Sensible Shoes Sharon Garlough BrownWe were so thankful to have Sharon Garlough Brown, author of Sensible Shoes, spend time with us on Facebook as part of the Simply Faithful Book Club. She is full of wisdom and grace, so I wanted to capture that conversation for you here.

Click on the comments button (the one that looks like a speech bubble) to read along… Be blessed!

image image imageI was in the hallway of Woodcliff Hotel and Spa the first time I mentioned it. My husband and I had just been upgraded from a regular room to the Orient Suite – a difference of about $200 a night – and I made my confession right there by the elevators.

I know it doesn’t seem theologically sound, but sometimes I feel like I’m really Jesus’ favorite.

I said it in a half whisper then just in case anyone rounded the corner, but I’m saying it louder now because I’ve decided it’s true.

A couple of weeks ago, the person in the car ahead of me at Tim Horton’s paid for my bagel and sugar-infused coffee.

Clearly, Jesus likes me.

Then, something I had been struggling with at work came together better than I expected.

Are you noticing the same pattern I am?

A week later I had a terrible stomach bug. The worst I had had in at least seven years. And no one else in my family caught even a tiny bit of it.

Thank you, God.

My 12-year-old car? It’s still running.

My family? Quirky and crazy – and loving and funny.

My refrigerator? Disorganized but full.

Sure, there are times when I don’t get what I want or am certain I need. Times when I don’t understand why God doesn’t step in and tidy things up in this world and make it a little better for all of us, especially those in need of a safe place to even put a refrigerator.

But being his favorite doesn’t mean having all the answers or always having things my way. It simply means I can trust his love for me in the thank-you times and in the no-thanks-I’d-rather-not times. And it means I should reach out to his other favorites, the ones who – like me – he calls beloved.

That mama trying to keep her daughter safe and off the war-torn streets. That man struggling to fight his way out of the bottle and into a job. That teen who can’t seem to understand math no matter how many days he stays after school. That child who is scared and alone in the court system.

All of us beloved. All of us in need of God’s strength and grace. All of us equal.

All of us favorites.

How to choose joyIt was a morning when I already had a case built against my husband.

There was a list at least three pages long of things he hadn’t done the way I wanted them – when I wanted them. Important things, like getting rid of that eyesore of an aquarium and taking millions of water bottles to the recycling bin.

So, I set off for work with this list running through my head and about the time I hit Lake Avenue I saw these three women out exercising. I probably wouldn’t have noticed them except that they were dancing as they walked.

I smiled and thought it was nice that someone was having a good morning. And then, I had the little thought: Maybe they’ve just decided to dance anyway.

I pushed the thought aside. I had a lot to figure out before I made it to work, and I was hungry. There was that to think about, too.

Halfway to work, I pulled into a drive-thru and got out my wallet while I waited on the person in the car ahead of me to order.

I found no cash.

No debit card.

No credit card.

And I had no packed lunch for the day.

I turned the car around and drove home, sure to sigh heavily when I opened the door and asked my husband for the card. It was a simple miscommunication, but it meant my early-to-work day changed to a 15-minutes-late-to-work day.

I got back in my car and back on Lake Avenue and I saw the three women again. Their dancing had slowed a bit but they were still smiling and laughing. Good for them, I thought as I drove a little faster.

I was over a bridge and almost to halfway to work again when I noticed a man who looked like he was walking to work. As I passed him, though, I saw his head bobbing and his shoulders swaying. I caught him in my rearview mirror just to be sure.

Yes. He was dancing.

I rolled my eyes and took a deep breath. Maybe there’s something to all this dancing – all this joy. Nobody’s life hangs in the balance if I turn on my computer 15 minutes later than expected. I can love my husband even if the recycling takes another day, I thought.

So, I turned up the radio. And I chose joy.

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It was the day I was supposed to write my column – two columns to be exact – so I could go on vacation and not have to worry about sending anything in to my editor.

And it was the day the old computer decided to work sometimes and not work other times. Like Pavlov’s dog, I sat there in my home office waiting for my treat, waiting for the screen to blink on so I could peck out some sentences on my keyboard and check in on my social media sites.

But the minutes ticked by and no treat came. Not even a flicker. Not a post. Not a tweet.

I started shuffling papers and straightening books. I noticed Colt’s tempera paint artwork and Benjamin’s acrylic-on-canvas masterpieces, so I opened up a package of Command hooks and started eyeballing where the paintings would fit on the wall.

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I dusted the bookcase, pushed the heavy Royal typewriter farther to the right and had Jessie bring in some trimmings from a friendly plant that lives in my neighbor’s yard but likes to stretch out on our side of the fence. I pulled out Grandma’s old cat eye glasses, some thread on a wooden spool and tiles from a Scrabble game. I talked and laughed with the boys while I brought out the markers and the colored pencils, the paintbrushes and the blending sticks.

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All day we tinkered and visited and colored and decorated.

All day the computer made it difficult for me to log on but easier for me to connect. Because sometimes, when I’m checking in at all those virtual sites, I’m really checking out.

So, instead of spending those hours preparing for vacation, I spent those hours enjoying living here at home. I warmed up the oven to make the boys’ favorite banana bread and fiddled with those garage sale Scrabble tiles to figure out what I wanted to spell, what I wanted to remember from the day.

The letters were almost too easy to find in the pile.

B.E. S.T.I.L.L.

A reminder of the day and a lesson for a lifetime.

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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.

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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.

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