Monday, April 14, 2014

Why I Want to Be a Spiritual Misfit {a book giveaway}

I asked my preschool Sunday school class, "Who puts band aids on your elbows and kisses the hurts away when you fall down?" Most of them raised their hands into the air about to burst at the seams with the answer. When I smiled Addy's way, she proudly exhaled, "Jesus!"

Have you been a Christian long enough to know the Sunday school answer? Everyone knows Jesus is the answer and everything else is wrong.

Everyone, that is, except Michelle DeRusha. This girl says what no respectable Christian would about her faith in Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith.

Finally, there is someone brave enough to say all the things we Christians have thought then promptly suppressed, thinking them inappropriate. Michelle says it all and confesses it loud.

She's no stranger to confession, and she's found it much more freeing and absolving to shout her shortcomings and flaws, her mistakes and misgivings, her timid baby steps toward God and her skepticism to the whole word rather than whisper them shamefully behind the veil of  the confessional.

She stares her uneasy, fragile faith in the eye. With an equally scant measure of defiance pitted against her paltry faith, Michelle plods on in her awkward and jolting relationship to God. She's determined to hammer out her Christianity no matter what it looks like, even if she misses and hits her thumb — or worse, God's — in the process.

If you are one who learned long ago to sensor your answers and substitute them with the Sunday school answer, whether it's the truth — your truth — or not, meet Michelle, the girl with your story, give or take a few details. You will love her instantly because you will see yourself in her, and you will cheer her forward in her faith. She’s the underdog, and aren't we all suckers for the underdog?
“And that's when I prayed. I'll admit, it was a combination of cursing and praying, but that was progress. A year or two prior, it would have been entirely cursing under my breath. So when I was blasting Brad in my head—Stupid, stupid idea. Mr. Stupid Nature Man dragging us out here in this stupid wilderness...—I was praying, Please God, please God, please don't let the canoe turn over; please help us get to shore safely, please give me the strength to keep paddling, please keep my children safe. I even thought about suggesting to the kids that we pray out loud together. But I ditched that idea when I realized it probably would have panicked them further. "What?! Mommy's praying! Mommy's praying! We're all gonna die!!" (Spiritual Misfit, p. 150)
Maybe if we as Christians were more honest about our messy faith, those still searching for their faith would see themselves in us, see an underdog and a God who loves us all in spite of the mis-fit and the fall-short.

I've always thought I wanted others to see Jesus in me. I still do. But after reading Michelle’s book, I also want people to see the flawed and beautiful battle of dying to myself and groping my way in the darkness by faith to a very real God who loves me anyway. It's comforting to know we are not alone in this, especially when our real life faith often doesn’t look like the Sunday school answer.

Maybe you haven't yet embarked on Michelle's journey. You haven't found the courage to hold your feeble and fragile faith-baby still gestating inside you. If that’s you, you’ll find in Michelle's story the courage you've been searching for. Her experience is flawed and human and wanting and very, very real. You will find yourself in her words.

You could win a free copy of Michelle’s book. I’m giving away Spiritual Misfit to one brave commenter.

So, tell me, what makes you feel like a spiritual misfit? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Let’s be brave and talk about it. I’ll be right there with you to say, “Yeah. Me, too.” Or you can just tell me why you'd love to read this book. Any comment will do.

You can also find Spiritual Misfit on your local bookstore shelf starting today or order online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

Spiritual Misfit Giveaway Details:

1.      Enter to win by leaving a blog comment with a way to contact you in case you win.
2.      Entries close Thursday afternoon at 5PM EDT.
3.      I’ll announce the winner on the blog on Friday.  

In community with Jennifer.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Guest Posting: A Spiritual Misfit Tale

I pull into the garage and my dog and daughter meet me three steps into the kitchen. "Shhh," she whispers. "Adrian's boss is here recording." 

I hear his warm, rich tenor penetrate my disheveled house, and I melt from the beauty of the sound and from the messiness of my house.

I have a valid reason not to get further into the house than the kitchen. I don't have to face him if I don't want to, you know, because dinner has to be cooked and the morning dishes and after school snack leftovers await me in the sink and on every counter.

The kitchen alone is appalling. ...

I'm guest posting at Michelle DeRusha's blog today. She's written a memoir of her uneasy faith called Spiritual Misfit. I've read it and I think you might find yourself and your own uneasy faith in her pages. You can find out more about it on her book page or just go preorder it using the links below. It releases April 15.
Her story will make you laugh, then catch you by surprise with tenderness and fill you with unexpected grace once she convinces you it's impossible.
You might find that you, too, are a spiritual misfit, or, better yet, want to actually become one.
My incriminating house and unexpected company? Well, it's a spiritual misfit tale of the divergent kind.
No. Not that Divergent. But humor me — come on over to Michelle's.
To pre-order your copy of Spiritual Misfit: Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The High Cost and the High of the Writing Life

This final installment in my series on Annie Dillard's The Writing Life is posting a day early because I have a huge surprise tomorrow that is deserving of all the attention. So come back tomorrow for the big surprise.

