A Grace Disguised

The accident set off a silent scream of pain inside my soul.  That scream was so loud that I could hardly hear another sound, not for a long time, and I could not imagine that I would hear any sound but that scream of pain for the rest of my life.  ~ Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss

Sittser wrote this book three years after his wife, young daughter and mother were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.  The book was recommended to me by our pastor after our friends lost their son suddenly last July to help me understand a fraction of what they were going through.  I was sorrowfully adrift at that time, not knowing how to help them.  Little did I know how much this book would also help me with my own losses.

Sittser’s passages are at times raw, honest, dark and bleak, and, at others, hopeful, quiet, and even joyful.  He tries several things to escape dealing with the pain of his loss – anger, bargaining, indulging, and denial. As he would soon learn, however

 … the pain of loss is unrelenting. It stalks and chases until it catches us. It is as persistent as wind on the prairies, as constant as cold in the Antarctic, as erosive as a spring flood. It will not be denied and there is no escape from it. … Pain will have its day because loss is undeniably, devastatingly real.

He speaks of living in the tension of ambivalence

in those of us who believe in the resurrection. We doubt, yet we try to believe; we suffer, yet long for real healing; we inch hesitantly toward death, yet see death as the door to the resurrection.

This illustrates, he says, the duality of life.

Or, as one Puritan put it:

Now life will be a little less sweet, death a little less bitter.

Sittser says that love and loss are inexorably linked; that one cannot exist without the other.  This reminds me of a passage by CS Lewis:

 To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers . . . of love is Hell. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sittser chronicles his journey from raw suffering, dark depression, grief and pain to a life that was transformed by grace.

If you let it, your sorrow will increase your capacity to live life, and to experience joy, not after the darkness, but even in the midst of it.

More than a memoir, this is a beautiful handbook for both those who have both suffered loss and those who walk alongside them.

Writers and Education

theshackThis was sent to me in an email recently from someone I’ll call “D”:

I did not want to discourage you from writing or photography and I think you have a gift for both, but I am a firm believer in getting an education before trying to make something a career, and so it was hard to encourage you to try to make money at something you loved but for which you did not have the educational background.

The suggestion that I couldn’t write for a living because I did not have the appropriate educational background irritated me enough that I had to write about it.  I also did some research.  While it’s true there are successful authors that have the appropriate degree(s), there are many that don’t.

Here are just a few examples:

  • S.E. Hinton wrote her first novel, The Outsiders, when she was in her sophomore year at High School.  Published in 1967, it became the one of the most successful young adult novels in publishing history and has sold over 8 million copies. She subsequently obtained a B.S. degree.  The Outsiders and Rumble Fish were both made into movies. S.E. Hinton continues to write.
  • Christopher Paolini, the author of the Eragon series, wrote the first book of this series at the age of 15.  Eragon was subsequently adapted into a movie. From wikipedia:

Eragon was the third-best-selling children’s hardback book of 2003, and the second-best-selling paperback of 2005. It placed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 121 weeks.

  • William Paul Young, author of The Shack, has an undergrad degree, but in religion.  His book has, as of March 2009, according to http://www.warnerpacific.edu/news.aspx?id=5179 sold over 5 million copies since first being published in May of 2007.  It’s  been translated into many different languages.  There’s also talk of a feature film.
  • J.K. Rowling’s degree was in French and likely not terribly useful  to her as she wrote the Harry Potter series. As most people know, these books have sold gazillions of copies and several of the books were made into movies.  She seems to have done alright for herself–it is said she is one of the few millionaire authors.

I’m sure there are many other successful authors that do not have the requisite degree.

I’ll give “D” a call when I become a successful, published author and have my own photography exhibit. Maybe.

THE SHACK – By Wm. Paul Young


An allegorical work of fiction, along the lines of works by C.S. Lewis or Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, this is an excellent book that is all about God’s grace, mercy and love.  Written originally for the author’s six children, and self-published, this book has now over 2 million copies in print. This book affected me, and challenged me, deeply and takes God out of the box so many seem to put Him in.

The over-riding “theme” of the book, if you will, is about being in relationship with God, Christ & the Holy Spirit, who all dwell within you, and being in relationship with others, which does not involve power trips and hierarchies.

Mack, the main character, has suffered a great loss and is angry, sad and searching for answers.  A Christian, Mack’s faith is shaken by what he calls “The Great Sadness” which descended on him and his family after this tragedy:  “He realized he was stuck and Sunday prayers and hymns just weren’t cutting it anymore, if they ever really had” …. “He was sick of God and God’s religion, sick of all the little religious social clubs that didn’t seem to make any real difference or affect any real change”.  Needless to say, Mack wanted more.

