Friendship knows no homelessness

BY:JENNA DEWITT

Gavin Rogers, a San Antonio youth minister, shared in our New Year 2013 issue about his journey giving up home for Lent in 2012. During his time homeless on the streets, he met a man named William who would show him that friendship doesn’t recognize economic brackets.

Gavin describes his friend as “the closest thing you could get to the stereotypical homeless guy.” William, now in his 50s, has been homeless since high school. He earns money through odd jobs and, until meeting Gavin, didn’t go to shelters or ministries, believing they wouldn’t help him since he was an alcoholic. He met Gavin through the community library’s free computer lab. He made his home in an abandoned shack, his only shelter from the South Texas wind, hail and thunderstorms.

It was during one of these storms that Gavin sought out his fellow homeless buddy from the computer lab and asked where he was staying. William invited Gavin to spend the night with him in the shack.

“Homeless people don’t really reveal where they stay,” Gavin said. “He had to really trust me to let me stay there. I realized I was not just staying at some ‘place.’ I was actually in William’s home. That’s probably debatable by government standards, but for him, it was his home. He let me stay there amidst his privacy, amidst his stuff, and make it through a really bad night.”

Despite this realization, Gavin said it took him months after the Lenten project was over to feel comfortable inviting William to spend the night at his house. Over time, however, occasional visits and showers turned into shelter. Now, William has a space of his own on their front porch, complete with bed, lamp and a safe place to store his few possessions. But it was a journey of learning to trust and intentionally forge a relationship.

It began with a Willie Nelson concert.

Gavin, his roommate Kelley Hubler, and William donned their plaid shirts and jeans for the occasion. Gavin knew that William was a fan since they had sung Willie Nelson songs together around a campfire during the Lenten project. After that, he said he would take William to a concert if Willie Nelson ever came to town.

The concert went late so Gavin and Kelley invited William to spend the night. Soon, this “stereotypical homeless man” according to outward appearances, was coming over more frequently. Hospitality became more than a theoretical idea to Gavin and Kelley.

“I’ve gotten better, but the great thing in Romans – where it says be sincere, cling to what is good, hate what is evil – the last of that passage, it says practice hospitality. Practice is a unique word. It means you can mess up. It means you’re not perfect but we aim for hospitality. That’s what we are doing as Christians and all the journeys that we take in life. We’re practicing our hearts toward hospitality, toward loving thy neighbor, so therefore I’m still practicing.”

–       Gavin Rogers

Though William is welcome to sleep inside if he wants (and does on cold winter nights), his independence and comfort are most at home on the porch. Still, Gavin and Kelley said they treat him as they would any other roommate without patronizing him or worrying about him when he isn’t around.

“It all goes back to treating people how I would want to be treated and I hope that someday, if I ever need that help, that someone would do that for me,” Kelley said. “It’s not a difficult thing. William’s a person. He does nice things for us; we do nice things for him.”

Gavin said he was humbled by Kelley’s quick agreement when he mentioned inviting William to stay more permanently.

“So here’s this minister who lived on the street for 40 days, which led him to this decision over six months, then my roommate [who is not involved in church], it took him five seconds to be more Christ-like than me,” Gavin said.

Both Gavin and Kelley emphasized it is about mutual respect and building an equal, healthy friendship over time.

“I’m not trying to get William out of homelessness. I’m not sure if it’s possible,” Gavin said. “I’m going to love him regardless of whatever decision he makes because I’m his friend. If he receives a true friendship and is treated by people around him like a true human being, that gives him a much more enjoyable life and a fulfilled life than somebody who treats him like a number or a statistic. If William is still homeless at the end of his life, the good news is, I’ve invested in William. That doesn’t change. ”

Read more about Gavin’s Lenten journey of homelessness in our most recent issue of MORF Magazine.

Gavin Rogers is currently the Minister of Youth at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. He has previously served at University UMC, Kanakuk Kamps and Young Life Waco. He graduated from Focus on the Family Institute in 2002, Baylor University in 2004 with a BS in Education and Duke University in 2008 with a Master of Divinity. His blog can be found at http://www.40daysofhaven.com

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This Isn’t the Protestant Reformation (But an Enlightenment Would be Nice)

 

downtown Waco grain elevator

One of my favorite writers for the Washington Post is actually their humorist and opinion columnist, Alexandra Petri. I first discovered her witty and poignant commentary during the Republican presidential debates earlier this year. I appreciate her blend of millennial culture and clever comedy to reflect the truth of a situation, sometimes more accurately and more effectively than the historic paper’s news section (and coming from me, a devoted WaPo Online fangirl, that means a lot).

