I’m in Maine and Jamie Ivey is in Texas. yet somehow I walk away from this book feeling like I was just in a coffee shop chatting with her for a few hours.
I’ve been to Austin. It was a marvelous trip to If:Gathering when my third child was mere months old. It was a refresher for body and soul, both the gathering, and the sights and sounds of Texas in February – did I mention I’m in Maine? So having physically walked Jamie’s streets for a few days, having eaten Avocado’s on top of everything, driven to Waco on a bright day, eaten at Torchy’s and grabbed coffee, well basically everywhere I could, reading If You Only Knew felt like getting to dip my toes back into that refreshing vacation again. How do mere words accomplish this? Jamie’s words, are fresh and true, but they stir something deep within. Her stories are particular to her, but speak to so many of our struggles. She tells her story, even the horrible parts with poetry in her soul, and with every step along the road you can see the hands of a loving God leaving his mark on her bit by bit.
I have not walked her walk, but I walk with the same God. The same God has pursued me, from my parents house, to college, to church, to marriage, to church leadership and out again, and reading through Jamie’s stories, through her struggles, trials, temptations was a sorely needed reminder. You see we may all look different, and vote differently, we may all have different paths to tread and histories to deal with, but you guys, THE SAME GOD PURSUES US and pursues us relentlessly.
Jesus tells us in the book of Matthew that if a shepherd loses one sheep out of a hundred, that shepherd will leave his flock and go after the one. What he does not describe, is the bare knuckled veracity with which a shepherd in those days would go after a sheep. He does not tell you of life on the hillside, fighting off the wolves to protect that sheep. Of going without food and water when you run out, just to stay where you can see your flock.
But this tenacity is how God pursues us, and reading Jamie’s story, that is so very evident.
I keep hearing these words everywhere I go, in spiritual circles and from Oprah, that the best thing we can do for the world is tell our stories. The more of these spiritual memoirs I read, the more I realize that not a single one of our stories is boring or bland, they are all laced with God, they all hinge on the workings of the holy spirit in our lives. And in If You Only Knew Jamie tells her particular story, oh how she tells her story. She bares her soul, soft belly and all. Like watching a movie I found myself yelling along with her better angels, “Don’t do it Jamie!” when she fell off her wagon. I found myself screaming “He’s the one! Marry him!” when she talks of meeting Aaron. Many times I found myself clutching at my breast crying “Me too!” Her passion and talent for storytelling intersect perfectly in her rendition of the story of her life as it interweaves with the holy.
“What I’m saying is that it’s taken me a while to experience and taste what I’d call real freedom. To own the story of how Jesus chased me down and rescued me. And how even today He continues to pursue me, and to work with me, and never seems to grow tired of me or frustrated with me, or with the lengths I’ve required Him to go in getting through to me and molding me into someone who, I hope, is starting to look more and more like him.”
It will make you want to tell your story, and I urge you to do so. But first, go read this one! Start a book club. Gather with your people. Start telling each other your stories in real life. In our stories, the God of the Bible comes alive, leaps of the pages and into hearts. In our stories, He takes up residence and weaves us into the grand narrative of His. Go. Read. Tell.