Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope

Six weeks ago, I shared on Facebook that some bloggers get so many requests for book reviews and endorsements that they no longer see a free book as a treat. Part of me understands that, as I also get more requests than I can handle; yet for me, a free book is definitely still a treat!

In response, one of my friends wrote, no kidding! free book? pick me!!” 

And so I did.

Angelika Dawson works in communications for Communitas Supportive Care Society, blogs regularly at thrift shopper for peace where she also writes about used book stores, and loves to read on her own and as part of a book club. She used to work as the music coordinator at my church, and we still often plan worship together. Here’s her book review of Two Steps Forward: A Story of Persevering in Hope by Sharon Garlough Brown (IVPress, 2015).

Two Steps Forward book coverThis is a story of four friends who met in a previous novel (Sensible Shoes: A Story About the Spiritual Journey) by the same author. The four women met at a spiritual retreat and formed a prayer circle of sorts. The women come from a wide variety of backgrounds and different spiritual experiences: Meg, a widow going to visit her daughter in London; Charissa, a graduate student who is married and unexpectedly pregnant; Hannah, a pastor on sabbatical; and Mara, a wife and mother whose marriage is falling apart.

I had not read Sensible Shoes and although Two Steps Forward does reference some events in the first novel, it didn’t prevent me from following the story in this book, nor did it make me feel like I should know certain things about the characters.

Having said that, I was prepared to not like this novel at all! I don’t usually read Christian fiction or “Chick Lit,” so having those two things together in one book made me think I wouldn’t make it through the first 20 pages. After 10 pages I was having doubts, but somewhere between there and page 20, I got hooked and couldn’t put it down. What won me over was the great character development.

Each character is believable and while they are very different from one another, there was something about each one that I could relate to. The book is set up so that each chapter is written from a single character’s perspective, alternating between the four. This format keeps the story moving forward and makes the reader want to keep going to find out what happens next. Nothing earth shattering happens in terms of the plot lines – each woman has something with which she is struggling, she confides these things to her praying friends, and in the end, each one learns something about herself. The scenarios don’t wrap up neatly, which makes their stories realistic.

If you like Christian Chick Lit – or even if you don’t! – this is an easy, enjoyable read that leaves you with things to think about and feeling uplifted. It would make a great Book Club book.

Thanks, Angelika, for your friendship and book review!

Author Sharon Garlough Brown is a pastor, spiritual director, and retreat leader. The first book in her series, Sensible Shoes, received a great response when it was published, including an endorsement from Kathie Lee Gifford on the TODAY show. The book includes the spiritual disciplines handouts the women receive at the retreat they attended. Two Steps Forward continues their story with spiritual formation material more subtly embedded, and a third book is now available for pre-order: Barefoot: A Story of Surrender to God.

I love what Sharon says about her writing process:

When I finished writing Sensible Shoes, I had no idea it would strike such a chord with readers. I know this may sound odd, but I actually wrote good-bye letters to the characters when the book was done, thanking them for what I had learned in the process of writing and wishing them well as they went into the world. Then, after Sensible Shoes was published, I was frequently asked if there would be a sequel. I didn’t know. The next question was often, “But what happens to them?” I honestly didn’t know. The writing process for me is an unscripted, un-outlined journey of discovery, and I knew that I wouldn’t have any idea of what happened to the characters unless I prayed and listened and wrote the next steps of their journey. It took a few years, but I eventually started playing with scenes. Once the characters started talking to me again, I was delighted. I had missed them, and I longed to see what would happen as they continued to walk with God and with each other.

And about the role of prayer in her writing:

As an author, I’m listening prayerfully for the characters’ stories to emerge. I’m asking evocative questions. I’m longing for each of them to notice and name the presence of God. I’m not attempting to control and manage what they do or say—the characters have the freedom to walk on and off the page, and they have a way of surprising me. I write about them as if they were real people I’m privileged to walk alongside. I cry over their heartaches; I watch for their openness to encounter God; I rejoice when they respond with courage. And I’m in prayer, listening for God’s invitations as I write.

For your reflection and response: Have you started a summer reading list yet? How is prayer part of your writing?

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