful.”~ Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author of Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them

“This isn’t just a book, this is a journey. Of grief and wonder, loss and gain. Emily tells a world-spanning story that this world needs in Atlas Girl!” ~ Jon AcuffNew York Times bestselling author ofStart and Stuff Christians Like

And the Winners Are . . .

My thanks to each of you who entered your name into the drawing for a copy of Michelle DeRusha’s wonderful new memoir, “Spiritual Misfit.” Yesterday afternoon, I rounded up my two 8-year-old grandchildren and we drew two names from the hat. (Warning – I begin to sound like a very lame game show host pretty quickly. So sorry!)

Here’s the proof, although you may have to squint a little to see your names!

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Congratulations to Martha and Gwen! PLEASE send me your snail mail addresses ASAP so that I can send off these great books. My email address is dtrautwein at gmail dot com.

The Gentler, More Subtle Way: A Book Review & a Giveaway!!

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There are a whole lotta ways to write a ‘come to Jesus’ story. Strong stories of dramatic conversions are always around — usually quite popular, in fact. And they are often told in lurid detail, outlining the horrors of drug abuse, or alcoholism, of sexual misconduct or abuse, telling tales of wild living and rough edges. LOTS of very rough edges.

When I was an adolescent and young adult, I used to quietly envy anyone with such a story. Why? Because mine was so ordinary – my life was pretty much drama-free. I never got ‘saved’ from anything horrific, so I had no redemption story worth telling. As I got older, however, and began having and raising children, that envy just dissipated and was blown away by the sweet breeze of grace. In truth, that old envy morphed into a deep well of gratitude. I am grateful for the story that is uniquely mine to tell, uniquely mine to live.

As I lived into my own life, I began to realize that ordinary no longer looked so bad. In fact, ordinary began to take on all kinds of layers, colors, even edges. I slowly came to understand that God works in all kinds of ways, his children to redeem. All kinds of ways. For some, that may mean drama, and lots of it. For others of us, those grace-breezes are gentler and more subtle. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to redemption stories — everyone has a story worth telling, and ANY story of grace-at-work is a story I want to hear.

Or read.

And believe me when I tell you this, Michelle DeRusha has told us a corker. This is, hands down, one of the best spiritual memoirs I have ever read. It is honest, hysterically funny at points, gracious and gratifying and gorgeous. It took seven years for this beautiful gem to come to light and the wait has been so worth it. SO worth it.

Michelle tells us how her particular childhood experience of church did not lead her to an understanding of grace. So instead of looking to God for help, she focussed all her considerable energy and intelligence on taking charge of her own life, choosing to believe there was no God. She grew up and went to college in New England, working in NYC for a while. During graduate school, she met and married her husband, Brad, whose personal faith was strong and steady and whose heart welcomed Michelle exactly where she was. Together, they moved to the midwestern state of Nebraska, welcoming one little boy almost immediately and a second, several years later.

Their Nebraska adventure became Michelle’s faith adventure and the story is told in crackling prose, filled with descriptions that bring both belly laughs and tears of recognition. They began attending a Lutheran church because apparently, EVERYONE in Nebraska goes to church. Brad felt right at home and Michelle managed to ‘cough’ her way through the Nicene Creed for the first few years! Slowly, but surely, the beauty of the gospel began to seep into her spirit, however, and her big questions began to subtly change. Instead of, “Why believe in God?”, she began to ask, “Why not believe in God?” 

Michelle’s story is quite different from mine. I’ve known and believed in Jesus for as long as I can remember, and despite occasional bouts of what Madeleine L’Engle used to call ‘viral atheism,’ my faith has always been a part of my story. Michelle came to Jesus later in life, as a young mom in her 30s, carrying a long history of disbelief and disconnection from faith. And yet, I resonated so strongly with this book. Why?

Because I am a misfit, too. Not in the same ways that Michelle believes she is — after all, I know the lingo, right? I’m familiar with the Bible, I know a lot about church history, biblical studies — you know the drill. But Michelle puts her finger on something very, very important in this book: the truth that most of us don’t ‘fit’ in one way or another.

And also? The bigger truth that it doesn’t matter that we don’t fit. Because being a misfit — well, that’s what makes us who we are. And Michelle, misfit though she may be, speaks for all of us as she writes about doubt, flashes of insight, small gifts of grace in the middle of daily living.

