Book Reviews

The Sound of Gravel: Book Review & Link-Up

IMG_3055I’m so excited to finally share this review with you. The longer I’ve sat on these words, having read The Sound of Gravel seven weeks ago in the first round of advanced reading copies mailed out to members of #the4500launches, the more I’ve had to say about this book. I’ve wanted to read it all over again since the moment I finished it. The Sound of Gravel, Ruth’s willingness to share her story with us, the amazing way I came to be part of this launch team, the opportunities I’ve had to tell the story and encourage others to read this book have shifted my perspective in many ways.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner. And be sure to stick around at the end for a link-up where you can read more reviews of the book from other bloggers!

~*~

The soft glow of the desk lamp warms my dark bedroom. Huddled in my chair, feet propped on the foot of my bed, I’m burrowed under a blanket with a book inches from my nose. I’m engrossed in a world so far removed from my own that I have to remind myself that this is real. Someone actually lived through this. I keep forgetting to breathe. Salty tears leak out of my eyes, blurring my vision, knocking the words on the page out of focus. I hear myself gasp occasionally—hand flying to my mouth as I think, “No, no, no.”

I have a hangover. A binge-reading hangover.

It’s not the first of its kind that I’ve experienced, but it might be the most haunting. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had such a marked reaction to a book since I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved in college. (Yes, it’s that haunting.)

I finished The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner yesterday.

The Sound of Gravel is Ruth’s memoir about her childhood spent in Colonia LeBaron—home of a doomsday polygamist cult founded by Ruth’s grandfather. The words that most readily come to mind in describing this book are gripping, numbing, traumatic, enthralling, angering, and heart-breaking—all these words are appropriate, because what Ruth faced in the fifteen years the book spans is more than most people will face in their entire lives.

Growing up in a ramshackle house, haunted by the murder of her father (a prophet of the church of the colony), shouldering a great deal of parenting responsibilities for her siblings, experiencing traumatic situations and experiences no child should be forced to encounter, young Ruthie struggles to make sense of the life she’s been thrust into while recognizing that she doesn’t quite fit in, wondering “did I belong here?”

I don’t want to divulge many spoilers, because I think it’s important that the reader hear the bulk of this story through Ruth’s own words—it’s her story to tell, not mine. As readers and listeners of other’s stories, it can be easy to gloss over or romanticize the struggle faced by the storytellers. One of my worst habits in my college creative nonfiction writing class was tying up my pieces with “a pretty bow”—a habit my professor tried to force out of me. And while this story does eventually get tied into a lopsided bow, it takes a lot of frayed ribbons to get there.

Before I ever started reading The Sound of Gravel, I felt strongly about holding this story with a gentleness of heart, mind, and soul—to honor Ruth’s vulnerability in sharing her experience with the world. Maybe this is due to the fact that I came to know Ruth through an incredible series of events that involved her cousin (my friend Anna) finding Ruth on Twitter and approaching her about helping her promote her book. Or maybe it’s because I’ve recently been impressed with the realization that we all have our own reasons to be brave—and we all have to own our brave—whatever that looks like for each of us. Ruth has done just that by writing and sharing her story—she owns her brave, a brave that is so far removed from my frame of reference that it is hard to fathom.

Seriously. Wrapping my mind around the scenes that play out in this book left my mind spinning, searching for that pretty bow to tie everything up, to bring resolution to the heart-rending trauma. For the entire day after I finished The Sound of Gravel, I felt numb. I found myself blinking back tears at random moments, my mind transported back to the dusty Mexican landscape, thinking of little Ruthie facing yet another obstacle.

Ruth Wariner is a powerful storyteller; she weaves detailed scenes with gripping language. She begins by painting a vivid picture of the isolated environment of the colony, and then thrusts her readers into the mind of her five-year-old self, leading us into the world as she knew it. Once I picked this book up, I didn’t put it down for nearly 250 pages—and I only put it down then because it was 2 a.m. and I had to get at least a little sleep—but I was up and finishing the last 100 pages a couple hours later.

My favorite part of this book is the title. From the time I heard about this book, the title intrigued me. The Sound of Gravel. The moment I realized where the title came from, I was struck by the weight of Ruth’s story all at once. In this scene, overlooking her mother’s coffin, the burden she carried on her young shoulders were clenched in her fist—in the form of tiny rocks and the dust of her beginnings—and released with a promise.

The Sound of Gravel.
Read this book.
I wholeheartedly recommend it.

