Correcting the Soundtrack in Your Head

After graduating from college, I moved to the biggest city in Maine for my first “real job,” bringing with me a wardrobe fashioned around college life south of the Mason-Dixon. Clearly, my flimsy sandals would not fit my new life as a ministry professional. However, it soon became apparent that my feet were not going to fit into any of the smooth and snappy dress shoes I admired at the Maine Mall. Navigating life with big feet has been part of my journey of self-acceptance, and a huge aspect of my mental soundtrack that I’m still rewriting.

In How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself, Amena Brown shares her own trail of super-sized footsteps from sneakers and flats to styling elegance in her Beyoncé stilettos. With footwear as a metaphor for self-acceptance, the spoken-word poet and inspirational author also remembers the freedom of learning to love her own natural hair after years of fighting it. Looking back over her shoulder with humility and gratitude, Amena honors the resiliency and courage of the women who have contributed to her story’s formation:

“My great-grandmother picked cotton
and worked in a tobacco factory
so my grandmother could work at a hospitalCorrecting the Soundtrack in Your Head
so my mom could become a nurse
so I could become a poet.”

A product of the I Kissed Dating Goodbye generation, Amena was astonished to find herself still single at age 30. Now, happily married, she writes with transparency about the disappointment of infertility and her puzzlement with the ways of God, who moves slowly and in ways that are, at times, inscrutable. Her collection of stories documents her progress in working on the broken messages that have colored her thinking (and which are prevalent in Christian circles):

“I am learning the painful truth that even when you pray and ask God, even when you quote back to God the applicable Scriptures, even when you walk around the object you are praying for six times and play your trumpet on the seventh, God doesn’t always answer the way you want him to.” (158)

Remind Your Soul that God is Bigger than You

Solid roots in the Body of Christ and in one’s identity as a daughter of God are indispensable in embracing the hard realities that come with a complicated family tree. Amena began laying down healthy grooves in her record by honoring her roots following a DNA test, some hard disclosures, and a commitment to the challenge of painful wondering.

Like a vinyl record, the grooves in the human heart catch and preserve all manner of voices. We spend our lives layering message upon message, and in the process we come to define ourselves by what’s been caught in the grooves. It is startling, then, when words and feelings long forgotten (we thought) rise to the surface as a reminder that the healing process must continue. The God who makes all things new can also make broken things whole.

Be Humble and Kind and Say “No”

As an artist and an entrepreneur, Amena Brown lives in the tension between staying true to her calling and building a business.  Taking responsibility for her own choices, she has learned to say “no, even if it means less money, less popularity, fewer likes.” She has concluded that there is much wisdom in realizing she “must constantly lay down the weight of opinion, the chokehold of pride, the race of comparison. It is saying no to my own selfishness, no to trying my best to be god instead of walking with and learning from God how to be who he created me to be.” (119)

Brown urges women to surround themselves with a squad of warriors who will lament, pray, rejoice, and speak truth into our lives. Book-mentors and on line friends lend us courage if we read well and choose our influencers carefully.

There’s Healing in the Stillness

It takes discipline to pull away from the continual pressure to “do” when your soul requires time simply to “be.”  The healing power of sleep, the perspective that comes from pulling away, the peace of a slow listen to the voice of God: this is a humble stance and a product of wisdom.

Amena Brown invites her readers into a thoughtful parsing of our motives behind our lists and all the busy-ness that keeps us spinning. Intent on “making something of ourselves,” we forget that God is the primary Maker, and it is only He who can fix our broken records. We are made for the music of truth and hope. Healing and a healthy future are found in the groove of grace that God longs to write into your story.


This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLook Bloggers 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.”


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.


Every blessing,

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Drawing Out a Handful of Light

Wendell Berry poured this wisdom into the mouth of one of his fictional characters:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”  (Jayber Crow)

This is always the nature of story, and in Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace, Walter Wangerin, Jr. has scooped deeply to tell what he could about his lifelong awareness of grace, shining in darkness and healing our wounds.

With a glance in the rear view mirror, Wangerin recalls his childhood search for a physical Jesus there within the church building. Under the pews? In the restrooms? Certainly not in the “gobbledygook” of the morning service? He is encouraged in his searching by the faithful worship of his mum and the humble and sacrificial gift of a “bunch-backed old woman.”

