It has been a fabulous reading week for me. I’ll tell you about three books I’ve loved, and then a bit about what I’m trying to do with what they’ve taught me. Consider it part of Project Stretch & Grow. (Which is not actually a project, but makes me smile when I think of it that way.)
Out of Sorts: Making Peace with An Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey. While the title makes this sound like a memoir of frustration with God and His church, it’s anything but. Open these pages and you’ll find a love letter about the tiny ways God has lead Bessey over and under, around and through the challenges of a grown-up faith. Her writing style is so warm and inviting, it made me want to fly to the far end of Canada to sit with her on her porch and drink tea. And I don’t even like tea.
The other thing that made me love this book – and her – happened when she mentioned John Wimber and I discovered that she’s part of my tribe. She’s a Vineyarder, too, part of the “happy clappy” group of us who believe that God still acts today, that everyone who wants to gets to play a part in bringing His Kingdom here to earth, and that it’s not really a church service unless a third of the people are moved to holy tears. (Seriously. We cry a lot. It’s a strange Holy Spirit thing you learn to make your peace with and be grateful for whoever stocks the tissues.)
Whether you consider yourself happy-clappy, agitated or agitating, or in need of a hug and a good cry, this is a wonderful book.
Wherever the River Runs: How a Forgotten People Renewed My Hope In the Gospel. I’m not sure how I found this book but I’m so glad I did. I started it yesterday and I’m almost finished – it’s that good. Minter shares her story of an unexpected trip to the Amazon (the river, not the corporate conglomerate) and how seeing pastors serving the poor there forced her to rethink her life back here in the U.S.
There are lots of “Third World Missions Trip” memoirs, but a few things set this one apart. First, Minter goes back to this place year after year. She didn’t just collect a few pictures for her Instagram account and call it a day. She is invested in specific people with whom she has long-term relationships. She knows what questions to ask each year when she returns because she knows people well enough to care about their individual lives. Second, she didn’t come back to the States to jettison all her belongings and live some sort of Poster-Child, “look at me” life. Her consideration of the differences between these two parts of the world are far more nuanced and thoughtful than I’ve seen before. I really appreciated her honesty. And finally, she’s just such a wonderful writer…it sounds cheesy to say, but the book reads like a smooth trip down a fragrant, vibrant river. It opened my eyes and soothed my soul, and made me want to live a better life.
One for the Murphy’s: A Novel. I read this book at #2 Cherub’s recommendation. She is a voracious reader, with a strong preference for what she calls “realistic fiction.” I’ve learned that to her, realistic means kids in impossible situations: foster care, severe disability, inability to perform basic life skills. She has great taste in books, and I’ve learned to trust her recommendations, even though (or perhaps because) they take me places I might not otherwise go.
One for the Murphy’s is the story of Carly, a girl who has been taken into foster care and is arriving at her first foster home. It is gripping. The author captures both the intense stress of Carly’s situation and the everyday normal things she’s wrestling with at the same time. (I mean, how weird is it that we expect kids who’ve suddenly been placed with complete strangers to still take the scheduled math & vocabulary quizzes the next day?) The great thing about this book is that Carly is a sweet, relatable protagonist – you’re really rooting for her – and her foster mom is one of the good ones. I’m so glad I read this book, even though it made me cry at the end. If you’re looking for a glimpse into this world, One for the Murphy’s is a good place to start.
As I mentioned yesterday, this is a season of effort and stretching for me. I feel like these books are challenging me to recognize that there’s still this whole big world rotating while I’m staring at my freezer wondering what to make for dinner. And there are ways I can interact with this world – practically, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally – even as I feel the boundaries tightening on my little corner of the Universe.
-There are kids in foster care who are waiting to be adopted. I can look at these pictures and pray for these children individually – for their “forever families” to come soon and be awesome, and also for whatever tests they might have in school later today. And I can shout from the top of the internet rooftop what a HUGE blessing it is to have welcomed two middle school kids into my family.
-There are people around the globe sorting out what Jesus’ promise of abundant life means when you have no home and very little food. I can ponder Kelly Minter’s wise observation that “If the good news of Jesus’ Gospel is only good news in America, than it is not good,” and ask God to recalibrate my perspective, even as I click on the keys that send some of my resources their way.
-And somewhere out there, there’s a 20, 30 or 40-something woman who, like me, senses that God might be trying to tell her something and would love help figuring out what that means and how to respond. I was blessed to have a community of people willing and able to help me, and now I can help make that happen for others. (Here’s the quick version: if you’re near Honolulu, Hawaii, you can find a community, and some of the same people who loved me, here. If you’re somewhere else, try here and see if God leads you to a group of people singing songs, praying, and holding boxes of tissue.)
I want to use my words and my life to point to God’s Kingdom as it pops up here on earth, and say, “This is for you, too! It’s for all of us!” It sounds grandiose…which is why I’m grateful for these books, and how they remind me that in real life, this happens in a million small ways. My goal this week is to add a few to the pile.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Out of Sorts from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I obtained Wherever the River Runs & One for the Murphy’s from my local library. I’ll be asking for all three of these books for Christmas, because they’re ones I want to own.