The Longest Day: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 13

My Timehop app and Facebook memories are sparse on Day 13, but the images and emotions of that day are forever burned into my mind. Out of all the days we were on the road, this one felt the longest. I awoke to a text from Mom asking me to call her as soon as possible. Since we were in Phoenix, I was two hours behind her. Barely awake at 7:00 a.m., I called her back and was met with news that Jess’ heavily sedated state was actually a drug-induced coma to attempt to let her body rest. The doctor’s assessment was that she would not wake up again.

I hung up the phone and went into shock. I stumbled to the bedroom next door where Anna was sleeping and knocked, hoping she was awake. She was; I opened the door and fumbled to get the words out of my mouth. She sat up, drew me to sit beside her and the tears started rushing down my face.

My absolute worst nightmare was suddenly staring me square in the face. My whole body was shaking, couldn’t stop crying, and just repeated “this cannot be happening” over and over as Anna hugged me tightly. I texted Mom and told her tell Jess a few things for me.

Anna was scheduled to meet Naomi E., one of her former teachers, for lunch about an hour north that day. There was no way I could go with her, but she felt terrible leaving me in such a state. She offered to cancel and stay, but I told her to go. There was nothing she could do and I didn’t want her to miss her lunch.

 

I had a decision to make that morning: get on a flight out of Phoenix or stay until I something changed. Anna was ready to put me on a plane, but I was thinking about what Jess would tell me to do. She’d already given me her blessing to go on the book tour when I’d gone home in February. We’d chatted one afternoon, and I expressed my misgivings about going, about being even further away from her that summer. She told me to go, and I did. And Mom had told me that morning that she was okay if I didn’t come home immediately.

Even with my world crashing around me, I knew Captain Jessifica would kick my a** if I abandoned this trip. We’d dreamed on a cross-country road trip one day, and in the deepest parts of my heart, I knew she would want me to see it through. She wouldn’t want me sitting at her bedside, wishing I could change things. She wouldn’t want me crying over her when I couldn’t do anything to change the outcome. She wasn’t that sentimental. In fact, she often made fun of me for being all touchy-feely. I also knew I didn’t want the image of her tube-laden, emaciated body to be lodged in my mind forevermore. I wanted to remember my strong, determined, feisty sister the way she deserved to be remembered. Healthy, free-spirited, with a thirst for adventure and a mischievous gleam in her eye. I wanted to remember the sister who dragged me into kooky photo shoots with palm fronds outside the walls of an abandoned seaside fortress. I didn’t want the image of the sister who had been my best friend for thirty years to be tarnished in my mind’s eye by the cruelty of cancer for the rest of my living days. Even today, I’m grateful that I see my sister when I close my eyes and not the shadow of herself that disease brought upon her.


We were scheduled to visit the Grand Canyon the next day, and all I could think was, “go for Jess. Go see what she can’t. Be her eyes.” My heart was shattering into a million pieces, but I had enough peace to decide to stay put for the time being.

Anna brought me coffee and ibuprofen before she left, placed a box of tissues by the bed, and told me her brother would get me to the airport if I changed my mind while she was gone.
I curled up in a ball in bed and stared at the wall between brief naps off and on all day. By the time Anna was headed back that afternoon, I had a massive headache and a definite craving for comfort food. Luckily, there was a Chick-Fil-A nearby.

That night, in an attempt to distract me, Anna’s brother’s family invited me to play cards with them. At first, I said no. Then they wore me down and I agreed to sit at the table and watch. Eventually, they convinced me to join them. We had loads of fun!

I must give a shout out to the LeBaron siblings, here. I’ve never met such a persistent, warm-hearted bunch of people as those LeBaron’s. And because they are all well-acquainted with loss and heartache, they all extended such grace and gentleness toward me on the book tour. Every single one of them who I met along the way made space for me and my bleeding, raw heart. I’m forever grateful to them.

