Monday, May 5, 2014

It's Jennifer's Fault!

I received my copy of Jennifer Fulweiler's book Something Other Than God last Thursday. Honestly, I wasn't planning on buying this book. I love reading Jennifer's blog, mostly because she is totally honest about her crazy life. We all have crazy lives, and I feel she is the rare writer who can write with transparency while still earning my admiration for the priorities she maintains. Her sense of humor brings to light the joy she finds in her crazy life, and I look forward to every post. (yes, I realize I just said she has a crazy life three times in the same paragraph, but if you've read her blog, you know I'm right; if you haven't, let me assure you, it's a totally good kind of crazy)

Back to the book, though. I really didn't see how reading a conversion story about a woman who was once an atheist would appeal to me. I liked to read Jennifer's writing now that she is a super-busy, Catholic, homeschooling mom writer like me (except I'm a wannabe writer, and she's for real). I'm a cradle Catholic. I read Rome Sweet Home in college, but I cannot name a single atheist in my entire life except my high school best friend's father. But, something really tugged at me to buy the book. After all, she is speaking at our 2014 San Antonio Catholic Homeschooling Conference at my suggestion, so I supposed it would be good to have read her book. Maybe I'll even get it signed!

I read a chapter or two Thursday night, as I am trying to reestablish my routine of reading for pleasure before bedtime, and a chapter or two the following night. Ditto on Saturday. Yesterday was Sunday, the day for my weekly battle with my own anxiety over toomuchtodothisweek but must. honor. Sabbath. take nap. must. relax. have fun. eventhoughthereistoomuchtodothisweek and I'dreallyratherstartnow! So I read some more of the book, and got hooked somewhere around chapter 7, probably because of the wedding. I finally put it down last night when I was falling asleep reading and forgetting what was happening, and I couldn't wait to pick it up again today.

I'll turn this the right way tomorrow!

Today was a school day. I was able to read a chapter while I rocked the baby for his morning nap. Then, I forced myself to leave the book on my desk while we went through our Morning Basket material. (but I did take the book upstairs to the school room rather than leave it on my night stand) As soon as we finished, I took the book to the bathroom with me. I just had to get in one more chapter and only mention this, because I happened to be reading about the time Jen was reading Scripture in the bathroom at the office.

I made lunch and forced myself to chat with the children, but I couldn't wait to get back to the book. After lunch, I allowed myself the indulgence of a few chapters while the big kids got their independent work started, and I watched the little boys happily play. During naptime, I sat on the school room floor and snatched free moments to read in between correcting math problems and giving dictation for spelling. At this point, my daughter declared that I must really like that book. What? The one I've been carrying around all day?

I kept reading. The big kids finished their work and disappeared to build with Legos. The preschooler, who refused to nap today, started acting out, which he does when he hasn't napped and mom won't pay attention to him. My nose was stuck in the book! I sent him outside to play. I processed the laundry and kept piling it on the family room floor, but I couldn't fold it. That would require stopping reading for more than ten minutes. As I sat on the floor, trying to give the baby snippets of attention while continually going back to the book, (he's at that age where he grabs your face with both hands and turns your head towards him when he wants you to look at him) my daughter mused that she had never seen me so engrossed in a book. She's right. That's sad.

The aftermath - their creations are hidden!
I had to take a break to fix dinner, get the big kids off to scouts, and put the little boys to bed, but then I sat on the couch to read, wondering if I could really finish it AND write a blog post before they got home from scouts (looks like it's going to be close). So, what about this book, kept me riveted? Why did I feel so convicted to read this book so intensely?

1. Jennifer's writing is superb! I was an English major in college and in all the honors and AP English classes since middle school. That means they forced me to read everything that is considered quality literature. Something Other Than God is undoubtedly quality literature. Memoirs, as a genre, can be entirely sentimental and self-centered. Not this book. Jennifer describes herself as probably self-centered, but the story is at a different level than most modern memoirs, both due to Jennifer's intelligence and her skill at her craft.

It felt like a momentous occasion, and not just for obvious reasons. I shivered in response to something I felt. It was like the vibration in the ground before a space shuttle launches, that rumble that precedes the unleashing of a great power. I was filled with a sense that something was about to happen for Joe and me - and that whatever it was, it would be big.
2. Jennifer's story is entertaining and yet so ordinary. This is one of the things I enjoy most about her blog writing, so it shouldn't have surprised me that her book has the same qualities. I laughed and smiled so much and yet certain passages took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Her experience is every-woman's experience, a quest for purpose wrapped up in the unexpected complexity of marriage and children.

Okay, God, let's try this again, I whispered. I took the book in my hands. My heart was full of so many worries and questions that I didn't even know where to start. should I pray for a resolution to the search engine issue? Or just ask for help figuring out if God exists? I packed it all up into a  ball of hope and yearning, and did that thing where I sent it out in the form of an unspoken prayer that I hoped someone could hear.

3. Jennifer's conversion is inspiring, and she covers both basic Christian beliefs and challenging Catholic doctrine in layman's terms. Clearly, having read this, I am reminded that I take my faith in God and Christianity for granted. Like I said, the only conversion story I had ever previously read was Scott Hahn's. He was already a Christian, a solid one at that, and came home to the Catholic Church through a beautiful story. But, Jennifer's conversion brought up some quandaries about Christian belief that I usually dismiss as simply requiring enough faith (believing without seeing). She has challenged my faith through her story, and I can see God is already convicting me to take my faith more seriously.

But what I had not been factoring in was heaven.
Starting with that childhood moment at The Creek, I'd always been acutely aware of the fleetingness of human life. Now that I took that same awareness and examined it in light of the existence of heaven, everything changes. I'd always heard the ticking of the clock that counts down the seconds as we all get closer to death; now I should see its ticking as a countdown to the end of unjust suffering. As an atheist I mourned the fact that nothing good would last; now it was time to accept the fact that good did last, and it would last forever. Only suffering would end.

So, buy the book here. Read the book. Love the book. Come hear Jennifer speak on June 7th, specifically to Catholic homeschooling mothers about pursuing our dreams while homeschooling our children. I am sure I will have more to say about this book. In fact, now that I have read it as a story, I plan to re-read it as a spiritual treatise, journaling about the ways God has spoken to me through Jennifer. For now, I need to go fold my mountain of laundry!

About one third of Monday's mountain.

But, the last thing I want to say is that it's Jennifer's fault that I didn't get much done today besides the bare minimum. It's Jennifer's fault that I'm itching to read the book again already but know I need to tackle a few work-related projects first. And, I am so glad that I listened to that inner voice and bought the book and read the book. The Lord is working in me in this book, and I know He will lead so many readers to a fuller faith, regardless of where they are on their journey.


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