Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Giveaway: “Inseparable” by Ashley Linne

inseparable coverFor many years I’ve been wary of Bible Study-type books. But this past October, I found myself desperate to see myself as God sees me. Ashley Linne’s new book, “Inseparable: who I am, was, and will be in Christ”, intrigued me. All I can say is that this beautiful, gentle exposition of who I am in Christ nurtured my aching soul at just the right time. I’m honored to host Ashley on my blog today. If you’d like to receive a free copy of “Inseparable,” please leave a comment for a chance to win. xo. EE.

 

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I was raised in competing faith traditions that both focused largely on perfecting oneself through good, old-fashioned strength of will. Ironically, even though each of these faiths points to the other and calls it apostate, both sent me the same message: you’d better be good and believe what we tell you, or God will smite you.

There are a couple of memories that stand out to me as I was growing up, torn between these two worlds. One day, when I was about eight years old, I was talking with an adult about shortcomings. At some point in the conversation I said that no one is perfect. The reply was, “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be.” I took this to mean that unless I tried to be perfect, I couldn’t be saved.

At another junction not far down the road, the war between the two faith traditions came to a head via an unsuspecting woman who was a “counselor” for those who went forward at church during the altar call. I sat with the woman and shared that one side of my family followed a certain religious ideology, and she replied that they were all going to hell and I would, too, if I believed what they were teaching.

I remember staring at the blue carpet and crying. I didn’t know whom to believe.

Even though I’m now firmly rooted in my relationship with God and learning to grasp grace more each day, I find myself tangled in a different sort of struggle. What if by focusing on God’s love, I somehow imply that there isn’t any value in holy living? What if people think I offer a cheap grace?

Rather than obsessing about whether I’m doing things right, I have learned to focus on listening for the voice of the Spirit. Otherwise, it’s just too easy for me to hold Jesus at arms’ length and get sucked into the frozen state of fear.

When I say that, “If I err, I want to err on the side of grace”, it doesn’t mean I have lax standards or don’t value holiness. It means that I know God, and because I am in Christ, I have already been made holy. In light of my own humanity and my battle against the flesh, instead of making me proud this makes me grateful.

When I was desperate to have control of my own life, Christ died for me and made me holy.
When I refused to depend on anyone but myself, Christ died for me and made me holy.
When I holed myself up in a cave of fear, Christ died for me and made me holy.

He died and raised from the dead, and now I live in Him. In Him I am holy, blameless, forgiven, accepted, and loved to depths and heights that I haven’t even discovered yet.

THIS is why I seek His face above all else. I don’t seek to be perfect. I seek HIM.

I seek His Kingdom and His righteousness, because He is faithful and gracious and loving. I seek Him. And I do it with a limp, I do it with wounds that aren’t scarred over yet, I do it imperfectly… but I do it knowing I am in Christ and He is in me. I know that even when I stray or revert to my old ways of thinking, He’s not going to cast me aside for messing up.

In His grace, He will sustain me through the pain of refinement as He chisels away parts of me that shouldn’t be there. I’ve learned that this chiseling is just another aspect of His grace. As I follow His movement and participate in His work, I am His representative to a world gone mad.

What will they see when they look at me? A crazy woman? Perhaps. I do hope they see something that perplexes them, but I hope it is because they’ve seen a living, breathing example of real love.

I hope that they see a glimpse of Christ. And I pray that anything that doesn’t look like Him would be scrubbed away.

For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Galatians 2:19-21, NLT)

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Ashley Linne CroppedAshley Linne is a wife and mom who loves to write, sing, and travel. She is passionate about discipleship, mentoring, and sexual abuse prevention. She has been leading small group Bible studies for over 15 years is the author of Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be in Christ. Ashley lives with her husband and son in Bellingham, WA.

Excerpt from “Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be in Christ” by Ashley Linne. Download a FREE Chapter from all three new Inscribed Studies Here. (No email required)

Book Giveaway: “Fierce Convictions” by Karen Swallow Prior

UnknownToday, I’m thrilled to host literature professor and author, Karen Swallow Prior. Karen’s new book, “Fierce Convictions” is about poet, reformer and abolitionist Hannah More (1745-1833). Hannah More was a woman after my own heart. Strong and yet deeply sensitive, she also suffered recurring episodes of deep depression. Reading “Fierce Convictions,” I couldn’t help but be inspired by this courageous Christian woman who didn’t let mental illness define her life but fought against the great injustices of her day. Karen has offered two copies of her book to my readers. Please leave a comment to win! xo. EE.

