The Radical Simplicity of Looking Up

It’s nearly time.
Even two weeks ago, standing thigh-deep in snow beside the bush, I could see that the buds had begun to swell large, and so it won’t be long until I lop off some of the bush’s waywardness and then arrange the bare branches in a vase of water.  I will begin watching every day for the delicate, vivid yellow flowers to announce that spring is happening in my house — no matter what’s happening in the great outdoors on this country hill in Maine

It was for this:

  • the intimate observation of seasonal changes;
  • the beauty and joy of a handwritten letter in which grace comes in the letting go;
  • the thoughtful glance skyward;
  • the face-to-face rebuilding of a broken marriage — it was for this very thing that Esther Emery unplugged her life from the Internet in November 2009.  For one year, she lived a life without email, without a cell phone, and without a debit card.  No Google, no on-line shopping, no text messages.  She walked away from her blog, an encouraging Facebook community, and any trace of an on-line presence in a leap of Stop-doing-everything-you-know-and-start-doing-everything-you-don’t-know Faith.

What Falls from the Sky shares this journey in four parts that correlate with four glorious gifts from the sky:  snow, rain, sunshine, and fog.

  1.  In the season of snow, Esther quit her job and made a cross-country move to Boston with two small children in support of her husband’s career. This obvious high-intensity-tumult actually pales in comparison with the angst of her Internet withdrawal. Against the backdrop of a snowy New England winter, she began to stop looking for her significance in terms of her electronic self.  This unplugging left Esther with plenty of space for wrestling with her ambivalence toward her non-traditional up-bringing and for discovering that “the alternative to screen time is table time.”  She cut her ties with the bulimic teenager she used to be and turned her eyes away from the theater she loved; and then tied on a striped apron and began trying to decipher her husband’s recipes for cranberry muffins and lentil soup.  Like a snow globe turned upside down, her values swirled, but then re-settled into new patterns in which compassion trumps achievement and humility suddenly has equal footing with leadership.
  2. It was from this humility that Esther traced her spiritual re-awakening.  Words from the Bible fell like rain on parched ground as she gulped down the Revelation first and then watched spring come through the lenses of Genesis and Thoreau.  A celebration of Easter in community introduced her to the  beauty of “borrowed” power from the crucified and risen Christ and the truth that this is “not theoretical at all.”  The vulnerability of Good Friday left Esther defenseless against the claims of Christ upon her life, and she was captured by the forgiveness that conquers fear, the “Jesus of the brokenhearted, the Jesus of the suffering.”  Ironically, as her spiritual life came into focus, the material world also became sharper, and she and her husband, Nick, took on the joint task of digging themselves out of debt and handling their finances as a team.
  3.  Under the bright light of summer days, Esther began to examine her motives for stepping away from the Internet.  Is this really about spiritual formation?  Or is it about self validation?  As her life changed and she and her husband grew closer, they began to feel as it they were on a boat, moving further and further from the shore — and further and further from the other people in their lives.  Esther’s perspective on the church is refreshing:  I read and re-read with a smile her assessment of church meetings as “jovially disorganized.”  Too, her tenacity in sticking with her commitment to fellowship is a grace sadly lacking even in more seasoned believers.  To her surprise, “the God she believed in” directed her path to Nicaragua with its enculturated gospel and its unmitigated poverty, where she slept in a room in which the ceiling was carpeted in bats and concluded that “this is what you get, I guess, if you say ‘anything’ somewhere where God can hear you.”
  4. The fog of reverse culture shock was waiting at the airport for Esther when she returned to her ecstatic family, deepening her realization that it would not be possible to drag others, still in the center, out to her “edge” because they had not traveled her road.  Ironically, when her family’s apartment is burglarized, one of the items stolen is the laptop containing all the notes and files she was in the process of recording during her disconnected months.  A tentative foray into gardening, and a commitment to inter-dependency and to the growing health of her marriage all began singing into Esther’s life the same song in different keys: “things grown again.”

