spiritual journeySometimes it’s the truth that makes fiction so powerful.

That’s the case with Sharon Garlough Brown’s book, “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” ($18, IVP Books).

“I longed for my characters to be windows and mirrors,” Brown said from her home in Michigan. “It is often easier to see true things about somebody else.”

Readers have a lot of truth to see in the four strangers that Brown introduces in the pages of her novel. The four women – Hannah, Meg, Mara and Charissa – meet at a spiritual retreat center and begin to learn the value of community and of spiritual practices like walking a labyrinth and praying the examen.

Sensible Shoes #6453

Hannah is a pastor on a forced sabbatical. Meg is a widow haunted by her past and struggling with an empty nest. Mara has experienced a lifetime of rejection and now is in a difficult marriage. And Charissa is a graduate student who desperately wants to do what is right.

Their stories and their true-to-life questions unfold as they learn that a spiritual journey isn’t always an easy walk.

“Reading this could evoke some very deep things,” said Brown, sounding a lot like the retreat facilitator in her book: Walking the path toward freedom and deep transformation takes courage. It’s not easy. It’s not linear. …But don’t be afraid of the mess.

Brown, who has a master’s of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is a pastor and spiritual director with the Evangelical Covenant Church, paints faith as a relationship that grows and stumbles and strengthens, as something more than merely a subplot to life.

And you’ll find a bit of her in each of the main characters, especially Hannah.

Brown had been wearing herself out in service to God and to others since college, and she rarely took time to enjoy and rest in God’s love for her.

“We first moved to Grand Rapids for my husband’s job,” she said. “I wasn’t on staff at a church. I didn’t have an office. I didn’t have a title.”

That season lasted three years, and it helped her untangle her identity from what she did for God and tie it more securely to how God cares about her and about all of us – the single line of truth that makes this work of fiction so meaningful. So authentic. So worth reading.

Sharon Brown

Sharon Garlough Brown

To learn more

“My hope is that this book will help readers go deeper into a life with God and deeper into a life of community,” Sharon Garlough Brown said, which is why she offers a free 80-page companion guide to “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” at www.sensibleshoesclub.com. The guide essentially serves as a 12-week devotional and spiritual formation primer.

About the Simply Faithful book club

Joining the Simply Faithful book club is easy. Just pick up a copy of “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” and participate in the community conversation. Talk with friends. Read it at church. Share your comments on social media. Connect with us.

Then, on Monday, Aug. 25, log on to the Simply Faithful page on Facebook and meet the author, Sharon Garlough Brown. She’ll start answering questions at 8 p.m. EDT.

What to do when Lego guys find the crossAs a parent, sometimes I don’t always know the correct way to react.

The time Benjamin used red spray paint on my white washer and dryer I wanted to yell, but my husband explained that Benjamin had been trying to surprise us with a home makeover like the kind we watch on TV. I settled down pretty quickly once I realized Benjamin had kind intentions.

But a few weeks ago, I came in to the dining room and noticed something different about the crystal cross my mother-in-law gave us as a wedding gift. There, at the foot of the cross was a Star Wars Lego guy and more Lego guys were on the arms of the cross and at the very top.

I had no doubt whose toys these were – or who had placed the Lego guys there – but I wasn’t sure what to think of mixing play things with a symbol of something sacred. Should I insist they be removed as a show of respect? Should I allow my boys more access to the cross so they could see the sacred as something approachable?

Before I had time to figure out how I felt, my Star-Wars-Lego-loving Benjamin strolled in to the dining room.

“Hey, do you know anything about what’s going on over there at the cross?” I asked, nodding my head over toward the side table.

There was a small, impish grin and then the answer that turned everything on its head: “It’s a rescue mission.”

I think he went on to tell me something about Darth Vader chasing the good guys, but I really don’t remember. I was too stunned by his comment, a comment that was overloaded and spilling with meaning.

Of course it was a rescue mission. Isn’t that the whole point of the cross? 

Bad guys, bad attitudes and bad hurts all chase us to the foot of the cross and sometimes it seems we aren’t safe until we climb into the very arms of Jesus – the arms that are always strong and welcoming.

I didn’t ask Benjamin to move his Lego guys.

I decided they were right where they needed to be.

 

 

OKC bombing sacred groundWhen the oldest son came home talking about how he’s studying terrorism in school, I didn’t even wait until after dinner to pull out the pictures. I knew if I hesitated, I’d never tell him what it had been like that Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

He could get the facts from his teacher, but he needed to hear the story from me.

