Review: The Complicated Heart by Sarah Mae

I was invested in the concept of this book before it was even available as a book. I’ve been listening to author Sarah Mae’s podcast, The Complicated Heart, for the last year. She does such an excellent job of meeting professionals and subject matter experts who live and work at the intersection of mental health and faith. When Sarah Mae mentioned that she was writing a book on the theme that inspired the podcast, I knew I had to read it.

In the introduction to her book, Sarah Mae writes:
This is our story, the story of Mom and me, but it’s also your story, and how even in great darkness light finds a way in, comforts us when we can’t see, and leads us out into the fullness of day where redemption and freedom and healing are waiting for us.

I think this is an accurate and beautiful lead thought to share her aim and what she delivers on in the spiritual memoir. She explores, through her own memories and letters and diaries written by her mom, a difficult relationship, compounded by her mother’s own brokenness and alcoholism that manifests in abuse and neglect of Sarah Mae. The glory story in all of this is a true reconciliation of hearts. Not a perfect redemption of them as we know we will not experience perfect wholeness this side of Heaven.

Sarah Mae is an excellent writer, that should be of great importance to anyone buying a book. This one was written and organized with care. Some of the stories throughout could have been given a little more texture (more on this later) but on the whole, I think the book is very complete.

The stories in the book are certainly difficult to read in terms of what this young woman experienced with very little support at the time she was going through it all, e.g. an abortion, molestation, etc. But they are not written gratuitously, and all are part of the ultimate story of redemption. The recollections Sarah Mae shares are written often from her point of view at that particular time in her life. So when she recalls being molested by an ex-stepbrother, it’s from her POV as a young teen. This aspect of the book did not work for me. I think there was too much to unpack; it felt like a missed opportunity to delve deeply into how these events shaped the author, rather than glossing over difficult episodes and treating them only as if the wisdom of time had not been granted. Others may find it’s actually a virtue of the book because the author is faithful in all the ways to being a reliable narrator. She didn’t know then what she knows now.

The biblical wisdom in the book is not heavy-handed but helpful, I think, in offering context for how the author wants to frame her own healing and what she believes is possible for others.

The most compelling part of the book for me was at the very end. The author includes an entire chapter on tactical approaches to identifying and rooting out the core lies and core fears that plague our own complicated hearts. She offers spiritual insight on the symptoms and hazards of clinging to these core lies. Many of her podcast episodes have addressed these in different forms but I was very grateful to see the full material in written form, almost like a psycho-spiritual instruction manual.

I would especially recommend this book to anyone who has fought to have a healthy relationship with a parent or felt enmeshed and unable to establish firm boundaries with a family member. Sarah Mae’s willingness to share her story in a vulnerable, accountable way is as inspiring as it is instructive to all who want to explore the complexity of our hearts.

I received this book as a digital edition courtesy B&H Publishing in exchange for my honest review of the book.

Review: The Ministry of Ordinary Places

If you read FALLING FREE, Shannan Martin returns with an even more lyrical and soulful memoir of her life as a radical neighbor lover. As a member of her launch team, I received an advance copy.

I was blessed so much by THE MINISTRY OF ORDINARY PLACES and I especially appreciated the very tactical ideas Martin offers for loving our neighbors. The author also takes a necessary and admirable stance against a lot of what I can only refer to as ministry "gimmicks" that churches in the First World have adopted as de rigueur. Examples of this included "pop-up" ministry events, short-term missions that do more harm than good, or just ill-advised donation drives. The love the author has for her neighbors and her neighborhood is so palpable, and the book is an inspiring look at how one family can be a beacon simply by choosing to stay. 

Pairing my own fave coffee mug with this book’s darling cover.

Pairing my own fave coffee mug with this book’s darling cover.

