Friday, October 19, 2018

The Cure for a Big Day

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This time, I knew things.

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Things change.
They change and they change.

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

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






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

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

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

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

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







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

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

I listened. I watched. 

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






Flowers arrived at the door.

I scanned Amazon. (Again.)

And I smiled.

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





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

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

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

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

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


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



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


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



Friday, October 5, 2018

The Spoons and Forks of an Abundant Life




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

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

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

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

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

This is the weird way of discipleship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A thrill of hope.

The weary world rejoices.

~

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

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


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

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

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

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




Ever yours,
Shannan


PS:

Silas Park, freshly 10