Because this is our story, too. This story of not fitting in, not having all the answers, not getting it. What she — and we — come to realize is that all of that is okay. It is more than okay — it is the way in. The way in to a vibrant, day-to-day relationship with the living God, the way in which a spiritual misfit becomes God’s Beloved Misfit. “We are all walking around shining like the sun,” Thomas Merton says (and Michelle quotes on page 98). ALL of us, dear friends, beloved misfits, shining like the sun. Wow.

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FRIENDS! I have TWO copies of Michelle’s beautiful book to give away! All you have to do is tell me you’d like a chance to win one and, if your name is drawn, I’ll be delighted to send you your very own copy. Put a word in the comments and I’ll have my granddaughters draw a name on Easter Sunday. Winners announced next Monday!

“Love Idol” — a Book Review

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It’s been a big day! A good day for my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee. Her first book has been released, set free into the world to be read, savored, underlined, dog-eared, learned from and treasured. 

“Love Idol: Letting go of your need for approval . . . and seeing yourself through God’s eyes” is now available at your favorite bookseller. I encourage you to pick up a copy — or three or four, for friends, family or small group — and read your way through Jen’s journey from perfectionist-people-pleaser, unsure-of-God’s-existence, to sold-out-believer, one-who-knows-she-is-loved.

This is a journey we all need to take, this way of grace, this road that begins with our desperate need to be seen, to be valued, to be loved. This road that can so easily lead to detours and dead ends, each one echoing with the voice of our enemy, the one who taunts and teases and tantalizes. It is so easy — too easy — to succumb to the demands of our shadow selves — the Inner Critic, the Sarcastic Belittler, the Over-Eager-Achiever, the Proud Performer — when all that is needed is the recognition that we are already loved, already accepted, already approved before we do anything.

It’s paradoxical, really. The simplest truth is the hardest one to believe, to live. And Jennifer wrestles well with the slippery edges of it all. Telling stories about herself, her marriage, her children, her past career and her current calling, she weaves in biblical stories and truths like the pro she is. Before she became a farmer’s wife, mom, and blogger, Jen was an award-winning journalist and her story-telling ability shines delightfully on every page.

All along the way, she casually drops in some great one-liners:

We all have two choices in times of angst or worry: raise the fist or bend the will.

Sometimes a face-plant into the dirt is the best way to humble the hurried and harried.

How do I take these brain-deep answers and make them heart-deep?

“Dear God, help me get over myself today.”

I doubt that even Jesus Himself would suggest bullet-pointed answers to life’s most pressing questions. He didn’t outline easy steps for us; He offered an easy yoke.

Personal strength is not necessarily a virtue. Neither is got-it-togetherness.

We tell each other that it’s safe to be authentic, but are we making unthreatening places for people to be less than perfect?

This is a book written for women, and that may be my only critique. Why? Because I think this is a message for everyone, every person who has ever dealt with an overwhelming need to be loved and approved, who has ever felt driven to perform perfectly, who has ever allowed fear and/or pride to be the controlling emotion behind every decision. And I know that men face these demons as well as women.

Whichever gender you are, wherever you are on this journey of faith, Love Idol is a rich resource for you, and I heartily and happily recommend it to you. 

The Devil Walks in Mattingly — A Book Review

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Secrets are powerful things. And the deep woods around Mattingly, West Virginia, hold so many of them. So do the trio of lead characters who inhabit this hauntingly beautiful novel by Billy Coffey. This is a terrific book — in every sense of that word. It is lyrically written, every detail crafted with care and attention. And it is also a hard, dark story, one that delves into the hidden corners of the human psyche with both wonder and a healthy amount of fear. 

Jake and Kate Barnett are lifelong residents of this small town, and they carry the heavy weight of regret every minute of every day. As their high school career wound down to its end, each of them were key players in the death of a classmate, Philip McBride. An outsider and a misfit, Philip’s death had been ruled a suicide. But the Barnetts knew better, and each of them lived under the shadow of that secret for a very long time. 

As the events of this fine story begin to pile on top of one another, we meet another key player in that long ago event, Taylor Hathcock, a hermit, a madman and a magician, in his own strange way. Each of these three, and all of the supporting players are lovingly and carefully drawn. This is a town that lures the reader in, populated as it is with such complicated, messed-up, and fascinating people. 

I’ve been a fan of Billy Coffey’s for several years now, discovering his blog in early 2011 and enjoying his weekly posts. I reviewed his last novel a year ago.  I loved it — and I like this one even better. Coffey’s writing has deepened and expanded; every character rings true, each one carrying just enough quirkiness to be both believable and interesting. 