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The following essay is drawn from Karen Swallow Prior’s new biography of this exemplary woman, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson):

The image of the suffering artist is deeply embedded in our cultural imagination.

Hannah More’s passion—the word means “suffering”—for writing, language, and words first took bodily form. She was so moved when she read Shakespeare as a girl that she couldn’t sleep. As a child, she practiced her French so fervently that she is said to have fainted under the effort.

On the other hand, her love for words offered release, too. Once, during one of many illnesses that kept her bedridden for periods throughout her life, the doctor came. She engaged him in such a lively fashion on the topic of literature until both forgot her bodily complaint. The doctor was on his way out before he remembered the purpose of his visit and had to cry from half-way down the stairs, “How are you today, my poor child?”

More’s suffering seemed to be constitutional. More contended all her life against bouts of illness: headaches, colds, numbness, nausea, vertigo, sharp pains, and “rheumatism in the face.” Many of her illnesses resemble what today would be identified as migraines; some of her bouts suggest even the possibility of clinical depression. Her bedridden bouts were often triggered by times of stress, such as her broken engagement with Turner and her yearly trips to London.

Even as her illnesses increased with age, More’s wit, will, and words provided her best medicine. And when she was well, which was most of the time, she demonstrated extraordinary fortitude.

Yet, the obstacles women writers such as More faced added pressures that only exacerbated her health struggles. She described the obstacles feared by women writers in her early drama The Search After Happiness:

“Tho’ should we still the rhyming trade pursue,
The men will shun us, — and the women, too;
The men, poor souls! of scholars are afraid,
We shou’d not, did they govern, learn to read,
At least, in no abstruser volume look,
Than the leam’d records – of a Cookery book;
The ladies, too, their well-meant censure give,
“What! – does she write? a slattern, as I live -
“I wish she’d leave her books, and mend her cloaths,
“I thank my stars I know not verse from prose … “

She noted elsewhere that the woman writer “will have to encounter the mortifying circumstances of having her sex always taken into account; and her highest exertions will probably be received with the qualified approbation, that it is really extraordinary for a woman.”

But More’s special savvy was in turning obstacle into opportunity. If esteem were necessary to succeed as a woman writer, then she would gain that esteem. At times, perhaps, she valued that esteem too much. Her greatest illnesses occurred following attacks on her work.

When More—a lifelong member of the Church of England—was accused of “Methodism” because of the extemporaneous prayers taking place in one of her schools, the controversy that ensued consumed all of More’s energies and attention. After raging for three years, the controversy finally saw vindication for More. But it proved too much to take, even for as tough a woman as she. In 1802, she confessed to her good friend and fellow abolitionist, William Wilberforce,
“I have been so batter’d daily and monthly for the past two years about the wickedness and bad tendency of my writings, that I have really lost all confidence in myself, and feel as if I never more cou’d write what any body would read ….”

More was strong, but she was sensitive. When she was strong, she was very strong. When she was weak, she was debilitated. From 1803 to 1805, she underwent what came to be called her “great illness.” Today we would call it full-blown depression. On November 27, 1803, More wrote in a journal entry, “I have to lament that through my want of faith and piety, they [attacks against her] had nearly destroyed my life.”

Her sisters rallied around her; she stayed home from London that winter and emerged from one of her worst illnesses yet. Although nearing sixty, More had another phase of life ahead and volumes yet to write. She was overtaken by renewed vigor, and lived and wrote for another 30 years. However, she probably never fully recovered from the physical and mental toll of this event.

Years later, she would still decry such strife within the church body, writing, “Oh how I hate faction, division and controversy in religion!”

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Karen Swallow Prior 2013Karen Swallow Prior, Ph. D., is an award-winning Professor of English at Liberty University. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press 2012) and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson 2014). Prior is a contributing writer for Christianity Today, Think Christian, and The Atlantic. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective and serves on the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She and her husband live in rural Virginia with sundry dogs, horses, and chickens.

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Book Review & Giveaway! “Rare Bird” by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

IRare Bird received “Rare Bird” by Anna Whiston-Donaldson in the mail today and I haven’t been able to put it down. In 2011, Anna’s son was swept away in a horrific flash flood and died. This book is exactly what I needed to read right now–not because I’ve lost a child but because Anna’s faith reminds me that even when the worst thing happens, God is still real. God is still good. Anna’s writing is clear, accessible, raw, honest and true. Go buy a copy for yourself NOW–it’s a book you’ll read and immediately pass on to friends. I’m so grateful there are women of faith like Anna in this world. I am so grateful for her book. Anna has generously offered a copy of her book to one of you, my lucky birds. Please leave a comment with a valid email address. EE.

