Stories of Friendship: The one who taught me to be an adult

On Fridays, I’m resurrecting my series from the fall, Stories of Friendship. You can read them under the “friendship” category on the righthand side. If you’ve got one to share, e-mail a short post and a picture to lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

I can’t believe I did a series on friendship and haven’t yet introduced you to my friend Amanda.

Here we are on college graduation day. Isn't she lovely?

Here we are on college graduation day. Isn’t she lovely?

Amanda is the friend who taught me, showed me really, what it meant to be a grown-up.

Our friendship began freshman year of college through a friend of a friend, I think. (Isn’t it funny how I can’t always remember how the best of friendships begin? Maybe that’s how it is.) Amanda was bold and outspoken, friendly and sure of herself. That’s how I saw her anyway. And even at 18, she’d been a grown-up a long time already, helping out in her single-parent household.

I could always count on Amanda to tell it like it was, even if the truth hurt. She was the first person to tell me something along the lines of “let go and let God” when life was overwhelming and I didn’t think I could handle it. She was and is full of wisdom. She is funny, sarcastic and I’m smiling just thinking about her smile because it is so contagious.

As seniors, we lived together in an apartment, one of the more interesting buildings on campus. It was old and brick and I think there were only two apartments, maybe three in our building. Our kitchen window looked across to the apartment in the building next door where some other friends lived and we often danced and made faces across the way through our windows.

It was in this apartment that I learned what it meant to be a grown-up. When you live in the dorms you don’t have to cook for yourself or wash dishes. You have to do laundry, but you don’t have to keep a lot of space clean. I have hated housework long before I knew what it was, and I was not always held accountable in my house for helping out with things like dishes or cleaning the bathroom. (I struggle with these chores to this day.) But Amanda was different in that she helped take care of her household.

I remember one time when we lived in the dorms and a student said something about “that lady who cleans the bathrooms,” referring to the dorm’s cleaning lady, and Amanda lit into her because at her house, she was the lady who cleaned the bathroom. She had taken the time to get the cleaning lady’s name and get to know her. To Amanda, the woman wasn’t just a servant to us spoiled college students. She saw her as a person and identified with her.

Similarly, she often had to have a chat with me about the dishes. She was more likely to do them than I was and that became a problem when she was the one always doing the dishes. I knew almost nothing about cooking and she taught me some things. I think she was the first person to teach me about no-bake cookies.

I have fond memories of our year of living together. Like many of my college friendships, over the years the bond has been stretched. Amanda is another person I haven’t seen since my wedding, I think. I didn’t make it to hers because I was grossly pregnant with our son and travel was not a good idea.

Earlier this year, I needed to call her for some advice on planning a catering-style menu, and the first words out of her mouth when she picked up the phone made me chuckle and assured me that my friend Amanda was just like I remember her. (Not to say that she hasn’t changed because I think everyone changes with time.) It was a business-like call but it was so good to talk to her and receive encouragement for a hard task, and it made me want to find a way to see her, too. She lives closer to my hometown now than she ever did when I lived there and I still haven’t made it to her area of the state to see her!

When I think of strong women, I think of Amanda. She is the kind of fun and sassy friend with a depth of wisdom that everyone needs in their life. It’s a rare combination but one I treasure.

And did I mention that she’s super creative and began exploring creative writing at the same time I did? She is high on my list of people who will be first readers of my novel because I trust her opinion and know she’ll give it to me straight.

I’m happy to say that being roommates didn’t ruin our friendship. I think it strengthened it.

A devotional like no other: Review of Savor by Shauna Niequist

A book of daily readings, however long, is not usually high on  my list of books to read and/or use in my personal time of connection with God. Devotionals, in my past experience, are often too watered-down or simplistic for my tastes. I can’t think of one I’ve read that I would recommend enthusiastically.

savorShauna Niequist changed all that with her book Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are, a collection of 365 devotions. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

This book is as beautiful on the inside as its cover is on the outside. It has a textured feel to it and is just pretty to look at. Fortunately for us, though, it’s not just a pretty face.

The daily readings are a collection of Niequist’s words, some from books she’s written previously, some new, I think, but I honestly can’t tell the difference. They are snippets of encouragement and reflection from a real-life wife and mom, writer, speaker, Christian-on-a-journey who doesn’t offer easy answers but poses challenging questions in a gentle voice.