However, even I was taken by surprise when she wrote this in an already-brilliant column from the US to the UK regarding the cause and results of the Brexit vote:

 

Look, I understand that experts are sometimes wrong, and sometimes they are in the pocket of big something, but do we honestly think our odds are better getting advice from people who explicitly don’t know what they’re talking about? This isn’t the Protestant Reformation, for crying out loud. It’s not like we can all stare at the same text and draw our own conclusions, Martin Luther-style, and decide that grace alone is sufficient. That’s not how you run the IMF.

 

As an editor at a highly regarded and long-running Protestant publication, this struck me as more insightful about our society than perhaps even Petri knows.

See, we love independence. Generally, that’s a great thing. Give me a choice between depending on others and independence, and I’ll choose the latter every time. The problem comes when I’m actually not that great at doing things by myself.

Those who have attempted a home renovation understand this well. It looks so easy on TV, but then you realize you don’t have an HGTV celebrity and their team to help you (I see you, Facebook friends in houses). The marketing for Home Depot and Lowe’s are often targeted to those who have already figured it out: it’s hard to know when you can really do things by yourself and save money, or when an authority needs to step in and tell you how to get it done. (Or sometimes, “no, this really isn’t a good idea.”)

So if we’re going for a national DIY as Americans (or international for my British readers), where do we start? Some might say we need a new reformation. That’s where we run into some issues.

 

The Protestant Reformation, in short

Good thing: People have access to God’s Word and read it for themselves.

Bad thing: People don’t really understand what they are reading.

Good thing: Trained experts help them understand it. This has led to various forms of Christian education, from VBS to seminaries to certain Christian publications, like the one where I make my living.

Kinda bad thing: These experts are humans. Sinful, imperfect, selfish, limited, biased humans. Even if we have the best and purest of intentions, we all come at the Bible with tinted “reading glasses”: our point of view and experiences and race and gender and personality type and motivations and childhood, plus affection for those who passed on their own biases and metaphorical lens tint to us. That’s a lot of layers to work through. Most of us hit this bump somewhere between our teens and early 30s. Check out the memoirs I write about on this blog for how some of us have worked through that.

Good thing: We learn to discern which authorities to listen to and which are selling snake oil. This is a life-long process and we don’t always get it right, but generally, humans work out how to feel empathy and compassion and say sorry for things like mass genocide and slavery. Not always, but sometimes.

 

So what happens when experts and institutions and authorities with relevant experience are viewed with not just healthy skepticism, but dismissed precisely because of their credentials that make them trustworthy?

Well, as we’re seeing in the UK and the US, side effects include: isolationism, a culture of fear, anger, distrust, blindly following the most charismatic leader, and critical decisions and voting based on rumor and propaganda. Do not ingest if you have a family history of xenophobia, racism, imperialism, sexism, and bigotry.

Now, I’m far from the type of person who cheers for the establishment simply because the Titanic is too big to sink, as you all know. Corporations have gotten it massively wrong even just in my lifetime, and simply because someone is in authority is not at all a reason to trust them.

But a huge part of my job is as an editor is also being a fact-checker. Ethical, true media organizations don’t just get man-on-the-street quotes. They also verify that the information they are reporting is as accurate as possible. But how?

Experts. People who have devoted their lives to studying a subject I’ve only known about for the duration of editing the article. We depend on these authorities to get it right, to help us be truth-tellers instead of gossip rags, and to correct us honestly when we have it wrong.

And if you read that about the media and scoffed, perhaps you are part of the problem.

Yes, so many media organizations are corrupt or lazy or have a political agenda or put profit above the truth or just serve the god of speed in the 24/7 newscycle world. Just look at the Daily Mail’s record of blatant lies regarding the EU if you need proof. And the other side isn’t innocent either.

But there are those of us who are working to get it right.

And discounting the “evil media” because you can’t discern trustworthy sources of information from non-trustworthy ones isn’t going to make America great again. It’s going to set us back a few hundred years.

Maybe worse. Is it better to have no printing press or only trust the “press” that supports your already-biased worldview and brags about its disregard for experts as a defining characteristic?

I suppose that’s the truest reason this isn’t the Protestant Reformation. Not only does it “not work that way” to trust the @AverageJoeOnTwitter over those who actually know what they are talking about, but entitlement and the devaluing of the free press in favor of sensationalism and screaming heads (because little sensible talking happens on cable “news,” let’s be honest) has led us here.

