I have written exactly two book review-ish type posts on this blog. One was on Colt McCoy's book Growing Up Colt because he was the greatest Texas Longhorn quarterback ever, in my not so humble opinion, as much for his character as for his wins. One was on Rob Lowe's book, Stories I Only Tell My Friends because ROB LOWE.
I think we can safely say that my literary tastes are lofty and intimidating.
The book I want to write about today is a bit different. I thought, at the beginning, that it would be difficult to recommend. And I really don't even know how to write a book review. In general, I don't follow a lot of Language Arts rules here anyway. I write to sort out thoughts, to make sense of feelings, to explore the lessons God is trying to teach me through every encounter He brings to me, whether with art, literature, nature, people or those awesome Michael Kors boots I saw last week.
The book is Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson. I had lots of thoughts and feelings while reading it. More than that, I know God was reaching out to me through it. So this might not be a legitimate book review, but I will honestly recommend it to just about anyone who breathes in and out on a daily basis. I'll also tell you that it taught me a lifetime's worth of lessons in the few days that it took me to read it.
Anna lost her 12 year old son, Jack, to a sudden and tragic accident a few years ago. To steal words from the book's jacket, "In Rare Bird Anna Whitson-Donaldson unfolds a mother's story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope."
If you have read this blog for any amount of time you know I've been involved with a childhood cancer charity. So I have looked fear and grief in the face. Loss is hard and it's scary. Because of that sometimes friends and family members worry about me.
When I told a friend that I was reading Rare Bird she said, "What? Oh my Lord, Jenn, are you trying to torture yourself?" When I talk to my husband about some of the stories I hear from my work in the cancer community, at a certain point in the conversation, I can see him shutting down, removing his mind and heart from the subject matter. I don't mind it and I don't judge it. He has known profound grief and loss. He has suffered it himself. I can completely understand if some days he might wonder how I could possibly put myself in the middle of such pain if I really don't have to do so.
I'm a woman with three boys, growing, healthy and strong, so much so that I am literally tripping over blessings in my home. I am not a grieving mother. I am not a grieving wife or daughter or sister or even friend. Nor have I been, up to this point in my life. I could spend time watching Scandal and shopping at Dick's Sporting Goods for the boys and reading People magazine. I could limit my worries to that wrinkle in between my eyebrows and whether my son will get into this or that college. And trust me, I do plenty of that.
But I don't have to be grieving to read this book. I don't have to be a friend of someone in grief to read this book. And I don't have to be scared to read this book. Because this stuff is the real stuff that happens in the world. And this stuff will happen to me. When it's not happening to me, it will be happening to someone else. It might not be as tragic or sudden or brutal. It might not be loss of life, but maybe loss of a marriage, or a job or a future that turned out wholly differently than planned. And this book shows us that healing and hope and a God that won't let us go are real and reachable. Because if Anna believes it, well then so can I. For me personally, I can't deny that in the past year or so, God has called me to reach out in some way until such time as I will need someone to reach out to me.
But lots of times lately, I want to run away from God. I want to shut my ears to His call. My biggest fear has centered around wondering if I am adequate to sit with pain so crushing. I've argued with myself when I have felt compelled to reach out to new friends. Perhaps they have a long-time friend, a better friend, a closer friend, a friend who knew their child better, a friend who has suffered a loss, any loss? Perhaps it is intrusive to insert myself into someone else's pain? Who am I to be a comfort? What do I have to bring?
I am scared that I am not enough. That I even might be detrimental. What will I say? Will it be too much, too little? Will it just be a big bowl of wrong?
If I talk of how frustrating is algebra or the navigation of American Eagle vs. Abercrombie, does it make her heart break into pieces? If I avoid talking of those things that relate to my boys does the absence of that subject seem just so obvious and fake? If I try to steer the conversation to something "safer" like what nail polish color I love for fall or which purse I want to buy, does it just seem so incredibly inane to her to be discussing such irrelevant crap? If I talk of Jesus and my trust in Him are my words empty because nothing has been taken from me? If I leave my faith out of the conversation, am I missing the chance to spread the truth and hope that I know in my heart can only be found in Christ? And if I just sit silent and listen, is that really enough? I don't do well with lapses in conversation. I try desperately to fill the gaps. (My husband can attest. I'm pretty sure he wishes I would work on that silence thing.)
You see, I'm not scared of the women, men and children I have met. They are smart and inspiring, interesting and engaging. Many of these women are so funny they make me laugh until my sides ache. I want to drink wine with them and have lunch with them. They are becoming my friends. Their stories may be difficult, but these people are easy to be around. I'm not afraid of them, I'm afraid of me.
And yet God keeps bringing me here. And then He brought me this book. And then He brought me to a brunch to hear Anna speak. And after that He brought me Chapter 19, where she writes this:
"Some people who reach out express a fear that they are overstepping. That our ties to one another until now have been tangential, if they've existed at all, yet still they come. I thank each one with a grateful heart, because she might be the exact person I need in this one lonely moment. To shy away due to questions of intruding or forcing intimacy would deprive both of us from taking part in something holy. For I see holiness in giving and receiving love when there is absolutely nothing that can be fixed, and when there's no exit strategy in sight."
Rare Bird also speaks to every mom on the planet with the reminder of what none of us want to acknowledge,
"How do you live knowing the dirty little secret that most moms try to stave off as long as possible if they ever face it at all - that control is an illusion? Because despite my attempts to follow my mother's example and relax and trust God with my kids, I'd clung to a belief that I could somehow control our futures if I just tried hard enough."
For those of us who have followed the rules, who have tried desperately to be "good Christian servants" this is a disarming fact. We cannot earn our way to an easy life. There will be trouble. We will need Him. We have to recognize that our children are only ours for a time. Anna spoke to that reminding us that though it is frustrating and scary, that simple fact gives us freedom. Freedom is a beautiful thing for a mom. And freedom is glorious when it walks alongside trust in a bigger plan and the courage to stay in the fight to watch that plan play out.
And then there is this. The first line in the book reads
You're braver than you think.
I thought at first that Anna was speaking only to those who are grieving with that line. But she's talking to me. There are days that my heart is afraid. Of being enough for my new grieving and scared friends. Of a future that I don't control. Rare Bird assures me that with God my heart can be braver. Brave enough to step in and let Him give my mind the words to say or the wisdom to stay silent. Brave enough to recognize when He wants me to reach out or to retreat and stay back. Brave enough to face a future of uncertainty in my own life and the lives of my own children.
My heart was not tortured or scared or intimidated reading this book. There were three characters in it who convinced my heart not to flee, but to keep showing up.
Thank you, Jack. Thank you, Anna. Thank you, God. Guess what?
My heart is braver than I thought.