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“What if heaven is boring, Mom?”

“Eternity seems like way too long to be in any one place.”

Forever scares me.”

Jack was afraid of heaven.

We would talk about it at bedtime, and I wondered if I was the best person to calm his fears. Sure, I wanted to go to heaven someday, but I couldn’t imagine it being all that great. I’m not musical, so choirs of angels don’t appeal to me. Streets of gold and jewels? Ick. Over-the-top opulence struck me as gaudy—a cheesy amusement park gone wrong.

And the idea of constant worship freaked me out too. It has always been hard for me to truly let go and worship God. In fact, one of the easiest times for me to really get into worship, swaying, clapping, and calling out to Him, happened to be at a retreat in Indiana—a plane ride away from anyone I might know. I guess you could say the idea of holding up my arms in the air or falling on my face in worship makes me mildly uncomfortable, so I didn’t relish the idea of doing it for all eternity.

And then there was my mom. It was a hard sell for me to believe there could be any better place for a forty-six-year-old woman than with her kids, on earth, where they needed her. She was the heart of our home, and home was where she belonged.

And what if heaven was too formal for her? She loved Jesus—the dusty-footed, sinner-loving Jesus. Would heavenly Jesus be a little too…stuffy for her? She liked to dig her hands in the dirt, eat half a pound of gumdrops in one sitting, throw back her head and laugh, and screw up the punch line of the only joke she knew. Can you even do those things in heaven?

After she died it was as if a steel wall came down between the two of us, between here and there. Heaven felt so far away. I saw no signs indicating she was okay. I felt no closeness, just absence and lack. I did not comfort myself knowing we would see each other again someday, because I wasn’t sure if that’s even how it worked. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, only to be disappointed later.

Fortunately, I didn’t dump all of this on Jack, but I just listened in his bed in the dark to his concerns, which were similar to my own. We read a few books about children who had gone to heaven and come back. That helped. So did a conversation he had with a camp counselor when he was ten. “I’m not afraid of heaven anymore,” he announced as we debriefed after his week away. I got no more details, but I was relieved. Jack was now fine with heaven. But that didn’t really change my own views.

In the few weeks since Jack’s death I’ve gone from being someone who rarely thought about heaven to someone living with one foot here and the other there. My kid is in heaven. I don’t need to know the nitty-gritty, like how big it is, where it is, or absolutely everything you do there. But I need to know something! I never even let Jack go to a sleepover if I didn’t know the family well andwhat he could expect there. But now he’s somewhere very, very different, and I don’t really know what it’s like.

And here’s the strange thing. Heaven is central to our belief as Christians. We believe that Christ offers us eternal life in heaven, but in my almost four decades in church, I’ve rarely heard anything about what heaven is like. Aren’t we curious? Why are our minds not being blown by the fact that a soul can live forever with God? Do we consider ourselves too intellectual to consider the spiritual realm? And if so, why do we bother saying we have faith in the first place, when to have faith is to believe in something we cannot see? Are we so rooted in the here and now that we treat heaven just as some insignificant, distant reward?

I’m pretty clueless about heaven, and even though I want Jack’s new home to be better than anything he could experience here, I have a hard time accepting how it could be better than life with us.

In October, I write on my blog:

Heaven had better be:

Better than any stinkin’ Youth Group costume party.

And being trapped inside a Lego Factory over a long weekend with plenty of Cheez-Its and Dr         Pepper.

And the buzzy feeling you get when the person you have a crush on crushes on you back.

And sledding down a huge hill with your best friends until it’s cocoa time.

And a wonderful, fumbly first kiss.

And skiing black diamonds with your dad in Colorado.

And a high school debate trip to New York City with fun but slightly lax chaperones.

And praising God at a retreat and finally getting how much He loves you.

And sitting around with your friends at college laughing until yourstomach hurts.

And falling in love.

And watching in person as the Yankees win the World Series…again!

And surprising your little sister by flying in for her college graduation.

And doing work that fulfills you and honors God.

And dancing with your mom at your wedding.

And holding your newborn baby—staring at your wife thinking,“We made this?”

And giving that baby a bath and zipping him up in footy pajamas.

Oh yeah, and sex.

Heaven had better be more wonderful than sex.

Okay, God? Good.

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Anna_Edit for Head Shot

 

Excerpted from Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson Copyright © 2014 by Anna Whiston-Donaldson. Excerpted by permission of Convergent Books, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

A Summer of Books! {10 books I’ve read and enjoyed in the last 2 months}

book picIt’s summer which means I’ll be reading lots and lots of books. Or, at least, more than I usually do. And I can’t WAIT.

