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….

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!

Book Review: A Mile Wide, Brandon Hatmaker

What in the world did I do with my free time before I became a book launching enthusiast?

My T0-Be-Read stack is perpetually out of control. Seriously. Every time I get wind of another launch team opportunity, I have to seriously evaluate how much time I actually have to commit to another book.

This is the good kind of problem to have.


If you’ve followed this blog, or any of my social media, for awhile, you’ve heard a thing or two about #the4500. If you’re new–well, it’s a long story. Here’s a very brief recap:

March 2015–Jen Hatmaker gathered a launch team for her book, For The Love. She amassed 5,000 applicants for 500 spots. She sent a very sweet apology email to those who didn’t make the cut. (I got that email.) One of those rejectees tweeted Jen, telling her “#the4500…are still your people.” Another one (Tracy) thieved that hashtag and ran to FB with it, creating a group and inviting people to come help launch Jen’s book unofficially. (I joined that group.) We went rogue, and together with the official launch team, we sent For the Love to bestseller status.

Fast forward a few months to the end of 2015…when we heard that Jen’s husband, Brandon, wanted #the4500 to be his official launch team. Our rogue, second string, B-team group was now the A-team. (#BDogsATeam, more specifically.)


We’d realized long before that getting a no from Jen’s launch team was actually the best yes any of us could’ve imagined. And now that Mr. Hatmaker wanted us to help him get his book into the world?

We’ve come full circle.

Before JHat’s launch team application and the birth of #the4500, I’d only followed Jen’s FB page for about a year. These days, I adore the Hatmakers. They seem like such real, down-to-earth people who truly strive to make a difference in both their local community and the global community. They are world changers, supporting a variety of social justice causes, as well as forming their own initiative, The Legacy Collective, whose mission is “to engage systemic problems related to social issues by resourcing what we believe to be the most innovative efforts and funding the most critical projects.”

I am thrilled to finally bring you my review of A Mile Wide: Trading A Shallow Religion For A Deeper Faith:

In the first section of the book, Brandon Hatmaker challenges us to look a bit deeper at our faith while also simplifying the true intent of the gospel. Rather than seeking out the “do’s” and “don’ts” of following Jesus, Hatmaker encourages us to look to Jesus’s interactions with people and how he met them where they were instead of requiring them to check off a bunch of good behavior/expectation boxes before interacting with them.

In the second section of A Mile Wide, Hatmaker discusses the need for community among believers and non-believers. He is passionate in his belief that the church should be missional, not sequestering themselves in a church building all the time, but intentionally serving others in the local community. Hatmaker extols the benefits of varying the types, locations, and venues for small group meetings and service projects, stressing that the meeting people where they are, like Jesus exemplified in the gospel, is the key to building relationships with them: “Jesus almost always met people at their greatest felt need as a part of addressing their spiritual need. He had compassion that allowed him to see through people and speak their language. Community and commission is that shared language between believers and nonbelievers.”

With a tone that is more conversational than condemning (you won’t find condemning words here, convicting, perhaps, but not condemning), A Mile Wide is a must read for anyone who desires to live out their faith in more missionally-minded ways.

I highly recoomend this book!

Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of A Mile Wide in exchange for my honest review.

You can learn more about A Mile Wide here.

None Of Us Knew: #the4500’s First Year

None of us knew.

None of us could have fathomed how our lives were about to change.

None of us could have orchestrated, planned, or manipulated the circumstances that brought us together.

None of us expected that a rejection letter email would result in an even bigger “yes.”

None of us knew that a “no” on a book launch team application would mean we’d form fast and deep friendships with a diverse group of women from around the country and beyond.

None of us knew.

 

But God.

~*~

A year ago, on March 3, 2015, Jen Hatmaker posted an invitation to apply for the launch team for her upcoming book, For The Love.

I found her Facebook post the day before the March 6th deadline. I didn’t think much of it, but it kept floating around my brain. Two hours before the deadline, I submitted my application.

5, 000 people applied for 500 spots.

