Review: Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy + Giveaway

Even though I could tell stories of not being popular in school or of not feeling quite at home as I questioned the theology taught by my very young youth group leader, I never felt completely rejected by school or church or society. I grew up flying under the radar, content with my small group of friends, ready to grow up and find my own path.

With that in mind, reading books like Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack by Alia Joy are important for me. They remind me of the very real struggles many in my peer group lived through as they fought for a faith that supported them.

Alia Joy tackles a host of weaknesses in her book: poverty, mental illness, body image, and physical health problems are all referenced as part of Joy’s faith journey. As she leans into a life that doesn’t fit the mold of an American Dream, Joy realizes that maybe her spiritual gift is the gift of weakness. Maybe the beatitudes are true – that those who seem rejected by society are the ones who are truly blessed.

I especially appreciated her reminders that the Bible is filled with characters we often overlook. I was especially impacted by her chapter called “Uncomfortable Love.” In it, she recalls the Bible story of the Good Samaritan, who cares for a beaten Jew (and his enemy) on the side of the road. Joy reminds us,

What is hard is not the man robbed on the side of the road, beaten and left for dead. I have felt those wounds in my very soul. What is hard is loving the priest and the Levite who crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by, presumably on their way to do their holy work (pg 105).

Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy

I’ve been thinking about that all week. Who are the holy people I have trouble loving? Often, it is easier to love those who are vastly different than me than to love those who look like me but have different political views. Joy reminds us throughout Glorious Weakness that we are all weak and in need of love; that our neighbors are those who are easy to love and those who are difficult. That God’s glory stretches to the most likely and unlikely of places.

Unfortunately, these stories of strength and perseverance are scattered in such a way that made reading Joy’s memoir difficult to follow. A lot of assumptions were made: That the reader has a fluent knowledge of evangelical language; that the reader has followed Joy’s journey on the internet so can fill in personal references easily; that the reader understands the wobbly timeline presented. I felt like I was always a few steps behind on the journey, struggling to keep up and follow along.

There was enough beauty and truth in this book to make me hope to read more from Alia Joy. I think she has more stories to tell and I hope she continues to hone her craft and strengthen her voice.

Giveaway! I believe this is a powerful book and will be an encouragement for the right person, so answer my question below and I’ll send one person my copy. (Giveaway closes on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.)

How have you leaned into your own weaknesses? How have you found strength from embracing those weaknesses?

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

How to Be Idle and Blessed

I remember the first time I heard the line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” After contemplating the world of a grasshopper on a summer day, Oliver asks her reader if they know how to really pay attention, how to be still and quiet. The poem ends with an oft-quoted question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

A bunch of green asparagus spears in a brown wooden bowl on a butcher block table.
Photo by Stephanie Studer on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot these days, as we emerge from winter and tax season, as leaves start to spring onto branches and we start thinking about school ending and summer beginning.

When I first heart this question, I felt an urge to think about grand goals, wild dreams, and hopes beyond my imagination. I took it seriously, this call to live into my one and only precious life. I don’t want to waste a thing. What will I do with all these unexpected opportunities, with all that I’ve learned, with all that I hope to accomplish?

Suddenly this question turned into a to-do list. First, I’ll read these books. Next, I’ll take this class. Then, I’ll reflect about those experiences as I make a plan of action to implement my newfound knowledge. Last, I’ll be an expert in this new field, finding opportunities to share and participate in new conversations.

I don’t think those hopes and goals are unrealistic or out of the realm of possibility. But I do think I’ve completely missed the point of Mary Oliver’s question if that is my takeaway.

In the middle of the poem, before this famous question, Oliver notes,

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

As we enter this season of spring cleaning, family recalibration, and these last weeks of the school year, I can let my list for what a One Wild and Precious Life looks like completely overwhelm the call to be idle and blessed.

I’m learning to balance this blessed observation and living in the present with the need to sit down and do the work. Sometimes the work is that playtime idleness my girls crave. Sometimes it’s the mundane chores of cleaning and cooking. And sometimes it’s the actual work of sitting and writing or crafting ideas to the page. Nothing is as set and clear as I’d like it to be.

