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What I’m Into :: Summer 2015

What I'm Into - Summer 2015 :: Sarah Bessey

Books

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee :: Oh, the book of books this summer. My thoughts are still such a swirl on this book. I can’t seem to articulate them. I loved it for what it was though. But I have to point you towards my buddy D.L. Mayfield’s essay about this book – it’s on the money. If you only read one more thinkpiece about this novel, make it that one.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed :: Profane and sacred all at the same time. It’s not for everyone but it made so very glad to be alive.

Americanah by Chimamanada Ngozi Adichie :: Absolutely gob-smackingly brilliant. I couldn’t put it down. Complex, wise, funny, real, and interesting.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay :: This was a fast, fun, and delightful read – great for a summer day. I figured out the twist within about a second but that didn’t make it any less fun to read all the way through.

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows :: One of my perpetual comfort reads is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which was co-written with Annie Barrows, so I was very excited to see her new book at the library. I snatched it up and devoured it in a weekend. Again, a great summer book, a fascinating story, with such fantastic and strong female characters.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish :: This one is a classic for a reason. I read it, nothing much new but still a helpful resource.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion :: I had this one sitting on my side table for months. I just couldn’t seem to pick it up, always preferring to read something else first. Well, I reluctantly picked it up when I’d finished all the other reading on Friday night and did not put it down until I was done. I had misjudged the story and the cover but once I started, i fell in love with these characters. A delight.

Scape by Luci Shaw :: Luci Shaw is my favourite living poet and this is her new volume of poetry. It’s quintessential Luci. I want to be her when I grow up.

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert :: I’ve been doing a bit more reading about the Enneagram, thanks to my friend, Leigh Kramer, who is an Enneagram Coach. It’s been helpful in many ways (I’m a Type 9, if you’re into that sort of thing). (For the uninitiated, it’s an ancient form of personality types/temperaments.)

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren Winner :: I would buy this book all over again just for the chapter on God as birth-giver/midwife. I adore everything Lauren Winner writes – she’s impeccable – but this was a great book.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo :: Unpopular opinion confession: blergh. I didn’t like this book. I mean, I get it, “what brings you joy?” is a great question. But I felt like this book was wildly unrealistic, especially for those of us with a houseful of children or a partner or, you know, any sentimental attachment to the world.

Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love by Sally Clarkson :: Sally Clarkson is one of my favourite mothering writers (two of my favourites are her The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood). She’s a bit more conservative than me in many ways and her family’s habits/values differ at times but I love having older women like her write about how they raised their children and kept their home and did life as a family. I find such value in her words for that aspect of my life. It’s so encouraging for us “in the trenches” – kind of like having a mothering mentor in a book.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin :: Zzzzzzzzz. Waste of time, I’m afraid. It’s one big book of common sense.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr :: A brilliant and wonderful book. It took me a while to get into it but I stayed with it since, you know, Pulitzer and all. And boy, did it pay off. Such a beautiful story.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan :: I never can resist a bit of Angolophile lit. A bit raunchy at times but a fun read, for sure.

TV

My big obsession this summer has been Broadchurch. Oh, my goodness. People. We devoured this show. It is masterful – the performances, the script, the story, the cinematography, the music, all the things. Cannot recommend it enough.

I’m also still going through Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Or as my son, Joe, calls it “That Fast-Talker Girl Show.” I’m into Season 2 and I’m feeling very suspicious of Jess right about now. Careful now, Rory. HARVARD.

Music

I drank the Kool-Aid for Alabama Shakes and whoa, cannot get enough of this.

What is there even to say after that, right?

My favourite “Christian-y” album right now has been John Mark McMillan’s latest, You Are The Avalanche. I love his songs – no one in the at genre writes or sounds like this guy.

Podcasts

Okay, I rarely get bossy with you, my friends but I am about to get bossy. If you are a writer or a creative of any sort, you need to go right now to iTunes and subscribe to Elizabeth Gilbert’s new podcast “Magic Lessons” based off the ideas in her new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (which will likely be on my Fall What I’m Into, already pre-ordered, amen). Each episode is super short – 15-20 minutes – which works beautifully with my life. I rarely have a full hour to listen to ANYTHING so this is ideal. The language can be a bit adult occasionally but really, it’s brilliant. Creatives, you need to be listening to this one. #WriterCrush

So that’s it for summer so far! We still have a bit of time left here as school doesn’t start until the second week of September.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading or listening to or watching this summer, too! Always out for a good recommendation.