When Life Gives You Lemons: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 12

Hi! If you’re just joining me here, you might think I’m currently on this trip. Let me catch you up: I’m not on the road. On April 1, 2017, my friend Anna and I set out on the #EpicBookTourTPD (TPD denoting Anna’s memoir, The Polygamist’s Daughter). I never got around to writing about our grand adventure in detail, so when the anniversary of the journey rolled around this year, I started writing. Nifty apps like Timehop and the On this Day feature of Facebook make recalling the daily details easier than asking my brain to bring them back with crystal clear clarity. 112 days of detailed storytelling is a lot to ask. So, throughout the summer, I’ll meet you here with a throwback tale from the open road. Enjoy!
~*~



As the sun rose following a fitful night’s [lack of] sleep, I checked my phone and was met with a slew of text messages from Mom about Jess. She’d had emergency surgery the day before and had been stable, but by mid morning her condition had rapidly declined. Between my less-than-stellar cell service, Mom’s preoccupation at the hospital, and my and Anna’s schedule, I was mostly out of touch for the rest of the day.

Honestly, in hindsight, I’m kind of glad I couldn’t move during the night because my immobility meant I couldn’t reach my phone, which I most certainly would’ve been scrolling. Facing the realities of what was happening in S.C. would have been so much worse in the middle of the night.

With a bag of fresh-from-the-tree oranges Donna picked right then in hand, Anna and I hit the road, headed to Phoenix to spend the afternoon at #the4500-er Heidi P.’s house. Anna had an interview that afternoon that required a landline, so we’d arranged our schedule to visit Heidi (who conveniently had a landline).

While at Heidi’s, Anna picked fresh lemons straight from the tree in her backyard. Let me tell you—I don’t even like oranges and lemons, but I’d eat them straight from the tree every day.

After Anna’s interview ended and Heidi’s kids arrived home from school, we jumped in Heidi’s car and set out to sign books at two area Barnes and Noble stores.

 

Later, we said goodbye to Heidi and headed to meet launch team member Karie B. and her family for dinner before heading to our host home for the night.

The Night Our Friendship Almost Didn’t Survive: Summer of Endless Miles, Day 11

After a restful night’s sleep in Tucson, we loaded our suitcases in the truck and headed north. Our drive was relatively short; our destination was Casa Grande. Donna K. had invited Anna to speak to a group at her retirement community that afternoon. We sat on a common area patio outside, shaded by umbrellas—and while this Carolina-girl-turned-Texan appreciated the absence of humidity, the heat was intense! After the gathering ended, we headed back to Donna’s home for dinner which we ate on her back patio overlooking a lake as the sunset. It was so peaceful.

(Those are the only pictures I have for you today. You’ll thank me for that as you read on.)

Later, as we were preparing to spend time in the hot tub, an unfortunate incident occurred. Before heading to the pool area, we’d decided to ready the sleeper sofa where we would be sleeping so we wouldn’t have to when we got back. Anna grabbed the bar and pulled it up…but she pulled too hard and the whole couch lifted…snagging her toenail and bringing it along for the ride.

I’ll spare you all the gory details (aren’t you glad I don’t have a picture?), but our hot tub plans went out the window with that missing toenail.

Anna was in a hella lot of pain and I felt so bad for her. Once we got the bleeding stopped, the toe soaked, bandages applied, and ibuprofen administered, we got ready for bed.

Let me stress here that I felt so bad for Anna.

Let me also say that now, a year later, this night includes one of my favorite stories from the tour. I managed to keep this one to myself until just a few weeks ago when I finally confessed it to Anna.

Anna and I crawl onto this sleeper sofa. She gets her throbbing foot situated, propping a pillow underneath her leg to elevate it and making sure the blankets are touching it. I squish in beside her. (Sleeper sofas are cozy, y’all. This one was about the equivalent of a full-size bed.)

It took me a LONG time to go to sleep that night. Anna was out pretty quickly. (I swear her superpower is the ability to fall asleep fast and hard.) I couldn’t toss and turn because there just wasn’t room, but I did maneuver to a spot where the infamous sofa bed bar wasn’t stabbing my rib cage.

At some point, I fell asleep…

because I distinctly remember waking up in the middle of the night…

with the entire left side of my body pinned down.

I couldn’t move.

Anna, dead asleep, had flung her arm over mine and her good leg over mine.

I was trapped.

Being such a considerate person, I didn’t want to just throw her off me, for fear I’d cause her to jar her injured foot.

(Did I mention how good of a friend I am???)

I tried to gently wiggle my limbs free, but every time I moved, she moved, further complicating the situation. Finally, exasperated, I gave up. I don’t think I slept more than a few hours that night. I’m far from a morning person, but I’d never been so happy to the sun rise at 5:00 a.m.