So, we started with pictures of a half-standing shell of a building and the thank you banners for rescuers that we all signed with our pens and our prayers. Then, the 168 empty chairs that became part of the official memorial, and the picture of the man walking solemnly along with his hat in his hands.

I tapped my finger on the man.

You see this? I asked Jessie. You see how he treats this place as sacred?

We all do, son, because love is there.

When our world was shattered, when we couldn’t imagine a more painful or a more frightening time, love met us there. Right where the bomb had taken half the building. Right where the ground itself was broken.

Love came rushing in and gathered babies in its arms to carry them to safety. Love brought meal after meal to rescue teams. Love joined hands and held tight to those who were mourning.

When enough love is there, when it seeps in to the cracks and the crevices, broken ground becomes holy ground.

When a tiny nephew arrives too early, and a co-worker swerves too late. When your mama goes in for another surgery and comes out with no more answers. When that annoying mole on your head takes stitches and staples and introduces the word cancer to your medical file. When the car won’t start and the dishes never end. When the whole earth shakes and tears beneath you, trust that love is rushing in.

And when it arrives?

Take off your shoes and know you are walking on sacred ground.

Sensible Shoes #6453Like most people, I enjoy a good book, but I don’t like to take time to weed through the mediocre ones. That’s why I love recommendations from friends.

And that’s why this summer’s Simply Faithful book club pick is “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” by Sharon Garlough Brown ($18, IVP Books). A friend suggested it, and I read it and fell in love.

Now, I can’t wait to discuss it with you and introduce you to the author during a Facebook chat in August.

Brown does a masterful job of introducing us to four strangers who meet at a spiritual retreat center and begin the difficult work of unmasking themselves. Hannah is a pastor on a forced sabbatical. Meg is a widow haunted by her past and struggling with an empty nest. Mara has experienced a lifetime of rejection and now is in a difficult marriage. And Charissa? She is a graduate student who desperately wants to do what is right.

They all wrestle with faith in such a true-to-life way – a way I often don’t see in Christian fiction – and that’s the real gift of this book. Brown, who has a master’s of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is a pastor and spiritual director with the Evangelical Covenant Church, paints faith as a relationship that grows and stumbles and strengthens, as something more than merely a subplot to life.

She also weaves in scripture and spiritual practices, like walking a labyrinth and praying the examen, so readers come away with tools to draw closer to God in their own, non-fiction lives. In fact, at www.sensibleshoesclub.com Brown offers a free 80-page companion guide to the book, which essentially serves as a 12-week devotional.

In the next few weeks I’ll share more about the author and your chance to chat with her. In the meantime, what do you say? Will you join us for the Simply Faithful book club?

Our engagement photo...

Our engagement photo…

If my math is right, I write more than 22,000 words a year here in this space. I tell you about my struggles and my prayers. I share stories about my past, and let’s face it, you’ve practically watched my boys grown up here in these lines.

But I’ve told you very little about my husband, Brian.

Maybe you remember he’s a Navy veteran and that he fights depression. Maybe you know he agreed to adopt our oldest son before he ever met him. Maybe you’ve seen his handsome face on my blog or on social media.

And maybe it’s time I told you more.

I met him while writing a story, and I think he asked me just as many questions as I asked him. We had been dating for three weeks when Daddy had a heart attack and I flew to Oklahoma to be there for his bypass surgery.

I showed him a picture of Brian and his broad shoulders and I told Daddy this guy was different.

I know, Daddy said. I can tell.

We were married a year and a half later.

Our dedication – and our fights over paint colors, money and household chores – grew as we started our life together as husband and wife. Then, because living with one person isn’t complicated enough, we added children.

I’ve always believed you can glimpse a person’s true character by watching how he treats children, how he cares for those who hold the least power.

imageI’ve seen Brian’s notes on the kitchen counter, the ones he scratches out late at night when he’s thinking about what’s important for our boys to learn and the best ways for them to learn it. I’ve heard him apologize to the boys and watched him model how to argue without calling names, how to stand up for the people you love, how to sit with someone who is hurting and how to pray.

He reads Edgar Allen Poe with the teenager, Star Wars books to the 6-year-old and model train catalogs to the 3-year-old. He has been known to wrestle with the boys after dinner, explode pop bottles and use the vacuum hose to style the littlest guy’s hair.

All of that silliness is good for us, and so is the way he keeps us steady. We’re thankful for him and for all the men whose character shines. Today and every day.

 

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