I have been reading the book almost daily for about a month and I am still pondering questions I read weeks ago. Each day’s reading ends with a question or two that provokes not only deeper thought but sometimes action. As a result of my readings, I’ve sent cards I needed to send, encouraged someone I might have forgotten to notice, and asked myself questions I don’t know the answer to.

I’m so enthusiastic about this book I bought a copy for a gift. Rarely would I even consider giving a devotional book to someone as a gift but this book is a must-read for women at various ages and seasons of faith. At times she talks about motherhood, at times she talks about doubt and her faith journey. It is not a one-size-fits-all book because, as I’m learning, we are not one-size-fits-all women. But I think you’d be encouraged by Niequist’s words and challenged by her questions.

One challenge of reviewing a year-long devotional is that I can’t read and review the entire thing in a timely manner because I want to use it as it is intended. But from the selections I’ve read, I’ve gotten a sense of the book’s style and I am in love. I will continue to use it and reuse it in the months to come.

(Oh, and did I mention there are recipes? Shauna’s recipes are not to be missed! She wrote a whole book about food and cooking and fellowship. I keep it in my kitchen!)

The day we planted a garden

A few weeks ago, we planted a garden, our first as a married couple and long overdue. My husband’s gardening genes run deep, and when I first met him, he was working for a nursery (of the landscaping kind, not the children kind). Our previous homes have been apartments or rentals plus who had the time when the kids were still babies and toddlers and he was in seminary?

A garden seemed like too much, a far-off dream. Someday.

But the home we have now, also a rental, has space for such dreams, more if we wanted it, but we decided to start small. My parents and grandparents gave me birthday money to buy plants, so on the first available day, before we missed the planting window, we headed across the street to the home improvement store’s garden center and bought the tools we needed and the plants we wanted.

All dreams start with an investment of money and time, and my husband spent the better part of what was left of the day clearing out the mess that our house’s landscaping had become. To say it had been neglected would be putting it politely. We have lived here two years and our occasional pruning and raking has been a start but not nearly enough. wpid-20150511_142731.jpg

He pulled up the black lanscaping paper that had been buried and torn and was far from pretty. He broke up the rocky soil and the clay, turning it over and over until the black dirt appeared. He added some soil we’d purchased. He stirred and softened and patted it down until the area was almost unrecognizable under his tending.

We plotted the position of our plants and as a family took turns watering and digging and placing the plants in their spots.

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Three tomato plants.

Four pepper plants.

A cucumber plant.

Basil and rosemary in a pot on the porch.

Not much, but it’s a start, and whatever the dream we all have to start somewhere.

Eight years ago today, Phil and I planted a garden, we just didn’t know it at the time. 

Photo by Dan Royer

Photo by Dan Royer

We called it the start of a marriage but the analogy is not lost on me that a marriage needs tending as much as a garden.

As he cleared out the weedy overgrown mess, my husband discovered some buried and unproductive bulbs. Tulips, possibly. We saw two bloom this year that we didn’t see last year, so maybe they just need some love.

I found new homes for them, and even though I haven’t a clue if I’m doing them any good, I dug holes and buried them again. Perhaps we will see some blooms next spring?

The kids have acquired some flower seeds from various sources, so we prepared some beds and poked holes in the dirt, dropped in a few seeds, covered them over and watered them.

The next morning they wondered if we’d see any sign of growth yet and I told them it would be weeks for the flowers, months yet until the plants produce food we can eat.

Gardening is planting a promise, an invitation to wait for a good thing to come.

Holy ground, this dirt.

Marriage, too, is the planting of a promise. On the day we say “I do,” what we mean, even if we don’t know it, is that we’re planning to wait around for the good stuff to come.

If a garden starts with the gift of money, the shopping at the garden center, then a marriage starts with a wedding celebration, an infusion of love and joy for the thing we’re about to do.

But we don’t know, at least I didn’t, that after the high of the wedding day comes the hard work. The clearing out of the weedy overgrowth of selfishness and individualism that runs wild in our hearts when left to ourselves. There’s a careful tending of this new living thing, a marriage. At times it is like a seed buried beneath the dirt, dark and dormant yet somehow alive, vulnerable to wind and flooding rains and birds looking for a treat.

Other times it is like a plant transferred from the greenhouse to the ground, leaving an environment of relative safety for one with unknown challenges, an uncertain future.

