Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Downhill Rise to Greatness

I was sitting at my kitchen island enjoying a bowl of reheated soup when I read that ProPublica was actively investigating a local story involving two Elkhart City Police officers who had beating a man in handcuffs months prior. Though I live in Goshen, Elkhart is just a few miles up the street, our neighbor to the North. It had my attention.

The video footage which emerged as a result of the investigation was shocking, yes. It was not, however, surprising. Just another page from the same, devastating book. After knocking his chair backwards, officers Cory Newland and Joshua Titus are seen delivering blow after blow to Mario Guerrero Ledesma's head and face, his hands still cuffed behind him. Not long after one officer calls Ledesma a "piece of sh*t," two more officers saunter into the room, leaning against the cinder block wall, looking on in casual, almost bored observation before one of them simply suggests the beating might "stop."

I reread the report, piecing together names both familiar and otherwise. Prior to a handful of years ago, this sort of news wouldn't have caused my heart rate to pitch. Back then, I believed there were good people and bad people. I believed I was one of the good ones, free to stand center-street along with Power, while the others were shoved as far away as possible, with force if necessary.

Six years ago my family relocated from a six-acre homestead to the loose grid of a city waking up to an ever-evolving identity.  We are immigrant-rich and manufacturing-strong. A bright speck of open-mindedness in a sea of white-bread Conservatism. A stain. It depends on who you ask, and when.

Here, families are patched together as much as they are born, your lump of clay mixed with mine, spun on a wheel until the edges are worn smooth and something functional emerges. Worldviews bleed into each other, the air around us violet-hued. We found peace in the chaos, along with live music and exemplary tamales.

Not long after our move, our oldest son made his way into our family at the age of nineteen, already swept into the criminal justice system. Five years later, his hands remain cuffed behind his back in many ways. He's stopped counting the blows. Sentences served give way to court-appointed classes, lengthened probation terms, and fees and fines that tower precariously in the untended corners of his life. They call this "reentry," though it would be more aptly described as "chronic satellite incarceration."

Finding kinship with the ignored had changed us.  
Paying attention comes with a cost.

I dissected the newspaper in the weeks that followed with fresh intensity. Chief of police, Ed Windbigler, who previously said the accused officers "just went a little overboard,"  issuing no more than reprimand, was now forced beneath the microscope of scrutiny from a public he was tasked to protect. After eleven months of silence, equivocation, and backpedaling, both officers were charged with misdemeanor counts of battery. This clocked in as Officer Newland's ninth disciplinary incident (including multiple suspensions) in a term of service that spans ten years. 

At a town hall meeting hosted by Elkhart's Mayor, members of the community expressed disappointment and even outrage, calling for the immediate firing of officers Newland and Titus while the the assistant police chief  defended the department, attacking the media outlets "ambushing" the department.

Same book, different page.

The color drained from November and we all grew colder as the drama unfolded one town away. On November 26th I opened the paper to an opinion piece, written by Jim Bontrager, a Senior chaplain of the Elkhart City Police Department. In his glowing tribute to Chief Ed Windbigler, Bontrager didn't so much build a case for Power to be left unquestioned as much as he reached up and plucked it from thin air. To him, it wasn't right that the man with such a high level of authority should be critiqued for promoting officers who had mounted legacies of disciplinary disaster.

"One of the first things Ed did was to clear the playing field...Their past was just that, their past...from that minute forward they could put their best foot forward and shine," he wrote.

His comments left me wondering - when does my son get to put his best foot forward and shine? 
Where was the line drawn between Mario Ledesma's past and his future when his chair was shoved backwards, his head appearing to strike the concrete floor? Are second chances only reserved for the financially prosperous, the publicly esteemed, the popular, or the crisply-uniformed?

Bontrager's tone-deaf and blatantly privileged air of defensiveness continued. "Learning from failure is at the heart of the American experience. Our history is replete with examples of great leaders who made extremely bad decisions in the earlier stages of life only to rise to greatness afterwards."

It pains me to my core to know he is exactly right. Here, at the heart of our American experience, grave mistakes are too often rewarded with positions of power. The rise to greatness can, indeed, chart a bold trajectory from corruption and abuse to fame and glory. But only if an agreement of untouchability is brokered out on center-street, where Power stands unchecked while the under-valued masses jam their brakes, straining to find new routes not to greatness, but to basic survival.

