Happy, Happy, Happy: The Gospel of Phil Robertson

Full-camo Phil

Full-camo Phil

 “I may be only one man reading scripture and quotes, carrying his Bible, and blowing duck calls to crowds, but hey, it has to start somewhere. It’s what makes me happy, happy, happy.” – Phil Robertson

He’s a controversial figure – considered by some to be little better than an uneducated hick, by others, a redneck bigot. He’s plain-spoken, duck-hunting, techno-phobic and rugged; raised in poverty with guns and multiple siblings in a four-room cabin with no indoor plumbing or electricity and a single fireplace for heat. His bed was shared with three of four brothers and baths were cold-water only (heated water was for cooking and dishes). Whatever grew in the garden or could be hunted was what went on the table.

As Phil Robertson says, “Where I grew up, you practically went straight from diapers to manhood.”

He’s a low-tech man in a high-tech world, so it’s hardly surprising that the first chapter of the book contains  an admonition to “Throw Away Your Cell Phones and Computers, Yuppies.” Frankly, I’m in awe of anyone who manages to live without either nowadays, as Phil does. And a tad envious. Just a tad. Because I’m also a computer-reliant animal-lover, raised in four-bedroom middle-class comfort, who dislikes hunting for sport, has held a gun only once in her life, and is fond of ducks. So it seemed rather odd even to me that the autobiography of Phil “Duck Commander” Robertson landed on my reading list. But I wanted to hear from Phil in his own words, and, as I’d rather expected, I found Happy, Happy, Happy enormously entertaining.

Happy, Happy, Happy BookGranted, Phil and I have little in common aside from our Christian faith, but his innate penchant for doing nothing halfway earned my respect. This is a man who has always followed his passions, whether for his wife, “Miss Kay,” the land from which he has drawn his living since boyhood, or the Lord. The appeal of his story is not just that of a dream come true through years of struggle and uncertainty – and what American doesn’t love such a story? It’s in our DNA – but its undercurrent of love and full-frontal commitment.

Phil holds nothing back, from his mother’s manic depression and electroshock therapy to the oil drilling rig accident that left his father in a neck to hip cast for two years . . . the “outlaw” years that nearly cost him his family when he threw Kay and their three sons out of the house . . . the drinking, the prodigal son, the times of leanness followed by a plenty that occasionally befuddles him and led, among other things, to a popular A&E network television series. The voice is homespun but this is a man with a Master’s degree who could have played pro football but followed the deepest call of his heart, even when “100% convinced Duck Dynasty would never work.”

If the narrative occasionally slows in its detail of ducks and hunting techniques, that same call will resonate in the heart of anyone longing to pursue a dream or a purpose, or simply a less “connected” lifestyle. Phil’s story may be deeply American in its rags to riches, boot-strap self-reliance, but its greatest truths are universal.  

Yes, there was a Phil before the beard

Phil before the beard






A New View of Success for a New World: John Robbins and “The New Good Life”

“He who dies with the most toys wins.” – Malcolm Forbes

“I have no desire to replace conspicuous consumption with conspicuous frugality.” – John Robbins

* * * * *

“More than forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described one of the foremost problems with the old good life.  ‘We are prone,’ he said, ‘to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobile rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to mankind.’ “

So quotes the man I’ve called “a gift to humanity”:  bestselling author, former heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune, recipient of the Rachel Carson Award and the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, founder of EarthSave International…and the guy who, at least temporarily, pretty much converted me to vegetarianism after reading his Diet for a New America years ago.  For those of you not familiar with him, John Robbins grew up in wealth and privilege but decided at a young age that he wanted to pursue a different path than the one he’d inherit from his father – head of the Baskin-Robbins empire and a continued life of wealth and privilege.  Without giving too much away, he ended up with his wife, Deo, off the coast of British Columbia in a one-room log cabin they built themselves and lived in for the next ten years, during which time their son, Ocean, was born.  As the years went by, Robbins became committed to animal welfare and vegetarianism, as well as other environmental concerns, and the Robbins family expanded to include Ocean’s wife Michelle and the couple’s twin boys, born three months prematurely and suffering repeated bouts of oxygen deprivation that led to their autism.  The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less reveals enough of this background to give insight into Robbins’ character and values, but the real point for readers is something most of us already know:  “We have now entered an entirely new phase in our nation’s and our world’s economic existence.  We have come to the end of the financial world as we have known it.”

