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on July 6, 2013
My heart is saddened about this book. It is filled with New Age practises. If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ and in the word of God, do NOT bother with this book. It includes labyrinths,lectio devino, praying the examen, wilderness prayer, self-examination and confession, rule of life. These are not Biblical practises, but man-made practises. Please be discerning! There are many, many other great books out there that you can enjoy.
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on February 11, 2015
The book is great, but I'm giving a 1 star because the formatting on the kindle app is absolutely unreadable. The lines overlap, everything is underlined and bold. Not to mention garbled, repeat text once you get to chapter 3. I am forced to read this book on my kindle device. Not copacetic.
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Almost two years ago, my friend Lorna told me that I just had to read this book called Sensible Shoes. I added it to my list of books to read, but I never got around to it. So, I was pleasantly surprised when, as a part of a wonderful “PhD Survival Kit,” she gave me a copy. When I was packing to go on my retreat, I slipped the book into my bag without really thinking about it. I figured, why not? It might be a good read.

It was so good that I couldn’t set it down.

The thing about Sensible Shoes is that it’s about a group of four women who are doing a long retreat and Brown’s writing style enables the reader to go on the retreat alongside the characters. This book is more than just a good novel, it’s a spiritual renewal—and for that, I think I would give the book 5 stars. But as a novel, it is also touching and helps reveal something intimate about the reader as the characters’ souls are being laid bare.

From a literature perspective, the story is well done. The writing is superb and the way in which the author switches between the character perspectives keeps you wanting to read more and find out what happens. I’ve already written on the blog about how I related to each character, so I won’t take up space writing about that now. I will say that each character is so real, so relatable that it makes it feel like a true story. I guarantee that you have met women just like Meg, Mara, Hannah, and Charissa. Reading this novel, you might well find yourself thinking of a friend who, like Meg, needs to learn her worth. Or, you might be reminded of a former classmate who, like Charissa, makes your blood boil when she is being superficial and judgmental. Each character has different struggles, different addictions that keep them from being in perfect communion with God. The story, then, is how each overcomes those obstacles and moves forward to be in better communion with God and with each other. Since that is the story of each of our own lives and spiritual journeys, I think that makes Sensible Shoes a hopeful read.

When the story reaches the bi-monthly meetings of the retreat group that the women belong to, there is a discussion in the story of a certain type of prayer. To help the reader in their own prayer life, Brown even includes a copy of the handout that the women receive from their retreat director in the story. I even borrowed from Brown in articles for my magazine. That’s how good these handouts are. With an M.Div. from Princeton and a job as pastor at an Evangelical church in Michigan, Brown is obviously an experienced retreat director in addition to being a great author—making me even more inclined to support her book. We ministers have to support each other.

I highly recommend this great work of fiction and hope that you will take the time to read it. I guarantee it will help you in your spiritual life.
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on April 3, 2013
I'm not a fan of Christian fiction (usually). Too often I think it's full of trite characters, poor plotting, and shoehorned spiritual platitudes that sound good but ultimately leave you empty. It's a shame, too, because fiction is such a powerful medium and when well-written it can stir the heart in a very unique way.

That's why I find "Sensible Shoes" by Sharon Garlough Brown such a welcome, unexpected, joyous breath of fresh air. It's the powerful story of four women, each with issues and baggage from their past, who meet at a retreat center in Michigan. Through their retreats and their interactions God begins to move them from brokenness to wholeness, and the journey is breathtakingly inspiring. And here's the thing-it is both well-written and extremely insightful. No shallow platitudes here, no quick fixes that deny the heartache real people struggle with every day--"Sensible Shoes" is honest and raw in the way life is, and in being so it opens the door for authentic reflection on the ways God stirs us to step beyond our pasts and embrace a life that is rich, deep, and saturated with His presence.

If that were all, "Sensible Shoes" would be highly worth recommending. But what takes this book to another level entirely is the fact that it, while fiction, teaches and guides the reader as well as any non-fiction book on the spiritual life. If you like Richard Foster or Ruth Haley Barton you will love what Brown does throughout this book in teaching spiritual disciplines and ancient spiritual practices. The reader learns them along with the characters, and that is what I think makes this book totally unique. This would be a great book for small groups to read together and learn practices that would enrich their walk with God.

In short, great story, great characters, great spiritual depth. Christian fiction is in good hands with writers and books like this.
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on May 1, 2014
I really enjoyed this book and felt that I could personally identify with the spiritual struggles of several of the four women who meet and become friends as they learn how to support each other at the "New Hope Retreat Center" where each of them has come because they need spiritual direction and help to make changes in their lives. As the reader hears the stories of these women who during the course of their studies with the group at the retreat center, develop the inner strength to look into their own hearts and their own past and choose healing, we also learn about numerous spiritual tools and processes which their spiritual counselor Katherine, shares with them which the reader can also use personally to get closer to God.

