S.O.S. (Support Our Singles)

My book on singleness and the church released in November of 2017, and since then, I’ve had increased opportunity to discuss my single life.

I was able to write such a book because I’m supported by my community. My family, friends, and church family do really well at rallying round to ensure that I’m well cared for. This is partly true because I’m vocal with my needs. It’s also true that when I reach out, they reach back.

Here are a few things they do for me. Consider whether or not these practical steps would also work for the single adults in your lives.

Feed Us

In my book, I discuss why I don’t like to eat alone and how my community helps ensure that it doesn’t happen very often. I won’t cover that ground again in this post. Instead, I’ll highlight ways in which others go above and beyond when it comes to keeping me fed.

In addition to not liking to eat alone, I also don’t like cooking for one. (Who does?) It’s not rare for me get a text saying there’s a Tupperware of lasagna or a crock of soup in someone’s fridge with my name on it. All I need to do is pick it up or (depending on my schedule) wait for it to be dropped off. Honestly, few things make me feel more cared for.

Second, I have friends with whom I exchange fresh fruits and vegetables. I mean, there’s no way I’m going to eat an entire bag of tangerines by myself before some of them spoil, and most people won’t miss parting with a few shoots of green onion, a handful of carrots, or a single stalk of celery. Sometimes the exchange rate works in my favor; sometimes in theirs. That’s just how these things go! At least fresh fruits and veggies aren’t going to waste.

Surround Us

There’s a difference between inviting someone along and inviting them in. The former makes sure we’re not alone. The latter ensures we’re not lonely.

Don’t just seek to “hang out.” Surround your singles, physically as well as emotionally. Don’t just spend time with us. Invite us fully into your lives.

Pray for Us

The best way to know how to pray for your single friends is to ask individually.

If someone were to ask me today, here’s what I’d say.

  • Pray that I walk in the will of God.
  • Pray that I can maintain a chaste life.
  • Pray that my life shows off God’s glory.
  • Pray that the Word dwells richly in me.
  • Pray that God blesses my work both inside and outside the church.
  • Pray that God grants ongoing grace as certain aspects of my life run counter to my expectations and desires.

Press Love In

A friend and I were talking last week about how in the Old Testament Book of Ruth, Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi didn’t just need to be loved. Naomi needed love pressed into her, and Ruth spends much of the book doing just that.

What a wonderful picture of Christ, not to mention a perfect description of how we’re to express Christian love. Love isn’t just a passive emotion. It’s a continual, active response.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

When you press love in, it’s not possible for people to be with you and walk away feeling neglected.

Exactly what this looks like will depend a lot on your personality and how you naturally express yourself. Pressing love into someone can be tiring. It’s work. But it’s worth it.


For more information on caring for singles in your church, please see The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members.

Available now! (5)

Worst Parade Ever: Surviving My First (and Only) Marathon

On Sunday, March 3, 2019, I ran my first (and only) full marathon.

Having a handful of small races, a few half marathons, and even a Ragnar Trail Relay under my belt and faithfully following a training program did not fully prepare me for the physical and emotional roller coaster ahead of me.

Rather than subjecting you to all the arm-flailing details, I’ll share a quick summary of the run itself, a few vignettes from the course, and some concluding thoughts.

Running Details

The race route was actually gorgeous. We started in Downtown Stuart along the scenic waterfront, ran out to Sewell’s Point, up to the Jensen Beach Causeway, across the Indian River Lagoon to Hutchison Island, down A1A to Stuart Beach, over the Ernest Lyons Bridge down to the southern tip of Sewell’s Point, back the Evans Crary Bridge to Steele Point, passing back through Stuart on East Ocean to the Finish Line.

At the Start: My sister Bethany and good friend Jodee ensured that I arrived on time at the start, fully awake, hydrated, and stretched out. They even stayed to cheer me through the first few miles!

Miles 1-9: I hung with a pace group set to finish in 5 hours and 45 minutes. Unfortunately, once the sun rose fully, the course heated up quickly. With the temps hitting 87F and the heat index somewhat higher, I decided to drop into high/low intervals.

Miles 10-17: I ran high/low intervals. The 5:45 pace group left me behind, and the 6-hour pace group and most of the other turtle runners passed me as well. I was still feeling good, though, and moving at an acceptable clip.

Mile 17: Physical and mental breakdown on the Ernest Lyons Bridge (more on that below).

Miles 17-22: Shambling runs, uneven intervals, lots of shuffling and some fast walks with my hands on my hips. Heat and misery.

Miles 22-24: Mostly walking with a few little bursts of hopeful jogging.

Miles 25-26.2: Jogging again, because walking across the finish line was unacceptable.

