Below is the foreword I wrote for Jean Fleming’s new book, Pursue the Intentional Life. (More details below.)
***UPDATE*** Amazon.com now gives a “Look Inside” preview. The preview includes the foreword, chapter 1, and even part of chapter 2. Read it here!
It is early March in Colorado when I meet with Jean Fleming for the first time. We’re sitting at Backstreet Bagels near First and Townsend. She sketches a tree on a paper napkin, putting heart-shaped leaves on the branches and writing “CHRIST” down the trunk. I know this tree; it’s the one she wrote about in chapter 3 of Between Walden and the Whirlwind. This is our first face-to-face meeting, but I first met Jean through her writings. Now fourteen years into motherhood, I keep returning to A Mother’s Heart (where the applications go beyond parenting). I’ve been reading and studying the Bible daily for some time, but Feeding Your Soul: A Quiet Time Handbook still guides me. Her “Open-Heart Bible Study” (in Discipleship Journal’s online archives) is an article I routinely distribute in my Bible study groups. And I could never adequately express how much The Homesick Heart deeply ministers to my own.
Back to the bagel shop. Jean is drawing leaves, and I notice that her hand shakes a little as she writes. Her hair is white. Her children are my age. She tells me she’s turning sixty-seven next month. I look over my coffee at this woman, thirty-one and a half years my senior, and wonder, Why does she seem so … young?
The Jean Fleming I have come to know, now in her seventies, is not old. A vitality radiates from her countenance and posture. She always greets me with an exuberant “Hey!” With alert eyes and listening heart, Jean seems to catch everything — the hidden meaning in my words, the unspoken emotions in my spirit. Winsome, attentive, and energetic, she attracts people to Christ. She thinks strategically about ministry concerns with youthful fervor. If Jean were a tree, she would be “full of sap and very green” (Psalm 92:14, NASB).
If a woman like this writes a book originating in the questions: “What kind of old woman am I becoming?” and “Lord, how do You want me to think about the rest of my life?” then I am certainly going to read it.
Pursue the Intentional Life has future as well as immediate practical impact. Though you’ll find phrases like “old woman” and “ending wisely” and “fiftieth year in Christ” in the following pages, this book is not specifically for “old people.” Pursue the Intentional Life is for you who want to see the big picture of your life and God’s purposes. It is for you who don’t want to revert to default or live a haphazard life on cruise-control. It is for you who seek to live meaningfully and intentionally in the present while preparing well for the future. This book could be for the middle-aged parent facing transition or crisis, the elderly considering his last days, or the twentysomething excited about a full life ahead.
Essentially a private journal made public, each chapter lets us listen in on Jean’s conversations with herself and with God. Though Jean is a gifted teacher, here she doesn’t teach so much as invite. “Welcome,” the front cover conveys. “Come in and see what the Lord is showing me.”
A two-mile path loops around Jean’s neighborhood. “Want to go for a walk?” she asks. She shows me her collection of heart-shaped rocks, each one found among the gravel in the driveway or around the house. She points out an enchanting, narrow wooded place by the path and tells me it reminds her of something out of Narnia. She says that herons nest in those trees. She abruptly stops our walk and conversation to grab my arm and say, “Look!” I then notice an owl flying silently over the big pond.
“Did you see it?” she asks.
Yes, Jean, I did.
This is not a teaching book that claims to have all the answers; it is a searching, asking, walk-with-me book that stimulates my own thinking and hunger for God. It keeps me on my toes to maintain a healthy melding of consistent patterns and Spirit-sensitive flexibility. These chapters have brought me from fear to courage, from timidity to enthusiasm, from fatigue to refreshment. In considering the rest of life, Jean imparts a sense of urgency without panic. Her alertness makes me alert too, and she draws my attention to truths from God’s Word that I may not have noticed otherwise. I might have missed the heron’s nest, the heart rocks in the gravel, the owl on silent wings.
I’ve found that reading this book is a lot like my friendship and discipleship with Jean. In these pages, I learn by watching and walking beside her as she walks her own path with Christ. Her wit is endearing, her spirit humble, and her intellect sharp. Often, the indirect and subtle parts are the ones that help me most powerfully. Her life is in the words, and she shares this life with me. Reading this book is like going with Jean on the two-mile loop.
Want to go for a walk?
– Monica Sharman
When I wrote this foreword, I also meant it to be an invitation. Would you help me spread the invitation by sharing this post?