Inciting Incidents Book Release

Christians love to talk about story. We call it a cosmic narrative, the grand drama of redemption, personal testimony or storied living.

But the whole conversation gets a bit nebulous at times … we’re in love with the broad-stroke concept, but we lose touch with what pursuing God’s story in our lives really looks like in the nitty-gritty of our everyday.

This is why I have loved getting to work with the writers and creative minds behind Inciting Incidents: 6 Stories of Fighting  Disappointment in a Flawed World published this month. I’ve long been a big proponent of memoir, and when I started talking to Moody Publishers about what a memoir project might look like over a year ago, I couldn’t have guessed that the result would be this talented a group of people behind this beautiful a book.

Curated by Sarah Cunningham, contributed by  Jeff GoinsDave HickmanBlaine HoganTracee PersikoMandy Thompson and David Wenzel, and edited by myself, Inciting Incidents traces the thread of grace through six memoir-esque stories. Here is a group of people who sincerely said “yes” to every plot turn and twist God sent their way—despite their fair share of struggling—and their honest stories will challenge you to  put the same amount of intentional pursuit into aligning your own daily details with a much bigger and more beautiful scene.

Read a sample chapter here,  visit the website for more info and freebies or to find out how to share your own story with these writers and other bloggers. 

When You Feel Like You’re Just Treading Water

These past few weeks, I drove to Massachussets, swooped across states to Chicago, flew to Florida to start a new job, and returned, all on the heels of a big decision for my husband and I. We’re selling our house, figuring out new job set-ups for both of us, and trying to fit in as much good friends and family time as possible before we leave.

And I can’t say that I have been very healthy or balanced in my approach to braving the transition. I am, however, learning as I go, and have found a few things to be helpful:

Take care of your body. I found this gem of insight from Scottish scholar and evangelist Henry Drummond:

“If you would know God’s will in the higher [realm], you must begin with God’s will in the lower; which simply means this — that if you want to live the ideal life, you must begin with the ideal body. The law of moderation, the law of sleep, the law of regularity, the law of exercise, the law of cleanliness — this is the law or will of God for you. This is the first law, the beginning of His will for you.”

In other words, eat well, rest, exercise, take your vitamins, make that chiropractor appointment you’ve been putting off because you’re too busy (I am completely writing to myself here). These are the essentials that fly out the window as soon as we feel stressed, but without them, our work and our faith will suffer the effects. We need to care for our bodies so that we can use them for the good work to which we are called.

Strike a balance. Sleep, good time with my husband, reading and writing, and even just sitting are important. And if I don’t make time for them, I will fool myself into thinking that I have to be wired up 24/7. But my days will be far more enjoyable and far more effective if I don’t cram them full with “to do” items.

Follow the advice of Psalm 127:2: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” It’s a false assumption that by sacrificing our rest and well-being we can get ahead.

This often means exercising the discipline of saying “no” to an otherwise good opportunity. We can’t do it all. Don’t take on an extra project that will have you working late into the night, even if the compensation is tempting.

Let go of guilt. I’m generalizing here, but it seems to me that women have a particularly strong tendency to sink into the guilt of what we haven’t accomplished in a day. But I want to feel good about what I’ve done at the end of the day, and I’m realizing the difference is determined not by tasks, but by outlook. If I am realistic about what I want to accomplish, then I am more likely to feel content about what I am able to do. And if I don’t get something done, I am learning to give myself grace.

When you’re busy and stressed, what is usually the first thing to go? What ways have you found to keep a healthy balance? 


Some News . . .

About a year ago, I applied for a position that was far away, improbable, and logistically out of reach but seemed too good not to try for. A few steps into the process, however, it became evident that my husband and I would not be able to relocate at that time. So we considered it a pass, and stayed put.

But that has since changed.

I spent last week in Winter Park, Florida, getting set up for my new job as Content Development Editor at RELEVANT magazine, the same position I hoped for a year ago.

The process leading up to this decision with my husband was difficult and complex, as every life-uprooting decision is, but after we determined that there are opportunities in Florida for both of us, and that we are up for a challenge especially when we believe the challenge will be equally rewarding, we decided to take the leap.

In this swell of change, I’m grateful for a husband who loves and supports me in my pursuits and passions, the opportunity to serve on a great and talented team who I believe is not only speaking into culture but shaping it, and the striking grace of being able to make a living with words.

