Book Review: Raising White Kids

Book Review and Give-Away! (see below)

Jennifer Harvey,  Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), hardcover, 306 pages.

raisingwhitekidsThis is a must-read book for white parents, educators and adults — and even if you are not a parent! The dominance and ignorance of white America has contributed to the racial tensions and injustice today. This book will help you unpack where you can and should change.

As a pastor and former educator, I know first hand that there IS a difference in how children are treated in the classroom. Non-white children frequently receive accelerated classroom disciplinary action, are less likely to be offered classes of academic challenge, and not given a “pass” for bad behavior choices.

As a white, suburban-dwelling wife and mother of two white children, I also know that despite our efforts to expose our children to a variety of experiences and people, we were far from perfect (and frequently made many of the parenting errors mentioned in this book!)

Since the election of our 45th President, I have become acutely aware of the disparity and prejudice faced by persons of color, particularly immigrants, undocumented workers and Blacks. Add to that a lack of intentional intersectionality in the public arena, from Congress to Cub Scouts, and the reasons for racial tension between us are clear. From criticisms of The Women’s March to the #MeToo movement1, the disengaged and unaware actions of white Americans have not helped the situation.

And I am one of them.

This book is written to help white parents in the challenges of parenting in an increasingly diverse, increasingly divided America. Racial tension is here. Chanting slogans and wishing  divisions would go away will not help. There is a lot left to do to dismantle racist thinking, and proactively work against racist laws and their enforcement.

Several of the vignettes shared by the author, Jennifer Harvey, parallel some of my own parenting experiences. She recounts innocent questions from her child in a public space about a person of color, and not always rising above her own anxiety to help them learn from their questions and their experience. She also brought to mind instances where, in encouraging my children to be respectful of others, I did not engage or teach them about systemic racism.

Harvey’s book is laid out with “Takeaways” at the end of every chapter. These would make great discussion points for a book club or honest conversation between white and Black parents. I wish I had her wisdom in hand when my children, now in their 20s, were in public school!  The “Takeaways” also help clarify the main points of every chapter (for those of us who need a review on a regular basis.)

There were two main areas that I found most helpful. First, Harvey is careful to explain why this is not about “equality” but about injustice. She identifies the main problems with “color-blind” parental approaches, which do not combat racist practices and biases. Instead, she emphasizes race-conscious parenting, suggesting that white parents notice and name issues of race “early and often,” and use age and developmentally-appropriate words and methods. As Harvey explains, the “color-blind” mindset allows a child “to just keep breathing in ‘society’s smog’ without benefit of a face mask.” (p. 35) Raising race-conscious children helps them see how and why our words and actions are perceived as racist.

The real and most truthful questions, I think, are what our children are going to teach us if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to make it possible for them to do so. And what might they teach us if we then slow down and listen to them when they try?
from: Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey. (p. 256)

I hesitate to highlight one chapter over the others (because I gained some significant knowledge from all of them), but I especially appreciated Chapter 4: Do we have to call it Racism? In this chapter, Dr. Harvey helps shape the conversation about racism by encouraging parents to explore kids’ experiences through naming, acknowledging and examining them, and remembering that we are on a journey of self-discovering and change. She suggests not just teaching about racism, but being explicit about “white peoples participation in racism.” (p. 160).

The book includes several pages of resources, some of which I have personally used, and others that I have added to my links. There are also books, organizations, curricula, and organizations which will help you in the ongoing work of raising color-conscious, caring children and impacting your own engagement with our world. (Care to read the Forward? Check it out here!)

As a pastor in a predominantly white congregation, finding ways to have this conversation is now increasingly important. We cannot ignore the ways our society has crafted a schism between white America and persons of color. Living out The Gospel demands we hold one another accountable for the ways in which we treat one another, and in particular, the ways in which we do not honor the Imago Dei (image of God) in one another. Racism, at its core, is refusing to honor a human being created in God’s image, even though they may go through life and look/cook/dress/worship/speak differently than we do.