Recently when I told Anna this story, I confessed, “There was this one night I came really close to smothering you in your sleep on the book tour. If our friendship survived that, I’d say it’s pretty solid.”

There you have it—one of my favorite stories from the open road!

Never-Ending-Texas: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 10

Hi! If you’re just joining me here, you might think I’m currently on this trip. Let me catch you up: I’m not on the road. On April 1, 2017, my friend Anna and I set out on the #EpicBookTourTPD (TPD denoting Anna’s memoir, The Polygamist’s Daughter). I never got around to writing about our grand adventure in detail, so when the anniversary of the journey rolled around this year, I started writing. Nifty apps like Timehop and the On this Day feature of Facebook make recalling the daily details easier than asking my brain to bring them back with crystal clear clarity. 112 days of detailed storytelling is a lot to ask. So, throughout the summer, I’ll meet you here with a throwback tale from the open road. Enjoy!

~*~

While relatively uneventful, Day 10 marked the first time we crossed state lines. Not one, but two. Y’all, it took us three solid days to get out of Texas. I knew this state was more like a small country but dang. It’s HUGE. Even Anna, a longtime Texas resident was astounded by its vastness.

To kill time and fight boredom, I’d been reading my our-now-shared-advance-copy of JHat’s Of Mess and Moxie aloud while Anna drove. We alternately cried (Chapter 6: Private Baby) and laughed until our cheeks hurt (Chapter I-Can’t-Remember-And Am-Too-Lazy-Find-My-Book: Jen’s discussion of introverts versus extroverts).

But this introvert needs her quiet time, even in the car.

We didn’t have a planned stop that night, but our goal was to at least make it to Las Cruces, NM that day. Leaving Midland, we headed for El Paso. The flat Texas horizon had given way to gently rolling hills the day before—a welcome sight to my Carolina-native eyes. As we drove further west, mountains began to rise in the distance, bringing with them a more familiar landscape.
After a brief stop at Barnes and Noble in El Paso to sign a few stock copies, we crossed into New Mexico. It seemed like the terrain changed almost immediately. I stared out the window, mesmerized. Until April 2016, I’d never been farther west than Indiana/ Tennessee/Kentucky/Georgia. I may as well have been in a foreign country.

Because we were making decent time, we decided to make Tucson, AZ our goal for the evening. Thanks to two very generous friends who had offered to put us up in a hotel the first night we needed one, we had a room awaiting us upon arrival. (Thanks again, ladies!) The sun set as we stopped for gas just over the state line.

I lost all track of time. And [very] briefly considered moving to Arizona.

Though it was late, and we were exhausted when we finally reached the hotel, neither of us could resist relaxing in the hot tub before crawling into bed.

 

~*~

To be continued….

On the Road Again: The Summer of Endless Miles, Days 7&8

Days 4-6 offered a few days back in Dallas. One of us spent that time introverting while the other flitted about for interviews and meet ups. I’ll let you guess who did which.

On Day 7, we packed up the truck and hit the road. In Anna’s words, we were “off again like a herd of turtles in a cloud of peanut butter.”

Houston, TX was the next stop on the tour. Evelyn A. had planned a meet and greet for that evening—and we had six boxes of books awaiting us. About halfway to Houston, Anna had an epiphany that we were wasting valuable advertising space. We Googled the nearest Walmart and whipped off the highway via the designated exit. I ran into the tiniest Walmart I’ve ever seen and located the desired item: white shoe polish. (I also grabbed a package of socks since I’d not been able to locate any of my own while I was packing for the long haul.)

Purchases in hand, I headed back to the truck. Anna met me at the rear and emblazoned a message across the back window:

Free advertising secured, we jumped back in the car and resumed our journey.

That evening, Evelyn hosted a lovely party. Along with Evelyn’s friend’s, we were joined by some of the girls from #the4500 for an evening of book discussion and enjoying one another’s company.

The next morning, we crammed the boxes of books in the truck and went on our way. Our next stop was a youth conference in Houston on our way to Liberty, TX. In Liberty, Anna spoke at a women’s event hosted by her literary agent, Jessie’s, church. This event was exciting because it marked the first time Anna and Jessie met in real life. They’d spent more than a year trading emails and phone calls as Anna wrote her book proposal and, eventually, her book.

Seeing them meet each other was such a sweet moment!