Robbins has known both wealth and what some would call poverty.  In 2001, he and his family had what he believed were sufficient income and savings prior to the twins’ birth, but the boys’ special needs, expected to be lifelong, led him to invest his money in a fund controlled by an attorney friend whom they greatly trusted.  For seven years the investment yielded respectable returns…until December 2008, when the friend called John with “excruciating news”:  The money had been invested with Bernard Madoff.

* * * * *

John Robbins

John Robbins

Robbins and his family made it through the most devastating crisis of their lives, thanks to hard choices, hard work, and the kindness of many friends who supported them.  And only two years later, he published The New Good Life, in the same calm, reasoned, sane tone that I’ve admired for years.  While the book is devoted in part to “Getting to Know Your Money Type” (disclosure:  I’m a Saver and a Vigilant) and “Four Steps to Financial Freedom,” there’s much more to saving ourselves and our planet.  Backed by the extensive research that underlies his other published works, Robbins tackles housing, vehicle purchases, public transportation, family size, green cleaning alternatives, and, of course, food, even including recipes for favorite family dishes such as split pea cabbage soup and tangy lentil-barley stew.  Using real life examples from friends as well as family, he guides the reader through a myriad of ways to make gradual changes in every part of life, that can lead to a new vision of hope as well as economic and physical health.

This is a book to read, and read again – thoughtfully, carefully, and to share with friends.  Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy as soon as you can.  Then “Go forth and be fruitful, go forth and be creative, passionate, and fully alive.  Go forth and bring the wisdom of your soul to bear on every choice, every experience, every breath, and every moment.”

Sound like a tall order?  It won’t by the time you get to the end.  And I bet you’ll find yourself numbered among the many like me who are thankful men like John Robbins are alive in this world.

* * * * *

For more information on John Robbins, his family, and his work, be sure to visit his website at http://johnrobbins.info/ and his Amazon.com page at http://www.amazon.com/John-Robbins/e/B000APQ3YC/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1398124297&sr=1-2-ent.

The New Good Life



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More Than Just a Good Story: Rachel Held Evans and Her Year of Biblical Womanhood

What if I tried it all?  What if I took “biblical womanhood” literally? – Rachel Held Evans

Let me be clear about one thing.  I’ve not been trained in apologetics, exegesis, or hermeneutics.  In fact, I’m not even completely sure of the differences between them.  Therefore, I knew when I first thought about writing a review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” that I’d be approaching it from a somewhat different angle than the Christian bloggers, critics and authors who have taken her to task or lauded her, depending on their backgrounds and current beliefs.  I went in largely out of curiosity – and an expectation of entertainment.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans

Author/blogger Rachel Held Evans is a woman who’s been troubled by faith, as every Christian should be at some point in their lives.  Her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, describes “her own spiritual journey from certainty, through doubt, to faith.”  In this second work, she tackles an aspect of Christianity that has puzzled, bedeviled and frustrated generations of women (and some men) and given rise to raging, sometimes even ugly debate:  the “biblical” role of women.

I first became acquainted with Rachel through her blog and was immediately caught by her intelligent, articulate style, spending several lunch hours catching up on old posts.  While we disagree on a few theological points, I respect her research, commitment, and sometimes courage, for her opinions are not always popular and the Internet not always kind.  And when she announced the book that would emerge from a year-long project, I knew it would be a must-read.

That project was Rachel’s “year of biblical womanhood,” from 2010 to 2011, in which she did her valiant best to follow “as many of the Bible’s teachings regarding woman as possible in my day-to-day life, sometimes taking them to their literal extreme.”  Christians occasionally accuse each other of “salad bar religion,” in which they pick and choose which commandments or injunctions to follow, and one of Rachel’s reasons for embarking on her journey was to point that out we all do this.  The project included everything from growing out her hair (undoubtedly the one factor that would have prevented me from ever trying such a thing myself) to making her own clothes to submitting to her husband, Dan – and, in one of the funniest parts of the book, “remaining ceremonially impure” throughout her menstrual cycle.  With refreshing frankness she shares her missteps and failures as well as successes, aided along the way by an Amish woman, the wife of an Orothodox rabbi, a computerized baby, a community of Benedictine monks in Alabama, and, of course, a stack of books (one of which proved so infuriating she threw it across the room a total of seven times).  While her approach unquestionably has a tongue-in-cheek aspect, and some critics have labeled it a gimmick, there can be little doubt to a discerning reader that her heart was sincere.