God help me. Change starts with me. And you.

Now, about that GIVE-AWAY! Would you like to read this book? I have a copy to share and I’ll pay the postage if you live in the continental US. Comment below or on my Facebook page or Twitter (if we are connected that way) and I’ll draw a name on March 10th!

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1 The #MeToo movement was created by Tarana Burke in 2006 and she deserves the credit for organizing and empowering girls and women of color to fight back against sexual harassment. It was co-opted by white women, who have since credited her with beginning this work.


Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America. Jennifer Harvey. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017. Hardcover: 306 pages. ISBN-13: 9781501856426

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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.

Still Alice: Lessons from Literature, and Life

stillaliceI finished reading Still Alice by  Lisa Genova. Though it is a work of fiction, it nevertheless reflects the lives and heartaches of countless families around the world.

The book affected me profoundly. For those of us who work with individuals with dementia, it brought to mind patients and their caregivers, coworkers and long-term care facilities. I’ve walked with countless families as they grieve the gradual unraveling of memory and relationship, of control, of function and purpose.

It also reminded me of the power of love, dedication and compassionate care that I see poured into the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. Families and friends shift work hours to be with those they love. They try to make sense of the confusion and frustration. They preserve the memories and joys. They pay for extra caregivers. They cry, bargain and try to reason with God.

In the novel, the main character, Dr. Alice Howland, is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard. She realizes because of her training and self-awareness that something is wrong, and initiates the first call to a neurologist (not the norm, by the way). As events unfold, her husband and children find their own ways to accept and process her diagnosis, and to make decisions about her care.

Early in her diagnosis, Alice went to speak at a conference and share the perspective of an Alzheimer’s patient. This speech was, for me, among the most profound writing in the book. She challenged the audience to help individuals with dementia “live better with dementia.”

My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I’ll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow doesn’t mean that I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today didn’t matter.

Such true, clear words to caregivers and their support system.

As a chaplain, I see patients every day who have dementia. I hug their family members. I offer prayers for their comfort and to ease their worries. I celebrate the bits of personality and humor that pop through the tangles in their brain. I show them pictures of family and friends. I look for those bright spots of Hope.

When I forget things, like where I left my cell phone (yeah that did just happen!) or can’t find my car keys, I am brought up short. Am I getting dementia? I give myself a quick MMSE (Mini-Mental State Exam) and relax.

What Still Alice provided me, most of all, was a reminder that the patient’s perspective must not be ignored or glossed over. I can’t assume “they don’t know what’s going on” because, on some level, they still do. I am more devoted than ever to honoring that perspective, and try to actively bring it into the conversation of the interdisciplinary team.

Beyond condescension, individuals with Alzheimer’s need to know they are “still” who they were before their memory faded. Still parents. Still friends. Still professionals. Still funny. Still… LOVED.

That’s the most important task of all.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Published by Gallery Books, 2009. ISBN-10: 1501106422

P.S. Since you are taking the time to read my blog, I want to make a special request of you. I will be walking in the DC area fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in October. I have a fundraising page and would love your support! As I write this, I’m already 25% of the way to my goal! Click on this link to support my fundraising efforts. Thanks!

Synchroblog: Faith Feminism

This is part of a Synchroblog at Faith Feminism.

I am a product of the “women’s lib” movement. Back in the day, females were either “chicks” or “broads” — those women who dared to champion women’s rights were called “bra-burners.” The Equal Rights Amendment passed both houses when I was in high school, but was never ratified by enough states to make it part of our laws. I found  little interest or support for the ERA among my friends. In fact, we didn’t think we “needed” it — most of us, if we went to college, would graduate and get married and have children. TV shows at the time mocked “women’s libbers.” (To be clear, I watched them and laughed, too. I was more interested in having friends than standing up for something that made me uncomfortable.)

At the time, it wasn’t something I cared about. Being a feminist was not how I would have identified myself. In fact, I was content to invest in life on a large public university campus, since I was (and still am!) a huge football fan! I was in the marching band, joined a sorority and worked hard enough to be tapped for an honorary.