Sure, social media and television are just neutral tools where both inflammatory rhetoric and fruitful conversation are equally possible.

But again, we are humans. And as a species, we don’t default to logic and sensible dialogue because trust and vulnerability are a lot more difficult than blame, shame, judgment, name-calling, anger, fear and hate.

Which is why what we need now isn’t a Protestant Reformation, but a Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment. (The one idealized in our textbooks, not the gruesome reality of the 18th century, just so we are clear.) It was supposedly in this environment that liberty was reborn. It was this era that inspired the political convictions of the Founding Fathers, and the art and music of the Classical masters. We wouldn’t have the experiential religion of John Wesley and his quadrilateral for discernment if it weren’t for the roots of the intellectualism of the Enlightenment. It was also the rise of mass media consumption.

Now, objectivity was not exactly the virtue of the day in journalism ethics of the era, to say nothing of the huge flaws in cultural norms and the limits of these benefits to rich, educated white men, but what if we developed a better Enlightenment without such restrictions, retaining the underlying respect for logic, order, education, the scientific method, and a broadening worldview?

A revitalization of this era would also aid solutions to the concern that the common man and woman is not being heard with its examination of the sources of authority, separation of powers, and government by the people. But it ultimately rests in reason.

How does this apply to faith and its fruits of hope, love, empathy, joy, etc.?

I like this quote from a fellow Bear in Pulse, Baylor’s academic journal, regarding Wesley’s “The Case of Reason Impartially Considered,” a title so meta, it reeks of Enlightment influence.

“The very structure of Wesley’s sermon illustrates the necessity of reason in learning and explicating Scripturally-derived theological truths, just as he uses these truths to illumine the limitations of the reason he employs.”

 

In an age of emotional manipulation, power plays in tweet form, misinformation intentionally spread, and the rise of the fearful and undereducated as a voting body, may we reject the pride of anti-intellectualism and instead embrace the hope of a future shaped by well-informed empathy. May we rebel against the rebellion. May we question every line we are fed that would have us believe reason is just too much effort. And may we know when we are foolish to claim independence when what we really need is an expert authority to help us conquer our national home renovation.


P.S. Brene Brown posted these five observations in light of the Sandy Hook shooting, but I believe they apply to the broader context of this conversation so well:

Prayer and activism are not mutually exclusive.

For many of us they are inextricably connected. We don’t need to criticize those who are praying. You don’t have to pray or even believe in prayer, but be respectful (or at least quiet).

Politics is easier than grief.

To skip over feeling and rush to policy-making dehumanizes the process and weakens policy.  

Blame is simply the discharging of pain and discomfort.

It has nothing to do with accountability. Accountability requires long, difficult, respectful conversations. Blame fizzles out with rage, where accountability is in for the long haul.

Self-righteousness is a sign of fear and uncertainty.

It has nothing to do with activism or change. The loudest and most vitriolic among us are often the most afraid. As my friend Harriet Lerner says, “Change requires listening with same level of passion that we feel when we speak.”

You can’t shame a nation into changing any more than you can shame a person into changing.

Shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, violent behaviors than it is to be the cure. We need courage, vulnerability, hard work, empathy, integrity (and a little grace wouldn’t hurt). 

 

 

 

Giddy Up, Eunice

“When the Holy Spirit in one woman recognizes and responds to the Holy Spirit in another woman, safe places become sacred spaces.” (p. 43)

I always get frustrated at blog posts and books and articles that give advice that starts with “find a _____ (church, friend, therapist, place to serve, etc.)” because they never seem to grasp just how difficult that can be. Sure, there are those to whom finding the right person at the right time has always come easy. But for most of us, it doesn’t. The “find” word is like a foreign traffic sign: Do I stop and wait? Do I go and search?

boots-49404_1280Especially when you are in a new season, where the people around you are more strangers than friends, this “find” word can be cause for despair. There’s either so many options (try going to a new doctor in a city where you know no one) or seemingly few options that are accessible for you.

However, once you have found what you are seeking, particularly when it’s a place to serve, it will nag you until you’ve engaged it.

If you’ve got a desire to minister in any way, particularly with or to other women, “Giddy Up, Eunice: (Because Women Need Each Other)” can help you find it and overcome your hesitations to jump in. Even if you’re not searching for a specific place, Sophie Hudson calls you to look around you and see how you can affect the lives of those you already touch.