Cheers,

S.

 

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Continue Reading · book review, books, What I’m Into · 63

Why You Should Still Read “Go Set A Watchman”

I’ll freely admit to being one of those folks who were quietly devastated by certain aspects of Harper Lee’s hotly anticipated follow-up book, Go Set A Watchman. (Of course there is a larger discussion about whether or not this book should ever have seen the light of day…)

I’ve had many a passionate conversation about this book over the past few days. My friend, Megan Tietz, is my favourite (former) English teacher and so I asked her to write me down off the ledge.

Here is her attempt:

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After the New York Times published its review of Go Set a Watchman, my brother texted me, “No thanks. I’ll keep my Atticus pure, please.” In comment boxes and threads across the internet, a collective of broken hearts echoed that sentiment, recoiling with angst and disappointment and a general sense of deflated optimism in light of what became of our beloved family Finch.

My own relationship with Atticus Finch is different than most.

It wasn’t in my childhood or adolescence that I met this beloved character of American literature, this paragon of goodness, fairness, and courage for whom so many have such fond feelings. I went to four different schools from seventh to twelfth grade, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird slipped through the cracks of the scope and sequence of curriculum that taught me. It wasn’t until I was an adult, a teacher myself, that I picked up a marked-up, dog-eared copy of Mockingbird in preparation to uncover its vast treasure for a classroom of seventh graders.

I’ve spent the past few days wondering if holding the text of Mockingbird in my hands first as a teacher allows me an almost dispassionate perspective on Watchman and its Atticus. Instead of being devastated by the warnings that Watchman‘s Atticus was openly racist and not at all the stoic-but-tender father of Scout’s youth, I found myself not only energetically curious about the cast of characters, but also even more in awe than ever of Harper Lee and her extraordinary journey with this story.

I’m afraid I fall prey to that most annoying of tendencies shared by teachers of literature around the world in that I’m unwilling to separate the story from the storyteller, and having read the Times review, I knew at once why Ms. Lee’s first novel would paint Maycomb County and all of its people in this way. The advice to fledgeling writers is the same now as it was in the 1950s when Ms. Lee sat at her typewriter: write what you know. And that she did.

Just like Jean Louise Finch, Harper Lee left Alabama for New York City where she undoubtedly met both people and circumstances that caused her to rethink what she grew up believing as gospel truth. And I can only imagine that just like Jean Louise, Harper Lee fell deeply into despair when confronting the overt racism of the people and town that raised her.

So she filled the page hot with her own angst and sadness, crafting the novel we finally have access to, Go Set a Watchman. In its pages, you’ll find a young woman grappling with trying to reconcile her new, enlightened view on the world with the troubling reality of her first and once-beloved home. In its pages, you’ll find a community resisting transition, a microcosm of the turmoil of the 50s and 60s in America, and you’ll be reminded that these moments of massive cultural shift are rarely well-mannered, azalea-scented garden parties. No, these moments all too often feel like war.

A capable and wise editor took Watchman from Ms. Lee’s hands, took it in all of its anger and disillusionment, took from her the burden of trying to right all of the wrongs of racism by painting such a naked portrait of its ugliness in its current form; that editor took the manuscript of Watchman and sent her back to her typewriter for a re-write. And so, relieved of the weight of her first work, she did exactly that. And in that re-write, she decided rather than dwell in the despair of how things were, she would let loose with a vision for how things could be.

For these reasons, I encourage you to approach Watchman with a sense of wonder at the prowess of this singularly gifted writer, and I would encourage a posture of gratitude as well. After all, if it weren’t for Watchman‘s Atticus, we would never have been given the gift of Mockingbird‘s Atticus, the one we hold so dear.

In the midst of this global conversation about Atticus, I’m afraid we’ll overlook the vibrant voice of at the heart of Go Set a Watchman: Jean Louise herself.

We hold our overall’ed, precocious Scout close to our hearts with good reason. Few characters in all of modern literature are more charming. But you’ll be happy to know Scout grew up to be a cussing, smoking, wild-eyed version, true, and one well-ahead of her time. In Jean Louise, we meet a woman who comes home, hoping against hope that both the man who raised her and the man who hopes to marry her will be actively pushing back the darkness of Jim Crow and his shadow. What she finds, instead, are that these two men are actively and politely advocating for the status quo. And she comes a little unhinged.

