Welcome to the 2016 book club

I think when you hear the same message from more than three people, you should take it seriously. And I’ve heard that several of you want more book suggestions and more opportunities for book discussions.

Finally, I think I’ve figured out how to do that for you.

Here’s what it will look like:

  • On the first day of every month I’ll host a three-book giveaway. Each month one person will win, and the package will include a children’s book, a novel and a non-fiction book. Look for these giveaways on the Simply Faithful Facebook page.
  • On April 15, June 15 and Aug. 15 I’ll host a book giveaway where six people will win a copy of the same book. Those people will be asked to discuss the book on the Simply Faithful Facebook page so the rest of us can determine if we might like to read it, too. Then, I’ll capture that discussion and share it here so it is easy to find for everyone.
  • In the fall, I will select a book for us all to read. I’ll interview the author and you’ll all have a chance to chat live with him/her on social media. This year, if the author is comfortable with it, we may offer live streaming on Facebook so you can see the author, too, while you are asking questions. (Yes, just like the Jetsons!)
  • I’m working on creating a monthly newsletter that will include suggestions for living a life of faith, free printables and book suggestions, along with Q&As with talented authors. If you are interested in receiving those newsletters, just slip your email address in the box on the bottom left.

Let’s try it. Sound good?

P.S. Feel free to share your book recommendations with me – especially for the fall. Thanks!

Summer books: Two Steps Forward

Sharon Garlough BrownEditor’s note: This is the final piece in a series of four author interviews.

I first fell in love with Sharon Garlough Brown’s story in Sensible Shoes – a work of fiction full of spiritual truths. That book introduces readers to four strangers who 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.

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 continue in Two Steps Forward, which releases in October and offers plenty of truth of its own.

I feel like your characters in Sensible Shoes became my friends, and I’ve been wondering about how they are all doing. Are they all included in the sequel? If so, do they share the spotlight like they did before – or does this book focus in on one character in particular?

Yes, Two Steps Forward follows the stories of each of the four main characters in Sensible Shoes. It picks up right where Sensible Shoes ends, with Meg on the plane to England.

In your first book, we saw how each character had struggles and spiritual lessons. What are some of the issues we’ll see them deal with in the sequel?

One of the differences with Two Steps Forward is that the characters are no longer participating in a retreat together. So the question is, what will they remember (or forget) about what they’ve learned, especially when life falls apart? The primary theme of Two Steps Forward is persevering in hope and trusting that somehow in the midst of the mess, Jesus comes to reveal his presence. Since transformation is a slow and non-linear process, you’ll see the characters wrestling with some of the same issues they struggled with in Sensible Shoes: perfectionism, anxiety, rejection, grief.

One of the things I enjoyed about Sensible Shoes was that it combined a great fiction piece with solid spiritual practices that I could put to use in my daily life. Is there more of that in this book?

Yes! Though Two Steps Forward does not contain teaching handouts like Sensible Shoes, the spiritual disciplines are embedded and integrated into the story. You’ll get to watch how the characters are practicing the disciplines they’ve learned. A study guide is included at the back of the book, with opportunity to engage with reflection questions and spiritual disciplines.

A summer reading series for July

IMG_4055I walked in to the church a bit nervous mainly because I’m used to the process of writing where I can cross my words out and try again before anyone knows my mistake. But these were women who had read my words in the newspaper already. They wanted to hear them. From me.

We talked for the better part of an hour and then the questions came. Some about my family. Others about my writing process. Then, at the end, we talked books. They wanted specifics. Titles. Names of authors. These were women who read, and read seriously.

They are the inspiration for what you’ll see in my columns for the month of July. I’ll share three books that are next in my personal queue today, and then each of the following four weeks I’ll share interviews with authors of new books that I know you’ll really enjoy.

Today my bookmark is on page 10 of Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty, and Adventure – Right Where She Is. It’s written by Sarah Mae and releases in August. It promises to be “for the woman who knows she can’t uproot her life to discover herself and her longings, but who desperately wants to uncover them so she can get unstuck.”