Meanwhile, on the backstreets, a twelve-year old child is expelled from middle school after a minor incident, in part because his older brother had previously been "trouble." Following the data, particularly as a black child, he is now at significantly greater risk of one day sitting in handcuffs, at the mercy of men who have the luxury of shrugging off their own failures. Where along this path will his exceptional qualities for leadership be noticed and rewarded?  

Unseen in a long-neglected alley, my son is pulled over four times in two days for failing to engage his turn signal according to the letter of the law. Each time, he is asked if he has drugs or weapons in his car, never mind that he has never been charged with either. When will his playing field be cleared?

In a back corner of a neighborhood seen as less-than, tears drip from my friend's chin as she explains that her meds are off, causing intense anxiety to bob up from the darkness of a depression she has never known this side of sobriety. She's a warrior, a bright-eyed wife and the mama of a happy, healthy child, but money is tight and her family is denied the common stop-gaps of food assistance and state medical insurance due to a drug charge from years ago. Tell me, Chaplain Bontrager, when will she be untethered from her past mistake?

"I categorically reject the notion that those who make numerous mistakes are unqualified to lead," the piece continued. I know many who would agree. The question becomes, when will our society collectively reject the idea that people (particularly People of Color and the poor) who make mistakes are unqualified to simply live without persistent judgment? When will they deserve the basic rights of safe housing, robust jobs with opportunities for advancement, and, above all else, the right to enjoy an existence unmarked by hyper visibility and excessive scrutiny? When is their debt really paid? 

I agree with Chaplain Bontrager's final point, (though unnecessarily smug,) that the reporter, Christian Sheckler, bears a namesake that "consists of those who sit in gratitude for the second chance afforded them." It appears Bontrager and I share a common faith, which presumably centers on justice for everyone, no exceptions.

In the Old Testament, God, through the prophet Amos, delivers a critical blow, threatening to effectively decimate those "who twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed." (Amos 5:7) "There will be crying in all the public squares and mourning in every street," He promises. (Amos 5:16b) He will do what it takes to protect the oppressed.

Until then, we will watch the watchers, dragging the truth out across the asphalt of center street, where everyone is good and everyone is bad.

We will call to task those tasked to lead, rejecting the belief that mistakes can only be scrubbed from the histories of certain kinds of people.

We will lay down our lives, building ladders of our bodies so that one day, all of the sons and all of the daughters can drop their cuffs and rise to greatness.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Reluctant Consumer's Gift Guide

I'll do my best to keep my complicated feelings about consumerism, commercialism, and Christmas in general brief, as I have positively exhausted my emotional output on this over the past seven consecutive Christmases.

Here's the skinny version: my family lives on a squeaky-tight budget (I know many of you are right here with us!) and we also happen to live pressed up against tremendous lack, in a low-income neighborhood with a church family and personal friend group that largely consists of people struggling through the sort of poverty that makes my daily bread look like the pricey, chocolate-laced brioche from Aldi that my kids ask for every time and that I secretly want, too, except FOUR DOLLARS? Gasp.

As an Enneagram 8 poster-child, I naturally bristle a little (a lot?) against anything that smacks of status quo, so as you can imagine, Christmas in my presence is the recipe for true joy, as long as you get a jolly kick out of the neighborhood cynic. (I have learned to turn down the volume on my inner challenger, but she's still kicking around with a megaphone in my heart.)

Christmas is supposed to mean something, we all know this in theory. But I believe we can find ways to make it more meaningful in practice, too. We can choose to quell the machine that threatens to pull us into an undertow of debt and empty emotional calories. We can learn as we go when it comes to finding ways to realign our focus. (I'll be re-launching my 12 Ways of Christmas series in a week or so, so stay tuned!)

We can embody the belief that Christmas is about God choosing to leave paradise so that His kingdom could arrive here on Earth, igniting the renewal of All Things. This is a very big deal. Because if He chose pain, loss, and longing, then we can, too. We were made to feel a wide range of emotions, to walk toward the suffering around us, and to make our home there with Jesus as our guide, holding the lantern as we move through the darkness.