We stayed at Jessie’s parents house that evening and had a truly delightful time. As we told Jessie about our unconventional plan for the book tour, I pulled the wall map of our route out of my notebook (which was affectionally dubbed the book tour bible), her eyes widened in awe.

I mean, it was an impressive sight to behold, if I do say so myself.

We stayed up late talking about our plans and the journey Anna had taken to reach the point of having a published book. She had come so far, yet we had only just begun our journey. Little did we know, the very next day would hold an unexpected surprise or two.

To be continued….

Authors in Austin: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 3

After such an exciting Day 2, the book tour was headed back to Dallas for a few days before we officially started our nonstop road trip.

We would trade Anna’s tiny car for a bigger SUV (a sorely needed upgrade to contain us and our stuff for four months), pack up all our supplies, and rest up. Anna also had an NPR radio interview with Kris Boyd that week.

But before we left Austin on Day 3, we had a few important meet-ups scheduled.

One of my most favorite aspects of the book tour was meeting other authors face-to-face. On this day, we made our way to Starbucks to meet Candice Curry, a blogger I’d followed for several years, and author of the then forthcoming memoir, The Con Man’s Daughter. As we sat under the shade of an umbrella outside, Candice and Anna shared some weirdly parallel parts of their stories (which I guess should be expected when you sit at a table with the polygamist’s daughter and the con man’s daughter).

Time passed quickly and before we knew it, three hours were gone. Anna wanted to do a Facebook Live with Candice before we parted ways, so we jumped in Candice’s car—me in the driver’s seat and the two of them crammed in the second row—laughing at the absurdity of the situation.

We said goodbye to Candice, made a quick lunch stop, and continued to our next meet-up.

This time we met pastor and Tyndale author Chuck Tate. Chuck had invited Anna to speak at his church and that stop was on the books for May. He and his family were in town from Indiana, so we took the opportunity to meet while they were in Texas.

We gathered in the lobby of their hotel to chat for a bit, and, again, we did a quick Facebook Live video before departing.

As became our routine throughout the tour, we stopped at a few Barnes & Noble stores along the way home so Anna could sign the stock copies of her book and ask the staff to post a picture on their social media accounts.

This was also the day that Anna discovered my unappreciative attitude toward 80’s music.

After a full and fun day, we finally arrived home and slept in our own beds for a few nights.

~*~

You can find more information about Candice Curry and her book, The Con Man’s Daughter, here. (I highly recommend this memoir! )

And learn more about Chuck Tate and his book, 41 Will Come, here. (I haven’t read it yet, but I’m excited to get to it!)

Austin Surprises: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 2

As the one-year anniversary of the #EpicBookTourTPD rolls around, my Facebook and Timehop apps are bringing the memories back. Since I never reached a healthy enough mental and emotional state to write about all the adventures the book tour boasted, I’m excited to dish all the details of spending four solid months on the road.

Well….

Maybe not all of them.

Some things that happen on the road, stay on the road.

I wrote about Day 1 of the tour several months ago, so you can catch up here.

Now, on to Day 2 in Austin, TX:

After staying the night with Taylor and Michael in Temple, we readied ourselves to head to Austin for Anna’s second Barnes and Noble book signing. A storm was brewing, and we were drenched after throwing our suitcases in the truck—and of course we had to stop for gas. It wasn’t raining a polite shower. No, this was a downpour—rain coming down in sheets and heavy winds.

We arrived in Austin, changed clothes in the B&N restroom and prepared to greet people. Many of our #the4500 tribe attended the signing—so many that if I start naming them, I’ll leave someone out—along with several of Anna’s siblings and friends from when she lived in Austin.

I stayed to the back of the crowd mostly, chatting with people and taking pictures. About halfway into the event, one of the #the4500 mamas, Jana, snuck up behind me as she arrived and threw her arm around me in a one-sided hug.

“Guess who I brought with me?” she whispered in my ear.

I turned to look at her, wide-eyed–and saw Brandon and Jen Hatmaker standing behind her. Stunned, I whipped around to look at Anna in front of us, my mouth wide open. I’d barely laid eyes on her when she saw them, and her mouth dropped open.

Gathering my wits, I lifted the camera that hung around my neck and started shooting, rapid-fire, at the shock and surprise written all over Anna’s as Jen approached with arms outstretched.

Best. Surprise. Ever.

I’m giddy just sitting here thinking about it a year later.