For you, for us, for all of us in our daily work, this is my prayer:

Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “For Vocation in Daily Work,” (1979), p. 261)

This Week’s Writings and Readings

“Thinspiration”  Yesterday I wrote for RELEVANT on the stomach-turning carousel of comparison I get swept up in by Pinterest, magazine, ads, etc., and why we need a new body model (which comes from a surprising place).

I’ve been immensely enjoying The High Calling’s “Everything Matters” series, exploring the idea from the vantage points of vocations across the spectrum that our work matters and creates culture. Today I’m privileged to contribute a few thoughts on why book marketing is not “dirty work,” but actually participates in an incarnational movement of Word becoming flesh, in Everything Matters: Book Publicity as Cultural Act.

This month when I was traveling, I missed out on both reading blogs and writing posts. But now that I’m back, good grief you people put out some good stuff! These are three posts that have fed and challenged me this week, and hope they will do the same for you:

  • Image Journal’s Good Letters blog is simply one of the best. And novelist Sara Zarr’s contribution this week, Writing on Empty, came just at the perfect time. Read it, and remember it.
  • Why the Bodily Resurrection Matters–Especially to Women by Sharon Hodde Miller is something I sincerely hope all my sisters will  be able to internalize–that our bodies are not shameful, and that the resurrection affirms that God cares about us as whole people, body and soul.
  • If you’re an overachiever like me, you might tend to over-commit, and then get miserable when you’ve taken on too much and it’s too late to back out. Christianne Squires has a word for us in her graciously challenging post, Living a Rhythmed Life: Having to Say No.

What have been your favorite reads this week, whether online or in print? 

Travel Stories: Grace on the Go

Two weeks ago on a trek to Image Journal’s Glen East workshop, I pulled off the road at a welcome area to grab some iced coffee. But what I left with was much more than that.

The social commentary of the American coffee line could keep anthropologists busy until the next transit of Venus, especially at travel plazas, where everyone is just trying to get from one place to the next. We want a toilet, a caffeine fix, and then we want to get on our merry way.

But this coffee line was going nowhere fast. The three customers in front of me had not moved in twenty minutes, despite the fact that there were about seven employees busy behind the counter. To be honest, they didn’t look like they knew what they were doing.

The woman at the front finally snapped. “I’m been standing here for 20 minutes,” she said, “and you haven’t even taken my order yet.” Her earrings dangled furiously. A dash of lipstick dotted her teeth.

A tall teenager hastily prepared her coffee, fumbled over the cash register, and handed her the drink. “All I wanted was a cup of coffee,” she said, and her wedge sandals clipped across the travel plaza tile off to a car, off to who knows where, and who knows why she had to get there so fast that common courtesy would weigh her down.

When it was my turn to order, I saw why the line was taking so long. The two young employees at the counter, dark-haired, unsmiling, had what I thought were name tags from a distance. Scrawled in magic marker, they read, “I’m from Kosovo.”

Kosovo. The country that is often named in the same sentence with genocide, war, death toll. Who knows what losses they have sustained? And we, Americans on the go, tapped our feet in line, irritated at such a small thing as having to wait for an indulgence the rest of the world is rarely afforded.

These boys had come from a home country severed by violence, flecked with blood and hate. We were just concerned with one creamer or two.

“What would you like?” the tall one asked me in stilted English. I realized these boys were new to American money, they talked to each other in their own language, checking their math on this foreign coin before giving back each customer’s change. They were new to everything here.

Waiting for my coffee, I realized that we never know where anyone we meet on the road is coming from. Not everyone has a name tag citing their dark history, their private wounds, their stain of regret. Every stranger and neighbor with whom our lives intersect is a mystery. Sometimes they will tell us, I’m just coming out of a messy divorce. Or, I’m on my way to recovery from this addiction. But more often than not, they won’t. The refugees will appear silently among the put-together parents, talented artists, earnest students, and we may never know what pain they are trying to put behind them.

Maybe, knowing this, I can better infuse traveling mercies into this journey–at the travel plaza, and in the sprawling road ahead that is open before all of us.

When he handed me my coffee, I thanked him, a few English words I hope he understood.

This post is part of Prodigal Magazine’s Travel Stories series, read more stories here or add your own! 

