On this day when another man takes over the highest office in America, our nation is deeply divided. And all of us have been brought up short by this election.
We confess that we have trusted leaders and politics to be our God, instead of you.
We have made America our god. Forgive us.
We confess that we are fearful. We are afraid for what policies may be enacted that do not have love and justice as their driving force. We are afraid for those who are weak and marginalized, that the voiceless will not be heard.
Oh merciful Father, increase our faith. Show us your light. Help us to see how we can be agents of a Kingdom that breaks every barrier based on race, politics, and socio-economics.
Grow our compassion, help us to see the good in all those who are made in your image. Help us work for justice, compassion, mercy, and love for our neighbors, no matter how they voted.
God, your Kingdom is one where the last shall be first. Humble us so that our empathy for others increases. Grow our discontent over injustice so we become good neighbors. Let us be like Jesus: challengers to greed and to immoral ways of living. Both the rule-followers and rule-breakers couldn’t understand a Kingdom that said the way up is down; the way to live is to die; the way to peace is not through a sword.
Let it start small. Help us to listen to our spouses, friends, children, neighbors.
Then, let it grow. Help us to listen to one another. Help us to listen to those who are saddened and scared today and those who are rejoicing. Let us not demonize someone made in the image of God because they think differently than we do. If so, we will have only given in to hate. And, “darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only love can do that.”
Increase our love. May love keep the revolution you began going.
Oh God, you who set the stars spinning into space, rule over all. May we be faithful agents of your Kingdom. May we take refuge under your wings, knowing you rule, see all, forgive, and comfort.
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.
“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.
As always, I value your presence here.
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I’m sending out my December newsletter with a picture of my family dabbing. It was amazing. And because I love you even if you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, I’ll put it here too.
I know everyone is asking for your money in these last few days of 2016. We’re asking our own church to be crazy generous so we can be generous people to our community. Writing is a lot like that. I think that writers should (at least in part) give away their words for free. Words are gifts. They are salve, and balm, and sometimes a knife that amputates what is rotten.
But it costs to give away words for free. It costs money most obviously. Now we don’t like to talk about money these days. It feels crass. But listen, we aren’t brains and souls on toothpicks. We are embodied people, learning and fumbling how to live in community. And to do that we need resources.
I just received my blog renewal update and it’s more than I thought. I give my words away on aahales.com. I write for free for The Mudroom, and for The Well, and for many other places like (in)courage and The Gospel Coalition (I have an article in the queue there). It takes time, energy and often babysitting hours.
I need your help.
If something I’ve written has met you, has encouraged you, has challenged you, would you consider helping me keep writing? Any amount will help.
But to break it down:
— $5 will help pay for a cup of coffee when I have a babysitter
— $45 will help pay for a babysitter for one morning
— $100 will make a dent in my blog hosting for one year
My goal is $500. Anything given beyond that might get me on a plane to have a solo writing retreat to finish writing Finding Holy in the Suburbs, my book with IVP.
Here’s a big orange button if you’d like to help out:
As always, I’m grateful for you — that we get to do this virtual life together. Thank you.
All my newsletter friends already know (make sure you don’t miss out on news first: subscribe here), but I have some big news!
October 2014 I had an infant, a 2.5 year old, a Kindergartner and 1st grader. My husband was starting to get antsy in his job and I had had so many babies and done so many things that I was starting to lose a bit of myself. Do you know what it’s like to start to lose you? So I turned to Write 31 days, a 30-day blogging challenge just to have something that was for me. I wrote on finding beauty in the mundane because I desperately needed to find God in my busy, whiny world.
Writing saved me.
Not that I’d found my life’s vocation or the heavens opened, but I did a small thing for me that opened me up, allowed me to think through things and helped me better care for others — for my family, friends, and new friends met online.
After that month, I kept writing. I joined Tribe Writers and Clumsy Bloggers and Redbud Writers Guild. I wrote for The Mudroom because the editor, Tammy Perlmutter, liked what I wrote. I met new friends. I went to a writing conference in Portland in 2015 and then to the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2016. I wrote for (in)courage, ThinkChristian, Books & Culture, The Englewood Review of Books, The Well, other friends’ blogs (see some of those here). I was chasing what I was curious about.
At Festival of Faith & Writing, I felt like I’d come home. There were academics (some of my undergraduate professors!), philosophers, poets, bloggers, authors I’d admired. We all fit there. I also met Helen Lee of InterVarsity Press and we had a lovely conversation about my book ideas.
I wrote a book proposal and kept putting myself out there — not because I wanted fame or because I felt I was “all that” — but because I needed to chase the ideas to the very end and I’d heard how my writing had met people. How it had clarified things for them. That something that I thought could save only me was also a gift to share.
Later this fall, that book proposal was revised and then accepted by InterVarsity Press for publication. I’m writing a real, live book that will get in your hands! I think I was stunned for about a month and now am in the trenches writing. It’s exciting and yet I know that such work never happens in a vacuum and that writing is a form of prayer and sustained attention.