~*~

For more information about Ruth and to preorder The Sound of Gravel (releases Tuesday, January 5, 2016), please visit www.RuthWariner.com.

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photo credit: Ruth Wariner

~*~

The Sound of Gravel: Review Link-Up

Bloggers and GoodReads Reviewers: If you’ve written a review, feel free to link up with us!

Here’s how:

1.Click the blue link-up button below.

2.Follow the instructions to add your link and image.

3.Check out a few of the other review posts and leave your comments!

Readers: You’re welcome to click the blue button and follow the links to some other fantastic reviews! Leave your comments on the blogs you visit and join us in getting the word out about Ruth’s book!

 

Happy Reading!
Ticcoa

Processing

Unbound.

As 2015 wound down, I found myself considering a word that I would carry with me throughout 2016, a word to filter life through in the coming year. This is the first time I’ve been proactive and intentional about choosing a word. Usually, I latch onto a word a few weeks or months into the year—or see my word strung along as a theme at the end of the year.
I wanted a pretty word—like grace or bravery or joy. A word that didn’t need a lot of explanation, a word that would roll off the tongue effortlessly.
We don’t always get what we want, though. None of the pretty words would stick. So, I waited.
Two weeks ago, as I was driving home, I was pondering words again, but couldn’t settle on any particular one. Finally, I half-prayed that God would reveal the word I needed. Within minutes, a word dropped into my heart: “unbound.”

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Unbound?
You mean “free”? It means the same thing, just a little prettier—a little more palatable on the tongue.
No?
Unbound.
Okay.
Why? Why “unbound”?
I didn’t get an answer immediately. A few days later though, an image of Lazarus standing outside his tomb, having been called back from death by Jesus himself, ragged strips of cloth unraveled from his body. And just days after this, a blogger I follow spoke these words to me: “I can imagine you tossing off the ropes that bind and taking flight.”

 

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:38-44)

Unbound.
Alive again.
Free.
Called back from death and darkness.
Just a few days after this word—unbound—fell into my heart, I read a section titled “It Was For Freedom” in Think Differently, Lead Differently by Bob Hamp. In this section, Hamp relates the truth that freedom comes when the Spirit of the Lord is present and the reality that, often, we become prisoners to thinking that freedom comes from the absence of a behavior or thought pattern:

 

The Bible is very clear that freedom is not the absence of something; it is the presence of Someone…Where the Spirit of the Lord is…there is freedom. Freedom is not about the control of impulse and behavior; it is about the fulfillment of identity and destiny. Your identity and destiny cannot be restored apart from the presence of God on Earth. Freedom is about being restored to live life as the man or woman God created and redeemed you to be…it is about unleashing the good things for which you were made. (p.40)

 

 

Having been bound in the prison of depression, anxiety, disbelief, etc since April 2013, every expression of this freedom—the living, breathing, Spirit of the Lord—was stifled. Bound.
My words were bound.
My mind was bound.
My faith was bound.
My relationships were bound.
My hands, and the language within them, were bound.
My calling was bound.
I was bound,
tethered to the lies, tied to the weight that was drowning me.
Since September, God’s been hard at work on me—drawing me out of that darkness, freeing my mind, heart, and soul.
He has unbound my words from silence.
He has unbound my mind from fear, depression, and anxiety.
He has unbound my faith from lack of trust and inability to view Him as a Father.
He has unbound the relationships I isolated myself from.
He has unbound my hands and the voice within them from the chains of missed opportunity.
He has unbound my calling from perceived death.
I am unbound because He is “unleashing the good things for which [I was made],” and I am becoming who He created and redeemed me to be.

photo (2)

 

 

Playlist
No Longer Slaves, Bethel Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8TkUMJtK5k

~*~

I’m linking up with Kelly Smith over at Mrs. Disciple for the first #FridayFive of 2016. Join us for some encouragement to start the new year?

Uncategorized

All the Yeses: 2015 in Review

 

If I’ve learned anything at all this year, it’s been to stay open to the opportunities to say, “Yes!” To say “yes!” repeatedly, enthusiastically, without over-thinking it, without worrying about all the “what ifs” that might happen. Sometimes, you just need to say “yes” and let come what may. Often,  saying “yes” breaks the lock of complacency and throws open the door of opportunity.

