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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.

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 to share your book recommendations.


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.


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.


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!

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 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?


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