In addition to visiting the library, I’ve already pre-ordered several books releasing this summer that I’m super excited about: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner, All Day and a Night by Alastair Burke, Yours For Eternity by Damien Echols and Pain Don’t Hurt by Mark Miller. I also just purchased Emily Giffin’s new novel, The One & Only which I’ll be starting next week! Squeeeeeee!

Ohhh, I love books! Here are a few of the books I’ve read in the last couple of months….

Thriller/Suspense:

UnknownThis spare writing style of A.S.A. Harrison’s last book (she died shortly before it became a huge bestseller) reminded me of how Ernest Hemingway might write if he was into psychological thrillers. Although I despised every single character in the story (except for maybe the dog), I couldn’t stop reading. The twist ending is wonderfully rendered and took me by surprise–which I really enjoyed!

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Oh, I do love a good psychological thriller. This one does JUST the trick. Controlling, abusive boyfriend who goes to jail. OCD. Recovery. A new love interest. And then the attacker is freed….what will HAPPEN? This thriller isn’t as heavy or morbid as “Gone Girl,” but the plot moves along quickly between two time frames–before and after the attack–and kept my interest. A good, poolside read.

FICTION:

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This dense, complex, decades-spanning novel, The Goldfinch, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And for good reason. At 700+ pages long, it takes awhile to get through–but it’s SO WORTH IT. The characters are unforgettable. The description of scenes and places is extraordinary. It’s one of those rare books that I WILL read twice because it’s THAT good.

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Americanah is one of those books that teaches while it entertains. My eyes were opened to the experience of a NAB (non-American-black) and her rich, insightful, humorous and painful reflections on American society. With a sharp eye, the protagonist skewers the blatant hypocrisies and systemic racism found throughout American culture. I loved every page of this book–it was uncomfortable at times, too, because it made me look at the ways I’ve unwittingly perpetuated harmful stereotypes.

SELF-HELP

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As someone who grew up in a cult, I have struggled to conduct my interpersonal relationships in a healthy way. Pia Mellody’s book, Facing Love Addiction, helped me see the unhealthy patterns of behavior I’ve carried through out my life while also providing tangible, practical advice for creating NEW behavior and repairing relationships. I so often flip-flop between clingy, needy behavior or overly intense, co-addictive behavior that it’s hard for me to live from a place of acceptance and self-love. Most of my relationship issues stem from self-loathing and this book has given me hope that I really CAN change the way I love.

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Love Idol is like the Christian version of Facing Love Addiction. Jennifer Dukes Lee provides such positive affirmation about how God sees us and how we are PRE-APPROVED before we even TRY to earn His love. Using narrative story-telling coupled with fantastic insight, Jennifer shows how we can let go of our need for approval. It is SO HARD to do that! Especially when receiving approval was a matter of survival (at least for me). But Jennifer’s words help me believe it’s possible.

HUMOR:

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Jim Gaffigan’s hilarious take on family life (especially family life with LOTS of kids) had me laughing so hard, tears rolled down my cheeks. Topics range from being “bedridden with children” to a hilarious re-imagining of God’s conversation with Abraham about..cutting off part of his penis. Best humor book I’ve read since Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

NON-FICTION

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When her new husband is killed in action, Artis must grapple with grief new and old in Unremarried Widow. I bought this book because I’m always interested in how other women manage grief and loss and how they rebuild their lives. But something about the way Artis told her story left me empty–I needed more from her. There was a kind of distance, a disconnection from the emotion of her story. Still, it was a painful and necessary look at the impact war has on those left behind.

SPIRITUAL

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Choose Joy is not the kind of book I usually read but I had the privilege of meeting Kay Warren (yes, Rick Warren’s wife) in person this year. She’d read MY book and invited me to coffee. I was terrified. Pastors wives and all that stuff. But Kay was so very kind and REAL and honest. We talked for hours. She gave me her book to read and I’ve been enjoying it so much. Kay’s words are practical and accessible. Kay talks about the “parallel” tracks of joy and sorrow that run through our lives. So often I feel like I’m a victim to the sorrows of life. Kay’s book reminds me that I have a choice. I really CAN feel better each day. I copied her definition of joy into my journal: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” I need that kind of joy in my life. I’m so grateful Kay has come into my life. It’s healing me….

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Written by a Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox monk, The Communion of Love, expresses profound spiritual truths about how to read the Bible, the nature of repentance and what it means to do God’s will. It is deep without being abstract, practical while also honoring mystery. The forward is written by Henri Nouwen, another one of my favorite spiritual writers. This book has gently corrected some of my deep-seated perspectives; mainly, about how to approach the Bible and how to read it. My priest gave me this book and it has quickly become a book I cherish and will read over and over again.

