Los Angeles: The Summer of Endless Miles, Day 16

We arrived in L.A. late on Saturday, April 15, 2017.

 

Anna and I had a mostly-unspoken understanding on the book tour: if we needed to get somewhere in a hurry or had to navigate big city traffic, she would drive. If she needed a break for a stretch of road that didn’t involve those scenarios, I was happy to take the wheel. So, the fact that I was in the driver’s seat as we approached L.A. was kind of a big deal for me. Neither of us had realized I’d be tasked with navigating L.A. traffic at night, and when we realized it, it was almost too late to do anything about it.

Anna did ask if I wanted to pull over and switch spots, but we were already in the thick of it and the thought of maneuvering to the shoulder made me more nervous than soldiering on. It was nerve-wracking, for sure, but I count weaving through the throngs of cars on a hundred-lane highway at night as one of my proudest accomplishments of the book tour.

(Those were tough days, y’all. Let me have the little things.)

As I’ve struggled with anxiety over the last four-ish years, a weighted blanket has long been on my wish list. When I experience anxiety, I want nothing more than to burrow in bed under a heavy blanket. It’s an innate need that calms me. And because I was still in such an unsettled emotional state, my anxiety was also heightened. All day, I’d wanted nothing more than to burrow, but that’s hard to do in a moving vehicle.

We arrived at our destination and were met warmly by Anna’s sister Sasha. Anna got out of the car first—this was normal; I took my time exiting and let her get all her squealing out of the way. I took a little longer than usual, and she poked her head back in and asked if I was getting out. I told her I’d be right behind her. She closed the door and followed Sasha into the house, informing her, I’m sure, on my current state. Slowly, I pulled the bags I would need for the night out of the car and went inside.

Sasha hugged me as I entered the house and led me to the room where we’d be staying. The rest of the night is a blur, mostly because I went straight to bed. What I found was that the bed was equipped with a heavy down comforter that cocooned me just as I longed for all day.

 

The next morning, I awoke and was immediately hit by a tidal wave of grief. I also realized that it was Easter Sunday. (Another aspect of timing that I have yet to wrap my head around.) I think this was the first day I really became aware of the gravity of my loss. I cried from the time I woke up that morning to the time I crawled back in bed.

Anna brought me coffee, then breakfast, and offered gentle words of understanding (not comfort, mind you (because what comfort would be adequate), but understanding). We talked about how this was the first time I’d lost someone close to me, and my first experience with grief.

We didn’t have any solid plans that day and she encouraged me to stay in bed, rest, and write (more like insisted). She knew as well as I did that I needed to process some of the things swirling around my head.

I stayed put well into the afternoon until Anna came to check on me and see if I wanted to go out with her that evening. This was our chance to see Hollywood—including the infamous sign, so I said yes. I didn’t bother putting on makeup, but I did throw on earrings. I shoved my sunglasses on my face to hide my swollen, leaking eyes and we set off.

 

We cruised down Sunset Blvd…

…Anna signed books at Barnes and Noble and bought her kids Snapchat Spectacles…

 

 

… we met up with a Adam Hawk, a gamer Anna’s sons were acquainted with. (She definitely got cool mom points for that meet-up). Adam served us yummy tacos and flan while we modeled the spectacles…

 

…and, finally, we found the spot to take pictures of the Hollywood sign just before sunset.

 

While we were standing on the side of the road awaiting our turn to take pictures, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a faint rainbow arched across the valley. The very sight of it was a balm for my languishing soul.

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…

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!

Five Minute Friday: Speak


It’s time for the Five Minute Friday link up again! The rules, as usual, are that you write for five minutes with no editing. Today’s prompt is “Speak.” Here we go.

One of the best aspects of the Epic Book Tour was meeting authors from all over the country. I always have and always will be in awe of anyone who manages to wrangle their thoughts into a whole collection of words that becomes a book.

When we were in Salt Lake City this July, Anna and I had the opportunity to have coffee with Nish Weiseth one afternoon. This came about after I saw Nish’s comment about Anna’s book on another author’s social media and sent her a message asking if she’d like to meet when we were in town a few weeks later. (I TOTALLY did not expect to hear back from her). Since I’ve not mentioned that on any of my social media platforms, I thought I’d give her a shout out today.