Fast forward several years… I went to grad school. Worked as a music therapist. I went on a short-term mission trip to West Africa. And as I continued to grow in my understanding of God and the work of the Holy in the world. And one of the things I realized was that I did not “fit” that carefully circumscribed role of “a woman in the Church.” At least, not the way that the conservative churches I attended were demanding. I loved God, but I could not synchronize my belief that women could do anything and women were supposed to be submissive. The sermons declared that “men and women were equal but with different roles”. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t have the knowledge (or the backbone) to move against it.

However, I was raised by parents who believed that each of their children had unique gifts and strengths. We were encouraged to get involved in community service. To explore ways of helping others and to express our faith in a local faith community. And I wanted to show my love for God and my passion for caring for others.

I started attending classes at a local nondenominational seminary when I was in my 20s. The conservative school which I attended at the time was less than welcoming, and discouraged my theological pursuits. There were no other women in my class on the Prophets. The other students were pastors and had contacts and other pastor’s libraries available for their use. The seminary had no library, no resource books, no way to find research materials. I floundered horribly. Without access to books, articles and scholarly exegesis, my papers were (quite honestly) terrible. My professor said bluntly, “This is why women don’t belong in seminary.”

I was crushed. And I figured he must be right. What did I know?

At the same time, I was conflicted. I knew deep in my bones God wanted me to do more. But what? It took me twenty years to finally screw up my courage and go back to seminary. This time, I spent time talking to men and women in ministry. I gleaned wisdom from their suggestions. In a period of discernment, I investigated 3 seminaries and ended up at one that is more Pentecostal in its leanings. I found encouragement, challenge and affirmation of my gifts. They invested in me so that I graduated without debt. Though we do not see eye-to-eye on every aspect of Christianity, I am grateful for my education there.

As I have worked in local churches, in hospitals and now in hospice, I find that there is still a need for feminists to speak up. Some in the Church have an outdated, misogynist view of the Sacred texts. Some insist on subjugating women. Some find ways to demean and demoralize any woman who dares to speak up and take a stand. They slander. They take words out of context. And worst of all, they go digging for things long in the past to try and embarrass. (I’ll spare you the work. I’m someone who is a sinner saved by grace. Perhaps you are, too.)

Now that our daughters are in the “launch stage” to their careers, paths of interest and lives, I am more passionate than ever that we need people of faith who are feminists. For they, like their peers, still have an uphill battle. And we will continue to say firmly, honestly and compassionately,
ALL people are valued by God.
ALL people are equal in the eyes of God.
ALL those who desire to serve God have a place.

So may it be.

The Fault in our Stars: Just Read It

I suppose there will be many, many posts on the release of The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) movie today. People either hate it or love it. And many of them have not read the book by John Green. I encourage you – JUST READ IT. For several reasons…

The book validates the decision-making process of younger patients.

chemoI’m a chaplain. Time after time, I have heard parents intervene and make health care decisions for their children. Not because the children WANT to do the next round of surgery or chemo or radiation, but because their parents have decided “what’s best for them.”

Legally, the parents have every right. The children are minors. The parents must buy the health insurance, be responsible for the bills, and drive/fly/bus the patient to their appointments. I get that. But what TFIOS suggests is that the health care decisions which impact someone else’s body need to at least be part of an honest, open discussion. Particularly when the treatments are experimental. Or when the risks/benefit equation is very, very hard to compute.

I’m NOT SAYING “don’t do chemo” or suggest that parents of chronically ill children give in to their demands. I AM suggesting that when we do not consider (at least briefly) the needs and preferences of the patient, we are imposing our will and our fears on someone else’s body. Physicians, nurses, researchers, ethicists, chaplains, social workers — we all need to be a part of the conversation. And conversation implies that one person is not doing all the talking.

OK, moving on.

The book speaks to the struggle to be “normal” when cancer has made everything about you “abnormal.”