By the end of this story, there is redemption to be found, with a lot of what some might call ‘magical realism’ thrown in. I think what I most enjoyed was the way in which Coffey refuses to let these characters be victims of either their circumstances or of the unseen hand of fate. Instead, we’re allowed to see how wrong choices — bullying, teasing, keeping dangerous secrets — can bring disastrous results, yet none of those results is beyond redemption and transformation.

Redemption in Mattingly begins in small ways, with strange dreams, white butterflies, dandelions. Eventually, there is a visit from beyond the grave,  a lot of nail-biting drama (including an ancient bear and a ‘thin place’ in the woods) culminating in the palpable relief that can only be found by telling and knowing the truth.

Along the way, Billy offers some profound insights into the connections between this world and the next. I love this paragraph, from one of Jake’s dream encounters with the long-dead Philip. It comes near the climax of the story:

“. . . remember, our tears are gone on the other side. wiped clean by the very hand of love. Memories haunt you on your side of the veil, Jake, but on mine there is only their beauty. On my side, you see every life is magic. You see you were led even as you thought you wandered, and there was a light even in your darkness. And sometimes you are even given the grace to come back. To set things right.” 

And that is what this story is truly about: setting things right. It’s not easy, but it is beautiful to watch. I highly recommend this lovely story and I look forward to meeting more of Mattingly’s inhabitants in years to come.

I was given an advanced readers’ copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This is that review — click on over to your favorite bookseller and order it now. You will not regret it. Here’s a link to Amazon. There is also a link below to the first 35 pages of this wonderful story. Enjoy!

FOUND: a Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer — A Book Review

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Sometimes when I read a book that is new to me, and I discover that I like it, that I’m intrigued by some of the ideas presented or the way language is used, I dog-ear a page that catches my eye. If the book really speaks to my heart, you might find 20 or 30 such pages scattered throughout.

Micha Boyett’s beautiful new book — part memoir, part prayer journal, part glory — has so many down-turned pages that I can no longer close it completely. Oh my, this woman can write! And what she writes? It speaks right into my heart, with hope, honesty and beauty. 

I’ve read Micha’s blog, Mama Monk, for over three years now, made the move with her to Patheos, even guest-posted for her once. So I’ve been looking forward to seeing her heart and reading her words in a longer format for quite a while. And I am not disappointed. Micha has been on a journey, a search, for the heart of prayer, the heart of God. A pastor to students in her twenties, convinced that God had Big Plans for her life, plans that she ‘needed’ to discover and fulfill, she found herself in her early thirties as a stay-at-home mom to one, and then two beautiful boys.

What happened to those Big Plans, she wondered? Was she somehow missing the Important Work God had for her to do? Over the course of this gentle book — outlined according to the prayer schedule of St. Benedict — she learns that where she is right now is, indeed, important. That the work she does, the rhythms of child-care, housework, hospitality, marriage and writing — these are the things of life, and Spirit and love-made-real.

Reading that last paragraph might make you think that this is a book for women. Yes, it is. It is also a book for men. This is a book for anyone who earnestly desires to discover God in the midst of the movements of an ordinary day, anyone who longs to know that the work of their hands is blessed and beautiful. 

Along the way, Micha writes evocatively about taking time for silence and retreat at a couple of local monasteries, she describes what she learns in spiritual direction, she shows us how her husband helps her to see herself and her ideas about God in new and different ways, she whispers that loneliness can be an invitation to a deeper faith. And somewhere in there, she talks about . . . fly-fishing.

Just two pages, a small story — but one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long, long time. Here’s a small piece of it:

“I raise my rod and cast the line out. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I think fly-fishing is like praying the rosary; moving slow through each bead, letting the physical act move my unfocused body from distraction into awareness. It’s the repetition, the sameness of coming to God with simple words and rhythm, that opens me to recognize the God-already-here. . . Prayer is not as hard as I make it out to be. Again and again, lift and unfold. Lay that line out, let it meander a little. Do it again. I am not profound. I am not brave in spirit. My faith is threadbare and self-consumed, but I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.” – pg. 226-227

With all my heart, I recommend this book to you. It is rich, captivating, lush with beautiful language and ideas. And most of all, it is touchable. Micha is no plaster saint, she is a real, flesh-and-blood woman, wife, mother, pastor, writer, seeker. She invites you along for the journey, and friends? it is a trip so worth taking.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this lovely book. In exchange for that, I committed to write an honest review. This is it. Buy this book. Mark it up, keep it nearby, go back to it, keep a list of favorite lines. Yes. Do it.