I’m remembering this poem in this season of life, though. That my call is to deep observation. That learning takes years and often the outcomes aren’t what I was expecting.

This season of quiet and growth has lasted longer than I expected. I know that planting seeds and putting down roots can take years. I love what my friend Tina says about growing in the longterm. After she planted asparagus, which takes three years to produce, she reflected,

 It takes commitment to plant asparagus, and perseverance. More than that, it takes vision. To plant something right now that won’t bear fruit for years to come requires vision. It requires we trust that the good life is not always the immediate life. The beautiful life is not the quick life. Instead, it is the cultivated, grounded life. It is the life that believes in waiting for the fruit, in holding out hope that something good will come, and it is the belief that trusts in the work we cannot see with our eyes.

Tina Osterhouse, On What’s Saving My Life Right Now

So, to mix metaphors and ideas, I’m planting asparagus and fruit trees, I’m taking time to observe the grasshopper and small details, I’m leaning into this space of the quiet and quotidian.

I’m remembering to hold myself to a different standard, one that is more about planting and less about harvest. I’m doing the work, in hopes of a fruitful result but I won’t know for sure until late summer. And that’s the beauty of life and learning and gardening, isn’t it?

What are you planting this spring? Do you like growing quick lettuces, late season tomatoes, or longterm asparagus? How do you balance that waiting?

Review: The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

The first (and perhaps only) time I got in trouble in elementary school was in the first grade. Two boys started fighting and I watched them. I missed recess the next day because I hadn’t gone to tell a teacher. I remember sitting against the wall, inconsolable at the unfair treatment.

Looking back on this early memory, I still don’t condone this style of playground management. Punishing six-year-olds for standing by and watching certainly isn’t how childhood conflict should be managed.

However, this scene reminds me of how many white people fit into the structures of racism that have built the foundations of the United States. Maybe we aren’t personally responsible for the building of those foundations. Maybe our ancestors weren’t even living on American soil when those laws and systems were first put into place. But we’ve stood by and watched, benefiting from centuries of racism and inequity.

On the left: The book cover of "The Color of Compromise" by Jemar Tisby.
On the right: "The failure to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression." Jemar Tisby

In The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby provides a survey of American complicity in racism. He tackles overt systems, like slavery and Jim Crow laws, and quieter ones, like many white Protestant churches staying “neutral” during the Civil Rights Movement.

Starting in the Colonial Era, moving through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and into the Civil Rights Movement coupled with the rise of the Religious Right and then into Black Lives Matter, Tisby gives a detailed but brief overview of America’s “original sin” of racism. I appreciated this survey format – while I would love to read a deep book on each of these eras, I simply don’t have the time at this stage in life. Tisby’s overview was just what I needed to learn more about the untold history of my country.

Tisby reminds his reader that even if specific actions of racism aren’t personal, white people in this nation have benefited from the imbalance of systemic racism. We need to recognize our complicity. The church needs to recognize its complicity. Too many pastors either overtly interpreted the Bible through a lens of white supremacy or allowed those misinterpretations by staying silent.

This book is not for people just starting out on the journey of racial reconciliation. This is for people who recognize their part in these pervasive systems and want to know more. This is a book for people who are seeking to read a more rounded history, who know that what they learned in school was the story of the victors. Even though I knew a lot of the pieces of history referenced in The Color of Compromise, it was still difficult to read that time after time Christians and the church failed to make the choice to take a side.

For those of you on the journey toward justice and reconciliation, who are ready to listen and learn, I highly recommend The Color of Compromise.

What’s the last book you read that took something you knew a little about and shifted your thinking?

As part of the launch team, I received an advance copy of the book from Zondervan. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Review: I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers

Without a doubt, we live in a divided climate here in the United States. Churches are making decisions about inclusion and who can participate; business are reckoning with gaps in pay; and our political parties seem more extreme than ever. I’m not sure if this is actually true––America has been divided before to the point of going to war and literally fighting neighbors. But there is no doubt that our divisive opinions have framed the current narrative.

Cover: "I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening)" by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers.
The top half of the book is blue with a coffee drink showing the image of a donkey in the foam. The bottom half of the book is red with a coffee drink showing the image of an elephant in the foam.