The Martins keep Christmas buying simple, but I enjoy it, even as I side-eye the pressure and the hullabaloo, as my mom would say. I like surprising my people and having a reason to buy them things they don't necessarily "need" from places other than Goodwill.

For this reason, I put together a low-brow guide with links to my personal favorites. I want you to know that I artfully arranged my personal effects onto a large poster board on my living room floor, then painstakingly over-layed it with numbers because I am fancy in the ways of technology and it wasn't hard at all (that is a total lie) so FEEL THIS LOVE!

Each item on the list is part of my regular life, some items more than they realistically should be (cough cough I wear the same shirt for days in a row sometimes.) Many are also sourced from companies operating around the central ideal of bringing justice to marginalized communities.
His kingdom. Here on Earth.

Merry, heartbreaking Christmas, pals.
I hope you get something that you want.
And I hope you never stop longing, not for a moment.

{You might be interested in the conversation I was a part of on The Upside Down Podcast - episode 47 Consumerism and God's Kingdom.}

1 - Love Anyway sweatshirt from Preemptive Love Coalition - This is my absolute go-to. (They have a lot of really cool styles!)

2 - Denim Western shirt from ABLE I love the mission (and style!) of ABLE. Get 20% off with SHANNAN20

3 - Giving Keys necklace - each purchase supports employment opportunities for people coming out of homelessness. Keys are customizable. (Mine was a gift from a friend and says LONG HAUL.)

4 - Audrey Assad "Evergreen" cd - This is on heavy repeat. I cannot get over her lyrics.

5 - Flex "Veterans Mini" watch  10% of every purchase supports a specific cause aimed at making the world better. (Free shipping on every watch anywhere in the US.)

6 - Canvas HQ canvas (photo pulled from my Instagram feed) - I love the customer service and quality of this family-owned canvas shop. My friend surprised me with this canvas from my trip to Ecuador. Such a thoughtful, personal, affordable gift!

7 - Vintage hanky - because crying is cuter with one of these in hand.

8 - Mud Love bracelets (Shannan Martin Project includes "Neighbor" "Long Haul" and "Wider Circle")

9 - Good candle - This is a favorite and so is this.

10 - Constellation Moon earrings hand-crafted from polymer clay from Breath of Life Essentials (I absolutely love all of her unique earrings, but the name and composition of these have my whole heart! DM her on Instagram to order.)

11 - Dixie stud earrings from Starfish Project (These are my everyday earrings. I recently lost one and I'm not over it yet.) Get 20% off any of their earrings using the code SHANNANANDSTARFISH

12 - Dark Chocolate Butter Kek cookies from Aldi (TRUST ME)

13 - The Ministry of Ordinary Places - (I'll be starting an online book club in January! Stay tuned.)

14 - Tea! Current favorites: Tazo Green Ginger and Good Earth Sweet & Spicy

15 - I'm a gigantic fan of gifting vintage and thrifted items. My book and a vintage mug make an excellent combo.

16 - Mighty River Project basket - this organization employs women in Uganda so that they can care for their families. Orphan prevention for the win! (We use ours as a fruit basket.)

17 - Vintage bake ware - start trolling Goodwill and your local shops for tins, utensils, and tea towels. Pair them with some high-brow vanilla, whole beans, or good chocolate.

Other favorites:
Books! Always and forever books. Here's what I'm reading right now.
Church Forsaken by Jonathan Brooks
Executing Grace by Shane Claiborne
You Were Always Mine by Nicole Baart
The Caregiver by Samuel Park

Calvin's picks:
Concert Eukulele
The Mysterious Benedict Society series

Ruby's picks:
Mixed-media art set
The Sprinkles Baking Book

Si's picks:
Snap Circuits
This lamp

Cory's pics:
Polaroid camera with this film.
This watch (In his effusive style, he says, "solar powered, so never needs a battery change, water resistant to 100 meters, great everyday watch.")

One last thing - I'll be signing books over at the Belove Gift Shop in Winona Lake, Indiana on Wednesday, December 5th from 6-9pm. If you've never been to Winona Lake, now is the time! Excellent food and shopping. Belove curates the best collection of gift ideas, and many of them are handmade right in the local area. Come out and say hey! (If you're not in the local areas, you can also shop online.)


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Where I've Been & Where to Find Me (the Podcast List!)