Here are what a few others are saying about this fine book:

“I devoured this kind and generous book: Micha is singing the longings of all the tired mother
pilgrims. Every word is like motherhood: elegant, earthy, loving, and present.”
—Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist

“With this beautiful book, Micha Boyett opens a door to Benedictine spirituality through 
regular, busy people can enter and taste, see, smell, hear, and feel what it means to live life as a
prayer. This debut sets Boyett apart as one of the most promising new writers of a generation.”

—Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“Reading Found is like taking a deep breath of grace. You’ll hear the echo of your own
questions and doubts in the gentle ways Micha Boyett addresses her own, and by the end,
you’ll feel the quiet goodness of enough. For anyone who’s ever gotten prayer all tangled up in
performance—this one’s for you.”
—Addie Zierman, author of When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith,
Tangled Love and Starting Over

“This book is stunning. Beautifully written, Micha Boyett’s Found is a penetrating story, rich
in humanity and faith, the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve read its last page.
Like Henri Nouwen and Madeline L’Engle, Boyett’s spiritual journey is divinely practical, a
relatable and potentially anointed narrative that renews, inspires, and reminds us that we are not
lost.”
—Matthew Paul Turner, author of Churched and Our Great Big American God

“Micha Boyett is in search for the beauty in the everyday, the prayer that hides itself in dinners
and diapers and naps. She is as skilled of a tour guide for Benedictine spirituality as she is for
her own story, and in these pages you will find that the sacred has been there all along.”
—Adam S. McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church

“In Found, Micha Boyett tells the small story of her own redemptions, inviting readers into a
life of earnest spiritual seeking. Written in reflective bursts of prose mirroring monastic hours
and the holy calendar, Boyett has created an account of spiritual resolve, believing that the
most important journeys of the heart are the modest ones.”
—Dave Harrity, director of ANTLER and author of Making Manifest: On Faith,
Creativity, and the Kingdom at Hand

Surviving the Worst Thing Possible: A Book Review

IMG_5398I have always had an active imagination. And a sometimes anxious psyche. Combine those two things, and the mind pictures grow exponentially! I’ve imagined my husband or children lying by the side of the road, injured, dying. I’ve ‘seen’ my loved ones’ airplanes falling from the sky. I’ve pictured waking up to flames around me, with no way of escape.

And I’ve always believed that the very worst thing that can happen to a parent is to lose one of their children to death.

After reading, “Refuse to Drown,” co-written by Tim Kreider and Shawn Smucker, I’m not sure I believe that anymore. Because what happened to Tim is even worse than that: he discovered that his oldest boy, Alec, at the tender age of 16, viciously murdered his best friend and both of his friend’s parents. Stunned by this revelation, Tim had to make the hardest choice of his life — to turn his son into the police, and then to wait for his child’s fate to be determined by a court of law.

Working from journals, an early manuscript, and painful memories, Tim and Shawn have created a compelling book, with enough suspense to keep us reading until the very end. In the process, we learn what it means to live a life of integrity even while in the grip of overwhelming grief. There are no heroes in this story. What Tim chooses to do is, indeed, heroic, but it is not something he takes pride in, not something he feels good about doing. 

And that’s one of the primary reasons this is a book that I sincerely recommend. There is real wrestling going on in this story. What is the right thing to do here? Can I do it? Can I live with the consequences of making the right choice? What more could I have done for my child?

Hard questions, no easy answers. Throughout the tale, Tim is fiercely honest and admits to mistakes made along the journey of parenting his son. The question that rises to the top of all the others is this one: how are parents to learn what mental illness or serious personality disorder look like? What are the signs? Is there help out there?

At the end, we are left with the truth that no one can know what’s going on in the heart of another, even if that other is someone we’ve known their whole lives. It is unsettling to read this book, disturbing, even painful.

What redeems the story is the bright thread of hope that weaves its way in and around the sordid and painful details. The grace of God shows up, right in the midst of this terrible darkness, as Tim’s soon-to-be second wife, his friends and his church community rally round, offering silent companionship, meals, words and notes of comfort. And Alec himself seems to find some measure of comfort in God, and to express some remorse for his vicious actions.

This is Tim’s story to tell and Shawn has helped him to tell it well. As a reader, and as a mother, I wanted to know more about what Alec’s mom was thinking, how she was finding comfort in the midst of all this agony. But that is not the story here, is it? I often found myself praying for her, and for all the family as this story unfolded, because every member of the circle is changed forever as a result of Alec’s horrible choice that dark night in May 2006.

This is a story worth reading. It is sad and hard, but ultimately hopeful. There can be life after the worst thing possible happens. And it can be a rich, good life. 

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