Part of what has kept me from gardening in the past is the fear that we’ll fail at it. That we’ll have wasted our money and killed a plant that was meant to be life and give food. Fear keeps me from trying something at which I may not succeed.

I entered marriage thinking that success was the only outcome and I wouldn’t have to work at it. I didn’t know that we were leaving the greenhouse to be exposed to the elements of nature, vulnerable to pests and disease.

Planting a garden has made me feel like the mother of a newborn again. Did they survive the night?, I thought on that first morning, with my babes and with our plants.

With marriage, it’s been a bit trickier to measure “success.” We survived the first night, the first week, the first year, but surviving is not the same as thriving.

Eight years we have been in care of this garden, our marriage, and only in the most recent years have we really put in the work it takes to make it grow. We have each dug up tangled roots that have choked the life out of us, and we are more aware of the constant need to weed them from our lives. We take more care to water the garden and bring it into the life-giving light.

And we acknowledge that there are dangers, no matter how friendly they might appear. (Bunnies are cute but their tendency to nibble on the greens is problematic.)

This work, in the garden, is not easy and sometimes there are a dozen things we’d rather be doing. Our muscles ache, and our skin bears the burns, but, oh the joy we’ll have when we’re able to bite into that first juicy tomato later in the summer.

This work, in our marriage, is not easy and sometimes there are a dozen things we’d rather be doing. Our hearts ache and we bear the scars where we’ve scorched each other with anger and bitterness and selfishness.

But oh the joy when we can taste the fruit of our labors. When we get a tiny glimpse of the growth that is happening. When we can see how the work has been worth it.

At the end of the summer, we will know how we fared, but next year, we will have to work the garden again. There is no easy path if we want to grow our own food.

With each year that passes, we can see how our marriage fares, but daily and weekly and yearly we have to work it. Again and again. Tearing out weeds, watering, protecting, nurturing. There is no easy path if we want our marriage to flourish.

We planted a garden.

We didn’t much know what we were doing.

We have made mistakes.

We have let the weeds overtake us.

We almost gave up on the garden ever producing fruit.

But we are finally, finally, taking small steps toward making this garden grow.

Stories of Friendship: The one who’s been through it all

Last fall I started a Friday series about friendship. I’m resurrecting it for a few weeks to tell you about a few more friends I appreciate. If you’ve got a story of friendship you’d like to tell, I’m happy to post it! E-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com. You can find all the Stories of Friendship under the “friendship” category on the right sidebar.

We met in junior high, though I can’t tell you the circumstances for certain. Maybe we had a class together, I don’t know. What I do know is that we bonded over some typical junior high drama–a boy and a breakup. We became friends even though I was envious of everything about her. She was outgoing and a little bit flirty, confident and beautiful. In junior high, those things stand out, especially to someone who feels none of those things. For many years, I felt like I lived in her shadow, but I was mostly okay with that.

Katrina

I dug this photo out of an old album. But this is how I see Katrina in my mind.

Being friends with Katrina was a gift from an early age. That our friendship survived the junior high and teenage years is practically a miracle, hormones and drama and all of that.

Partway through our high school years, I think we were juniors, she moved to another town, graduating from a different high school. We kept in touch by letter (yes, old school because the Internet was still brand-new and hardly anyone used it), telephone, even the occasional visit. I clearly remember the day we were talking about our college plans and discovered that one college was on both of our lists.

We visited together one weekend, riding to southern Indiana in a van driven by an admissions counselor with a handful of other prospective students. We had different experiences that weekend but both of us eventually decided to become Aces at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Going to college 7 hours from home was a frightening and thrilling prospect for me, the girl who almost never left home, and it was made less scary by knowing that I’d know at least one person on campus.

I believe it was Katrina who advised that we should not be roommates, and I  see now the wisdom in this. It would have ruined our friendship, for sure.

Maybe even more surprising than our friendship surviving the teenage years is that it survived the college years. Our years at UE were filled with major life stuff as we broke out of our previously set molds. I can’t speak for her entirely but I know I made decisions I regret during that time. Still, I always had a friend in Katrina.

But she was also the reason I made the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

Katrina grew up in a church family. They were involved and she was always going to these lock-ins and retreats. I didn’t know much about this part of her life but I knew that it sounded kind of fun. When we got to college, I took a few baby steps toward faith. Katrina, at the invitation of her roommate, took a bigger leap and became involved in a Christian group of students on campus. I was not so brave or bold initially. But I trusted Katrina so I watched and waited.

