The Stories that Help Us Grieve

As I writer, I rarely find myself without words. After my mentor passed, words were hard.

I didn’t write for months and socializing just seemed a little too daunting. It was an odd season in which I

definitely felt displaced.

And eventually I began to process what had happened and how I felt and I began to heal. The words returned and I was able to embrace a new normal. Still, there were parts of what I was experiencing  that I still didn’t quite have the words for.

Narrative is a powerful thing. I’ve heard it described as a tarnished mirror. You see what is happening on the surface–the characters, the conflict– like the marks on the glass’ surface. But if the narrative is truly doing its job, you begin to see beyond the marks on the glass and actually glimpse your reflection. You see a little bit of your own heart and nature as you observe the joys and griefs of the characters. The injustice makes you angry, but it also forces you to observe the injustice in your own mind.

There is something in the power of narrative that is humbling, eye opening, and, at times, earth shattering.

About a year and a half after my mentor passed, I encountered a book that achieved this for me.

I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz surrounding The Fault in Our Stars this summer. John Green wrote a fabulous novel about two cancer-riddled teens falling in love. A lot of kiddos believe it to be a great love story that pulls at the heart-strings, makes one run out of kleenex, blah, blah, blah.

But there was something in the way Green wrote Hazel’s narration. He got it. It was all there. The tension of living with someone who is dying. The pain, the awkwardness, and even the humor–because there is a humor that comes out of it. John Green had happened upon something I hadn’t in a long long time.

The words.

And it was so clarifying and freeing. After I finished the book, I continued to sit and I just cried. Tears of grief because I missed her, tears of joy because I know where she is, and tears because I had been given a little bit of myself back.

I’m forever thankful for that novel.

In his review of the movie made from his brother’s book, Hank Green said this:

I cried. I cried a bunch of times, but not because it subtracted from me, but because it added to me. It opened up the mysteries of life and love and hurt for examination and for understanding and I think that’s something that world needs more of.

I agree deeply with this statement. Sad things for the sake of sadness take from us. They take joy and hope and balanced outlook. But then there are sad things that better us. That give us hope, renew our trust in God, and bring us closer to truth. That’s what The Fault in Our Stars was able to do for me.

A dear writing friend of mine, Susie Finkbeiner understood our need for understanding of hard things as well as the need for that to add to us rather than subtract from us.

Her book, My Mother’s Chamomile, explores the journey of a family of funeral directors in a season of loss. Susie used her own grief as well as those graciously shared with her to make a beautiful story that rings true and brings hope in the midst of sadness. I cried many times through the course of reading, but in the end, I was added to. God was able to expand my capacity for hope in the midst of pain as well as my understanding of the human heart.

I so appreciate Susie’s willingness to go to the hard places of her own pain as well as her passion to tell a story dripping with truth. She has done a fabulous job and I would love it if you would take the time to read it.

So why am I writing about this? Well, for starters, starting on Thursday, My Mother’s Chamomile is $0.99 for Kindle readers and I think you should buy it. But also, I think it’s important to know what narrative can do for us. That God uses all things for his glory including fiction. And sometimes that fiction can be healing.

Stories that reach into the depth of our nature when we feel the most human do something to us. We are being invited to be added to. To understand the pain of someone else, but also to understand our own hurt and hope. This is why I love what I am called to do. I hope one day to be able to write something that will provide what these stories have provided me.

What stories have been powerful in a dark season for you? Do you have a story that helped you in the grieving process?

The Empty Bookshelf Challenge

Dear friend and awesome author, Susie Finkbeiner introduced me to the Empty Bookshelf Challenge this year through her blog. This was started by Jon Acuff and I think it’s absolutely brilliant!

If you’re following me on Goodreads, you may have seen the list I’ve been building over the past six months. You are supposed to empty a shelf in your house and fill it with the books you’ve read from December 31, 2013 to December 31, 2014.

I did have empty shelves on Dec.29th,  but they
were quickly filled after unpacking my books.

I don’t have a house, I just have a room with not a lot a shelves in it so I thought I’d just keep a list running on Goodreads instead.

So here at the half-way point of this challenge, I can tell you that I have read a lot more than I did the year before… mainly because 2013 was the year of the  undergrad thesis. Sure I read a lot for that, but it was journals and historical documents and my own writing. Bleh.

I have LOVED having the freedom to educate myself again and have been reading many varied things as a result.

So I thought I would break down some of my favorites from the year so far.

Letters and Life–Bret Lott
A dear friend introduced me to the world of Lott telling me that she luffed him. Not love, luf. It’s much deeper.

Well I luf him now too! This book is a wonderful collection of essays on Lott’s musings on being a writer and a Christian. I loved his essay on precision–wonderful subject to think on while drafting a novel. Reading it to the student writing group I am a part of produced some great discussion.

His essay on Flannery O’Connor is a great tribute to the short-story goddess. The friend who introduced me to Lott told me upon reading it that everything he says about O’Connor can be said about him. I have to agree. He has developed the wonderful talent to get out of the way of his writing and let is stand on its own legs.

Great writer with some great thoughts!

Fool–Christopher Moore
There is a stigma that the works of Shakespeare have come to own. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just something I’ve observed. We look at them like this hallowed tombs that cannot be touched by any writer before or sense.

Poppycock! And Christopher Moore has written the book to prove it!

Fool is a retelling of King Lear from the perspective of the fool. Moore presents the tale to a modern reader as Shakespeare did to his audiences. Bawdy humor mixed with wordplay and obvious symbolism. His sensitivity to what Shakespeare was trying to do is carried through to perfection–to entertain. This book is witty, thought-provoking and just fun.

Idiot Psalms–Scott Cairns
Switching up my regular intake of fiction with some poetry, Like Lott, I found Cairns at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing and LOVED his work.

Idiot Psalms is a collection of musings on life and God and scripture. Throughout the collection are sprinkled the Idiot Psalms. Written in the style of the biblical Psalms, Cairns explores the trials and trivialities of every-day-life. My personal favorite is Idiot Psalm 3 which he wrote during an English division meeting at the university at which he teaches.

These are just a few examples of what I’ve taken in the last six months. I’m excited to pick up the pace and read more in the back half of this year.

What book have you read this year that stick out in your mind? Please share! I’d love recommendations for the next six months of reading.