Saturday, March 28, 2020

"Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted" - Shannan Martin

"Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted" is the debut book by Indiana-based writer/blogger Shannan Martin, a book grounded in her own real life experiences yet equally as grounded in the faith that Martin shares with her husband Cory and their three children.

Having read Martin's "The Ministry of Ordinary Places" first, I eagerly welcomed the chance to spend part of my COVID-19 hunkering down time in my urban Indianapolis home going back to catch Martin's first book.

"Falling Free" tells the story of how Martin, living her idyllic life alongside her husband and children on a dream farm with acres of land and ultimately leaning into this life she'd always been taught to want only to watch it be upended - first by job losses for both she and her husband within months of each other and then by the increasingly sneaking suspicion that said losses weren't simply an unhappy coincidence but rather God's way of opening up her eyes and her heart.

Martin herself has called "Falling Free" as "imperfectly written, soaked in prayer like the hundreds of Earl Grey tea bags that fueled this work" and, indeed, part of the joy of "Falling Free" is its little imperfections, rants of humanity, theological reflections that interrupt perfectly engaging storytelling, and a rather stream-of-consciousness approach to writing that is simultaneously maddening and endearing.

I stated in my review of "The Ministry of Ordinary Places" that reading the book made me want to take the 2 1/2 hour road trip up to Elkhart County Indiana just to meet Martin. "Falling Free" pretty much cements that feeling, though I can't help but feel like an awful lot of people feel like that after reading Martin's works because she consistently comes off like the earthy and humble Christian you want to know, friend you need to have, maternal spirit you'd feel safe with, and hilariously primal spirit whom you'd spend an entire bible study waiting for her to drop an f-bomb (Okay, the latter probably wouldn't happen...but, seriously, she just comes off so wondrously normal in a quirky, abnormal kind of way).

I loved "Falling Free," perhaps a shade less than "The Ministry of Ordinary Places," because it balances exploring a personal journey with a theological journey. While the theological core of "Falling Free" is different than that of "The Ministry of Ordinary Places," you can feel Martin working through that theology as she writes. You can feel her examining her own life, somewhat incredulously, and you can actually sense the ways she's using scripture to understand it all. In transparently presenting her own journey, she's modeling, imperfectly, how we can use scripture in our own lives to challenge the way that we live.

It's all rather beautiful.

Martin and her husband, who were both quite successful financially, ended up moving to an economically challenged section of Goshen, Indiana, a rather lovely town right on the edge of Amish country in Elkhart, Indiana and a town I've visited several times for a variety of reasons. Martin's transition to this new location is far from the life she thought she always wanted, but it becomes abundantly clear that it's the life she's to live and to watch her grow into it is informative, inspirational, and, if we're being honest, pretty darn entertaining. While some of that theological reflection in the book did drive me a bit mad in the way that it interrupted great storytelling, the truth is that this is still a book that found me, time and again, examining my own life - the section, in particular, on hospitality had me in near tears as I reflected on my past few months of people coming into my home as I recovered from a major health concern and limb amputation.

As I'm hunkered down, having returned to work after over 3 months off only to be sent home a week later to work from home thanks to COVID-19, Martin has become one of my "go to" voices on social media because of her honesty, compassion, humor, and insight. All of that is present in abundance in "Falling Free," a redemptive tale told with humility and humor, honesty and there's not another h-word I can think of right now.

She easily shares her failures and sort of does a mini-rah of her successes - giving God the glory for both and being grateful for this life she's been given. While those seeking a more straightforward memoir may find her frequent, and admittedly long-winded, forays into theological reflection distracting, they honestly are at the core of this book and by book's end it's obvious that much of this book has been Martin sharing her faith journey with us practically in real time. While "Falling Free" didn't quite snag me with the emotional resonance as did "The Ministry of Ordinary Places," it still snagged me and is staying with me still and places Martin easily among my favorites of contemporary Christian writers.

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