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.