On March 6th, 4,500 of those applicants received this email:

 

Within hours, one of the women who received that email Tweeted this to Jen:

 

And another rejectee (yes, I made that up) shamelessly thieved it and ran with to Facebook with it, creating a group where we could gather, commiserate, and unofficially launch the book.

I found these two women commenting on a post on Jen’s FB page, inviting people to join this newly-formed group. I cautiously clicked the link to the group, and even more warily requested to join the group. And then I sat back and watched. For days. For months. I don’t think I ever formally introduced myself. (Sorry girls!)

Until September, when I finally allowed myself to engage.

 

Today, 365 days after the birth of #the4500, we celebrate our first anniversary.

We celebrate a year of praying for one another,

 a year of laughing with one another,

a year of singing to one another,

a year of shifting our perspectives,

a year of meeting one another’s needs in tangible ways,

a year of becoming more authentic,

a year of loving one another,

 a year of growing as a group, and

a year of growing as individuals.

 

In September, I dreamed of meeting the #the4500 chief cat herder, Anna. On January 23, 2016 that crazy dream was realized. Never did I imagine myself participating in the meet-ups that began almost immediately as people joined the FB group. And when the hash tag thief/group creator, Tracy, announced a weekend retreat to gather a larger group of us in Wisconsin in the fall, attending was never a consideration for me.

Six months ago, I dove in head first when I texted Anna and said, “If I were feeling brave, do you have time to talk tonight?” I’m forever grateful for our first conversation that night, Anna.

In seven weeks, I’m flying to Texas for the second Splendid Retreat to meet 70 of these beautiful women. Excitement doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about this opportunity. Tracy, thank you for stepping into the unknown in order to bring us closer—both to one another and to the Father. I can’t wait to meet you face-to-face and hug your neck!

Last week, I had my second #the4500 meet-up with a local member, Natalie (with whom I have a mutual friend—this world gets smaller every day!). I’m so glad you suggested meeting, Natalie!

This week, one of my dearest 4500 friends has texted me to offer encouragement in the midst of a not-so-great week. I’m forever grateful for her prayers and words of hope. Kelli, you are a treasure! We WILL meet one day, friend.

Xamayta, I would be remiss in not acknowledging our many sing-offs and song lyric conversations. I’m looking forward to the day I know you in person. Maybe I’ll sing to you.

I could list so many more shout-outs, but we’d be here all day. There are so many girls I’m excited to meet in April, and so many more that I’m hoping to meet in the months and years to come.

My life has changed in many ways since the formation of #the4500, and even more so since last September. These girls have challenged me, loved me, prayed for me, cheered me on, and provided a safe space. When I think of the friends I’ve added to my circle over the last year, I’m overwhelmed. The community we’ve formed is truly indescribable.

None of us knew then what we were stepping into when we clicked the “request to join” button, but God did.

He knew this marvelous gift of “yes” waiting just around the bend.

~*~

 

To Tracy and Anna:

Thank you for leading us with grace, wisdom, compassion, and courage.

Thank you for being obedient even in the small things—like Facebook groups that just seem to be for fun.

Thank you for trusting Him to lead us to what we’re called to as a group.

Thank you for loving us well and caring for our hearts.

Thank you for giving us freedom to become.

You have both followed an unorthodox path to ministry and it is growing into something beyond our imaginations.

We love you!

photo 4

 

Get Out of the Car: The IF series, Part 1

I don’t exactly remember the first time I heard about IF Gathering, whether it was Jen Hatmaker’s Facebook page or Ann Voskamp’s blog. I certainly didn’t understand what it was all about until I saw people talking about it in #the4500 Facebook group. But I was intrigued. So when the internet began buzzing with IF 2016 registration talk last October, I decided I would register for an IF:Local. I signed up for IF:Mauldin—the closest one to me. If February rolled around and I didn’t want to go, I didn’t have to go—so I told myself. But the closer February 5-6 got, the more compelled I felt to be there.

Inviting someone to go with me did cross my mind, but more and more, I felt like God was telling me to go alone. So I did.

