Soul Strong: A Book, an Interview, and a Way of Life

I met Lucinda just about a decade ago, when my family was living in rural New Hampshire. I was visiting an even more rural retreat center; she and her husband Mike befriended me during a weekend when I was alone and needed a friend. I don’t remember much about that weekend except that I left buoyed by their kindness.

A year or two later, she contacted me with an invitation to lead a workshop at a similar retreat that she and Mike were leading — I recall the excitement of being asked to contribute. I distinctly recall the confidence boost that followed. People seemed affected by what I had to say, and that quietly fed my spirit.

We moved back to the North Shore of Boston, and Lucinda kept track of me; once when she was speaking at a nearby church, she invited me to be her honored guest for the day. That was a thrill – never before had I been someone’s honored guest!

Here I am (right) with Lucinda at the ReNew Writing Conference

Our paths continued to cross every year or so with an event at Gordon-Conwell, our mutually loved seminary, and most recently at the ReNew Writing Conferences. That’s where I first heard about Lucinda’s book Soul Strong. Released in February, I’ve gotten my copy and devoured it, cover to cover. All I could think while reading: this book was written for such a time as this.

Soul Strong is a beautiful book, with stories from her own “stumblings and soarings” entwining with lessons from the saints both modern and ancient. Exhortations from the Scriptures lead gently to profound reflection exercises. The chapters are ordered around her seven suggestions for remaining Soul Strong, keys to living a vibrant life. Reading the book was wonderful, but getting the chance to talk to her recently about it was a real gift.

“Chapter One really is the foundation of it all: Live Loved,” she told me right at the beginning of our conversation, before I even could form my first question. “We can live into and out of this experienced love of God, particularly when we are afraid or anxious, and there are people and situations we cannot control – like protecting our grown children from the Coronavirus!” We chatted about the necessity of understanding God’s love for not only us, but for those we care about — our children, parents, friends. Once again, I found myself buoyed by her gentle and kind words.

“I sure don’t feel Soul Strong at times — I’m no expert,” she reiterated as we talked about Chapter Two: Be Authentic. “But I know who I am and who I am not.” This knowledge of your own make- up (tools like the Myers Briggs and Enneagram can be helpful here), and the confidence in your own call from the Lord allow you to be fully yourself and thus fully engaged in the world. I was reminded of my own confidence, built up when Lucinda asked me to lead a worksop back in New Hampshire. That’s when it occurred to me: Lucinda is not only writing great advice, but she has been living it for many years.

In some chapters she gives an acronym — a word for us to ponder and then live into. In Chapter Three: Dwell Deep, she offers us SERENITY. Still, Established, Restored, Empowered, Nurtured, Inspired, Thankful and Yielding. Within this acronym is an invitation “to make soul deposits. These practices will allow us to slow down, and be established and empowered by the Holy Spirit.” My own spiritual life confirms that this is true — make these “soul deposits” a regular practice, and you will reap the rewards of a vibrant inner life.

Snuggling with Penny for a good read on a chilly day

Chapter Five: Overcome Pain seems to be particularly relevant in the time of Coronavirus. Many of us are experiencing some kind of pain, if not from the virus directly then from the rippling effects on the economy and our daily routines. Lucinda’s four practical steps are just the right antidote to the paralyzing stream of news headlines and the internal worry lists that parade like a circus on repeat. “It’s not necessarily easy, but there are things that we can do when we experience pain.”

“If I had to pick one of the chapters that makes all the difference now particularly, it would be Chapter Six: Extend Kindness, ” she told me. This surprised me a bit because it seems so, well, simplistic. Yet as she described a few acts of kindness shown to her family in the past few weeks, I found myself quite moved, marveling at how these simple acts reverberate through her to me. The power in such seemingly small actions has quietly fed my spirit these last few days.

Our conversation wandered a bit, and drew to a close as I thanked her for the poem she wrote in the introduction “to daughters everywhere.”

That day I turned around and found that life had flown…whilst chasing dreams and children, both stumbling and soaring in search for holy significance

Lucinda Secrest Mcdowell

Those poignant first few lines filled my heart with gratitude, a holy ache calling to mind my own mother, mother figures, and spiritual mamas in my life . The words also stir a longing for my daughter, daughter figures and soul daughters. When I mentioned to Lucinda that she had fulfilled the role of spiritual mama to me over the years, the line went quiet. She spoke through her own tears to affirm our friendship and we groped for words, trying to capture the emotion and connection that was palpable over the phone. We both agreed that an interview with both participants crying was likely a good one!

Reading this book and talking to my old friend has reminded me of things that are true — and in times of uncertainty, this is a tremendous gift. I am loved. I can choose to make soul deposits and invest in things of ultimate value. I can overcome pain, and I can extend simple kindness. So can you, dear friend.

This post is inspired by both the WordPress online course, Writing: Finding Everyday Inspiration (Day 19: Feature a Guest; read the whole series here.), and by the release of Lucinda Secrest McDowell’s new book, Soul Strong. You can read more about Lucinda on her website, you can also buy the book. If you are so inclined, drop her a note after reading the book, and/or publish a review on Amazon!

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