2012-11-03 05.43.45Don’t downplay the desire to be “normal.” (That goes for all ages of humans, by the way.) Not to conform in a lock-step, dress-alike, look-alike way, but to have the feelings, questions, experiences, successes and failures that you experience be accepted as valid. And to some degree, to be “normalized.”

For example, you’re a high school student. You want to go to the football game. But you can’t. You can’t sit outside in the rain, cheering as your team goes through a mud bath slaughter, because your immune system has tanked. You feel left out.  So does the kid in the band who got the puking virus and is staying home. Or the student who stays home to babysit younger sibs because the parents are working a second job.

Normalized – you understand that there are things everyone doesn’t get to do. But there are times that life is really unfair. And you don’t ever get what you want.

Reality for the cancer patient is that “normal” is not coming back. That’s a huge loss. And we down-play it.

The book reminds you that parents and children both have to grow up.

I do not parent my children now the way I did when they were 8 months and 4 years old. Or 8 years and 12 years.

They have grown up. I have grown up. Sort of.

I still make mistakes. I still don’t “get” it. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to be a loving, caring, engaged parent.

As the lead characters wrestle with their “new” adult decisions, I can only imagine what their parents are worrying about at home. I have sat on that couch and worried… and then had my fears dissipate. (Rarely have they been confirmed. I am blessed.)

The point is that the parents in this novel had to accept some decisions their young adult children made, even though they didn’t like them. Decisions that they may have agonized over before stepping back and letting their kids try something they would not have chosen for them. But – in the end, they listened to their children. I’d like to think they reflected back on their lives, their memories and their feelings from younger years. There’s not a lot to validate that in the book, but it makes sense.

The book demonstrates that life is for sharing, not retreating from or hiding. Even when you hurt.

When life is raw and grief is real, the first instinct we have is to curl up in a ball and eat all the chocolate. Or we decide that we will never, ever trust someone again.

All the reasons we come up with for NOT engaging life are (to put it politely) BOGUS. 

About 60 gajillion years ago, I used to listen to a song by The Byrds. I would read the lyrics over and over. And I would cry.

Everybody’s been burned before
Everybody knows the pain
Anyone in this place
Can tell you to your face
Why you shouldn’t try to love someone

Everybody knows it never works
Everybody knows and me
I know that door that shuts
Just before you get to the dream
You see

I know all too well
How to turn, how to run
How to hide behind, a bitter wall of blue
But you die inside if you choose to hide
So I guess instead, I’ll love you

 How wonderful (and painful and scary) to discover those words are still true.

The book lets teens and young adults be themselves – with separate identities, interests and opinions from their parents.

I’m not much into RPG. Or programming. Or gaming. Or reading wise and esoteric tomes. I’m probably past my years of backpacking and rapids riding. But I love that my daughters have found things they enjoy in this life.

We do share in some things – a love for the beach. Having a herd of cats. Reading, reading, reading. Enjoyment of nature. Faith. Hope. And loving others.

The characters had to find their way through something their parents had not personally experienced. And their parents were wise enough to let them.

 

So – read the book. Really. 

You may hate it, which is OK.

Okay? Okay.

And now… here’s the movie trailer…

 

DFTBA.

Book Review: All That Bright Light — A story of love, murder and healing

michellemiller
Courtesy of Michelle Basch, WTOP Radio

The cover shows a blurred image of balloons rising over a football field at sunset. It was a sight that must have been viewed through eyes blurred by tears at the Rockville High School stadium that night.

The friends, family and teachers of Michelle Miller gathered to offer words of hope, grief and joy, even as they struggled to understand why a 31 year old Army recruiter, Adam Arndt, shot first Miller and then himself in a murder-suicide. They lofted helium balloons with messages of love, hope and courage.

“Release the balloons,” a clear, young voice booms through the sound system.

We have been waiting for this moment. It is truly awesome as hundreds of brightly colored balloons seem to light up the sky as they float through the last rays of fading sunlight.