~*~

My car rolled to a stop in the parking space across the street from the stained-glass studded, red brick building. I shifted into park, turned off the ignition, and took a deep breath. “What are you doing here? Turn the car back on. Leave. You don’t have to go in.” Grabbing my phone, I summoned my tribe of internet friends to yell at me: “I’m sitting in my car outside the church. Somebody yell at me and tell me to get my butt out of the car and in the door.” And they did, immediately. I sat for a few more minutes, heart pounding, feeling nauseated. I knew no one inside the building. But I knew I was supposed to be here this weekend. I opened the door and stepped out of the car.

~*~

Getting out of that car was NOT what I wanted to do. Running the other way seemed like a more appealing option. But I got out of the car anyway. My steps were unsure and my heart was racing as I walked in the door and joined the registration line. I picked up my name tag, was checked off a list and turned to sit at a table. In a room full of strangers. Sliding into a chair at an empty table in the middle of the room, I pulled out my notebook and tried to look at ease. Eventually, a few others joined me at my table. At one point, a woman from the table in front of me came over and introduced herself because she’d noticed my name and had an uncommon name herself. Then the event started and I relaxed a little.

IF Journal pictureThat first evening session was hard—I felt completely vulnerable and exposed, never entirely comfortable; hearing Jo Saxton speak was so good—she’s both wise and hilarious. And by the end of the night, tears were streaming down my face. I went home exhausted and unconvinced that I’d actually make myself return for the all-day Saturday session. I didn’t decide I was going back until an hour before the event started the next morning, in fact. I am so glad I did.

Walking into the building Saturday morning, I stopped by the registration table to pay for lunch. Standing there were two women. They moved aside as I approached the table, handed my money to the girl sitting there, and gave my name: “I was here last night. Ticcoa.”

As soon as my name was out of my mouth, one of the ladies standing to the side gasped and started gushing: “That’s such a beautiful name! It sounds Native American. I love Native American stuff. What does it mean? Where did it come from!?” I swear I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights. She had me by the shoulders, rapidly firing these comments at me, and I was struggling to keep up. I offered answers to her questions, hoping they were intelligible. (She really was quite lovely about it all—I was just shocked out of my little introvert shell.)

After a few minutes, she let me go, and I slunk off to the same table I’d sat at the night before, knowing the women who’d sat there the night before weren’t attending that day. Alone again. But not for long.   (It was at this point that I Tweeted: My name forces me out of hiding. Darn nametags.) A few minutes passed and one of the women at the table in front of me waved me over and invited me to sit with them. So I moved to their table…and who would sit beside me but the lover of my name, Mary Carol?

These four women—Donita (who’d approached me the night before), Lisa, Mary Carol, and Wendy—along with Susan, one of the event hosts, changed the course of my day—they welcomed me into their circle with more warmth than I could’ve asked for.

One of the scariest, most beautiful things about IF: Gathering is that during each session, there is a time of guided discussion that is only effective if you’re willing to be real and get a bit vulnerable. Through one of these questions, I was able to share my story of the last year with these women—including my involvement with the 4500 and my going to Splendid in the spring. When I told these women—who I’d only known for a few hours—that I was flying alone for the first time, they were immediately asking for the dates, promising to pray for me, and writing down their names so I could find them on Facebook. Susan came and sat down with us as I ended my story, and was saying (of the 4500), “It was the best ‘no’ ever.” She asked if I had ever read Lysa TerKeurst’s book The Best Yes. When I said no, but it was on my list of books to read, she fetched a copy of it from a nearby table and handed it to me: “It’s yours from MUMC.” They were exactly what I needed in that moment. I’d gone from feeling alone among strangers to being welcomed into this circle of long-time friends.

And that was just the local aspect of IF:Gathering. There’s so much more I have to process and write about in reference to the actual speakers—which will come in pieces here and there.

This time a year ago, I was begging God for community—for soul-deep friendships. I was so caught up in and sick of the comparison game that I was ready to quit social media. And then I got the best “no” from Jen Hatmaker’s launch team people and found a crazy bunch of girls on Facebook and Twitter who banded together and formed a virtual community that has grown into something more special than any of us could have imagined.