Finish line: Joy and relief! Friends and family! Cold limeade! Ringing the PR Bell!

Vignettes from the Course

High points included lining up at the back of the pack with the rest of the slow-moving party crowd, coming upon a trio of older ladies mid-morning in lawn chairs offering runners scoops of ice to shove down their tops, and arriving at the finish line to discover friends and family holding out hope after the crowds had left and the crew had started shutting things down. (“If they took down the PR bell, we were going to riot!”)

Low points included soaring temperatures, my body pulling a bathroom emergency fakeout in Mile 16, and crying at the top of the Ernest Lyons Bridge in Mile 17.

I believe those two events are related.

The Bridge

By the time I hit Mile 16, I was running out on Hutchison Island, alone without a pace group.

I’d already rounded that bend near the Elliot Museum and was headed toward the double bridges to the mainland. I was running high/low intervals in a hot, airless section with no shade when my body informed me that we needed to find a Porta Potty, pronto!

Feeling pressure to deal with the situation and worried that further running might force the issue, I fell into a fast walk. While the stomach cramping faded within a few minutes, I’d lost my rhythm and drive right before I hit the Ernest Lyons Bridge.

I started up the bridge at a walk, continuing to lose steam as I ascended. The sun pressed down, the air thickened in my lungs, and the impossibility of finishing the race overwhelmed me just as my body gave out. My hands and feet began tingling. Black splotches danced across my line of sight. I swayed on my feet.

In short, I’d hit the wall.

I remember shuffling one foot in front of the other and actually grabbing the railing running between me and the sheer drop to the Intracoastal Waterway, hauling myself hand over hand toward the Olympic heights of the summit.

Just before the apex of the bridge, I stumbled upon a bench. Don’t do it, I told myself, even as I fell onto it.

I rolled onto my back, sticking my hands and feet in the air like a little bug. Tears leaked from the corners of my eyes, trailing toward my salt-matted hairline.

The moment had arrived. This was do or die, and I was fairly certain my body was making the decision for me.

Why postpone the inevitable? If I was going to quit, I should quit now and get it over with. No use shuffling any more miles. I should just surrender.

I dropped my hands and feet, leaving them to dangle over the sides of the bench. I opened my eyes, staring into the impossible blue of the sky. The black spots were gone.

On the bridge beside me, cars and trucks whizzed by. Even if I was going to quit, I couldn’t quit at the top of the bridge. It was too dangerous for anyone to park, for one thing; for another, I’d either have to roll over the cement barricade or be hauled over it. That sounded harder than walking down the bridge itself. Much better to walk down and call someone at the bottom.

After all, if I was quitting, I had plenty of time.

Fortunately, I could feel my hands and feet again. I rolled off the bench, stumbled to a standing position, inched over the tallest point of the bridge, and started down the other side.

A blessedly cool breeze lifted before me, and suddenly I felt fresh life. While I couldn’t run yet, hope rose. Maybe I wouldn’t have to quit after all.

A local man out for a walk up the bridge (it was an open course) passed me going the opposite direction. His gaze flicked to my runner’s bib (on which was my number and my first name), and he said, “Ruth! Your friend’s waiting for you!”

I didn’t have the energy to ask him what he meant, let alone puzzle it out for myself. A minute later, another passerby said something similar. “Ruth! You’re almost there! I saw your sign!” I broke into a shuffle.

There, at the bottom of the bridge, was my friend Alissa, holding a huge sign with my name on it, dancing like a crazy person. When she saw me coming, she ran straight to me, bearing iced coffee.

“You’ve hit the wall,” she told me. “So that’s over with.” I don’t remember what else she said, but I remember that only after talking to her did I feel that I might actually finish the race.

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The Song

The week before the marathon, I’d somewhat jokingly selected Psalm 118:17 as the theme verse for my race: “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

That verse not only proved true but also was an actual comfort as I found myself shuffling through the dreadful miles between my breakdown and the end.

At one point, I was trapped in a sunny stretch along Sewell’s Point feeling like I might die at any moment.

Suddenly, drifting from the open windows of a residential home, I heard the strains of the worship song “O Praise the Name (Anástasis),” a song our church family has been focusing on in this season approaching Resurrection Sunday.

Themes of pain, death, and inevitable resurrection overwhelmed me. I would not die. I would live and recount the deeds of the Lord.

I didn’t have the energy to sing or the spare moisture to cry, but I raised a hand and mentally sang along.

Then on the third at break of dawn,
The Son of Heaven rose again.
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King!

O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God.

Even now, I’m unable to put into words what it meant to me, hearing that song in that moment.

