Soul Bare: Stories of Redemption
Editor: Cara Sexton
Published: IVP Books | July 2016
Length: 216 pages
As I pensively wandered through a cemetery this morning, the weight of this reality surrounded me: I sit among beings awaiting resurrection. You can almost feel the longing in a graveyard, the yawning patience, the crusty waiting. Everything rests on pause, held in the drawn out sigh of dirt and decay. But then, we too, the living, await resurrection. We pilgrimage among still festering wounds and brokenness. At times we circle old patterns, are pierced by grief, or feel the internal chill of winter. Demonstrated through baptism’s dip into grave-like waters, and then the lift into new air, we have been promised fullness of life to come. But in the mean time life sometimes looks like death. Despite this reality for each one of us, somehow it is often easier to “show face” and pretend to be more healed, more whole than we are.
Soul Bare presents stories from living saints who are committed to vulnerable honesty about the mud in their life, but who also know redemption is coming for them even before the light has dawned. These authors are pastor’s wives, ministry leaders, christian bloggers and writers (mostly women, but a few men as well)—the “chosen ones” we look up to as having it all together. Rather than playing the part, these saints have discovered that freedom is not found in pretense but transparency. Therefore, you will read stories of tragedy where the “why” is still an angry red mark. You will also read stories of crippling internal battles where depression, a sense of failure, shamed identity, and addiction don’t seem to lose their grip.
One of the stories that hit me right in the gut happens to be the very first in the collection. Shannan Martin talks about when God’s whisper “I have more for you” looks a lot more like taking everything away than bestowing blessing. Just when she thought her life was what she had always dreamed of—having land, a farmhouse, and two little ones to hone as her own—her world abruptly starts shifting. First her adopted son struggles to adapt to his new family who loves him, then Shannan loses her job. Next, her husband loses his successful job as well. Though all of this stripping away causes them to lose the home they had worked so hard to attain, Shannan reaches out for the blessing of where it propels her family next. They move to a poor bi-lingual neighborhood where they uncover the gifts of a stripped ego, dependance on God, and the opportunity to live side by side with new neighbors.
When we tell our personal tragedies it’s easy to give in to self-pity, exaggerate to garner sympathy, or compete in who has had the worst past as if it’s somehow a boasting matter. This book avoids both extremes. Each story, like Shannan’s, is shockingly honest, but they are also redemptive. Without giving easy answers, they model a moldable softness that looks for the light. Rather than motivating the reader to overcome, these stories demonstrate inter-dependance and heavenly dependance.
Most of us have felt or questioned the same darkness these writers stare in the face. These stories offer a powerful testimony that you are not alone in the battle, that you are not supposed to simply be okay, and that God’s shoulders are wide enough for whatever season of the journey you are trekking. Most of us are tempted from time to time to judge a fellow Christ-follower for not overcoming the way we think they should. These stories are a strong reminder of God’s constant faithfulness towards His children, and that this faithfulness is not limited by our comfort zone. This book will encourage you to be a true friend who remains through the process even when you can’t fix it.
Admittedly, there was a little more bashing of contemporary church culture than I found necessary, and some churched language that might leave readers who are not of a faith background feeling left behind. These were very small issues for a faith bolstering, daringly honest compilation that tugged my heart strings every step of the way and was difficult to put down. Wherever you are in life one of the stories is sure to be just what you needed to hear, and then when you pick it up a few months later a different story will bring you to your knees yet again. May we learn from these authors what a culture of God-honoring safety in authenticity looks like.
The Gift of Hard Things
Author: Mark Yaconelli
Published: IVP Books | July 2016
Length: 151 pages
I would also like to draw your attention to Mark Yaconelli’s The Gift of Hard Things. Like Soul Bare, this book meets us where we are at in hard times, but on a somewhat lighter note. Yaconelli says in his introduction that his book focuses on the blessings to be found in “middle sufferings” like darkness, powerlessness, and disappointment rather than what might truly be called tragedy. Using often humorous stories from his own life, and practical application portions at the end of each chapter, Yaconelli points us towards welcoming the spiritual formation that difficulties offer. I found these stories both convicting and full of grace.
In partnership with InterVarsity Press, and in the hope that these two books will be just what someone needs in the life season he finds himself in, I am giving away a BRAND NEW COPY of this pair of books. COMMENT BELOW to enter the GIVEAWAY. One winner will receive BOTH BOOKS and will be randomly selected on Friday August 26th. The giveaway is now over, congratulations to Jennifer for winning!
Review copies courtesy of IVP Books