I could never quite relate to Scout and her childhood – the idyllic warmth of a doting community seemed foreign to me, as did her larger-than-life father, the living, breathing archetype of love and justice. But oh, how I love grown-up Jean Louise. In her, I see reflected back to me the all-too familiar pain of navigating the stinging dissonance of what I was taught and what I now see to be true.

Near the end of Watchman, after a magnificent blow-up between Jean Louise and Atticus, her uncle Jack gives clarity to the conflict that drives her story, that drives the story of many of us, I suppose:

” ‘Now you, Miss, born with your own conscious, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle to your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings — I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes ’em like all of us. You were an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting answers from him, assuming that your answers would always be his answers.’ ”

Who among us cannot relate? Who here doesn’t know the struggle of realizing the answers supplied to us in childhood, the only answers we thought we’d ever need, no longer made sense when the piercing questions came pressing in? Who hasn’t looked up in the midst of what we thought was a garden party, only to realize the wounded and damaged were all around us, and we were without excuse for for our well-mannered silence on their plight?

And this is why I beg of you to give Watchman a chance, no matter how painful it might be. Don’t believe the press that tempts you to believe that Watchman is merely the downfall of a man we believed would be better.

Choose, instead, to read it as the story of a hero we’ve known since her childhood, a fellow sojourner learning what it means to swipe away the tin gods of her youth and to find a voice brave enough to speak up for equality and courageous enough to keep loving those who disagree. If ever there was one I’d want next to me on this wobbly path, it surely would be Miss Jean Louise Finch.

megan fall 2014Megan Tietz wants you to join her on the front porch for some long talks and iced tea. She lives in the heart of Oklahoma City with her husband, two daughters, and twin sons. She’s also the conversation maven at the Sorta Awesome Podcast, and she invites you to tune in on iTunes or wherever you find your favorite shows!

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Continue Reading · book review, books · 37

Embracing the Body :: a guest post by Tara M. Owens

Tara and I spent a wonderful lunch together in Denver over a year ago and, yes, we totally talked about Doctor Who. But she also poured out her dream and her process for this very book. It was a long road to see it come to light and I believe it’s a powerful book for our time.

embracing the body

Tara is a marvellous woman: trust worthy, strong. If I had a spiritual director, I’d want her to be someone like Tara. Considering the damaging theology that some espouse, claiming that our souls or minds are more important or more spiritual than our bodies, this book seeks to reclaim the body in Christian theology, language, and practice. Wise, erudite, loving and tender, Embracing the Body will bring true healing and wholeness to our theology of our physical bodies as a church. Tara Owens is the perfect guide for this holy journey. I’m excited to introduce you to this book and also give away two copies!

Bristled. Burnished and brown. Baby-soft. With each cheek, I pressed my lips in deeper. With each person I became a little bolder. I looked into eyes shining with hope, heads bowed with heaviness. I wrapped my arms around those who were weary. I stood in tip-toed excitement to receive each one.

Earlier that morning, I was conscripted, deputized as a makeshift monk. In this community of artists and wanderers that I had called home for the week, I was asked to be a stand in for the holy. I listened carefully as our chaplain explained what I was to do. In a blessing of these who bring beauty into the world, each would approach with a request. In the manner of the pilgrims to the Greek Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mountain, on approaching a monk, the traveler would call out, “Bless me.” In return, I would acknowledge what already is—that they are chosen and called by God—by responding, “The LORD blesses you.”

“Then,” my chaplain said, “we will kiss them.”

I struggle to find words for the joy that sang through me on hearing those words. The surge of delight I felt was disproportionate, sudden and thrilling. While I recognize that most people, when faced with the prospect of kissing the cheeks of more than fifty near-strangers, would not be filled with excitement, I’ve been thinking, teaching, wrestling with and writing about the wonder of embodiment for more than six years.

In today’s context, we’re rarely given the opportunity to touch others in blessing, let alone get close enough to kiss them. But the act of embodying love, of reaching out of our imperfect, sweaty, awkward humanity to touch the trembling, holy, grace-infused stuff of another is a place of sacrament. As I touch you with my lips, I give form to love. As I lean close to bless, we insist together on the holiness of creation—even as we feel and know its limitations and vulnerabilities.

I’ve blessed people with oil before, marking them gently with the sign of the cross. I’ve rested hands on bowed heads, pressed my palm over a heart. I’ve supported cupped hands as they asked for God to fill them with His love. Until this particular day, I’d never kissed others in blessing, only in greeting, and then only with the anxious fumble of one who grew up in a culture devoid of these ritual greetings. Do I kiss once? Twice? Three times? I never know.

