Tuesday, December 5, 2017

My Favorite Things (& Then Some)

Today was the first morning we stepped outside to a denim blue sky, faded and torn, that eerie glow following us down the street to school. Honestly, it was a relief. Indiana has been playing that strange sort of atmospheric roulette and I know plenty of people manage without them, but I need the full, four seasons. I needed it to buck up and start being wintery.

Christmas is only twenty days away, after all.

This is about the time that I jump in with both feet. I want to see all of my friends. I want to put butter on everything. I want to stay up too late with Cory, bingeing The Crown. I was coziness. Togetherness. I want that Christmas feeling.

I also want the sorrow, the longing, the truth that Jesus came to save us because we are basically a wreck. He wants to heal us, but that doesn't mean it's simple. It might hurt along the way.

Late last night, I finished a special little project just for you. It's called The 12 Ways of Christmas and it was such a joy to create it. It's my entire heart for the holidays, divvied up into twelve bite-sized emails.

Over the past several years, my family has started to approach the season differently, and it has brought untold peace and joy to our household and our schedules. This isn't a boss-around series. It's just me, opening my front door to you. It's a peek inside. It's a bit of reflection, a bit of evaluation, some prayer, some crack bark, some new ways of thinking, some saying yes, some saying no. It's Christmas hymns, simple crafts, and a couple of little gifts for you as we go.

If you'd like to join me, click here to subscribe.  (The 12 Ways of Christmas series is now closed.)

This is a free invitation to more meaning and less pressure as we wait for Jesus. You'll get the first email immediately, and one each day for the next 11 days. I hope you love it as much as I loved writing it.

While we're here, I've been jotting a list of my favorite things with the intention of sharing them. Now is as good a time as any! You can consider these gift ideas or just an opportunity to be a little nosy. Either way, this is the legit, tried-and-true account of what I'm loving lately. Because we all know Jesus is all we need, but we don't hate good music and fun earrings along the way.

Every Mile Mattered
::  Nichole Nordeman - Every Mile Mattered
She has been my favorite singer-songwriter for over ten years now, and this album is a masterpiece.

:: Denim shirt by ABLE

ABLE (previously FashionABLE) is all over their A-game with their new apparel line. They have denim, bags, shoes, fashion-forward tops (for those younger and trendier than myself,) jewelry, and more. All of it is hand-crafted throughout the world by women who have overcome. The denim shirt has my whole heart for my whole life. It is simply perfection, with a longer, not-too-baggy/not-too-slim fit and a raw, frayed edge. I live in this thing. It dresses up or down. The craftsmanship and attention to detail is impeccable. It costs more than an Old Navy knock-off, but it's a classic piece that will last forever and it's made by women who are paid a fair wage and offered a brighter future.

(Remember when I traveled to Ethiopia four years ago and barfed in a Ziploc baggie in front of Emily Maynard? Yep, that was an ABLE trip. I have seen firsthand the mission behind the high quality fashion and I'm a lifelong believer.)

:: Trucker hat by Peace Within

Here I am after getting four hours of sleep, wearing both the shirt and the hat. If you asked my neighbors to draw my uniform, this is what they would draw, complete with the under-eye circles and bedhead.
(I wear it All of Thee Time. It's handmade in the USA by women transitioning from struggle to a better way. LOVE!)

::  Books
General shout-out to Books, one of my favorite, all-season gifts.
Right now I'm reading Hillbilly Elegy, The Very Good Gospel, and of course Barking to the Choir.

::  Mugs and tea
I will proclaim to the end that there is no better gift than a thrift-store mug (there are So many good ones if you just look!) filled with tea, coffee beans, chocolate, or any other little do-dads. 

:: Literally anything from Belove (a local and online Give Back gift shop)
(I'll take one of everything, plz.)

:: Locally made goat milk body lotion 
My favorite scent is Mandarin Orange

::  Cookbooks
I've been obsessed with the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and she has a new one out that I'm itching to read, Smitten Kitchen Every Day.

::  Vintage tea towels, tablecloths, pillowcases. 
I can't see this at a thrift store and not buy it. (And I have the sort of friends who consider thrift-store gifts the very best kind!)

:: Painting Class
Calvin just finished a four-week drawing class in town and Ruby and I are gearing up to take The Secret Garden painting course offered by Amanda Evanston.
{Just for the record, these are MY faves, pure and simple. Amazon and ABLE links are affiliate links, which means if you purchase through the link I get a tiny commission from the sale. The rest are just links to help you find the stuff I truly love.}

Tell me, what are you loving lately?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hold the Phone...

Pals, I am coming straight to you from my kitchen island at 8:21 a.m. with (2-day) bedhead and my cup of Pumpkin Spice tea to give this important message (or, as Calvin would have said back in 2012, "A very important newsletter." It's been six years and we still reference this at least once a week. Never gets old!)

Father Boyle has a new book coming out!

If you have known me for more than one hour or if you have read Falling Free or heard me on a podcast or sat with me at Bible study or just talked to me in passing, you know that my favorite author in the entire world is Gregory Boyle, of Tattoos on the Heart fame.

His new book releases in a couple of weeks. It's called Barking At the Choir (!!!!!!!!): The Power of Radical Kinship and you can pre-order* it now, like I just did thirty seconds ago. Click here. (Sidenote: pre-orders really help the success of a new release. It's a great way to love an author!)

And now for some not-as-urgent backstory.

Back in 2010, Greg's publisher reached out to me to see if I would like a free copy of his book to review. He wasn't well-known at that time. My blog reached maybe 200 people. And this was the first offer I'd ever received of this kind. I was like, "Who, me? A free book? YES, please!" I thought I was Queen of the Nerd World.