In I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), Sarah Stewart Holland, a Democrat, and Beth Silvers, a Republican, talk about their journey toward understanding. Politically different but with numerous similarities, these two started a political podcast to talk about current issues with perspectives from “the other side.”

I don’t listen to Pantsuit Politics so can’t comment on the tone of the show but as I read this book, I kept thinking that it would be more appropriate in conversation form. The topics are rooted in headlines of the past year or two. Even the format of co-authoring seems better suited to an audio conversation.

The book has practical and applicable advice on how to start your own political journey. Holland and Silvers give concrete examples and steps to remembering that the other side isn’t as evil or as different as you may think.

Perhaps that’s the point. Holland and Silvers may align with different political parties but for all other categories, they are the same: white, (upper?) middle-class, Christian, mothers, living in Kentucky. My guess is that both of them are more in the center of their parties so it is very easy to find commonality. I have a feeling that for the majority of us, this is true about those we disagree with––there are far more similarities than differences.

I wasn’t looking for a fighting book but I kept thinking about Desmond Tutu’s observation, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I think it’s important to see the humanity in all people but I don’t think it’s important to simply “agree to disagree” or to let “you do you.” There are policies and points of view that cause actual harm to large swaths of our population. Part of aligning with a political party is supporting the tension of keeping systems in check and holding people and institutions accountable.

If you’re at a loss for how to have an enjoyable dinner with friends or family from “the other side,” this book may offer helpful advice. If you’re looking for perspectives on policies and politics from opposing points of view, this is a lukewarm offering.

Do you find it difficult to engage with “the other side”? How do you have political conversations? (Or do you avoid them?)

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

I Don’t Arrive Until We’ve All Arrived

I just finished a monthlong journey of learning about how to listen to and give space for Indigenous voices in classroom settings. Even though I’m not in the classroom (right now!) I took away so much from the class. The history I don’t know, the posture I can take when learning, and small things I can do in the “first classroom” I have here at home… I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today reflecting on my experience at the Denver March Pow Wow and the small changes we’re making. Here’s an excerpt but I hope you’ll go join the conversation!

Denver March Pow Wow fell at the tail end of a week of sickness in our family. My oldest caught it first and then I spent our spring break in bed. Our three-year-old was just getting over her round when we arrived at the Pow Wow. After exploring the vendors and buying some remembrances for our girls, we settled into the top row of the Denver Coliseum.

As the drum circle entered, followed by the color guard and ambassadors, I felt my daughter snuggle into my arms and slowly get heavier. Soon, she was fast asleep, lulled by the drums and songs.

I’ve been on a journey of learning and unlearning over the past several years. Confronted with my own privilege and role in this system, I’ve turned to books and articles—the most comfortable way I know to dismantle my own misconceptions. While there’s a certain level of discomfort in confronting all the history I didn’t know, it was also done from the safety of my living room chair.

This past year, I’ve been stepping out of that armchair activism. I went on a pilgrimage to dig into the intersectionality of race, faith, and women’s suffrage. I signed up for a class about Indigenous Voices in the Classroom to take my learning from something internal to a place of stretching and accountability.

One part of this journey that I’ve been reminded of more and more is the importance of sitting and listening, especially as a white woman. I want the active experience of learning and doing but sitting back is harder. I can’t check any boxes or see any apparent advancement.

Holding my daughter in the coliseum, I was forced to simply sit and experience the Grand Entrance. I was pinned under the weight of a sleeping three-year-old, unable to move much. The beating drums lulled both of us and I was able to feel the rhythm in ways I wouldn’t have had I needed to be actively parenting my normally energetic and inquisitive daughter. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What are some small changes you’re making in your learning?

Review: Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall

When we moved to our cul-de-sac in the suburbs, I didn’t realize how intertwined our lives would be with our actual neighbors. My daughters dash across the street, inviting themselves into the house of their best friend. (I’m told this is ok because “we actually family, mom!”) Our neighbor two houses down keeps a stash of crackers at the ready for Elle, who only likes what Judi offers. When I called an ambulance to rush Frank to the hospital last October, I got texts from my neighbors, checking in and with offers to help in all manner of ways.