Next in line for me is Brave Enough: Getting Over our Fears, Flaws, and Failures to Live Bold and Free by Nicole Unice. It also releases in August and asks tough questions like, “Is fear holding you back from becoming your best self?”

“Bravery doesn’t have to mean cliff diving out of your comfort zone,” the synopsis says. “Life is about being brave enough – for yourself, for God, for your tasks, and for your calling – right where He’s placed you.”

After that, I’m hoping to start reading the Believe series by Randy Frazee. The premise is to encourage readers to think, act and be like Jesus. The study includes scripture, life application questions and books for all ages so an entire congregation (or family) can work through it together.

What are you reading? Remember I’m hosting the Simply Faithful Book Club starting Oct. 8 so email me at markettagregory@yahoo.com to share your book recommendations.

Making room for more light — and more God

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How to let more light in

For the second week in a row we went around the circle and introduced ourselves, told why we were interested in reading a novel about four women who meet on a spiritual retreat and why our hearts were pulled to discuss the book with others.

This woman had been there before, had driven the 45 minutes to hear what we were learning from the characters and from our questions. But this time, as we told our names and our stories to the new people, she mentioned owning an apple orchard.

I told of my three crazy boys, of make-shift wrestling matches in the living room and of being suspicious of silence in our house. And once we were no longer strangers, we talked about “Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey” and how we could see sticky notes and dog-eared pages in the books we held in our hands.

“What parts did you underline? What parts meant the most to you?” I asked.

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One woman turned to page 15, where Hannah, one of the main characters, is being reminded of a sermon she preached about God pruning things like a gardener would. Hannah had told her congregation that pruning isn’t punishment – it’s improvement.

“I had never thought of that scripture that way,” the woman said as others chimed in about pruning and its painfulness.

But the woman with the orchard shook her head and waited for a turn to speak.

Pruning is essential, she said, and we do it more than once a year because the trees need space. The fruit needs nutrients. And pruning allows for more light.

That last thought – the one about the light? That’s the one that keeps ringing in my ears. That’s the one that has me asking what I need to let go of so God and love and light can more easily find their way through my muddled mess.

Maybe it’s my own expectations that could stand to be cut back or the binge watching on Netflix that could be trimmed a bit. Maybe I could take the scissors to my spending, my procrastination and a hundred other bad habits that pull time and nutrients from my soul.

The gardener knows with each snip, there would be room for more light and stronger growth.

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A conversation with Sharon Garlough Brown

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!

Your summer must-read (Join us?)

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?

Satisfied: School of Contentment (week 1)

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Thank you for reading Satisfied with us. I’m hoping that you’ll tackle the first section this week and then come back and share your thoughts with us. (We have much to learn from each other. Amen?)

One of my favorite quotes from this section is:

“Contentment is not achieved through getting everything we want but by training the heart to experience full joy and deep peace even when we don’t have what we want.”

With that in mind, what areas of your life are you content with? Where do you need help?

How do we know we have enough or that we are enough?

The author suggests two projects this week: Counting your shirts and shoes and giving something of value away.

How many shirts and shoes do you have?

What did you give away?

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“Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied…” Psalm 63:4-5

How to have a Facebook chat

So, maybe you’re interested in this book Satisfied and thinking you’d participate in this Facebook chat with the author — if you only had a clue how to do that.

No worries. Here’s a quick and easy tutorial so you’ll be ready for March 25.

First, you go to the Simply Faithful Facebook page here.

Once you are there, you’ll see a page that looks a lot like this. See that arrow? That’s where you post your questions for the author, Jeff Manion.

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Want to see the answer to your questions — and the questions that other people are asking?

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Remember to refresh your page every few minutes so you are seeing the latest conversations.

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And that, my friends, is just about all there is to this. So, what do you say? Will you join us?

