Looking For Lovely: A Book Review

IMG_0424.JPGIt is 5.24 am and I have been up for an hour. M had trouble getting to sleep last night so I took her for a walk in her stroller. She fall asleep at mile 1.5 and ended up in bed 1.5 hours later than usual. Then she woke up at 4.15. Then she woke up at 4.20. Parents do things like that. We consider the snatched horizontal moments between freak outs to be considered sleep, you kind of have to.

IMG_0482.JPGSo it’s rather apt that I sit here this morning to write about the new book from Annie Downs, Looking For Lovely. If I owned a cell phone, right now you would be looking at a selfie of me and Annie at If:Gathering. While I was pumping Breast Milk in Austin I had access to the area where I assume they were housing the speakers and their families. And so I found myself, laden down with breast milk, watching Ann Voskamp on the stage, and walking straight past Annie Downs. As in, inches away from Annie Downs. And I have no cell phone, so I couldn’t stop and get a picture. And because I have no cell phone, I thought it would be weird just to stop and say “Hey, I loved your last book I can’t wait for the next one, you inspire me. You are so much more real to me than so many other Christian speakers right now, thank you for being so authentic and loving.” Which is silly, because I should have stopped, I should have said that, and if Annie’s anything like she comes across on her blog and in her books, then she would have taken the darn selfie for me!

I had instant celebrity regret when I got to the door, and when I turned around to remedy the situation, she was gone. I did not make the same mistake when I bumped into Eugene Cho later that same day. I made sure he knew the impact he had made with his talk that weekend.

But I digress. It is now 5.30 in the morning and I am looking for the lovely. My hot cup of tea, in my amazing Romans 15:13 mug, that is the right size, the right kind of ceramic and has the right handle. Being able to write while madam sleeps beside me, while the boys sleep upstairs, in short, while my house is quiet. This is my lovely, this quiet hour right here.

The subtitle of this book is “Loving the moments that matter.” This is something that has been written of often in the past few years. Probably the most well known of the “loving the little stuff” books is Ann VosKamp’s One Thousand Gifts but where One Thousand Gifts really honed in on moments, Looking For Lovely hones in on those things that make you who you are. One marriage, three thousand miles and three kids into my life, this is something I’ve spent a lot of time pondering. Annie and I live completely different lives, and while there is so much in her life that I long for, there is much in mine that I feel she longs for. Therein lies the beauty of Annie’s writing, she speaks through her own personal circumstances but not to them. She speaks of the eternal grace of God, of the presence of the Holy Spirit, of the power of prayer and the power of community. So that me, a harassed mom of three living in Maine, reading about a single gal from Nashville, can feel connected to the God she writes of, because he is my beloved too. She writes with such intense focus, but with truth that is so universal, and it is breathtaking to watch his story unfold through Annie’s story.

There are two areas that she spends a good chunk of time on, and keeps coming back to in her stories, that really resonate with me. I remember that she circled around these areas in her last (also amazing) book, Let’s All Be Brave.

IMG_0479.JPGThe first is community. My pastor is fond of saying “You can’t do life alone,” and while my English ears cringe at the expression “doing life,” he had a beautiful point to make. Annie’s community builds her up, Annie’s community sustains her, Annie’s community supports her when needed and nudges her out of comfort zones when that is needed. We were designed to live in community, but in Looking For Lovely Annie shares with us the importance of being authentic in that community. Sarah Bessey once wrote about “the lost art of staying put,” an expression that has really stuck with me. My church has been through a lot in the last ten years, and a lot of people, and I believe in the art of staying put, I believe in staying where God has called me, even when I am uncomfortable, even when I don’t agree with someone, even when I don’t agree with the pastor. Because I am my beloved’s and he is mine, and I am called to be his church, and if I can’t be his church with this church then I need to get something right in my soul. At any rate, Annie speaks beautifully in both this book, and her last, about when to stay and be open, be bruised even, and about when to move on. She also talks about running away, and how to turn in your running shoes, amen!

The second is suffering, and really I have to quote Annie on this one because she gets me.

“If you aren’t experiencing pain, you aren’t experiencing beauty. Darkness makes us appreciate the beauty of the light. If you aren’t allowing yourself to feel the hurt, sadness, loneliness and disappointment this fallen world has to offer, you probably aren’t feeling the fullness of the joy and beauty the redeemed moments have to offer.”

There isn’t much darkness in my life, but I have spent much time living in fear of the darkness. Fear that my house would be broken into or burned down. Fear, as I’m riding to the park, that my kid will swerve out and get hit by a car. Fear of a stray bullet. Fear of miscarriage. Fear of birth deformity. Now some of these things are the product of a very over active imagination, but I find it I don’t deal with them they fester and become the darkness they hint at, but when I look them in the eye, and bathe them in scripture, in his word, in the light of his grace, not only does the fear of the darkness go away, but the light shines brighter.