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In January, I said “yes” to moving. To packing up, to growing up, and to learning who I want to be. (Really, I moved last December–the week of Christmas–, but I didn’t actually sleep in the new apartment until after the New Year.)
In February, I said “yes” to entering a difficult season of suffering alongside my friend Susan and her family as Susan faced her final battle with cancer. To being present, to offering words of hope and love, and to wrestling through my own faith.
In March, I said “yes,” on a whim, to applying to be on Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love book launch team. And, if you haven’t already heard, that “yes” turned into a “no” that morphed right back into a “yes” via #the4500— a huge, resounding “YES!” Sometimes our “yes” isn’t answered the way we expect it to be. I’m eternally grateful that this one wasn’t!



In April, I said “yes” to accepting a handful of friend requests from strangers (*gasp*) on Facebook. (They were #the4500 admins and members, but not real-life, I’ve-laid-eyes-on-you people.) That in itself was a gigantic leap for me.
I don’t remember any significant “yeses” from May, June, or July. (I’m sure there probably were some, though.)
In August, I finally said “yes” to ordering Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.
In September, I said “yes” to believing in healing of my mental health, to balance and alignment in my mind and spirit. I said “yes” to reading Daring Greatly. Which lead to saying “yes” to calling #the4500 head cat-herder, Anna; which lead to a whole lot of other “yeses.”



“Yes” to the rebirth of my blog.
“Yes” to writing again.
“Yes” to reading again.
“Yes” to believing again.
“Yes” to living again.
In October, I said “YES!” to attending Splendid in The Hills in April. Texas, y’all. I said “yes” to Texas. I said “yes” to getting on a freaking airplane and flying to Texas to meet a bunch of people I’ve never laid eyes on in real life. I said “yes” to contacting a literary agent about a possible meet-up/consultation while she was in town. I said ‘yes” to a meet-up with Anna (that turned into a “no” eventually, but that’s okay—because I’ll meet her in April!)



In November, I said “yes” to launching a book by a woman who escaped a violent, polygamist cult. (The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner.) I said “yes” to changing my perspective of people who have backgrounds far different than my own. I said “yes” to getting serious about writing my own book.
In December, I said “yes’ to bridging the gap in a relationship I’d let slip away over the past two years. I said “yes” to buying plane tickets for the first time ever. I said “yes” to picking up a calling I laid down two years ago.



I said ‘yes” many times this year.
But I also said “no.”

“No” to playing it safe,
“no” to living afraid,
“no” to isolating myself,
“no” to stifling my creativity,
“no” to believing the lies of the enemy that had entrenched me in darkness,
“no” to the expectations of others,
“no” to depression,
“no” to anxiety,
“no” to not living as the person God created and redeemed me to be.

As 2015 draws to a close, I’m so at peace with who I am in Him and how He’s working in my heart and mind. I can’t imagine the wonderful things 2016 has in store, but I’m excited to find out!
What have you said “yes” to this year? What have you said “no” to this year?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews

2015: A Restored Appetite for Reading

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For the past two years, my reading accomplishments have been dismal. I didn’t have the energy or the desire to read (for the first time in my life!). Depression takes over everything when it has you in its clutches.

I started out this year strong in the fiction world—I needed an escape, more than anything. But then came #the4500 and the numerous titles recommended within the group. Here’s what I’ve been reading, listed by month (as best I can remember):

January

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain—a novel loosely based on the time Ernest Hemingway and his wife spent in Paris while he wrote what would eventually become The Sun Also Rises. A good read for what it is, but not great by any means. It’s definitely not a title I’d put into my repertoire of books I multiple times.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan—a haunting story based on a group of survivors of the Titanic tragedy. It was a little slow-going at times, but based on actual events from the shipwreck, and I’m a sucker for historical fiction, so there’s that. Overall, a good read.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline— This one was a hard read; it’s a very haunting period piece about an older girl who desperately seeks a family to settle with. She faces a lot of tragic circumstances as she is passed from family to family. The setting shifts from mid 20th century to present day as the girl tells her story as a grown woman. I’d recommend this one.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling—The first memoir I’d read in quite awhile. Kaling is witty. And real. I enjoyed this one and want to read her recently released second book.

February

The Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen—I picked this YA trilogy up five years ago at a literary festival where I met Yolen. (She signed this book for me!) Yolen is a master at weaving an artfully intriguing story—and this one doesn’t disappoint. Great for young readers who like fantasy!

Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor—A raw, interesting look at O’Connor’s life from her perspective as she struggled with her faith. The literary nerd in me ate this one up! If you’re a fan of O’Connor’s work, this is an enlightening insight into her psyche.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin—I don’t remember a lot of details about this one, but I do know I liked it. Again, it’s a historical fiction novel, this time taking place in the south.