The Hatmakers hung around for a bit, getting their copy of TPD autographed and chatting with #the4500 tribe. Right before we left the house, Anna and I had dashed back inside to get our advanced copies of Jen’s newest book, Of Mess and Moxie, because we had a review deadline while on the tour. Anna couldn’t find hers, so we only had mine. I dashed out to the car to grab it so Jen could sign it.

When she asked to whom she should autograph it, I laughed and replied, “Well, Anna’s going to be salty if you don’t address it to both of us since she doesn’t have hers, so I guess you’d better sign it to both of us.”

Jen happily obliged.

Thus, Anna and I joke that if ever our friendship should end, we have a shared book baby to battle over custody of. Ha!

After the signing, we had dinner with a few of our tribe, then headed to stay the night at Anna’s sister, Estephania’s house for the night.

~*~

To be continued…

The Other Side of Sunday

Have you ever had an experience so transforming that you couldn’t quite find the words to wrap around the magnitude of its bearing on your soul? An experience so powerful that you simultaneously want to hold it close to your chest and savor the intimacy of it while also desiring to shout it from the rooftops?

Last week, I attended Discovery!—a personal development retreat in Austin.

For months, several friends (one in particular—you can guess which one), their family members, and a few friends of friends have raved about their Discovery experiences and implored me to go. But because the program works most effectively if you don’t know what the weekend entails going in, none of them offered any details other than “it’s hard, but so worth it.” My anxious, likes-to-know-all-the-things brain struggled with this lack of information.

When the #EpicBookTourTPD ended last August, I slid into a deep, dark hole. As I wallowed in that pit one evening, Anna once again asked me to give Discovery a shot. Weary of saying no and, honestly, just trying to make her stop asking, I signed up.

A few days later, I cancelled my reservation because I was terrified of the unknown.

And I slid further into the pit.

By the time February rolled around, I was numb again, stuck in old thought patterns, resigning myself to the reality that I would always be trapped in this cycle, that losing Jess had done me in and there would be no coming back from it.

One Saturday evening, Anna and I sat in the car and she laid out my options: counseling, Grief Share, or Discovery. Again, she shared how Discovery had helped her and, with tears glistening in her eyes, she asked me to trust her because she knew it would be beneficial for me—and would provide a quicker result in one weekend than months of counseling appointments or Grief Share meetings would.

I agreed to go, signed up again, and tried not to think about it for the next six weeks.

On Friday, March 23, I, along with 32 others, walked into a large conference room not knowing what to expect. As the doors closed behind us, our connectors—those who had gone before us and convinced us to come—cheered and shouted in the lobby. They knew what was coming; we had no idea.

(Because I’m now one of them and know all the details, I’m purposefully leaving them out. Just know that not being able to share all the things with you is hard for this [written] words girl!)

I walked in room still apathetic and numb, highly skeptical, and searching for a way to get out of the whole weekend. I walked in carrying a load of guilt, anger, and undealt with grief. I walked in with a broken and buried heart. I walked in with terrible pain in my neck and shoulders that had been there for months.

Over the course of the next 57 hours, I resisted, surrendered, wrestled, fought, yelled, sobbed, grieved, unburied, trusted, encouraged, gave, received, supported, stretched, recovered, and celebrated.

Saturday was brutal, but beautiful.

On Sunday evening, I walked out of that room with my whole heart back. I walked out of that room without the long-present tension in my neck and shoulders. I walked out genuinely laughing and smiling rather than hiding behind a mask. I walked out empowered to stand up and fight for me. I walked out lighter and freer.

It’s taken an entire week to reflect and begin to process the weight of my Discovery experience, and I’m still just scratching the surface.

The other side of Sunday is everything I want and everything I need.

The other side of Sunday brings light.
The other side of Sunday brings hope.
The other side of Sunday brings freedom.

I’m living on the other side of Sunday, and that’s more than enough.

~*~

If you’re curious about Discovery, you can learn more here.

She Stands in the Gap

Groggily, I rolled over in the hotel bed and looked at my phone. 4:00 a.m. Two missed calls, three text messages, and a voicemail from Mom. Tears welled in my eyes and a knot formed in my stomach. “No, no, no,” I whispered as my lungs constricted. I needed to call Mom back, but I already knew.

Trembling, I stumbled toward the bathroom. I grabbed a box of tissues and, fighting nausea, went back into the bedroom. “I have to wake her up. I can’t do this alone.” I thought.