The Finish

Losing steam partway through the race meant that I was one of the final finishers. While I wasn’t the very last runner on the course, I was among the final dozen or so to trickle in. The police were literally taking down barricades and reopening intersections as I shambled through them.

Still, my family and friends (and random passers-by) cheered me across the line as if I were one of the top finishers.

And you know what? I’m not embarrassed by that.

I spent six months pushing myself to train, struggled through physical, emotional, and mental battles, and in the end, I finished.

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Concluding Thoughts

Running a marathon was an audacious goal for someone like me. Considering my age, temperament, and physical capabilities, it was truly an awesome challenge.

While I feel absolutely no drive to try a full marathon again, I have zero regrets about signing up, enduring the training, and suffering through the experience (although during the race itself, I couldn’t help but think the whole thing had been a huge mistake).

All I can tell you is this: if I can run a marathon, anyone can do anything.

Make a goal, set practical steps, and work toward fulfilling it.

Though you’re worried you might fail, share your journey with friends, family, and loved ones because you will definitely fail without them.

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5 Original Poems for Literary Lonely-Hearts

We’re creeping up on Valentine’s Day 2019, and I’m celebrating by posting some original poetry. It’s mostly satirical and based on literary spoilers, so manage your expectations accordingly.


Read Between the Lines:

A Love Song for Literary Lonely-Hearts

Scrooge is in his counting house, counting all his money;

Pooh is down at Rabbit’s place, eating all the honey;

Pippa’s singing her sweet song, tripping through the dew;

While I’m still sitting lonely here thinking, dear, of you.

Catherine’s up to her old tricks, wandering ‘cross the moors;

Aragorn’s at the Black Gate, kicking down the doors;

The Mariner still tells his tale of bird and ship and sea;

While I’m still pining, dear, for you. Can’t you pine for me?

Atticus is in the road, sighting down the barrel;

Mary’s Apple Cart Upset left her with Yellow Peril;

Beowulf foams ‘cross the waves, plowing the whale-road;

While I’m still sending signals, dear, in hopes that you’ll decode.

Poirot strokes his long mustaches, chasing a loose end;

Viola’s dressed like a boy, but it’s just pretend;

Fred and George go out in style, kicking up a fuss

While here we be, still you and me. When will we be us?


Stopping by Woods on a Saucy Evening:

A Frost/Millay Mashup

Whose lips I’ve kissed, I think you know.

My husband’s still home sleeping, though.

He will not see me stopping here,

Recalling long-forgotten beaux.

My heart throbs quietly with pain,

Rememb’ring those brave lads again.

Now they’ve all vanished, one by one:

Like flitting birds, they’ve come and gone.

Where once their summer sang through me,

Now stand I here, a frost-stripped tree.

These woods are lonely, dark and deep,

And I have promises to keep

To my new bridegroom, home asleep.

To my new bridegroom, home asleep.


The Doomed Romance of Fiction

Rochester proposed to Jane

With his wife upstairs.

Rapunzel’s storied love led her

To sacrifice her hair.

Macbeth’s sweet spouse seduced him

Into grisly, blood-soaked killing.

Dimmesdale didn’t merit love,

But Hester Prynne proved willing.

Alas, for luckless Oedepus,

Who gouged out his own eyes

Upon the revelation

That his wife’s his mom.

(Surprise!)

Oh, single friends and married friends

And those midway ‘tween labels,

Enlist in this, my festal song.

(Please harmonize, if able.)

Lift loud and long in lusty praise

And highly-stylized diction

In thanks that we, at least,

Don’t bear the doomed romance of fiction.


Ladies, Best Stay Single:

An Ironic Love Song Based on Literary Spoilers

Sir Percy’s vows to Margurite

Were based on a deception.

Darcy and Elizabeth

Embodied misconception.

While Rochester wooed gentle Jane,

He hid a wife upstairs.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, ladies, say your prayers.

Poor loving Desdomona

Was strangled by her mate.

Petruchio retained the right

To boss and roughhouse Kate.

When Juliet wed Romeo,

It ended in her death.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, girls, don’t hold your breath.

Alex/Angel (pick a name!)

Ruined Tess’s life.

Claudio shamed Hero

‘Stead of taking her to wife.

Benedick and Beatrice

Let love and hate comingle.

If these be paragons of love,

Then, ladies, best stay single.


Love Song for a Very Specific Type of Nerd

Tesla was a little nuts;

Also, he is dead.

Faramir has passed to myth.

Captain Wentworth’s wed.

Chamberlain sleeps in the grave.

“M’sieur le maire” is fake.

If they were only here and now,

What valentines they’d make!

Ida Wells? A total boss.