For a few moments the stadium is silent as we all watch our balloons, which like Michelle’s bright spirit, are now heading for the heavens. (All That Bright Light, page 28).

Coming to grips with a loss this devastating seems impossible. How does one find a way to make sense of it? Why did a young woman, full of joy, vibrancy and promise, have her life ended in such a brutal way? How do you embrace your faith, your family and your sense of fairness? What do you do when you feel that justice has not been served? Can you forgive? How do you forgive?

These and other questions flow thoughtfully and with reflective  realism from the author, Alice Miller. A psychotherapist, she has  been the consoler and counselor to others who were in deep grief. Now, just weeks before her beloved granddaughter, nicknamed Lulu, was to graduate from high school, she was killed by the 31-year-old Army sergeant who recruited her for an Army ROTC program.

This is a story that breaks the heart. And it is a story of conflict between the Army and a heartbroken family.

Alice shares her personal journals from this tragedy, from the moments they found out that Michelle was dead, to the grim details of her death. She talks about the outpouring of love, meals and care that surrounded the family. She writes of her own grieving process, one that she fully understands is not over.

Grief, I have learned, is like a cocoon, which from the beginning has encased me in its pain. Now, gradually I need to learn to emerge from that sorrow if I am every again to fully embrace life. The hole in my heart may never go away, But time, I believe will smooth the rough edges. The hole, however, remains. (All That Bright Light, page 128)

The title is taken from the words spoken by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when she responded to the outpouring of love and condolences upon the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. All his bright light has gone from the world. All of you who have written to me know how much we all loved him and that he returned that love in full measure.”

When someone is murdered, the spark of their love and life is no more. At least, not on this planet. As Miller writes,

“Your bright light may be gone from this world but I know that it will shine through into the next.”

For those who have experienced this kind of traumatic loss, you will find a companion in the grief and anger that the author knows so well. For those who wonder at the ways that injustice, especially when accompanied by crimes of rape and physical assault, you will hear the passionate plea for accountability. For those of us who are parents, there is the practical reminder to go home and hug our children and those we love.

I recommend this book. Though Alice finds peace through her Christian faith, she does not insist that you follow her path. She offers perspective through her own pain and grieving. She admits where she is struggling and invites you to carry your own losses with realism and honesty.

All That Bright Light  underscores the simple reminder that we need one another. We also need to stand up for those who have been rendered voiceless by other’s criminal acts. And most of all, we need to give one another space, time, and comfort to grieve and grow through these difficult losses.

The lessons from this book reminded me of this quote from Mother Teresa:

“Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house…let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

So may it be.

All That Bright Light: A Story of Love, Murder and Healing, by Alice G. Miller. Self-published. November, 2013. Available on Amazon.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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.”

Books, books, books

I finally did it. I went through ALL of the books in my study. I made a passing attempt at organizing them (with more to go on that task!) And I did something really drastic. I culled books to take to the local library’s book sale.

That last one is the shocker. Culling books? As in, giving some away?

Well, yes. These need to go somewhere else!! I don’t want to let them have any more real estate on my shelf.

  • Theology books which are sketchy at best. I suppose I could keep a copy of some sexist systematic theology book. But no.
  • Trendy books I had to read for a class, and are ideas that are well-past their prime. (True fact: a book on “worship wars” from the 1990s? Done. Over. Good-bye)
  • Fiction books I picked up either for cheap or for free and are not worth keeping.
  • Gift Books present to me (with love, I grant you) which are either outdated, uninteresting, or full of bad poetry.
  • And the occasional duplicate copy of a great book that I really, really don’t need 2 copies on my shelf.

The public libraries are getting some great material for their book sale. And I actually have room for all of my books! (Until I buy more…)

There are books that will never leave my study, if I can help it. And one of them (to Reedy Girl’s delight) is The Velveteen Rabbit. Because love still makes things real.