Also, please note the links in this piece will take you to the other posts in this series, although not necessarily in order.

 ~   ~   ~

In the final chapter of The Writing Life, Annie Dillard introduces us to Dave Rahm. He wanted to become an expert on mountains, so began studying geography. "Too pedestrian," geography proved to be a gateway drug into geology, then mountain climbing, flying, and ultimately air stunts.

It culminated in becoming a work of art in an airplane, and Dillard uses him as a metaphor for writing.

"When Rahm flew, he sat down in the middle of art, and strapped himself in. He spun it all around him. ... Rahm used the plane inexhaustibly, like a brush marking thin air. (page 110 and 96). His aerobatics stood out among the other pilots because:

  • he was more daring
  • he was freer
  • he followed his instinct (intuition) even to potentially perilous places

He refused to settle for safe, and it left his spectators gasping and crying out, hanging on his every air-brushed word.

The best artists bravely ignore the boundaries, pushing instinctively and intuitively in the direction of beauty. "He knew the mountain by familiar love and feel...; He knew what the plane could do and what he dared to do" (page 101).

Dillard said of Rahm and his air shows, "He was pure energy and naked spirit. I thought about it for years" (page 96).

Hemingway spoke of the same thing when he said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I want to do that. I think every writer does, but most aren’t daring enough. And it’s the one thing that sets apart brilliant from mediocre. It takes risking all, willingness to die on the page.

Lest you think I jump to dramatic conclusions, I cite the chapter's epigraph.
It's easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren't writers, and very little harm comes to them. —Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot
It's true: the most satisfying reading is bled to the page. Otherwise, the piece leaves me feeling that I wasted my time reading it.

Maybe it's time to put into practice all the writing advice I've collected and never implemented after all. Try my hand at Cameron's morning pages, Goldberg's timed writings with a constantly moving pencil. See what cowardice and bravery come. Let Hemingway get me started by writing one true sentence, the truest sentence I know.

My first attempt:
I don't know if I have "the writing life" in me—it apparently comes at a much higher price than I anticipated—but as much as I love my safety, I'm no longer willing to ever only be the one who was too scared to try. I might as well put my truest words out there and audaciously hope they linger in your thoughts for years.

Now, to find the daily courage for that sort of flying in the face of death.

If you are interested in more writing on writing, I have read these two pieces during my time with Annie Dillard that were thoroughly enjoyable.

Alexander Chee's personal essay in the Morning News called Annie Dillard and the Writing Life.
The Real Job of a Writer by Emily P, Freeman @ chatting at the sky.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Traveling In Faith With Your Life in God's Hands

Pastor Garang from South Sudan went to the port of Mombasa, Kenya to collect a truck donated to his ministry. A church in Nebraska and an individual family worked together to provide it.

Pastor Garang used to travel by bicycle to share the gospel and start churches in his homeland.

He has retrieved the truck from the port and is in route back to South Sudan. It is a long journey on treacherous roads. There are those who would do harm along the way. He has need of money to buy fuel to go such a distance and is yet unable to pay the custom to enter South Sudan. He is unable to provide for himself all that is needed.

Yet he travels.

He travels in faith, his very life in God's hand.

All Christians should see the faith-walk as such: a long journey on a treacherous road with the potential for attack from the enemy, all while relying on God to get us safely home.

We travel faithfully when we lack every resource and provision, trust in the contribution of God's grace and the body of Christ, with only our will to commend us to go forth regardless of the conditions.

Sounds crazy, but the love of Christ compels us (2 Corinthians 5:13-14, loosely paraphrased).

Godspeed, Pastor Garang.

And how can they preach
unless they are sent?
As it is written:
How beautiful are the feet
of those who announce the gospel of good tidings.
Romans 10:15, HCSB 
Pictures courtesy of Pastor Garang Deng.
Sharing with Michelle, Jen and Jennifer.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fickle: On Going Nowhere

Solomon wrote it at the beginning of his philosophical rant: There is nothing new under the sun.

I often think the same thought when it comes to writing. By now it's all been said, and rather nicely I might add. There's no new message or even any way to improve upon the old ones. No possibility of something more artful, eloquent, intelligent or beautiful. Why bother?

On the other hand, there's the equally sad and paralyzing idea. There are a vast number of words in the English language, infinite possibilities when it comes to stringing them together that hasn't been exhausted yet. Where to begin?

Chapter Six of Annie Dillard's The Writing Life is about paddling against the tide, only to exhaust yourself and get nowhere.