Rachel's book“Despite what some may claim,” she says in the chapter on Obedience, “the Bible’s not the best place to look for traditional family values as we understand them today.  In ancient Israel, ‘biblical womanhood’ looked different from woman to woman, depending on her status.”

It still does.

Not surprisingly, Rachel’s biblical year took a toll on pretty much every part of her life, even though she embarked on it with Dan’s full support.  Public reaction upon publication was another matter.  “As it turns out, not everyone likes the idea of following the Bible literally for a year,” she notes in what can only be described as an understatement.  One avowed atheist described it as “Yet another example of the dangers of religion and the idiocy of those who subscribe to it,” while some evangelicals labeled it “An embarrassment” and “A mockery of God and Scripture.”  Others called it “a compelling story told brilliantly” and an “unexpected, laugh-out-loud then turn the page and tear up, enjoyable and poignant read.”  Dan Evans called it “a good story to tell grandchildren someday.”

A Year of Biblical Womanhood is not a perfect book.  There is the occasional omission, the occasional bias.  But it is an honest, searching, informative, humorous, moving book.  And the depth of reaction to it indicates to me that, if nothing else, it asks questions that need to be asked.  One I had before I’d even reached the end was why Christians feel the need to slap the “biblical” label on manhood or womanhood (not to mention other things, some of which didn’t even exist in those days), performing at times hermeneutical gymnastics to confine the sexes within a corral of written rules, rather than simply focusing on how best to emulate the man at the root of their faith.

* * * * *

How about you?  Have you read A Year of Biblical Womanhood?  Would you undertake such a project yourself?  If so, why?  What does “biblical womanhood” mean to you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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“Occasionally Nutritious and Always Delicious”: The Delectable Cracker Kitchen of Janis Owens

Cracker Kitchen

As if it wasn’t enough to be an award-winning author proclaimed by no less an authority than Pat Conroy as “one of the finest novelists of our time,” Janis Owens is also one hell of a cook, if the recipes in “The Cracker Kitchen” are anything to go by.

Native Floridian (a rarity these days!) and only daughter of a Pentecostal preacher turned insurance salesman, Janis clearly inherited the treasured storytelling gene, and her distinctive, humorous voice imbues “The Cracker Kitchen” with as much Southern flavor as the recipes themselves.  For this is not just a cookbook, but a song to the South and its people as well as an integral part of its cuisine.

But let’s start with that term “Cracker.”  As Janis points out, its origin has been debated for years, but before it became either a source of pride in some circles and an insult in others, it was slang for people so poor they ate cheap corn instead of ground white flour, for poor white overseers who cracked whips on field slaves, and for cowmen cracking whips on Spanish cattle as they drove them from the Floridian scrub.  Eventually, “it had come to describe a portion of the population that was the nemesis of the social-gospel, julep-sipping South.”

It’s a term this author owns with pride and affection.  As she says in “Welcome to My Kitchen”:

“We adapt, we hide.  We emerge, we move to greener pastures.  We marry outside the species, then convert them so thoroughly that soon they can’t remember where they came from in the first place.  We’re like a kindly old virus, marching on, country to village to town, just like the bluebloods of Yoknapatawpha County feared.  We are America’s past, and along with every other diversity, we are its future.

“Trust me on this one.”

* * * * *

Janis Owens

Janis Owens

I had the great pleasure of meeting Janis earlier this year when she gave a talk and cooking demonstration to promote “The Cracker Kitchen” at the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando.  Won almost immediately by her down-to-earth style and stories about her family, my friend Joyce and I chatted with her for several minutes afterward as if we’d known her for years…and indeed, Janis and Joyce discovered they even had some “way back kin” in common.  I was rather sorry to learn that she’d soon be moving to western Virginia with her job, but Newberry, Florida’s loss was Abingdon’s gain…and there’s always Facebook.

Now getting back to the real matter at hand…those recipes.  As I skimmed through the titles I was quickly taken back to the cast-iron skillets and savory odors wafting from the kitchens of my grandmother and great-aunt…to a few things I couldn’t remember relatives cooking but which still sounded a hallelujah chorus of “Oh, Lord” in my brain:

Banana Split Pie.  Texas Sweet Onion Pie.  Cold Chicken Salad with Pecans and Tarragon.  Grannie’s Fried Greens.  And, mother of them all (to this girl, at least), Fried Okra.

Oh, Lord.