Soooo…. what are YOU reading this summer??

“Spiritual Misfit: a memoir of uneasy faith” Book Giveaway!

UnknownToday I’m honored to host the lovely Michelle DeRusha whose book “Spiritual Misfit: a memoir of uneasy faith” releases today. We are publisher-sisters. Her book and mine are both published by Convergent Books. Michelle is offering three copies of her book to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment. Much love, EE.

 

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He drops the bomb at dinner, over meatloaf and baked potato. “I think I might be in a not-believing-in-God stage,” he announces.

My heart sinks. “Really?” I ask, peering at Rowan, my nine-year-old, across the table. “What makes you think that?”

I try hard to sound nonplussed, but inside, I’m panicky. I’ve wrestled with doubt and unbelief for most of my life; I know the hopelessness and loneliness of that road. The last thing I want is for my child to travel the same path.

“I just can’t get over the idea of being dead,” Rowan explains. “It seems so weird to think that once you’re dead, you’re just gone, like, not existing at all.” Now he’s trying to sound casual. But his eyes are wide, unblinking. He stares at me hard across the dining room table. I know he is afraid.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, spooning sour cream onto my potato. “Everyone doubts from time to time, everyone wonders about God and death and how it’s all going to work out in the end. It’s going to be okay, honey. God is still there, even when you can’t see him or feel him. ”

The truth is, the reassurance I offered to Rowan that day I still offer to myself, more often than I’d like to admit. While I’m not stranded in the no-man’s land of unbelief like I once was, I still wrestle with my faith; I still question. Skepticism is woven into my fabric.

Not long ago I read the story in Luke 24 about Jesus and the two travelers on the road to Emmaus. As I read the text, I kept stumbling over verse 16: “But God kept them from recognizing him.”

Why, I wondered, did God intentionally keep the two travelers from recognizing Jesus? What was the point of that? Why would God do such a thing? I searched Bible Gateway for other translations, hoping for a different interpretation. But nearly all the versions I read translated the verse the same way or similarly. God kept them from recognizing him.

I admit, I didn’t like verse 16 much. I wrestled with it for days, re-reading the passage, mulling it over, until finally I reached a conclusion that made some sense. Sometimes, I realized, God uses our doubt as a means to bring us closer to him.

Doubt is difficult, no question. But wrestling with doubt also often motivates us to dig more deeply into our faith, to yearn for and to seek Jesus in a fresh, new way. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to the travelers on the road to Emmaus.  God used their doubt as an opening, a window, to lead them back through Scripture, to remind them of his promises. God knew exactly what they needed to hear.

As “the stranger” led his traveling companions through the Old Testament, they were reminded of the promises God had made to his people, from the time of Moses and the prophets to the present day. In the midst of their devastation and loss, the travelers needed to be reminded of these promises. They were hungry for hope, hungry for answers, and their doubt, ironically, opened the way back to faith.

My son’s declaration of doubt took my breath away that night at the dinner table, and part of me still worries that it signals the beginning of a lifelong struggle with faith for him. But I also know that God can work within any circumstances, even the empty, cavernous spaces of doubt and unbelief, to bring us into a deeper relationship with him.  That’s his promise, and I’m holding onto it as tightly as I can.

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DeRushaheadshotA Massachusetts native, Michelle DeRusha moved to Nebraska in 2001, where she discovered the Great Plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish hens … and God. Michelle writes about finding and keeping faith in the everyday at michellederusha.com, as well as for the Lincoln Journal Star and The High Calling. She’s mom to two bug-loving boys, Noah and Rowan, and is married to Brad, an English professor who reads Moby Dick for fun. Her first book, Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith, will be published April 15, 2014.

Book Giveaway! “Found” by Micha Boyett! @MichaBoyett

Today I’m honored to host the lovely Micha Boyett. Her first book “Found: a story of grace, questions and everyday prayer” releases today. I wrote an endorsement for this beautifully written memoir and highly recommend it. Micha has generously offered three copies of her book to my readers. To enter, please leave a comment.

foundcover

Before I had kids, I was on staff with a non-denominational evangelical youth ministry, working with students at various high schools. On the random days when I wasn’t meeting volunteers, parents, and kids all over town, I worked out of a donated office at the local Episcopal church, down the hall from the priests and church staff.

