Recently, I received a review copy of An Extra Mile by Sharon Garlough Brown. Noting this book was the fourth book in a series, I decided I wanted to read the whole series in order to better understand the story. I'm very glad I did as I proceeded to read the entire four book series in just over a week and the whole story is really necessary to reading the fourth book.
This series is unique in that it combines a wonderful story with spiritual formation exercises that are included right in the midst of the book. The premise of the series is that in Sensible Shoes, four women meet when they each individually sign up to attend a multi-week spiritual journey group. The four women are quite disparate in their life stages and station but through the books come together to form a small group of sorts. The story follows each woman both individually and as a group centering on how they are being changed as a result of their spiritual journey and the spiritual exercises they are doing. The exciting aspect of having the spiritual exercises included is that the reader not only reads about how the exercises are life transforming for the character but also has the opportunity to experience life transformation as well.
As mentioned previously the characters in this story are quite disparate and most likely would have never met and definitely would not have formed a small group if they hadn't met at the spiritual journey group. The characters range from a young newly married PhD student, a single associate minister on sabbatical, a widowed empty-nester who recently buried her mom, and a mom in the midst of a messy home life and subsequent divorce whose story resembles that of the Samaritan woman at the well. The college age daughter of the empty-nester appears prominently in book two, Two Steps Forward and book three, Barefoot, and as a main character in book four. As noted before, they are a random group of women and as they initially meet some of the characters exhibit disdain towards others based on prior experiences, but over the course of the books they women form extremely close bonds that go well beyond friendship. In addition to the main female characters, readers are introduced to their families, the men in their lives, and numerous other characters that cross their paths. As they all live in the same town, they find they know many people in common which serves to increase their close bonds.
As noted previously, I read these books in just over a week. I will admit that while enjoying the spiritual formation aspect, during this first read, I concentrated mostly on the story which draws the reader inside. Although there are four books, the techincal time span of the series is just over 9 months although the author skillfully uses flash backs to weave in the story of each woman's life. During the 9 months in which the books take place, even though the women have just met, they travel with each other through nearly all of the major events a woman can experience which made me have difficulty putting them down (hence the really rapid reading). While reading, I rejoiced and weeped with the characters. I enjoyed that the characters in the book are real and are working through significant life issues and wondering "God, where are you in this situation?" or "Jesus, how can I follow you when I've made such a mess of everything?" These are definitely not "fluffy" reads by any means. A particularly poignant section for me was reading about the premature birth of a baby and remembering feeling the exact same emotions when my own children were born premature. Having read the books initially for the story, I look forward to re-reading the books more intently for the spiritual formation. I want to journey with the Sensible Shoes ladies once more as an active participant in their spiritual journey.
Author Sharon Garlough Brown draws upon her experience as a spiritual director and retreat leader throughout these books. Her website provides information on her speaking schedule and suggested resources related to the books. I highly encourage women's groups to read these wonderful books in a study or book club setting. Many women will find these books are their first introduction to the concept of spiritual direction and will desire to locate either a spiritual director or spiritual retreat opportunities. The books also kindle a longing for the tight relationship these women have.
Having journeyed with the characters in this book, I must confess to being sad that An Extra Mile is the last book in this series. There are many loose ends to the story that simply begs a further installment in the series. I hope author Sharon Brown will continue to write.Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the fourth book, An Extra Mile, free from InterVarsity Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”