Harriet Tubman? Same.

Alas! They’re gone – like Boudica,

One even Rome can’t tame.

Earhart’s vanished; Ella’s dead;

Farewell, Madame Curie.

If they were only here and now,

What valentines they’d be!

Marguerite St. Just, Nat Eaton,

Ned, Galadriel.

Aragorn of Arathorn,

Sayers, Sabriel.

Nathan Coulter, Frederick Douglass,

Flannery O’Connor.

If they were only here and now,

I’m sure we’d all be goners!


If you’ve followed me around blogging platforms over the years, you’ll no doubt recognize a few of these poems from Valentine’s Days past. This year, I thought it would be fun to pull them together into one place. Feel free to share them with fellow literary lonely hearts and add your own poems to the pile. Whether love songs or laments, they’re all welcome here!

In other news, this month Amazon selected my novel Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder as a featured Kindle Monthly Deal. The e-book will be discounted to $1.99 through February. It’s a good time to snag your copy or recommend the books to friends!

Who's ready for a trip to Florida_

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee be hot, your tempers cool, and your toes snug in some fuzzy socks. For my Florida friends, enjoy this beautiful winter weather. For my Polar Vortex friends, please stay warm!

Or, you know, come see us.

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2018: My Year in Books

Total Books: 180

Not since 2013 have I read so few books in a year; however, with quite a bit going on behind the scenes with my own writing and in my personal life, this year I decided to prioritize quality over quantity.

Total Pages: 48,817

The longest book I read this year was Stephen King’s The Stand, tipping the scales at 1,153 pages. I regret nearly every one of them. Yes, he’s a genius writer, but his particular brand of genius isn’t for me.

Breakdown by Category

Please enjoy some highlights from my year in books. I’ve arranged the categories in descending order according to how much time I spent in each.

Christian Theology/Spirituality

One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization by Jackson Wu. This is a wonderful introduction to biblical contextualization, especially for Christians trained exclusively within a Westernized theological framework. I particularly love how Wu demonstrates that the gospel is both firm and flexible.

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin. I had the privilege of leading a group of women through this study early in 2018, and the experience proved much more enriching than when I read/studied the book on my own last year.

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, Lesslie Newbigin. A wonderful resource for Western Christians who’ve given little (or no) attention to how their culture inherently influences their basic understanding of Christian faith. An extremely helpful and timely read for me.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah. A guided exposition of the book of Lamentations underscoring American Christianity’s poverty of biblical lament and pointing out both the causes for this poverty and its effect. The style’s skewed a bit toward the academy, but if you put forth the work, you will find your efforts rewarded.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Cone and I operate under different biblical hermeneutics, but he brings fresh (and painful) perspective to the Christian experience that should not be missed. Despite not being fully on board with Cone on every theological point, I was still edified, convicted, and challenged by this book.

Honorable Mentions:

Psalms: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase of 15 Psalms by Jayson Georges

Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts by Trillia Newbell

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way by Richard Twiss.

Middle Grade Fiction

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Nobody’s more surprised than I am to see this book on this list, considering the fact that last year I started it twice without finishing it. Then on my third attempt (after many recommendations from trusted reading friends), I fell completely into the story. This book broke my heart and then put it back together. While the storytelling format has never been a favorite of mine (multiple storylines/narrators), it’s worth it all to get to that last chapter.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I straight-up and unironically love this book. I found it engaging, readable, and super touching. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Honorable Mention:

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

General Adult Fiction

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. This is easily the most absorbing novel I read this year, consumed in two fevered sittings. The protagonist’s descent into Alzheimer’s feels horrifyingly real. I’m going to be thinking about this one for a long time.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I’ve heard other readers comment on a slow start, but this book hooked me right away, and it hooked me hard. Start to finish, I was totally invested in the story–in all the stories, really. Every single character is the protagonist of his/her own arc, and each thread feels vital and fully fleshed out, yet all the threads weave together perfectly into a unifying narrative. Sure, the characters are not very sympathetic, but they seem very real. I’m not one for book clubs, but I recognize the possibilities for rich, fruitful discussions that could spring from reading this with a group.

If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. Love and heartbreak set against the backdrop of the Korean War. Cover to cover, I was totally engrossed. Though not exactly likable, each character is real to the core, and their problems compelling. [Note for gentle readers: this book has just a touch more sexual content than I normally read, though none is explicit or gratuitous.]

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman. When I picked this novel up, I was unprepared for how deeply I’d sink into the narrative, or how large the characters would loom in my imagination. The story carries great emotional resonance.

