Several years ago I joined a Mothers of Preschoolers group at church. I was only half-heartedly involved because meetings were held on Monday mornings. And for no other reason than it was on a Monday, it just wasn’t gonna happen for us some weeks. At one of the rare meetings I did go to, I won a give away – a book, titled Green Sparkly Earrings by an author who referred to herself as Big Mama.
Now, I love to write, which would lead one to believe that I also I love to read. But really, I just like to read ABOUT books, buy them, start reading them months later and then rarely finish. There’s really no explanation. And it was the same way with this book…it sat on my bedside stand, with it’s cute little cover trying to entice me, but I ignored it until I went on a getaway with my hubby and needed something to read on the plane.
On the flight, I found I had a kindred spirit through the words of Melanie Shankle. Her sarcastic tone. Her ability to laugh at herself. Her capacity to see ways to smile through life’s mundane. Her loyalty to her people. Her big feelings about every day things like football, cold creams, Tex-Mex, and Netflix. For crying out loud, one of her dogs writes haikus…how can you not love someone who can relate to her fur baby on that level?
My poor husband was all but ignored that weekend while I devoured every story in that book. Sometimes I would laugh out loud. Sometimes I would cry. Sometimes I insisted that my husband listen while I read a part out loud in hopes he would have the same connection to it I did. Often times he gave me a cursory smirk and went on with his own reading. Whatevs.
The next time I went to MOPS, I told the girls at my table about the book. I said how fantastic it was as if I had found some unknown gem. Come to find out, on one of my delinquent Monday mornings, Ms. Shankle, herself, was the speaker at the meeting. How in the world did I miss the memo on that!? Someone commented, “Well, that’s why they gave away the book. As a way to entice the reader to show up at the meeting.” Doh!!!!
Regardless, I became a devoted follower of Big Mama. I inhaled her next two books, The Antelope in the Living Room and Nobody’s Cuter than You. I started listening to her podcast. I even anticipated her weekly fashion blog. Now, you know I must have REALLY enjoyed her if I was eager to read a fashion update! I felt like I needed to confess, “My name is Donna and I’m a Shankle groupie.”
In June, she announced on her Facebook page her newest book, Church of the Small Things, would be coming out in October and that she was creating a launch team. Without wasting a breath, I applied…along with a thousand other people. Lo and behold, I received an email a couple weeks later I would be part of the team. With bated breath I waited for my advanced reading copy of the book to arrive. Once I received it, I pounced on every chance to sit down and take in more of her stories about “the million little pieces that make up a life.”
The introduction alone captured me. Quotes like:
“When we start to pay attention, we realize life is full of small wonders that make all the difference in a day, an hour, or a lifetime.”
“With every small thread, God is carefully and thoughtfully weaving a masterpiece.”
“These are the stories that, on the surface, may seem like nothing big; some are silly and some less so, but they are all about the little moments that together leave a legacy and light the way to show us what really matters.”
All that profound wisdom was in the first fifteen pages! She went on to share stories about growing up, influential relationships, parenting fails, and pursuing dreams. It was impossible to read without personally relating to each story and hopeless to not belly laugh in one sentence and ugly cry in the next.
Perhaps I was so spellbound by her insight because it coincided with the debut of my own blog, an endeavor that God put on my heart years ago which I was finally moving forward with. My writing focused on recognizing life’s stories and how they shape a person. Looking beyond the value the world places on all the fantastical, out-of-reach experiences for most common folk and seeing instead the beauty in every day encounters. Finding commonalities with unlikely people through storytelling. I felt reassured as I read Church of the Small Things that this new adventure of mine was a worthy notion. Nothing like being on the same wavelength as a New York Times bestselling author!
I finished her book on another getaway with my husband (there might be a trend here). Two days before we left (because we’re excellent planners), we FINALLY decided to stay close to home and go to San Antonio. Not only are there a million great restaurants and things to do in San Antonio, there was also an art gallery that was featuring a show by the talented artist, Heather Gauthier (see the front cover of the book). So my husband sweetly booked an Air B&B for that weekend, where we could lounge around, reading, napping, and just taking a breath from life.
Now, I knew that Melanie (I referred to her by her first name by then because I’m pretty sure we would be instant friends if we ever met) lived in San Antonio, so I felt it was rather ironic I was wrapping up her book while we were there. In the last chapter, “Beyond Measure,” she wrote about her experiences with church and how she and her husband, along with a small group of people, had started a church in their community that year. In a twist of fate, I finished the chapter on Sunday morning at nine o’clock while my husband slept in. I sat there for a moment thinking, I wonder where her church is located in San Antonio? I mean, what are the odds, in Texas’ second largest city, that it would be close by?
I quickly Googled it and was shocked to find it was literally only two miles away. My heart stopped…Would that be weird? She had written that it was a small church, so the odds of seeing her…and (gulp) meeting her were huge. What would I say, “Uh…we’re just in town on a getaway and I happen to be on your launch team and I just finished your book this morning and, and, and…” No…that would be weird and creepy and stalkery. But, in my next breath I rationalized, What if God put us here for this very thing? He is a God of divine timing you know. So I nervously woke up my husband and told him my crazy plan. He sweetly complied. Smart man.
We found ourselves with a little extra time before the service started (best to be fashionably late to church in order to limit awkward conversations…especially with your favorite author). The neighborhood where we were staying was a little swanky, so we drove around a bit looking at the pretty houses.
We came around a corner and spotted a house with two of Heather Gauthier’s paintings hanging on the back porch. What an interesting coincidence. We slow rolled by the house, a little jealous that someone had not one but two of her paintings. Then I spotted a vaguely familiar dog sleeping on the porch and things click into place: we were trolling Melanie Shankle’s house! I know this because her dog is a staple of her blog and the dog, together with the paintings, were too much to dismiss. Realizing this, we drove away not really sure if what just happened was creepy or just kismet. Naturally, we drive by again. The dog is sleeping like its her job and later that afternoon Melanie described on Instagram her dog’s explosive bout of diarrhea the night before.
It was too much. Reality set in that just because all the stars appear to align does not necessarily mean it’s divine intervention. We bailed on our plan and fled the scene, choosing to go walk around the touristy River Walk where we could blend in and no one would know how close I came to having a restraining order against me that morning.
That said, I do believe the timing of my new writing project and helping launch Melanie Shankle’s new book is not coincidental. Whether it’s just simply confirming that there is value in sharing your stories and celebrating “life in all its messy, magical, mundane and marvelous glory” or getting the chance to meet her someday and share with her how she has influenced me and my writing, there’s a reason God continues to use her to encourage me.
“But a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, “Yes, someone like me can do this.”
– Sonia Sotomayor