The book’s working title is Finding Holy in the Suburbs, it’s my own journey back to suburbia and finding belonging in Jesus rather than a zip code. It’s my love letter to Christians who grew up thinking they had to do something radical to really follow Jesus. When more than half of Americans live in a suburb, we need a way to practice ordinary means of grace with delight, while eschewing the idols of our places. In God’s kingdom, there are no little places and the suburbs can be a place to house the glory of God.
I know there are potential readers hungry for this book and that’s where you come in, even now.
Book-writing is a long process and it’s unlikely to be on shelves until 2018 with writing and editing. But I need your help with two things.
I need prayer. If you could commit to praying for my writing time daily or weekly, I need it. With little kids, a husband who is over-extended as a church planter, and all that we all do, writing happens in small cracks of time. I need prayer for those small times to be productive and Spirit-filled. Please comment and let me know if you want to join my prayer team; I’ll add you to a separate, intimate list of pray-ers. I’d be honored.
I need people. I’m passionate about the message of Finding Holy in the Suburbs. If there’s someone you know who could use the message of this book, could you share this with them? There will be plenty of time later for launch team and promotion and all the fun parties surrounding the book. But I want to make sure that the book I’m writing gets to the people who need it. And that means they’re not only aware of it but also receive my newsletters to get the first bit of info. Thank you!
If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, I’d be honored if you would. I write nearly monthly. It’s an intimate letter of sorts, holds my favorite book recommendations, and you’re the first to know about book news and giveaways. I’m sending one soon with my favorite books of 2016. Don’t miss out.
Thank you friends, for being on this journey with me. I can’t wait to update you all about it.
Sign up now to hear more about Finding Holy in the Suburbs and be sure to comment or email to be added to my prayer team.
When you’re a writer with a herd of children and unattached to a university, nonprofit, or other place where writers, thinkers, and artists gather, you can feel all kinds of lonely. I started reading Jen Pollock Michel’s Teach Us To Wantlast year and reached out to her because I so resonated with her story — a wife, a mom, a writer, and a Christian trying to put all the pieces of a vocation together. After several months of voxer conversations, she’s become a dear friend. I’m honored to be at her spot of Internet today writing about home (one of my favorite topics) and the subject of her forthcoming book, Keeping Place. (Pre-order it here!)
Yet it was there in those cramped quarters where we learned not only to be a married couple, but how hospitality blossoms like the gospel.
Edinburgh. Image via Unsplash.
The Ministry of Spongy Wallpaper and Cramped Hospitality
1/5 Leith Walk BMT, Edinburgh, UK
We wore our wool coats in the middle of a southern California summer, waved goodbye to our mothers, and boarded a plane to Scotland a year after we said our “I do’s.” We touched down in northern Scotland a day later, bleary-eyed and discombobulated watching a foreign countryside fly past on the wrong side of the road.
When we made it south to Edinburgh a fortnight later, we were struck we didn’t know what “BMT” stood for — the ending to our first address as expat postgraduate students in Britain. It was the basement and when we’d creaked open that peeling paint of the blue main door and walked down the stairs, we realized why our rent was so cheap. We’d imagined all sorts of exotic sounding appellations for BMT with no idea that it meant a “basement” flat with one tiny window to let in the light.
We didn’t know enough to be sorely disappointed. We hadn’t yet puffed ourselves up with multiple children and proper jobs to feel we were entitled to a better habitation. It was sufficient. It was what we could afford. We could walk the several miles to university and back. We could make it work. There was enough love and tea to go around. And plenty of books.
It’s the season of sweets. As much as I want to indulge, there’s often a tug-a-war on what to eat and what not to eat going on under the surface. Or, most likely, I chuck it all and indulge and vow to eat healthily later. I’m finding that eating (like most things) isn’t often about eating at all. It goes much deeper.
Today, I’m at The Mudroom writing about food, deliverance, and prayer.
The problem isn’t the food or my inability to eat healthily, to say “no” to what is bad for me and hunger after what is good. The problem isn’t food at all.
Like so much else — relationships, sex, church, houses — food is a gift. It is sustenance and grace and provision. Like good gifts it is meant to be received and enjoyed. But when we obsess over it, Gollum-like, through our indulgence or abstention, we’re simply using the gift of good food to say something about ourselves.
That I don’t measure up unless I measure up.
That I use food to feel my feelings because I’m too scared to feel them. Swallowing them is much easier.
That I feel productive when I eat healthily so I’ll beat myself up when I deviate from my plan.
That I deserve this coffee or cocktail or this cookie because somehow it’ll make up for hard decisions, tired mornings, and feeling unseen and unappreciated.
As if food could solve soul problems. Food is the safest drug we have.
As always, I’m grateful for you and that you read my words as a gift. I’d love to send you my monthly-ish newsletter. No spam. Just some good, hefty words to roll around and ponder. I’d love if you’d subscribe below:
Perhaps the snow this year has already lost its luster. Or instead of snow, you just have wind that goes right through your bones. Or if you’re in a sunny spot, you long for what you do not have: the snow boots, the snowmen, the glint of sunlight on icicles. We’re always waiting, aren’t we?
