Franciscan Spirituality Center920 Market StreetLa Crosse, WI 54601608-791-5295https://www.fscenter.orgSteve Spilde: Today, it is my pleasure to re-welcome to the podcast Shannon K. Evans, who joined us last year [when] we had a great visit. I’m excited to visit with her again. Shannon is an author, she is a presenter, she is a mother, she is a wife. She’s coming to the Franciscan Spirituality Center in October; we’ll talk about that later. We’re excited about that retreat. But mainly, I’m excited about another opportunity to visit with Shannon. Welcome.Shannon Evans: Thank you. It’s nice to be back.Steve: As I was preparing for this recording, I was reading your book, “Embracing Weakness,” which I love. I love the title. I love the content.Shannon: You’re one of the few who loved the title. It’s not exactly an attractive title.Steve: I think it’s the kind of book that once you continue to establish your reputation and your body of work, it will get revisited and probably reissued at some point in the future. I really do think it’s a profound [book]. Could you summarize the content of that book?Shannon: It’s not a memoir, per se, but it has aspects of memoir from a period of my life when I became a mother through adoption and coming off the mission field and discovering the Catholic worker, so there is a lot going on in my life at this time. But kind of pulling apart from the way I imagined my life playing out to the reality I was confronted with, and kind of learning along the way to find God in the brokenness and in the weakness rather than the narrative that is more typically presented to us, at least in the United States, that God is always in the victories and in the triumphs, and when things go according to plan or when things look nice on the outside. This is kind of my story, and [also] a theological exploration, of this idea that weakness is a place to encounter God. Steve: Part of the reason I think I wanted to read that book – I’d browsed it before, but I wanted to read it cover to cover – was I was fascinated by the concept. I don’t know, I think it’s important whether or not a lot of people have read it because I kind of wonder if some ways as an author that’s your story, and in some ways every book you ever write will be kind of rewriting that theme and refining it and taking it apart at different levels.Shannon: That’s really interesting. I have people point out to me that it seems really different than my second book, which was “Rewilding Motherhood.” I can see why someone would say that, but it really has been sort of a foundation that my life has unfolded from. I think to me it makes a lot of sense that they would go together, but also come in the order that they did because I think you’re right. A lot of what is in “Embracing Weakness” is really like what made me who I am so that everything I write in the future will kind of come from that.Steve: It’s a fascinating story because I think you had already used the term “waking up.” I think that’s so much of the spiritual journey: we’ve all been given a story we’re supposed to live, and those who embark on a spiritual journey wake up to the fact that that story may not apply to them, so then [they ask themselves], ‘what is my story?’, and then waking up to the reality of our life. I think you are unusual and amazing that you had launched that journey at a much younger age than most people do. Have you heard that before?Shannon: I have, I have. In some ways, I’ve kind of always been an old soul. It’s sort of how I’m wired, so it makes sense to me. But I also do think that that’s true that I feel like I sort of … I don’t know that I would call it a midlife crisis, but it felt almost akin to that and I was in my late 20s, early 30s, so I suppose that is fairly young. But I also think the circumstances that I chose for myself sort of pushed me into that season of life because I sort of chose some really hard things.Steve: You wanted to live a life of faith in the culture that you grew up in. In some ways, becoming a missionary was really the peak of that mountain, and you launched on that at a very early age. And then you discovered the gifts and the shortcomings of that life pretty quickly, correct?Shannon: Yes, definitely. I love traveling, but it was like, “This is probably not for me.” It was good, because it really forced me to question my beliefs and whether my purpose on earth really is to get people saved or to get people to move from one side of a line to the other. Eventually, I realized that that’s not actually part of my theology or spirituality, and it’s not a calling for me, for sure. There was a lot of good, but it [also] was a lot of wrestling and questioning. And that was when I actually became Catholic. It was after that, which is also in the book and is of course part of the story.Steve: One of my primary spiritual teachers is Richard Rohr, and I’m not alone in claiming him as a teacher. In fact, a lot of my other teachers claim Rohr as their teacher. He says so many wise things, and near the top of that list is, “There is two paths to spiritual growth: love or deep suffering.” I see that in that book. In my own personal opinion, I don’t know many people who have gotten there through love; [rather], it’s the suffering. My response to that is, probably in my own case, the only thing that brought me into deep suffering was deep love. I finally loved someone enough to stay with them into the suffering.Shannon: Right. I was going to say they almost can’t be separated.Steve: I think the arrival of your oldest really was part of that journey, correct?Shannon: Yes, yet it was. We chose adoption to start our family with our first child. I had these really grandiose ideas of what that was going to mean and how our family would operate. Then he came home and it was so much harder, which I think is pretty universal for first-time parents. But we later learned there were neurological reasons and trauma-based reasons and everything like that. There was a lot stacked against us as a family, and it was devastating to not be able to be the mother that I dreamed I was going to be, and my husband experienced the same feelings. There was a lot of heartache and grief and suffering, and there was kind of an inability to be supported by society because society is not really set up for families who are kind of outside the norm in any way. But then, we also couldn’t do a lot of social things because our son’s needs prevented that and made that not go well during that time. So it was really, really lonely, and I think loneliness is like one of the most difficult kinds of suffering because other suffering, like if you’re not alone, it’s more bearable, I suppose. That was intensely difficult, but then that actually made it all the more potent when we did meet this Catholic worker community that I write about in the book and kind of learn about kinship and solidarity from them. And we were able to come into that in a place of deep need, which we wouldn’t have had the honor of if our situation had been otherwise.Steve: One of my favorite portions of the book – the part I thought was just so powerful and profound – was a particular experience with a woman named Kathy where you asked her for help, and I thought it was profound. You literally moved from a place of being the helper to be willing to accept help. Could you tell that story of Kathy?Shannon: Definitely. This is just one small anecdote, but that was really the theme of why this community saved me. In the book, I called them “Kathy” and “Tina,” [which are] not their real names. They literally mothered me through the most difficult time in my life. Neither one of them were housed at the time – one was living in her car, and the other was living under a bridge. This particular day with Kathy, I was not doing well because there was a lot of suffering for and with my child. I was kind of in the mode of when I’m with Kathy, it’s about her – I’m looking out for her, I’m taking care of her needs. She needs me because later I can talk to my husband, I can call my own mom [or] my sister – I have people that can listen. Kathy doesn’t need to do that [because] she has her own problems – like, I’m here for her. We were talking, and she asked me how I was doing. I kind of deferred to her, and then I thought about the other day. A week before then or so, we’d just been sitting outside – I had my son, and then I had a baby at the time. We were sitting outside, and she just kind of, out of nowhere, said, “Thank you for sharing your family with me.” I cry just thinking about it.