With the structure of a memoir and the tone of an Old Testament prophet, What Falls from the Sky kept me reading and curious simply from the sheer impossibility of the experiment.  How does a woman who has “walked away from her faith” and become an “outspoken critic of Christianity” with a significant online presence (and a husband who is an atheist) make a journey away from the internet and toward a following life?   How can the experience of “looking up” for an entire year — noticing the sky and the seasonal changes, delighting in the company of her children and the deepening of her own inner life — how can this bring about a transformation that heals the ragged edges of a heart that needs to forgive and to be forgiven?  Esther Emery has crafted a travelogue for any heart that longs to recognize itself from the inside out, without the aid of the electronic mirror, and to embark upon a life that has been transformed by the resurrected Jesus Christ.

//

This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

51 thoughts on “The Radical Simplicity of Looking Up”

  1. Hi Michele! I’m back visiting after finding you on tuesday twinkles. This is a beautiful book- cover makes it look so enticing as does your review. It’s one that I’ll have to add to my reading list- if for nothing else than for the call to keep looking upward to what falls from the sky!

    Would love to invite you back to nicolebeholds.com too. You’re welcomed any time!

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  2. Michele, the thought of giving up the internet for a year is exhilarating and terrifying! Your review has left me curious and wanting to know more.

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  3. Definitely sounds like a radical story! You find the most interesting stories!

    I’m a big believer in observing nature, but I’m not sure I’d ever found fog useful before!

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  4. Michele, what a story, and what a review! It’s amazing what can happen when we stop looking straight ahead and start looking up and around. I loved reading about Esther’s story. It sounds like there are many profound truths in her memoir!

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  5. Sounds like a fascinating read! I particularly enjoyed the visual of them floating away from shore… so profound! Blessings!

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  6. Sounds like a beautiful and profoundly moving read, Michele. I love the way she took the seasons of the year to explore the many ways God works in and through different seasons in our lives. Thanks for always serving up these incredible gems, my friend!

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  7. I’m intrigued as to why she criticized the church and can’t imagine some the choices she made in the midst of her daily struggles. You gave just enough info to reel me in and yet not spoil how God redeemed her. Great post!

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    1. YES! That certainly kept me reading and engaged, and thanks for letting me know that I didn’t spoil the plot — sometimes it’s hard to tell the story without giving away the unfolding narrative.

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  8. What a commitment to turn off the connection to social media, blogs and internet for a year. It’s inspiring and challenging for me to even look at my time spent in these avenues.

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  9. Wow, what a testimony. When I first started reading, I thought that sounded kind of nice — being able to unplug for a bit and remember life w/o electronic noise. But, then you said texting. I might hardly connect with my adult kids were it for texting. 🙂 Looks like she gained more than she lost, though. Thanks for the review, Michele. 🙂

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  10. Thanks to your review, Michelle, I’ve added “What Falls From the Sky” to my Goodreads! While I try to read books from every genre, memoirs have my heart, and this one sounds captivating and inspiring. I’m eager to follow her journey and read how, as you say, “like a snow globe turned upside down, her values swirled.” You got me hooked!

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  11. Radical simplicity is so fitting a title, Michele. But love the lessons learned: table time over screen time, compassion over achievement. You’ve definitely intrigued me. Thanks for sharing, sweet friend. ((Hugs))

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  12. Michele,
    Wow, what a testimony to power of Christ to transform and resurrect a life and a marriage! Just further evidence that our God is truly ABLE! I laughed out loud a church meetings being “jovially disorganized” – oh how true. Been there, experienced that lol. And, oh, if we’d just put down our techno-gizmos and engage, this world would be a different place.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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  13. Michele,
    This week our visit was brought to us by Arabah Joy’s #GraceandTruth Linkup 🙂
    What a book! I cannot wait to read this one. I put it on my birthday wishlist.
    Praying God blesses your life and ministry in miraculous ways this year!
    ~Sherry Stahl
    xoxo

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  14. Michele – you have done it again – another book going on my must read list – is it summer yet? thats when I get vacation and time to indulge in fiction reading and well, just reading, reading and more reading! LOL thanks for link-ing up with #TuneInThursday this week, but I am actually stopping by today because we are neighbors at #TeaAndWord Tuesday’s over at Meg’s

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  15. I have to be honest and tell you that I could not wait to read your post, I knew that you linked it up at #GraceMoments and I had not found the time to sit with it. I was so interested in what you may share about this book and about your discoveries as you read them. Esther’s story has long intrigued me and I am all the more interested in reading her words. Thank you for sharing this MIchele. 🙂 Always so thankful for you.
    Blessings,
    Dawn

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