Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Day Casper Died :: My Twists & Turns with Halloween

{This post originally appeared here on October 24, 2013. It seemed like the right time to unearth it.}

The details are a bit fuzzy, but I once Halloweened as Casper the Friendly Ghost.  His apparition "body" was tied around my neck in the form of a plastic barber’s cape; his face clung to mine via an elastic band. I saw the world that night through his two little slit-eyes, and I have to say, it didn’t look so bad. There may have been some scary stuff happening around me, but I was too preoccupied with my pillowcase loot-bag to notice. Halloween was fun, never mind the fact that it got a little stuffy and humid behind my molded plastic mask.

One year later, someone jammed the brakes. And by someone, I mean dear ol’ Mom and Dad. In one fell swoop, Halloween was nixed, along with Smurfs, Rainbow Brite, Care Bears, and Scooby Doo. All the fun stuff. I’m not gonna lie, it hurt.

But I trusted my parents – I still do, and when they said Halloween was devil worship and Care-A-Lot was the veritable portal for New Age Mysticism, I believed them. Plus, they had a point; Fred, Daphne, and the gang did make it seem like violence had no permanent consequences.

So, we embarked on a unilateral boycott of All Things Halloween, which reached a fever pitch around 1987 when even participating in the school party felt a little too close to the fire. I stayed home from school that day and went Christmas shopping at the mall. It all made perfect sense.

I didn’t give it another thought until 20-odd years later, when I found myself with a husband and assorted small people, one of whom once shrieked with glee, “Calvin, it’s the Arthur about Halloween!”

For all of my collective years spent in denial, it’s time to sort this out a bit. Here’s where I am so far:

1) Halloween is kind of creepy.
2) But, I'm not sure it does anything to further God's kingdom when the Christians lock their doors and pretend they aren't home. (This is an actual thing I've done in past years.)
3) Also, holding a Not-Halloween party, complete with costumes and candy, is actually sort of like celebrating, uh, Halloween.
4) "Pagan" holidays aren't automatically sanctified when they're held in a Fellowship Hall.
5)  And dressing up like Bible characters? Lame and confusing.

"Nice robe! But weren't you David last year?"
"Uh, I'm clearly Moses."
"But you have a staff..."
"Dude, it's a rod."
"But it's curved..."
"Look, my dad wouldn't let me cut the straight limbs, okay? Dang you, Martha! You're such a    know-it-all!"
"I'm not Martha this year. I'm totally Mary. I've matured."
"But you're carrying a little bottle of olive oil."
"It's perfume. Duh."
6) I think Halloween can be "celebrated" with as much innocence or pagan fervor as we wish. Sort of like Christmas.
7) A pillowcase full of free candy? Come to Mama. No, really. Give me your candy already.

I don't know, maybe it's time to put the "allow" back in Halloween.

Then again, I've got zero practice making costumes and I'm way too cheap to spring for Plastic Casper.

So maybe we'll just wing it again and let the stale gummy bears fall where they may. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Learn and Live

I got my first official job when I was eighteen years old, soon after a Meijer grocery/everything store popped up in the nearest city less than ten miles from the village where I grew up. I worked in the shoe department in my lame polyester smock, sizing and shelving vinyl shoes that had people names like "Cindy" and "Kirsten".

Two of my co-workers would become some of my closest friends. I was the bones to their curves, the flat tresses to their bodacious curls. It worked. Together, we abused the store's PA system, sang along with the Muzak, raised more than one on-the-clock ruckus, and dipped our toes into the complex underbelly of retail store romances. Before summer's end each of us was dating a bad dude in a red polyester vest, dodging melodrama and re-spraying our bangs. We stacked the tiny toddler sized shoes two pairs deep but it didn't even cross our minds to imagine buying some one day.

The days stretched into night and back again.We were young and ordinary. We were spectacular. We were good girls straining to be bad under a cover of privilege we didn't recognize. We knew the fury of the church along with its love. And the cost of every sin? We knew the weight of the invisible sliding scale dividing earth from air, ever set against the horizon, impossible to ignore.

The future loomed large, an escape hatch or certain death, depending on the hour. On our nights off we read smutty magazines out loud and talked about God.

One morning, walking to the stock room through the housewares aisle with its rows of screen-printed dish towels and tacky color palettes, a wave of dread swept over me. I would never belong to a world that required me to wash all the dishes and buy my own towels. I pictured an empty room with walls the color of melted vanilla ice cream and me, alone in the middle. If life was a blank slate, I was beginning to realize I had never even held a brush. It was too much, and I was ill-equipped.