And when drama caught up with me at college and I felt my world spinning, I stuck out my hand for balance and found Katrina and a new group of friends who were super weird about their beliefs but also super nice. They included me in their group, and even though I continued to struggle with envy of Katrina (a result of my deep insecurities), I was glad to belong. That  belonging led to a decision to follow Jesus and to be sure that I would not turn back, I asked Katrina to help me take the next steps that were harder than the first ones.

Partway through our college years, we had the chance to study in England for a semester. I use the word “study” loosely because we were 20-year-olds in England for an entire semester. We sat in classes and we had assignments and did homework but we also traveled a lot and tried new things. Having Katrina in England at the same time was another blessing even though we had our moments. I remember how much she and a few others friends hated Paris because it was so French. I think I was the only one of the group who had taken French in high school and had dreamed about Paris for years. I drove them nuts with my constant declarations: “Look! There’s the Eiffel Tower.” (FYI, you can see the Eiffel Tower from pretty much everywhere in Paris.)

After college, our paths took different turns again but our friendship was constant. We got real-life grown-up jobs. We kept in touch. We both found the men we would marry pretty much right under our noses. We had kids. We moved. We had crises of health and marriage and family.

Our communication is not constant and we haven’t seen each other in person in probably six years or more, but Katrina is the friend who has  been there through it all and is the person in my life who knows me the best. That’s weird to say about someone who isn’t your spouse, but she knows the childhood me and still loves me.

We chatted by phone recently, the first time in maybe a year. And it was like no time had passed even though she had another child in her house and so much had passed for both of us.

I recently learned something new about Katrina. When you’ve known a person for 25 years, you think maybe there’s nothing more to learn. Good thing I’m wrong about that. She posted on Facebook about her Myers-Briggs personality type (Google it if you don’t know what I mean) and I learned that my confident, beautiful, outgoing friend is an introvert. An introvert! I couldn’t believe it because I’m an introvert and I spent too many years believing there was something wrong with me and that everyone else was better than me and there was no possible way I could ever be like Katrina. (Not the right goal, just in case you’re wondering.)

So, it’s true. You can learn something new about someone you’ve known for two-thirds of your life. There was a time when Katrina and I were planning some 40th birthday madness in a few years, but I’m not sure I can wait that long. Though she is one of the few people I will willingly and gladly answer the phone for, I miss her and need to hug her neck and play with her kids. (Plus our sons–my only, her older one–need to meet. They sound like kindred spirits who will destroy something in the name of fun.)

She is my best friend. And maybe the first person outside of my family to tell me “I love you” and mean it.

Do you have a best friend? Or a friend you’ve known for decades? What’s your relationship like? And have you told them how much they  mean to you?

Fear, the presence of evil and why I sometimes don’t want to leave my house

Earlier this month, on my birthday no less, our son “discovered” the presence of a snake living nearby. I say  “discovered” because he was minding his own business, our son, when he noticed the long black creature next to the driveway. We all stood on the porch transfixed as this 5 1/2 foot reptile slithered back into the neighbor’s yard and disappeared into the brush beneath a large tree.

My husband alerted the neighbors and for the next several days, every time we left the house, I looked around the yard and ahead on our path to the van to see if anything creepy or crawly would prevent us from getting where we needed to go.

I was alert, aware of an unwanted presence, cautious.

How We Respond to Fear

The snake didn’t stop us from spending time outside, but it did change our behavior a bit. No longer did our yard feel like a safe and carefree place to play. I personally didn’t relax as much when we were outside and my eyes roved the base of the tree, looking for movement. (I should  mention, also, that thanks to a Google search, we didn’t fear we’d be hurt by the snake. Not venomous.)

A week passed and I let my guard down. I still looked around, but the fear waned. Maybe it found a new home, I thought.

And then, about 10 days after the first sighting, the snake showed up again. On our way back from the bus stop, we noticed it on the side of our tree near the house. The kids and I made a wide path to get to the porch and into the house. My husband declared he would catch it and we would then call someone. I took a picture from the safety of the house and then we watched as it slithered/crawled/climbed the base of the tree and found a path across the branches of our tree above our driveway and back into the neighbor’s tree where it apparently lives. wpid-20150515_155056.jpg

I posted the picture to Facebook because I’ve never seen a snake this big outside of a zoo or that wasn’t in the hands of a trained professional. I was understandably freaked out by its proximity to our house and the fact that it used the tree branches like a bridge. (Visions of the snake dropping out of the tree onto my head or the roof of the van plagued me for a couple of days.)