They sent it.
I reviewed it.
And it knocked me sideways.

I have never recovered.

It changed the way I saw the world. It changed the way I saw God. This was back on the farm, back before Goshen and Robert and the jail. It was before we had ever set foot near a jail. God used Father B's words to move me in fundamental ways. I couldn't have guessed what would happen next, or why the rearranging of my heart and soul furniture would be so important. But I know, there are no coincidences.

True story: when we were going through the editing process for Falling Free, I had to TRIM BACK my Tattoos quotes. I had too many gems, like these, "There is a longing in us all to be God-enthralled." Or, "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a covenant between equals." Or, "What seems to vex us is our tendency to conjure up a tiny God." I WILL STOP NOW. But trust me, I don't want to. My copy is almost obliterated with dog-ears and markings. It's just so stunningly beautiful.

A couple of years ago I was talking to my friend Emily about my book that would be coming out, and who I would ask to endorse it. She asked who my Dream Endorser was, and I said him, without hesitation. I set out to find a way to contact him, but it turns out that is easier said than done. No one knew how to reach him.

In the 11th hour, my brother-in-law found a random, old business card from when Greg had spoken at a conference he attended. Within the next hour, I sent him a too-long, ultra-verbose email shamelessly saying things like, "Tattoos on the Heart has shaped me more than any book I have read. Over the years, I have given copies to innumerable friends, recommended it on every podcast I've been on, and reread it countless times. And while it's easy to love you for your evocative writing, I think I love you more for this, 'How much bigger is the God we have than the God we think we have?'" 

He emailed me back fifteen minutes later, saying yes.

A few weeks later, this showed up in my inbox, along with the kindest note, "Be prepared to have your atrophied, tired notion of God propelled into a new and spacious place. With humor, grace, and not a little jostling of your comfort zone, Shannan Martin will introduce you to the mess at the margins. 'See Jesus in the lowly place,' St. Ignatius writes. You will see Him, in this book, as never before. We are invited here to stare at our 'shared ruin,' so that we can walk away astounded that we belong to each other." - Gregory Boyle, Founder of Homeboy Industries, author of Tattoos on the Heart

I sobbed alone at my kitchen table. It was the only time I cried during my entire publication process. 

Short story long, as kind as he is, he doesn't "really" know me. I'm not sharing about Barking at the Choir as a favor to him. I'm sharing as a favor to YOU. This will be another game-changer. I can't wait.

Happiest of Tuesdays,

*Pre-ordering means you reserve your copy today and it's sent on the day it is released, (Nov. 14th.) You don't actually pay until it ships, and then you get this awesome surprise in the mail! And if the price drops by the release date, you get the lower price. Win-win-win!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Don't Freak Out but This is a Legit Decorating Post

A couple of weeks ago I sat working at my crappy disastrous homey dining room table for most of the day, at some point remembering I needed to rustle something up for Bible study that evening. Sadly, I didn't have wheels because our "new" car had been totaled while the ink was still fresh on the temporary tags, but that's another story for another day. (Working title, "Why Can't We Have Nice Things?")

I looked in the fridge. I looked in the freezer. Nothing. Then a small swarm of fruit flies hovering in the corner led me to two badly bruised pears. Scanning the rest of the kitchen perimeter, I found a jar of barley, mostly used for decorative purposes.

Because the answer to most problems (except for deep-seated psychological trauma) is acid, I spontaneously began daydreaming about balsamic-pear-something-or-other.

Then I remembered a handful of weary Brussels sprouts in the fridge.
Then I wondered why I've never devoted any sincere effort to caramelizing onions.

A quick internet search led me to two contender-worthy recipes for a pear vinaigrette, but both called for white balsamic vinegar, and I will be honest, I flipped my laptop the bird. My root vegetables don't care what color their vinegar is and neither do yours. That's not how we roll here on 5th Street. We are not that cute.

I settled on this fresh pear vinaigrette and ended up throwing caution to the wind by substituting Champagne vinegar.

Though my "Autumn Root Vegetable Salad with Barley and Pear Vinaigrette and Gorgonzola Cheese" (that's what I named it because I'm an author and words matter) wasn't necessarily applause worthy, I keep sneaking into the kitchen when no one is looking, grabbing a teaspoon, and downing a mini-shot of the dressing. It has lemon, garlic, and pear. It's practically a health smoothie.

The point is, when it comes to cooking I've become a "use what you've got" kind of lady. I've become a real culinary frontierswoman. Salt of the earth. Resourceful. Innovative. Humble. Take your pick.

The same, I've realized, can be said for my decorating.

The last time I did a full-blown fall living room decorating update it was 2014. A lot of things have changed since then, but the blanket on the back of my couch isn't one of them.

I have, in many ways, misplaced my seasonal mojo. These days, "decorating" means dragging a different painting up from the basement and propping it against the wall.

But I handed the first draft of my manuscript in on the last day of August when it was scorching hot, then it got so cold I almost wept, then it flip-flopped between the two extremes a few dozen times, then we went to the beach in October and two of my kids swam in lake Michigan, and somewhere in the midst of this meteorological turmoil, I decided I wanted my house to feel like Fall.

I dug out my favorite fall photo of all time, and put it on a canvas. (Incidentally, my decorating speed always hovers right around 3mph, but this time it took us a solid three weeks to decide which photo to use. Sometimes it's hard to trust the slow work of Shannan.)

I love it so much. It is childhood, the smell of dry leaves, Ruby's cute hiney in pink sweatpants, crisp air, adventure, and home. (It was taken on the farm, but I'm all out of vinegar at the moment, so I can't talk about it right now...)