Twenty years later, and I am here, a wife and mother, my two friends even more dear. We learned in the nick of time to find intrigue apart from men who hadn't learned how to love. We have mortgages now. Along the way we managed to discern our tastes in dish towels and acquire a good many.

But there is still so much I do not know.

In the past month, I sat near men addicted to drugs and women addicted to men. I watched hope slip through trembling hands and watched trust circle the drain. I saw men fight their way out of hell, running breathless and alive only to stop on a dime and stand perfectly still until it caught up with them again. Before my eyes, jail morphed into heaven, and freedom - certain death.

Sometimes Silas prays on our morning walk to school and sometimes I do, but for reasons I cannot explain, each prayer begins with, "Dear God, thank you for the trees." Lately, when I'm the one praying, my silky-haired boy murmurs along with his heart ablaze like the pious men of my youth, "Yes. Amen!" I have no idea what's become of him, but it sure wasn't me.

I have stirred sage into risotto and baked egg casseroles in foil pans so large, the middle wasn't set until the bottom was the color of my morning tea. I bought XL cans of Bush's baked beans in bulk as unto the Lord.

I have been lied to. I have been cried to. I have returned both favors.
I've washed load upon load of laundry. I've cleaned the bathroom for spite. I've played Rummy and laughed until I cried.

I have this thing about kissing my people every day, taking time to give them the affection they need, which differs across the board. So, I've done that. I've earned extra credit here, jogged this extra mile. I've kissed the soft cheeks of my children. I've kissed my husband, hanging on for dear life through another wave of the pain life deals, relieved again to realize we're still here, still mostly standing.

I have hiked trails to the tune of fall, inhaling white space, remembering years ago when we tried the same trail while in the throes of potty-training Silas. We're a happy family now, the one that quietly showed up while we were still grieving what we thought we had become.

Early one morning, I chased the neighbor dog in her cardigan sweater away from our cranky cat and worried for the boys who held the leash. I stared injustice in the face until my eye sockets bled, wondering why some kids are given opportunity while other kids are expected to earn it. I have watched as some of my small neighbors are cast quietly aside where they won't be missed. But we'll notice them again. One day, we'll stand with our rocks and make them pay for the sins we committed against them.

I have incited wars and hoarded grace. I've heard the voice of God from the lips of an ex-felon seated to my right at our dining table. 

This life is a blanket, and it covers us. We don't need to protect ourselves from it, it's the actual thing that keeps us warm, the very presence of God in the middle of the work we do and the ways we run. The narrative we move within is one of profound sorrow and immeasurable hope. This melody is often sung in a minor key, so we brew another cup of tea, ride bikes with the wind in our faces, take chances and hot showers and hunker down, rediscovering the true love of the living God.

Things change, but the main things don't. The summer of '94 is still hot on my skin. I'm still fumbling around in the dark, stunned by all I don't know.

But there are trees that need to watching and people waiting to be loved, so I guess I'll just keep learning while I live.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

What Love Could Look Like if We Let It // weekending ed.

Though several of these stories are "old", none of them has gone away. Today as the air cools and the leaves crumble, may we be driven to remember, driven to repentance and growth, compelled to the greatest love.

::  It could look like being the kind of people the world needs now.

::  It could look like "foolish" solidarity in the face of brutality.

::  It could look like cheering on our opponent. "Keep going! Keep going!"

::  It could look like buying truckloads of maxi pads for impoverished public schools.

::  It could look like redefining success.

::  It could look like staring pain in the face and simply saying, "I'm sorry. I love you. I'm with you." (No link for this one, just on my mind.)

::  It could look like grieving evil wherever it exists, and refusing to qualify our lament. (A reminder we need again and again. On that note, I just finished this book.)

::  It could look like refusing to take sides (and understanding that when someone speaks passionately about one, it doesn't mean they are against the other.)

::  It could look like choosing tender love over the tough kind.

::  It could look like devoting ourselves to quiet ministry.

Happy weekending, Loves.

- Shannan

Saturday, October 8, 2016


(puddle photo by Cory)

:: This piece on the church coming around inmates after prison made me cheer.

:: This review of Falling Free made me weepy. 

:: An important way to help support foster- and adoptive families.

:: How to host a crappy dinner. (YES!)

:: Have you ever joked (in good fun!) about "black" names? Me, too. This piece was on-point and convicting. 

:: On the underrated magic of grocery store flowers. (I've been doing this for years and it really is (lazy) genius!)

:: A local reader (a man!) knows how fond Silas is of Adele's "Hello" and sent us this version.

