Shannan Martin loved her life with a beautiful farmhouse, four multicultural adopted children and a close relationship with God. All that changed when her family moved to a low income urban area of Indiana among broken neighbors and ex-cons. In her new book, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted, Shannan recalls the intense and humorous moments of her journey from false security to enduring faith and God's steadfast love.
Q: Shannan, thank you for your time. Congratulations on the release of your new book Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted. Let's take the cue from the title, what was the life you wanted?
The life I wanted was both pretty and conventional. I wanted a white farmhouse with a large porch where I would raise my adorable children on a piece of land that could have been pulled straight from a movie set. I wanted to be respected and admired. My husband and I had come to see our task as creating a life for our family that was a safe, secure, peaceful and comfortable as possible. We were quietly conditioned to measure "success" in steps up the ladder. Our goals were self-protection, financial security, and a life that detoured around pain and suffering. What we wanted, at its core, was the American Dream with a side of Jesus. And the crazy thing is, we got every single thing on our list, and then some.
Q: What happened? What caused the changes that made you re-think about the life you wanted?
A handful of years ago we were blindsided by a sermon series by David Platt, the content of which would eventually become his book, Radical. Simply put, it leveled us. It forced us to seriously consider, for the first time ever, that the Gospel calls us not to avoid discomfort but to actively walk towards it. We began to notice the fundamental calling of our faith - to love the world around us as much as we loved ourselves. This was initially terrifying because we were (and still are) quite adept at loving ourselves. The question became, how do we begin to walk in this calling of greater love, generosity, and humility? Each step of the way, the answer has been "surrender."
Q: Briefly describe for us what is the kind of life you are living now?
As it turns out, God's "more" for my family looks a lot like "less." We now live in a much smaller home on the wrong side of the track of a vibrant, diverse city. My husband and I both lost our high-profile jobs in federal politics. Our income was slashed to its knees. Our kids attend a Title I public school here in our neighborhood. Our church would be considered "dying" by most definitions. And along each twist and turn of a story that isn't even close to being over, people around us believed we had lost our minds. We had no idea that this life of less was the trust desire of our hearts. We didn't know to ask for this, and now live immersed in gratitude that God rescued us from what we thought we wanted.
Q: One of the things you advocate in the book are the blessings in adoption. What are some of those blessings? Why consider adoption?
One of the richest surprises dealt us was the gift of infertility. We assumed our kids would be tiny replicas of us, and instead, we have a multi-cultural family where God knit us together into a really beautiful picture of redemption. Adopting our three younger children was our entry-point into walking towards the pain of another rather than detouring around it. It gave us a more global perspective and reminds us that our kids never really belong only to us. Adopting our oldest son and newest edition straight from the county jail is a reminder that God moves far outside our assumptions and "good common sense." Adoption is not without heartbreak. I'm continually humbled by all my kids have given up in order for me to be their mom. But this is the kingdom of God, where boundaries and standard operating procedures hold no weight. Jesus calls us to recklessly redefine family. It's the privilege of a lifetime to be chosen and loved by our four kids. It doesn't take long for the traditional view of "family" loses its snap, fading into the everyday reality where we all belong to one another.
Q: This change has affected your husband too. Tell us about his ministry as a jail chaplain?
Cory and I made our first visit to the jail when our now-son was incarcerated. At the time, it would have been inconceivable that Cory would eventually become the full-time chaplain, but as we continue to learn, surrender has no expiration date and God is bent on surprising us. In his new role, Cory has discovered his deep purpose to relentlessly champion young men whom most of society has abandoned. He gets to sit with them at rock-bottom and point them to Christ. Even more, he gets to be their true friend and to walk with them as they head on to prison or are released. We are constantly stunned by the palpable nearness of God we experience when we dare to descend into low places, but this shouldn't surprise us. The Gospels paint a vivid picture of the way God views the poor, marginalized, and ignored - as beloved and prized. We keep praying for fresh eyes to see those around us (and ourselves,) as God does. And that's a prayer that really changes things.
Q: What are some of take home messages you want to impact upon your readers after reading your book?
I hope Falling Free gives people permission to shred the standard, American-church script we've used for far too long and instead, partner with God in the messy, complicated, often inconvenient work he's already doing around us. Most of us are desperate to experience the thrill of the Gospel, but we're so tied up in worrying about what people might think. We're terrified of not being in control. We want all of the perks of our faith, but we want the trappings of this long life even more. God points to a different, better way. He promises it will cost us some very tangible things and challenge many of our favorite ideals. That he specializes in partnering with the most misguided, ill-equipped souls is very good news for each of us. He is our strength and our direction. We are nothing without him. Remembering our smallness, running to him constantly in need; it totally takes the pressure off. We can trust him.
Q: What's next for you? Do you have a follow-up already in the works?
I do! I'm just beginning to write my second book, and I'm hopeful that it will pick up from Falling Free in a very natural, practical way. Stay tuned!
To purchase Shannan Martin's new book, click here.