"I lived on the beach with one foot in the fatal salt water and one foot on a billion grains of sand" (page 89).

You don't have to be a writer to live on Dillard's beach or row her boat. You just have to be someone who makes art. Cooking, sewing, painting, athletic competition, making music, restoring old homes, investigating crimes. No matter what you love to do, part of you wants to do something extraordinary and brilliant, but part of you is convinced there's nothing left to do. That desire to make a contribution to your field keeps you pressing onward in the face of both nothing-new-under-the-sun and the infinite sky that holds that sun.

"...the infinite assaulted the page again and required me to represent it" (page 90).

The difference between a beginner and a master is the willingness to embrace the fatal and the infinite and row anyway.

Dillard is here to tell you — and me — to not stop paddling. Eventually the tide that goes out will come in, and that which was holding you back will spur you on.

So if you are contemplating giving up, don't. Dig deeper. Paddle harder. Spend yourself working hard to go nowhere fast. The tide will eventually turn.

And old man Solomon? His philosophical rant became holy writ. So there's that.

Tell me, what motivates you to keep going when you feel like quitting?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Golf, Alligator Wresling, and Other Near Impossibilities

It was the last time I was with my brother Jeff, just three months before he died in a car accident — 20 years ago now. He was driving through town on a business trip, and decided to leave early enough to stay a few days. His arrived with ladies' left-handed golf clubs in his trunk because his latest athletic conquest was golf. Jeff never met a sport he didn't love and excel at. Mike was already an avid golfer, so the three of us headed happily to the driving range that night.

With my bucket of balls, I promptly made a few gorgeous 220-yard drives straight into the swath of green polka-dotted with golf balls. Neither Jeff nor Mike could believe it. But my form was terrible, so Mike, ever the coach, began teaching me better technique. But adjusting my swing caused me to miss the ball altogether. It was an instant fun-killer. I got so aggravated that Jeff laid aside his driver and came over to talk me off the ledge. His arm around my shoulder and his gaze philosophically surmising the driving range, he told me why he loved golf so much: nobody has mastered it. Even the pros hit slices, land shots in the water and sand traps, and miss puts.
That was the reason Jeff loved golf?! A guarantee of not mastering the art? No thank you! My pink pin-striped golf clubs have hung from a peg in the garage ever since. Jeff was out of his mind.

* * *

There's an exchange that happens between a writer and a reader. It's intangible, invisible, and elusive. It's hard to describe or define, but almost everyone recognizes it when they see it. It's the reason people love to read. They pore over pages, some of them not even good, in search of another one of those elusive exchanges. Readers want beauty laid bare, life heightened, and the deepest engagement of their hearts and intellects (see Dillard, p. 72). Need I say writing is hard work?

Annie Dillard lays out the mission in chapter five of The Writing Life, should we writers choose to accept it:
  • magnify and dramatize the reader's own days
  • illuminate and inspire with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness
  • press upon the reader's mind the world's deepest mysteries so he feels again their majesty and power
It's downright near to impossible.

She says of the writer, "This is your life. You are a Seminole alligator wrestler. Half naked, with your two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence's head while its tail tries to knock you over" (Dillard, p. 74-75).

Put like that, I don't know what would possess me to continue in pursuit of it, the perfect sentence, and then wrestle down another. And yet I do.

"At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then—and only then—it is handed to you" (Dillard, p. 75).

I finally understand Jeff's pursuit of golf, his obsession with the seemingly impossible. What golf was to my athlete-brother, writing is to me. It's the art I will strive after for a lifetime.

To write a piece that is crafted well enough to resonate with a reader and create that ever elusive exchange? It's as exhilarating as a hole-in-one. Has to be.

Because I keep swinging my words left-handed thinking I must be out of my mind.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Five Things I Learned From Five Paragraphs

Guess what, y'all?

Annie Dillard's fourth chapter is five paragraphs long — shorter than my blog posts. Honestly. What a showoff.

The chapter was so short, we weren't even supposed to write a post today, but I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if I had an odd chapter out. I'm not kidding. I think I'm allergic to ducks when they aren't in a row.

So, in honor of her scant five paragraphs, I offer five things I learned from chapter four:

  1. Things will go wrong. Just give it a little time. And plan accordingly.
  2. I sound like an insurance agent; she didn't. (which means my writing still needs work.)
  3. Chapter length doesn't have to be uniform, although that's what every expert except Dillard will tell you. I think she's having trouble conforming to convention again.
  4. When things go haywire, the truest you will be on display. (Do you like that person?)
  5. The burning typewriter in chapter four that isn't consumed is NOT holy ground like Moses' burning bush was. But, when a writer is on fire in front of his keyboard, it does feel a little miraculous.

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