Review-Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs

When my daughter was very young, and I was a very bad cook, I served her lemon chicken. It was so traumatizing that I don’t think she will eat lemon chicken made by anyone to this day. Because of that experience and the fact that I have actually become a fairly good cook, I believe you should try new things at least two times, especially if you didn’t really enjoy it the first time. If it’s bad two times, you are probably okay to say you don’t like it. Like eggplant parmigiana. Don’t. Like. Unlike artichokes, which are an acquired taste.

I like Annie F. Downs books. I’ve read two others, so when I made the launch team for her newest, Looking for Lovely, I was really excited and very much expected to like it.

Artichokes.

Let me be clear, I now really like artichokes, but when I first tasted them, I wasn’t sure what to think. Texture, taste, mmmm…but a few times after they cropped up in salad, or in a pasta dish, I discovered I was looking for ways to use them. This book, in fact, this genre of book is something I needed to acquire a taste for.

I read Looking for Lovely once, wrote a review, and like an artichoke, let it marinade a while. The more I thought about what I’d written, the more I wondered if I needed to taste that again, did I really think what I’d written?

No. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Annie Downs is an expressive writer. Whether it be passion or pain, detachment or enthusiasm, you always catch the tone of her emotion, not just the words. Her phrases tell a story on their own, and within the context of her subject illuminate her thoughts in fresh ways. She is a story teller of the best kind-unfolding word pictures that never bog down in details, but reveal all the elements to lead you to a satisfying understanding of her point.

Through the greatest breaking in her life came the greatest transformation, and Annie chronicles her quest to walk in the changes. It is autobiographical, not so much of her experiences but of her emotions, where they came from, how they affected her life and the lessons she has learned along the way. Make no mistake though, this book is all about Annie, and you may or may not relate to her experiences. I do believe you will relate to her insights, the truths she learned and find ways to apply those to your own life.

Like my life and yours, Annie has had her share of ugly in life-from the mirror, with other people, from the world. Using Romans 5:1-5 as a framework, she writes about living with perseverance, looking for what is beautiful in the midst of a rainstorm. It is perseverance that sees us through, the kind we develop walking with Christ through the trials, not by avoiding the trials. Her desire in this book is that you would develop the ability to see lovely along the path, even the path of suffering that you might grow in endurance and never quit. And, you will find that God reveals lovely in unlikely places.

The first section of the book was not an easy read for me, a section titled In the Absence of Lovely. This is where you may find yourself learning more about the author than you expected to or even wanted to, because she reveals the beginnings of the footholds of ugliness that took root in her view of herself and their effect on her life. By the end of the second chapter of this section I began to wonder if we would turn a corner, and if not, would I keep reading?  This was heavy stuff, told in unflinching truth by a woman carrying great hurts. On the Facebook launch team page, this section really resonated with many members, as they heard their unspoken thoughts brought out by Annie’s voice. What was difficult reading for me was obviously the glimmer of hope they needed.

Turn the corner we did, in the section In Search of Lovely. With the help of a counselor, Annie writes of finally cconfronting the things that keep her from walking in freedom, and learning to persevere through the process. The book is subtitled Collecting the Moments  that Matter, and that is her process-to seek out the ways God ministers to her soul through the people, places and things around her. What strikes her as beautiful becomes the things she seeks out to remind her of the goodness of God that can be seen in the everyday.

Each chapter has a scripture verse for a heading, like a road sign to let you know what truth destination you’ll end up at after you meander through an Annie adventure. Some are funny, some are hard, some are introspective, and you’ll find at least a couple to be a mirror for your soul.  Consistent at the end of each chapter in this section is an action step of sorts, to encourage you in your own practice of looking for lovely.

Now for the artichoke.

Looking for Lovely was not what I’d expected from an author I’d read before. It seemed a departure from her other books, and I found it hard to define just what type of book it was-not a Bible study, not a devotional, not an autobiography, not a discipleship book. Yet, in small ways, it was all those. The expectations that were not met were my own, and unmet expectations don’t necessarily mean something was bad. For me though, it did require a second reading.

This style of book, personal, conversational, long form essay is familiar to someone like me, who reads a lot of blogs. It’s good writing, inspiring and engaging writing, and not at all like the books that I turn to for spiritual growth. Hold on, you’ll be alright, let me go on.

For five hundred words of a stand-alone blog post, I dig it. In a book, I find myself starting to wonder when the appetizer will give way to the well grilled steak, seared on the outside and just done on the inside. I’m looking for high protein, strong meat to chew on. It’s the meal I like, the way I think, process, learn, and grow. This style of book is not my strong meat.

But it’s still a good meal.

I’m learning that this style of book needs two readings by me so I can learn the subtle flavors of the authors’ offerings. Having said that, I’ve tried this with other books of this type and…

Eggplant parmigiana.

Not Looking for Lovely. This book may be strong meat for you, it may be an engaging, hope-filled, inspiring poolside read for the summer. Either way, whatever your palate, you’ll say lovely found when you’re done.

Read well, friends.