:: A lengthy but worth-it read on valuing children in church. "Children don’t want to know about God. They want to know God"

:: Want to make my day? Leave a review of Falling Free over at Amazon, GoodReads, Barnes & Noble, etc. It's such a simple way to help people find the book. (Reviews can be as short as one sentence.)

:: Did I just give you homework on a Saturday? Let me make it up to you with a slice of this. (My friend Sarah made this for me recently with raspberries and it was amazing!)

Happy Weekend, Homies!

- Shannan

PS - Two posts in two days? Look at me, acting like it's 2010! :)

Friday, October 7, 2016


You know the day's going to be a goody-but-a-weirdy when you find yourself standing in a Television studio with a crock pot full of pork butt.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It seems entirely impossible that I was in Nashville less than two weeks ago. I feel like I've lived half a year since then. Does that mean I'm getting old? Because that sounds like a distinctly "old person" thing to say.

I really packed it in while I was in town. It was a mostly-work trip, so I didn't do any official sight-seeing, but I'm not a very sightsy person. Please remember, I lived in DC for a year and never went to a single museum.

Actually, please don't remember that. Because all it is is shameful. (I did see most of the monuments. Does that count? I took the metro a lot! I navigated to the fancy mall in the age of no smart phones! I was almost plowed over by Ted Kennedy in one of the Senate buildings! -tap tap- Is this thing on???)

And in a strange but important way, isn't going to Anthropologie almost the same as sight-seeing?

(That dress on the left has all my heart for all my life, which incidentally is roughly how long I would have to save my pennies to buy it...I bought a $10 mug, instead.)

Knock knock. Guess what I got to do moments after taking this picture of a parking lot with mountains* behind it?

I got to spend an hour with a longtime blog reader-friend, Karen. She is doing amazing work providing discipleship and support to women serving overseas through Bible study podcasts and intentional prayer. You can read all about it on her site. (This is a great place to get to know her heart!) Traveling can be wonky and there's not always time to meet up with new friends, but when it works out it's always one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I spotted Falling Free for the first time "in the wild" at a LifeWay bookstore! Hand to heart, I searched for it and didn't find it. "They must not have it yet," I mused, in a Charlie Brown sort of way.

They did. They had it. It was just shelved with all the dude books. If you had any idea how important it was to me that my book cover not look to fluffy or chick-centric, you would know how ironic this is.

Here's a short list of other activities I enjoyed while in Nashville: seeing old friends, eating tacos, staying up until 3 a.m. talking with Alia, drinking tea, taking a cat nap with Meg (we both totally slept, which is why we are soulmates,) eating orange fig gelato, meeting some great women at the (in)courage meet-up. (We broke up into small groups to get to know each other, which wasn't even a fraction of how awkward it sounds, and my group devolved into the best conversation about TV shows. I loveeeee lifeeeeee!)

Here's a short list of activities I did not enjoy in Nashville: getting up early, doing my hair every day, putting make-up on every day, IRONING A SHIRT (haven't done this in, oh, four years??,) catching a horrific head-cold, making the brutal rookie mistake of buying the tissues with Vick's Vap-O-Rub in them. (In my defense, I was on vacation, so I thought I'd splurge on the fancy cold remedy.)

I also got to give the morning devotional to the entire team at Thomas Nelson, my publisher. I'm not exactly sure what I would have been saying when this picture was taken, but I can tell you that my dormant weepies tried to surface yet again when I talked about bringing Siley home. Pickle! What a guy.

Oh, I've been meaning to tell you, I call Silas "Pickle" now. No one knows why, but it has stuck, nevertheless. And I can't really think of a nickname that would more clearly demonstrate my great affection. Other than Tippy-Too and Namson, my current nicknames for Ruby and Calvin. WE DON'T KNOW WHY. GET OFF MY CASE ABOUT IT!

Yada yada, then I drove to a studio, donned an apron, and seared a pork butt on live TV. As you do.

Guys. I'm sitting here on the couch listening to the train wail and trying to take back my personal space from Howard the Cat, and I am CRACKING UP just thinking about it. How is this my life? How did this happen? Is this a reward? A punishment? The natural and obvious consequence of living most of life as an unabashed weirdo?

All I know is, right about the time the butt hit the skillet (<< new expression alert! "And then the butt hit the skillet...") I remembered how noxious the cumin and crushed red pepper fumes can be. As the toxic vapors reached our lungs, years of butt-searing flashed before my eyes. I had forgotten this part and WE ARE NOW ALL GOING TO DIE ON AIR. I could not talk yet knew I must.

So sometimes God shows up in the face of a child or in a sky-splitting sunrise or in a redeemed marriage, but other times He shows up on live TV and miraculously allows us to keep talking through the pain.


(editorial commentary: Tone down the claw flapping, Martin!)