Light in the Context of Life

An adoptive dad with a multi-racial family and with a season of shepherding an African American church, Wangerin writes as father and pastor, as victor and failure, as celebrant of a joyful faith and mourner of lost opportunities and hasty words. Theology and biblical narrative lie just beneath the surface of this handful of tales, emerging now and then into the full light of day:

“In the first covenant God’s part was to offer blessings, and the people’s part was to obey. On account of the failure of the people to uphold their part, it was the covenant itself that failed. In the second covenant, therefore, God in Christ decided to take both parts upon himself.

Mercy hath a human face.”  (98)

As with all theology, the true beauty comes in its application and Wangerin’s son Matthew provided numerous opportunities to explore the relationship between law and grace. “Whims in him were deeds immediately,” (98) but it was the tears of his dad after an overwhelming disciplinary session that melted the little sinner’s heart.

Since God is “the giver of lazy afternoons,” (49) it follows that throwing a fish hook into an absolutely quiet lake with a fly-tying parishioner may fall under the category of ministry. Since God is the source of all forgiveness, “a free gift, freely given,” it follows that forgiveness between human souls should not be demanded as a law to be obeyed, but offered up freely with both parties going “straight to the source of grace.” (83, 84)

Grace for Ordinary People

Walter Wangerin’s stories are populated by a memorable cast of characters:

  • the staunch librarian whose “spine was composed not of bone but of rectitude” (100);
  • Billy who makes his living by the good will of others, but screamed in fury when Walter failed to include milk, butter, and cream in his donation package;
  • Shrill Miss Brill, allergic to the very air she breathed, but afflicted much more by her “very self.”

Only slightly less shimmering is Wangerin’s fresh vocabulary with its images of “obdurate” children, leaves clothed in “umbers as dark as sleep,” God as “supernal” parent, and the motion of “perfervid” dances.

It is extremely good news for readers that young “Wally” grew up to realize that his wounded self, the cracks in his character that brought him shame, the broken people to whom he ministered (and who taught him what it means to minister)–this is where Jesus lives. This is where light breaks through and where God’s love comes rushing in.


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.”

Wounds Are Where Light EntersI have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Thankful for the Light,

The Beautiful Hidden Life

When I learned in fifth grade that Helen Keller had graduated from college summa cum laude, I made it my goal to do the same. As it happened, those little Latin words that mean “with the highest distinction” did actually end up being embossed on the white parchment of my degree, thereby setting me on a course of high expectations for the “distinction” that was somehow going to be my destiny.

It should come, then, as no surprise to anyone that I packed that philosophy of life into the diaper bag I traded my briefcase in for after our first child was born. (Am I the only one who was surprised to discover you can’t get a baby to adhere to a schedule by sheer force of will?) If only Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed by Sara Hagerty had been written 24 years ago when I embarked upon the ordinary days of unremarkable tasks and (often) mind-numbing routine that go with motherhood.

I am thankful that, somewhere along the way, it became clear to me that there is an unseen and un-celebrated beauty to everyday acts of service, that productivity can not always be measured in the short run, and that there is a chasing after God that happens in the dim light of a rocking chair session with a fussy baby that is completely unavailable in the spotlight of recognition and acclaim.

Unseen is the product of Sara’s collision course with the beautiful “waste” of a poured out life that hides behind hardship, disappointment, challenging circumstances, or the simple routine of an obedient following. We will never know the comfort of God as our “refuge and strength” until we come to a place in our lives in which we need to take refuge.  It’s clear that “our hidden places aren’t signs of God’s displeasure or punishment,” but rather places in which God intends to teach our hearts to sing. (33)

There are innumerable lessons from Scripture presented in Unseen for living in the secret places with the God who sees, but I have teased out five of my favorite insights to carry forward into these mothering years:

1. Productivity is not a pre-requisite for God’s approval.

He values intimate conversation, faithfulness in the repetitive duties, and humility in performing the unappreciated tasks that maintain life.  Sara found that she had “a harder time trying to imagine what He might be thinking about[her] during the hours of the day when [she] wasn’t doing anything tangible for Him.” (19) The god news is, He’s already on your side, and there’s nothing you can do or produce that will make Him love you more –or less.