I knew I was in trouble when I went to switch out the mugs on my beloved rack last month only to realize I had never even put the summer mugs out.  There I was, in late September, with May's mugs staring forlornly down at me. It pained me to think of the ice cream cone mug languishing unused in the drawer all summer long. (I can't even speak right now of the whale mug.)

I've grown used to letting an odd month pass me by now and then, but I had never missed an entire season.

It's November now, and I only vaguely remember October. It rushed past me in a blur of book launch and mini van miles.

I'm laughing about it on the outside, but the deep-down truth is that it bothers me a little. I don't want to play at life this way. I don't judge a fast pace and I relish my very full, quasi-chaotic life, but something needs to give, and quickly. I have a hunch November is going to be my time to figure some of this out. I'll let you know if I find any trap doors that help me along the way.

In the meantime, I did embark on an 11-day road trip last month. Eleven days! I think it's the longest I've ever been away from home. The best news ever is that my family was with me for most of it. I found myself missing my bed, my neighbors, and my broom (sweeping my floor is a vital part of my daily sanity) but I never got homesick.

Eleven days, one carry-on bag, and nine separate lodgings = A LOT. But it was fun to break free from the routine a bit.When I finally made it home after a cancelled flight (my signature travel move) and an extra night in yet another hotel room, Ruby's thumb was broken but the leaves were at their peak.

I told my kids I was never leaving again.

(They didn't believe me either.)

 First official stop: The Nest Fest!
Charlotte, NC

This wasn't my first time at Nester's house, but it was my first time at her annual festival. It was so much fun catching up with old pals (these are the authors who were there signing books) and it was super special to to be able to introduce Cory and the kids to many of the women who I consider my internet colleagues.

Silas spent his time marveling at Nester's decor (the kid has an eye) and in particular, her vast array of hand soaps. He also believed for the entire first evening that I was the literal star of the show. He believed in his 10-year old heart that the lavish cheese boards, the mini bar, the live band, the throngs of people, were all there just to see me, "because they love your book." Ha! Life hack - take the kids with you, forever and ever, amen.

A few more highlights...

I finally met my Voxer pal Lisa Whittle for the first time! I felt weirdly nonchalant when we first said hello...I think I forgot we hadn't met before. Behold, the power of the internet! It's a beautiful thing. Also, Lisa and I are both Enneagram 8's so we understand each other in a special way.

I lumber over the magnificent Bri by approximately eighteen feet, so when we went to take this picture I hunched way down. But then she hunched with me, which sort of defeated the purpose. Naturally, we cracked up and I adore this outtake.

(Can we talk about why my "crack up" face is the actual picture of straight-up lunacy and Bri's is just completely adorable and celebrity-level? GET SOME CONTROL, SHANNAN!)

I LOVED meeting the women who showed up to say hello and grab The Ministry of Ordinary Places. Thank you!!!

I went to high school with Natalie. We were in Future Homemaker's of America together!

When Nest Fest was all said and done, I drove to Greensboro with my dear pal, Emily Freeman. We ate Wendy's french fries and got (most of) our work talk out of the way.

We went to church with them the next day* and our families finally got to meet. The kids played an elaborate outdoor hide-and-seek game involving our vehicles (we didn't ask) while the adults stayed inside and talked about church and the Enneagram. (Adulting! It's sort of the best, except for bills and chores.)

*GUYS. After church a woman came up and introduced herself to me, saying her family had just moved to NC after reading Falling Free. They had been struggling to settle in and find a church home and this was their first time visiting Emily's church, which they instantly loved. She was out-of-her-mind confused when I walked in and sat down right in front of her. Our jaws were all on the floor by the end of her story, the very best kind of weird and awesome that we should just know to expect from God by now. 

From Greensboro, NC we headed over to Franklin and Nashville, TN, where we ate up ALL of the biscuits/cheeseburgers/hot chicken.

I also recorded something for Q Commons!

I was thrilled to be asked to talk about their theme - The Power of We. But y'all (I'm allowed to say that now because I was just in the South) talking for only 9 minutes is NO JOKE for a big mouth like me. 

I learned a ton. A ton! I'm so grateful to have been invited to be part of it.

