MINOT, N.D. — A jigsaw puzzle with no edge pieces provides a fitting visual for Sue Hamilton’s often complicated life, which, by her own admission, has often lacked a strong perimeter.
A recovering addict and survivor of a near-fatal motorcycle accident that instead left her upright with only a scratch or two, her life has been anything but mess-free. So why write a book replete with advice on how to keep things simple?
“It’s the lessons God has taught me, and the ones I have so furiously fought against,” she says in “Every Day Simple: Living a Life of HOPE in a Complicated World.”
“When I analyze the complexities that I have imposed on myself, I see how difficult I have made life,” Hamilton writes, insisting that only God can bring the puzzle to its beautiful completion.
“Every Day Simple,” her third book, is a companion of sorts to her memoir, “Carried by Faith: From Substance Abuse to a Life Filled with Miracles,” telling the story of the accident that turned her upside down, and right-side up — literally.
“I believed my life was over, yet God had other plans,” she writes of that day. “I was looking at the ground, and as I raised my face… I was thinking, ‘Heaven sure looks like Sturgis.’ Then I realized I wasn’t dead! I was ALIVE!”
Believing God saved her for a purpose that day has provided impetus for every day since. And those who know Hamilton well testify to how effectively she’s carried out that mission.
A young mother’s assessment
MaryAnn Wahl met Hamilton in 2007 when she, too, was struggling with addiction. Invited to a church meeting for young adults, Wahl was prayed over, and in an instant, she says, “all desire for drugs and alcohol were removed miraculously.”
“Sue was like a mentor for this group of young people trying to figure out how to live life when things got challenging,” she says, describing Hamilton as “super practical and blunt — but not in a bad way.”
“She’s consistent, and to me she seems perfect, but she’s also relatable,” Wahl says. “She’s a really good example for me, and her life is in these books.”
“Every Day Simple” offers a “step-by-step on how to live” in a way that might seem impossible at first, Wahl says. “But you get to see how she’s actually gotten there, and it’s really cool.”
Hamilton’s steady voice through the years, now memorialized in her written words, has provided Wahl not only needed companionship, but a pathway forward — especially in navigating the oftentimes challenging roles of mother and wife, she says.
“Early on, she gave me this idea of putting notes in my husband’s lunchbox as an encouragement,” Wahl says, noting that Hamilton’s advice has helped bring a peaceful simplicity and joy into her own hectic life.
“I found some of these notes saved and stuck in a book. So that’s been an encouragement to me.”
In “Every Day Simple,” Wahl discovered a new way of seeing herself through God’s eyes, she says, and began finding ways to apply that to her mothering, such as through incorporating her love for music into family life by “making up silly songs” to brighten their moments together.
“It’s about embracing the way God wired me and letting that be a gift to my girls.”
A longtime friend’s response
Carol Boen met Hamilton years ago when they both worked in advertising with competing companies. She’s watched her friend change from someone very serious about life to being seriously in love with God, she says.
As she read “Every Day Simple,” Boen says she found each chapter “an adventure,” and was tempted to slow down as she neared the finish, not wanting it to end.
“I’ve always believed in God, but at times, I haven’t known what to do with that,” Boen says, noting that Hamilton’s propensity for sprinkling her anecdotes with Scripture makes the book sparkle.
“Like Sue, I can be a busybody, and I’m always wanting to win people over,” she adds, noting that after reading one of the chapters, “Anchor Your Day,” she realized, “Oh gosh, I didn’t talk to God today. That chapter reinforced that I need to do that more often.”
Another chapter on prayer reminded Boen that we often talk more than listen in prayer. “God already knows what I need. But I have to sometimes wait and see what he’s going to provide.”
Hamilton explains that the book is unconventionally divided by topic, so if someone has a certain need during a specific season or day, they can jump to a section addressing that particular challenge. Chapters on marriage, prayer, food and self-worth bring readers something useful to ponder.
“And it’s such a perfect title for where we’re at right now,” Boen says, noting the need for more simplicity. “Sue’s handing us ways for this to happen in a book,” concluding with a bonus — a section filled with Hamilton’s favorite tried-and-true recipes.
Hamilton didn’t start off wanting to write a book; she’s more comfortable speaking her story, she says. But her desire to share what she’s learned — often the hard way — led to recording her journey and insights.
“Just by having that one-on-one conversation, you can learn from people where they’re at,” she says. “I ask questions, like, ‘What do you want out of life? What are your dreams? How do you feel today?’ From there, you sometimes get into deeper conversations about faith and God.”
But faith requires relationship first, Hamilton says. “And often, when I walk along the journey with someone else, it’s not just me helping them, but they help me, too.”
Such as in her relationship with Wahl.
“I got to watch her coming from this terrible time, where she was mentally entrapped,” Hamilton says, “and now she’s a mom who is doing such a great job, home-schooling her kids, and with such calm. She’s amazing in terms of what she’s allowed God to do for and in her.”
Hamilton says she especially likes to impart what she calls “the heritage of women” to younger generations. She’s taught others to make lefse, can and sew — things often passed in our modern world — in the same way she learned how to make rosettes years ago from her older friend, now 85.
Recalling the importance of mentorship, Hamilton keeps a sign with a Scripture verse on her desk from Psalm 78, encouraging that “each generation should set its hope anew on God.”
“There’s so little personal interaction anymore. We just go ask Google or Pinterest to help us find the recipe and pick out the paint color of our walls, or redo a piece of furniture, instead of calling that friend,” Hamilton says. “We can be mothers and sisters to many people.”
And whenever she loses her courage for reaching out, Hamilton reminds herself that “God goes before me, he’s behind me, and he’s beside me, holding my hand.”
Indeed, she affirms once again, the journey is never a one-way route.
“It’s about, ‘Where am I going? Where are you going?’” she says, and, speaking with an eye toward eternity. “‘Where will we go together?’”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on May 28, 2021.]