IMG_0480.JPGSome books I read quickly, some books I read slowly. Some books I spend much time on because I have to stop and digest what I have just read. Looking for Lovely felt as if it fell into all three of those places, and when I was done I felt like I had just walked away from a long chat with a good friend over a great cup of coffee. This is the gift of the grounded poetic soul that is Annie Downs, who finds the lovely in her everyday, and pursues it. Who finds the lovely and clears a way for it.

My friend often jokes that Jen Hatmaker is her spirit animal, I think mine is Annie Downs.

You should read this book, my friend Annie and I say so!

Five Below the Kingdom

DSC01312I have to let go of wanting the best for my kids.

I know, that sounds weird doesn’t it. The thing is, what I know (think) is best for them, what I know (think) will get them the best bang for their buck, what I know (think) will get them the most enjoyment, isn’t always what they actually need.

When we go on a trip, do I want to schedule a, b and c so that they can get the most out of every opportunity, or do I sit back and recognize that being in a hotel with a tv by the bed, with easy access to an indoor pool, bringing a bike along, even just having an ice machine down the hall, is what they will get the most enjoyment from.

I think we should sample cheese at the Vermont creamery, and hike the gorge.

Now don’t get me wrong, my kids would have a blast doing those things, but not if I am hurrying them along and shooshing them on to the next thing. I could even go carefree on my schedule and be easy breezy about it, as long as we get to everything within the time who cares if we’re three hours late! But then if my scheduled life experiences mean they don’t get to play with the ice machine their trip is ruined. I want them to have the big things, I want to cross things off their childhood checklist, while they are busy just enjoying their childhood as it comes.

We have a tradition in our family that has developed over the past few years. For Birthdays and Christmas we take the kids to Five Below (it used to be the dollar store but everything breaks within ten minutes) and let them pick out a gift for someone. Usually the grandparents or a sibling. They love doing it, and the recipients love receiving it. So one night this week we went to pick out presents for my dad, his 60th birthday was coming up. Before we even get into the store T sees the basketballs. “Oh that’s it! That’s what Grandad needs.”

Ahem.

But sweetie.

Darling.

Light of my life.

Don’t pick the first thing you see, look for something else. Translation, that sucks, I know better, find something for your grandad that I would pick out. Me the 34 year old woman, not you the six year old. Hmm now why do we do this again?

We spent twenty minutes in the store. With me herding him away from things he wanted which was valid, but also away from things he wanted to give his grandad simply because I thought they weren’t right. Guess what we ended up getting? Yup, the basketball. And he was so excited, and so happy about that basketball.

I let go. I realized as we past the T-shirts that I needed to just let T be T.

I’m a work in progress I know, and every day I win a little more of the battle over my controlling soul, letting myself simply be who God intended me to be, instead of striving to fit that mold I created. Every day I break another piece of that mold and let God’s grace recast me. Every day I learn more and more from these little darlings of mine what it is to walk with a childlike faith, to simply be who you are, without lists, or agendas, or hang ups.

Mark 10:13-16 says “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

If I could enter the Kingdom of God with the openness and love, the faith and joy with which my six year old enters Five Below in search of a birthday present, I think I’d be closer to being that child of God than I ever could with all my adult striving.

Dinner Conversation

pb-and-j1Sitting around eating PB and J tonight, because T got back from Karate at 5.15 and needed to be out the door again for little league by 5.40, C munches on an apple slice and asks quite nonchalantly,

“Is Jesus everywhere?”

C. Dude. We didn’t even pray over this meal. We’ve got 35 minutes, 15 of which we squandered making silly faces at the baby, this question, this is heavy. This is not dinner conversation, this is dinner itself.

I replied yes, because isn’t he? If God is Jesus is Holy Spirit is Jesus is God and God is everywhere, then isn’t Jesus everywhere too? I guess that’s not the four year old answer, because T immediately clarified for his brother.

“God is everywhere C. Jesus is in heaven, which is like way, way up there, like way outside space.” He looks at me knowingly. “I kinda just made that up about heaven being outside space, it’s way up there right, that’s what they say, but I think it’s kind of outside space.”

So after picking up my mouth from the floor, I affirmed that he was right and how that was a really good observation he had made. And then we went back to butt jokes and apple slices.

We didn’t talk about this stuff in my house, mostly because we didn’t go to church, but we talked about everything else. Everything. Else. I wasn’t told what to think, or how to think. I was given good tools, my imagination was nurtured, and what came out was pretty good I think.

So now, because of my parents values, my kids get to be open and honest about the things in their world, and nothing is off the table at dinner time.