Clutching phone and tissue box in one hand, I carefully pulled back the blanket of the other bed. “Anna,” I whispered as I sat down. Startled, my friend opened her eyes. “Mom called. I don’t want to call her back.” Tears pooled in her eyes. She knew, too.

She put her arm around me as I pressed the button to return Mom’s call…

~*~

Join me here at (in)courage today to read the rest of the story.

 

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What I Read in 2017

My list was shorter than most this year. You know, since I was kind of busy and traumatized all year. I’d set a goal to read 30 books this year, but it just did not happen.

Let’s get to it!

January

The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

Let me be honest–I know that this book held some deep truths for me when I read it, but one event-filled year later, I barely remember them. In fact, I just paused to flip through it again to jog my memory. I’m a little sorry I did, but also very glad I did. Numerous pages are turned down, sentences underlined, and expletives ranging from “Yes!” and “Whoa.” to “Damn,” “Yikes!” and “What the actual hell?” pepper the margins. Apparently, there were things in that book I need to hear (and probably still do.) This quote, in particular, stands out:

Friend, you are strong. You are persevering, tough, able to bend without breaking…a courageous gal, one who wants to learn the deep dependence of following hard after God Himself…From that cracked-open-heart place, a God-breathed strength will rise. Rise. Rise. And help you spit in Satan’s face as you declare, ‘You picked the wrong woman to mess with this time!’

When I read this on January 18, 2017, the timing amazed me, according to the note I made in the margin. I knew in my bones it was going to be a tough year; I didn’t realize just how tough it would be. And the words in this paragraph? They sounded inspiring a year ago, but I’ve felt the exact opposite of the picture they paint over the course of this year. Maybe I need to read this one again?

And the Day Came by Dr. Lynnette Simm

I led a re-launch campaign for this memoir in January and February of 2017. A Dallas-area college professor, Dr. Simm tells her story of finding healing in the aftermath of childhood trauma and abuse.

February

For Real: Navigating Truth Through Trials by Kerrie Oles

For Real was my first official solo book launch–and it was a blast! (I also did my first Facebook Live video with Kerrie–that was fun, too!) In the book, Kerrie asks REAL questions about how we react when faced with unexpected trials as she digs into the biblical story of Job–a man who continued to worship even as he was stripped of everything. How do we react when it seems as though the world is falling apart around us? How do we maintain our belief that God is for us and not against us? She takes a deeper look at the book of Job and his reactions to unexpected circumstances. Kerrie’s writing style is laid-back and conversational—with a hefty dose of humor for good measure! [I should DEFINITELY read this one again.]

(And hey, Kerrie! If you’re reading this: my book still isn’t signed! Coffee date??)

March

Love Lives Here by Maria Goff

You know that lovable guy with a goofy grin who wrote Love Does? Yeah–his name’s Bob Goff and his wife, Sweet Maria, wrote this treasure. I participated on the launch team for this one (led by book launch guru Anna LeBaron). Maria is, indeed, sweet and her hospitable personality saturates the pages of this book. She tells the story of how she fulfills her passion for creating a welcoming home while Bob is out adventuring. Maria writes,

I’m like a carrot.  I stay in one place and grow deep and long. I live most of my life under he surface…Bob, on the other hand, is like a guy shout out of a cannon. Every morning he climbs in, points toward the biggest collection of people he can find, and lights the fuse. Shoot a carrot out of a cannon and you have a bad salad. Plant a cannonball and you’ll go hungry…Figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at.

And the last sentence of the book… [insert crying emoji here]

April

Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker (ARC)

Of course I was on the launch team for my girl Jen’s new book! Anna and I read this one on the road during the Epic Book Tour; I read aloud while she drove for the most part. When we read the chapter where Jen described the paradox of her introversion and her hubby, Brandon’s, extroversion, we laughed so hard our faces hurt! (That chapter hit a little close to home as we spent months together in the car–one of us 100% extroverted and the other highly introverted!) Once again, with wit and whimsy, tenderness and tenacity, JHat balances the sacred and the sarcastic, giving her readers permission to admit their messes and live with unashamed moxie. Of Mess and Moxie was cathartic and refreshing, leaving me with a sense of having spent an afternoon with a familiar friend. (And the recipes she scatters throughout give me life.)