(By the way, I'm smitten with CanvasHQ. A family-owned canvas company, their work is all done in Arkansas, the customer service is stellar, and they're offering all of us 35% off and free shipping with the code "harvestlove" at checkout!)

(Would you believe my editor once had the gall to tell me I'm overly reliant on parentheses???) (I couldn't believe it, either!)

Our couch is a low-rider, which makes the wall behind it look like a drive-in movie screen if we're not careful. I knew we needed more than just the canvas. But rather than trying to solve that riddle hastily, I drove friends to their probation meetings, tried to stop baking fatty foods, spoke at five different churches in three weeks, moved some of our besties into their new home down the street (you guys blew my mind and are the official best - stay tuned for an update,) clipped Box Tops for the school, and took up the interior hobby of trying to imagine what Jesus smelled while he was alive in the flesh.

One fateful Saturday I helped my homegirl Timi sell her life-changing goat's milk soaps and body lotions at the Madison Road Market and I found the gather sign. And though Dave Ramsey would have said "No way, sucker! Beans and rice for you!," JailChap texted back, "Do it."

So I did, because I like Cory a lot more than I like Dave.

The rest is history, except for the pillows.

Right around the time I began warming to the idea of fur, I found the large fur pillow cover at Good Will for $1.99. (When will Goodwill start selling cars??)

Next, I found the plaid wool at the thrift store for $0.49 and a local woman sewed pillow covers for me for next to nothing. I decided they work with the floral curtains on account of the red and yellow vibes. And they make me want to drink hot cider, which is basically the whole point of seasonal decorating in the first place. I have always loved some heavy-handed pattern mixing. I'm not trying to bore myself to tears over here.

In hindsight, I would probably arrange the pillows a bit differently, and if that's also where your mind was going, I know how to fix it...

See? Nothing like a good distraction to make us unbothered by pillow placement. (It should go without saying that this is the state our house is usually in, only with many more piles of books on every surface.)

{this pic is all about perspective. those are our dining room lights in the foreground.}

As you can see, none of this is fancy or even super organized and pre-planned. If I had unlimited funds and time I would probably bake a French chocolate souffle rather than inventing a weird salad, you know what I mean?

But it works. It stretches my creative muscles. In a small way, it connects me to the seasons and the physical world outside my windows. It makes me want to hunker down with my family and invite people over. It makes me want to boss Cory around like I'm some mid-town Manhattan photographer. "Move that tray two millimeters to the north!"

I've said it before and I'll say it again, if this is not your thing, go do your thing. Whatever it is! No apologies. No disclaimers. No excuses.

But if you're like me and you sort of love the fluffing and the changing-up, don't think for a minute that you need to spend money you don't have or bow to a trend you don't love. Surround yourself with whatever feels the most you-ish. Work with what you've got.

Grab your banged-up pears and turn them into salad dressing, as the old saying goes.


This is your one life. Your one living room.

Look around.
Toss it together.

PS - Have you signed up to get my Super Scoop secret email? I'll be sharing the file for that sweet little church photo in the big gold frame. Almost ten years ago the sky was so beautiful that I pulled over to the side of the road and took one picture. One. It's still my all-time favorite. It screams Cozy Fall, and I thought you might like it for yourself. It will show up in the inboxes of my subscribers in the next week or so. xo

Couch - Ikea, Karlstad (this model is now discontinued, but there are similar. We love it!)
Rug -RugsUSA
Canvas - CanvasHQ (Don't forget the code "harvestlove" for 35% off your order + free shipping!)
"Gather" - Joyfully Said Signs
Curtains - Jess Franks for Minted (also, feel free to fall in love with her artwork on her site...)
Table - found
Accordian wall lamp -  World Market (several years ago)
Ceiling fixture - Barn Light Electric
Letterpress "M" block and Shine pillow - Dayspring
All other artwork, plant basket, blanket, tray, frames, tchotchke stuff - thrift stores
Flowers - Kroger and our yard
Howard the Cat - My mom's barn
Paint color - White Dove by Benjamin Moore

Monday, October 9, 2017

Look Down

Yesterday after church, we scrapped our usual plans (lunch at our place with whomever decides to join us) and headed North to one of our favorite escapes, New Buffalo Beach. We listened to '80's music the whole way there, windows down, sun streaming in.

The past two months have been pure hustle. I still don't remember much of August, but I know that on September first I passed the baton to Cory and he took off running. This is one of the gifts of our marriage, this willing partnership and our easy teamwork. But it comes at a cost.

So yesterday was all ours. We packed lunch in the cooler and the kids read books (and napped!) for the 70 minute drive. There were other people with the same idea, but not too many. They sat in beach chairs, soaking up the sun even as our world tilts further from its rays.

A few loony kids actually played in the water. (Hey, Ruby! Hey, Silas!)I hitched my cropped jeans up and waded with Calvin, in search of my beloved sea glass. As I'm prone to do, I tried to manage my expectations by saying I would be happy with just one piece. (It wasn't true.)

We slow-poked up the shoreline and back down, our eyes not on the water, not on the sky, not necessarily even on each other, but on the ground beneath our feet.

Calvin plunged his hand into the shallow surf and pulled out a handful of gravel and sand, fishing out a worn-smooth stone, bottle green, hazy from its journey. "You have to tell your eyes to only look for green," he said.

I tried, but my brown eyes kept finding brown glass.
Ruby only found white.
It was almost as if our eyes really were trained to search for different things.

In the end, we had a small handful of treasures.

For all my talk about paying attention to the sky, the clouds, and the moon in the morning, I learn just as much from looking down. This was easier to remember when my kids were young and and making eye contact meant bending low. Life keeps moving, changing.