One day, prior to making a difficult phone call to the angry father of one of my students, I paced the floor beside my desk, overrun with anxiety. I couldn’t pick up the phone to dial that number. Just as I was giving myself a lecture about bravery and berating my tendencies toward conflict-avoidance, I found myself standing outside the pastor’s office next door. She was sitting at her desk, as if she had been waiting for me to arrive.

I took a deep breath, walked into her office, and asked her pray for me. We sat down together and in near-silence prayed for ten minutes. Finally, Pastor Beverly opened her mouth and her few words were weighty and humble and powerful.

I’d lived my life in church circles that valued words in prayer—smart words! holy words! culturally relevant words!—and I had run out of words. I was at a point in my spiritual life where I didn’t know what to say to God anymore. I was worn out. I was anxious. I was failing at prayer. (I always felt like I was failing at prayer.)

So that near-silent prayer with Pastor Beverly was profound. She held my hands and prayed, “Come Holy Spirit.” And we waited together for the Holy Spirit to come, as if we believed God’s Spirit was actually en route to me, to that phone, to the angry father who was waiting on the other line. She sat in silence with me as if she believed I was worth her time, as if the ministry God wanted to offer me was there, in the silence. And it was. The ministry was the silence.

I left her office, called the student’s father, and let that quiet prayer ping around in me for several days. I didn’t really understand what made that time of prayer different. All I knew was that I wanted to experience that sort of silence again. I wanted to pray with less words and more belief. I wanted to give people my time, and in doing so, acknowledge that God was there with us, remaking us.

A few weeks later I went back to Pastor Beverly and asked her to teach me contemplative prayer. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to learn from her. Prayer had always been something I performed at, both in public and in private. I worked hard to worship correctly, to ask for God’s intervention at the right time with the truest spirit of contrition. And I had come to a place where I was heavy laden by my expectations for myself. I needed a path out of that pattern. I needed to believe that God was willing to sit with me, whether or not I followed my internal rules for what prayer was supposed to look like.

We began meeting and praying together and I promised myself that I would be brave; I would risk something in those hours we spent together. I began praying with beads in my hands. I kneeled and repeated prayers written hundreds of years ago. I began (gasp!) staring at icons and asking God to use all my senses in prayer.

And, over time, I began to believe that God heard my quiet heart louder than my impressive words. I began to experience a God bigger than language, bigger than culture, bigger than my own performance.

Prayer, it turned out, is not a task that allows me to find God. Prayer is the work God uses to let me know I’ve already been found.

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I wrote a memoir of the story of rediscovering prayer through the Rule of St. Benedict. The story of my book begins a couple of years later, a year into my life as a mother. But our stories always begin earlier than the first page of the book lets on, don’t they?

And the story of my finding and being found just might begin in Pastor Beverly’s office, in the silence.

Maybe silence is the space where our stories always begin.

 

mbheadshotMicha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. Her first book Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer is available for pre-order and releases April 1. A born and raised Texan, Micha lives in San Francisco with her husband, Chris, and their two sons. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and at michaboyett.com.

Book Giveaway! “Not Marked: Finding Hope & Healing after Sexual Abuse”

Today I’m honored to host the beautiful writing of Mary DeMuth. Mary’s memoir: “Thin Places” was a pivotal part of my healing journey. She has followed that memoir with another deeply personal story: Not Marked: Finding Hope & Healing after Sexual Abuse. Mary is kindly offering three copies of her new book to my readers. Simply leave a comment and three winners will be randomly chosen. EE.

NOT MARKED - FOR AMAZON 3D

marydemuth-headshot-squareI’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Elizabeth for allowing me to share my heart. A little background. I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.

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I get a lot of emails where folks ask me perplexing, painful, amazing, real questions. Today I’m going to attempt to answer (if there is such a thing as a “correct” answer) a question I’ve wrestled with for years. See if you relate to this emailer’s dilemma.

Hi Mary, I have a childhood of abuse. I survived by dissociating and now I have to untangle that dissociation. I hope that makes sense. I have a good solid counselor who I am grateful for. I know you have mentioned in your writing that you do not understand why God allowed your abuse to occur. With my father and stepmother I had to pretend that they were good parents – I had to attend to their needs – all the while my father was abusing me. If I did not “pretend” they were good parents then I was not being a good Christian – then I had no value. My value came in being submissive to what they told me to feel, think, do, and put up with. I struggle now with feeling like I have to pretend God is good even though there are all these things in my life that are not good and point to God being capricious. I know the theological answers given – free will of man, for His glory, make us more like Him, and He is/was with you in the pain. I struggle though because if I am honest it all feels like rationalization for God being God. And I can’t do it. In church, we sing songs of His protection – of us being safe in His arms – and I struggle. I have heard people say things like “if you had not gone through trauma you would see things differently.” But the truth is I did go through trauma – that is my reality. I really want to know how you are able to hold those two realities in your hands – that you do not understand why your abuse was allowed and that God is good.