As we were walking out the door for dinner Calvin said, "We all look nice. We should take a selfie!"

When the slightly-emo 13-year old asks for a family selfie, you stop what you're doing and oblige. But y'all (omw, I'm practically half southern!) we need help.

The next day, my fam drove home, but not before stopping at a local Tennessee Walmart for Silas to buy a souvenir. 😂

I had met my publishing team for tacos and was then picked up on a side street by my sweet friend of nearly ten years, Becky.

This is her view every day and I didn't hate it.

And...she has one of my absolute favorite decorating styles - the perfect blend of white space, color, and texture. It's cozy and collected and the woman KNOWS the importance of quirky lighting. (You can scroll through more photos over on my Instagram page.)

She fed me well, tucked me in on the couch for a chick flick, and did my laundry, all while we crammed as much catching-up as we could into 15 hours.

I didn't want to leave.

From there, I hitched a ride to the Evolving Faith conference with my brand new friend, Elizabeth Baker, and her sweet mom. They welcomed me into their rental car as a complete stranger and we rode together for six hours.

Funny how eating lunch together at Cracker Barrel can bond people for life. ;)

I will never get over the kindness of the internet or the value of taking risks and listening to new perspectives. Never! I didn't get a single photo of us together, which I regret. I blame it on the fact that I had been traveling for nine days straight at that point, and spent half of the drive dozing in the back seat, probably with mouth hanging open.

(By the way, Elizabeth has written some scorching stuff over at HuffPo. She's a talented writer with a powerful story, which is to say, she is a force.)

The ladies dropped me off at an AirBnB in Black Mountain NC and I risked my very life by showering in a stranger's house under the cover of night. (I am not a very fearful person in general, but why does showering seem like the most treacherous activity known to man? What childhood movie scarred me for life? I rarely lock the door at home but I dead-bolt it when I'm about to shower.

Anyway, on a scale from 1-10, the rental house was "No Exterior Lighting and A Gift Basket Filled with Pork Rinds and Cotton Candy."

Which is to was a bit like a clown house at the fair, confusing and slightly terrifying, but mostly fun!

I stayed with my dear pals, Becca and Sarah. Over the next day or two, we heard from interesting women (and a few men) about why we shouldn't be scared when the bones of our faith start creaking a bit. There's so much more I could say about that, but this post is already 12 times longer than I anticipated.

In summary - I burned up over a third of October, but my heart stayed warm for every bit of it.And, as always, I'm thrilled to be home.

Last thing - I have recorded so many podcasts over the past two months so I thought I'd round them up right here. I'll try to update this list as I continue to make the rounds.

Each one of these conversations has been a gift and I'm not even surprised anymore by the way each conversation takes a unique turn. (On Sarah Bragg's episode that drops today, we accidentally spent several minutes talking about our heartfelt affection for chicken thighs. (shrugs))

Have a listen! Let me know which podcasts spoke to you. If you're willing, share it with a friend or online. The Ministry of Ordinary Places is finding its place in a world that's hungry to connect and neighbor and really see God's goodness because you guys y'all are talking about it.

There aren't enough thank you's in Goshen, Indiana!

Here we go! In no discernible order...

Going Scared with Jessica Honegger

Pairadocs with Dr. Jimmy Myers and Dr. Joshua Myers

Mom Struggling Well with Emily Thomas
Lighten Up Melanie Dale

Mama Bear Dares with Tesi and Leslie

Not Terrible with Jess Hooker and Mary Graham

Uniquely Woman with Lisa Hensley

That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs

Rising Stories with Corine Sandifer

For the Love with Jen Hatmaker

Cultivating Lovely with MacKenzie Koppa

Wonderfully Made with Rachel Brown

5 Word Prayers with Lisa Whittle

By Design with Lyndsye Feldman and Dannette Gora 

Front Porch with the Fitzes

Fierce & Lovely with Beth Bruno

Charisma Connection

The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman

Facebook Live interview with Sarah Quezada (please note how I messed up the intro by taking a photo, not realizing we were already life. Profesh!)

