I don’t normally review (or read) memoirs, but in this case my ESOL teacher side absolutely could not resist when it came across my radar!
GENRE: Christian NonFiction/Memoir
PUBLISHER: Amy Young
RELEASE DATE: June 2, 2017
She came to China with a lesson plan. What she found was a new sense of purpose.
Amy Young traveled to China in the mid 1990s to teach English to educators. But she never expected the profound way they would enrich her soul. With the influence of the enchanting country and its extraordinary everyday people, Amy extended a two-year assignment to nearly two decades far away from home.
Starting shortly after her arrival, Amy shared her stories and her unique perspective through a series of letters. Her nine years of correspondence demonstrated a country going through growing pains: from political unrest to the SARS epidemic to budding prosperity. Amy battled language barriers, cultural faux pas, and invasive mice with nothing to lose. She even fought for her life with a potentially deadly illness, unsure if she’d survive to share her tale.
Throughout her journey, Amy drew strength from God and came to appreciate the beauty and power of an ordinary life lived well.Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters from China is one woman’s deeply moving journey of self-transformation. If you like humorous anecdotes, immersions in Eastern culture, and honest stories that aren’t afraid to dig deep, then you’ll love Amy Young’s heartfelt tale.
“The accidental life you are living isn’t as accidental as it may seem.”
Love, Amy is a unique read – part memoir, part resource – but it very much captured and kept my attention throughout. Young’s writing style is conversational and engaging, and the stories she shares about life in China are eye-opening, inspiring and entertaining. The subtitle of the book – An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters from China – is a perfect description of what Young accomplishes by sharing a selection of nine years worth of newsletters that she wrote while teaching English to educators in China.
I was especially excited to read this book because of my own ESOL experience and personally related to a lot of the author’s stories and observations (UNO!). Additionally, one of my dear Chinese sisters had so many seeds planted in the soil of her heart thanks to teachers like Amy who taught English to educators in China. When I met my Chinese friend here in the states, she embraced Him very easily because of those seeds – all I had to was water them and reap the harvest. One story in Love, Amy in particular stood out to me because of my friendship with this precious Chinese sister. In the story, the author talks about visiting Harbin for a wedding between two other TIC teachers. Instantly my radar went up because my Chinese friend is from Harbin and talks frequently about how a wedding between two of her teachers impressed her. In fact, she and her husband later did a mock American wedding as a teaching tool, led by some TIC teachers. I don’t know for a fact that these events overlapped with the events Young references in her book, but the possibility absolutely lifts my heart!
In the description of this book on Goodreads, it says “Too often we believe that our stories don’t matter. They do.” Y’all know how passionate I am about stories, fictional and personal, and this is one of my favorite aspects of Young’s book. The affirmation – through her own story and the stories she shares of the people she encountered – that each of us has a story and each of our stories matter, no matter how ‘mundane’ they may appear. In fact, this is the perfect memoir to inspire those of us who will probably never be another Billy Graham or see dazzling miracles left and right around us. It’s a story of a life walked out in the everyday ebb and flow of people and work and life, a life walked in love and faithfulness and humanity. A story for all of us.
Bottom Line: If you’ve ever wondered how cross-cultural living works, this is a wonderful and insightful read. Young’s ‘accidental memoir’ reminds each of us that the lives we are living are not accidents – we are where we are and when we are for a purpose. Love, Amy also provides short sections of helpful advice on writing newsletters, particularly for missionaries, etc. Take a trip a few years back in time (when VCRS were exciting!) and across the globe to keep a running tally of mice caught and unexpected changes of plans with Amy Young and her teammates. You’ll get a taste for life in China at the time – and how it evolved even while she was there – and be inspired by the importance of prayer and even just the simplicity of mail. An intriguing read on many levels, I definitely recommend it!
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 4 stars / Love it!
