How the Broken + Beautiful Lives of Others Help Us Live a More Compassionate Story {A Book and a Giveaway}

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I don’t remember the first time I visited the online home of “Flower Patch Farmgirl” but it was at least five or six years ago. She was a wife and mom of three little ones and they lived the most beautiful, idyllic life in a white Indiana farmhouse.

I bonded with her immediately, weird as that sounds because it was over the internet. But you know what I’m talking about. She simply felt like a kindred soul with her weakness for thrift stores, abiding love for salsa, honest dish about faith, and thrown-together recipes.

Over time, I fell ever more in love with her writing, her humor, her quirk, her foodie ways, her perfectly mismatched style that swirled with gingham and vintage florals and chippy paint. But I especially loved the way she could spin a tale like nobody’s business from the raw material of the everyday.

Like many others, I followed her blog as the months tumbled into years. I noticed as she began to write more about the gritty things and not just the pretty things. I paid attention as interesting characters began to show up in her story and she did the unsafe and unthinkable thing of letting them in — jailbirds, needy teenagers, babies.

I followed her story in real time —

As her husband lost his well-paying job and they had no choice but to stick a for sale sign in the yard of that swoony farm house. {So long American Dream.}

As she endured many months in a “Betty Draper” rental that boasted a carpeted kitchen. {So long perfect house.}

As they built a modest home on the wrong side of the tracks. {So long safe neighborhood.}

As her husband became a jail chaplain. {So long well-paying job.}

As they enrolled their kids in a failing school and did the good work of rolling up their shirtsleeves and loving it as their own. {So long coveted school district.}

As she stayed true to her quirky, swoony style and made a less fancy house a true home. {Hello awesome, welcoming house in the ‘hood.}

As they opened that home and shared their lives with the vulnerable community around them. {Hello friends who are now family.}

In case you haven’t picked up by now, Shannan has a story.  And while it might sound like a story of disappointment and loss, it’s ultimately a story about finding more in less, about the way that God sometimes rescues us from what we’ve always wanted.

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Though Shannan and I are separated by states and circumstances, I feel honored to have watched this narrative unfold over the years, to turn the page of her story with each new blog post or Instagram photo. So many of her questions have been my questions and she’s given voice to them in a way that makes me feel a little less weird and alone.

I’m so grateful that she’s written that story into a real book, one that’s for all of us. It’s called Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted. 

Real talk. When we hear about a story like this, it’s easy to fixate on the details and feel like we’re not measuring up, like we’re not sacrificing enough, like we’re not compassionate enough or missional enough.

And by “we,” I mean “I.”

The truth is, I don’t life smack in the middle of a vulnerable community — not in the sense of economic poverty and chronic stress of the most dire nature. My neighbors have heat and air conditioning and enough food.

But here’s the thing. I’ve watched God work his redemption in Shannan’s life over time. Regardless of the details, her story gives me hope that my own story can become one of greater compassion and less self-absorption, that these gifts will flow through the unique channel of my family’s own place and people and story.

Mostly, it gives me hope that the broken things in my own life can be redeemed.

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Shannan and me at the Allume Conference last year when we finally got to meet in person! #happyday

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While the details of our two lives look different, I’ve been increasingly drawn to the “margins” as I’ve gotten older, especially in recent years. Not because I’m so upstanding and noble but because I’m not. I’ve lived through some unsavory chapters of my own life. Things are still messy in ways I wish they weren’t.

Maybe a pull toward mercy and justice is simply what happens as you see your own brokenness with more clarity. I’m an utter mess apart from grace.

In the words of Tim Keller,

If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.     

~ A Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes You Just by Timothy Keller

Is it just me or does this truth makes us a bit squirrelly? Yet we can all attest to a measure of this. We’re more compassionate when we’ve been on the receiving end of compassion.

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Jesus himself left the riches and abundance of Heaven and perfect intimacy He shared with the Father to do something about this broken world. I don’t ponder the ridiculous love and sacrifice of that — not enough anyway. The brokenness of this world broke his own heart. And He said, “I’m going to do something about that. I’m going to be the light that shines into the dark corners and seedy places and deceived hearts. I’m going to rescue them.”

His ongoing work of redemption doesn’t require our help. But how unthinkably kind that He brings us into the beauty of his work. As we assist in the rescue of others — from their lack, their pain, their despair — we too are rescued.

That’s Shannan’s story. She reminds us that Christ himself invites his children to be life and light, to walk into the dark places just like He did. As we do, He goes with us.

My heart breaks easily and often. Despite books and counseling and self-talk, my emotional boundaries are terrible. Even so, I know that my heart is not always broken enough — that often I’m prone to show more compassion to someone I barely know than to the ones who live in my own house.

Everywhere I look, there are neighbors to love — my husband, my kids, my church, the Section 8 apartment complex around the corner that I’ve become attached to.

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I want a memo from God and a checklist telling me exactly how I’m supposed to live compassionately in my specific life and community. But that’s not the Gospel.

The Gospel does what instruction can never do. 

Instead of a checklist, He sends me Jesus.

Jesus through the stories of others, like Shannan.

Jesus providing small opportunities that He orchestrates.

