When I was relatively new to blogging, every once in a while I’d be scanning comments on somebody’s post and spot one by L.L. Barkat. I’d read the well-formed response and think, “Wow. That person’s smart!” I wasn’t sure, at first, if this person was male or female. No photo confirmed gender, and the initials L.L. didn’t help me know for certain. At some point I finally determined that L.L. was a female. Her website, when I peeked at it, included lots of poetry–deep, thoughtful poetry–alongside beautiful photography. All that creativity left an impression–so much so that I feel that as long as I’ve been on the blogosphere, I’ve been aware of L.L. Barkat’s phrasing, grace, and intellect.Then, what do you know, I found out she was at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Somewhere. I tracked her down and introduced myself.I told that story in this post. And because I didn’t scare her too awful much, she agreed to meet me again, which I mentioned in this post.She told her version in this post.And we took photos.She took a photo of me when we first met.And we took this photo of our schoolgirl-ish shoes during our lunch-chat:While at the festival, I bought her book Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places, but I only recently read it.My first thought was this: Some books are difficult to categorize. Annie Dillard makes it hard for librarians and booksellers to shelve her books, at least when they first come out. She doesn’t fit neatly into a clearly developed and defined marketing category.Similarly, Peter Mayle’s books about his life in Provence presented a similar problem, as bookstores didn’t know where to place them. Under travel? Memoir? Humor? Anthropology?To me, Barkat’s book Stone Crossings feels like it, too, defies categories. Or maybe it overlaps and embraces a variety of categories.Is it a devotional? Conversion story/Testimony? Bible study? Annie Dillard-type nonfiction nature book? Memoir?The endorsements offered on the back cover suggest that others recognized the same challenging, beautiful blend of elements:
“With a storyteller’s charm and a Bible teacher’s grit, L.L. Barkat weaves memoir, humor and spiritual insight together into a satisfying read,” Edward Gilbreath, author of Reconciliation Blues.”The beautiful and intelligent writing will pull you in, but the deep and uncommon insights will keep you reading…It is a book meant to be read slowly,” Steve Hayner, professor of evangelism and church growth, Columbia Theological Seminary.
And Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed, said, “The only writer I know quite like L.L. Barkat is Eugene Peterson. That probably tells you all you need to know.”Wowzers. Scot says Barkat is like Peterson? No wonder I thought, “That person’s smart!”I don’t know if books that are difficult to categorize really are hard to market, but once I discover them, I have found them to be captivating reading.Stone Crossings was like that.Each chapter begins with a poetically written reflective piece, often weaving in something of her love of natural settings. The chapters then explore the hard places Barkat has been physically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally…and they celebrate God’s grace as He met, taught, and guided her through it all.Her personal stories, powerful and poignant as they are (the discreet but clear personal story that sets up the meat for chapter 2 proved to be a difficult, painful read), don’t necessarily serve as the centerpiece of the chapters; instead, they establish the theme. Within a few paragraphs, Barkat proceeds to highlight a character or story from Scripture, weaving in details and insight that reflect her spiritual wisdom, study, and depth of understanding.In Chapter 2, she offers a beautiful detail about the term “worm” when it’s used in Psalm 22. In this psalm, Jesus “cries prophetically through David that he’s a worm,” Barkat writes. She then explains:
[T]he Hebrew word here, towla, refers to a special sort of worm–a female that attaches herself to a tree before laying her eggs. Once she lays her eggs, this sacrificial mother becomes a protective covering. She dies right there, excreting a crimson fluid that covers both her body and her offspring.Such colorful artistry was not lost on the ancients. (p. 22, Stone Crossings)
That artistry and image was not lost on the ancients; nor, it seems, was it lost on Barkat. Nor was it lost on me, when I read it. The word captured long before Jesus was nailed to the cross is a picture of His sacrifice for us–He covers us with His blood. In Him, we’re saved and, ultimately, safe.I don’t want to tell too many stories from the book and keep you from discovering them yourself, but I was deeply impressed with the story she told about sacrificing her career. After her first daughter was born, she returned to teaching. She and her husband enrolled their little girl in a local daycare and dropped her off. “I was sad on one level,” she wrote, “but relieved to ‘get my life back,’ as I’d heard women say…But then my infant daughter made her own plea: ‘I want my mommy back.’ At seven months old she had no words to say this. She simply stopped eating in my absence.”The workers at the daycare tried everything to get her to eat, but she wouldn’t. Ten hours would pass, and she would refuse. She would be “dazed and unresponsive. She ignored my attempts to communicate with her. My lively, smiley baby was gone.”After two weeks, they took her to the doctor, who said that distressed babies sometimes go on hunger strikes.Barkat explained:
I went home that day knowing I was at a crossroads. My daughter wanted me, but I wanted a life. What’s more, I wanted a house. With my salary, we were on track to get one soon–a good-sized home in which to raise a family…[God’s Spirit] spoke quietly on my way back from work: ‘You can have a big house with nothing to put in it. Or you can give up the job and the house and fill your home with love.’ While God doesn’t necessarily ask every woman to leave work for a child, he seemed to be urging me in that direction and graciously promising, ‘I will make…your walls of precious stones.’ (Isaiah 54:12).As it went, I took him at his word. (p. 83, 87)
I was deeply moved by the apparent grief and confusion of her young child and the resulting call to sacrifice that L.L. felt that God was calling her to.In a later chapter, I loved her lengthy description of what the blind man might have experienced after Jesus placed mud on his eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam…possibly a long, stumbling walk as he tried to find it still in his dark world of mud-dabbed blindness. I had not considered how far the water might have been from the place where the blind man and Jesus met; nor had I registered that the man was still blind and smeared with mud while searching for it. Barkat took time to climb into that man’s shoes and tie his experience in with her own story.Finally, the story in the epilogue ties in the theme of stones in a highly personal way with Barkat’s extended family.It’s simple. Beautiful. And full of grace.That’s only a choppy peek into a book that’s packed with insight, honesty, poetry, pain, beauty, and grace.She has opened up her life for us to learn and grow.Through this book, she herself has offered every reader hope–by seeing the relationship with Jesus Christ she has developed in and through the hard places she’s been, we have hope that we, too, will find His grace in times of need.L.L. Barkat offers even more honesty, insight and wisdom over at her blog Seedlings in Stone. Pay her a visit, and you can decide for yourself if “that person’s smart.”