Amy Young is a writer, speaker, and advocate for embracing the messy middle of your one glorious life. Author of Looming Transitions, Twenty Two Activities for Families in Transition, and The Looming Transitions Workbook, she also created the blog The Messy Middle (www.messymiddle.com), has been a part of Velvet Ashes, (an online community for missionaries) from the beginning, and contributes regularly to A Life Overseas. Amy enjoys nothing more than being with her people, wherever they are in the world. She also enjoys cheering on the Denver Broncos and Kansas Jayhawks. After nearly twenty years in China, she returned to Denver and much to her shock, discovered she enjoys gardening.
The tug for a life that is “Anything but Boring”
When I was in college the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie Sarah Plain and Tall changed my life. You’ve probably seen it and been moved too. Sarah, a spinster by the standard of her day, moves from Boston to the fields of Kansas to consider marrying a widower and help him raise his children and work his farm. Her brother could not understand why Sarah would move from so-called civilization to the middle of nowhere. But the longing she felt for her life to matter resonated deeply with me.
I was in the liminal space between adolescence and adulthood. Like Sarah, I knew I could stay where I was and live a good life, but I wanted more. And so I moved to China.
Our world is one that loves big, change-the-world stories. I love them too. I remember reading The End of the Spear, the story of Jim Elliott and his friends who were martyred for their faith. I also lost myself in the stories of Gladys Aylward, William Carey, Lottie Moon, and Amy Carmichael. I remember reading about a missionary that had some worm pulled out of his stomach that was the size of a large snake. Disgusting! Fascinating! All for the gospel! The life of faith was exciting and God was on the move all the time! While it is true, the life of faith is exciting and God is on the move, it is also ordinary, boring, disappointing, and confusing. When I started compiling the letters I wrote from my days in China, I was embarrassed by what “first year Amy” said. She was so clueless, so uninformed, so willing to display her lack of cultural knowledge. I wanted to put my hand over her mouth and ask her to please pipe down because she did not really believe what she was saying. But she did, “first year Amy” could not know what “fifteen year in China Amy” knew.
These change the world stories I love? Turns out they have been more sanitized than I realized without showing the cultural and ministry progression that must have taken place.
Even now, knowing what I know, part of me wishes my newsletters contained miracles and throngs coming to Christ because of my work. I thought throngs and miracles were what a “real” cross-cultural worker would do. I thought that would show that my life mattered, like Sarah’s when she moved to Kansas. Don’t we all want our lives to matter? I believed that mattering was measurable. By compiling and writing this book the lesson Love, Amy has taught me is that too often we confuse size with significance. I still hear the whisper that says, “Amy, really? You wrote about the cultural beliefs that influence standing in line and you think that is worth people giving of their prayer, money, and time?” Part of me is reluctant even now to publish these letters because they are common. In truth, I am happy with my life and the contributions I have made. Of course I have regrets and wish I’d handled certain situations differently. But if all we hear are the spectacular stories, we can miss the gift our beautifully ordinary lives can be.
Who made it into the Gospels? A widow and her two mites. A boy and his few fish. She is described as offering out of her poverty. His common lunch was used to feed more than he could have imagined. Jesus did not tend to elevate those in power or those who seemed impressive.
My first year, a fellow teacher in China told me, “You’re lucky you’re still in your first year. Wait until your second year and you have told all your stories. You’ll have nothing to say in your newsletters.” Isn’t that the heart of what we fear—that we will have nothing to say with our lives? The secret to combating this fear is not that secretive. Show up and be present. Taken individually, these letters don’t add up to much, but put them together and much to my surprise, month after month I wrote an accidental memoir.
As ordinary as it is, I do have to say, life in China was anything but boring! If you love memoirs and want to hear stories that will make you laugh or cringe (and sometimes both), join me on a college campus in China.
To celebrate her tour, Amy is giving away a grand prize of a letter writing basket that includes a $25 Amazon gift card!!
Click below to enter. Be sure to comment on this post before you enter to claim 9 extra entries!
This giveaway is hosted by Celebrate Lit, not RimSP
Follow along with the tour for more chances to win!
What about you? If you could live anywhere else, where would you want to live?