The only aspect of the book with which I really struggled was the lack of discussion of boundaries. Much of the ministry of being embedded in a community was familiar to me, since I have lived at the schools where my husband and/or I worked. It can be very overwhelming at times to field requests at all hours of the day and night from those one has been called to serve. As a mother, I believe my first order of ministry is to my family. Sometimes living in an insular community, one has to set hedges around one's family in order that the family not get exploited. The author makes mention of how her husband sought counseling for anxiety, and I was grateful for that. As a Christian, we can see from Jesus' example that there were times he reserved only for his prayer time, that he disappointed people by being unavailable because of his priorities. I wanted to hear more about that -- that giving freely of ourselves is still something we need to have discretion about so that we're not placing our family as a sacrificial lamb on the altar. The Martins are fully committed to their ministry of being present, and there are certainly instances mentioned where simply being present is hard. Still, I was left to wonder what they did when and if their children just sort of wanted their parents to themselves (?) Projecting here, but my kids help alongside me in ministry but sometimes they have bad attitudes about it and it's usually because I'm not devoting enough time to them. I think this begs the question: Can you live in the upside-down kingdom while still keeping your priorities in order? I don’t have the answer and I think anyone living in close community is looking for guidance about how to do it well.

I think my favorite chapter was about the Jail Ministry house. Martin explains the real disparity for families with an incarcerated person reentering society and the high cost of housing, job hunting that befalls individuals/families because of time served. I was so moved by the story of the Jail Ministry house and feel inspired to explore opportunities to serve inventively in this vein in my own sphere of influence.

I highly recommend this book if you are impressed to live and experience the Gospel in a less abstract and more practiced way, to have your eyes wide open to the biddings and beckonings of Divinity that hasn’t given up on our spinning planet yet.

An update on life per ye blog times of olde

I transferred all the kendraspondence content to this proffy site to be less insane, oh I mean, to streamline the brand and it's all nicely in tandem with some other moves happening.

Like how we moved across town to the cutest little cottage. I keep pinching myself at the good fortune, which leads me to the notion of favor.

I've been feeling some favor over my life. I learned recently that mentions of “favor” in the New Testament usually uses the Greek word "karis." I'm told its purest translation is "grace." And that's changing my conception of what favor has meant and looked like, at least for me, in the past. Because from my sloppy read of favor in Scripture, it usually entails God doing a mighty feat through a cracked or flimsy vessel. God favors the surrendered heart so he can do his thing. It challenges our present-day definition of favor, from the verb associated often with teacher’s pets and the noun associated with plastic eggs full of slime netted from a birthday party.

At first blush, there is no expectation tethered to our modern concept of favor. A coach runs plays centered around one player; a party girl hands out bath bombs to her guests. But of course there is an expectation. To whom much is given, much is expected. So score some goals with all that ice time. And invite me to your party next time.

Our family has been given a house to occupy for as long as Loverpants is in this school’s employ, and in exchange we pay the price of our proximity. We have surrendered privacy for community, boundaries for a lack of a mortgage.

Whereas God lavishes us with favor and expects nothing in return. He has already paid the ransom for our very lives. This is why the Gospel is just so impossible, so unmanageable. What could we even offer him?

And yet he makes like our turning hearts toward him like sunflowers arching toward sunlight is enough.

I’m overwhelmed by the favor God has shown me recently: our house, some writing opportunities, the unbridled love of family and friends. It’s too much.

And then I remember how long we have lived with housing uncertainty in our short 13 years of marriage. I think about how dry and dark the winter was when I was pitching my little typing hands off to just land one article with one measly pub. I can’t forget the trials my friends have faced down and had to take on the chin.

This too, is where God has shown favor. The favor of his restoration. think I like God doing a new thing even through old battered vessels best of all. It’s not just the unlikely characters that he works through. He shows favor even when we have trashed the house.

In the last few months, I have seen the restoration of my daughter’s easy, trusting smile to an otherwise furrowed brow. I have seen the reunification of a friend’s marriage. I have seen a friend get engaged and thrive in her career after a year of scorched earth. I have seen my baby brother blow out 30 birthday candles on a cake. God has shown his kindness when we couldn’t have muscled any of this on our own. He has restored the years the locusts have eaten and dried the tears that the vipers had shaken out of us.

millennium force cedar point

Restoration is my favorite. I’m buckets of grateful. God is good.