Honorable Mention:

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

Biography/Autobiography/Memoir

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. A powerful and moving memoir written by a Haitian-American woman and centering on her complicated relationships with her father and uncle. Danticat’s style is flawless, the story heartfelt and sad. Find this book and read it!

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Worth the read for many reasons, one of which is the Appendix, in which Douglass breaks down the “Christianity” of the slaveholders and contrasts it with the true Christianity of Christ.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston.  I’ve not read a book quite like this one before. In effect an oral history collected by Hurston between 1927-1931, this is a powerful firsthand recounting of one man’s experience as the subject of America’s African slave trade.

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry. I’ve seen this book shelved all over the map, everywhere from “Christian Living” to “Social Issues.” When it comes to substance, though, I’d classify this as more of a memoir than anything else, though a memoir that takes full advantage of teachable moments. I can see Perry’s writing style as one people are either going to love or hate, and I land firmly on the “love it” side. Fans of inventive imagery will find a banquet.

Honorable Mentions:

He Included Me: The Autobiography of Sarah Rice as transcribed by Louise Westling.

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad.

Young Adult Fiction

Scythe/Thunderhead (Arc of a Sythe, Books 1-2) by Neal Shusterman. I had a bit of trouble getting oriented in this world; but once I did, the story completely took me over. Totally engrossing read, with engaging and sympathetic characters I found myself really rooting for (which doesn’t always happen for me in dystopians). My only regret is that I blasted through the first two books before Book 3 was within shouting distance. Fingers crossed that the story’s conclusion will be as gripping as the first two installments!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The author brought more nuance to the table than I was expecting! This is an absorbing read: the characters are well developed, the dialogue snappy, and the pacing moves at a good clip. Given the timeliness of the subject matter and the skill the author exhibits, I’m not surprised this book has won awards.

History

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Robust, dynamic, and sympathetic–this is one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory. I purposefully went slowly to savor in the style and soak in the history. Although encompassing a large-scale, decades-long historical event, Wilkerson’s zoom lens on the personal really drives the message home. Strongly recommended.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This book hits hard. Wonderfully researched and written, and terrible in its implications. This is a near-flawless recounting of a chilling conspiracy of murder and greed. If you’re an American seeking to take in the full scope of our country’s history, this is a good place to start.

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. Of all the books I read this year, this will likely have the longest and deepest impact on me. To quote the author, “no one who reads this book can wonder at the origins, depth, and visceral foundation of so many African Americans’ fundamental mistrust of our judicial processes.” It’s a long book, a heavy topic, and dense prose; but it’s worth the investment.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist.  The author’s stated goal is to establish a concrete relationship between African-American suffering and the American nation’s fledgling economic growth. I’d say he succeeded. I found the style tough to wade through, but the information is worth the effort. The book just came out in 2014. It’s to be hoped that, moving forward, this sort of scholarship can pave the way for more balanced an nuanced history textbooks than ones my generation grew up with.

Honorable Mention:

The Blood of Emmet Till by Timothy B. Tyson

Self-Help/Psychology/Misc. Non-Fiction

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk. I understood more about how trauma affects people physiologically than I did about the various treatments discussed. I’m glad I read this because it’s helped me develop a fuller understanding of the lifetime effects of trauma and how I can understand and show more sympathy for traumatized people.

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge. Brains are amazing. Among other realizations I had while reading this book, I finally understand why it’s so hard for older people to adjust to new ideas or adapt to change. It’s not just because they’re “set in their ways.” Some of their seeming stubbornness and rigidity is a natural outflow of diminished neural plasticity.

Narrative Non-Fiction

Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King. This was a super engaging read, and I felt extra invested since the events took place in my backyard (Florida). Though the narrative is frustrating due to the actual events (criminal conspiracy), the writing’s fantastic.

Essays

Becoming American: Personal Essays By First Generation Immigrant Women edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah. Each essay was so unique and different while circling similar questions of identity and belonging.

Literary Criticism/Writing/Craft

Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood. Even if you don’t have a fascination with O’Connor, her beliefs, and their intersection with the culture of the South, this book would be worth reading simply to enjoy Wood’s clean lines of reasoning and delicious vocabulary. This is more of a theological and academic treatment than most casual readers would enjoy; that being said, anyone who’s read a great deal of O’Connor could likely handle this.

Mystery

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. None of the new-to-me mysteries I read this year stood out as much as my re-read of Strong Poison. Whether that says something about my book choices this year or simply the nature of Sayers’s powers as a novelist, you be the judge.

Fantasy/SciFi/Steampunk/Dystopia

The Circle by Dave Eggers. I found this book super gripping and its implications feel-it-in-my-bones scary. The parallels with 1984 are undeniable, and I don’t mean that as a detraction (especially given that I found the writing style more palatable than Orwell’s). It’s not a perfect read, but it’s an intense one.