Got any keepers on your shelves? What are they? 🙂

Lauren Winner’s STILL

As one of the RevGalBlogPals, I was fortunate to receive a copy of Lauren Winner’s new book Still to read during Lent. Because of the nature of my schedule and commitments during Lent, I didn’t get a lot of extra reading done. Just finishing my CPE papers and assignments kept me up many a late night! However, I did dive in to reading Still as Lent came to a close.

Lauren captured me with her comment in the Preface about being “in the middle” of your spiritual life, when the luster has faded and the questions outweigh the solid-as-a-Rock answers…

The assumptions and habits that sustained you in your faith life in earlier years no longer seem to hold you. A God who was once close seems somehow father away, maybe in hiding.

I started this fourth unit of CPE in a spiritually “dry” place. The previous unit of CPE was completed in a setting full of strife and legalism; the summer was full of family needs and obligations. I literally stepped off the plane from being out-of-state into the world of chaplaincy. And I had not had the mental re-set to do so. By Christmas, I was feeling more secure emotionally, professionally and spiritually, having planned and preached for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Rounding into the New Year, I discovered I had my “joy” back — life, while not perfect, was sweet. And then Still arrived as Lent began.

I confess that in mid-February, I only got through the Preface. But I was hooked. Lauren’s refreshing words and thoughts reminded me of the work of The Holy continuing in my life, and in the lives of my patients and their families as they struggled to see God in the hardest of days. An echo of the final verse of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” became my silent prayer:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

OK then. Studying and family filled my days and nights. Work and internship filled in the available corners. And I spent some time pondering where God is in the “silence” of our spiritual experience. Lauren calls it “stumbling into God’s absence, God’s silence” — which pretty much reflected where I had been. But in my CPE work, day in, day out, with people who were struggling to see and know God at work, I found something that made sense to me. As I re-read John 11 (part of my “read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year” discipline), I realized that Mary and Martha sat in that silence, waiting.

When he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was. After two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s return to Judea again.” (John 11:6-7, CEB)

“AFTER TWO DAYS…” The words jumped out at me. Yes. I had been there. Waiting. And hearing nothing. I found, as Lauren did, this space of rediscovery, of allowing the darkness and light to co-exist. And sitting in the place of The Eternal Promise that is yet-to-come. The reminder of my baptism. The beauty within the Eucharist, taken in faith and in grace. The challenge of staying in the “loneliness” of the harder places in my life. The trust that God has the “middles” of my life (I would note that “middle age” is not all it is cracked up to me, nor is “middle class” — but neither are a reason for crisis!) In the middling, Lauren ponders the work of the “threshing floor” and the work of God within us to sift, strain and stretch.

And as I read that, I wrote in my journal, ‘Please dear God, let me just get through this.’ Yes. I was definitely in the “middle.” Muddling through, I find that it is the act of praying (sometimes with words), of appreciating beauty (sometimes visualized), and of experiencing the Presence of God in unexpected places and in unusual ways.

In this “showing up” of God’s Presence, Lauren again triggered a memory… of struggling through Greek and middle voice (I still don’t always get it, either) and of the action of prayer which is, actually, just like that Koine Greek middle voice. Some day I will find a way to use that to explain the work of The Holy in our prayers without sounding like a Greek Geek (which I am most certainly NOT). But the reminder that it is God at work AS I pray, AS I wait, AS I try to follow — not me “doing” anything to change myself or grow in holiness. (In other words, the antithesis of most Christian “discipleship” books!) I spent the latter half of my last CPE unit contemplating my existence as a human BEing, not a human DOing, and of knowing with certainty that I am in ministry for reasons beyond my own. And that’s a good thing.

As the book ended, (rather abruptly, to my mind), I sat back and reflected on the work of The Holy in and through me (and many times in spite of me) over the last few years. Moving into chaplaincy as a vocation, the “unanswerable” questions are a part of the work. Because you can’t “answer” them, you can’t skew anyone else’s understanding of them, either.

And that, my friends is why the place of STILLness is so important.

Thanks, Lauren, for writing this book, for sharing your journey, and for being an honest reflection of the heart of God.

Blessed be.