In case you’re wondering, this call to “giddy up” into community with other women was inspired by women in the Bible who supported each other. Sophie examines the relationships of Elizabeth and Mary, Naomi and Ruth, and Lois and Eunice.

(Wait… who?)

Lois and Eunice are the mother and grandmother of Timothy who raised him in the faith.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

 

Oh, that Eunice.

“You know what we see in Mary, Elizabeth, Naomi, Ruth, Lois, and Eunice?” Sophie asks on pages 224-225. “We see some substance. We see some wisdom. We see some blessing. We see some intention. We see some care.”IMG_5424

This is no tired ol’ Bible study, however. In her characteristic Southern charm, this book is both deep and hilarious. Sophie has her own unique voice, but if I had to make a similar-author comparison to help you understand, this book is Annie Downs meets Jen Hatmaker meets fried chicken. In other words, if you are an elitist Yankee with no love for the word “y’all,” I’d urge you to open that mind you’re so proud of and listen up before diving into this book.  Ha! 😉

Sophie speaks from personal experience, both of being led by the older women in her life and leading young girls. This book is an especially perfect fit for those caught in this in-between, the middle generation of moms, aunts, youth leaders, and teachers, who also need the influence of their own moms and mothers-in-law and mentors and leaders. Even for us singles, we all have younger women and older women around us who have been placed in our lives for a purpose.

I know this sounds so preachy, but there isn’t a condescending or boring word in the entire book. Sophie makes her characters real and her real-life people into memorable characters. One challenge of memoir as a genre is that the writer has to convert the personalities of those they love most and know best into something that translates to the reader, so that in only a few mentions you can recall which stories or branches of the family tree these people are tied to.

I do recommend reading Sophie’s first two books after this one. “Giddy Up, Eunice” is great on its own, but there’s more history and delight and emotion you are missing out on if you haven’t read “A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet: Southern Stories of Faith, Family, and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon” and “Home Is Where My People Are: The Roads That Lead Us to Where We Belong” already. My advice? Read “Eunice” first, then go back and laugh and weep through the previous two, then read this one again.

I’m so grateful for the Eunices in my life who have made me their Timothy. And this thing doesn’t just go one way, either. As a younger woman in many contexts, I hope I’ve encouraged and taught the women in my social circles, book clubs, and small groups when I’ve been called upon to do so as well.

Maybe at this point you’re thinking, “That’s great, but this isn’t me. I’ve got nothing. I have no one.” In that case, I want you to read Sophie’s strong advice:

“If we’re truly worn down and worn out, then by all means we need to rest. … But if, for some reason, you have convinced yourself that you’re not needed any more, that your best days are behind you, that you’re not “relevant” … Stop it right now. Don’t you dare discount your importance, your influence, or your calling.” (p. 80)

You are a vital piece of someone else’s story. And chances are, you don’t have to go “find” those someones. God is faithful to weave our lives into the lives of others all on His own. We just have to be open to His call.

Giddy up, y’all.

horses-1414889_1280

Why You Really Should Go and Love Yourself

Diving back into Brene Brown’s work has me thinking a lot about self-compassion lately, and (as is so often the case for Brene) what that means for us in the church. Perhaps in the Gospels when Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” instead of that meaning we need to be less selfish, it means that as we go about learning to love ourselves, we also do the difficult work of loving others. It’s easy enough to hate ourselves while feeling the emotion of love for someone else, but it is much harder (Brene would say impossible) to connect and be courageously vulnerable with others in an authentic way if we hate ourselves.

This command of Jesus isn’t so much about having to love ourselves before we can feel love for others, but about true connection. We cannot become solely inwardly or outwardly focused. If we focus on our inner world to the detriment of the community around us, we have failed. If we ignore our own self-hate and shame by pouring ourselves into the lives of those around us, we will drown. A lack of self-compassion manifests itself in our outward behaviors and speech. It’s not selfish to love yourself. In fact, it’s holy work, work we are called to by Jesus himself. Spend some time thanking God today for all the wonderful things that make you YOU. It isn’t always easy to see the lovely things about ourselves, but your relationships with those you love will be all the better for it.

brene self compassion

How to become a journalist

One of my very favorite websites is Grammar Girl’s section of “Quick and Dirty Tips.” This website offers, you guessed it, the short answer on how to do pretty much anything. And Mignon Fogarty’s specialty is exactly the type of “quick and dirty” I need in my life as a copy editor.

But how did I become a copy editor?

That’s a long story better answered by my resume and a look through my portfolio (some of which you can find under “my work” above). But here’s what I tell anyone who emails CT asking “how do I become a Christian journalist?”