2.  We are made by God to be seen and celebrated.

He has called us by name, and we love the sound of approval, but there comes a dissonance  when a “misplaced desire” for recognition puts us on a path in which acclaim and acknowledgement become the focal point, rather than the glorious by-product of a relationship with God.

Note the intimacy of Psalm 139:1-3:

“O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.”

3. When God hides us, His intention is that we will find Him in the hidden-ness.

Sara’s season of hidden-ness began with a twelve-year journey of infertility. She had never entertained the idea that her life would be anything but fruitful on every front. In her busy ministry years, she saw results with many lives impacted by the gospel. Finding herself in a dead end job with little human contact, she felt “sidetracked,” sidelined, and walked a completely unfamiliar path. As she stumbled along, she heard the voice of God whisper, “This is where you become great — on the inside.”

4.  Pain is a thin place where the glory of God shines through.

Sara’s pain drove her to a place of finding joy only in God. As she suffered and wondered, she lived her way into a deep belief that the love of God is real and valuable. Like the psalmist, she felt His nearness in her broken heart.

5.  What appears to be an absolute waste can translate into a beautiful, extravagant hidden gift to Jesus.

In Matthew 26, Mary of Bethany is criticized for her lavish love gift of scented oil, poured out on Jesus’ feet.

“Why this waste?” they asked, with judgment oozing from every pore.

Little did they know that Jesus was going to view this apparent “waste” as precious, pronouncing that her act would go down in history as the right choice at the right time.

Sara’s mothering heart has found its home with six children, four of whom were adopted from Africa — and two who came to her naturally! Learning to mother children with needs bigger than she can fathom has deepened Sara’s dependency upon God and heightened her realization that the real need of her heart will be met, not by greater discipline, but in friendship with God. She encourages her readers to cultivate a lifestyle of beautiful waste, poured out in love and chasing the only thing worth being concerned about: God’s deep and abiding pleasure in you.

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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.”

Additional resources

Read more of Sara’s journey at her website, where you will also find her blog and resources related to adoption and her books.

Jamie Ivey interviewed Sara on The Happy Hour podcast in which they chatted about the way God built Sara’s family and her fight to believe that God sees her, understands her, knows her, hasn’t forgotten her – and how that truth is better than being seen by anyone else.

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Remarkable Things Spoken

With a huge garden, an apple tree that produced two pies this fall, and a rainbow of full canning jars in my basement, it is quite possible that my life approximates Rachel Macy Stafford’s day dreams in the Home Depot outdoor garden section.

Or could it be that my brand of rural chaos demonstrates that her book, Hands Free Life, is helpful for anyone in any context who wants to begin noticing what is truly remarkable?  It’s for the woman who believes that “life is best lived with open hands, open eyes, and an open heart,” but nonetheless, struggles to embrace the sacred pauses; fails to stoop down and marvel at the color of a ripe tomato; and forgets to make time for looking straight into the eyes of a wild Morin boy before he explodes out the door into the woods in search of squirrels and adventure.

In a glorious follow-up to Hands Free Mama, Rachel, a former special-education teacher and mother of two, sets forth nine habits for overcoming distraction, living better, and loving more.  Four mournful words from Rachel’s husband changed her trajectory:

“You’re never happy anymore.”

Busy-ness, fretting over inconsequential details, and the ceaseless striving for perfection and productivity had stolen her joy and had led to a lifestyle of distraction and impatience.

Each of the nine chapters of Hands Free Life is a parfait of Rachel’s family life layered with principles that emerge in which she trumpets the breath-taking virtue of “keeping track of life” — cultivating a focus on what truly matters through the implementation of mindful strategies that curb distraction and perfectionism, of principles that promote balance:

  • Leave a legacy by grasping simple joys.
  • Fill the spaces by seeking two fully available moments each day.
  • Take the pressure off by accepting a less than perfect day.
Hands Free Life is an invitation to join Rachel in the joyful discovery that “a life well-lived [begins] with a minute, an hour, a single day well-lived.   As Annie Dillard so wisely observed:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Shall we begin filling our days and our hearts with the things that are remarkable so that when we open our mouths to speak, we will have words of consequence to say?

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.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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