Some of my favorite tools or processes from the book are walking a labyrinth; how to use the imagination in prayer or to place yourself in a Bible story where you can personally encounter God; the palms up, palms down prayer and especially - "praying the Examen".

Katherine, the spiritual counselor in the story, who runs the retreat center shares with the retreat group that, "the prayer of examen was developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the sixteenth century as a discipline for discerning God's will and becoming more attentive to God's presence". She tells the retreatants that this prayer is a way of sitting with Jesus and talking through the details of your day. The examen, Katherine tells us, "helps us to perceive the movement of the Spirit and to discover God's presence in all of life."

I enjoy using this "prayer of examen", during which I use a series of questions to prayerfully review the events of my day, my thoughts, words and actions and to surrender to God those which have been unkind and hurtful to myself or others. Using this process I can accept God's forgiveness for all the negative stuff and give thanks for the events of my day and those of my responses which have helped to draw me closer to the heart of God. Some of the questions teh reader in this prayer are posed as suggestions by Katherine to her group such as "When were you aware of God's presence today? When did you sense God's absence?"; When did you respond to God with love, faith and obedience? When did you resist or avoid God?".

And after responding to these kind of questions which we ask ourselves, Katherine instructs Hannah, Meg, Mara, Charissa, the rest of her retreat group and us, the reader, that we confess what needs to be confessed then allow God's Spirit of love to bring us wholeness, grace and forgiveness.

"Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey", is the kind of book which makes a fantastic spiritual study for an individual or for a group who may want to explore the ideas and tools presented with others in a group setting. I was introduced to this book by a friend whose church group used it for Lenten Study.
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on July 30, 2015
Deb’s Dozen: Come take an incredible sacred journey with Meg, Mara, Hannah, and Charissa.

Seldom, if ever, have I been drawn into such spiritual depth by a work of fiction. Sensible Shoes is an incredible journey with four very disparate women who come to know each other and themselves in a spiritually deep and rich fashion. I was drawn in by the characters of Meg, Hannah, Mara, and Charissa—perhaps because I could see a bit of myself in each of them. What wonderfully complex and vulnerable characters Sharon has written—so believable—to the point I wish I could talk with them and become their friend too.

Four women—each with deep wounds from their past. Each drawn to attend a series of sessions by a plum-colored flyer that stated: “Jesus says, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly’ (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message). We invite you to come take a sacred journey.”

As they gather at the New Hope Retreat Center, they each wonder why they came—and think about not coming back. Mara, with the burdens of her unhappy home and infamous past; Meg, tied to a house haunted with the voice of an unaffectionate mother; Hannah, given a forced sabbatical of nine months by her church; and Charissa, an uptight, perfectionist of a graduate student working on her PhD. Four women with nothing in common who discover the commonality we all share.

One of the exercises is to confess the wells other than that of living water they’ve drunk from in their pasts to try to find fulfillment.

She had drawn from the well of sexual gratification, but the water had been bitter.

She had drawn from the well of material possessions, but that well was filled with salt water, making her crave more and more.

She had drawn from the well of approval and acceptance, but that well was unpredictable. She never knew if there would be water or not, and even when she managed to draw some out, her bucket leaked. She couldn’t hold it. It didn’t last.

Another came to the realization that she …

… had worn her self-sufficiency as a badge of honor. For years her own pride had kept her from Jesus …

… she didn’t want to feel guilty. Because she wanted to avoid reproach and punishment. Because she wanted other people to respect and admire her. Because she knew it was the right thing to do.

But love for God did not appear anywhere on her long list of reasons and motivation for living and obedient Christian life. How was that possible?

She had been self-centered, even in her faith. Totally self-centered.

And eventually one came to the realization that,

For so many years I based my identity on how much I achieved and on what other people thought of me. I wasn’t at rest in my relationship with God. I was always haunted by the thought that I should be doing more, that I wasn’t a faithful enough servant. Then when God stripped everything away and pruned me down to a stump, I began to see all the false things I had trusted in. I finally began to understand that I have the same invitation John the disciple had: to call myself ‘the one Jesus loves.’ To really believe it in a way I never had before and to live life from that center … I’m not trying to earn God’s love and favor anymore. I’m just resting in Christ. And it’s good. There’s such freedom there.

How I’ve identified with these statements. How many of you have identified with these statements too? Put on your Sensible Shoes and join Meg, Mara, Hannah, and Charissa on their sacred journey. You’ll be so happy and blessed that you did! Five stars only because I can’t give it ten!

Sharon Brown and I talked about how she came to write Sensible Shoes. She told me the book is drawn from real-life experience. In 2008, she asked a group of women if they’d like to be in a spiritual formation group—to grow into the Spirit. Twelve said yes. Over time they found they could be authentic, trust each other, and deal with the deep personal issues they each faced. The transformation was profound and deep and beautiful. One of them said, “To walk with God, you need to wear ‘sensible shoes.'” They discovered they needed a spiritual discipline to cooperate with grace.

