Monday, November 2, 2015

'Two Steps Forward' by Sharon Garlough Brown


2015 Reading Challenge, Week 44 - A Book with a number in the title.
I was delighted to receive a copy of this book in the post, all the way from the USA. Its prequel, Sensible Shoes, was one of my favourite reads for 2014, and I knew this one would be just as good. 

The women from Sensible Shoes are taking their next steps in the spiritual formation journey. But each of them is finding roadblocks along the way. Meg, a widow and recent empty-nester, is off to see her daughter in London. But what does hope look like when nothing goes as planned? Charissa, a conscientious graduate student, is battling to let go of control and embrace her unexpected pregnancy. But what does hope look like when transformation is slow? Hannah, a pastor on sabbatical, is trying to find her equilibrium with rest and a new relationship. But what does hope look like when old grief keeps resurfacing? Mara, a wife and mother, longs for her difficult family life to improve. But what does hope look like when tension escalates and circumstances only get worse? Sometimes life feels like two steps forward and one step back. Find your own spiritual journey reflected in the lives of these women and discover the way forward.

The first book in this series, Sensible Shoes, was one of my favourite books of 2014, and this picks up where that one left off. The four main characters are so different from each other, once again I was amazed by how easy it was to relate to each one of them. I especially like the tension between how they think they should behave and whether it's the response their heart tells them is right. These are definitely Christian novels, with God's subtle workings in the hearts of individuals at their own heart.

Christians are often counselled to put others' preferences ahead of their own, and Meg is a natural at that, but how is it meant to play out when you're chafing inside? When you know the other person will resent you for speaking up, but you can't sweep aside your point of view this time, especially when it's a person you care deeply for?

Christians are told that we should be Jesus' hands and feet, which would seem especially the case for a pastor like Hannah, but when is a line crossed into self-appointing yourself as God's rep or deputy? I like her revelation, 'My words declared Jesus was Lord but my life declared I was.' And also her paradigm shift that she'd been putting all of her confidence into her ability to hear from God, instead of his ability to speak to her in a way she'd recognise and understand. What a big potential stress relief for many of us.

It's great to see Mara, the under-appreciated mother with her history of rejection, learn to keep soaking in the truth that no matter whether or not her outer experiences reflect it, she is beloved! We are all beloved. What a simple, but revolutionary truth to remember each morning. How great is her relationship with her son, Jeremy! For a little while, I was concerned that she was showing favouritism, but no, her interactions with Kevin in this story show that's not the case.

Then there's Charissa. What hope is there for a control freak who even wants to control how she's going to give up control? She asks that question herself. Her's is a wake-up call for those times when we want to separate our sense of self from our achievements and reputations. Her story helps us step back to question our motives when we ask, 'Why am I working so hard on this project anyway?'

I like the chance to probe the deeper questions these ladies' stories raise. They may even be different for each of us. For me, one of them was 'to what extent should we accept our knee-jerk reactions as part of our natural make-up, and to what extent should we desire to temper and change them?' It would seem the experiences of the four main characters bear out my own; it's a bit of both. Even though mentally beating ourselves up for our perceived shortcomings does no good whatsoever, if an ingrained reaction is holding us back, it's possible, with God's help, to work on overlaying it with new attitudes.

While some of the particular episodes in this story are neatly wrapped up, it's easy to see that the wider issues are still unfolding, making me hope for a third book.

Thanks to the author, and the publisher, InterVarsity Press, for providing a review copy.

5 stars 

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