March

The Help by Kathryn Stockett—This was a re-read. I read it when it first came out several years ago and picked it up again this year. Loved it even more the second time around!

For the Love (chapter samples) by Jen Hatmaker—Here’s where I applied to be on the FTL launch team and got rejected and then stumbled in to the crazy-awesome group that is #the4500. Jen sent all us rogue, unofficial launch team members four sample chapters to tide us over until we could actually get our hands on the book. (I’ll get to the whole book later—hang on!)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple—One of my favorite fiction reads of the year! Funny, heartbreaking, mysterious, suspenseful—all rolled into these pages. Well-written and engaging—definitely recommended.

April

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd—For all her overly feminist themes (I’m all for feminism, but SMK goes a little overboard sometimes—hello, The Mermaid Chair), Kidd delivers a riveting tale of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, two early feminists and abolitionists in the Charleston, SC area. I’ll probably read it again.

May

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—A delightful story of spies, a mysterious island-bound school, and a conspiracy to end the world geared toward older elementary readers. I have no idea where I picked this book up, but it was a nice, light read as I eased from the school year into summer.

June

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee—A re-read in preparation for the release of Go Set A Watchman.

July

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee—Honestly, I was very wary of this one. Like many, I was excited to read more of Lee’s words, but apprehensive of the way it came to be published. Did she really want it published? We’ll probably never know for sure. From all the media that preceded the release, I was worried that GSAW would tarnish my respect and view of Atticus as the beloved character he’s been for so many decades. In reality, I’m glad for this new perspective of Atticus—it made him more human and approachable, I think. If you’ve read TKAM, I definitely recommend GSAW. If you haven’t read TKAM, don’t read GSAW until you have!

For The Love (additional e-book chapters) by Jen Hatmaker—Jen’s publisher gifted those of us who pre-ordered FTL with the entire e-book. (I only read a few chapters, because I just need to have an actual book in my hands!)

In The Company of Others by Jan Karon—No year is complete without revisiting Mitford! I started with this one in preparation for her new book’s September release, because I didn’t have time to go all the way back to the first Mitford book. Karon is my favorite contemporary fiction writer, hands down.

August

For the Love (the actual hardcover, finally!) by Jen Hatmaker— After reading the teaser chapters, I was so happy to have this book in my hands. Jen (yeah, we’re on a first name basis now!) is hilarious, literally laugh-out-loud funny. She’ll have you giggling hysterically one moment and bawling your eyes out the next. In essay-format chapters, she covers everything from the problems with short-term missions trips, how our American Christianity callings shouldn’t differ from those of the single mom in Haiti, and living out our faith in our own communities to shouting out the loveliness of turning 40, disdaining the leggings-as-pants (LAP) trend, and tossing out witty Jimmy-Kimmel-esque thank you notes for everything under the sun. READ THIS BOOK—no regrets!

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon

September

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown—This is where we veer quickly to mostly nonfiction. Anna pushed this book “like crack” in #the4500. I avoided it for months, but finally decided it was time in late July. I didn’t actually start reading it until the end of August. And it took most of September to work my way through its pages. I have so many words about this book—many of the m can be found in earlier posts here on my blog. This book literally changed the course of my year and my mindset; it’s the reason I finally connected with Anna via phone and it was the catalyst for reclaiming my mental and spiritual health. Super powerful words in this book—I cannot recommend it enough!

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon—the latest Mitford-based novel, with Dooley and Lace’s wedding as the main event. This one was tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that the focus of the storyline  has shifted away from Father Tim and Cynthia and is nearing the end. Let’s just not think about that, shall we—these characters are among those that become real to you over the course of the series.

 

 

October

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown—Tiny book, but meaty material, indeed. I’m still working my way through this one. For anyone new to Brown’s research and work, I’d recommend starting with this book as it provides a lot of helpful background for her other books.

Audacious by Beth Moore—I adore Beth Moore. I could listen to her speak for hours on end. And yet, this is the first book of hers that I’ve actually read in its entirety. I highlighted almost every word on almost every page. It was that good. Read it!

