What Falls From the Sky
January 19, 2017 at 10:07 am 2
Friends, in this new year, I'm hoping to add more micro-reviews to my blog. Short and sweet. Reviews that will give you the feel of the book. Nothing fussy. Just enough to see if it's a good fit for you. Here's my first one on Esther Emery's What Falls from the Sky. Several of you know Esther as the woman who lives in a yurt, part of the duo of the YouTube channel, Fouch-o-matic Off Grid, and a beautiful writer. What Falls from the Sky is her debut book, a memoir about finding God in the quiet.
It's pitch dark so that the light coming from my computer is harsh. I am caught in a flood of rain, with it hitting every window. It's the sort of rain we don't see much in California, the sort of rain that makes you feel small and where the sky might fall. In it, creation comes closer. I am suddenly aware of how I use the ground beneath my feet unthinkingly. It becomes something else to consume. I need to feel the sky around me, even in the middle of my couch, in the middle of the suburbs. I loved Esther Emery's memoir, What Falls from the Sky, for just that reason: it reorients you. You'll find yourself savoring sentences, slowing done, re-learning quiet. It puts you not only back in touch with creation, but with God himself. When we turn off the noise, what will we hear? It's the story of the year without the Internet. It's the story of going so fast in your own life that you're headed down a highway and all you crave is speed. It's a story of coming to terms with the ghosts of our pasts, finding hope after infidelity, and learning how to leave space open for silence, and yes, even for God. The book is organized by season and all that falls from the sky: snow, rain, sun, and fog. It's a book that follows the seasons of the year and seasons of the heart. It follows Esther's quiet, slow journey away from noise and performing for others and moves her into the arms of God. Here's a sample of her achingly lovely prose:
On the Internet: "And I know that, yes, in truth, it is isolation that I have come looking for no matter how many times I've said the opposite. In all the tales of heroes, growth begins with a pilgrimage...this is my pilgrimage: out form under the shelter of my screens, to see the sky. On motherhood: "I cried because I couldn't do it. But I also cried because my ego was disappearing. I was losing self in little bits, like fingers, and I knew even then the change was irreversible...You can call that magic if you want, but it is a real and painful magic, neither sudden nor inexplicable." On giving up performance in favor of presence: "Never in my life have I felt such total anonymity as I do right now. Never in my life have I stood so far from the portal that frames the stage. I used to think that it would be like dying. But it isn't like dying. It's much more like having a quiet place to rest."
Do you need a quiet place to rest? You might not make the choice, like Esther and her family, to move back to the land. But you can put down your phone. We can learn to think about our choices of consumption -- whether that's of the Internet, people, new stuff, or ethically sourced products -- no matter where we live.

Rain is what is falling from the sky. What will you find when you take the space to look?

  Pick it up. It's just $14 for a gorgeous hardback today on Amazon.
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Rescued from the Life I Wanted: Shannan Martin’s Provocative New Book
September 20, 2016 at 5:36 am 3
I never had a scheduled c-section, but I imagine that's a bit what birthing a "book baby" feels like. Except that book babies take a whole lot longer than 9 months to gestate. Today we celebrate Shannan Martin's debut book, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I always Wanted (Thomas Nelson). fallingfree4 When I first met Shannan face-to-face it was in about 90 seconds at the Festival of Faith & Writing. We were running around the campus, trying to find each other, and we ended up with about a minute of "Hi!", hugs, and general craziness before my Uber driver came to take me to the airport. Then I met her in California when she was in town for an (in)courage event and on death's door. Her life is clearly amazing and full of surprises. Most importantly, when I heard the subtitle of her book, I knew I had to have it. Because we're all looking for "the good life," and Shannan had it. But God (in the wonderfully upside-down way of his) kept poking and prodding and asking Shannan and her family to look differently, to live differently -- to live fully. They sold their farm -- their slice of the American Dream; they grew their family through adoption; they adopted a young man and former felon; they moved to a run-down part of a small city in Indiana; they left their white collar, political jobs and now spend time befriending those in jail (her husband is a jail chaplain). But they're also doing the same things as you are: they're keeping their doors ajar. They're walking to school. They're showing up in their neighborhood. They're no different from you and me. They're not holier, better, kinder, gentler, or more in touch with God. They are just living out his goodness when and where he asked them to be faithful. fallingfree1 It's a beautiful book. I want you to hear a bit of her writing:
Embracing our smallness is the skeleton key for living the abundant life. This is the hope we’ve been given. Living small is not about having less, but being less—less respected in the eyes of the world, less successful, less wealthy, less esteemed, less you. Less me. And more Jesus. Here, in this abundance of less, where more of us is stripped away, we’ll uncover the person we were made to be, the one created in the image of a God who sank holy feet into our human mess.
