It 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.
So 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.
The 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.
Some 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!