Up and Out

Friends, I apologize for the absence. Instead of tweeting, blogging, and keeping up with my favorite blogs, here’s what I’ve been keeping busy with this month:

  • Image Journal’s Glen East–where I participated in Lauren Winner’s memoir writing class, had a great time with Kristin, Katie, Kari, and others who don’t have blogs and names beginning with K, visited Emily Dickinson’ house in Amherst, and had a nice walk with Kathleen Norris through a greenhouse.
  • An editing workshop day in Chicago with Moody Publishers.
  • A new opportunity and some exciting news that I’ll tell you when I get back!

I’m stressed, enriched, and barely unpacking and re-packing both my suitcase and my thoughts. Looking forward to catching up next month!  

In the meantime, peace.

Why the Skull & Crossbones is More “Christian” than “Pirate”

A few years ago I spent a weekend at JPUSA, the community of Christians in Chicago (who host the Cornerstone Festival) who live together in the old Chelsea Hotel and call themselves “Jesus People.” And during my time there, I saw a lot of skulls.

Skulls adorn the hallways, the door frames, and the forearms of the people who inhabit them.  Five doors down from my room there was an unapologetic mural of a skeleton, squarely behind a baby gate and next to a sign that warned in loud purple Crayola, “Nursing Urijiah! Piz come back. ” All over the community, there were instances of this odd juxtaposition of life and death.

I wondered if the skulls were some kind of talisman, like some cultures have to ward off evil spirits, but when I asked one of the women on staff about their significance, she laughed.

“Well,” she said, “People here are kind of obsessed with death.”

She explained to me, “The skulls and skeletons are representative of the knowledge that there’s more.  We anticipate death, in a way, because we are eager for our new bodies and the new life ahead with Christ.  We are living in a dichotomy between this world and the next, and we are very aware of that.”  So there are skulls: a reminder of our mortal decay.  She also told me that people at JPUSA tend to live in the awareness that, in the city, they are surrounded by the living dead.  They are among the spiritually destitute and dying.

I’ve often felt this restlessness, of living in the cracks between Eden and Heaven, which some call the age of the in-between, the already-not-yet of the kingdom.  It can be exasperating: is the kingdom here, or is it to come? Christ has come into our world and has promised victory over sin and death, but we still live under its affects while we wait for His return. And it can make us impatient in the waiting, while we see the world around us in such need of redemption.  We were created for eternal life, to bear divine image and have a face-to-face relationship with our Maker, but sin ruptured this paradise and now we live in the imbalance, caught between what was supposed to be and what is now utterly broken. Even the earth is a victim of this tension, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).  Even the earth and the roots of mountains straddle this gap between the kingdoms.

There is a dichotomy at hand. We are finite beings with eternal life or death at stake. Perhaps the reminder of our mortal frame, whether skulls and bones or just knowing that there is more to come, can lend urgency to our days to live well, to reach out to the dying, and to eagerly await the life ahead.

How do you navigate this tension in your daily life and work?

When We Fight the Hand that Feeds

Following recent advice to play with words in today’s post. What words are you studying recently, challenged by, learning from, at play with?

Scholars will tell you that Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born, has a double meaning in Hebrew, that a slight turn of the tongue is all that lies between “The House of Bread” and “The House of War.”

It was through these strange crossroads that Jesus entered the world, and also how He left it: breaking bread with His disciples, on the brink of war. In Bethlehem, the Bread of Life was given for the world, nourished by sweet milk, and presented at the temple, where His parents were told that their child had come bearing a sword. Its sharp edge would divide the hearts of many, and cause the rising and falling of the people of God. And so the infant-God was born, bringing bread, bringing war.

I wonder if we are not all born in this field of contradiction, alternately receiving and resisting the miracle food that would truly nourish, fill, and sustain. We are inconsistent creatures, sprinting back and forth between grateful collection of grace and fighting the very hand that feeds.

Is this not the very life of faith? The sacred ground where we meet Him made the House of Bread or the House of War by our own choosing, determined by the shape of our hand in approaching, open palms or clenched fists?

Perhaps this is also our heritage— a life divided by bread and war, and faith, the tension wire threaded between.

Tomato Seedlings, Dave Ramsey, and Sustainability

The week we got our tomato seedlings and herb sprouts in the ground is the week I finally sat down and read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. Both things speak to me of the value of being self-sustainable in a nation underwater in debt.

Like a lot of people, my husband and I have school loans, and we’re committed to scaling them down to zero. I’m willing to get a little crazy like Dave Ramsey suggests to come out on top.