 

I so resonate with your questions, and I applaud you for asking them and not being satisfied with cliche and pat answers. I wish I had some perfect satisfactory conclusion to offer you, but I can say this: you are not alone in what you ask.

Many people struggle with looking over the evil in the world, particularly the evil perpetrated against them, and wonder how a good God would let that happen. Looking back on my own childhood, particularly the sexual abuse by the neighborhood boys, I can’t fathom why God wouldn’t have stepped in. Is He weak? Did He not care? Was I expendable?

I consider my own children. If I knew someone was hurting them, rest assured I would DO SOMETHING to protect them. So if I’m a relatively good parent and I would rescue, why would God the perfect Parent choose NOT to rescue me?

Most people feel it sacrilegious to voice such questions, as if God would be angry for us putting words to what we feel way deep inside. The truth is, He knows our questions and quandaries already. So why not share them with Him? I let out many of my questions in my latest book, Not Marked. (link: http://www.notmarked.com)

When I get to the place of despair in these questions, I remember that Jesus is God’s beauty in the flesh, that He took on those awful sexual sins perpetrated against me on the cross. He bore every. single. sin. It was wholly unfair, particularly since He did not in any way deserve to receive those sins. When the questions holler louder than God’s goodness, I try to picture Jesus on that cross, bearing the weight for my sin, your sin, everyone’s sin.

This is a fallen world with fallen people messing with each other, inflicting awful pain. And until I realize that I am part of the problem, that I am a sinner who also perpetrates, it’s easy for me to point to the other sin calling it uncalled for, yet glossing over my own.

I can say that God used the things in my life I’d rather not have happened to create deep empathy in me. Sometimes people ask me how they can be close to Jesus like I am (though honestly, I feel small in this area). The answer is that He and I have walked through so much together, and He has healed me of multitudes of wounds. In that place of deprivation, I’ve become a more loving, forgiving person.

I honestly wonder if I would’ve reached for Him had I not experienced what I did. Would I have longed for a daddy had my earthly father not died? Would I have an insatiable need for feeling clean had I not been violated? I don’t know. I’m pretty stubborn, and I love control.

To be honest, there are many times I would rather that God would let me be, stop sending trials my way, and let me experience abundant circumstances. But then I look back on my Christian life and see where I grew the most. It was through the awful trials.

I also have to remember that this world we live in is fading away. God does see the pain I’ve walked through. He will reward me for faithful service despite my limitations. He will bring complete and total healing on the other side. I don’t live for the wholeness now or even demand it. I wait on tiptoes for the wholeness that will come.

But you’re right. Saying, “I serve a good God,” is difficult when you see the abuse of the past. I’m sorry you walked through that. And I don’t know why you had to walk through all that. It is hard to trust God in that instance because He can seem arbitrary and capricious.

Perhaps that’s what trust and faith are all about–where we acknowledge our perplexities, let them stay in tension, and choose to risk in faith anyway. I know for me, I’m happiest when I don’t stay in that place of figuring things out, but when I lift my hands in surrender and honestly tell God, “I don’t get it.” A settled peace comes over me in that moment, something I can’t explain, where I realize again that He is God and I am not. He is sovereign and I am small.

I don’t expect this answer to clear up your wrestling, not by any shot, but I do hope you see that you’re not alone in wondering these things, and your questions don’t nullify your faith. You are normal. You are human. And you’ve been injured. May our great big God continue to heal you, help you to trust, and experience His goodness even right now.

EE’s Best Books of 2013

FICTION:

UnknownTHE CIRCLE BY DAVE EGGERS: Like Orwell’s 1984 except way more plausible. The Circle tells the story of a woman scores a job at a prestigious social media conglomerate. But her dream job becomes a living nightmare. Which is just another way of saying: terrifying, couldn’t-put-it-down, page-turner. I may never log onto Facebook again. EE RATING: 4 stars.

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THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS BY ML STEDMAN: The tragic beauty of this story by debut novelist, M.L. Stedman, will capture your heart and keep you turning the pages. I was utterly captivated by this book. It is a story of regret and longing, of isolation and intimacy. An elegant lighthouse standing high atop a windswept, rocky island serves as the haunting backdrop to this poignant and remarkable novel. EE RATING: 4 stars.