Is it possible to see the world as wide but feel it as small?

My obsession with finding sea glass grew around the time I began to find kinship with friends who live banged up by their own journey through life. It's no surprise that after years of hoping, I finally located the place where it's sure to be found. I am learning how to train my eyes. Now, there's no beach I'd rather walk.

People say the sand isn't as good there. It's not as smooth, not as pretty. The crowds flock to better, tidier, more comfortable beaches.

Fine with me.

Because I know that hidden in the rocks are gleaming gems. You know they're ready when their edges are worn smooth. Your eye finds them by the surprising way they reflect the light.

They are worth the search. They're worth the grit.
They are worth it.

Look down.
Scoop them up.
Carry them home.

"Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance - all who seek the Lord! Consider the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were mined." - Isaiah 51:1


Precious Memories in a wavering soprano. Inter-generational hugs. The scratch of ink on Work Release paperwork. Grill smoke. Shorts in October. Madonna's "Borderline". Turkey, spinach and cream cheese. Bell peppers. Honey bees. Seagulls. Wave-splashed jeans. Rock ledges. Blue skies. Holding hands. Zanzibar chocolate on a (stale) sugar cone. Smoked ribs. Walnut hauling. Fiery evening sky. Mom and dad on the line. Sunday.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Choosing to Hear

I told her I would be there around nine.

"Don't even worry about it," she said. "I'll be here. Don't rush."

It was a few minutes after 9:30 when we settled into the corner table with coffee cups and after 1:00 when we finally stood up to leave. At some point, the coffee shop had emptied out and I smelled chocolate chips baking. Not long after, it filled again with people huddling in clusters with bowls of soup. My stomach wasn't even growling.

Ray crossed my mind a time or two. I run into him often - downtown, at church, in my dining room. But not today.

She's a new friend, and the lucky recipient of all my angst. She speaks my language. She understands. So I bare it all, a rush of questions and commentary. When we finally wrenched ourselves away from the pressing conversation, I had a tension headache creeping up from my jaw. My shoulders ached. This happens now and then, almost always when I'm neck deep in words, almost always when I'm enjoying the sweet relief of meaningful conversation.

It's confusing, the way my body interprets relief as stress.

For the rest of the afternoon, I reminded myself that though we lingered much longer than planned, it was time well spent. Vital, even, though I couldn't articulate why. I searched the sky and scanned the perimeter of my afternoon, this Paying Attention project not far from my mind.

It is possible to search too hard. Only day two, and nothing jumped out at me.

Driving home from the grocery store, racing to beat the end-of-day bell at the elementary school, I passed a woman swinging wildly on a make-shift porch swing right up near the busy street. I've seen her there before. But today, her shirt was made entirely of sequins. Her smile was so wide, I noticed she didn't have teeth. She pushed off against the scrubby ground, the grass long worn away, and kicked her feet into the air like a school girl.

The train whistle blew. July's sun sank into my skin under an October sky.

Later, just as we were forming ground beef into patties and grating garlic for oven fries, the doorbell rang. Another friend, unexpectedly at our door. It wasn't Ray. It wasn't a neighbor. It wasn't anyone who needed anything from us.

He stood at the island and we chatted for a while, then he followed Cory out to the grill. Just before I snapped their picture, I heard words like, "sanctification" and "discipleship". They know the same people. They care about the same things. They were equally concerned by the news that Ray had been arrested the previous night; both sick to death of this story, where people trying to find their way out of the dark keep getting shoved back in, often unfairly.

Jesus says, "Pay close attention to what you hear" (Mark 4:24) For the past year or two, I've done this with fierce determination. I've leaned in, scooted closer, listened closely to the crickets chirping under a cloudy morning sky and my kids coughing up in their beds. I have fought to learn from people I resisted seeing as teachers. I have kept time to the lyric of oppression. I've pulled up a chair to hard stories around me and let my words be few. I've passed the mic. I've sat in the way-back, quietly listening

This is the way of Jesus, I am sure of it. Listening isn't meant for just a season. I want to memorize the song of my one long life and hear Jesus in its tune.

But somewhere along the way, over the past five years, I have learned to tell my stories only here through my fingers, not so much with my voice. Somehow, I have come to believe the "drama" infusing our every day, the pain and the tension and maybe even the funny stuff, isn't fit for conversation. I have watched people grow wary, annoyed, bored. I have noticed the way they stopped asking questions. I have learned to endure small talk.

It was well after the sun had set that the pieces fit. Listening is a two-way street. Jesus interacted with his world by paying close attention to what he heard, yes. But he also had things to say. And though his words weren't always as happy and light as folks may have wanted, they were necessary. They were true. They were real.

Tomorrow will likely tell another story, but maybe today you won't find God in what you hear. Maybe you'll find him in who chooses to hear you, right when you need it most.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Ministry of Paying Attention

I've stopped scrolling the news first thing in the morning.

It's no noble thing. It's not because I wanted to stop. Left to my whims, I open my mouth at the end of the spigot and nearly drown from the outrage. I love knowing what's going on in the world. I love throwing my anchor into the sea of controversy and claiming ground somewhere just below the surface.

The problem isn't that I don't like a steady stream of turmoil or that it isn't good for my soul.
The problem is that I like it too much. (And it isn't good for my soul.)

This morning I brushed my teeth, signed permission slips, passed out meds and admired Silas and Ruby, both decked out in new Wal-Mart pants. We walked to school unaware of the trouble brought with this new day. I turned myself around for the walk back home, just like I always do.

I was almost home before I realized I hadn't taken a picture, as I normally do. I hadn't heard God in the train or seen him in the broken glass I'd just stepped over. Nothing had caught my eye or my attention.