After a note left in his mailbox by “Papa” (Mack wife’s name for God) telling Mack it had been a while and that He would be at The Shack next weekend if Mack wanted to get together, Mack wrestles with both who the author of this preposterous note is and whether he should go.  The Shack, you see, was near where The Tragedy occurred.  Eventually Mack decides to go to the Shack.   His time there was about to turn what he knew, thought he knew, or was taught about “God’s religion” on its’ ear.

At the Shack, Mack experiences the life-changing transformation of God’s mercy and grace.  Along the way, Mack learns forgiveness and what forgiveness is all about:

From “Papa”:

“Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly”.

“Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive.  But should they fully confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation.” …  “Forgiveness does not excuse anything.”

“Forgiveness does not create a relationship.  Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible.  When you forgive someone, you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.”

On the author’s blog, www.windrumors.com, he discusses some of the criticisms and  controversies surrounding this book and denounces claims he is a Universalist.  In particular:

“After two weeks of theological review, Lifeway Bookstores (Southern Baptist) has mandated that The Shack be returned to their shelves nationwide because they found nothing theologically unorthodox that would warrant the book being removed.” {Well, DUH)

Apparently it is a favorite read among Chinese University students who might never be able to read “the Truth” any other way in their country.

This should be required reading for all Bible School/seminary students. In fact, in my opinion, it should be the ONLY book on the reading list!

c. 2008 Big Noise Writing, a division of Big Noise Enterprises.  All quotes from The Shack reprinted with the permission of the author.

Book Review: We’re Finally Alone – Now What?

We’re Finally Alone, Now What? By Greg Johnson

DH and I have been going through this book, which could also be titled “Everything you didn’t know about your spouse but now finally get the opportunity to ask!”  I am quite enjoying this book – it’s a wonderful conversation starter – and feel it would be a great addition to any couple’s bookshelf.

This is a series of questions written by Greg Johnson who is a former editor of Focus on the Family’s Breakaway Magazine and the author of over 20 books [author bio from www.zondervan.com].

There are 5 levels of questions, ranging from easy, fun, light questions such as “What makes you laugh uncontrollably?” to questions designed to deepen your level of emotional intimacy with one another such as “What are some of the most important lessons about life that you have learned this past year?” Or “What are 5 things do you think we have to do in the next three years to start encouraging our children to own their faith (instead of borrowing ours)?”

The book is further broken down into several categories such as – Getting to Know You, Communication, Troubles and Struggles, Spiritual Life, Sex and Romance.

Guidelines are given for answering the questions such as following principles of fair and honest communication, don’t interrupt, be aware of non-verbal communication, letting a question “go” if the other person doesn’t feel comfortable answering a question, etc.

This book is designed for any couple at any stage of their relationship – newly married to celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary – these are questions for anyone desiring to increase their level of relational intimacy with their spouse.  Instead of talking about the kids, the house, your jobs, in the “alone time” you’ve finally managed to carve out for yourselves – be it at a restaurant, the beach, or before you fall asleep at night – this book helps “jump start” conversations designed to help you reconnect with your spouse and maybe even shake things up a bit!

This book is out of print; however, should you wish to order a copy, www.abebooks.com lists several used booksellers that have copies.

How far would you go?

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult – Book Review

How Far Would You Go?

How far, as a mother, would you go to save your child’s life? That is the question I was left with after reading My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Meet the Fitzgeralds, a family with an interesting dynamic. Jesse, the oldest, is starving for attention from his parents and looks for it in not-so-healthy ways. The dad, is a firefighter so, in order to get his attention, Jesse becomes an arsonist. The reason that Jesse is so starved for attention is the middle child, Kate, who is dying by inches from a rare form of leukemia but has far outlived all life expectancy predictions. Their world revolves around her and her illness. And then there is Anna, the youngest. After no-one in the family was a genetic match for Kate and after learning that treatments for this form of leukemia consisted of bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, harvests of leukocytes, etc., Sara, the mother convinces the father, to conceive Anna through a method called’ Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis” who would be a perfect genetic match to Kate and thus be available for any and all treatments that Kate would need. This is how Anna came to be born. No secret was really made of the fact that her sole purpose for living was to be a donor for her sister. Many, many needle sticks and bone marrow harvests later, which keep her sister alive, Anna puts her foot down. You see, Kate’s kidneys are failing and the parents want Anna to donate one of her kidneys. That’s the last straw for 13 year old Anna and she consults a lawyer to become ‘medically emancipated’ from her parents and thus be able to decide from here on in what happens to her body. A significant tug-of-war plays out here in young Anna’s mind. If she wins the lawsuit and becomes medically emancipated and doesn’t donate one of her kidneys, Kate could die. If she does donate one of her kidneys, medical complications ensue, as well as the risks from surgery.

It is an interesting emotional pathway that each of these characters journey on to the final and unexpected conclusion.

So what do you think – Did Sara “Play God” in conceiving Anna?