NON-FICTION

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SISTER CITIZEN BY MELISSA V. HARRIS-PERRY: “Though we seldom think of it this way, racism is the act of shaming others based on their identity. Blackness in America is marked by shame…Shame makes us view our very selves as malignant. But societies also define entire groups as malignant. Historically, the United States has done that with African Americans. This collective racial shaming has a disproportionate impact on black women, and black women’s attempts to escape or manage shame are part of what motivates their politics.” (p. 109) More than any other book this year, Sister Citizen opened my eyes. I saw the systemic shaming of black women in America and came to understand the unfair burden these women carry. As a white woman, it was uncomfortable for me to read this because it showed me my own blindness and privilege. It brought me to tears and convicted my spirit. The African American women of the Combahee River Collective are quoted as follows: “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” Read this book. It is IMPORTANT. EE Rating: 4 stars.

RECOVERY:

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ADDICTION TO LOVE BY SUSAN PEABODY: Being raised in a cult left me particularly susceptible to harmful relationships. This book has helped me understand the symptoms of unhealthy relationships: love at first sight, excessive fantasizing, irrational jealousy, clinging, neediness and the solutions for overcoming problematic behaviors in friendships and relationships. I had the chance to meet Susan Peabody in person this past year and she is brilliant, eccentric and has laser-sharp insight into human relationships. This book is a MUST for anyone who has struggled to untangle themselves from addictive relationships. EE Rating: 4 stars.

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THE LANGUAGE OF LETTING GO BY MELODY BEATTIE: This precious book has positive, affirming and hopeful meditations for each day of the year. Part of the recovery process has meant learning to be gentle with myself and Melody Beattie’s gentle words of encouragement are a balm to my soul. Each morning I begin my day with journaling, Scripture reading and a daily reading from this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. “You are lovable. Yes, you. Just because people haven’t been there for you, just because certain people haven’t been able to show love for you in ways that worked, just because relationships have failed or gone sour does not mean that you’re unlovable. You’ve had lessons to learn. Sometimes those lessons have hurt. Let go of the pain. Open your heart to love. You are lovable. You are loved.” (reading from 2/29).

 

MEMOIR

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WHEN WE WERE ON FIRE BY ADDIE ZIERMAN: Growing up evangelical, Addie Zierman was deeply “on fire” for God. Her memoir explores the zeal, disillusionment and disintegration of her faith and then its unexpected resurrection. But of all the stories she tells in this book, the one I related to the most was her struggle to get over a broken heart. Girls growing up in evangelical Christianity face a double burden of expectations entangled in purity culture and “saving the first kiss” and “guarding our hearts.” Addie’s memoir is an important documentation of what this experience is like. EE Rating: 4 stars.

 

POETRY:

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PLATH (EVERYMAN’S LIBRARY POCKET POETS): When I was writing my book, I was literally chilled to my bones. It was a strange, somatic response to reliving my childhood. But Sylvia Plath’s poems, wine and a hot bath were my healing balm at the end of a hard day’s writing (and yes, I am restored by depressing poetry). One of my favorite lines from Syliva’s “Spinster”: How she longed for winter then!–Scrupulously austere in its order / Of white and black / Ice and rock, each sentiment within border / And heart’s frosty discipline / Exact as a snowflake” Oh, that last bit…heart’s frosty discipline / exact as a snowflake…that line has stuck in my head for weeks. How often we dismiss the messiness of love and idolize something more orderly, timely, precise, austere. But then we miss out on love, don’t we? EE Rating: 4 stars.

Now, it’s your turn! What were YOUR favorite books this year?
I need some recommendations for reading in 2014! 

What I’ve been reading {EE’s Three-Sentence Book Reviews}

Unknown The Circle by Dave Eggers: Like Orwell’s 1984 except way more plausible. Which is just another way of saying: terrifying, couldn’t-put-it-down, page-turner. I may never log onto Facebook again. EE STARS: 4

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple: A daughter’s love covers a multitude of her mother’s eccentricities. Clever point-of-view. Only problem: plot line gets a bit muddled and confusing near the end. EE STARS: 3

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The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker:   The only question I kept asking throughout this book was: why wouldn’t a father at least explain to his daughter why he suddenly disappeared from her family? Annoying. Also, sad ending. EE STARS: 2

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Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: The author says it took him fifteen years to write this novel. He should have stopped after five. Clunky time-jumping narrative and poorly rendered, two-dimensional characters. EE STARS: 1

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Love To Stay by Adam Hamilton: Another marriage advice book by another mega-church pastor. Yawn. Nothing new or noteworthy here except a recent, troubling trend: pastors polling their own congregations and then using these limited surveys to pronounce sweeping prescriptions for All Marriages at All Times. EE STARS: 1.