It rattled me, because it's happening more often these days.

Back home, I read about Las Vegas. My capacity for true empathy was tender as a hummingbird. What does it meant to keep on caring from afar, pinging concern South, then West, back again, never stopping, never breathing? What should it look like? How can it possibly be real? Why does it matter when the hurricanes keep coming, addiction keeps dragging folks under, and privileged men sit in windowsills aiming assault rifles at strangers?

I fear I'm reaching a breaking point in bearing and digesting sadness and loss.
And then there's the matter of my everyday, ordinary life, thick with court dates, phone calls, unpaid bills, insurance adjusters, medications, reading logs, notes from the principal, and garbage bags filled with other lives and stacked in my garage.

I texted a friend over the weekend, "I keep realizing over and over and over that it never ends and it never gets easier. And in some ways I'm so mad. And in some ways I'm so grateful and relieved. AND THAT IS WEIRD. I simultaneously want to run far away from home and never leave its walls. What are we supposed to do? Because all I do is fantasize about vacations I never take."

What are we supposed to do?

I don't think the answer is another "thing". It's painfully clear that I'm at capacity. I've been given all I need - every single thing. I can receive that as truth, or I can try to strong-arm God into more, like I used to.

The only "more" I need is Him.
Christ already alive in me. The only hope I need. (Colossians 2:27)

The question is, can I let it be true?

Last year I was taken by the way of Jesus, here on earth. True, he was God. He had resources we plainly don't have. But he was also here to show us how to illuminate the world with God's love, reflecting light just like the moon, our steady morning companion.

The life of Jesus tracks a sensory-rich narrative. We read in Luke of burning incense, chanting crowds, angel voices booming. Dusty roads, mangy shepherds, and a young girl, "obviously pregnant." Heaven came down as a baby with dimpled hands and a dark swirl of hair and soon, men were tracking the night sky, wide wake with wanting.

He grew. He was drawn to the wildest ones, those most likely to be written off as unfit, unworthy, needing a lesson or ten on the ways of blending in with the religious culture surrounding them.

The world looked at John the Baptist and saw crazed, insane, disgusting, and disrespectful. Jesus saw a worthy protest, choosing him as his line in the Galilean dust. His "official" ministry was beginning, each domino pitching into the next; scandal, story, mundane, and miracle. It was John who plunged Jesus' head into the water, upsetting authority and the cultural code. This is no mistake.

What follows is sensory overload on repeat.

"As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.'" (Mark 1:10-11)

He saw.
He heard.
He lived as one dearly loved.

Jesus came to us as us, a man with eyes, ears, a mouth, a nose, fingerprints and hair follicles. He cried. He feasted. He walked until his feet ached. He reached back after a long day and squeezed the tension from his own tanned neck. He got goose bumps. He took naps. He felt alone sometimes, because he felt alive.

He experienced the world around him by simply paying attention. He's asking the same of us.

So, that's how I'm spending my October and I'd like to take you along with me. I don't have a schedule. I'm not making a particular commitment. I'm not beginning on October first. I don't know where this will take me, if anywhere. I only know I'm up for the journey.

I want more of God, and he's already here, crammed into this quadrant of city blocks I rarely leave. He's here in the faces and the stories, but the only way I'll be changed is if I hush up and listen. I don't want to be numb. I don't want to settle for blending in.


Windows open. Breeze stirring the curtains. Leaves mostly green, just a few rustling brown on the sidewalks. Sunlight holds the last of the hot pink roses. Pine-Sol drifts from the bathroom, just scrubbed. Pears ripen in the bowl. One street away, a siren peels by.

This is Monday and I am very much alive.

*My hope is to write these then post them the following day. My hope is also to keep them brief, but we'll just have to wait and see about that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Again, With Feeling

"She tried to escape the pain, but sometimes it's all that's real. There's no excuse for living pain-free. That's the deal." -  Trampled by Turtles, New Orleans

Yesterday marked one of the lamest attempts Cory and I have ever made at going on a date.
It was a catastrophic blend of miscommunication, false assumptions, unrealistic expectations, and Taco Bell.

Cory had texted me while I was in the kitchen sometime late in the morning, my hair hanging wet as I rolled out pie crust, chopped peppers for soup, and shredded zucchini for muffins. Our friends Jasmine and Jose just had their first baby and I had fretted over what to feed them. The longer I'm in this chapter of life, the more my palate changes. Things are just simpler here, or at least they should be.

"Do you want to grab lunch?" the text read.

We had spent a good part of the previous day scrutinizing our squeaky budget, making tweaks, and wondering all over again why there is always, always too much month at the end of our money. I assumed he knew something I didn't know. Maybe he'd found a mistake and corrected it. Maybe he'd been reimbursed for something at work. Maybe he just decided we needed an hour together and knew it wouldn't break us.

I was happy with any of the above, but mostly, I just really wanted a burrito.

I said yes.

Eating out was a luxury in my childhood, usually saved for Sundays. My Dad was a sucker for a good buffet. (I hold the word "good" loosely here.) I learned to navigate the Ponderosa hot bar like a medalist. I served up school cafeteria-grade "nachos" from the Rax buffet and called myself blessed.

Aside from a tiny pizza joint, our one-light town was dry in terms of booze and partially hydrogenated grease. But our church was twenty miles away in a larger city. We tasted the fruits of its industry when we were able. I doused crispy fish fillets in malt vinegar at Long John Silver's. We visited the food court at the mall. Once, we ventured into an actual "sit down and order from a menu" Mexican restaurant, I believe it was to celebrate a milestone as my mom struggled her way through nursing school with three young children, but before we had even ordered, spots drifted into her line of vision and we left in a rush. A migraine. I remember feeling guilty for being mad.