 The number one thing I would recommend is to start with a blog and build your social media presence. The more you write, the better you will write. It’s a muscle you have to build over a long period of time. Get a loyal group of readers and followers, then pitch editors at smaller publications, working your way up. It means having to write for free at first, but those bylines add up so by the time you get to pitching CT, you have plenty of previous articles to send me. If you’re still in school, I highly recommend joining your school’s student publications staff. That’s the absolute best way to become a journalist. Also, write for your local paper, go to conferences and network with professionals, make a web portfolio on WordPress or Wix or SquareSpace, and do your research on journalism blogs like spj.org on what makes a good journalist.

To give you an idea of what to shoot for in your writing, here’s our writer’s guidelines: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/help/about-us/writers-guidelines.html.

Oh, and of course, keep reading CT! 🙂

Hope this helps.

Looking for Lovely

Just in time for spring retreats and summer vacations, Annie Downs’ “Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments that Matter” is the perfect travel companion.

I am not traveling with it this week, purely by luck of the draw as I’ve been traveling practically every other weekend, but I know my travel-worthy books. Trust me on this. You want this with you if you’re going to be on an airplane, in a terminal, on the beach, in the car, on a comfy sofa, on a porch swing, or at a cafe somewhere (the kind where they don’t mind if you stay awhile).

IMG_4998[1]Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments that Matter” is personal, and brings genuine emotions to the surface, but Annie’s free and funny writing style keeps it light and refreshing, even when she goes deep on self-image, quitting being a quitter, relational pain, and mental health.

This is equally true of her in-person talks at conferences and her previous books (Speak Love: Making Your Words Matter, Let’s All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have, and Perfectly Unique: Praising God from Head to Foot), but especially with a book dedicated to finding the silver linings in life’s hardships, Annie is exactly the writer you want to handle these topics.

This book is such a perfect example of why Annie’s readers and audiences walk away feeling like they are really friends with her: she is just so gosh-darn likable, even when she’s confessing her (literal and metaphorical) messes. And she doesn’t shy away from getting real with her readers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some chapters might be more difficult to read than others, depending on your issues. If you struggle to find real friendships, for example, the “My People” chapter might be hard to read without a bit of jealousy. Maybe your bitterness stings at self-acceptance, travel opportunities, the freedom of self-employment, living in such a cool city as Nashville… Pause a moment. Take those thoughts captive. Don’t give into it, dear reader. I feel like Annie would say that’s not what this book is about at all. She tells of her victories and blessings because she’s been through the messy stuff to get there. Those relationships took a long time to build; the gym she loves was preceded by years of struggle with fitness; the purpose with which she writes took much wandering in uncertainty – and on and on.

I feel like she would say to read her story as encouragement that it’s still worth pursuing “lovely” even if it takes far longer than you wanted. Don’t let comparison blind you to your own version of lovely in your own life.

In fact, that’s the point of the whole shebang. Or at least, a large part of it.

Look for it. Search, find, seek the beauty in your own pain, in the midst of the drudgery of life, in the storm of unexpected trouble, in the long anxious night.

“If you aren’t experiencing pain, you aren’t experiencing beauty. Darkness makes us appreciate the beauty of the light. If you aren’t allowing yourself to feel the hurt, sadness, loneliness, and disappointment this fallen world has to offer, you probably aren’t feeling the fullness of the joy and beauty the redeemed moments have to offer.” (p. 76)

Later on she confesses how this was true in her own story, summing up the book nicely:

“I had to be broken to be rebuilt, but breakdowns seem to often come before breakthroughs.” (p. 180)

The idea behind memoir is that it is a look back at a very personal past. Looking back in your past, what are your unexpected “lovelies” – places of victory you never thought would come, places where the divine overwhelmed you with the beauty of nature and taught you something through it, joy that came despite the threat of never-ending darkness?

Feel free to leave your answer as an encouragement to others in the comments below or post them on social media!


 

“Beauty is what makes it possible to keep going. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? It’s not just in the things everyone sees, but it is what YOU see, what sticks out to you, the unique moments God gives you to collect up and hold and draw strength from.” (p. 50) 

 


 

For more from Annie, check out my interviews with her here and here.

Night Driving – Addie Zierman

IMG_4920[1]

(Read this from Addie first.)

There are three things you need – “school supplies” if you will – for reading Addie Zierman’s “Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark

  1. The Elizabethtown soundtrack

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Nearby Glendale, Kentucky, taken on my Alabama-Tennessee-Kentucky road trip last summer.