November

The Sound of Gravel (Advanced Reader Copy) by Ruth Wariner— What an absolute privilege it was to be part of the launch team that received ARCs of Ruth’s debut memoir to read and review. The story behind this one is INCREDIBLE. (And a long story [involving cousins from the same polygamist cult meeting on Twitter and bridging a family rift 40+ years in the making]—so if you really want to know, ask, and I’ll tell you all about it, well, what I know anyway!) My official review of this book will be up on the blog later this week, so you’ll find all my thoughts there!

Rising Strong by Brené Brown—A follow up to Daring Greatly, this book is weighty as well. I’ve slowly waded through the first half of it since Thanksgiving week, but am still working at it. There’s practical, worthy advice on how to apply the principles of Daring Greatly, the Gifts of Imperfection, and the Rising Strong principles introduced in the book. One of my favorites of the year.

December

Think Differently, Lead Differently by Bob Hamp—Listen, this book is literally causing me to think differently about my identity as a daughter of God, to approach my view of the intersection of the natural world vs. the spiritual world differently, and to tap into the Kingdom authority we have as believers in Christ. I’ve been listening to Bob Hamp’s Foundations of Freedom podcasts for a couple of months, and they have broken open the most walled-in places of my heart and soul. The growth I’ve experienced as a direct result of this book and the podcasts are absolutely invaluable. I’m still working through this one, too.

The Storied Life of A.J. Firky by Gabrielle Zevin—This was my attempt at an easy, light fiction selection during Christmas break. Ha. Rising Strong and TDLeadD have taken over. This one is slow-going and I haven’t really gotten into it, but I’ll soldier on ‘til I reach the end!

 

What’s your favorite book you read in 2015?

What are you most looking forward to reading in 2016?

Processing

Immanuel, God With Us (Even in the Mess)

The clock ticks down the minutes. Christmas will be here in less than sixty seconds.
I’m sitting at my mom’s kitchen table, talking myself down from the swirl of trying to get everything “just right.” Perfect.
And then I wandered to my blog and the last post I wrote slapped me in the face. The Poison of Perfection.
So, the stockings are not hanging from the mantle, but lost in a box somewhere.
So, the Christmas dishes that I set out every for the breakfast I make every Christmas cannot be found.
So, the presents aren’t all wrapped yet.
It’s okay.
Want to know why?
Christmas is about the mess.
Brené Brown talks about the “magic in the middle” in her book Rising Strong—the magic that happens in the messy, imperfect middle of whatever situation we’re in. She says, “The middle is messy, but it’s also where the magic happens” (12). Slowing down and acknowledging that we’re in the middle where the magic happens in crucial. Otherwise, we will run ourselves ragged trying to live up to our expectations of the perfect holiday environment.
The very essence of Christmas is wrapped up in the mess of a stable, the mess of an unexpected trip to a far-away city, the mess of an engagement-turned-journey-of-inexplicable-faith, the mess of a divine conception, the mess of human depravity that required the Savior to dwell among us as a lowly babe. When you really pause to consider the Nativity of Jesus, it’s an all-around mess by human standards.
Have you ever really pondered how brave Mary had to be to say “yes” when the angel of the Lord appeared before her with the news that she had been chosen to carry the Son of God? She could have said no. But she didn’t. And we know she was afraid:

“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’
Mary was greatly troubled at his words…” (Luke 1:28-29)

Yet, even through her fear, her uncertainty that she was worthy of such a calling, she chose to step into it—regardless of the mess—declaring, “‘I am the Lord’s servant […] May your word to me be fulfilled.’” She accepted the mess, preparing the way for the magic in the middle.
And then there’s Joseph—just an ordinary guy going about his life, preparing to marry Mary and this angel comes along and drops the news that Mary’s going to be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. There’s a mess all right. We know Joseph was reluctant to take on this situation:

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Luke 1:19).

Yet, after the angel appeared in his dreams, he “did what the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Luke 1:24).
Eventually, Mary and Joseph found themselves in the middle of a literal mess—a dirty stable in the midst of Bethlehem, with a baby well on His way into the world. But it had to be so, as a way for Jesus to fulfill the prophecy of His position as the Messiah. Bob Hamp puts it like this in his book Think Differently, Lead Differently:

Ever since the first Christ-mas, God has dwelt on Earth with men. For a season, He did so in the physical body of Jesus. Then when Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to operate as the designated representative of the Godhead on Earth. This restoration of God’s presence with us is one of the most significant parts of Jesus’ mission, because every other part of the restoration process flows out of His presence among His people. (38)

Immanuel. God with us.
He is here.
Here when the stockings are all hung with care.
Here when they’re not.
Here when the dishes are coordinated and Christmasy.
Here when they’re not.
Here when we’re in the Christmas spirit.
Here when we’re not.
Here when all the packages are prettily tied up with string.
Here when they’re not.

