The Book I Can’t Stop Talking About

I know. I’ve talked about this book for months…years, even.

You likely already know what the title is.

But I’ll tell you anyway.

The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron.

(You would think I’d be able to spell “polygamist’s,” but no–I’ve misspelled it at least six times writing this post. Words are hard sometimes.)

For anyone who doesn’t already know, allow me to go ahead and offer the disclaimer that Anna LeBaron is a dear friend of mine. We met in an online group in early 2015, and well, the rest is history. I’m slightly biased when it comes to her words, both spoken and written, but I’ll do my best to keep my review as objective as possible. (I will refer to her as Anna from here out, however—talking about one of your closest friends in third person is a little odd.)

Ready? Let’s go.

First—let’s talk about the front cover. Tyndale nailed it with the book cover. The first time I saw it, I was speechless. Little Anna, posed and precious, yet hidden and silenced behind stark and cold censor bars. Blind and gagged. It’s haunting, chilling, and unsettling. Maybe it’s my highly-empathic nature or the fact that the first time I heard Anna’s story, I was a teacher of littles, but at the sight of the cover the instinctive urge to gather Little Anna up in my arms weighed on me. It’s a cover that would stop me in my tracks if I saw it sitting on a bookstore shelf. (I cannot wait to see it sitting on a bookstore shelf!)

On to the story: The Polygamist’s Daughter is the third book I’ve read about the LeBaron family, so I already had a pretty solid frame of reference for the people, places, and events Anna discussed. I’ve also heard her speak informally about her family of origin. As much as I already knew about Anna’s experience, actually reading her account from the perspective of “little Anna” unlocked a new wave of emotion—a host of emotions, actually.

Until late 2015, I’d read only a couple of memoirs. It just wasn’t my favorite genre. Since then, memoirs have earned a pretty high ranking on my favorite genres list. One thing I’ve found to be an indicator of my interest is binge reading sessions. There are some books that require you to find a comfy spot and remain there for the next 5-6 hours, hardly moving as you progress from cover to cover. This is one of those books.

The Polygamist’s Daughter plunges you into the depths of rejection, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. A desire to intervene and protect, shield and comfort young Anna will rise within you. As the story progresses, you will rejoice at the strength, bravery, and courage that Anna finds deep within herself. You will walk away with hope that light shines even from the darkest circumstances.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll just say this: Anna’s objective was to tell her story from the perspective of herself as a child and she and her contributing writer, Leslie Wilson, accomplished that beautifully.   Anna has skillfully told her story in a way that invites her readers into her experience from the perspective of an innocent child navigating her way into adulthood.

The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron with Leslie Wilson (Tyndale) releases March 21, 2017 and is available at most book retailers.

Learn more about Anna at www.AnnaLeBaron.com.

Dreary Days, Nostalgia, and Pumpkin Muffins

Sunlight dimmed by a thick, gray cloud cover filtered through the blinds, my eyelids cracking open as eyelashes stuck together by last night’s leftover makeup parted. Groggily, I rolled over, wondering whether I should get up or sleep in—what day is it anyway?

As it dawned on me that it is, indeed, Saturday, I also realized the date—March 11th. The day my life changed, one year ago, in a way I never wanted it to or imagined it would. Sometimes the blessing of a photographic memory—especially one that clings to the significance of particular dates—is also a curse.

It seems like there’s an awful lot of juxtaposition of binaries following me around these days: happy/sad, joyful/tearful, known/unknown, faith/fear, freedom/guilt, settled/homesick. It’s a dichotomy of soft places and hard places that I’ve never had to learn to navigate long-term—until now.

Even the side-by-side juxtaposition of yesterday—March 10th—and today, March 11th is a representation of the current paradoxical tension that binds my daily life.

Two years ago yesterday, #the4500 was formed. I didn’t know then how radically a group of internet strangers would change my life, eventually landing me in Texas. If I had known, I probably would’ve jumped shipped. I’m glad I didn’t know—because these past two years have been an adventure like no other. One that has brought an abundance of love, laughter, and friendship; it has thrown open doors of possibility one after another.

March 10th is a day that will forever remind me of a Father who answers prayers both before we’ve uttered them and also in ways that we’d never imagine them manifesting.

And March 11th is a day that will also be forever burned in my memory.

It’s that day, exactly one year ago, that I was sitting on the playground with my co-teacher and friend, Christine, at recess, watching our students play and explore, when I got the news that changed so many things.

It’s the day my phone buzzed and the text told me my sister had been diagnosed with a laughably rare cancer. The long, unpronounceable diagnosis stared at me from the screen…and, in shock and disbelief, I did what you should never do: I Googled. I handed the phone to Christine and tried to breathe. Tried to digest this information. With only an hour left in the school day, and a visiting former classroom assistant who could cover me, Christine tried to talk me into leaving early, but I knew I would spiral as soon as I left work and wanted to delay that as long as possible.

The 365 days between that day and this one have been rocky and hard to walk. There are still many questions that remain unanswered. The decisions that my sister and I—and others in our family have made have been difficult. My decision to leave South Carolina and move to Texas was such a daunting one that I didn’t come to terms with the fact that I had already moved to Texas until seven months after I packed up my carload of belongings and made the trek. Now that I’ve been here for nine months [to the day, as I just realized; I arrived in the Friendly State on June 11th of last year. I’m going to need to chew on this for a moment], I’m finally reclaiming some of the routines that the trauma of moving cross-country displaced.

When I lived in SC and taught all week, Saturday mornings were my sanctuary. A quiet kitchen, a slow day, a recipe—either precise and written out or experimental and thrown together in my head—and a little baking therapy resulted in one of my favorite weekend routines

When I moved to Texas and threw my life into the spin cycle of settling into a new space, I pretty much quit cooking, quit baking. It took months for me to be comfortable enough in my new surroundings to cook again. For some, baking is an art form. For me, it’s therapy. And this morning, I needed it. I needed a reason to get out of bed. (And aren’t warm-from-the-oven, slathered-in-cream-cheese-frosting pumpkin muffins a great reason to get out of bed??) So I threw back the covers, got “dressed” in leggings and flannel shirt and headed to the kitchen. Within minutes, I’d assembled the necessary items and accouterments and set the oven to preheat. As I measured ingredients, cracked eggs, and mixed the batter, I thought about the significance of this day and how I could easily allow all the unknowns that still exist take precedence over the joy of the work I need to accomplish today.

The act of stirring separate ingredients together to make one cohesive batter, of dropping that batter into the wells of a muffin tin spoonful by spoonful is a calming process. I can’t exactly explain it, but my anxiety levels decrease and my mind quiets as I bake. It’s therapeutic and cathartic though, so I don’t question it much.

Days like today, if I dwell on the hard and allow my mind to entertain the unknowns, I will drown; I will spiral into a darkness I’ve visited previously and to which I never wish to return.

Recognizing the precursory symptoms of this descent is one of the most powerful tools I have honed over the past year. Knowing that dreary days are more likely to bring a cloud cover to my soul allows me to press through the muddled emotions and lying thoughts that make me want to throw the blanket over my head, shutting down and shutting out the light that surrounds me. Choosing not to focus on the things I have zero control over, but rather focusing on the truth that I am well-loved by the God who sees all things is the first step to reversing the descent.

This doesn’t make this space easy to live in, but it does make it easier, and pumpkin muffins make it slightly sweeter.