It's an irony now, to have a pantry with plenty and the skills and desire to make it into something beautiful, yet to feel so relieved at the thought of food "grown" in economy-sized tin cans.

Taco Bell, in my humble opinion, is better than a whole lot of things. It's certainly better than nothing. But when we arrived the lobby was full of folks waiting. They sat alone and in pairs, shaking paper cups of ice and caffeine, taking sips, tapping their nails on the tables, looking around in confusion. In a roomful of hungry people, there seemed to be no food.

We left.
We argued in the parking lot.
We went our separate ways.


Earlier this morning I filled out an online community survey asking me how I define "good health," and how I know when I'm not living it. I probably should've answered, "When a mismanaged taco joint breaks me."

I don't want to list out all the stresses presently hurtling our way right now. Too stressful. But I knew the situation was dire when I woke up yesterday still halfway inside a dream where two people I love were dying, the Simon and Garfunkel line, "Hello darkness, my old friend..." playing on a loop in the background.

Times are tough and my little corner of the world feels pretty wild these days.
People keep breaking my heart and I pass the hurt along, an empty platter.

I drove away from Taco Bell fuming. I was mad about money. Mad about marriage. Mad about a friend of ours, who despite having every possible resource for success at his disposal, despite being such a bright spot in our life for the past year, succumbed to his demons in a matter of weeks after his release from jail. "That sure didn't take long," I'd told Cory. "That's exactly what I said," he replied, our words mirror images of a safety net knit from cynicism.

Sometimes our bodies can't muster the empathy required. We can't drum up the appropriate expression of grief and lament. It's easier to be sarcastic and pretend to move on.

Addiction is the scariest thing I know, hands down. It's scarier than Calvin's illness or the medical bills. It's scarier than being wrong. It's scarier than vulnerability. It's scarier than the prophets and the terrifying truth they sling. It's far scarier than writing a book or baking a pie.

I don't understand addiction.

Or do I?

I crossed the street and pulled into the Wendy's drive-thru. "One Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe, one Value french fry..." I wavered. What I really wanted was a Dr. Pepper. It had been so long. It might be poison, but I deserved it and a little wouldn't hurt. I could already feel it bubbling down my throat, an effervescent sugar rush seeping into my sore spots. A reward for enduring the discomfort of being human.

I drove aimlessly for a while, then parked. I stared out the window, my fingers salty and slick. I enjoyed that burger, saving the best bit for last. I took a few sips.

The air around me was restless, 94 degrees with leaves on the sidewalk.
Come September, we start praying for decay.

I listened to the sounds of the life that is mine. I noticed the contrast.
I drove home, finished a couple of projects, and welcomed Ruby and Silas at 3.

I baked peach dumplings.
I plunged my bare feet into a plastic sled filled with ice cold water, a makeshift spa created by Silas because he loves me. We sat there for an hour reading in the shade, glasses of ice water sweating on the patio table. It was bliss. Serenity. Comfort. (Why, then, did the urge to grab my phone keep pulling at me?)

What I have is exactly enough.
This is enough.
This is enough.

In this moment, whichever one it happens to be, there is feeling. There is truth. There is pain sometimes, yes, but hope is always waiting for us to reach out and grab it. Darkness won't swallow me if I don't lay down and die. It has never been my friend.

By 9pm, the house cleared and the kids were in bed.
I found a paper cup half-full of watery Dr. Pepper, walked it outside, and dumped it into one of the mums. Maybe it would take the edge off this Indian summer.

This is life. We fall. We hide behind humor. We give way to skepticism, fearing belief will find us a fraud. We want. We fill ourselves wrongly. We numb. We dodge. We deflect.

We get back up. We reach for help. We feel. We see. We know.

We believe.

Even when we thought we were done.


September is National Recovery Month. I wholeheartedly recommend Coming Clean by Seth Haines. It's a gripping, lyrical account of heartbreak, doubt, discovery, and healing. It's written for each of us caught in the cycle of facing disappointment and trying to trade our pain rather than just learning to hold it for as long as it takes.

This book is a hopeful brother in the trenches for many of our friends in jail and it lives on the stack by my nightstand. Seth has also created some audio readings to give you a glimpse. (You need to catch his drawl so you can read his book rightly.) Find them here

*Amazon affiliate link

Monday, September 25, 2017

Making it Home

Not long ago, I sat on my back patio eating sloppy joes and watermelon with Cory, our kids, and four adult friends. Two are currently incarcerated at the county work release center in our neighborhood. One has been "on the outs" for almost three years. And one had just been released from prison a few days earlier. It was the first time I'd met him, and he was the one who worried me most.

We drew in under whatever shade our one janky umbrella offered, chewing the fat while we chewed on seconds. All the while, the newbie, kept awkwardly thanking me. I'll call him Joe. To my untrained eye, his demeanor would have seemed almost suspicious or over-the-top. But what I know now is that he's just terrified of his freedom. He's scared to death that he doesn't deserve to be out, doesn't deserve the company of people eager to love him, doesn't deserve a plateful of homemade sloppy joes and damn well doesn't deserve seconds.

For years, he has been told he is worthless. Scum.
He's been told enough that it slipped beneath his skin, his pores inked with shame and stamped with a DOC number. You are less than human. You don't get to have a name. 

After I repeated myself for the third time, "Joe, we're so happy you're here. It's our pleasure. I love cooking for you guys and I'm so glad you joined us." He went in for another plate.

The minute he stepped away, I asked the others if he was okay.

"Prison's no joke," Bobby replied. Jason nodded along, adding, "Prison sucks, but the scariest time of anyone's life is getting out of prison."