He’s always here.
With us in the middle.
With us in the mess.
With us in the magic.

 

Processing

The Poison of Perfection

Attention to details. 
Exquisite presentation.
Every little thing—plans, dreams, goals, emotions—in its cookie-cutter place.
Flawless execution.
No room for mistakes, tripping up, falling down.

 
Doesn’t sound so bad on the surface, does it?
The result could only be a job well done, right?
None of these things are bad in and of themselves.
Until we bundle them all together,
tie ourselves to the load
like a prisoner to a ball and chain
and call it
perfectionism.

  

 
My goodness—what a dirty word it is.

 
It sounds pretty.
It even looks pretty.

 
The very formation of it—all those curves and soft edges—make it flow right there on the page.

 
(You’re humming that John Legend song, now—aren’t you? Admit it. I won’t tell.)

 
Perfectionism.
We buy into it.
I bought into it.
We think we have to live up to it.
I thought I had to live up to it.

 
Perfectionism.
It lies to us, friends.
Perfectionism seductively whispers that we have to achieve it in order to be accepted or to be successful.
Perfectionism sneaks into our psyche, often early on in our lives, conditioning us to just try harder to be perfect, unfailingly good at everything.
Perfectionism chokes our ability to admit our helplessness.
Perfectionism paralyzes us with the fear that we can never measure up.

~*~

He sat across the table from me, composition book open before him, pencil in hand.
I spoke softly to him.
“All you have to do is try. It doesn’t have to be right; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
All I want you to do is try.”
His tears fell faster, sobs caught in his chest.
“You can do this. I know you can. I believe in you.”
~*~

Perfectionism is poison.
It makes us believe we can’t succeed before we even try.

I’m a recovering perfectionist who knows this all too well. It’s been an underlying current in my worldview since pre-adolescence years.

I know how difficult it is to live under this largely self-inflicted mandate to be the best at it all, to mask the less-than-pretty emotions, and to strive for impossible standards.

And when I see my students—at the very young, impressionable ages of 5, 6, 7—falling prey to the same mindset, my heart breaks.

It breaks when the simplest task releases a torrent of tears because the student can’t bear the thought of not getting it right.

He doesn’t know what I know, now—that the process of getting it wrong—is exactly how he will learn to get it right; getting it wrong will unlock the freedom to fall and get back up again. Getting it wrong will allow him to learn how strong, how smart, how resilient he is.

  

I sit across that table from him, silently praying for those lies to fall away, willing him to just try. Because I know he will succeed; he won’t get those words spelled correctly every time, but he will succeed. He will succeed because all he has to do is try his best.

~*~
Quietly waiting for him to calm down,
that still small voice whispers to my own heart:
You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers.
You just have to try.
Listen to what I’m saying to you—and just try.
Don’t fight so hard,
just rest in knowing that I want the best for you.
~*~

Our Heavenly Father doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He knows we can’t be. He came to the cross to be our Perfection through salvation. Any other attempt at achieving perfection is futile. We will chase our proverbial tails until we’re exhausted by pursuing perfection. It’s not worth it. I’d rather be imperfect and free to be who God created me to be than to spend all my energy stuffing that person into a package that appears perfect.

Friends, as we are running headlong into a season of trying to measure up, check all the boxes, prepare all the decorations, gifts, and parties, don’t give in to the lie of perfection. We aren’t perfect. Not one of us. We can’t be; we’re human. We can do our very best to make the most of the season. But what really matters is that we listen for His voice, follow His leading, and lay down our perfectionism for His holiness.

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Through The Wilderness

I grew up in a semi-rural area. Our house was surrounded on three sides by untamed forest for most of my childhood. My sister, our friends, and I spent a hefty chunk of our time roaming a radius of the forest that allowed us to keep the house within sight and the sound of Mom’s yell within hearing. We built forts, played in the creek, constructed bike trails—we even used branches and vines to build a replica wigwam when our home school studies brought us to the lives of Native Americans. We practically lived in those woods. It was our personal wilderness wonderland.
In their own wild way, they provided a safe space to explore, to grow.
Then came the day when the bulldozers and loggers appeared at the top of the ridge overlooking our forested playground. Over the course of a few weeks, what had been a forest peppered with trails, forts, and lush moss beds was ravaged. When the men and machines were gone, all that was left in their wake was a tangle of tree stumps, vines, and the mere memory of untouched wilderness.

