I COULD have sat down and read Emily Wierenga's book Atlas Girl in one reading.
Years ago, that's what I would have done... just chugged it down without regard for the time and effort it took her to write it.
And maybe some books are meant to be devoured like that... but not this one. not to me. not now.
I knew within the first pages why it would mean so much. Why I cared. It wasn't because of who she is now... but for the way her heart was broken from the mission field; how her growing up as a "missionary kid" (MK) poured into her brokenness as she grew up, how it affected her life, made her weak AND strong, and shaped her story.
As my heart beats for Missionary Care.
So every word I read, each page that I turned, each prayer I prayed on her behalf, was read through the lens of "this is an MK's story." That made it all the richer a book.
I love Emily's style. She writes raw, and vulnerable, and honest. She makes no apologies for writing that way, and I'm glad. I admit, she made me blush a few times... not for things she said wrong, but because I was completely, keenly aware of what she meant... and I think it was a bit embarrassing to admit that I did, being a 53 year old Christian woman.
I don't talk much anymore about my wild days - the life God rescued me from (which would make this book seem like a cupcake walk) - but because of all God saved me from, and my own lusts, selfishness, and addictions, I can remember the R rated things that Emily references (in her PG13 kind of way).
But she owned up to it, her desires, her longings, and even the moments she realized how she was being selfish during her own mom's illness. And that resonated with me in a good/bad way - reminding me how often I choose to remember how mean my mom was while she battled her lung-cancer-turned-in-to brain -tumor, but not acknowledging my young teen selfishness that likely had something to do with her anger.
So I'm owning up to my part of that situation now. (Thank you Emily, for being used by God in that.)
I couldn't pick a favorite chapter if I had to...all of her story is mesmerizing... but the stuff she shares through Chapter 29 on "Sisters" captivated me, as I'd recently traveled from the western side of Kentucky to visit my own "little sister" in California, and gone without my husband to spend some time working (photography of nature there), catching up with old friends and family, and celebrate my favorite Aunt June's 80th birthday.
I need to make it clear, my 3 sisters and I (there are 2 sets of real sisters, having shared the same womb but 2 different fathers) all love each other a lot. We're different, for sure, but at a moment's notice we'll be where we need to be to help someone out... but we also have a saying:
"Family, like fish, goes bad after 3 days."
So, as I packed to go, my husband lovingly reminded me SEVERAL times that we had plenty of "reward points" at a few chains, should I need to stay in a hotel over the course of the trip.
I was grateful for the offer, but never had to use it.
I think it was a first for my little sister and I. :)
Maybe we've mellowed with old age, but I really enjoyed the time with her and her family. Since we've been separated by so many miles for so long, and the fact that there's more than 10 years difference between my kids and hers, we have been really busy raising kids in completely different stages of life. I have been keenly aware that I didn't know her kids at all. I always knew what they were doing, what their interests were, but I didn't ever sit down and talk with them. Now that they are teens in high school and college, I could talk to them on my own. It was a delight to see what a GREAT job my sister has done in overseeing their education, how she and her husband had raised them to be upstanding citizens, and mostly, to hear from the kids themselves how they are passionate for Jesus and making their faith their own and how they overcome the obstacles they find in life.
One favorite memory from the trip was a Sunday afternoon spur-of-the-moment road trip for little sis and I to drive Highway 1 down the coast - just she and I - to find a "different place" for me to take some sunset photos on the beach. Somewhere. We didn't have an agenda - besides me taking photos - and I admit, I was a little concerned about how she'd do with my compulsive photo habits which include turning around a lot, pulling over at random spots to grab a quick photo, and either dangling my camera by it's strap or laying on the ground in public to get the shot I want. She swore she wouldn't judge my methods, and we jumped in her SUV to head down the highway we grew up cruising in VW's.
As we left the busy-ness of the north Orange County beaches (Seal Beach, where we grew up, and Huntington Beach where we both graduated from high school), we enjoyed the diminishing crowds along the highway. She spotted a sign for See's Candies and indulged my sweet tooth for a snack there, then spotted a garden area and detoured to make a stop and walk through the beautiful gardens.
As we approached Laguna Beach, we reminisced of when our dad dated, and then married a woman who lived there, and how we would spend time in that quirky-but-beautiful beach town. I think that we discovered how vast our 3 year age difference was really more like a 10 year span; our memories were completely different, not in opposition to what happened, but in our perspective of the events that took place. She spent much more time there, and I wasn't there (or wasn't in a frame of mind to remember, pot-head that I was back then) the charming memories that she shared.
It wasn't wrong of either of us, just different views of the same scenes.
As we snapped photos of the old house and left Laguna we headed towards San Clemente. She mentioned how the kids loved Crystal Cove (I'd never even heard of the place!) and we vowed to return with them later in the week (we did, and it WAS great!!).
After her hockey fix during a dinner of Mexican food on Main Street, we rambled back up the road to visit the cove, to capture the setting sun that was starting to slip low in the sky. We parked for free (already after hours!), walked out into the sand (which was really rocky here) and jockeyed for the best angles to take photos. We talked about cameras, and phones, and photography, and kids, and life. We snapped selfies and posed silly and giggled hard when we got our feet (and her pant-legs) soaked, too close to the waves imposing on us in the rising tide.
Life's so short. I think we knew that when we lost our mom at the young ages of 12 and 9, but didn't realize it until we took some time to be together that day. It was sacrificial of each of us... she gave up time with her family; I went outside my comfort zone to let her accompany me; but we delighted in sharing memories that were sometimes painful, and in making new memories, really delightful.
It really impressed upon me later in the week as we gathered around our 80 year old aunt, and all of us sister girls fussed over each other and teased and picked on one another... and hugged and loved on each other...our fractured family drawn together for a beautiful, memory making celebration of our aunt's life.
It was that memory that I went back to, as I read Atlas Girl... the history of our family, each one of these strong women I'm related to, how we had come through our own difficult journey to get where we are today. The struggles are all different, we have had to die to self in our own ways, our daily lives lived sacrificially in a variety of circumstances. We're each in a different place with God, but I pray that we each acknowledge Him, and will grow closer to Him, giving Him a seat of honor in our hearts and lives. That realization is a growing process, for sure... one that Emily tells about so beautifully in her book...
"And then it comes to me. It takes going through hell to appreciate heaven. And on earth we have a choice. We can experience heaven on a daily basis; we can surrender our worries and let our minds and souls be flooded with peace, knowing someone divine is taking care of us.
Or we can hold on to control, for fear of letting go and letting God.
It's not about dying and someday going to heaven, it's about inviting heaven into our everyday existence.
Forgiving. Redeeming what is lost. Trusting. Letting go. Living now."
- Emily Wierenga, Atlas Girl