One book in particular kept me reading into the wee hours and through nap time the next day: Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler.
I've long been a reader of Jen's blog, Conversion Diary. In racking my brain to remember just how I found her blog years ago, I simply couldn't remember so I scrolled through the archives of this blog to see when I first started to sporadically participate in her weekly linkup, 7 Quick Takes Friday.
I was surprised to find that the first time I participated in her linkup was back in November of 2008; I had been blogging here for about a year at that time and must have stumbled across her blog when I searched for Catholic mom blogs. During all my years of on again, off again blogging, I have followed hers, first in Google Reader (RIP), and now in Feedly. She is a great writer - funny, witty, insightful, and has the rare ability to turn her writer's lens in on herself and share moments of her life with great honesty.
Having read her blog for so long, I had the fleeting thought that in reading her book, I might be re-reading certain stories that she had shared on her blog already in a more condensed form. I can say honestly that this is not so; while I knew the beginning (atheism) and ending (Catholic) and some of the in-between parts of her conversion story and life (going from the city to the burbs, having six kids with high risk pregnancies, and endless battles with scorpions), the book stands on its own two feet as a completely original work. That alone is laudable given the depth of writing found on her blog.
What struck me most about this book is the level of reading, thinking, and questioning she went through in her journey from mocking atheism to devout Catholicism. And this journey is not one that she undertook alone; she was engaged, then married to her husband as she began to search, first with great skepticism, then with dawning understanding and growing faith.
This passage from the book - when Jen and Joe were in a plane, surrounded by towering clouds - resonated deeply with me:
"I don't see how anyone could look at that and not believe in God," Joe said, his voice lowered as if out of reference for this masterpiece of nature.
Maybe it was the influence of the gin and tonic, but I figured that now, when we were both happy and calm, was as good a time as any to have this discussion. "You know that I don't believe in God, right?" I said.
Joe kept his eyes on the cloud. "Yeah, I think you said something about that once."
I waited for him to elaborate on that statement; I'd expected more of a reaction. He remained silent, so I asked, "Does that bother you?"
"Nah," he said casually. "You're reasonable, so you'll get over the atheism thing eventually."Fr. Rob Jack, an instructor at the seminary in Cincinnati who often presides at Mass at our parish when our pastor is away, is fond of saying, "We get to heaven together." I couldn't help but be reminded of that idea - the idea that we are all called to witness, to love, and to pray each other toward Christ - as I read that passage above.
I know in my own life, my husband Knute, a man who is the very poster child of the Still Waters Run Deep school of living, has been the greatest influence on my own deepening faith. While I was a believer and a cradle Catholic when we met back in 1992, I could have very easily found myself living a life in the shallow end of the world, focused on myself, my goals, and my happiness without his patient witness over the years we dated and throughout our marriage.
There is much to be said about the patient love, prayers, and faith of others in influencing those closest to us who are still struggling to find God. This memoir includes many such examples in Jen's life, but certainly, the greatest was her husband Joe.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves daring to ask the big, "Why are we here and does any of this really matter?" questions in life and who has the courage to listen to the answers. This is a thinkers conversion story and it would make a great gift for anyone you know who professes the personal theology that they are simply too smart to believe in God.
*This review includes my Amazon affiliate link. FYI, this review is completely unsolicited, the opinions are mine alone, and I bought my copy of Jen's book through Amazon.