The wilderness wonderland turned wilderness wasteland.

~*~

Wilderness.
What pictures, symbols, metaphors grab your attention when you hear or read that word?

Personally, I think of
wandering;
of wild, barren land,
gnarled, tangled branches and briar patches;
of walking in circles.
Going nowhere…fast.

I’m just two months removed from the end of a deep season of depression, and though it seems like I’m on a fast track of momentum regarding my personal growth right now, the truth is that I’ve only just begun processing a great deal of heavy baggage, not only from those two years, but also from the two decades preceding it. Tuning into you after years of shutting yourself down takes work.

But I’m realizing just how important it is to dig up the roots of how you’ve settled into living and transplant them into the fresh soil of possibility prepared by the Holy Spirit;

how liberating it is to poke around the rocks of who you think you’re supposed to be—according to the beliefs of other people—and prod your true God-given identity out of the shadows;

how healthy it is to rake up the dead leaves of discarded dreams, passions, and interests, and work them into fertilizer for the tender green shoots of new opportunities and possibilities.

It’s exhausting work, but it’s also the kind of work that makes you crave more.

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t really been able to wrap descriptive words around the last two-and-a-half years—other than depression.

But last month, in the days after the first Splendid retreat, some of the 4500 girls who attended were talking about coming out of the wilderness after Hannah Kallio spoke on wandering in the wilderness. I heard two minutes of her talk live (thank you, Periscope and Lizzie!) and it stuck with me. Then after the retreat, several people referenced Hannah’s session and a verse from Song of Songs:

“Who is this, coming up from the wilderness
leaning on her beloved?”
(8:5)

And it stuck with me; as I sat in stillness with this verse, the Spirit gently worked in my heart, whispering Truth that brought many dark moments in that barren season into a new light, making me aware that He was there all along—He hadn’t deserted the hot mess I’d made of me like I’d convinced myself He had.

Last week, Hannah posted a blog (“Making Sense of the Wasteland”) that drew from her Splendid session. (I wholeheartedly recommend her blog—she has a gift for digging into the study of Hebrew words—so much so that I kind of want to learn Hebrew!) Reading her words as she dissected the Hebrew word for “waste,” I realized that this word was exactly how I felt about the season I’d recently emerged from. In the middle of that wilderness wandering, I felt abandoned—left high and dry to fend for myself, wasted and wasteful; empty and dried out.

Hannah went on to explain the Hebrew meaning of waste, and things started clicking into place in my heart and mind. I can’t repeat her entire post here (that’s why you should go read it for yourself), but I will relay the definition of “waste” that she used: “mark of certain attention.”

A mark of certain attention.

As someone who’s been getting the message of “I see you” time and again from the Father over the last weeks, I sat up straighter and let that definition sink in.

Instead of walking away during that season of depression, He had stayed right there; He had not turned His attention from me; He had actually walked me, leaning heavily on Him, right out of that wilderness, and into the second act I’d been unknowingly searching for. 

~*~

The curtain falls.
The audience rustles with whispered anticipation.
The First Act has ended.
The cast of characters will reemerge.
The Second Act awaits.
Tragedy and heartache will befall them.
The Third Act will come.
Resolution will meet them.
And so, they begin again.

The Second Act.
According to a very informal poll on Facebook, my assumptions that we associate the concept of a second act with a new beginning—whether it be a new career, the middle of one’s life, another chance at something you might not have been happy with the first time around.—were correct. (Shout out to Xamayta, Kristin, Sarah, and Tina for taking my bait!)
In a three-act storytelling model, Act 1 sets the stage for the rest of the story—the audience meets the characters, a problem develops; in Act 2, the problem becomes more complicated; finally in Act 3, the protagonist is met with resolution to the problem(s) and often, must pick himself up out of the ashes.
Brené Brown discusses this literary device in her latest book, Rising Strong, in regard to the middle part of any struggle we face—the messy, hard, nonnegotiable middle. She writes:

whatever that middle space is for your own process, is when you’re ‘in the dark’—the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light…at some point you’re in, it’s dark, and there’s no turning back…It’s not only a dark and vulnerable time, but also one that’s often turbulent. (26-27)

When I got to the end of this chapter, I had an even greater understanding of the importance of the time I spent in darkness, wandering aimlessly in a wilderness wasteland. Was it a pleasant experience? Absolutely not. Do I want to go back and visit that place? Not in a million years.
But it wasn’t wasted. It wasn’t completely barren, because it has birthed a newness of life in my heart and mind.

