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Stand All the Way Up Author Q&A

Andy Whisenant | Apr 1st
Why did you write this book / what prompted or inspired you to write it?

Writing always helps me process whatever I’m going through, and looking back over a chunk of time and seeing how the Lord was working in it and through it—especially when life has been challenging—is always encouraging to me. The last four or five years have been “chock full” (as my Mama would have said), and I hit a point where I wanted to look back and consider what the Lord had been teaching me through all of that.

Who did you write it for?

Anybody who likes to laugh. Anybody who recognizes that life is straight-up absurd at times. Anybody who has realized that they’ve kept some anger simmering on a back burner. Anybody who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. And anybody who has tried to stay emotionally afloat in some unexpected heartache that rolled in and out like waves. 

So basically, I guess, pretty much everybody. 🙂

You write that during much of the last several years, you’ve been “learning to stand: stand up for myself, stand for what’s right, stand in the face of adversity.” Tell us about what you’ve been learning in all of those areas.

Oh, gosh. I earned my certificate in people-pleasing when I was pretty young. I think that’s fairly common for girls who grow up in the church, and I think it’s even more common for girls who grow up in the South. So figuring out how to articulate “here is how I feel” and “here is why I feel that way” has always been hard for me in conversations, especially when I disagree with someone or think that person will think less of me for not seeing an issue the same way they do. But for a whole bunch of reasons, the last four or five years have challenged me to look up and stand up and speak up. I’ve reached the point where I’m a lot less concerned with making sure everyone is happy with my decisions and a lot more concerned with standing in the places where Jesus would have stood. And I’ve learned that there are times when God has given me (and all of us) a voice to stand up and speak up for someone who, for whatever reason, isn’t being heard. This has nothing to do with pleasing people and everything to do with the kingdom coming.

What does it mean to “stand all the way up”?

I try to go walking every day at a park down the street from our house. There’s a big pond (maybe more of a “lake-ette”) in the center of the trail, so lots of days my walking companions are geese. Now geese can be pretty ornery, and they’re not afraid to hiss,  but here’s what I’ve noticed about them. When they’re minding their own business or looking for food or taking a minute to sunbathe, they always respond in a specific way when they hear footsteps or a loud voice nearby: They lift their heads and straighten their necks so they can survey their surroundings. They don’t panic, they don’t run and they don’t start yelling (hissing) at each other. But they are 100 percent paying attention so they know if they need to take action. 

And for me, I think that’s what it means to stand all the way up. It means not living in denial and not being so self-absorbed that I can’t be bothered to pay attention to what’s going on in my own life or in the world around me. It means that we’re alert, we’re aware and we’re on the lookout for ways we can bring the kingdom of God into the here and the now (I’m not saying that’s what the geese are doing, but their posture reminds me of what ours should be). We are made to look out for one another, to speak up for one another and to address dangers or injustices that threaten the well-being of our own lives as well as the lives of our fellow image bearers. So I guess you could say that the geese have reinforced some things for me. 🙂 

You have a background in teaching and working as the Dean of Women. How has your professional background influenced your writing? What has God taught you as you’ve served in these roles?

My work at school has been an ongoing, inescapable reminder of how much God loves people. I have long lost count of the number of times a mom has called to tell me that she was worried about her daughter—and then her daughter has “coincidentally” walked into my office later that same day just to hang out or see what’s going on. Over and over I’ve seen the Lord line up circumstances for good, deep conversations so that someone can feel cared for and loved. So when I write, I can’t help but think about how much the Lord loves the person who is reading, how intentional he was when he made her, how deliberately he has gifted her. Those are exactly the places where I hope I can cheer her on and encourage her, or maybe even just give her a chance to relax and laugh.

Your book is full of humor and real-life, relatable situations and examples. Share a couple of those with us and talk about how you chose the specific stories you wrote about? How do today’s women relate to your experiences?