In the weeks that followed, we tracked closely with Joe as he navigated life without options and tried not to lose himself in despair. I passed him almost every morning as I walked the kids to school, those early weeks when the air turned unseasonably cool. He gave daily updates on his living situation, his desperate search for things like a bed and food, and his quest for employment.

We loaded him up with frozen pizzas and granola bars. We bought him minutes for his cell phone because probation requires an active number where you can be reached at any time. One morning he told me he could start at a factory the next morning, but he needed steel-toed boots. He stood smiling in the morning light wearing a coat that hung loosely around his torso in nylon shreds. I added "coat" to the list.

He couldn't find a decent place to live without a job.
Finding a job was hard without transportation.

He settled, for a while, on renting a sketchy apartment from our local slumlord for $800 per month. One bedroom. Squalid. Questionable heat and utilities. Of course, he didn't have money to pay for this place, so he entered the realm of modern-day indentured servitude, working a sub-minimum wage "job" for the slumlord in exchange for a place to live. Finding cash for food would have to wait. We have seen this hundreds of times.

It didn't take long for us to realize the crisis situation men and women who have served their time face upon their re-entry to society.

They often emerge with their self-worth only ankle-high. They're overwhelmed with responsibilities yet typically don't have the resources to set about achieving them. After living in a precarious yet tightly-woven community setting, they're suddenly aware of just how alone they are.

Maybe they're also fending off addiction. Maybe they're trying to break free of past relationships and realizing how impossible that will be, since probation keeps them tied to the community of their offense, not readily allowing the fresh start of a new city. They ache to rebuild trust with family and children but as they look out at the light of the world, what bounces back at them is the prevailing sense that we're all waiting for them to prove their unworthiness. You aren't better. You didn't learn.

Jesus tells us that caring for those in prison is caring for him (Matthew 25:36), and I'm here to tell you, the shackles endure far beyond the cinder-block and razor wire. It takes time to truly break free. It takes close companionship, an enduring commitment to walk together for as long as it takes.

Three years ago, Cory and I began to wake up to the immediate need for clean, affordable housing. It was something we hadn't considered until we journeyed into this phase of our life. (I wrote about it here.) Like most everything we've learned and continue to learn, it shifts the landscape of our hearts. It cannot be un-learned. It changes everything.

A few months ago, after returning to this conversation again and again in search of solutions, the Jail Ministry of Elkhart County bought a little fixer-upper in our neighborhood.

Cory has spent almost every spare moment down the street, scraping and painting, returning home many nights drenched in sweat from this early-Fall heatwave after our kids have long been asleep.

In just one week, a family of three will move in and call this place home. They are some of our favorite people, in our home and around our table often. Soon, we will be actual neighbors again. I can't describe for you how elated they are. The house is humble, but to them, it's a palace.

They'll live there for the next couple of years as they heal from the trauma and set-back of incarceration. They'll continue working hard at their jobs. They'll continue to sit with us at church. They'll continue to join us often for lunch.

But now, sometimes, we'll join them at their table.

My friend Bri McKoy writes in Come and Eat, “The table breaks down the walls of social class and backgrounds and race. We are all one at the table, human beings receiving the necessary act of eating a meal. We are all citizens with one another. No other act of coming together so powerfully proclaims this.”

I have tasted the truth of her words.

I asked Bri if she would be willing to help put together a list of items a well-stocked kitchen should have and she jumped at the chance. We had so much fun brainstorming. This will be a surprise to the family. In the past, they, and so many like them, have slowly chipped away at finding what they need, searching thrift stores each weekend for some forks, then a skillet, then a toaster.

This time, they will enter a kitchen that begs to be cooked in. As I told Bri, though the list is quite basic, to them it will feel positively lavish. After years of "staying" here or there, now they'll get to live in a home.

If you would like to purchase something for the kitchen, you can do so by clicking on this Amazon affiliate link. The item will be shipped directly to us (be sure to click "Cory Martin's registry address") and all kitchen items will stay with the house. (Meaning, once this family moves on, the kitchen will remained stocked for the next family.)

Right now, Cory is one block away, sweaty and paint-splattered, doing everything he can to have the house ready. Tomorrow, he'll drive from place to place picking up donated furniture. There's so much that has already been done and plenty to do, but we are so excited.

Thank you for partnering with us in giving the gift of home. Please continue to pray for our friend Joe, for the family getting ready to move into the Jail Ministry House, and for so many others who are trying to find their way. Look for them. Pay attention to their needs. Do whatever you can to show them you are a trusted ally, fiercely with them as they saw through the chains.

Jail Ministry House Kitchen Wish List
(Update! In less than one hour after posting this blog, the list has been entirely fulfilled. YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING! I can't even begin to thank you enough. We are going to regroup later today and add some more to the list. Feel free to check back this evening!)

Thanks also to those who have donated their time and services, including:
Moyer Electric
Miller Brother Builders
Baldwin Paint and Decorating
Goshen Floor Mart

Come and Eat by Bri McKoy

** If you have trouble with shipping info once you're in Amazon (some have had trouble, others not) feel free to email me at shannandmartin @ gmail.com and I'll give you the shipping address directly!

(*Because I'm using an affiliate link, I receive a very small commission from Amazon, which will go toward our Sunday Lunch fund.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Crisis Fatigue and the Bread We Have

Friday night my family drove to Indianapolis to visit Cory's brother and his family. We always stay up way too late when we're with them because there's so much to cram into so few hours. Somewhere around 9 pm, when we were just warming up, my sister-in-law Lori mentioned Charlottesville in conversation. For the next thirty seconds I sat, half-listening and half-peering into my brain in a mad scramble to fit the pieces together. I was completely confused, "Wait. What happened in Charlottesville?"

