Mar 122010


Our name is derived from the fact that we are too reclusive and cranky to attend real book clubs. So here we are.

Hermit Crab Book Club Rules:

1. Everyone is invited.

2.We will try not to be jerks.

3.We will try to feel inspired rather than guilty, since we’re exhausted.

4. If we’ve only had time to read the Pottery Barn catalog and would prefer to discuss the Aris Table vs. the Montego, by George, we will do so.

Without further Ado…

I don’t know where to start with this incredible book. I think I’m just going to offer three of my favorite passages, ask you a few questions, and then hope you take off and say what you need to say. I can’t wait to hear what you thought of Miss Debbie and Denver and Ron.


In the hallway to the kitchen, we ran into Chef Jim. I asked him if he’d seen Denver that day. “He’s probably sleeping.” “Sleeping!” I blurted. Lazy, I thought. It was already mid-afternoon.

Jim raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“Well, when Denver heard about Miss Debbie, he told me she had a lot of friends that would be praying for her all day. But he figured she needed someone to pray all night, and he would be the one to do it.”

My eyes widened as he went on. “So he goes outside at midnight, sits down by the dumpster, and prays for Miss Debbie and your family. When I get up and come down here at three in the morning to get breakfast going, he comes in for a cup of coffee and we pray here for her until about four. Then he goes back outside and prays till sunup.”

Ashamed, I realized again how deep grew the roots of my own predjudice, of my arrogant snap judgements of the poor.


I met Sister Bettie before I met Miss Debbie. She ‘aint no nun or nothin’ like that. We call her “Sister” cause she’s a real spiritual woman. :) I don’t know how old Betty was when I first met her, but right this minute she’s got a crown a’ hair just as white as a cloud on a summer day and twinklin eyes as blue as the sky them clouds go sailin’ in. When she’s talkin to you, she’ll lay a hand on you like she’s known you all her life. Like maybe you was her own child. And even if she keeps her hand there awhile, it don’t bother you none. You just feel happy God saw fit to drop a lady like that into this world.

Sister Bettie lives at the mission, but it’aint cause she don’t have nowhere else to go. Along time back, she lives in a regular neighborhood. But after her husband died, Sister Bettie felt the Lord tuggin’ on her heart, tellin her to spend the rest a her life servin’ the homeless. She sold her home and everything she had except for a itty bitty Toyota truck, and she asked the folks at the Union Gospel Mission could she set up housekeeping down there.

It didn’t take long till most a’ the homeless folks in Fort Worth knowed Sister Bettie. She’d go to restaurants to ask them for leftovers and stores to ask them for socks and blankets and toothpaste and such. Then she’d haul her old bones up and down the nastiest streets, offerin help to men so mean they’d just as soon tear your head off as look at you. That didn’t scare Sister Bettie none because she believed God’s angels camped all around her and wadn’t gonna let nothin bad happen to her. And if it did, she said, that would be God’s will.

She never carried no purse with her, just whatever she had to give out that day and her Bible. After a while, it got so it didn’t matter what Sister Biettie believed about God’s angels: Even the meanest man on the street wouldn’t dare to lay a hand on her, ‘cause he’d get beat down if he did. To this day, that woman could walk naked on the railroad in the hobo jungle at midnight and be as safe as if she was tucked into her own bed.


On Miss Debbie: She just loved ‘em…no strings attached.


She began to rack her brain about ways to bring a little joy into their lives. Her first idea: Beauty Shop Night. Deborah and her best friend, Mary Ellen Davenport, would go to the mission loaded down with make-up kits, hairstyling tools, perfumes, soaps, and every manicure and pedicure accessory ever invented. And the homeless women would come. Deborah and Mary Ellen would comb the lice out of their hair, then wash and style it with blow-dryers and curling tools. If a woman wanted a pedicure, Deborah and Mary Ellen would wash her feet, use pumice stones to scrub away callouses layered on by ill-fitting shoes, and paint her toenails in a feminine shade of red or pink. They did facials and make-overs and gave the women little make-up kits to keep. Sometimes, on these nights, a homeless woman, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, would remember what she looked like before her life went off course and begin to cry.


Jesus said “Blessed are the poor.” Did this make you think any differently about that statement? Because I used to think..”Uh-huh, sure they are.” But I’m starting to wonder. Maybe Jesus was serious. Maybe the poor are more blessed. Maybe God wants us to be with them because he wants us to get a chance to share in their blessings, instead of vice versa.

Did this book make you think any differently about what serving the poor might look like? How did the way Ron and Debbie and Miss Bettie served the poor look different than how we typically do? What are the implications for our Monkee Revolution project? We need help deciding what direction to take with it. Did this book give you any feelings or ideas about that?

