Because I’m a planner, I carry a planner, but the truth is that my planner carries me. All pristine and un-besmirched, the 2017 edition holds out the promise of glorious accomplishment and blessed organization in a life that often feels like spinning plates and chaos management. Shannan Martin started her marriage and motherhood in much the same way. Plan-the-work-and-work-the-plan as a way of life had secured for her and her husband their dream farm with a cute little family and a life that had all the trappings of security. In a journey that began with the hunch that God might be leading them to move — literally — outside their comfort zone, the Martins said good-bye to predictability and hello to an address that had always seemed to them like “the wrong side of the tracks.”
Memoir meets manifesto in Falling Free, for Shannan not only shares her story, but also describes the safety she found in risk and the stunning realization that when we say, “God is all I need,” we may be asked to make good on those words. The Martins’ income plummeted to make space for ministry in a life that became centered around a community that included a struggling public school and a circle of friends who had done jail time, who struggled with addictions, and who continually battled poverty.
It is no understatement to say that Falling Free challenged some of the assumptions and guiding principles of this homeschooling mum who can just barely see the smoke from her neighbor’s chimney. Reading about Shannan’s “rescue from the life she always wanted” allowed me to consider some fairly uncomfortable concepts:
- God reserves the right to do the unexpected and to move His people in unlikely directions. He is unpredictable and has not “settled down” since Old Testament times.
- True family transcends DNA and mirrors the welcome that God extends in the gospel.
- It’s hard to pine for heaven when you already believe you’re there.” For North American Christians, our stuff is a serious obstacle to living an authentic Christian life.
- Our most valuable offering to those in need is our “good standing.” One of the greatest needs of the poor is a future: a way to secure employment, stability, and a permanent address.
- Missional living makes for missional parenting and produces missional kids. If God calls a believer to ministry in an area with failing schools, He is asking her to trust Him with her children’s education.
It was delightful to read about Shannan and her family bonding with their newly adopted community around plates of pasta and garlic bread (often well-done). She testifies to the efficacy of the “unfancy dinner table” and to this stunning truth:
“If community is the heartbeat of the gospel, hospitality is the hand that opens the door and waves it in.”
Falling Free unpacks the biblical image of Jesus “moving into the neighborhood” by first inviting readers to picture someone on the lowest rung of their social ladder — a homeless, meth-addict, for instance. Shannan first nails the pity and lack of respect that I would feel toward her — and then suggests that my trading lives with that addict would not even begin to approach the utter humiliation of the incarnation. Embracing my own smallness is more than a matter of having less. It is about being less, like Jesus, when He “took the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” — less, last, and ordinary.
In a culture that encourages all of us precious believing snowflakes to “shop” for our “perfect church” that “meets our needs,” Shannan reminds her readers that the Kingdom of God is full of surprises. God may ask us to sink our roots deep into a community that wounds us and exacts a deep cost to our souls while satisfying nothing on our personal wish list. This is Jesus’ invitation, made explicit in the Beatitudes, but inexplicable to my preferred business plan that’s built around “blessed are the sensible and those who serve dinner on time.”
Not everyone will be called to join the Martin family in the weightless free fall, but the principles that guided their choices and the insights they gained in the process are choreography for my own choices and priorities in this world where I am called to dance the love and the life of Christ.
This book was provided by Thomas Nelson 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.”