But we keep believing lies -- we believe that more will always satisfy. And in our search for more, we starve our souls. As Shannan writes: "It’s hard to pine for heaven when you already believe you’re there." But, the antidote isn't work harder, change your priorities, get your calendar in order, make your kids obey. Nope, it's surrender. That's what "always the beginning of a better dream." The message of her book is timely and timeless. I'm so reticent to let go, to loosen my grip and realize that in dying to self, I'll find life. I'm much more keen to change plans, re-route, re-commit to new theories and practices. But instead, Jesus calls me to a surrendered life, a life where I'm not in control. It turns out to be a blessed gift when you aren't measured by "do more, be more." It's a book for weary women and burnt out followers of Jesus. It's for the harried mom and overworked family. Maybe there really is an abundant life and we're choosing to not live it. Maybe if we fall free, we'll fall right into a freedom that let's us rest. This book is not a pie-in-the-sky cheesy call to abundant life. It is not all sunshine and rainbows. It is a call to live more fully. It is a call for the hard work of loving others in their (and our) brokenness. It is a book that will awaken you to abundance and the goodness of Jesus who meets us wherever we live.
When we know the one who ordained the seasons and the wingspan of a singular burnished oak; who invented sugar and salt and the perfect sphere of a hardy cherry tomato; who knew how comforted we would be by things like wool and tea and the light in our babies' eyes: when we *know him*, we know that all his schemes, even the seemingly nutso ones, are for our gain. And when we trust that, when we really believe it, our fingers start to loosen their grip, and we reach out to touch the very edges of freedom. That's what letting go is, after all. It's freedom.
fallingfree2   Grab yourself a copy. Prepare for your insides to be poked and prodded in the way that good and holy truth can. It's worth it. I promise. //   I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Shannan for The Mudroom (stay tuned for that to go live in a week or so!) and we talked salsa, kiddos, and of course, her book! Shannan's blog: Order Falling Free: or at Amazon: Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted   Photos courtesy of Shannan Martin and Falling Free Launch Team members. *post contains affiliate links  
At other places, Motherhood + Marriage, Review
Bad Moms and Neighborhood Parties
August 19, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
Are you a bad mom? I don't know about you, but for me, I like to analyze things. Like a lot. Like to death. And sometimes I totally make my husband listen to all my brilliance. Sometimes that's entirely too much for any one man to handle. I've been turning over motherhood and culture after seeing the movie Bad Moms. I've been thinking about neighborhood dynamics and how being a Christian means we should be good neighbors after reading, Next Door as it is in Heaven. Thankfully, too, I have a few wonderful editors who see fit to publish my ramblings  brilliance. So if you've seen Bad Moms, tell me what you think. Here's a bit about what I thought: I guffawed. I cried tears of laughter. I sent my girlfriends knowing side glances when we had a girls night at the movies to watch, Bad Moms. I made everyone feel okay with laughing out loud because I did so much of it. But after all the laughter, I had to reflect on and think about what the movie was espousing. It hits a certain soft spot for women these days -- women who love their children, sacrifice their time, energy, sanity and money for them, and yet still feel like a failure. I kept turning it over in my head -- particularly thinking about the dynamic between men and women in the movie -- and instead of (entirely) boring my husband to death, I wrote about it for ThinkChristian.
The “bad mom” mantra becomes Amy’s campaign slogan when she runs for PTA president. Her openness encourages other women to stand up to confess their own “bad mom” moments. In the school’s gym, they enact a secular ritual of confession—calling out the ways they haven’t met up to some idealized standard of motherhood and finding solidarity in their failures. It’s interesting, and perhaps humorous, that this solidarity is not found in being called to something higher, but by setting the bar lower. Yet confession and vulnerability without the Gospel isn’t good news. It’s just our dirty laundry.
Read more about what I thought about Bad Moms at ThinkChristian.  
  What has your summer looked like? Has it meant more or less neighborly time? I thought a lot about how we all ache for community and shun it at the same time. Here's a bit from my review of Next Door as it is in Heaven:
We all care deeply about where we are placed, and we all long for home to feel like a firm foundational place of belonging. The problem is that we elevate the nuclear family and our physical houses instead of concomitantly seeking the good of our neighborhoods, cities, and world. Authors Ford and Brisco are desperate to recover a sense of the neighborhood as the space of connection, where the gospel takes on flesh. The premise for Next Door As It Is in Heaven is simple: we are disconnected in our modern age of so-called connectivity, yet being a good neighbor is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. It is a book that challenges the reader to do what David Brooks wrote about in an op-ed for the New York Times: “We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive.” We tend to think of emotional, spiritual, moral, and communal development as happening in classrooms or churches. But each of these areas Brooks highlights can be found by faithfully and intentionally practicing presence in your own neighborhood. Neighborliness matters. It is, after all, the basis for Jesus’s most famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Living out the Kingdom of God then is not something professionals do with fancy words; it is, instead, patterned in our small moments of noticing others.
Read the entire review at The Englewood Review of Books.   Buy Next Door as it is in Heaven and tell me what you think: // Sign up for my email newsletter to help you chase beauty and sustained attention in a world full of noise.