Also, did this book make you think different about miracles, and how and why they occur here on Earth? Why do you think Denver and Debbie experienced so many miracles?

Your turn, Lovies.

Apr 062010

This is the best advice on life and parenthood I have read in my entire life.

From Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

How Jason Saved His Family

When I got back from Los Angeles, I got together with my friend Jason who has a thirteen year old daughter. He was feeling down because he and his wife had found some pot hidden in their daughter’s closet. She was dating a guy, too, a kid who smelled like smoke and only answered questions with single words: “Yeah,” “No,” “Whatever,” and “Why?” And “Why?” was the answer Jason hated most. Have her home by ten, Jason would say. Why? the guy would ask. Jason figured this guy was the reason his daughter was experimenting with drugs.

“You thought about grounding her?” I asked. “Not allowing her to date him?”

“We’ve tried that. But it’s gotten worse.” Jason shook his head and fidgeted his fingers on the table. Then I said something that caught his attention. I said that his daughter was living a terrible story.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

To be honest, I didn’t know exactly what I meant. I probably wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t just returned from the McKee seminar. But I told him about the stuff I’d learned, that the elements of story involve a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Even as I said this, I wasn’t sure how it applied to his daughter.

“Go on,” my friend said.

“I don’t know, exactly, but she’s not living a very good story. She’s caught up in a bad one.” I said a lot of other things and he kept asking questions. We must have talked for an hour or more, about how novels work and why some movies are meaningful and others simply aren’t. I didn’t think much of it. I just thought he was curious about movies.

A couple months later I ran into Jason and asked about his daughter. “She’s better,” he said to me, smiling. And when I asked why, he told me that his family was living a better story.
The night after we talked, Jason couldn’t sleep. He thought about the story his daughter was living and the role she was playing inside that story. He realized he hadn’t provided a better role for his daughter. He hadn’t mapped out a story for his family. And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used. In the absence of a family story, she’d chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence. “She’s not a bad girl,” my friend said. “She was just choosing the best story available to her.”

I pictured his daughter flipping through the channels of life, as it were, stopping on a story that seemed most compelling at the moment, a story that offered her something, anything, because people can’t live without a story, without a role to play. “So how did you get her out of it?” I asked. And I couldn’t believe what he told me next.

Jason decided to stop yelling at his daughter and, instead, create a better story to invite her into. He remembered that a story involves a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.

“I started researching stuff on the internet,” Jason said, “and I came across an organization that builds orphanages around the world. And that sounded to me like a pretty good ambition, something maybe my family could try to do together. It sounded like a good story.”

“Right,” I said, trying to remember the elements of story myself.

“So I called this organization,” Jason continued, “And it takes about twenty-five thousand dollars to build one of these orphanages. And the truth is, we don’t have the money. I mean we just took out a second mortgage. But I knew if we were going to tell a good story, it would have to involve risk.”

“That’s true,” I said, remembering it from the seminar.

“So I went home and called a family meeting,” my friend continued. “I didn’t tell my wife first, which it turns out was a big mistake. But I told them about this village and about the orphanage and all these terrible things that could happen if these kids don’t get an orphanage. Then I told them I agreed to build it.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said.

“No, I’m not. And my wife sat there looking at me like I’d lost my mind. And I looked at my daughter, her eyes as big as melons, and she wasn’t happy. She knew this would mean she’d have to give up her allowance and who knows what else. They just sat there in silence. And the longer they sat there, the more I wondered if I had lost my mind.”

“I actually think you might have lost your mind,” I said, feeling somewhat responsible.

“Well, maybe so,” Jason said, looking away for a second with a smile. “But it’s working out. I mean things are getting pretty good, Don.”

Jason went on to explain that his wife and daughter went back to their separate rooms and neither of them talked to him. His wife was rightly upset that he hadn’t mentioned anything to her. But that night while they were lying in bed, he explained the whole story thing, about how they weren’t taking risks and weren’t helping anybody and how their daughter was losing interest.

“The next day,” he said, “Annie came to me while I was doing the dishes.” He collected his words. “Things had just been tense for the last year, Don. I haven’t told you everything. But my wife came to me and put her arms around me and leaned her face into the back of my neck and told me she was proud of me.

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“I’m not,” my friend said. “Don, I hadn’t heard Annie say anything like that in years. I told her I was sorry I didn’t talk to her about it, that I just got excited. She said she forgave me but that it didn’t matter. She said we had an orphanage to build, and that we were probably going to make bigger mistakes, but we would build it.” My friend smiled as he remembered his wife’s words.

