Sunday, June 20, 2021

Review of Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings



The world deserves a chance to right itself, to lumber slowly along in approximately the right direction. The church deserves a chance to find out what happens when I am not the first name on every sign up sheet. . .My child deserves a chance to experience disappointment, failure, inadequacy, mild fear and danger, because that is how growth happens.

In a world where God, the faithful Father, is so slow to jump in and miraculously intervene (unless there is a whistle he responds to that I haven’t found yet – always a possibility), why am I so sure that good parenting, good living, involves instantaneous response? Part of his genius is his patience. I am always with you. But I do not often step in to fix and rescue what you can figure out – or learn from.

--Shari Zook


I really like and appreciate Shari Zook. You might want to know this before I review her new book, Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings. Friendship bias colors my view, as well as feeling like I’ve known her forever since I knew her parents and grandparents. She and I have communicated a lot, but the only time I recall a serious heart-to-heart in person was when we grabbed a blessed opportunity during a session at a writers’ conference at Christian Light Publications when neither of us was speaking.


Sometimes I think we are afraid, at worst, or at least uncomfortable, with honesty and excellence. By “we” I mean Mennonites, Christians, and other groups as well, like Minnesotans, which Shari and I both are, sort of.

Brutal personal honesty makes us uneasy. We don’t want anything to be that bad. Maybe if you don’t say it, it won’t be true. We want the rules to work. Behave yourself, do your best. It’ll all come out in the wash.  

How quickly the expression of blinding grief, overwhelming exhaustion, or maddening irritation is shushed with words meant to make it all better, as quickly as possible.

“He’s in a better place.” “This too shall pass.” “You just need to love them like Jesus does.”

 He bites his brother through the skin and throws apple slices and knocks books off shelves and flashes the darlingest blue-eyed smiles. He writes in crayon on my kitchen door, and in permanent marker on our library books and our carpet, in long lavish streaks. He drizzles breakfast syrup over everything in my dining room, and runs to me for snuggles. He grabs knives and strips leaves off African violets and pushes over floor lamps and drops his father’s technological devices down the toilet.

He isn’t even two years old yet 

We are not comfortable with shocking words hanging in the air like the smell of burnt eggs. We are even less comfortable with what the honest words mean—this person before us is feeling such wild and untamed feelings, such despair and grief, right now, even as we speak.

There there. You don’t really mean that. Get some rest. Please.

If we can’t hear the truth from others, we certainly can’t face it in our own lives or wrestle fully with things not being at all what they ought to be.

I think we are also, many of us, uncomfortable with excellence. Average is manageable. I fit in when nothing I do is too outstanding. I can handle you if you’re not too amazing. Please be a person who won’t make me feel inadequate.

Sometimes we sense our own potential and giftings, and we find them downright scary. How is this possible, this music that burns inside, these words, this passion for numbers? Unless we find encouragement from people who aren’t afraid of us, we often retreat to the safety of average, closing the door and hiding the gift.

Shari Zook is not afraid of honesty or excellence. Or, if she is, we don’t see it, as she steps forward steadily, leaning into the storm. She examines the truths of her own life under bright lights and shares them with us in their full color. Her writing is not cute, trendy, or aimed at the lowest common denominator. It is excellent.

When you look around, you see the smiling Others whose lives seem to work – their bodies, their faces, their families. They seem to skip over the hard bits, or laugh them off, or overcome them. They seem so on top of things, and in the darkness you wonder why you are the odd one out.

I was sent a pdf copy of Shari’s new book, Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings, a few months ago. I skimmed through it, then sent a summary blurb as requested, which appears on the back cover. Now, I’m reading it more slowly, once again gasping or wincing by turns, nodding my head yes or shaking it NO-nonono please say it ain’t so, crying and laughing, because even in the middle of overwhelm and hopelessness, she is hilarious.

A few years ago we vowed sickness and health

But what that entailed I couldn’t have shown ya

The germs staged a coup and attacked us by stealth

The year I had bronchitis and he had pneumonia.

This poem continues on. Then there's this, in the introduction:

 I’m a wife and mother and foster parent and pastor’s wife and firefighter’s wife. (Don’t worry, that’s all the same man. One husband is plenty.)

At the conference I mentioned, Shari taught a class on story writing, since many of us wrote or hoped to write for CLP’s Sunday school take-home papers. “Maybe not every story has to have a happy ending, with everything resolved,” she suggested. “After all, does everything resolve nicely in real life?”

That’s a pretty wild suggestion for us Mennonite writers who like to convince the next generation that everything will turn out ok if Sam and Debbie tell the truth about the broken geranium, even when we know that tidy endings and smooth turn-outs are far less common in real life than in Sunday school stories.

Shari carries that same attitude into her blog and especially into her book. Truth trumps tidy endings. Process beats product.

We call it empathy. You can’t buy it cheaply in the shops where it’s sold. It is the mingling place where  hurting meets healing, which enables us to handle more hurting, which enables us to share more healing. When once I have been wrenched open, I am less frightened of the cracks of others. I am more resilient, more forgiving. Out of my shattered parenting-idolatry grows a passion to love. 

Shari weighs every word in her hands before typing it out, arranging the sentences like threads forming a fine lace. Her style is an intriguing mix of vivid, shattering details and things left unspoken. She trusts that we are big enough to figure it out, fill in the blanks, and understand.

I was tempted to copy and paste the entire book, because I find it difficult to summarize in one post. Essentially, Shari tells us she’s a wife and mom who appears really good and does many things really well.  Then the storms break, the cracks appear deep inside, and the slow shattering begins.

When the snowplows get through, we host the church’s small group at our house and I make a snack. I am always making food, and it is never filling me.

It gets really bad. It hurts to watch. We wince and gasp.  No no no. Please, no.

Our simple answers are not going to be enough.

How, having lived through such brokenness, is she able to relive and analyze the long journey toward God and wholeness, and the means of grace along the way, putting them into concise words and chapters? But she does, with such skill that it both scares and invites us.

One spring day I sit under trees in a park, the new-blown leaves an indescribable shade of light. I lay back against the trunk, my shoulders on the moss, and I look up into a depth I cannot imagine. Rocked in the bosom of Abraham – this is what they always meant. After a time I sit up and try to journal what I feel, but immediately I lose the sweet sense of presence. I put down my book and pen and lie down, and I come. I am alone in the arms of the Father, and nothing matters but his eyes. There is a roaring in the Treetops.

You want to read this book. Order it on Amazon.

 

2 comments:

  1. I was very encouraged by her book. I cried slot I must admit when she shared some pretty heartbreaking stuff.
    By the way, will you be changing to another email subscriber service. I had originally been ignoring Blogger notice that said Google FeedBurner will be going away July 1st. I tried to set up a service for my subscribers but I can't figure it out so I'm just going to change to my WordPress account I never used but set it up because some WordPress blogs don't have Google has a option for leaving comments. I'm not happy anyway with Google's censorship tactics anyway.

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    1. I believe I have Feedblitz which isn't going anywhere at the moment.

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