I didn’t think of it until I got to the part where she drives through E-town and mentions it, but I should have put it on from the start. After all, my own year of literal road tripping through metaphorical darkness included a lot of this playlist.

Most memorable and significant was my drive away from my life in Birmingham to the uncertainty of a short season in Dallas. I put on this soundtrack and just let the memories and mourning and healing begin as I drove through small town after small town. In case you don’t recall that particular story of this past year, my parents and I loaded up my belongings in a U-haul over Labor Day weekend. I followed them alone in my car, which was very good for my soul as I processed what had just happened over the past four months. Well, the past four years, really. And like Addie, the open road proved the perfect place to ask God some big questions about where I was going. If only life were as simple as plugging an address into Google Maps. But that isn’t faith.

Addie writes that she had countless people tell her how brave she was for taking a road trip from Minnesota to Florida with a two-year-old and a four-year-old in a minivan in February 2014.

Though I have never made THAT particular trip, I do know what it’s like to drive across the country and have people tell you you’re so brave for doing it. When, in reality, it’s so much more complicated than that. When you’re only certain of one thing: that it’s the right thing to do.

But oh, it is hard.

It’s hard to leave it all behind. It’s hard to stay when things aren’t what you thought they would be. It’s hard to sit in the grief and the grittiness of daily life, knowing no matter how fast or far you drive, you can’t outrun it.

Sometimes brave faith is actively not running away, gathering your community around you in mutual brokenness, and putting on a quirky cult-classic chick flick of a movie that you’ve watched a hundred times with a dozen different friends.

And sometimes, brave faith is putting on said movie’s soundtrack and hitting the road.

2. A highlighter

Well, not so much a highlighter specifically, but a willingness to engage your own story as you read and make your copy as ragged as the elements of your past it might bring to the surface. I just want to make sure you are prepared for dog-eared pages, notes in the margins and neon-yellow streaks (and maybe a tear stain or two if you’re the cry-while-reading type). NightDriving_Infographics1

What I’m trying to say is, through telling her story, Addie might make you reflect on your own. How you would tell it to a stranger. That messy, twisted journey of sunshiny new faith to doubt to apathy to peace. As we Whovians like to say, time (and thus, faith) is non-linear. It’s not a strict cause to effect. “It’s more like a great big ball of timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly… stuff.”

And if there is any true way to describe a relationship with Jesus lived out over a long period of time, it’s wibbly-wobbly.

At least, mine is. I venture Addie would say the same. And the people she meets up with or mentions along the route.

3. Time

Maybe you won’t read the whole book in one afternoon like I did. In fact, I’d advise taking intentional breaks. It’s one of those books you need to digest. To take a step back from at points and let it soak so you don’t read it like a magazine story or a simple anecdote. Behind every detail recalled is a scene-setting morsel, making it all the sweeter when you realize along with her what was really going on under the surface.

Texas highways

One of my many road trips across Texas.

“How do we know God is real?” 

Addie engages with this question throughout the book, first posed at a large teen ministry conference in her youth group days. If you’ve read her previous, “When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over,” you know how that story goes. But this book is more about having faith that He is, in fact, real, but not being able to feel Him. It’s about what Barbara Brown Taylor describes as “the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season” (“Learning to Walk in the Dark,” p. 9).

Indeed, “Night Driving” feels like the practical application or, perhaps, one woman’s journey of living out Taylor’s book. They are companions: one a mentor, an experienced clergywoman with laugh lines and reassuring hands and a ready cup of coffee. The other a fellow young adult, navigating what Christian life looks like after the fires of honeymoon-passionate faith have receded into silence and loneliness and desert places.

“Desert places.” We always used that term in my on-fire days. Namely, in the context of the popular worship song. I still love the song, but what I didn’t know back then was that there is a difference between anxiety and spiritual attack, between depression and not “doing enough for God.” I knew what it was to struggle back then, but the real desert place was still to come.

There’s a lesson to be learned in these true spiritual dark places, where we need to rest our performance-driven, controlling, anxious hearts and simply let the season change. Say yes to a wander through the wilderness. Learn to walk in the dark. Put our keys in the ignition and do a little night driving.