But now I am the moment’s monk. As each artist, each pilgrim comes with their brave petition—Bless me—and I unconsciously move toward them, grasping their shoulders, holding them in the surety of grace—The LORD blesses you—I am the one kissed by love.

Assured of our common humanity, the tenderness of skin and lips and hope and blessing, I have embodied Christ, watched Him spill out of others and into me. I have fallen in love again and again with each face, and the kissing has become a needful thing, something that is right and good and true. It is a reversal of Judas’s betrayal, and embodiment of not my will but thine be done, and a release into all that they are and all that I am and all that God is in and between and through us.

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This is how we begin to create community with our bodies. Not with kissing (although there is great wisdom to be gained in reflecting on Paul’s suggestion to greet one another with a holy kiss—Rom. 16:15, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:21, 1 Thess 5:25, 1 Peter 5:14), but with an attentive awareness of the tenderness of our very selves, the softness of flesh, the hope of movements toward redemption, the aching flaws of bodies that age and ail.

What would it mean to attend to one another’s bodies as if they were our own to receive and bless? Not objects to control, but members of ourselves, whose gifts and griefs are as real as our own. To make safe spaces for the grace of touch—a kiss, a clasp, a hand on a shoulder or arms that encircle—is to create a culture of body that embraces mystery and material together. These spaces, held open at once by our God and our bodies, speak safety—I see you, I feel you, you can relax now, you are safe—and incarnate the presence of God, whose love can move through us to bring healing and wholeness.

This is the kneeling of the body of Christ, together as a community. In kneeling, in blessing, we put ourselves in the most vulnerable position possible. We expose ourselves to hurt, we risk betrayal. We open the softest parts of our flesh to others and the world, and we do it with radical trust not that we will be saved from hurt, but that God will move through our vulnerability to bring the power of Christ into the world. This is the kneeling of Christ in Gesthemane, a kneeling not for himself but for the redemption of all, an opening of a way of return to the One who loves us all the way to death.

This is the risk we must take with our bodies, our selves. We must offer a hand to the one we fear to touch, a shoulder to the one whose load seems impossible to bear. These aren’t metaphors, we have to get up and move, to let sweat and smell make us uncomfortable, let words become meals shared and savored, let the promised prayers become bedside vigils beside the cots of the dying.

This isn’t a list of things to do, another heavy requirement of a life of holiness. It’s isn’t anything further from you than the next deep breath, the way the air fills your lungs and oxygen rushes through your arteries to sustain life. We are meant to live this incarnate life together, and, however dysfunctionally we do so, it is the togetherness that lets the blood of Christ flow freely, doing what our own blood does so well: it brings sustaining energy, washes us of what is wasteful; it gives us rhythm and movement, maintains warmth and holds us open to what is needed; it defends against what will infect, closing wounds so that the life within can heal and make new.

These are things to recognize in our life with Christ and with one another, not manufacture. The wonder of kneeling, of blessing, is that it is something that we receive instead of produce, it is not what we earn but what we make known.

 

owens-0496 copyTara M. Owens, CSD is the author of Embracing the Body: Finding God In Our Flesh & Bone, published by InterVarsity Press. She’s a spiritual director with Anam Cara Ministries, and the senior editor of Conversations Journal. She lives with her husband, Bryan, their daughter, Seren, and their rescue dog, Hullabaloo, in Colorado. She loves Doctor Who, red velvet cupcakes, and Jesus, not necessarily in that order.

Giveaway!

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win one of two copies of Tara’s book. And a pot of homemade Meyer Lemon curd because Tara is awesome like that.

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Continue Reading · book review, books, Guest Post · 57

What I’m Into (Spring 2015)

What I'm Into : Sarah Bessey

books i read

The Beautiful Daughters: A Novel by Nicole Baart. I’ve always liked Nicole’s work but this is her best one yet. I couldn’t put it down and was genuinely surprised by the turn. It’s spiritual without being cloying, dark without being hopeless.

Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist. I’m a big Shauna fan girl, it’s no secret. I adore her. This devotional gathers her best writing into a daily devotional centred on the theme from the title. Plus it’s just a beautiful book.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman. I’m rather new to Neil Gaiman’s work, I became a fan after watching an episode of Doctor Who he wrote that I simply loved (The Doctor’s Wife). This work of short fiction is stunning and freaky and wonderful. I mean, I was skin-crawly and fascinated. His mind is SOMETHING ELSE. I especially liked “Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy Tale” and “The Truth is a Cave in the Mountains.”

Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller. #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion time. Even though I have loved most of his prior work, I didn’t like this book very much. Sure, there were parts I liked and I know many people will love it but I found it big on name-dropping, and a bit simplistic. Plus I had a hard time suspending my disbelief to receive relationship advice here – it’s not yet earned. That might be my smug-married coming out but I figure relationship books, particularly marriage books, are best after a few years under your belt (like, say, 25).

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. I picked up this book at the recommendation of Jen Hatmaker and it is just as good as she said. I’m not a foodie in the least. I mean, I’m a good cook and I feed my family just fine but I’m never above Kraft Mac n’Cheese, if you know what I mean. But this book was so beautifully written, it made me love how this woman loved food.

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home by Amber C. Haines – I had a chance to read an advanced copy of this book. And I want people to read it for dozens of reasons: Amber’s voice, her writing, is incomparable to anything you’ve read before. But even beyond that gift, she writes about desire, our longing for home, with a deeply orthodox and yet mystical and sensual soul. This book made me feel homesick and at-home all at the same time. Only Amber could so beautifully and rightly write into the parts of our human experience that usually defy words.

I have done a lot of re-reading of last year’s favourites. Maybe it’s the late-night nursing talking, but I have just been in the mood for every single Liane Moriarity book ever written and I have indulged accordingly. Sometimes you just need a good story, right? I re-read them all: What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, The Husband’s Secret, The Last Anniversary, and my new favourite, Big Little Lies. I just love how she writes women so fully.

books I’m reading right now

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. This book might be saving my life right now. Sometimes revelation arrives slow and steady and sweetly. Other times, it’s like the wind blows in and breaks all the windows. This book is the latter. Whew, it’s ferociously good.

All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

The Royal We by Heather Cocks adn Jessica Morgan

The Rosie Project: A Novel by Graeme Simsion

Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love by Sally Clarkson.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

 

television worth watching

I actually binge-watched for the first time! Again: newborn. I hit all 13 episodes of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and loved it. Loved it! I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a sitcom so this was noteworthy for me. I loved the premise, the strain of darkness under the jokes, Titus has my heart forever, and Kimmy, well, she is just so believable, so earnest, so real even though the whole thing is utterly unreal. (It’s on Netflix.)

I gave up on Gilmore Girls. I am still slowly watching episodes but I don’t feel much urgency.

Otherwise, it’s all hockey playoffs – Go, Flames! – and Love it or List It here. HGTV, my heart you.

Oh, the tinies and I have just discovered Phineas and Ferb, too. I was rather stumped for TV shows for the kids once they grew out of the preschooler shows. (Little Bear, we love you.) Everything seemed either too violent or too dumb or just plain annoying. But my friend Kelly at Love Well told me that her kids liked this Disney XD show and since I trust Kelly implicitly, we gave it a go. It’s funny, complex, creative, weird, and smart – we’re big fans now.

Our other kid favourite is The Magic School Bus. We have the DVD set of the complete series and it’s a perpetual favourite with the preschooler and the big kids, so that’s a win.

movies worth seeing

I haven’t watched a movie in a dog’s age. We keep trying but I simply lack the time and the attention span right now. See again: newborn.

music worth hearing

Home by Josh Garrels – I’m a big fan of this guy and his new album is stellar.

Born and Raised by John Mayer – I just can’t quit this guy. This is the album I listen to when I’m cooking on Sunday afternoons.

podcast worth downloading

Sorta Awesome – Megan Tietz of SortaCrunchy was one of my very first Big Blogger crushes back in the dark ages of blogging (think circa 2007). Anyway, years later we’ve become dear friends and so of course I was so sad when she quit blogging earlier this year. I mean, I was happy FOR HER but I was sad for me, you know? But she has branched into podcasting! And this is the perfect medium for Megan. First of all, I could listen to her read the phone book, she has such a great voice. But then she is so good at making you feel like you are just hanging out on her front porch, talking about life and everything that’s interesting or sorta awesome. It’s like being her neighbour. Sorta Awesome is available in iTunes (I’ve already subscribed) but you can also listen from a browser by clicking this link, or search “Sorta Awesome” wherever you listen to podcasts and you’ll find it.

stuff worth reading on the Internet

On Being a Woman After God’s Own Heart by Jenny Rae Armstrong

My 22 Best Practices After 22 Years of Pastoral Ministry by April Yamasaki

Consider by Richard Beck

This is Ace by Micha Boyett

Tools for the Highly Sensitive Mother by Amber C. Haines

What We’re For by Kathy Escobar

A Hidden Opportunity in Your Church by Nish Weiseth

Born This Way by John Blase

For God So Loved by Kelley Nikondeha

10 Ways to Support Women of Colour in Leadership by Austin Channing Brown

And just because it makes me happy to watch it now and then:

pins worth re-pinning

The text of an entire book on a t-shirt? TAKE MY MONEY.