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Letters to Weary Women, Review
A Book to Meet You in Your Weary: Coming Clean by Seth Haines
October 28, 2015 at 10:36 am 7
Letters to Weary Women I have a book that will meet you right in your weary. It's a book that's terrific about being present in the process of uncovering the pain. My friend Seth Haines wrote a book called Coming Clean: A Story of Faith and it's just out (as of yesterday). It's his story of his first 90 days sober. His youngest son (not yet 2) was losing weight rapidly. The doctors didn't know what to do. So Seth turned to a Nalgene of gin poured over hospital ice to numb the pain -- to get out of his head, to not not feel anymore. Coming Clean is a story about sobriety, but it's more than that. It's a story of faith and healing -- not in spite of hurt and pain, but through it. It's a terrifically honest book. It's a book for those of us who cover up our pain -- maybe not with alcohol -- but with distractions, what we eat, how we exercise, shopping, making ourselves feel important, you name it. It's a book that helps meet you in your own pain and pushes and prods you to find out what's underneath your coping mechanisms. I think we're weary often because we just aren't honest with ourselves. Seth's book is a great guide to to uncovering what's at the root of our languishing. I was privileged to get to read it early and write about it in Books & Culture in a web exclusive. I loved being able to put Seth's book in the context of confessional literature and the history of testimony. If you want to know all I think about the book, I hope you'll read my full review here. It was such fun to write for Books & Culture, to put on my scholarly hat for a bit; it felt very much like a homecoming. But I want YOU to get a copy! Here's how it goes: If you already subscribe to my newsletter, let me know in the comments; otherwise follow along with the Rafflecopter prompts below. The giveaway will close on Sunday! a Rafflecopter giveaway // If you don't want to wait, you can order Coming Clean here. Books you order through this link will help make sure that I can pay for my blog domain.   Letters to Weary Women I welcome your comments, emails and following along by subscribing (you’ll get my free book on telling your story, too!). Posts in the “Letters to Weary Women” series are linked to the first post in the Write 31 Days Challenge.
Win Yourself a Copy of the Book I’ve Been Waiting For (#WildInTheHollow)
August 4, 2015 at 5:00 am 26
  Wild in the Hollow There are so many fabulous books out right now. But this one friends? It's the one I've been waiting for. It's the one that I read in the span of a day and a half, even with a houseful of children. I swallowed it whole. Stories change lives. I'm certain of it. And Amber Haines' story is such a story. The best stories are ones that are heart-breaking, real, true, raw and pulsing with beauty, and you want to drink them up until the dregs are gone. Amber is a woman I'm proud to know and call friend, and you guys, you have to read her words! I've been a fan of her writing for awhile now and I come again and again to her words for the poetic fire in them. I read Amber for her cadence and mastery of sound, I read Amber to rediscover things like mystery and beauty and how to slow down, how to savor this life. I read Amber's words to remind me where my true home lies.  Wild in the Hollow is a book I will hold dear to me; it is pure gift. For even though I do not share the details of Amber's story, it's my story too. It is a story that reminds us that it is beautiful to be broken when redemption scoops us off of linoleum floors or off the pedestal of our goody-two-shoes life.   WITH   Amber tells her story of desire, of knowing home and her homesickness as she grew into adulthood. She writes of her Edenic childhood, of her rebellion, her emptiness and an abortion. She writes of desire and redemption; of love and marriage, and of her four wild boys. She writes of the church, of Haiti, and of homecoming in the joys of a back yard sprinkler and hanging laundry on the line. But more than a string of events, Wild in the Hollow is the story of a woman coming to know Jesus and of meeting him in all her broken spaces. It's a story of finding God at the end of every metaphor. It's more than a conversion story. It's a book about meeting Jesus again and again, in childhood and around the world, in community shared in broken bread and broken stories. It's a story that shows her reader that all of nature whispers  we are both at home and in exile. It's a story that builds and breathes and blossoms, so that when you're finished reading you just want it to go on and on. Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines   If you're longing to get lost in a story, pick up Wild in the Hollow. If you're tired of Christian truisms, if you think that Christians live untouchable and easy lives, then you need to read Amber's story. If you're ready to throw in the towel and walk away from a faith that birthed you, let Amber's story show you the way home.  I feel like I'm babbling and the best books make me do that. Go and buy a copy for yourself and 10 of your closest friends and come back here and we can gush about it together. And because I love you all so much, leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of your very own, right here on Circling the Story! (Comment on whatever you'd like. But I'd love to hear: how have you embraced and run from the idea of brokenness and home?) *** I hope you'll pick up a copy of Wild in the Hollow. You can find out more about the book here (there's even a video where you can hear Amber's lovely Southern drawl) and purchase it here. Amber blogs at The Runamuck. Don't forget to comment to be entered to win a copy! (Winner will be announced on Friday. Comment away until 12am Friday 8/7.)