White and red text on a faded background of wildflowers in a forest.
Text reads: "Our neighbors––the people right in front of us––are not those we choose, but those we can choose to treasure."
Alexandra Kuykendall, Loving My Actual Neighbor

These relationships didn’t happen overnight. They took time and intentionality. It meant bringing my book out front so that we’d interact with folks coming and going. It meant accepting offers of dinner during tax season and hanging out in pajamas and sweats on snow days. Now I see these neighbors as an integral part of our family’s rhythms but I also recognize the work that went into opening our lives to our neighbors.

In her newest book, Loving My Actual Neighbor, Alexandra Kuykendall sees the need to love our actual, right next door neighbors as well. In a divided world, remembering to love the people who live along our daily routes is important. We don’t really get to choose our neighbors and so getting to know them and immersing ourselves in their lives is a practical way to break down walls and misconceptions.

She says, “Our neighbors––the people right in front of us––are not those we choose but those we can choose to treasure.”

Alexandra Kuykendall, “Loving My Actual Neighbor”

This is easier said than done and Alex offers seven practical stories and steps in Loving My Actual Neighbor. From asking questions to actively listening and honing our empathy, Alex grounds her steps in story and scripture, reminding us that loving our neighbor is the most important of the commandments. Each chapter ends with a call to action, a reflection, steps to practice, and a scripture to guide you on the journey.

Loving our neighbors can be overwhelming, for a myriad of reasons from perfectionism to social anxiety. Alex takes the guesswork out of connection and helps dismantle the idea that loving our neighbors is something out of the realm of possibility.

If you have neighbors, you need to read this book. Alex will encourage you, push you, and help you remember that loving our neighbors can become second-nature. And what a gift that is.

What are ways you love your actual neighbors? What are some challenges in loving the people right next door?

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon,any purchase you make supports this site.

The Work and Cultivation of Spring

On the second or third day of spring last week, I stepped into our backyard to survey the melting snow and grass turning green from its winter dormancy. On the north side of our home, the lawn is in the shade of the house so snow from months ago is just now melting.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

I looked at blackened Aspen leaves that weren’t raked up before the first snow of autumn last year. I walked through our dead kitchen garden that we were unable to winterize because of Frank’s visit to the ICU and subsequent recovery during the week we had planned on cleaning. I looked at seed pods and small branches that litter our yard from various wind and snowstorms. We have a lot of work to do in the next months before planting.

I’m reminded of the seasonal imagery I love so much. This past winter, I’ve been spending time reading and learning. Seeds are being planted and cultivated. I know that it takes time before I’ll see the fruits of these classes and experiences. In some ways, I love this season of quiet and growth. In other ways, I’m antsy to see what has taken root, what will grow from these experiences.

After walking around our disheveled yard, I’m also reminded that a seed isn’t planted and then suddenly grows on its own. Gardening takes work and cultivation. Dead growth needs to be cleared, the compost needs to be turned, the debris of winter raked and mulched.

I’d love to wake up on the first day of spring, look out the window, and see bulbs popping up and a ready-to-enjoy garden inviting me outside. I forget that getting our garden ready for spring takes a lot of effort. After a winter of quiet and rest, there’s a lot of work in the spring to get ready for summer.

I still have a lot of learning and unlearning to do on this journey. As much as I wish my own life’s season were as orderly and predictable as nature’s I’m learning that I can bounce from winter back to fall and skip to summer. And then there are the seasons that are specific to our own family and region – tax season and mud season and birthday season. (I love Addie Zierman’s thoughts on those other seasons: Break-Up, Freeze-Up and Other Understated Seasons.)

But I feel myself emerging from the quiet learning of winter. I’m ready to start raking and sorting and doing the work. While I’m in the garden, I’m able to imagine what I want to add or try each new season. Without spending the time doing the work, my imagination isn’t sparked in the same way it is as I’m actively pulling and cleaning.

I still have a lot of processing to do and I’m still holding my learning closely. But I love feeling the stirring of spring, the eagerness to sort out these ideas, and the energy to start cleaning up and preparing for the harvest.

What are you cultivating? What do you need to clean as you prepare for a season of harvest?