(I am well aware that my privilege is showing here. You might be aghast at what I just admitted. I'm just here to tell the truth.)

I knew the incident was recent. I knew it was horrific. I knew it was related to white supremacy and racism. I just couldn't, for half a minute, pin down the specific details in a sea of similar injustices. They had all sort of muddied together.

The next day, we drove from Indy to Ohio to visit my parents. My parents and several of my extended family have been plagued with serious medical emergencies recently. Surgery after surgery, hospital stay after hospital stay. Calvin, my own guy, is right there in the middle of it with his own health-related instability. All of it has weighed heavily on us, in the unique way things can be felt from such a distance. The journey from the mind to the heart can be a winding road. We can see the flames and appreciate their power, but unless we're within its reach, it's almost impossible to feel the heat.

We arrived late Saturday night and my mom began filling me in on the latest family health crisis, this time with my oldest nephew. My dad sat just through my line of vision, behind my mom in the next room. Listening to her but watching him I was overcome again by a strange, vague feeling, "Wait a minute, didn't he just have a scare? Isn't he the one we've been worried about?"

Twice in two days, the details of a significant event were momentarily out of reach. They filtered back fairly quickly, but the fact that it wasn't instantaneous freaked me out both times. I imagined vines of early-onset memory loss infiltrating my gray matter. I blamed myself for not being present enough, emotionally or physically. I decided I'm too selfish. I'm not a good listener. I'm not well-qualified at caring.

The truth is, I am a human. The onslaught of drama, crisis, sadness, and disaster is seemingly endless these days. We can care about something - deeply, even, but the very next day, fresh outrage takes center stage. It's a lot to hold and too much to carry.

I spent Sunday watching Irma's destruction from the sunny comfort of my childhood home. I took a nap in a hammock. I ate a steak from the grill.  I sat near an opened window and paged through three magazines. I played with the kids. I listened to the news and thought of friends running from Irma's wake and the multitudes stuck in shelters (or worse) because they don't have the means to leave.

I also spent part of the day worried about Texas, wondering how it feels to suffer such loss while most of the country has already turned its attention elsewhere.

The cognitive whiplash is real.

What's the answer?

That's what I keep asking myself. I've visited a few stores in the last week and most of them ask if I'd like to donate money to Harvey victims. Tomorrow, they'll probably change the script to Irma. Monday we remembered 9/11. Last week my neighbors braced themselves against more discouraging immigration news. This morning I drove a friend to court and waited with her on the cliff-edge of yet another technicality.

Filtering down into the cracks we have all our regular turmoil. The splits and breaks of everyday life. Illness, fractured relationships, financial burden, bullies at school, addiction, and a house that can't stay clean.

People talk about compassion fatigue and I'll be honest, it bugs me. We are not allowed to grow weary of helping. True compassion is conditioned to go the distance. But I understand that the world is throwing a lot at us. We are crisis fatigued, with good reason. We have to find a way to hold these continual opportunities to care for each other more meaningfully.

I'm discovering that for me, outrage or even empathy is not enough. Clicking and swiping online isn't, either. I have to have skin in the game. When trouble isn't close enough to see or smell or touch, when it's not possible to heave a portion of the burden onto my own shoulder, I have to find a different way to sacrifice. When "helping" doesn't cost me something, my commitment usually doesn't endure.

For the past week as I've thought and prayed and wrung my hands, God repeatedly brought one of my favorite Bible stories to mind.

In the book of John, Jesus is surrounded by hordes of hungry people. His disciples, with their inborn mentalities of scarcity and panic fully intact, start freaking out. "Do something!"

Jesus looks back and them and says, with what I imagine would be the sort of cool nonchalance that grates us when we're trying to communicate alarm, "How much bread do you have?"

He could have solved the problem in infinite ways. He could have invented Little Caesars $5 Hot 'n Ready on the spot. But he loved his disciples enough to encourage their investment. He knew if the miracle was going to stick, it had to cost them something.

God looked at me and asked the same. "How much bread do you have, Shannan?"

I was like, "Um...not much, if I'm being honest."

He asked again, "Look harder. Think outside the bank account. How much bread do you have?"

And that's when I remembered the plates.

Listen, I have not been able to stop buying plates for theoretical plate walls. I look for them constantly. I keep finding beautiful ones. I bring them home. It is but one of my ministries and the many stacks throughout my basement are the fruit it bears. I don't know what to do or how to stop. I've let myself think it's a problem, but last week, it started to seem like a solution.

Thursday, September 14 at 9pm Eastern time, I'm opening up an auction for plate collections over on my Facebook page. All proceeds (minus shipping costs) will go directly to Legacy Collective, an organization Cory and I wholeheartedly support each month. (The earnings from the auction will be in addition to our regular contribution.) They are doing everything they can to ease the burden of their Texan neighbors and have also opened up donations for those affected by Irma.

If you want to bid, you'll need to follow me here and check back this Thursday night. (Auctions will only be available to bidders within the continental US and you must have a PayPal account. I'm so sorry, International homies!)

This is a pretty small thing, but me + the post office = certain doom. Organization and the packaging of breakables is not squarely in my skill set. This will cost me a little something. But I believe in colorful, quirky plate walls for all. (Better Homes and Gardens and Country Living both just featured them. They are timelessly classic and look cool without even trying!)

Whether you join me or not, I'm calling all of us to take a look around every day, all the time. When we find pain, sorrow, or brokenness, let's make it our problem.

Let's inject beauty and hope and watch the world mend.

Your neighbor,
Shannan/FPFG ;)

::  Check out these fun plate wall images!