We’ve not seen the snake again yet, though as I write this, 10 days haven’t passed since the last sighting. I’m no snake expert, so I don’t know if that’s the usual amount of time between feedings.

After posting the picture on Facebook, we saw a couple types of response: multiple offers to come get the snake (these people are my 911 right now); and bold assertions that we should move, kill it or never go outside again. None of those is terribly realistic, but I understand where it comes from. My eyes are constantly searching the branches and tree trunks for this creature. It’s only a matter of time before it emerges again.

(And if that picture gives you the willies, then here’s a happier picture to focus on.)

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What Fear Does To Us

My son and I took a walk a few days ago. It was a rare morning when he didn’t have preschool and it was cool and we didn’t have anything pressing on the agenda. So, we walked a short stretch of sidewalk near our house.

We hadn’t gotten very far when I saw it on the side of the road: a much smaller snake with different coloring than the one in our yard. It wasn’t moving. Probably dead, I thought. Just breathe and don’t panic. We were safely on the sidewalk and it was lifeless on the shoulder and cars passed by as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

By the time we’d finished our walk, I had myself convinced it was a copperhead, one of the poisonous variety of snake, and I was internally freaking out about so many snakes being in the neighborhood. I felt like Indiana Jones. Why did it have to be snakes?!?

Wanna hear something embarrassing?

It didn’t occur to me until HOURS LATER that the snake we saw on our walk was probably a child’s toy. We live near a large apartment complex, so it was far more likely a realistic-looking toy than it was a dead snake.

I was influenced by the fear I’d been harboring for a week. I was thinking about the snake in our yard, so what I perceived about the side-of-the-road snake was a threat, not something harmless.

Isn’t that just like fear? It clouds my perception and twists reality and alters my mind. I could have let a toy limit my life because fear was in charge.

The Alternative to Fear

In our house, we’ve chosen to fight fear with facts and truth, which in some strange way aren’t always the same thing. (You can find a lot of facts on WebMd but it’s not necessarily true that your symptoms are a sign of a deathly illness.)

The first time we saw the snake, the kids and I decided we’d get some books from the library about snakes and learn about them. The next day, my daughter brought home a book about black mambas. (They live in Africa.) And my son picked out a book about green tree pythons. (They’re found in New Guinea.) We did eventually find some information relevant to our snake, and we talked to a few people who have more hands-on knowledge than we do, so we’re feeling less fear about our snake.

One Facebook comment from a friend warned me to not let the snake sell me any fruit. (Referencing Eve in the Garden of Eden, in case you don’t know.) I laughed.

And then I realized something I’d never thought about. Yes, Eve was tempted by the snake and she fell for his trap. But she wasn’t afraid of the snake when he first started talking to her.

I don’t know many people who approach snakes calmly, so it’s hard to imagine living in a garden and not being afraid of any of the creatures that live there, not even a snake.

What must it have been like to live completely without fear?

I literally can’t imagine it because there are so many things I fear. (And yes, we are going to Kenya and that fills with me fear as much as it does excitement.)

Sometimes I don’t want to leave the house because there is evil and potential for harm OUT THERE. Not to mention the problems in my own heart, in my own home, but still, it’s easier to believe sometimes that the world is scary and my house is safe so I will not leave it unless absolutely necessary.

But then something happens to bring the fear inside, like your husband finding a tick on his leg a full 24 hours after he’d been outside working and you begin to imagine that everyone in the family is covered with ticks and we’ll all have Lyme disease any minute and there must be ticks in our bed.

That’s where fear leads. And it’s no place good.

And I’m no expert on overcoming fear, but I can tell you one thing I’ve learned about fighting fear:

You take it one step at a time. Sometimes literally.

Every  time I leave the house or sit outside on the porch or take a hike in the woods, I’m fighting fear. I’m declaring that fear is not the winner today because snakes and ticks are a part of creation and I will trust the God Who created, whether He keeps me free of snake bites or Lyme disease or any other “bad” thing that might come my way.

Living a fearful life is exhausting. I know this from experience and I still fall into its trap.