I’m grateful that my husband and I were raised similarly in the way we were taught to handle money, which makes it so much easier in our marriage to spend and save together. It would be difficult if we disagreed on this point, because we do a lot of weird things, such as making our own chicken stock and granola, choosing not to own a TV, going through a Christian non-profit for insurance cost sharing, and not owning credit cards. We both love to go out and try new restaurants and go to the movies, but we can do these things comfortably because we don’t have monthly bills for cable, smart phones, or stuff bought on credit.

In the past two years of marriage and learning to live within our means, I have noticed a few things about making, growing, and doing things by hand the slow way.

It’s empowering. Our backyard garden plot is small, but war-weary generations before us called it a “victory garden” for a reason. It is empowering to create something from scratch that costs pennies, that is fresh and free from a bar code. It’s empowering to know that we can feed ourselves on what we grew by hand, food that is not reliant on a system–farmers, factory workers, machines, airplanes and trucks–to find its way to my plate. And as a freelancer subject to nearly 40% self-employment taxes, guess how good those Italian green beans taste.

It teaches me to be resourceful. Our American concept of “need” is becoming more and more subjective. I’ve found that it is healthy to look within what I already have and ask, what can I use that is already within reach? I am proud when I can re-purpose a yard sale item instead of buying new. I am learning the difference between consuming and creating, and it teaches me to take a second look at things I already own and get creative, to see fresh possibilities.

It trains me in the art of cultivation. This was humanity’s first call–to enjoy and cultivate a garden. I love growing our own tomatoes, making my own peanut butter, and getting crafty to decorate my home because the process teaches me to better appreciate what has been provided. In these simple tasks, I get to participate in the divine action of creating, and it reminds me, better than swiping a card, that all of it is a gift from God’s hand.

Do you see value in being self-sustaining, financial, spiritual, or otherwise? How do you pursue this in daily, simple ways?

Has Our Attention Span Stunted Our Spiritual Appetite?

For our wedding, my husband’s boss gave us a copy of A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, writing slant inside the cover, “Zach and Steph, their hearts have so much to teach. Learn and live.”

It was not an easy book to digest. I picked it up, and put it back down, for months. But I always came back, because if ever there was a book that was the result of opening a vein on paper, this is it.

A Severe Mercy is deeply honest in a romantic throwback style–a couple falls in love, buys a sailboat and breaks a bottle of baptizing wine on its bow, they travel to study at Oxford, living cheap in a small flat with a hot pot, and befriend C.S. Lewis, who is instrumental in their eventual coming to faith. But perhaps most romantic, and most heartbreaking, of all is the moment when Sheldon realizes he is no longer Davy’s first love. The jealousy he feels for her Savior is very real, unclouded by years of faith grown familiar, still new and sharp. As Sheldon says himself, “This book is, after all, the spiritual autobiography of a love rather than of the lovers.” 

And that it is. Through painful renegotiation, Sheldon comes to terms with his beloved’s new first love, and he slowly wrestles to make it also his own.

I was saddened by a review of this book by a woman who disliked it because she felt the “C.S. Lewis plug” was a cheap marketing ploy, played up beyond the truth of their acquaintance. This seems telling about our expectations of books and authors today. We expect them to pull out a bag of tricks. And tragically, somewhere in the process, bad art has conditioned us to be suspect of good art.

A Severe Mercy goes against the grain of the books that are published today, but it is one of the most honest books I have read in a long time. It threads an organic grace through its pages that I did not find as calculated. It is a slow read, not a page-turner, but something to savor. I can fly through the Hunger Games in a weekend and get caught up in the grip of its plot, but I won’t underline a single sentence. My copy of A Severe Mercy is jagged with ink, prose I could not bear to lose.

Neither does the book hook the reader in by dazzling solutions to felt needs, but it ministers to something even deeper, like those people you hear about who unknowingly carry around head injuries for years and finally receive healing.

Our attention span is shrinking, yes, but I have a theory that our capacity to be awed remains the same. We need what is sacred and what is beautiful as much as ever, only our hunger for it has been stunted. Sheldon writes it best, “If, indeed, we all have a kind of appetite for eternity, we have allowed ourselves to be caught up in a society that frustrates our longing at every turn.”

Thank God for books that are harder to read, that stretch the limits of attention and distraction, that cultivate spiritual imagination, that strike a deep nerve that provokes us to longing.

What books, or art, or movies, or other mediums have you encountered recently that have challenged you in a similar way?


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