Take it from me, you won’t want to read this book on an empty stomach.  Actually, I didn’t even have an empty stomach, and still wanted to head out to my kitchen on the spot to whip up a passel of those whatever-diet-I’m-currently-on-be-damned concoctions.  A mere skim of this tome is likely to produce an overwhelming desire to eat, even after midnight.

Of course, honesty compels me to admit that, upon reaching the “Wild Game Days/Hunting Season” section, my eyes bugged out and the hair threatened to stand up on the back of my neck at instructions for preparing “Baked Armadillo,” “Rattlesnake,” and “Roast Possum and Sweet Potatoes.”  But then, no one has ever been able to accuse me of being an adventurous eater.  Game lovers can rest assured that dishes such as venison roast, fried rabbit, fried frog legs and stewed squirrel are also on the menu here, but in spite of the fact that my mother is reasonably sure I tasted the latter meat in my childhood, and with all due respect to my Southern forebears who ate whatever they could catch, kill, broil, fry or stew as a matter of survival, I’ll be taking a leaf out of Janis’s book when she says, “If you’re having me over for supper and cooking possum, give me a little heads-up, and I’ll drop by Hardee’s for that chicken sandwich on the way.”

In other words, just call us when you’re ready to serve dessert…especially if it’s a slice of Mississippi Mud Cake.

* * * * *

Cooks and eaters of practically any ethnicity will find something to enjoy in this love letter to “the three pillars of Cracker life: food and laughter and food.”  Bake an Easter Bunny cake in the spring.  Cool down with some carrot-raisin salad or cucumbers in sour cream during the dog days of summer.  Carry on tradition with roast turkey, sweet peas and cranberry salad at Thanksgiving.  Celebrate your soul with smothered pork chop and hoecake.  And while your dishes are cooking, take a moment to enjoy the glimpses of another time in the vintage family photos that pepper the book.

Then, as Janis concludes:  “Eat and enjoy, amen.”

* * * * *

You can find “The Cracker Kitchen” at Amazon.com.  Be sure to check out Janis’s author blog as well.

With Janis and my just-purchased copy of "The Cracker Kitchen" at the Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando, FL

With Janis and my just-purchased copy of “The Cracker Kitchen” at the Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando, FL

Joni & Ken and the Transformative Marriage

Joni and Ken

The preface to Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story asks a somewhat rhetorical question about the wedding of Britain’s Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer:  “Why did more than 750 million people around the world sit in front of their TVs to watch [it]?”  Was it for the fairy-tale spectacle?  (Or, as I say, The Dress.)  Or because, as coauthor Larry Libby suggests, people wanted to set aside their cynicism to believe that, somewhere, a marriage between a man and a woman in a palace could work and perhaps spread some of its magic to other love stories that had started out so promisingly?

It took more than magic to bring about – much less sustain – the union of Ken Takeshi Tada and Joni Eareckson the following year, though to onlookers (and the happy couple) it might well have seemed to be sprinkled with fairy dust.  After all, the pairing of a high school history teacher and coach with a woman who was at 32 an internationally known artist, author and speaker – and who had achieved that distinction through a diving accident that left her a quadriplegic at age 17 – could hardly have seemed more unlikely a pairing than the heir to the British throne and a schoolteacher.  But what so memorably marks this couple’s tale, which is still unfolding, is not romance, though their love has attained a level deeper than they imagined on their wedding day.  It’s not adventure, for all their visits to places ranging from Dubai to Cuba.  It’s not wealth or physical glamour.

But suffering.  And how humans respond to it.

“The fact is, we live in a society that doesn’t know what to do with suffering,” Joni remarks in the book’s conclusion.  “Suffering, however, isn’t about to go away.  And marriage only magnifies it.”

Not to mention transforms it.

From the time her first book, Joni: An Unforgettable Story, was published in 1976, people around the world have been intrigued by Paintingthe woman who broke her neck diving in the Chesapeake Bay, battled depression and suicidal tendencies, learned to paint with her teeth, and became a sought-after speaker and advocate for the disabled.  Who at 32 wasn’t holding out much if any hope for marriage when she spotted her future spouse (or, more accurately, the back of his head) in church during a sermon she couldn’t keep her mind on.  How many men would be willing to take on the daily, grinding routines associated with quadriplegia?

But Ken Tada would have to deal with more than that.  There was Joni’s celebrity, which at first had left him somewhat star-struck, perhaps more than he realized, and which quickly overshadowed his role as husband.  As years went by, the couple began living, to an extent, parallel lives.  While there was no talk of separation or divorce, they both knew they weren’t living what they believed a Christian marriage could and should be.