True Crime

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. While the quality of this read was a bit patchy, that’s understandable given its origins (the author died before completing the manuscript, and the parts she’d left unfinished were completed by a team of friends and editors working from her notes). Reading this, I can’t help but wish she’d lived not only to complete writing it herself but also to see the arrest of the alleged East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer (Joseph James DeAngelo).

Books By Friends

Wildfell by London Clarke. English Gothic escapism with a modern twist. Come for the atmosphere and stay to enjoy the wide variety of men Anne Fleming meets along the way.

Justice by Emily Conrad. I wasn’t sure about this one going in. First, the cover raised a lot of questions, and say what you want about not judging a book by its cover, but I totally do it, and this isn’t a cover that says “Ruth’s Type of Book.” I read the blurb, though, and–most importantly–was privy to some pretty deep discussion regarding the plot via an online forum. After I read what some readers were saying, I decided to give the book a shot. I’m glad I did. I enjoyed it way more than I expected, given that I generally avoid romancy, “book club” type books (which is what the cover suggested to me). The issues raised in the book are handled with nuance, and I can imagine certain story elements sparking robust discussion.

Hello, Goodbye, We Meet Again by Brooke Anderson. This is a sweet little snack of a book. I recommend that you read it in one sitting if you possibly can.

Mistletoe Melody by Stacey Weeks. A heartwarming and sweet holiday novel that acknowledges pain and weakness.

Turtles in the Road by Rhonda Rhea and Kaley Rhea. Sometimes books billed as “funny” overly depend on quirky characters or outlandish situations to try to leverage humor, but I’m delighted to report that this book is actually funny. Sure, there are quirky characters and a few outlandish situations, but what really drives the humor home is the dialogue. This was a super quick and super cute read that kept me engaged the whole way through. Kent Peeper forever!

Face to Face: Discover How Mentoring Can Change Your Life by Jayme Lee Hull. This is a practical, helpful, and engaging read. Both prospective mentors and mentees will find plenty to chew on here. Personally, I found the first half of the book especially helpful.

A Love Restored by Kelly J. Goshorn. Historical romance isn’t a genre I typically read, mostly because although I do love history, I’m not very romancy. I like that the protagonist is outside the norm for the genre (in that she has a robust figure and isn’t considered attractive by the majority of the other characters). It creates such relatable inner tension, because how many of us haven’t doubted ourselves because of some unrealistic and arbitrary beauty standard? The dialogue is pleasantly snappy, something I don’t always find in inspirational fiction, and I chuckled out loud a few times. If historical Christian romance is your thing, this has what you’re looking for.

Her Good Girl by Elaine Stock. The strength of this book was definitely its unique plot. Not only was the story itself a bit out-of-the-norm, but the characters also threw me a few curves. Although the emotional changes did feel a bit abrupt at times, they make sense in light of certain story developments.

The Revolutionary (The Rogues #2) by Kristen Hogrefe.  I read this book really quickly. It helped that I’d been looking forward to seeing what happened to these characters, and I’m pleased to report that I’m happy with some of the growth arcs and story trajectories. Looking forward to reading Book 3 early in 2019!

The Tremblers (Blackburn Chronicles #1) by Raquel Byrnes. Byrnes successfully infuses steampunk with Christian worldview elements while staying true to the tropes of the genre.

Lamp Unto Her Feet by Paula Mowery. As the title indicates, the strength of this book is in showing how someone might seek to apply scriptures to daily life. I also appreciate that the story moves along at a good clip. Romances aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but if you’re looking for a clean, light read that can be swallowed whole (or in a few gulps), this would be one to consider.

Providence: Hannah’s Journey by Barbara M. Britton. Because of my background and training, whenever I read biblical fiction, I turn off the fact-checking part of my brain so that I’m not distracted by minutiae and hung up on what’s factually historical and what’s artistic/creative license. That’s precisely what I did with this book; and once I did, I found a quick-paced narrative with unexpected splashes of humor and cheek. Probably what I most appreciated was that the author didn’t sugar coat the extremely vulnerable position of a captive slave, forcing readers to grapple with the overt sexual component.


On the lookout for your next good read?

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Sign up for my monthly e-mail series, 2019: A Year of Books!

Each month during 2019, I’ll be sending a recommended list of titles for you to check out. No discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox on the first day of every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Come join us!

Let’s make 2019 our best reading year ever.

