“Illusion” was written by a friend of a friend, and the beautiful young girl on the cover is my friend, T’s, daughter. T knows I love to read and then write about what I read, so one week not that long ago she loaned me her copy to read and review.
It’s one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. It reads like an autobiography but is actually a work of Christian fiction based on the author Erin Hicks’ experiences with loss and depression. A few chapters in, I sent a text to T asking if the book really was fiction or was it based on a true story. The first-person voice seemed extremely authentic; I felt like I was reading a true experience, told with the depth and sincerity that only someone who has been there could talk about. Hicks writes in her author notes that the story is fictional but based on some of her own experiences with themes of loss, death and depression.
The book’s title comes from the “illusion” created by main character Rylei Cabot in her attempt to hide her depression and pain after she loses her sister in a tragic car accident. Cabot has a crisis of faith and self that ultimately affects her relationships and her career in such a way that she is forced to confront her issues.
The story also deals with issues of drug and alcohol abuse and attempted suicide.
Hicks is a Mississippi native currently working on her Masters of Divinity and pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church. “I wrote this book after having numerous youth, and adults, ask me how I get through difficult times in my life,” Hicks writes. “This is my answer for them, in narrative form, about how hope can be found even in the darkest of places at times. My goal with this book, as with any writing, is to bless the reader.”
The short: Hicks impressively uses a fictional story to share authentic and powerful insight into very real issues that secretly plague many people.
I don’t talk about it much, especially not on here and especially not the past year and a half.
By “it” I mean that I’m a widow and/or a single mom.
I don’t talk about it because I don’t want it to define me.
I don’t talk about it because most times it’s not relevant to what I do want to talk about.
I don’t talk about it because I don’t want to become bitter or whiney.
Et cetera, et cetera.
The last year and a half, though, I’ve not talked about it because someone saw me mention on here the difficulty of being a single parent and saw me post on Facebook last year an article about suicide awareness month and accused me of “playing the widow card.”
I’m not even entirely sure what they were trying to say, but I was hurt and shamed. They told me they didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to deal with my husband’s death and suicide and grief because I hadn’t wanted to stay married to him anyhow.
We had problems. Big ones. I thought they were too far gone to fix. I thought that if the problems couldn’t be fixed I wanted out of the marriage. I thought that problems too big to fix were an excusable reason to break my vows.
For the record: I was wrong.
But wanting the problems to go away and thinking separating/divorcing would do that is a far cry from wanting someone to die.
I didn’t want him dead. I didn’t want him to take his life. I didn’t want my boys to lose their dad. I wanted more and better, not less and worse.
So I’ve been quiet about the grief and the hurts and the struggles of loss and of picking up the pieces.
I was shamed and ashamed. But there’s been such spiritual richness during this time too that it’s a shame, too, not to share my various questions and thoughts and experiences.
So I’m done feeling shamed and ashamed.
I accept God’s grace. And I extend grace, too, to the person who made the comment. Like Jesus said from the cross, “Father forgive them; they know not what they do.” That’s not to be self-righteous because I’m part of the “they” who knew not what I did too. We all need grace.
And if some part of my experience — the good or the bad — can minister or help someone else, that’s awesome. That’s why I share, not to seek or gain sympathy but to put out there something real and genuine that may seem hopeless but isn’t because with God we are never without hope.
And maybe someone out there going through similar things will feel not so alone and will feel hope.
“Choosing to See” is the most honest look into what it’s truly like to lose and grieve of anything I’ve read on the subject.
I believe the reason Mary Beth Chapman’s book is so authentic is because it was written very soon after the accident that killed her daughter, and it includes those raw and fresh reactions.
The book is not just the story of the accidental death of the daughter of Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman, but it starts with Mary Beth’s early life and walks through how she and Steven met and their early married years.
She writes honestly about depression and the use of medication to treat it. I could relate especially to using medication to level yourself out so you can deal with all that needs to be dealt with. That has been my experience, at least, with anxiety, depression and medication.
“It treated my symptoms. As I started feeling better, I could then work on the root of the problem and begin to heal from things in the past. It helped me clearly think about how God’s grace applied to me.”
Early in the book, Mary Beth talked about the “gift of grace” as a foreign concept to her. I think this is so important to make note of because it feels to me like we live in a time where grace is so hard to come by, especially within the Christian church which is where it should be most.
“When I was growing up in church, no one talked about this (grace). My expectation then was that Christians were strong and victorious all the time. If someone was struggling with something it was because his or her faith was not strong enough. Now, thankfully, you hear a lot more in most Christian circles about brokenness. Most people I know are quite fond of the apostle Paul, not because he was a superachiever who spread the gospel throughout the known world, but because he realized that his pains and limitations were what kept him dependent on Christ. He knew he was a mess.
The Chapmans’ tragedy wasn’t just in the loss of their daughter but that their teenage son was driving the car that killed her. Either of those alone would be tragic but together it had the potential to rip the family and their ministries wide open. Instead of letting that happen, the family recognized God’s sovereignty in allowing this to happen just the way it did. I was touched by Chapman’s compassion toward her son and her tenderness to what she described as a difficult path he’d been given to walk. What wisdom and perspective to see his difficult situation as something God has allowed to happen for some unbeknownst reason rather than heaping onto him blame.
Commit to the journey, long or short, that leads back into living life.
“People who handle grief in a most healthy way are those who are willing to admit, ‘This hurts. I don’t particularly like it, but I really want to go on,’” says Pastor Buck Buchanan.
God will reward your sincere willingness to commit to the journey and to press on.
“Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14 NASB).
I was shredding the last of the checks from an old joint checking account and realized — these are the last checks ever that will have mine and John’s name on them. I cried. Isn’t that such a dumb thing to cry about? I tell ya, some of this widowhood stuff is a little crazy at times.
In my spirit, I found myself saying I don’t want to do this. Not shred checks, specifically. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want John to be gone. I don’t want to be a widow. I don’t want Finn and Caden to grow up without him. Etc.
As I sat there, in tears, shredding old bank checks, the words to the song “It Is Well” were brought to mind, specifically the line “whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, It is well, with my soul.”
I believe it was the Holy Spirit who sent me those words. And my response to God was it’s not. It’s not well. Not yet, anyway. John’s death and all of the circumstances surrounding it is not well with my soul … yet. :) But I’m working on it, and God is going to do it in me and for me in His right time. He’s not in a hurry or on my timetable. He knows these things take time, and I’m appreciative of his patience and endurance of fickle, stubborn me.
I shared this story with my GriefShare group last night, and then my GriefShare devotional for today was the above quoted portion. The verse and the encouragement coincide perfectly, I thought. I think that means I must be on the right track.