Although much of the book is fiction, there is no fiction in the reactions of the women or their spiritual leaders. The book teaches there is hope, freedom, healing, and community to be found—no one needs to do this work in isolation.

I asked Sharon what she learned about Sharon by writing Sensible Shoes. She told me she had learned how to celebrate the love of God in her own life—especially as a pastor. She learned how to disentangle her professional and personal identities, coming to know herself as God’s beloved child instead of wearing herself out in anxiety-driven work for God. She realized her compulsion to rescue others and that she needed to be able to back off and trust the work of the Spirit.

Sharon was born in Arcadia, CA. She studied English at Smith College and then earned her Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. She’s married to Jack and they have a son, David, who is nineteen. Their ministry postings have taken them from Glasgow, Scotland, to Tulsa, OK, to Southampton, England, and they’re now in a pastorate in Caledonia, MI.

She was raised in Presbyterian and Methodist churches, but has ministered in several denominations: Presbyterian, Church of Scotland, a non-denominational church in England, and now they are with the Evangelical Covenant Church. She says they needed a “place to land” and found this church, founded in the 1800s, which has as a tenet the commitment to “agree in the essentials” while affording the freedom to disagree on the nonessentials.

Interestingly, she is a technophobe, just got her first cellphone in late May, and recently learned how to text. She says “I love all things British—especially tea. I love to read. I love to travel. I love watching movies with my family. I love to write. I’ve always loved to write.

Her second book, Two Steps Forward, which will release in September, is a continuation of Sensible Shoes, and covers the period of Advent. The book is the story of persevering in hope. The final book, Barefoot, covers Lent to Easter and is about surrendering to God and dying to self. The books are fiction books with non-fiction teaching content. The characters become windows and mirrors that the readers can look through and in to find themselves and see God more clearly.

Sharon Garlough Brown is a pastor, spiritual director, retreat leader, and author. Kathy Lee Gifford calls Sensible Shoes one of her “favorite things.” To learn more about Sharon, check out www.SensibleShoesClub.com.

Intervarsity Press gave me a copy of Sensible Shoes in exchange for my candid review.
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on June 7, 2015
I give this book five stars out of five. I'm still processing it. Still remembering the characters' struggles and still learning from the insights they experienced on their journeys.

It's a one-of-a-kind novel that's part fiction, part spiritual retreat manual, part Bible study experience.

The four protagonists are Meg, Hannah, Charissa and Mara. They each are carrying burdens that have become too much for them to bear, although they don't all know it yet. The women find out through various channels about a sacred journey retreat that has helped friends of theirs release baggage and experience peace. With much reluctance, each of the four women sign up for the eight-week class, and they end up sitting at the same table and becoming friends.

Meg Crane is a recent empty-nester single mom of 46 who is alone in a big Victorian home she inherited from her parents, haunted by memories about her recently deceased angry, critical mother. She is weighed down by her many phobias and insecurities, trapped in the grief of her past.

Hannah Shepley is a single, 39-year-old associate pastor who is given a forced nine-month sabbatical from pastoral duties, because, as her lead pastor puts it, she needs to learn to "disentangle her personal and professional identities." She has spent her whole life avoiding her problems and pain by helping others through theirs. She is the classic "fixer."

Mara Garrison is a 50-year-old mother of three, haunted by a lifetime of rejection, who believes she's never been wanted. She is married to an unkind man who doesn't love her, and she buries her sorrows in comfort food and reality TV. What she really wants is peace, rest and someone to love her.

Charissa Sinclair is a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate studying English literature at a small Christian university, a big fish in a little pond. She is a statuesque beauty with an adoring husband, doting parents and the respect of all her peers. She is Miss Perfect and she lives for The Right Answer. But when she embarks on the sacred journey, she finds herself suddenly without answers.

I found myself drawn most powerfully to the struggles of Hannah, the fixer, and Charissa, the perfectionist. They are "just fine" in their own minds. They don't need help. They don't even believe they have needs. This was me for so many years. It was an emotional and life-giving experience to travel with Hannah and Charissa as they gradually came to the end of self-sufficiency and realized they did need help, grace and love, and that it was OK to have those needs.

If you see yourself in any of the four archetypes of this novel, I highly recommend you read it. There's hope in the healing process. There's life in the sacred journey toward God.

Read more of my book reviews here: http://bit.ly/1T5qtb2
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on April 8, 2014
. Sensible Shoes is one of the only fiction books that InterVarsity Press has published. That in itself is intriguing. In my mind, if IVP publishes something, it must be really good- they are a no-fluff kind of publisher.