Night-Driving-Synchroblog

Linking up with the “Night Driving” synchroblog today. Head over to Addie’s blog to read her post, others’ reactions, and to add your own story. From her post:

So tell about your dark places. The ones that you have chosen, or the ones that have chosen you.
What did you learn? What did you not learn?
Are you there now? What does it feel like? What is the most frightening part? What is the most comforting?
What mysterious have you touched on as you’ve fumbled around in this unfamiliar place?
What things became your touchstones when the lights went out? Were they what you expected?
I know it’s all a little vague. (Darkness usually is.) Go anywhere you like with these prompts, or go completely off topic.
Start here, if you need a place:
It was dark when __________________________.
You wouldn’t believe what I saw.

5 Memoirs to Look Forward to This Year

Y’all. There are so many good books coming out this year.

Seeing as I’ve been a bit MIA since OCTOBER, I’m doing some re-imagining of what this blog will look like in this new season. You see, that last post was inspired by a job offer. In the end, I moved from sunny, sweaty Texas to the frozen snowglobe that is Illinois. I now live very close to a train station that can take me into Chicago any time I like. I have lovely co-workers who know how to play hard and work hard. And I spend more time editing.

Which means I don’t spend time reading and writing about books for work anymore.

But there are SO MANY good ones. As I said.

So I have joined a launch team or two in hopes that I can still tell you about authors I love and books I enjoy on a regular basis. I don’t promise to post a lot, but more than never, so that’s an improvement. 😉

I am going to attempt to figure out Amazon affiliate links, but promise to always tell you the truth about what I thought. In Texas, they call it “shooting straight.” That’s what I aim to do here (pun intended, as always).

Lindsey Stirling

IMG_4901[1]With a title like “The Only Pirate at the Party,” how can you not be in love with this book before even cracking open the cover? I am especially looking forward to diving into this one, which I’ve had on my bookshelf for over a month now after attending a book signing party. Lindsey is a phenomenal performer – known for her fantastic YouTube videos as a dancing violinist – but she is also known to her fans as a woman of faith, loyalty and courage, standing for her beliefs even when it’s not the cool thing to do.

Release date – January 12

 

Sophie Hudson

Speaking of Southern sayings, one book on my Amazon wishlist is Sophie Hudson’s “Giddy Up, Eunice: (Because Women Need Each Other)” about our relationships as women. I love the way Sophie writes about her Southern culture and family. I first discovered her while living in Birmingham and was lucky enough to hear her speak to our office book club about her last book, “Home Is Where My People Are: The Roads That Lead Us to Where We Belong.” It’s a delight. Her first book, “A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet: Southern Stories of Faith, Family, and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon” is the one that hooked me, however. Snatch ’em up and be prepared to laugh, cry, and cook something fried with bacon.

Release date – June 7

 

Annie Downs

Annie Downs won me over a long time ago with her books “Perfectly Unique: Praising God from Head to Foot” and “Speak Love: Making Your Words Matter” and “Let’s All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have.” I had the privilege of interviewing Annie twice for MORF (here and here) and meeting her at a Girls of Grace event. Let me tell you, this girl is the real deal. She is funny and authentic and has a brave heart, especially when it comes to sharing the hard parts of her story so others don’t feel so alone. And really, that’s what this list is all about.IMG_4998[1]

I can’t wait to read her latest, “Looking for Lovely: Collecting the Moments that Matter.” I’m honored to be on her launch team for this book, though I haven’t had a chance to dive in yet. I’ll let you know in a future post how it was, but I have no doubt it’s going to be another homerun. After all, confetti poured out of the package when I received the ARC, so that’s a sign right there.

Release date – April 5

 

Glennon Melton

When I heard the blogger and author behind Momastery was coming out with a new book –  Love Warrior: A Memoir – one that was more revealing than anything she had posted before, one that told the story she had refrained from sharing thus far – I had to at least see what it was about.

Well, as a wife and mother, she obviously has a story that involves marriage and parenthood.

But it’s more than that. Just like her blog (which is why I read a blog with “mom” in the title). It’s about what she calls the “brutiful” life – beauty in the brutal. It’s about being a woman in a world hellbent on destroying us.

Glennon

Release date – August 30

 

Addie Zierman

A while ago, one of my favorite bloggers and internet friends, Addie, messaged me on Twitter. She was coming out with a new book and knew her first one, “When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over” had really resonated with me. (I was pretty enthusiastic about my support on social media. haha It’s one of those books you just can’t stop sharing quotes from!) Addie asked if I wanted an ARC of IMG_4920[1]Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark” and shared the vision behind it. Friends, I had to remind myself to keep breathing when I read that book summary. Once again, though the literal details were different, the spiritual and emotional elements were eerily close to home. I told her “Yes, of course!” but I was really thinking “Oh, thank God. It’s not just me who has been through these things and felt these things.” But that’s what I love about Addie. She can write her own story with vulnerability and devastating honesty, yet her readers never feel pity or judgment for her. Only “You too? I’m not alone!”