Amazingly, cancer was what turned the tide.

It was a diagnosis that Joni actually welcomed, given the chronic, inexplicable and nearly unendurable pain she’d lived with for months.  “Just one more brief battle, and then – freedom!”  But the battle was not brief and the freedom was not entry into heaven, but an awakening into a new level of commitment and faith that can only be described as transformative…especially for Ken, who found out exactly what his middle name “Takeshi,” or “warrior,” really meant.

CancerAs moving and inspiring as the Tadas story continues to be, underlying it are questions that continue to divide people of faith: does suffering ever come directly from God, or is it merely the unfortunate aftereffect of “living in a fallen world”?  Why do some prayers for healing go unanswered?  And most of all, how does one keep praising the God who allows such intense pain – much less hold on to hope?

“Ken and I don’t pretend to be experts” on marriage, Joni says, and indeed one of the most illustrative statements in the book comes not from her or Ken, but from Dr. Robert Mounce, former president of Whitworth College in Spokane, WA, married for six decades to wife Jean, with whom he moved in 2010 to an assisted living center where he helped to care for her.  Jean was afflicted with severe dementia.

“In a sense, the best life is a life that’s invested in someone else,” the 90-year-old Mounce told journalism student Shelby Mack, who videotaped him for a film project.  “It’s not a life that’s invested in yourself…love is placing the welfare of another in front of your own.”

It’s a concept the Tadas illustrate with unflinching honesty in their latest book – and untold numbers of readers will be grateful.

* * * * *

For further information on Joni and Ken and their remarkable ministry, check out these resources:

Joni and Ken

Meeting Zora

Zora Neale Hurston, American author. Deutsch: ...

Zora Neale Hurston.

“I feel that I have lived. I have had the joy and pain of strong friendships….I have loved unselfishly…and I have hated with all the power of my soul….I have touched the four corners of the Horizon, far from hard searching it seems to me that tears and laughter, love and hate, make up the sum of life.” – Zora Neale Hurston

* * * * *

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Virginia Lynn Moylan as part of the promotion for her biography, Zora Neale Hurston’s Final Decade.  Ms. Moylan was a good speaker with an obvious appreciation for her subject (I expect this from a biographer, but don’t always see it), and I was a bit embarrassed by the fact that I knew so little about Zora, considering that she’d lived in a town so close to mine and was a highly respected literary figure.  I was a latecomer to the Zora Neale Hurston party…yet even after reading Moylan’s meticulously researched work, I still felt like something of an onlooker.

The reason was largely summed up in words from Hurston’s editor, Burroughs Mitchell, who, responding to her last major literary work, on King Herod, commented: “In spite of your knowledge of your subject and your clearly deep feeling about it, the book does not seem to us to accomplish its intention.  I mean to say that it does not vividly recreate the man and his time.”  There is much to appreciate in the depth of the author’s research, taking us from the child who “would risk a whipping” to eavesdrop on her elders’ tales and gossip from the front porch of Joe Clarke’s general store in the all-black town of Eatonville, to her status as “the most published black woman in America”; from anthropological researcher and folklore collector to the horror of a child molestation charge; and finally, from the proud optimist who treasured her independence and refused to give up on the work she regarded to the end of her life as her masterpiece, to the woman racked by health and financial issues and finally left unable to communicate by a stroke at age 68.  Yet Zora’s colorful, even flamboyant personality never really lived and breathed for me in a narrative style that is informative but not lively.

In all fairness, it is perhaps difficult to fully capture the spirit of a woman who penned such lines as these:

 “[Janie] was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight.”  (“Their Eyes Were Watching God“)

Or:  “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”   (“Dust Tracks on a Road“)

But I also felt the book could have benefited from additional photos of Zora (there are only two, and in one from 1928 her features are indistinguishable), more description of her intimate relationships (her two marriages lasted only four years and seven months, respectively) and more samples of her literary voice: for example, Hurston’s weekly coverage of a 1952 murder trial for the Pittsburgh Courier is described as “seasoned with…characteristic rich descriptions and folksy phrases…” but only a couple of examples are given.