Surviving Sarah with Sarah Bragg

Nestled with April Nicholson and Bayleigh Malone 

Nourish with Kim Bakaev

Coming soon:
Collared Chicks with Rev. Monica Reynolds

Open Door Sisterhood with Krista Gilbert and Alexandra Kuykendall

Changing the Conversation with Mocha Club
You're Invited with Tatum, Ashlee, Tiffany, and Whitney

Walk the Walk with Hayley Morgan
Honestly Adoption with Mike and Kristin Berry

(I've done my level best to link all of them. If I missed something, apologies! Please email me and let me know and I'll fix it!)

Blog Posts:

Glorious Table - Tacos & Tea (an excerpt)

Jerusalem Greer - Just Live
"I can get on board for for the Ministry of Ordinary Places and ordinary life – on the farm, in our tiny town, in our thriving church, in the life as a band mom, and morphing jobs, in feeding of the animals,  and the painting of rooms, and the fixing of the unsexy air conditioners, and the making of lunches. Over and over again."

Emily P. Freeman - The Ministry of Ordinary Places
"I have a hunch that if Shannan was a stranger to me, maybe you would trust me more when I tell you how much I loved this book. This is the right book for this moment in time and I simply cannot get over it. I either laughed or cried on almost every page. We need these lyrical, prophetic words now more than ever before."

Patheos - Let's Stop Loving on the Least of These (an excerpt)

Ann Voskamp - What We Can Offer to a World Crying Out (and It's Not What You Think) (an excerpt)

Ann Voskamp - How to Make Peace with Daily Bread (an excerpt)


Friday, October 19, 2018

The Cure for a Big Day

A little over two years ago I woke up one September morning knowing it was the day Falling Free would, well, free-fall into the world. The moment felt big and I was sufficiently keyed up,strung like a live-wire, rattling with possibility. What was about to happen? What if people hated it? Almost scarier, but definitively better, what if a lot of people really loved it? A small part of me thought the world might change. Irrevocably. I had never expected more from a Tuesday.

My friend Lisa-Jo had wisely counseled me to not spend the day at home alone, refreshing my Amazon listing. We decided Cory would take the day off and spend it with me, his shivering (actual,) unshakable (LOL,) freshly-minted author wife. It was going to be so much fun!

I was crying before I even made it out of bed.

The internet was awake and good news was coming at me from corners far and farther. But I swept the one crumb of minimally-bad news into my palm. The day ahead was going to be more complicated than I had planned. And it probably wasn't going to change my life.

We went to the beach, searched for seaglass. I ate a steak salad under a striped patio umbrella.
And yeah, I checked my phone a thousand times.

I pretended to be happy, and at times, I was. It was surreal. I was lucky.
But we drove home and I fell into bed, away from my feelings.
Surprise, surprise, life moved on.

Two years and one month later, it was time to do it again, releasing The Ministry of Ordinary Places like a songbird from my hands.

This time, I knew things.

I knew my life wouldn't change, not really.
I knew I wouldn't shoot to the moon. There wasn't even a slim possibility that I was the next so-and-so, or that sales would effectively break Amazon.

(I didn't really think this last time either, but, you know, that one percent chance can make more racket than you might imagine.)

I also knew people wouldn't boo me off the stage en masse.

I knew some would love it, and some wouldn't. (The ones who wouldn't didn't deserve the megaphone any more than the ones who would.)

I knew, really knew, I would still be me. A hopeful skeptic. A sleepy night-owl. A wife. A mom. A neighbor. This would still be my home. I would still be loved exactly as I had been loved on Monday.

It was the best news imaginable, so I planned accordingly.

I didn't walk anyone to school like I had the last time. The routine has shifted, at least until winter when hopefully, for the first time in my life, the gut-punching air might work in my favor. For now, Silas rides his bike to school with a buddy. Not a single morning has passed when he hasn't said, "I'm sorry, Mama. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but can I ride my bike with Patrick today?"

Things change.
They change and they change.

It doesn't have to hurt our feelings and it doesn't even need to make us sad. The question is, can we move with the tide without being pulled under?

I laced up my New Balance tennis shoes, grabbed the camera, and went walking.

When life feels big, it's more important than ever to get small.

When the world feels wide and I'm here somewhere in the middle of it, vibrating from the force of the push and the pull, the only thing left to do is look up at the sky, down at the ground, into the corners of my one regular life, and out into the streets that claim me.

I spent a year writing a book about how my neighborhood has shown me God's goodness. I had read my own words over and over.