May

Love You From Right Here by Jamie Sandefer

This was the second and last launch team I led in 2017.  Love You From Right Here is a keepsake book for children in the foster system. To write a children’s book that so perfectly and succinctly navigates the complexities of foster care (for both foster parent and foster child) is no small feat, but Jamie  accomplished exactly that. This book has already filled a much-needed gap in resources provided to and for foster families. This sweet book grabbed me by the heart from the moment I first heard about it and continues to draw me into a state of wanting to do whatever I can to get it in the hands of those who need it most.

July 

Speak by Nish Weiseth

While on the road, a few weeks before we returned to Salt Lake City for the second time, I was scrolling Instagram one night while Anna was speaking at a book club. (No judging–by that point, I’d heard her story enough times to tell it myself, complete with her hand gestures to punctuate particular points. Even now, lines from her talk are running through my head.) Anyway–I found that Nish had commented on another author’s post about Anna’s book, The Polygamist’s Daughter. Impulsively, I messaged Nish and told her we were headed back to SLC and would love to connect her with Anna, suggesting that we could meet for coffee. Y’all. Never did I think she would actually respond! But she did. We traded a few emails and set a date to meet while we were in town. You can read my full review of Speak here. It was the only book that got its own post this year.

 

September

Stolen Jesus by Jami Amerine

I’d been following Jami on Facebook since early 2017 and found her hilarious. She often shares stories about her youngest boys, whom she refers to as “vandals.” They crack me up. But her more serious posts also spoke deeply to me. So  when the opportunity arose to be on her launch team for Stolen Jesus, I jumped on it. Jami is also another author I heard speak and was able to meet this year.

I was kind of amused by the review I posted on Goodreads, so I’ll just drop it here:

Are you frustrated by trying to be a good enough Christian? Do you hold Jesus at arm’s length, suspiciously gazing at him with one eye closed? Does your relationship with Him lend itself to a spiritual crisis a la Friends’ Ross and Rachel: We were ON A BREAK!
What if it isn’t the REAL Jesus you’re looking at?
In Stolen Jesus, Jami Amerine examines several versions of Jesus that we modern believers have dreamt up–the psuedo Jesus(es) who demand our deeds in exchange for His grace, our checklists for His blood. Once she “broke up with Jesus,” she was able to get to know Him more deeply than before. She urges her reader to strip away all the preconceived notions we have, simply stare into the face of Real Jesus, and hear what He has to say to us.
Amerine writes with the same wit and humor that draws readers to her blog and shares embarrassingly honest stories to illustrate her points. Consequently, Stolen Jesus will make you laugh and cry–maybe even simultaneously.

(I thought I was pretty clever with the Ross and Rachel analogy?!)

October

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon

Jan Karon still holds first place on my list of favorite contemporary fiction authors. Even after 14 books in the series, opening one of these hefty novels is like coming home all over again. One day, Karon will stop writing the Mitford story (perhaps she already has with this latest offering–she’s threatened that the last few have been the end, but keeps surprising her faithful readers with one more trip up the mountain), and there will be a time of mourning. You think I’m kidding. I’m not!

November

The Dream of You by Jo Saxton (ARC)

This one will get it its own post in the coming days, but the very short story is that I’ve admired Jo for a lot of years (learning about her through a mutual friend and hearing her speak at IF Gathering the last two years) but this is the first book I’ve read of hers. I’m on the launch team for this and had the privilege of meeting Jo in November as well. Bottom line: this was exactly the book that I needed to read as 2017 came to an end (I just finished it today, but it counts for 2017’s list because I read the bulk of it before the New Year!). Jo’s words met me precisely where I am and affirmed many thoughts that are rolling around my head these days. [Releases January 23, 2018]

December

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (ARC)

The cover of this book is just plain fun, as is the title. Rachel is a popular lifestyle blogger who founded The Chic Site. In this book (which I’m on the launch team for, shocker), Rachel uses each chapter to confront a lie she has believed about herself and shares how she learned to replace them with truth instead. Some of the chapters didn’t apply to me, so I skipped them. I was able to read it in one afternoon, but definitely could have taken it slower in order to process each chapter more deeply–something I am planning to revisit for a few chapters in particular. Rachel uses humor and honesty to show her readers that they are “ultimately responsible for who [they] become and how happy [they] are.” [Releases February 6, 2018]

That’s it, folks. A whole eleven books for 2017. Here’s to more reading in 2018!