My sister made this kale and potato soup with turkey sausage and SWEARS it’s amazing. She is much more the foodie than me.

The Best of Ted Talks for women right here.

No, you cried when you looked at these pictures of women one day after giving birth.

And finally, 40 Pinterest Complete Fails to make you feel better.

 

So, friends, what about you? What’s on your nightstand? What television show or movie or music has captured your imagination?

Linked up with Leigh Kramer for What I’m Into.

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Continue Reading · book review, books, What I’m Into · 42

Messy Women Lead Me Back to Jesus :: a guest post by Mary DeMuth

I love Mary DeMuth. And I don’t mean that in the lame say-it-but-don’t-mean-it way. She was my roommate when we were in Haiti together in 2012, and she is genuine, whole, brave, loving, funny, and smart. I’m honoured to host her words here today.

Her new book is a collaboration with bestselling author Frank Viola called The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels. I read it ahead of time and endorsed it: “Here is very simply the truth about Jesus and His relationship with women: He loved us. What a powerful truth for women in the world today! Jesus is always the hero of the story. Through this book, we see and know that He is the hero of our stories too.” – S. 
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When I write fiction, my characters change me. In fact, when I finish a novel, I go through a period of mourning, missing my characters, their voices, their quirks. Call me crazy (it’s okay!). I’m not sure why I didn’t take into account that the five women whose stories I expanded from the New Testament would have the same effect. Or even more so.

 

But oh how they did.

 

Atticus Finch said it well in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” When Frank Viola approached me about collaborating on The Day I Met Jesus, I was grateful. Most every writer struggles to get work, and I am no different. So we decided to work together, and he shopped the proposal around. Baker publishing said yes, and I was on my way.

 

Except I had Atticus’s pesky point of view homework, meaning I had to crawl into the skin of five amazing women. The nearly unclothed woman circled by an angry mob, stones in hand. The woman of the night who audaciously spilled her earnings on sacred feet. The racially-hated woman of Samaria who had her own painful divorce stories. The woman who bled and bled and bled. And then the woman who shares my name, Mary of Bethany, who unashamedly loved Jesus.

 

I realized, first, that these were not characters in a dime-store novel. These were living, aching, longing, beautiful women who walked the dusty streets Jesus walked. They were real. As in like you. Like me. These are not fancy stories we memorize or words on a page that become boring and rote.

 

Each story represents a human being.

 

Each woman taught me to see Jesus in a completely new way. I fell in love afresh with the God-Man who off-kiltered the self righteous, who crossed racial and gender barriers to have his longest conversation with someone. I wish I had seen His impossible eyes dance when He healed over a decade-long illness and ushered an outcast into community. And oh how I wanted to hear His words of affirmation over this Mary, that perhaps I had chosen the part that won’t be taken away.

 

Jesus is beyond my expectations. He was always confounding the disciples in like manner, refusing to fit into their Messiah mold. He went out of his way to find the unnoticed, the unimportant, the non-religious, the fray of society.

 

I follow this Jesus. As do you. The Savior of the second chance. The Messiah who made friends and didn’t care what wagging heads said in response. The One who laughs better and weeps deeper than we can imagine.

 

Walking around in the sandals and bare feet of these five women ignited a revival in me toward Jesus, the irresistible friend I’ve longed for my entire life. Revelation 2:4 cuts through me as I type this. Jesus said, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”

 

These women and their starkly beautiful encounters with Jesus help me remember why I fell in love with Jesus when He rescued me so many years ago. How He gently led me down a pathway of healing from my own story of sexual abuse, parental death, and suicidal thoughts. How He went out of his way to find outcast me. Oh to re-love Him lavishly!

 

So if you feel in the margins today, take heart. Jesus beckons. He knows. He sees. He offers grace. You don’t have to have your religious ducks in a row. In fact He specializes in messy folks. Why? Because we actually need Him.

 

That’s what I learned from those five women. They flat-out needed Jesus. And He honored them with relationship. May we need Him in the same way.

 

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