Now, as always, I get to live them, breathe them, cut a path straight through them.

God is good inside the pages, but he's so much better from my street-side view.

I planned to make myself presentable, but that didn't work out and my friend Holly planned to meet me for breakfast at the quaint French bakery in town. Neither plan worked out.

Instead, I walked myself to town with bad hair and a content heart. I crossed the busiest street in town as the big-rigs blew me sideways. Clash and rush, people making their way. The land of the living.

I listened. I watched. 

Gasoline, biscuits and eggs, the exquisite perfume of fallen leaves - the best death will ever smell. I took it all in. I served root beer floats to 3rd and 4th graders up the street at the elementary school, scoring a mid-day hug from Silas. I washed up the dishes, talked to neighbors, tried to will myself to care about dinnertime. I drove my budding concert violinist to rehearsal.

Flowers arrived at the door.

I scanned Amazon. (Again.)

And I smiled.

The book had made its way, and no, it won't be for everyone. But for the ones I wrote it for - for you - it will be good. It will mean something. It will matter. I know this because I keep on living it. This is my ordinary place, and God is so good here. What's true for me is simply true, as long as we're willing to put our shoes on and keep watch. This version of the story is told from my streets, but it belongs to all of us.

Later that night Cory and I met a couple of friends in town. They teased me about being a big-shot, the next Oprah! popping corks or tags or whatever it is people start popping once they've made it. We rolled our eyes and laughed, but the questions were worth considering. And the answers were easy.

This is my home. I'm obsessed with it.

Until I'm made to go, I will stay.
I will love it with everything I've got.

I'll keep letting God shape me through these blocks, these trees, the school, the diner, the mopeds barely making it up the street. I'll notice God in the faces around me. I'll remember I don't belong to myself. I'll keep learning to yield.

This is the ministry of my ordinary place here on 5th Street.
It's not shiny but it sure is mine.
"What I know now is that sometimes the best thing we can do for the world we're in is let our roots keep growing wit no regard to the climate around us. We sleep. We work. We bloom. We light up the world." - The Ministry of Ordinary Places

Click here to grab your copy of The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You.

{Cory and our oldest son, Robert. Our story wouldn't be right without his mixed in.}

{I promise, Ruby was somewhere around here, too. I'm just not sure where, and I have no proof!}

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Spoons and Forks of an Abundant Life

I was sitting at the kitchen table working one afternoon when a commotion tore through the quiet. Two frustrated parents walked down the sidewalk, trying to get where they were going, when one of their little kids suddenly realized, with alarming urgency, that he indeed did have to go potty. It couldn’t possibly have escaped my attention.

Hard at work writing my first book, Falling Free, the process was systematically stripping me of everything I thought I knew about writing. On top of that slight speedbump, I also lacked a solid grasp on the very life I was writing about—the shaky peril we seemed to be slumping toward or the perplexing gratification it brought us. All I knew was that I was hungry to get to know the people near me, and for an introvert with deep mind-my-own-business tendencies, this vast, instinctive departure from my personality was proof of God. So at least there was that.

When the young family passed by, it might as well have been Jesus himself standing with his mouth pressed against the window screen. Hello? Can you hear me? Riddled with self-doubt as always (should I just mind my own business?), I opened the door and invited these perfect strangers into my bathroom, which is to say, into my life. We didn’t trade names or numbers. The whole event felt pretty inconsequential.

Two years later, I was passing the peace with everyone else at church when a woman approached, wrapping me in a hug while I scrambled to figure out who she was and why she seemed to know me. “I’m Heather! We used your bathroom that one time!” She pointed to a blond-haired toddler clutching her leg. “This is Matthew, the baby I was holding that day.”

Just like that, she was back, like so many other Heathers who show up, wander off, and circle around again when we least expect it. We’re still here, right where they left us. They’re boomerangs, bearing the image of God. It always feels excessively lucky, like spotting an elusive yellow cardinal singing from my tree, or discovering a shard of turquoise sea glass the size of my thumb in Lake Michigan’s surf. 

This is the weird way of discipleship.