It was even better than I thought it would be. I read this 343 page book in three days- half of it on my flights between Madison and LA, and then the other half on the way back. It was the perfect travel companion. It was especially useful in helping to distract me from the fact that the airplane felt like a roller coaster on our way from LA to Dallas on the way home.

The real beauty of this book is that it ties together spiritual formation with really good fiction. Four women from different walks of life become unlikely friends during a 6 session spiritual formation retreat.

"Hannah, a pastor who doesn’t realize how exhausted she is.

Meg, a widow and recent empty-nester who is haunted by her past.

Mara, a woman who has bounced from relationship to relationship, trying to navigate a difficult marriage.

Charissa, a hard-working graduate student who wants to get things right."

At the retreat, they are led through several different spiritual formation practices:

Walking a labyrinth as a journey of prayer
Lectio Divina
Praying the Examen
Wilderness Prayer
Praying with our imagination
Self-Examination and Confession
Creating a Rule of Life
Not only do we learn about the practices right along with the participants, but then we see how it works out in each of the characters’ lives. We see the wrestling with God, the slow transformation, and the one step forward and two steps back that often marks the process of spiritual transformation.

I went into the book thinking that I would identify with one of the characters more than the others. Surprisingly, I found myself in all of them. The story is beautifully written and easy to get caught up in.

My Takeaways:

‘You can only turn to face God and receive his gifts when you’re convinced that God is love.’ (p. 120)

‘Our areas of resistance and avoidance can provide a wealth of information about our inner life.’ (p. 127)

‘In the examen we ask the Spirit to search us and know us. The Lord invites us to perceive his constant activity in our lives, to notice the things that move us toward God and away from God.’ (p. 182)

“Trusting God’s heart is everything…If I can always trust that God’s intention toward me is love, then even when I don’t understand the work of his hands, I can still trust his heart.’ (p. 241)

The book left me with a much deeper desire to do some soul work and engage intentionally in some of the useful spiritual formation tools laid out here in the text.

I think this would be a great book for a group of women to read together, or to be read within the context of a mentoring relationship.
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on April 21, 2013
If you are a fan of Christian fiction, thought provoking books, and well written stories you will likely find this to be the book for you! You can tell from the start the author puts a lot of love and thought into every single word she puts down onto the pages of the book. This is the first Christian fiction book I have ever read and I found that it was an enjoyable book that takes the reader on an unexpected journey with four women looking to find themselves and to find ways to come to terms and deal with their pasts and currents situations and in this book they find this way through God.

I dislike giving details of a book away past a few good points about the actual story and the writing of the author but I will give you just a tiny bit of information before abruptly stopping because you should , as I always say if you've ever read another of my reviews, read the book for yourself! It's good to read all the books for yourself no matter what. Read them all! Ok, sorry. I got a little lost there. I'll get back to it now. The book takes place in Michigan at a retreat center. Four women meet there when they arrive to; well you know, retreat and stuff. They have things that they are having some trouble with so they head to this retreat. Through it all they become closer to each other and also to God. There are some exercises within the book they practice and find they are getting closer and closer to God. If you are Christian and follow the God thing, you may find that they are quite helpful to you as well and may help you with your own life also.

The author is a truly brilliant writer. She has a style of writing that pulls you in and keeps you right there with her. It's as if the characters she writes are as real to her as someone that she knows in the really real world. They are so relatable and rich with personality. It's as if they are living on the pages. The setting of the story is another thing that comes alive. As you read you can picture it in your mind as if it's a place you've seen or can see if you just go around a corner. It's very well written.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I will say again that it is a Christian fiction book just to remind everyone out there in case anyone really reads this but even if you are not Christian or into that, it is still a really enjoyable read and very well written. I highly enjoyed it and I would recommend it whole heartedly.
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on December 16, 2017
This is quite a unique story, part instructional non-fiction, built around the fictional account of four women from different backgrounds who meet at a Scared Journey retreat. It's compelling reading as we get into the detail of each of these women's lives and their journey towards God's heart. Even though I'm a man I was able to relate to all four of them at various stages of their journeys. Whether it was Charissa's perfectionism, arrogance and thirst for information, to Hannah's being lost in her calling, to Mara's struggle with a non-believing spouse and Meg's struggle with the loss of her parents and fiancé, I found a bit of myself in all of them.

I particularly enjoyed how Brown combines the heart journey and desire for intimacy with God with the telling of the ladies lives. It's a tremendous practical demonstration of how we can pursue the heart of God while going about our lives incorporating various spiritual disciplines plus the importance of community (ie, each other) and guidance from a mentor (in this story it was the leader of the retreat: Katherine).

The novel is filled with spiritual insight plus instructional guidelines as to how to incorporate various spiritual disciplines and provides a wonderful insight into a scared journey with the Lord.

I'm excited to read the next one in the series.
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