Schrödinger’s Cancer: My Recent Biopsy and the Reality of Living Death

I’d like to share what I learned during my recent cancer scare, though perhaps I should employ a less dramatic opening, considering the results. I am, after all, perfectly fine. I do not have cancer; and although my situation requires some monitoring, I can now continue with my regularly scheduled life.

Back in October, however, I did not have the benefit of foresight. I had to go through the process one step at a time, without knowing how everything would turn out.

The Test

As I sat in my doctor’s office this fall as she told me I’d need a biopsy, cancer was just a theory.

The whole thing reminded me of Schrödinger’s Cat: you know, that thought experiment with the cat in a sealed box with a decaying radioactive substance, a hammer attached to a Geiger counter, and a flask of poison. Until you actually open the box, you can’t know for sure the fate of the cat. Until the box is unsealed, the cat is both dead and alive.

That’s how I felt. Only this time, I was both outside and inside the box. I was both waiting for a revelation and waiting to be revealed.

Schrödinger’s Cancer

During the wait, I kept thinking that no matter the outcome of the test, the truth was already real in my body. A simple test would not alter reality: it would only reveal it. Therefore while I waited to hear from the lab, I was both sick and well, healthy and ill. This was Schrödinger’s Cancer. Nothing had changed and everything had.

I wasn’t afraid—not exactly. I wasn’t losing sleep or wandering the streets in a haze or holding my breath. I was, however, evaluating my life.

If I really had cancer, why waste energy on minor annoyances? Who cares if the weather isn’t cooperating or if there’s a hair in my sandwich? It takes more than petty problems to rattle the living dead.

Living Death

If anyone is suited to endure a living death, it should be the Christian. It is, after all, our primary calling.

Though the call to follow Jesus is often framed in terms of new birth and everlasting life, the reality is more complicated than that. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer states in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The call to follow Christ has always been one of living death.

And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23)

Consider also how the Apostle Paul calls the church in Rome to understand baptism.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11)

Both dead and alive, alive and dead. Already declared righteous and not yet perfected. This is Schrödinger’s Catechism, if you will, and I had never been more attuned to its paradoxes.

Further Lessons

Apart from the readjusted perspectives mentioned above, I walk away from this experience with increased empathy for those in medical limbo.

While I’ve always been sympathetic and prayed with people waiting for serious test results, I’ve never been able to truly empathize. As a result, I’ve historically offered a brand of buck-up-and-hope-for-the-best and let’s-not-worry-until-we-know optimism that has likely proven unhelpful. I know better now.

I’m also moving forward with the comfort of this Scripture freshly graven on my heart:

For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:8)


Three quick orders of business:

First, my holiday novella Murder on Birchardville Hill is still on sale. Go snap it up!

Second, this week I’m celebrating my 40th birthday! Since I have no material wants or needs, I’m asking you to help celebrate by making contributions to the ministry of my friends Jairo and Vania. Their family will soon head to Jordan to serve displaced Sudanese refugees, and I’d love to send them off well supported. Please see here for information and to make your contribution to their ministry.

Third, remember to sign up for my 2019 Year of Books. Each month during the coming year, I’ll be sending a recommended list of titles for you to check out. No discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh reading recommendations casually delivered to your inbox every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it. Go sign up!

Happy Monday, everyone! I’m sure it’ll be a busy week for many of you. Don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the delights of the season. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your coffees be flat white.*


*Or whatever you like. Just going for the rhyme, not commanding your coffee choices. But if you haven’t tried a flat white, you definitely should. Consider the recommendation a gift from me to you. Merry Christmas!

Christmas in a Minor Key

On Friday, I played the piano at a memorial service. The interior of the building was already decorated for the season, and we sang against a backdrop of velvet, garlands, and twinkle lights. The experience served as a reminder that while we delight in the gifts of the season, an undertow of sadness often pulls beneath the surface.

Any number of special situations might bar us from experiencing the sort of powdered-snow enchantment of greeting cards and Hallmark movies. While we’re aware deep down that spun-sugar holidays exist only in the realm of imagination, we can’t help but want them for ourselves. Such longings intensify when our pain runs counter to these expectations.

Last week, I wrote elsewhere about what Advent means for believers, and how the Christian discipline of meditating on Christ’s work can shift our approach to this season:

Amid all the festivities, it’s easy to forget that while Advent signaled hope for the human race, it also signaled the beginning of sorrows for our Savior. We suffer during the holidays when  the cultural celebrations hold stronger sway in our hearts than the person and work of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus did not come as Incarnate God to secure the fleeting comforts of the “holiday season.” He was born to suffer and die, rejected and alone, to secure eternal comfort for all saints.