Eugene Peterson defined discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction.” Here, discipleship hinges on enduring proximity, worshipping God, serving our community in joy, sticking around for the long haul, and walking together toward a better way. In practice, it’s guaranteed to frustrate, annoy, and inconvenience us. This is sanctification, the wrecking ball and the rebuild. Knowing all this asks of us, do we really want to play a bit role in the discipleship of those near us? Is this slow and hidden work reason enough to endure? And can we possibly begin to see ourselves as among them, modern-day versions of the scrappy, power-grabbing, greedy, disorganized brood of regular men with whom Jesus traveled through life?

White collar, blue collar, no collar at all, there was no rhyme or reason for their thick loyalty to one another. They bickered, shared meals, and probably wore each other’s tunics without asking. If their discipleship was anything like the one playing out around me, they bummed a few bucks and didn’t pay it back. They spaced birthdays and teased too hard. They cried together and pointed each other toward healing and belief. They hugged it out. They doubted and trusted and, at night, they sat around an open fire and laughed their heads off at the events of the day. They rallied together and took turns doling out the patience of Job.

We’re kidding ourselves when we think too formally about our central purpose to reflect God’s glory onto those around us. It is in the spoons and forks of everyday living, in the dinner tables and minivans, the text message confessionals and songs we can’t help but sing out loud together, that we are drawn to the heart of Christ. He is oxygen. Soil. Sun and rain. He surrounds us, and the narrative uniting us  is one in which we constantly take turns pointing. Here he is!

Growing hardy roots into the soil of Fifth Street means accepting that people will come and go, and this is neither my fault nor my concern. We will be right here when they need us, easily found. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed or how much heartbreak has been dealt. I want them to remember the little white house hugging the curb here on an unspectacular street on the wrong side of the tracks. Most of all, I want them to remember their claim on it, drawn in by the magnetic pull of a God who multiplied dregs into abundance, designed the constellations, and will do whatever it takes to heal us. A wider circle family cannot be chosen, not really. It also can’t be abandoned, not really.

Three nights ago, our rowdy crew tromped down the alley in a snowstorm for our Christmas Eve candlelight service. Before I made it into the service, Heather grabbed my arm and stopped me. “Hold on a minute. You gotta see this.” She scrolled through her phone for a few seconds, then turned it toward me. “I just had the best day of my life,” she said, beaming. There on the screen was a photo of her, her husband, and one of her seven kiddos, a two-year-old with his mama’s eyes.

Though custody hasn’t yet been returned to her, she’s doing the work. She’s fighting for their well-being by fighting for her own, clinging to sobriety one day at a time, noticing God’s presence in her tiny rental home, surrounding herself with people willing to lace up their gloves on her behalf. “This is the first time we’ve ever had a picture together with me and his dad sober. I can’t stop looking at it.” Heaven came down and the whole earth was filled with his wonder. Thousands of years later, in the city of Goshen, the manger miracle was reborn. Heather raced off to rehearse with our small church choir, where most of the members are over the age of eighty. I just stood there smiling, glad to be here for the encore.

A thrill of hope.

The weary world rejoices.


The above is an excerpt from my brand spankin' new book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You, which releases on Tuesday, October 9. So soon! 

This book is the personal manifesto from my last few years walking the planet. I wrote about my family (including some EPIC Silas moments!) my neighbors, our church, the jail, and I strangely ended up writing quite a bit about food. (A podcaster recently told me, "When I read your new book it always makes me hungry." Ha!)

If you order the book by October 8th, you can also cash in the freebies, including this swoony artwork by one of my favorite artists, Amanda Evanston. Just plug in your order number here and all of the bonuses (artwork, monthly calendar, discussion guide) are yours! 

You only have a few more days to get the extras. I printed my art on a gigantic canvas, as is my way, but you can print it smaller, use it as your wallpaper on your laptop or phone, or even give it as a Christmas gift. She made this just for us. (Watch her make it, and see the beautiful meaning behind it, in this quick video.) 

I'm so excited for these words to find the light of day and I want to thank you all for being with me every step of the way. Every time one of you pre-orders, or tells a friend about the book or my blog, every encouraging word and comment, every prayer you lift up on behalf of my family, every single bit of it means the world to me.

We've built something truly beautiful together here on the internet. We are a wider-circle family. I feel the love and I hope you feel mine coming right back atcha!

Ever yours,


Silas Park, freshly 10