Ready to find contentment? Join the club…

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For the 24-year-old who went and got that four-year degree and now works retail with $46,000 in student loans.

For the 44-year-old whose business is doing better than she ever imagined but still doesn’t feel like her house is big enough, her car is new enough or that she is good enough.

For the 64-year-old with an overstuffed closet, a packed basement, a cramped garage and a nagging sense that there is something missing.

For all of us scrolling through our Facebook feeds and noticing how perfect everyone else’s lives are – for all of us struggling to be content right where we are – I chose “Satisfied” by Jeff Manion for the Simply Faithful book club.

Manion is a pastor at a large church in Michigan called Ada Bible Church. He started to notice that anytime he preached or taught about being content with what we have, he would get an avalanche of responses. It seemed to touch a nerve.

And with the collapse of the housing market, shifts in the manufacturing industry and upheaval in the financial world, that nerve seemed even more sensitive.

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So, he wrote about the dangers of comparison and about finding our identity in the one who created us. He spent a chapter on generosity and another on the power of serving others.

9780310328353_imageThe deeper into the book I got, the more I dog-eared pages and marked up passages with purple highlighter. I can’t wait to discuss it with you and to experience it as a community.

The book is divided into six sections. We’ll read one a week starting Feb. 10. There are questions and projects for each section, so let’s keep in touch at simplyfaithful.com each Monday because this is a conversation worth having.

“If a person believes that more is enough, then more is never enough,” Manion said. “It creates a cycle of repeated disillusionment.”

And feeling like you don’t measure up is easier than ever, he added.

“Twenty years ago I compared my reality to your reality. Now I compare my reality to your image projection.”

People post pictures on social media of themselves at their thinnest, at fabulous dinners and at interesting events.

“It’s really a highlights reel,” he said. “You don’t post pictures of me sitting in my cubicle and then me sitting in my cubicle again the next day.”

Generosity and humble service are powerful antidotes for dissatisfaction and comparison, though – and we all have something to give.

Serving others trains the heart that it is not all about me, Manion said, and giving money and other things away reminds the heart that “this is not my God.”

Still, contentment can be fleeting.

You can enroll in the school of contentment when you are in your 20s and just starting out with your first place, Manion said, and then sometimes, when your circumstances change or your wealth grows, you need to re-enroll in the school of contentment.

Whatever stage you are at, will you enroll with us?

If you host

We’ll have a Facebook chat with Jeff Manion at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25, on the Simply Faithful page.

We’re asking people to volunteer their homes, their places of worship or their favorite coffee shops to host friends for the Facebook chat. (The first 10 people to agree to host get some free goodies to share with their friends!)

If you are looking for a group to join that night, stop by Alpha and Omega Parable Christian Store, 1601 Penfield Road in Penfield, NY. (I’ll be there starting around 6:15 p.m.)

More about the book

“Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption” just released in January and is available online and at local bookstores. (Alpha and Omega Parable Christian Store is offering them for $11.97 if you mention you’re reading it as part of the community book club.)

To learn more about Jeff Manion, visit jeffmanion.org. Also, the church where Manion serves is studying the book and has sermons available online at adabible.org.

 

A chance to meet the crazy, cooky writer behind ‘Jackson Jones’

Photo courtesy of Jenn Kelly

Photo courtesy of Jenn Kelly

Don’t forget: We’re chatting with author Jenn Kelly at 7 p.m. EST Dec. 3 on the Simply Faithful Facebook page.

She is a delight to visit with.

Witty.

Wise.

Caring.

I promise it will be time well spent.

If you have young ones — elementary age — consider letting them join us, too. Even if they haven’t read “Jackson Jones: The Tale of a Boy, an Elf, and a Very Stinky Fish” ($12.99, Zonderkidz) they will enjoy learning from her.

A few of us are planning to meet in person at the Greece Public Library, so feel free to join us in person!

Read more about Jenn Kelly and the Simply Faithful book club here…