For this reason, I’m thankful for Christian writers, musicians, and artists who create works acknowledging these realities. We follow a nail-scarred Savior through a life of tribulation along a narrow way. Works acknowledging sorrow, suffering, grief, and lament absolutely have a place in the life of the Christian–yes, even during Advent.


Goodness gravy, somehow it’s December already!

Two orders of business:

First, if you haven’t had a chance, be sure to sign up for my 2019 Year of Books!joanna-kosinska-470407-unsplashEach month during the coming year, I’ll be sending a recommended list of fiction and non-fiction titles for you to check out. There won’t be any discussions, homework, or anything like that. Just fresh recommendations casually delivered to your inbox every month: fiction, non-fiction, classics and new releases, accessible theology, well-known authors and debut writers, you name it.

Second, as I was writing this post, I couldn’t help but think about my friend and colleague Stacey Weeks. If you’re the type who likes holiday romances but yearns for something with a bit more substance, Stacey’s new book might be right up your alley. Mistletoe Melody released over the weekend, and one thing I really appreciate is that the storyline acknowledges both physical and emotional pain. I was pleased to get my hands on a pre-publication review copy, and I’m glad this book is now available to everyone.

Finally, I’ve appreciated your patience as my blogging momentum has slowed way down during 2018. As the year draws to a close, I have a few more posts planned. Keep your eyes peeled for some Advent meditations as well as my year-in-review book post, which is currently in draft and spiraling out of control as usual. Because what would this time of year be without its fun traditions?

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee be hot and your hearts warm.

Counting All Joy: Thanksgiving, Lament, & 7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask as We Gather to Give Thanks

I first wrote this list of questions in October of 2016. At that time, the list was titled “7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask Ourselves in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew (or Any Tragedy).” It was a Sunday morning then, and Hurricane Matthew had just torn through the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm, headed straight for my town. At the last minute, he’d wobbled slightly into the Atlantic, sparing us a direct hit.

Our church family had made their way through streets strewn with debris and downed power lines, praising the Lord that we were able to meet and worship together in our intact church building. At the same time, we were grieving losses of our sisters and brothers in Christ along the storm’s route who had suffered great loss and praying for those in the still-moving storm’s path. Thanksgiving and lament, praise and supplication, all bundled together.

I’ve been revisiting these questions in recent weeks, especially as we’ve moved toward the Thanksgiving holiday. First, for those currently enduring trials, this season can spark complicated emotions. Second, given the link between suffering and spiritual refinement, sometimes I’m not sure what I should actually be thankful for.

While I’m truly glad to be enjoying a measure of health and happiness with my friends and family this week, I’m aware that even when all is not as I would wish it to be, God is worthy of worship regardless.


7 Sticky Theological Questions to Ask as We Gather to Give Thanks

  1. Given the relationship between suffering and Christlikeness, is being spared suffering necessarily a good thing? (1 Peter 2:21-25)
  2. Why would the Father ever spare me suffering–especially since he did not spare his own Son? (Romans 8:31-32)
  3. Do I secretly believe that the people who weren’t spared deserve to suffer in a way that I do not? (Psalm 103:10)
  4. Have I devoted prayer and/or resources for the relief of my sisters and brothers who are currently suffering? (Galatians 6:10)
  5. If I really believe that death will usher me immediately into the presence of Yahweh, why am I so relieved to find myself still here? (Philippians 1:20-26)
  6. Am I praising God’s name because I have escaped suffering or because he is worthy of praise regardless? (Psalm 96)
  7. Would I still be praising his name if I had lost everything? (Job 1:21Job 2:9-10)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)


In Other News

I can’t believe it’s already November–and nearly the end of the month, at that!
Besides keeping the plates spinning at my day job and enjoying a bit of travel, I’ve mostly been absorbed this month with NaNoWriMo. I’m over 22,000 words into the first draft of my next novel, a stand-alone dramedy I’ve had in the works since before Bookmageddon. The drafting pace is a bit frantic, but I’m having a great time developing totally new characters. I’m hoping to have it in front of your beady eyes somewhere in 2020!(Pending publisher acceptance, of course. It’s fine. Totally fine. I’m not even worried about it! *cue screaming*)

Speaking of books, this week two of my 2017 releases will be enjoying Black Friday sales on Amazon. Well, Black Friday-ish Sales. Prices are scheduled to drop over the long weekend; but as ever, the ways of Amazon are unpredictable. Keep your eyes peeled for discounts on the Kindle versions of The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles and Murder on Birchardville Hill, both of which are slated to drop to $.99.

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For all of those celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I wish you a truly wonderful time of rest, reflection, and refreshment. May your turkey be succulent, your family dinners drama-free, and your coffee always within reach.