Nish is funny, opinionated, laid-back, smart, sassy, and passionate. She loves her city and the people in it—which was clear in the couple of hours we spent with her.

Her book, Speak: How our Story Can Change the World (aptly titled for today’s FMF prompt) was published in 2014. Nearly four years later, her message of the power of story in connecting to those around us is relevant and true in light of current events:

With relationship comes trust and faith between friends. This is the missing piece of the evangelism puzzle that we’ve been looking for. Most of us who grew up in or around church and Christian culture have been told that the cross of Jesus is a salvation bridge between us and God. Some of us have handed out our tracts and cold-called strangers on the street to tell them about the glorious salvation of Jesus Christ. But really, it’s a lot simpler than that. Evangelism should simply be another by-product of genuine relationship with others…of understanding that ensures the conversation will be built on love.

What a lovely conversation that is.

If you’d like to learn more about Nish, you can find her at www.NishWeiseth.com, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

(Oh—and if her name trips you up, “it’s Nish, like fish.”)

Stones Of Remembrance: A Book Review

Books and words have always been an integral part of my life. They are my second skin, my place of solace, my preferred activity. Lately, new forms of this passion have taken over—launch teams and eBooks—both of which were foreign to me a year ago. Really, if you don’t count #the4500’s rogue involvement in unofficially launching Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love, I wasn’t even part of an official launch team until last November. And until now, I’ve just flat-out refused to read eBooks, because I’m stubborn and they are against my literary religion. Now? I’m on my fourth launch team in four months, and (gasp) just finished reading my second eBook of the year—Stones of Remembrance by Julie Presley.

I’ve had Stones of Remembrance on my to-read list for months—since I found out that Julie (who is a friend from #the4500) was an author, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. A few weeks ago, an email from Julie landed in my inbox—and in it was an eBook version of Stones of Remembrance. I started reading it that night. I don’t know what I expected from Stones of Remembrance, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be as powerfully relatable as it was.

(FYI—any new subscribers to her email list get a copy of the Stones eBook. Go to her website, juliepresley.com, and give the woman your email address, people. She’s not spammy or annoying. Promise. You won’t regret it.)

Here’s the thing: I grew up on a heavy literary diet of Christian fiction. If it could be found on the inspirational or Christian fiction shelf of the library in the mid 90’s-2005, I’ve probably read it. As an English major in college, I dove into more classic literary works and found them so much more “meaty”—they made me think critically and view the world through different lenses. They became far more inviting than the glossy, easily-resolved Christian fiction I’d been accustomed to reading.

For me, the problem with typical Christian fiction is that it really doesn’t give room for characters to struggle with their faith. There might be an internal conflict or two, but it’s usually very brief and resolved quickly without much tension.

41g-gynckol-_sx371_bo1204203200_Not so in Stones of Remembrance. This story follows Allaya as she returns to her childhood vacation home for the purpose of reconnecting with God after being estranged from her family. Allaya wrestles with long-held pain, questioning God’s plan and seeking to reconcile her heart to His—and He talks back to her. The same is true for another central character, Finn—a childhood friend of Allaya’s who is trying his best to run from the voice of God. Yes, God has a speaking part in this book. And it is powerful. Over and over, as both Allaya and Finn bring their questions before their Heavenly Father, the response they hear is one of unwavering love and compassion. The back-and-forth nature of their conversations with God is sometimes agonizing—depicting the reality that God doesn’t always speak when we want Him to, or give us the answer we want right away.

Julie writes each scene with depth; her use of imagery pulls you into the story. She has found a perfect balance between believable characters and riveting plot lines. She builds in scriptural truths without sounding cheesy, old-fashioned, or pious. And when it comes to relational tension? She’s got that down, too.

Stones of Remembrance is edgy; it’s “not your mama’s Christian fiction.” It’s real. It’s honest. It’s authentic.

~*~

You can get your hands on a copy of Stones of Remembrance by joining Julie’s email subscription at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

I’d love to hear what you think about the book if you read it!

Connect with Julie on Facebook.

You can also check out Julie’s latest project, Nor Forsake, here.