Jesus reminding me that small is okay, even good. After all, He came small and mostly unnoticed too.

For two years I’ve simply prayed and tried to pay attention. This is slow work.

And ultimately, this is God’s work. It’s his story. And stories happen over time. From Genesis to Revelation, we see one long, slow, unfolding narrative of redemption.

God’s brand of redemption has little to do with us getting it all right and everything to do with simply showing up.

Showing up with what we have — our sin and baggage and brokenness, yes. But also showing up with our real, one-of-a-kind selves — with our gifts that may need a good dusting off, with our hearts that break for a specific kind of brokenness, with our stories we wish we could rewrite, with our unique way of moving in the world in the way that only we can.

More and more I am beginning to see that in my work and in my life, I am just showing up to the table that Jesus has set for me that day.

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Falling Free is a story of real people doing this simple but not-at-all-easy work. The work of showing up and pouring out, fears and questions and all.

It’s an invitation to a beautiful, messy, mismatched, compassionate table.

Shannan’s honesty compels me and always has. She doesn’t have it all figured out, even now that she’s written a book. And maybe that’s what I’ve always loved most. She invites you in — into the hard questions, into the awkward relationships, into the ongoing struggle and the unfolding beauty, into the work Jesus is doing in her little corner of the world through regular people.

And that’s what I see in her continuing story — a girl who keeps showing up at the table Jesus has set for her and inviting the broken people around her to join the feast.

Let this book move you, challenge you, and make you squirm. I cried and laughed. I wrote question marks in the margins because I’m just not sure about some things. I scribbled Amen at the end and had a good cry. I had a big ol’ conversation with this book. I still am. And I hope you will too.

My counselor once told me that are stories aren’t just for us to keep under lock and key. We’re to steward them, to tell them in the way only we can. Not just for us but for all who will be buoyed by the hope we toss out into the world.

I’m so grateful for Shannan’s story and for her willingness to release it into the world. May it inspire each of us toward greater compassion in our little corners of the world.

{Now scoot off to amazon and get your copy.}

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Oh yeah! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of your own, just leave a comment. Anything you like. That’s it!


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Comments

  1. Edward Arrington says

    This sounds like a book I would love to read. We have not experienced the same things but we have had our own share of “bumps in the road”. It’s always good to read the story of others so you don’t feel so alone in your own struggles.

  2. Jeanne Nahama says

    This review sounds like the book would be an encouragement to anyone who reads it. Looking forward to the read.

  3. Alisa says

    Great review…makes me want the book even more than I already did! I, too, have followed Shannan’s story from the “swoony” farmhouse to her “right now” and what an amazing story it is. You both are real and I always, always walk away from both of your blogs feeling normal and not so alone…and that’s what I love. Keep writing, keep pointing us toward Jesus, keep inspiring. *Hugs”

  4. Emma says

    wow, I have seen a couple of reviews for this book and it sounds amazing… definitely on my list of books to read! I especially love how you showed what you learned in your own life through reading this book and it certainly helped me to see a few things in MY life as well.

  5. says

    Ever since I started reading/hearing/seeing about Shannan’s book, I’ve wanted to read it. Now, you have made that desire even stronger. What a beautifully written introduction to Shannan, her life, and the powerful work of God.

  6. Amy Canby says

    I love this line “we’re more compassionate when we’ve been on the receiving end of compassion” and the sweet picture of the little hand holding the flowers-the flowers that aren’t perfect, their ragged brown edges encircling the soft white petals, so like life.
    I’m rushing out to buy the book but if I win a free copy, I’m sure I’ll find a friend to give it too.🌷

  7. Beth says

    I just discovered Shannon’s blog recently and would love a chance to read her book. She’s a very compelling writer.

  8. Jenn Mealy says

    Shannan is new to me, but just from what you have said, I know I am going to love her! I think I need this book. Something in me is stirred already!

  9. says

    This review brings up so many questions and conversations I have been having with myself lately. What can I do for the poor, in my affluent life? How can my life be portrayed more honestly to help people see it’s not just them? How can I be what I am really like as much as possible? (This last one is tricky, as there is quite a lot involved in being all of myself. It certainly takes the right audience.)

    And thank you for your spiritual openness. I think it takes an enormous amount of courage to be open about one’s faith in Christ on the internet. You openness is helping to thin my fear. So bless you for that.

    I have no idea what the answers to these questions will be, but posts like this encourage me to keep pounding away at finding the answers and make me think the answers will be kinder and more filled with wonder than I expect. That seems to be the how the hand of the Lord works.

    Gorgeous post,
    The Other Marian

  10. says

    Beautifully written–you summed up the essence of Shannan’s book and shoved our hearts in the direction the truth (ala Tim Keller). Thank you (and I don’t need to be in the book drawing — I have my almost finished on my night stand!!) So fun to run across your blog…Blessings. xo

  11. Jill Vanderberg says

    I had been thinking of purchasing this book, but after reading your wonderful review I know I must have a copy. Thank you, you write beautifully.

  12. Erin Barnes says

    I love Shannan’s writing and think she’s the bomb and I’m leaving a comment to try and win a book 😀 woohoo!

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