I live in the midst of wait-ers. We wait for the bonus, the promotion, the sale, that will put us over some financial edge that will allow us to finally attain the good life. But the edge keeps moving back. The houses and the cars don’t satisfy. If we do get what we want, we’re on a walkway that moves so quickly we don’t have eyes to see anymore. It takes more shopping, more stuff, more alcohol, more fancy vacations to quell the ache.
Or, we have a particular Jesus-y version of the suburban gods of accumulation: we reason if we had a better quiet time, more “authentic” worship experience, a different (bigger, better) church down the road, followed through on a Bible reading plan, a mentor/counselor/spiritual director/therapist who really saw me, then we’d arrive.
But we still wait.
What if the waiting was actually how God comes near? Maybe waiting is (at least part of) the whole point? Maybe we need to lean into the pain of waiting and offer up our broken hearts. That’s all we have to give.
I’m thrilled to be over at my friend Kris Camealy’s blog today writing on these themes. Here’s an excerpt:
The world is heavy these days. Every day we have an onslaught of news — of hate winning, of earthquakes and air strikes, of just feeling buried under the grind of the mundane. In our world, all that has been broken for a very long time has reached the surface. It’s as if all the things that were cheap, easy, and horribly bad for it, we’ve been feeding to our collective body and they have made our skin green and our insides twisted. We just now see it. It’s hard to pull away from online chatter, it’s hard to do the good, hard, next step: show up, make dinner, seek forgiveness (not just across party lines, or racial and class lines, but even in your own family). It’s hard to be present when you find yourself weighed down with the weight of waiting.
When all you have is a broken heart, you wonder if that’s enough. Can your brokenness be more than a defect? Can it even help heal a nation, a community, a soul?
As always, I don’t take your email sign-ups lightly. If you’d be so kind to subscribe, I won’t flood your Inbox. What you’ll get in a few gentle words, a free little guide to chasing beauty right where you’re at, and my gratitude. Sign up below!
Shannan is the real deal. She laughs like she can’t hold it back. She’s thoughtful, smart, and deeply broken (like all good people are) and I’m encouraged to see how God has shaped her life’s path. Great prose.
Perfect for: Those who don’t want to live “normal” lives but aren’t sure how to step out in faith.
I listened to a wonderful podcast with Ann Voskamp all about her book and brokenness and being connected to her land. I really think that the type of leadership Ann offers could help center a lot of the messiness of evangelical celebrity. This is one I’m snagging!
Perfect for: Fans of Voskamp, women who need to know that not being perfect is how God uses us.
$8.57 Kindle // $9.02 Paperback (not a huge Kindle deal, but a great price on the paperback!)
I reviewed Sauls’ book for The Englewood Review of Books. Quite simply it’s such an important for people of faith in this moment in time. Grab a few copies and read it with your friends (and make some friends who are different from you). The format is great to digest in smaller chunks.
Perfect for: The Christian who is tempted to live in polarized spheres but wants to change.
American friends, as we come to Thanksgiving tables tomorrow it’s easy to feel despondent about the state of the world. When systems seem so broken — not to mention our own lives — where do we go to find hope? And how do we get out of this mess?
How do we have hard conversations when our views differ dramatically from one another? Is there hope for communities — is there hope for the church — to learn how to be a bridge? Could we actually be known for how well we love, in both grace and truth?
Will there be grace when we fail miserably in those attempts?
Will we be able to hold grace and truth in glorious tension?
Will people be willing to reach across the aisle to do so?
How do we know when and how to speak?
Enter a lovely book by Scott Sauls, a Presbyterian pastor in Nashville: Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation and Fear. I was cranky at first reading it because I wanted something longer, meatier about such issues — not something that felt like short, pithy articles in the book’s twenty-one chapters. But as I warmed to the format, I saw its immense value to speak into our American culture right now, right in this tenuous space of American history. Sometimes, too, we need small doses of how to live out of love when the stakes are so high.
We need to learn how to be civil. We need people who are willing to be guinea pigs to have hard conversations. We need places where we can learn to listen and then how critique sharpens each person, each organization, each party.
We need to see that we are all human and we have much to learn from one another.
After America’s recent election, we’ve discovered (again) how divided we are. It is not simply that one-half of the nation disagrees with the other, but that each half is afraid of the other, as noted by ABC News. In a climate of fear, Scott Sauls’ Befriend is a timely book. Its subtitle, “create belonging in an age of judgment, isolation, and fear,” speaks to a human desire for community that transcends divisions based on race, class, socio-economics, politics, and sexual orientation. It plots a way forward for the church.
May it be true of the church that we ask more questions, we learn and practice empathy, and we fight for justice for the oppressed. May it be true that we seek to grow in compassion for those who voted against us. May we seek to love not only the marginalized but also not vilify the rich and powerful, the bullies and perpetrators (who are also subjects of Sauls’ essays). How else could a watching world see that we are Christians, except by our love?
You guys! It’s getting all Christmassy up in here! Below, there’s a giveaway and a video interview and it makes me want to just curl up under some blankets by a fire and chat. Wouldn’t that be great to do? Well, in lieu of that option, come on over to my cozy online space, watch our fun video, and enter to win a book you can curl up with…