Before the 4500, I never would’ve considered doing something like this. But those women have made me braver, more courageous, and shown me that I am not alone in my struggles. Because of them, I have realized that just taking a wobbly baby step of faith eventually leads to a steadier stride.

 

Baby Steps quote image

2015: A Restored Appetite for Reading

“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!)”

DSC_0033

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?

Balance

Balance.

Such a loaded word for only two syllables worth of vocal real estate.

We all want it. We all strive for it. We all wish we were better at it.

And we all beat ourselves up over the fact that, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t attain it.There’s always something that gets left undone, forgotten, or given less than our best efforts.

In  For the Love,  Jen Hatmaker speaks to the theory that our society is hinged on comparison culture:

“we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. With social media and its carefully selected messaging, we see career women killing it, craft moms slaying it, chef moms nailing it, Christian leaders working it […] Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that.”

That is so absurd. Yet, we’re ALL guilty of it.

We waste SO much energy trying to be good at everything, when we aren’t necessarily called to be.We live in a constant state of judging ourselves against the polished lives of those around us.We fill our plates with far more activities, responsibilities, and “shoulds” than we can realistically balance.

Jen H. likens this phenomenon to a balance beam. Of the impulse to weigh our lives down with as many hobbies, jobs, activities, projects, etc as we possibly can, she says:

 “meanwhile we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived, really enjoyed, really applauded—and it is simpler than we dare hope: we gotta unload that beam […] Decide which parts are draining you dry. What do you dread? What are you including for all the wrong reasons? Which parts are for approval? […] Throw out every should or should not and make ruthless cuts. Go ahead. Your beam is much too crowded.”

And while Jen (we’re [practically] BFF’s and she’s also part of #the4500, so I can call her that) speaks to the mostly physical aspects of a loaded beam, I wager that it can apply to our mental well-being just as much.

Because our minds get just as mired in the debate of who we are vs. who we “should” be. I know I spend a lot of time listening to the thoughts that constantly play in my mind. (Maybe it’s an introvert thing, but I’m always talking down the “gremlins” that Brenè Brown refers to in Daring Greatly.) In Brown’s research she uses the term “gremlin” as a synonym for “shame tapes.” She found that:

“shame derives its power from being unspeakable […] it loves perfectionists [hello, introvert!]—it’s so easy to keep us quiet […] Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for [Spielberg’s] gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.”

I have struggled with this for decades. I don’t remember having a mind clear of the shame tapes rolling. All the fears, anxiety, approval-seeking thoughts that have occupied my brain for so long are exhausting. And YOU cannot balance them. There is no balance when it comes to these thoughts. They become too powerful, drowning out the positive attributes we have, the messages of hope, and courage and “you are enough” that we all need to hear ourselves say to our actual selves.

And over the last two years, they roared in my ears, every minute of every day.

“You’ve made a huge mistake.”

“You weren’t brave enough.”

“You’re invisible; no one sees you.”

“What if…?”

“You don’t have what it takes to make a difference.”

“Wasted—that’s all that opportunity was.”

“You missed your chance. You blew it.”

Those words in your head every day for two years will drive you insane. You can hide it well behind the mask of “I’ve got it together,” you can numb it, you can push it down deep and build a wall around it—but it will not go away.

I’d settled into this way of living. Ignoring all the feelings, the emotions, the reality of my pain and became a shell of myself. Presenting my happy self to the world around me, but inside I was miserable.

I could not see my way out.

I’m so thrilled to say it’s not like that today.

Over the past month, a series of events, connections, and words have been set into motion that have broken through that wall that held all those thoughts captive. My heart is free again. The Light has come and destroyed those thoughts, leaving them shriveled and whimpering.

As I was pondering the change in my mind and heart over this time, I realized that I had forgotten a key point.

In early September, I attended a gathering of my church and our sister church in Indiana. On the last evening of services, the pastors called for prayer for healing.

I’ll be honest—I was in a funk that night. I was 900 miles from home, I’d spent nearly three straight days in a car with an extrovert; I wanted quiet, I wanted to be by myself. And the “gremlins” were roaring in my head. But I stood up; I tried to pray, but all I could say was, “Jesus.”