But even if the fear doesn’t go away completely, it fades every time I bring that fear out of the darkness and into the light. We talk about. We read about it. We face it. And sometimes we do all of that with a side of fear, still.

How about you?

What do you fear? And how do you fight it?

Fairy tales are for grown-ups, too: Review of The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

I didn’t know this about Melanie Dickerson when I first started reading her books, but apparently they are classified as “young adult.” As a not-so-young adult, I’ve enjoyed every previous book of hers, and the latest is no exception. Fairy tales for adults are a THING and Dickerson is a master storyteller. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publishers through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

huntressThe Huntress of Thornbeck Forest has it all–adventure, romance, intrigue–in a Medieval setting with nods to classic tales like Swan Lake and Robin Hood. The story of Odette and Jorgen is thrilling and heartbreaking, full of the typical trials of a good romantic tale.

I found elements of the story a bit predictable, but that didn’t detract from the story. I look forward to each of Dickerson’s next releases as soon as I’m finished with the newest one. Her next effort is a Rapunzel retelling. I hope she never runs out of fairy tales to retell.

This is the second book I’ve read recently with a female Robin Hood type lead character, and I love that there are strong women starring in fairy tales.

You think you know a person: Review of Some Things You Keep by J.J. Landis {plus a giveaway!}

Confession: I can’t really say that I know J.J. Landis very well, but before I read her memoir, Some Things You Keep, she was at least someone  I had met in person and interacted with frequently on Facebook and blogs, and we have mutual friends.

Still, I was unprepared for the story I didn’t know. (That’s okay. It’s not a bad thing.)

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

When we moved to Lancaster two years ago, and I outed myself as a writer to people I barely knew, one of the names that popped up as “someone I needed to meet” was J.J. I took advantage of the technology of Facebook and like a creeper I sent her a message and insisted that we be friends because of our mutual writer-ness.

She didn’t think that was weird (or if she did, she didn’t say the words out loud) and we became computer friends even though we lived in the same basic area.

Many months later, we finally met in person. (She invited me–a practical stranger!–to her house for coffee. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so nervous!)

me and J.J.

Proof that we actually met in person!

She told Facebook later that one of the friends who lives inside her computer came to visit for real. It was a beautiful time of getting to know one another.

I knew then that she was writing/had written a book and was trying to decide what to do with it. She had a story to tell and it needed to get out, and I caught glimpses of it through her blog.

So finally–FINALLY–this year, she published her story, Some Things You Keep, a story of letting go, holding on and growing up.

Some Things You KeepAnd  let me tell you, friends, that I am often nervous about reading/reviewing my friends’ work because I’m afraid it a) won’t live up to my expectations and I won’t be able to figure out how to tell them without hurting them or b) it will far exceed my expectations and I’ll be so jealous that I’m friends with amazing writers who have PUBLISHED A BOOK that I won’t be able to think straight. A third fear is that no one will believe me when I say it’s good because the author is my friend. That, I can’t control.

Let me be clear: J.J.’s book falls in the “b” category of those fears. Her memoir holds up to the standards set by memoirs of far more famous bloggers that I’ve read. As I turned the pages, I sometimes forgot that I was reading the story of someone I actually know. Her story, which includes family tragedies, drug and alcohol abuse, abortion and redemption is dramatic but never seems overly dramatized, if that makes sense. J.J. conveys her feelings about the life she lived in a way that acknowledges the truth without sanitizing it but doesn’t leave readers stuck in the mire. Each chapter of the book leads you to the next chapter of her life, and even though I know the person on the other side of these events, I kept turning the pages, reading one more chapter, to find out what happened next.

And her writing is beautiful. Here’s a sample:

Like my quilt was made with scraps of discarded fabric sewn together into something beautiful, so was my life. New life had come from the tatters.

In a way, I’m sad that more of you don’t J.J. She’s a sweet, sassy, qwirky librarian type with a dry sense of humor and a big ol’ heart for people. I have so many questions for her after her reading this book. Not because she left readers dangling but because I want to know more about this person whose life has known sadness and forgiveness.

Maybe you can’t meet J.J. or be her friend, but you can read her book. And she has graciously offered a book for free to one reader of this blog!

Want to win? Leave a comment here on the blog telling me about the best memoir you’ve read recently, or a true story that inspires you. I’ll pick a winner on Saturday, May 23.

And definitely check out J.J.’s blog in the meantime. You’ll be encouraged by her take on life.