(on set with my publicist, Sara, and my editor, Jessica)

Me and the gracious host of "Today in Nashville", Carol Sullivan.
She was so funny and kind!

Later that night, after all the searing and smoking-out and cackling, we had a little "Yay, Falling Free was born!" party at Adele's.

The food was divine, the atmosphere was perfection, and I got to play musical chairs all night and catch up with a bunch of my friends. While wearing a vintage dress found for $3.50 at my favorite thrift store in Goshen. With two giant holes directly over my bum.


The three of us each showed up with our FASHIONABLE leather clutch! When it comes to being fancy, nothing means business like a clutch and a wonky $3 dress.

The dress, in all her glory! Can't stop loving her.
Meg made me pose for this picture and I felt weird, like when I stand in front of the house and Cory takes my pictures while the neighbor guy silently judges me.

But I'm so, so glad she twisted my arm.

I think I took two pictures all night. Too busy! Thankfully, some other ladies picked up my slack.

And that is the story of my trip to Nashville.

Sitting here in yesterday's ponytail, staring out at the neighborhood that I love and learn from, I'm not sure if I'll ever have a stretch of days that's more beyond my regular life. Quite honestly, this feels pretty good. I think I'll keep it. I think I'll pass when all the offers start pouring in for me to sear pork butts on TV for a living.


TGIF, Homies. Thanks for being with me on this ride!
If you have any nosy questions for me, just leave a comment. I'm all ears.

And hands.

- Shannan

PS - For those of you who watch the show Nashville, I just need you to know that this is where the famed Bluebird Cafe is located. In a strip mall, on the lamest side of town. I could write a whole 'nother post about what this means about life as a whole, but let's just save ourselves the time, take a deep breath, and thank God that we get to be ordinary and he gets to be the famous one.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Yesterday, Today, and an Excerpt

If I could bottle up a morning and carry it around with me, this might be the one I'd choose. It's staying darker, longer. We're on that slow lean toward winter, where the nights nearly swallow us up. But Silas climbed all sleepy-eyed into bed with me between snooze alarms. He held Charles and I held him and it wasn't a bad start, not at all.

Up at the bus stop, I stood with ten middle-school boys and noticed the pink streaks in the sky. I'm heading over to their school later today to talk about being an author. Suddenly, I'm kind of famous to them and they're intrigued, but they don't like me any more than they already did two weeks ago, when I was just the mom who shows up most days in her trucker hat and yoga pants. I've come to enjoy those ten morning minutes, and today was no different. And though I've been on airplanes and TV sets and on the other end of podcasts in recent weeks, I already know being in a middle school will be my favorite authorly activity. It won't move a single book off the shelves, but it'll move me.


It's Wednesday, despite the fact that I launched one of my neighbors into a massive state of confusion yesterday afternoon.

Me: What's today?
Her: I think it's Tuesday? (scrambles for her phone)
Me: (speaking with newfound authority) No, it's Wednesday.
Her: I don't think so...
Me: Yes, it's definitely Tuesday. But I had you doubting for a minute there! haha
Her: No...
Me: I can't believe I didn't know it was Wednesday! I'm losing my mind!
Her: Um...

(Remember that line about how even a fool looks wise if she keeps her mouth shut? I do.)

We laughed about it. And I attempted to repay part of my general, pervasive debt to the neighborhood by startling two different neighbors when I delivered warm coffee cake to their doors...at 9:30 pm...in bare feet.

Happy Wednesday.
Happy Wednesday. (I'm saying it twice so it sticks.)

Hope the breeze is talking sweet to you.



I'm sharing an excerpt of Falling Free over at (in)courage today. You can click through at the end of the post to keep reading and order a copy for even more. ;) (Less than $10 today!)


I’ve always found it endearing that God, in His infinite wisdom, used a guy with a stutter to help deliver the Israelites and made an adulterer with a felony record into a king. At some of my lowest points, theirs were the stories I clung to, the idea that God could use weakness to redeem failure.
What I didn’t realize was that these aren’t the exceptions. They’re simply a couple of the most popular examples of His standard operating procedure. Moses and David weren’t meant to soothe us on our worst days but to be a mirror for us. Every single day.

The Bible is a collection of unlikely people used to magnify God’s goodness and power.
Stories of smallness aren’t simply in the Bible; they arethe Bible. It’s stacked with imagery about children and mustard seeds, remnants and narrow gates, sparrows and lambs, a boy who defeated a giant, and a tiny infant redeemer.

In this manual for living, humility is the favored tool. To touch the expansiveness of God, we’ve got to befriend the ways we come up short. Our communion and the health of our community depend on our ability to see ourselves in condemned Rahab, abandoned Joseph, and worn-out, wary Sarah.

