Perhaps you read my Easter essay, originally published in the Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation and Culture. I tried to make the case that in the death and resurrection of Christ the “death of death” has been accomplished, which means not only that those in Christ are promised eternal life, but that God’s own rulership of the world is assured — the divine restoration of all things has begun! The brokenness and hurt of this fallen world is being healed! This in-breaking of the rescue plan of the world God so loves means we have to learn how to live as new creations in a new world coming; a Christ-centered commonwealth called in the Bible the Kingdom of God, into which we are transplanted. Being savingly liberated from the bondage of the old order is, of course, only the start of the Christian journey and we are now tasked with discerning the shape and texture of Christian discipleship in our place, in our time.
Part of that task of new creation living includes eschewing the anti-intellectualism and sentimentality that is commonplace in many churches (liberal or conservative, or so it seems to me.) To blaze new trails of 21st century fidelity, we need groups who take up resurrectionary reading. “Study to show thyself approved” the apostle wrote to young Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15.) If you hunger to learn more, if you agree that books are tools for discipleship, and you desire a “renewed mind” (Romans 12:2) or what Philippians 2:5 calls “the mind” of Christ then you know that thoughtful reading must be part of your regimen of spiritual disciplines. Buying and giving (and begging and borrowing) books is part of what we do. We are, as they say, “people of the Book” and our faith communities must be communities of discourse where books and their ideas of commonly discussed. We treasure the printed page, Holy Writ and more ordinary books as well. We resist the easy tendency to “amuse ourselves to death” and take up the task of becoming well read.
In the most recent post, then, I described five books that I thought might point us towards renewed conversations about Kingdom living, learning to think in fresh ways about culture, society, about impacting the world around us. From Francis Schaeffer to Jim Wallis to Leslie Newbigin, and more, they are very good and remain on sale as BookNotes features. If you haven’t browsed through that little list, I hope you do. Reading in light of the resurrection can help us be more effective as salt and light and leaven. And – I hope you agree – it is often a pleasant discipline; well-written non-fiction is in many cases an artful joy, beautiful words bringing beautiful ideas.
Resurrectionary reading, though, is not always all about big ideas for social change, cultural studies and public faith. Sometimes, it is good to read more personal stories (you know we love memoir and find it truly wonderful to see how others narrate their lives.) Here is a new book written by a woman who ruminates nicely on her own spiritual journeys. This book is at time page-turning riveting and at times poignantly tender and poetic. It points to the goodness of glimpses – glimpses of hope and healing, glimpses of meaning and purpose, glimpses of joy and freedom amidst very hard times. It is a book I hope you consider buying from us.
Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning Rebekah Lyons (Tyndale) $19.99
This is the story of a thoughtful, well-connected, upbeat young woman who seemed to many, and perhaps herself, and to her husband, Q Ideas founder and author Gabe Lyons, to be a poster child for the kind of hip and idealistic “next generation” Christian who talks about vocations of transforming culture, being a catalyst of change, embracing servant leadership, creating social initiatives, impacting the world and the like. One who seems to have it all together. Rebekah Lyons was part of a recent renaissance of Southern evangelicals without the conservative cultural baggage (let alone the right-wing religious belligerence), a talented cohort that is building bridges and starting shiny new organizations, creating signposts of a new way of being Christian. Gabe and Rebekah lived in the suburbs but had exciting lives, working in the rising young evangelical church communities in Atlanta even as they started their new family.
A few years ago they discerned a call to move from their close network of energetic compatriots to the Big Apple, establishing Q Ideas in the heart of Manhattan. Ms Lyons’ compelling narrative begins with a tearful goodbye to close friends in Atlanta. I am sure I am not the only reader who was immediately drawn in – emotionally hit in the gut, choked up on her behalf, and having a deep spot of grief touched in my own life. (Oh, how Beth and I recall our last nights in our reformational community in Pittsburgh 30 years ago when our brothers and sisters there commissioned us to move to central Pennsylvania to follow our bookstore dream.) Who hasn’t said hard goodbyes? I think many readers will be hooked at the very first, realizing how momentous this transition will be. And so, the first few pages tell us much. Rebekah is being stretched by this move and while she claims to be on board with the vision of Q and Gabe’s righteous aspirations, she is paying a price, leaving friends and relationships and a culture in which she knows her place, her calling, her gifts. She is leaving home.
I really like the video trailer for this good book and knowing Gabe and Rebekah just a bit, I know that their passion is to help facilitate networking and conversations around themes of evangelical cultural witness, promoting “common grace for the common good” sorts of projects. They are remarkably talented, bold, and visionary with sharp instincts and notable expertise. I don’t know how they do it — from the finances of running classy nationally-known events like the annual Q gathering to creating and offering regional workshops, creative confabs and networking soirées. But this book is not just about dreaming big and making a difference and getting to do cool stuff. It is not primarily Rebekah’s invitation for women to take risks and do good work, as she has done in her own journey to New York. Rather, it is about the cost of doing that. It is about learning how. It is about a woman and her identity and how that is sometimes hard to discern, even in these modern times. I was taken aback – I really was – by how I misunderstood the nature of this book. I should know better, but sometimes I jump too quickly to presume what a writer has to offer, what a book really is about. Freefall is much more painful and real than I expected — more authentic, gritty story and not just a call to fly high. I wasn’t fully off base — in some ways this is about women dreaming big, about engaging the world with one’s gifts and passions, about serving and trusting God with gusto. Lean in, ladies. Or, as she says, lean out!
This is Mrs. Gabe Lyons, after all, so let’s get some big ideas going and Make It Happen.