Release date – March 15

 

I’m specifically looking forward to these books because they are the “what now” after the storm comes. Like last year’s “Rising Strong,” where Brené Brown followed up on “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.” She said a lot of people had read the book, dared greatly, then were left saying “now what? Where do we go from here?”

And I think that’s important with memoir especially. At least, memoir that shares a life lesson or spiritual journey. It’s important to get down in the pit and wrestle with our demons, but once we’ve been there and emerged, victorious or not, bruised and bloody, how do we walk away? How do we keep that fight in our hearts going strong and not hit rock bottom again? Or maybe we do. How do we get up and forgive ourselves?

I think a lot of those books will “go there” with varying levels of intensity. Plus, we’ll explore some fiction like Erin Hicks and Megan Beam’s The Last Beholder series. Join me on a reading adventure this spring and summer as we read them together!

The Waiting Room: Applications, Acceptance, Approval and Anxiety

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I’ve done a lot of anxious waiting in my day. You know how it goes:

waiting to see if you’ve made the team

waiting for test scores to be posted

waiting for an acceptance letter

waiting for approval on the apartment

waiting after a job interview

waiting for lab results and a diagnosis

Increasingly, that news is conveyed through the convenient form of email.

Unfortunately, so is everything else.

Every time a new message *pings* or notification pops up or the “unread messages” number increases, THIS COULD BE IT.

The. News.

But it isn’t.

It’s LinkedIn. Encouraging you to check out your wildly successful former colleague’s work-a-versary when you’re hoping your project’s budget gets approved for the new fiscal year. It’s Barnes and Noble, New York & Company and Target all reminding you they are having huge sales while you wait for medical bills to flood in. It’s a newsletter from the company you desperately want an interview with. PayPal wants your bank account number, but you just want that friend you screwed things up with to reply back, accepting your apology. Amazon has a deal of the day, and it’s all you can do to keep from buying the random item – not because you want it or for retail therapy – but because it feels productive and you need something to happen. Anything, really.

You’ve got mail.

Heart rate accelerates. Stomach flips. Breath hitches. Muscles tense. Panic rises.

Click.

Facebook would like to inform you a distant cousin has cordially invited you to indulge in a round of PirateFarmCrush Mafia With Friends.

This is our digital age.

You wonder if it’s possible to perish from spam.

Death by email. What a tragic way to go.

Here lies our dear, impatient friend. Waiting for email did her in.

 

At some point, the anxiety morphs to existential pondering. “What is it about this email that has me so in knots?” you ask. Is your sense of belonging rooted in their acceptance? How long should you wait before following up with a reminder email? Is their approval about more than the surface-level circumstances but instead a debilitating fear of rejection? What’s the etiquette about calling to make sure they received it? Should you see a therapist about the personally revealing things this email crisis has uncovered?

You delete the emails that were not the ones you were waiting for, irrationally angry at them for not being The Big News. Open the apps of all your social media accounts. Organize those Gmail labels all you want, darling. It won’t make the wait any shorter.

Walk away for five minutes. Check again. First thing in the morning? Just the new posts from blogs you’re subscribed to. Mid-afternoon rolls around and you nearly have a heart attack thinking IT’S FINALLY HERE when you forget about your daily news briefing email despite the fact that, by definition, it comes at the same time. Every. Day.

Hang in there, my fellow waiters. I’m here to tell you, the struggle is real, but it has an end. If it’s a rejection notice, remember the agony of not knowing and proceed in relief that at least that’s over. If it’s happy, before you get wrapped up in details and drafting a response, don’t forget the lessons you learned in the waiting and your initial gratitude. Hold that inner peace close for the next time you’re refreshing your browser “just in case.”

And know your worth, your value, your hope isn’t dependent on any email, no matter what it contains.

How a Dying Man Lived Second

Tim Adriany story

So grateful I got to interview Tim Adriany before his death. What a privilege to write his story for I Am Second. Read about how God works through a faithful life and a supportive community.

Tim Adriany lived in the eastern North Carolina town of Parkton. He couldn’t drive any more. The cancer spreading throughout his body made sure of that. That didn’t change his love of classic cars, though. While recently visiting with his neighbor, he mentioned a final wish: to ride in his dream car – an El Camino – one last time. He never dreamed what would come of that conversation, and what friends and strangers were about to do.

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