Growing up, I was always the runty, sickly kid. I kind of remember it, in that hazy way childhood appears to a middle-ager — ghostlike, gauzy.

Click here to continue reading...

Friday, September 30, 2016

What it Feels Like {& Giveaway Winners!}

I woke up two Tuesdays ago - the birthday of Falling Free - in a state of emotional disarray. The fact that I'm just now talking about it should tell you something. I was jumpy and on guard. Excited and strangely, a little sad. The sky kept talking to me, saying in shades of amber and coral, "all is well, all is well.

Morning stunned me into a place of quiet, so I followed it home to the rhythm of surrender, then sat at the edge of my neighborhood and took a few deep breaths. What did it feel like to have my book "out there"? I had no clue. And that scared me. It was a new day. I was still me. But I couldn't help looking over my shoulder and straight into the sun. I prayed along, "World without end, amen," yet found it impossible to ignore the urge to race ahead of this slow, steady start, or simply to retreat.

The thing about publishing a book is that you both anticipate and dread what people might say about it.

So I hopped into the van with Cory and my travel mug of tea, and we drove North, to the shore of Lake Michigan. I thought I just wanted to look for sea glass - an easy distraction. What I soon realized was that I wanted to stand near the edge of something much bigger than myself, and my long string of words. I wanted to stare at seagulls and contemplate the tides. 

There was no sea glass. None at all. The one piece I found was jagged and crystal clear, not so much treasure as actual trash. I hesitated, felt its weight in my palm, did my best to convince myself it counted. Then I threw it back, wondering why my pulse wasn't slowing down, wondering why escape always seems like the best option in a pinch.

I swear I tried to rally. But I was cranky with Cory, and more sullen than usual. I'd been tempted to hold onto that gnarly, unready piece. I didn't want to leave empty-handed, not in the state I was in. It doesn't make me selfish or scared. Only human. The part that embarrasses me is that I had the nerve to wish God might reward my surrender. Isn't that the point of the book I had written? That surrender is the beginning of a better dream? Didn't it make sense for God to prove it (again)?

Heading back to the van, I veered over toward a cache of boulders. And there it was, as the water rushed over and away, the faint glimmer of mistakes that had been remade into something so much better. Redemption. Sea glass, catching the light and holding it strong. 

Yes, I'm typing a lot of words about sea glass. Yes, I know how ridiculous it might sound. No, I don't fancy myself a modern day Anne Morrow Lindbergh. 

I'm just a woman on the verge, a woman afraid the world isn't small enough to keep me safe, a woman still afraid to come to God like a child, needy and single-minded. I can talk about laying things down, but I am still prone to holding them, instead. I can tell you about surrender, but it remains the fight of my life.

We ate lunch on a roof-top patio, me, still in yoga pants and unwashed hair. The waitress recommended the Reuben for Cory and handed me the most breathtaking salad with giant globs of goat cheese. She was guarded at first, so obviously wary of humans, or at least humans like us. She was tatted and tattered and I looked across a sea of privileged people eating overpriced sandwiches in the middle of a Tuesday, and I wondered if she could begin to imagine that she is who I would take home with me if I had to pick just one. She is my people. That's something I didn't know about myself a few years ago when my life felt simpler and I was all angles and edges. She is the one I'd most want to talk to as the city around us slept and raged, as my children dreamed and maybe hers did too and as dishes waited dirty in the sink.

For the past ten days, I have been loved well. It's undeniable. That so many of you helped spread the word*, sent notes of encouragement, bought a copy and read it? Well, I don't know the best way to carry that debt. So I'll just say thank you. 

You are the glass and life is the sea and yes, you have been banged up and tossed around. You've been cast aside, overlooked, and the world has often been unkind. But look at how much softer you are for it. The pain that should have hardened you made you smooth, instead. You catch the light. You shine it full and bright in my face. You show me a better way, a quiet redemption.You show me Jesus.

Confession: I came here to talk about my trip to Nashville and all the wild places I've been in a week that felt like five. I came to be funny and self-deprecating and to pretend that it isn't awkward at all to keep talking about myself. 

Apparently, this needed to come out of me first. In retrospect, it makes all the sense in the world.

I'll be back soon, with stories, pictures and sky-high drama. 

Until then,

* I randomly picked two winners from the comments of the last post. JS McCabe and Denise (@mimipapa07) you are each the winner of a Shannan Martin Writes exclusive plate collection! :) Email me at shannandmartin@gmail.com and we'll round out the details.

 ** Amazon affiliate link used