But more, this is an honest, and at times raw look at Rebekah’s interior life, her fears and struggles and doubts. She is admirably candid about her sense of being overwhelmed and she is candid about her weaknesses. For a nationally-known emerging leader in a fairly fashionable setting (they literally work with fashion designers; just sayin’) it is beautiful to hear Rebekah talk with such transparency about her anxieties living in Manhattan, the difficulties with buses and crowds and heat and the cost of living. If somebody as vital and strong and with such a supportive and forward-thinking man of faith as a husband as she has experiences hardship adjusting to new living conditions and new work contexts, my goodness, do those of us without such supports stand a chance?
Many of us know (as they have told part of this story before) that Gabe and Rebekah’s first child was born with Down’s Syndrome. Some parts of the book are directly about the challenges of parenting a special needs child (including two of the most riveting scenes in the book) but it isn’t mostly about that. Some parts of the book are about her debilitating anxiety attacks, a disorder she was brave to reveal and which also brings some incredible drama to the story – wow. Some parts of the book are just about coping with raising three children in an extraordinary, complex neighborhood while trying to do extraordinary ministry; the lessons learned about forming supportive friendships, working honestly with her husband, staying connected with older friends and family, having rituals and caring about places, all of this is helpful for any of us in times of transition. All of this storytelling and reflection creates a moving memoir, packed with gems of insight, some offered forthrightly, others that sneak in between the lines.
As you can surmise, this is the sort of book we love to promote and I think that you – our BookNotes readers and Hearts & Minds friends – will especially appreciate it. This is not a literary memoir written only for its own sake, really, but it is also not just a self-help book of practical guidance, either. It is a lovely mix of story and suggestions. It narrates the authors ups and downs, sharing her insights along the way, learned often the hard way. She tells of her marriage and kids but also episodes with life-long friends — she importantly has a group of women who gather yearly for intentional times of support and life-sharing (and a bit of shopping.) Hearing about those times of retreat was very inspiring to me. I think you will be glad to learn what she learned and will take courage in your own life as you hear how she coped with her own struggles and perplexing opportunities and reliable relationships.
Ms Lyons’ unique voice as a woman struggling to “fly” but feeling like she is in a dangerous freefall, is a major feature of this book. As a male reader, I really, really liked it, and appreciated her good writing and her relevant faith and her revealing candor. This makes for a meaningful, poignant book that is both enjoyable and helpful. I realize it is written primarily for women, but I do hope guys read it; men can learn about their own anxieties and fears of flying from this sister who has been there.
And also there is this quiet subtext of how women navigate their faith journey and discern various facets of their callings when the navigation and discernment is tied to homemaking and child rearing. Most decent married men know of the profound calling they have to be active in their families involved as husbands and dads, but most are also clear about their vocations in the world, that they might make a difference here or there, for God’s sake. It may be otherwise for many women. Alas, unless married men talk about these things with their wives and women friends, many wives themselves will feel like they may not be able to adequately pursue their own dreams, their own callings, their own network of friends and mentors. This book isn’t directly about gender roles in Kingdom ministry, but learning the art of navigating the complexity of calling and career and home and children and community is certainly a part of Lyons’ story. Learning to support and encourage one another in times of despair and hurt, too, is part of this story. (Again, how many of us long to be better spouses or friends to those who are emotionally distraught, struggling, or in chronic pain?) I am grateful to learn from her, and hope many will appreciate her vulnerability in sharing her story of loneliness and frustration and hope and deeper faith.
The lovely cover of Freefall to Fly is done by a chalk artist that was befriended by Ms Lyons and in many ways that little touch speaks volumes about the vision of this book. The Brooklyn-based woman did chalk art for local projects, serving social initiatives with her talents, and was encouraged by others to pursue this not as a small side project but as a calling, perhaps a career. The side hustle can become the dream, and Rebekah getting the publisher to use this artist’s work shows not only how Rebekah encourages others to pursue their passions, but how this leads to beautiful collaboration, to friendships, to really “flying” in life. Yes, flying fully may feel like a freefall. It can be terrifying; it can even be devastating – to say yes to some possibilities means to necessarily say no to some other possibilities. Plans can be derailed and there are seasons when we simply don’t know what we should do next. Can we let go of our preconceptions of what our life should be like? As men and women, can we take risks, stepping out in faith to find a life of purpose and coherence and significance? And what does it look like to do that?
Rebekah gives some very useful guidelines which you can use in your own discernment process but is perhaps best captured in this epigram, from chapter 9, a line from Kobi Yamada: “She took the leap and built her wings on the way down.”
Or maybe it is captured in this lovely blurb from Ann Voskamp,
Rebekah Lyons writes a vulnerable story of her unexpected winging into the light and dark of mothering, womanhood, and visionary living, only to discover what it means to find the full hope of the sky.
“The full hope of the sky.” Now that’s a book you gotta love!
This is a book of raw, real hope for women about letting go of fear, learning to surrender to God, finding courage to embrace new realities, to be self-aware about one’s own talents and passions, to nurture friendships and supportive community, to find contentment and strength to pursue dreams and vocations. It is a book about motherhood, about marriage, about making sense of faith and life amidst crippling anxieties. As the back cover colorfully says, it is about “the dark night of the soul in the city that never sleeps.” It is a book you will enjoy, that you will want to talk about, that you will learn from. We are happy to feature it, glad to offer it here, on sale. Happy reading — and may you experience freedom to fail, freedom to fall, and freedom to fly.
Freefall to Fly
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