I am, however, indebted to the author for revealing the remarkable arc of Zora’s life, with its seemingly improbable successes as well as achingly relatable struggles, particularly in her last days.  She was not only gifted with an ear for dialect and storytelling, but bravery and indefatigable persistence, disappointed by many of her race even as she tirelessly promoted black culture.  Moylan’s book is a good introduction to the facts surrounding Zora, but like any author of note, her essence truly lives within her own words.

Author Virginia Lynn Moylan with Saralee, the first African-American doll to accurately reflect the race.

Author Virginia Lynn Moylan with Saralee, the first anthropologically-correct African-American doll, endorsed by Zora Neale Hurston.

Two Girls, Fifty States, and a Subaru: A Review of “Packing Light” by Allison Vesterfelt

“Let’s get serious, do you really want a couch and a couple of dressers to keep you from what could be the best experience of your life?” – Sharaya Mikael to Ally Spotts in Packing Light

* * * * *

When Allison Vesterfelt put out a call last month for bloggers to review her new book, Packing Light, I knew I had to sign up.  As a self-described packrat from a family of same (we have more politely referred to ourselves as collectors), I had not a little curiosity over what “living life with less baggage” might feel like.  Frankly, I think I was looking for hints about how to hold on to things both material and emotional less tightly.

I ended up with more.

In a refreshingly down to earth manner that makes readers feel as if they’re chatting with her in a coffee shop, Ally tells how, at the urging of her musician friend Sharaya Mikael, she gave up her comfortable yet routine, missing-something-life as a teacher in Portland, Oregon to embark with Sharaya on a six-month, 50-state road trip, writing and playing music for funds, staying with friends and friends of friends.  Because, you see, yet another friend had asked her the question so beloved by life coaches:  “What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to worry about money?”

Ally’s response:  “I would drive across the country and write a book about it.”  A nice but completely unrealistic thought, she adds.

Of precisely such unrealistic thoughts are books sometimes born.

Packing Light:  Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage.

Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage (Moody Publishers).

I’ll be honest with you:  I was a bit envious at first when I read how Ally was convinced to take the plunge, simply because I was pretty darn sure I’d never have the nerve.  Two women alone, with limited funds, reliant at times on the kindness of strangers, not always knowing where or even if they would find a bed for the night, not to mention a meal?  Let me get back to you on that.

From the obligatory visit to Mt. Rushmore (something of a letdown) to their first attempt at busking when funds are low and bookings non-existent (at least for several days), the journey is exhausting, exhilarating, frightening and frustrating.  Inhibitions and possessions are jettisoned along the way.  So is a budding relationship.  A devout Christian, at times Ally sees direct examples of God’s provision and confirmation of what she believes she was created to do, while at others she longs to cry out that she is nothing but a fake, wondering how she can possibly go on blogging about the joys of “packing light” when letting go seems only to leave her empty-handed.  And as her journey nears its close, she struggles with what to call herself – teacher?  Road manager?  Publicist?  – as well as the eternal question of “What next?”

(If you want to know, and I hope you do, you can find out by entering my giveaway drawing as noted below, or here.)

The sole quibble I had with the book is that I would have liked to see photos, not just of the travelers but some of the places they visited.  That’s easily remedied, however, by a visit to the blog Ally kept along the way, which also fills in many of the nitty-gritty details inherent in the journey.

All of us carry baggage of some sort.  Some of it is necessary, some not.   Learning to tell the difference is another matter.  As Ally asks at one point:  “Are there some things in life we should never let go of?  Is learning to let go as important as learning to hold on?  How do we know when to do which?”

Perhaps the most valuable lesson I took from her book was simply the nudge to ask these questions in the first place.

I’ve enjoyed Allison’s voice for over two years now, first in her blog as twenty-something-single Ally Spotts exploring dating and relationships, then, following her marriage to writer Darrell Vesterfelt (whom she met via that very blog), through her work as co-editor of Prodigal magazine.  More than 20 years my junior, she’s had much to teach me.  I expected the honest, vulnerable and insightful voice of her blog to ring just as true in this book – and I was not disappointed.

Four stars.  Lucie says check it out.

* * * * *

In a charming gesture from a simpler time, on the book’s final page is a copy of an old library check out card complete with “Date” and “Issued To” boxes.  As a thank-you for reading, I’d like to take that reminder that this is a story for passing on, and offer a free copy of Packing Light to the winner of a random drawing.  To be eligible, just leave a comment below with your name.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Sharaya Mikael (l) and Allison Vesterfelt.  Courtesy of the author.

Sharaya Mikael (l) and Allison Vesterfelt. (Courtesy of the author.)