“And then Rachel came into our bedroom, maybe a few days later, and asked if we could go to Mexico. Annie and I just sort of looked at her and didn’t know what to say. So then Rachel crawled between us in the bed like she did when she was little. She said she could talk about the orphanage on her web site and maybe people could help. She could post pictures. She wanted to go to Mexico to meet the kids and take pictures for her website.”

“That’s incredible,” I said.

“You know what else, man?” Jason said. “She broke up with her boyfriend last week. She had this picture on her dresser and took it down and told me he said she was too fat. Can you believe that? What a jerk.”

“A jerk,” I agreed.

“But that’s done now,” Jason said, shaking his head. “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”

-Donald Miller


Talk to me, Monkees. Do you know what you’d like your family’s story to be?

I’m thinking about drafting one. Scary, though.

Apr 122010

There is a woman named Anne Lamott, and she lives in California and writes down big beautiful stories and ideas that God gives her. She, together with Sister and husband and Jesus, convinced me that I could just go ahead and be myself already.

Before I met Anne Lamott, I thought I had to choose between God and myself. I’m not going to explain that right now, but the important thing is that her stories and ideas taught me that I didn’t have to make that choice. She taught me that those two things were the same choice, actually. When I read Anne Lamott, I feel like maybe I’m okay. I also feel like maybe she’s said it all, and I shouldn’t bother adding anything else. But then I remember that she would probably tell me otherwise, so I keep writing.

If my children don’t end up with enough money to go to college, it will be because I bought so many books by Anne Lamott. And I’ll be fine with that. I have given Traveling Mercies to one friend four different times. She didn’t have the heart to tell me until the fourth time, when she asked me if I was joking. I just want my friends to feel as free and kind and calm and understood as I do when I read her. I also like to buy her books repeatedly because each time I buy one, she gets a few bucks. So when I hand my money to the Borders cashier I imagine that I’m buying a coffee for one of her funny friends, or a flower to put in that beautiful hair that helped make her who she is. And I feel like I’m sending her a thank you card, without bothering her by actually sending her a thank you card.

Last week Krystal wrote on the Momastery fan page that Anne Lamott was going to be speaking and signing copies of her new book, Imperfect Birds, at a book store in Northern Virginia. I started sweating when I read that. But there was nothing I could do about it, because I don’t live there anymore. I was so relieved that there was nothing I could do about it. But then one of my best friends, Joanna, wrote on the wall that she would go. That she would Go Meet Anne Lamott For Me. And then I just shut the computer because I couldn’t take it anymore.

I don’t know how to tell you about Joanna. Maybe if Sister and I had another sister, in between us, it would be Joanna. She would be the artsy one who is always trying to make our lives more like art, more colorful and open for interpretation and outside the lines. And we would be like book ends for her.

So I wrote to Joanna and said don’t go, hoping that she would ignore that, and I spent the whole evening trying not to wonder if Joanna was listening to Anne Lamott for me. I ate a lot of popcorn.

The next morning, Joanna wrote me an email and told me that she was not going to tell me anything about what happened at the reading unless I called her. Joanna is always trying to turn me into a better friend by insisting I speak to her instead of just write to her. I find this annoying and unsettling and wise and brave. So I lied and told her I couldn’t call. Because of some phone problems. And she knew I was lying, but she gave in and wrote to me anyway. She wrote all of the beautiful things Anne Lamott said. And she told me that she had written a card to Anne Lamott. And that she had smiled and accepted the card with both hands and hugged the card to her chest and said, “Yay! I’ll take it home and read it tonight!” This is the card Joanna wrote to Anne Lamott. For me. For her friend.

When I saw these pictures, I sat at my computer and cried for a long time. Because I always thought that if Anne Lamott ever actually read my writing, my life would somehow be different. That it would be magical. But as I looked at the card Joanna made, and imagined her dragging her pregnant, tired self to that book store to make contact with a woman she’d never read, simply because I loved her, and she loved me, I realized suddenly that I didn’t need Anne Lamott to read my writing. Because she wasn’t the magical part of the moment at all. The magical part was Joanna. The magical part was that I have a friend who loves me so much that she wanted to thank the woman who helped me have the courage to be myself.

I don’t know how to get over that. I’m just so full about that.

Life’s magic is never on its way. It’s always already arrived. Joy is catching a glimpse of something extra-ordinary that we were lulled into thinking was ordinary for awhile. Like when we remember that each sun beam is actually a rainbow, because one hit the window at just the right angle. So we stop to look closer, and our eyes widen.

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