After a few minutes, someone approached and prayed over me—for balance: “Jesus, bring balance to the mind, body, and spirit. Bring them into alignment with you.”

The person who prayed those words was a stranger. Someone who had no idea of the struggle I was facing. But God knew and He has made sure I know that He knows in a hundred ways over the past three weeks. And He has brought balance.  I FEEL ALIVE again. Fear and anxiety aren’t ruling me anymore. There’s so much joy in my heart, I feel like I could jump out of my skin.

By the grace of God, I have regained my balance after years of teetering on the edge.

Those “gremlins” we carry around? OFF THE BEAM

Those things we fill our lives with to keep up with all the “perfect people”? OFF THE BEAM

It has to stop.

It has to stop because it isn’t the way God created us to live.

We aren’t called to live under that kind of pressure.

But if we’re so caught up in trying to attain goals that aren’t meant for us to attain or listening to the gremlins that drown out our thoughts, we waste the beautiful, extraordinarily ordinary lives we were given.

 

#the4500: An Introduction

First things first: just over two years ago I hit a wall. A declaration over and rejection of what I perceived to be my calling/my ambition/my whatever-you-want-to-call-it and a wasted/missed opportunity resulted in my disengagement with almost everything around me. It’s all water under the bridge now, and a long, hard story that doesn’t need to be told here (yet). But the reality that it happened is important in preceding this post.

Before this period, I wrote a lot. I read a lot. After this, I stopped—reading voraciously, stopped blogging, stopped journaling.  My last blog was posted in December of 2013. I haven’t really written since then. Until earlier this year, the emotion was too raw, the rejection too near, the questions too unresolved. But I began to feel the bubble of the unwritten words that filled my heart. The stories I needed to tell, the declaration I needed to put forth. For a writer, the burden of an untold story is heavy. Add an ISFJ personality into the mix, and it’s a nightmare. Too many thoughts in one’s head at once are overwhelming—and writing has always been my processing outlet.

November 2014-March 2015 were hard months for me because I was faced with a dear friend’s second battle with pancreatic cancer. In ways that were far beyond my capacity, I was called to come alongside her and her family during that time. For the first time in those two years, I began to let myself show up and feel life again.

In early March, as I felt the stir to begin recording my story again, I stumbled upon a launch team application for Jen Hatmaker‘s  forthcoming book, For the Love. Initially, I dismissed it, but it kept hanging around the edges of my mind. So, on the day before the application deadline,  I applied. An excuse to write regularly by reviewing the book and putting the word out? Sure, why not?

But I wasn’t the only one jumping in that boat—there were 5,000 people (mostly women and a few brave men). Yes. 5,000. Jen’s team issued an email to the 4500 of us who didn’t make the cut and included four chapters of the book to preview.

So here were the rest of us: the un-chosen, the rejected, and the unpicked. But not for long.

There was this tweet:

Then a hashtag robbery that turned into a Facebook group.
Thus, #the4500 was born.

What began as a “no” from the launch team application became a redemption story in the making, even today. One woman (Anna) created a #hashtag and another woman (Tracy) created a Facebook group for those of us who didn’t make the cut.

I must say, when I stumbled across Anna’s tweet on Twitter, I was amused. When I found the FB group and dared to request to join, I was wary. An online community of strangers? And they were pouring their hearts out to one another—about EVERYTHING under the sun??? They were creating new ministries, writers groups, organizing meet-ups around the country??? Umm, thanks, but no—I’ll just be over here on the fringes, writing a book review or two, tweeting about the book—but that’s it.

And so, I lurked. For months. Posting a comment here and there, but never really committing myself to these strangers. Until last week. I dreamed of a #the4500 conference, of meeting the faces behind the names in the group, of having heartfelt conversations. So I posted about it the group, and it set off a series of connections that blows my mind a week later. It’s a story for its own post, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

This apparent rejection from the launch team in March has morphed into something so rare in today’s comparison culture: a group of 1300 women sharing struggles, celebrating successes, laughing together, praying over one another—without judgment, without comparison, without exclusion. It has been such a blessing.

I’m proud to be a part of this ever-evolving sisterhood.

~*~