The end of this second act in the wilderness became what my friend Xamayta defined as “that pivotal moment in which one decides to be who God created us to be” as I have emerged from the mess and become more intentional about how I choose to live.
We so often think of Act 2 as a second chance, and it is—but it’s also often a messy, desolate, dark place we can’t see our way out of; it’s a place where our wilderness wonderland can turn into a wilderness wasteland.

We wrestle with the monsters that take up residence within our psyche, and almost always come away with bruises, scars, and wounds that leave us with the need to lean heavily on the One who has the power to redeem the second act and walk us out of the wilderness and into the promised land of the third act, the next chapter of the story.

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Rising From the Wasteland

Act One
I sat before the computer, awaiting the interview
with the Language Proficiency evaluator.
I was on my way to Gally U.
Then came the critic who said “don’t go.”
Fear crept in; I allowed it.

Act Two
Fear overtook anticipation.
I unpacked my bags, cancelled my plans,
left a chair in a classroom empty.
Retreated into darkness and defeat.
A dream deflated.
Wasted. Broken. Withered. Silenced.

Act Three
I am emerging from
the bramble and briars,
leaning on the One who
redeems and restores.
I have Joy.
I am Alive.
I have risen from the wasteland.
I am growing again.

 

 

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Devout Thanksgiving

For the first time in several years, I am joyfully anticipating the holiday season.

Last year, at this time, I was preparing to move—for the first time since I was 18 months old, at 30. Packing up one’s belongings and relocating is NOT something I recommend tackling during the week of Christmas. (Literally—I was moving boxes into my new apartment all day on Christmas Eve. My only Christmas decoration was a Fresh Balsam candle from Bath and Body Works.) It’ll suck the life right out of your holiday season.

The year before that, I was so mired in depression and the muck of having wasted an opportunity I’d long-awaited, I was miserable. But my people-pleasing, perfectionist tendencies forced me to don the mask of happy and carry on. But it wasn’t authentic; I wasn’t really present.

This year, it’s different.

Bubbling over in my heart is a joy that promises to infuse this season with a renewed sense of wonder. If I weren’t so predisposed to introverted tendencies and expression, I’d be spending a lot of my time shouting, jumping up and down, dancing (say, what?!) and generally acting a fool. (Which might scare some folks who are quite used to a more reserved me!) You probably won’t find me leading revival-esque singing, complete with Scripture recitations at family gatherings as I did as a five-year-old (I used to be bold, y’all—and somewhere, underneath all the baggage of a couple decades, I probably still am.), but you might find me with a bit more lightness of heart around the dinner table.

Forgive me as I ramble.

This season of thankfulness started weeks ago for me. I was given an #ArmyofSisters last March—a gift I didn’t fully realize until months later. And while I’ve yet to meet any of those sisters face-to-face, they have given me the strength, courage, and freedom to re-engage with the people I come in contact with each day.

And this morning, I awoke, just as I have every morning since September 18th, with a deep gratitude for the community of sisters I have been blessed to laugh, cry, love, and pray with these last weeks, for the anticipation of meeting a handful (if you can call 70-something a handful!) of them in April.)

  
I’m continually thankful for the friends who are closer in geographical proximity–the ones I lay eyes on in the flesh each day. They are my family, my coworkers, my friends.

And most of all, I’m thankful for an Abba Father who sees fit to pour out His best for me, time and time again, when I hardly deserve it. He is the Gift that just keeps giving–He makes ALL things new, in His perfect time. And in this season, He’s making me new; I’m just riding the wave of His infinite goodness.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I hope you are surrounded by His presence in every way today.

 

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Mission: The Sound of Gravel Launch Team

An Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner, a memoir of Ruth’s experience growing up in a polygamist colony in Mexico, landed in my hands just more than twelve hours ago.

After reading into the wee hours of the morning and a short three hour “nap,” I read the last words this morning.

And while I can’t offer my thoughts here, yet–I can tell you that this book is worthy of being read, a story worth hearing.

I invite you to follow Ruth’s page on Facebook:

Ruth Wariner on FB
Or visit her website

RuthWariner.com
to pre-order The Sound of Gravel. 

To see what others are saying about the book, search the #hashtags

#SoundofGravel

And

#the4500launches

On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you!