Here’s the thing. I’m at a stage of life where my hormones are constantly on the verge of revolt, and my bladder betrays me more often than I’d like to admit. In fact, after I turned 45, it was almost like my physical body woke up from a years-long slumber and said, “HELLO OCCUPANT I WOULD LIKE TO BRING SOME THINGS TO YOUR ATTENTION.” So there’s been new physical stuff to navigate over the last four or five years, not to mention some harder stuff. My mama died. Our country has become increasingly divided. I have wrestled with all manner of anger and grief. Some long-standing cultural demons—racism, sexual abuse, and nationalism, just to name a few— have reared their ugly heads (with some enthusiasm, I would add) and our collective response has revealed that there are places where we’re cynical and callous and clutching some idols with all our might.

I’m not a dramatic person, so I say this sincerely: It has been heartbreaking.

It has also been, in the simplest terms, a lot. 

And when I started writing this book, I wanted to set every bit of it on fire. I wanted to take the grief and the anger and the idols and the systemic sickness and BURN THAT SUCKER DOWN. Same for my rebellious bladder and a stupid rash on my stupid legs that would not heal because it was stupid, and the stupid medicine didn’t work and that was because EVERYTHING WAS STUPID.  If it had been possible for my words to be matches, I would have happily lit every single one and gleefully flung those little fire sticks in 92 different directions. LET IT BURN.

So I started off writing about the hard stuff, like Mama dying. Then I remembered some of the funny stuff, like a super weird trip to Dallas and the time a woman at Starbucks repeatedly hit me across my back with my very own wallet (there really was a good reason for it). And somewhere along the writing way, I started to see some of what God had been teaching me, some of the themes that had been running through the craziness. And what I realized over the course of writing the book is that I really don’t want to burn it all down after all. I want to stand all the way up in the middle of all this mid-life, and I want to fight for the stuff that matters most.

As far as how women relate: Well, I think a lot of us work really hard to take care of other people, and I think in all our efforts to keep everyone happy, there are times when we silence ourselves. I think we especially do that with our anger, whether that’s related to what’s going on in our work or our relationships or just a general sense of “this is not what I thought this would be.” I don’t think for one second I can make people’s anger go away, but hopefully I can add some laughter to the mix—and share what I’ve learned over the last several years.

And, listen: Women are tired. They do not need anybody to tell them to do one more thing. So more than anything, I want this book to give them a chance to laugh and feel some feelings and remember what a gift it is to love and look out for each other. Amen.

Talk specifically about unique challenges women face today and how walking with God can free us from some of the traps from our earlier years (comparing ourselves to others; being a people-pleaser; shunning community; feeling ashamed and/or inadequate, etc.).

Well, I don’t know if you’ve realized this, but everybody is basically swimming in a sea of awesome right now. How do I know? Because social media tells me so. Everybody’s kids are making 40s on the ACT (not even a real score, but that’s how you feel after looking at Facebook), and people’s careers are stellar, and they had THE BEST TIME at their beach house last weekend; so sorry you weren’t invited. 

I’m not trying to be petty. I’m just saying that women are SURROUNDED by updates of how great everyone is doing. And sure, it’s wonderful and fun to be able to cheer on our friends, but when I was a young mom the comparison used to wear me out. I felt like everybody else’s kids were prodigies, and I wasn’t entirely sure I had remembered to teach Alex how to use a fork, you know?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the comparison especially just made me want to hide. 

There’s not room enough and time to talk about the variety of battles women face, but I can say that when the Lord invites us to rest in him in Matthew 11:28-20, He is offering the most tender, loving care: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

That process of learning to rest in him, learning to lean on him, and learning to stay connected to him has been a game-changer. Over the last ten years or so it has probably been the biggest shift in my life—the biggest shift in my relationship with him—because now I know that I know where my identity is, and man it is such a relief. All the comparing and hiding and pretending was exhausting. But the peace and freedom that come from resting in the sufficiency of Christ? LIFE-GIVING.

How do you hope readers grow or are changed from reading it?

Well, first of all I hope it lightens some loads—just through laughter and the joy of shared experiences. I doubt I’m the only one who has felt like life was a little upside down the last few years.

And then I really hope that it encourages people to consider what it might look like for them to stand all the way up in their own lives: to stand up for themselves as they throw off people-pleasing or comparison or whatever it is that holds them down; to stand up for other people who may be hurting or recovering or walking through something hard; and to stand up for the kingdom of God by carrying light and compassion and care with them no matter where they go. 

I don’t know. I think a group of women standing all the way up together might just change the world a little bit. 

Let his kingdom come.