I was honored to be selected as a Beacon Hill Press Off the Shelf Blogger. When I first got this gig I was thrilled. I love to read… I love to write… And I have schooled every (or so it seems) teenager in my state about how to pen a book review that is actually interesting. Beacon Hill Press and I would be a perfect fit!
Then, all this… bad stuff happened. And grief kicked down the door in my life. And, as life often has a wicked sense of humor, it was right at this time that I received in the mail my first book to review:A Story Unfinished. 99 Days with Eliot. It’s a book about heartbreak, about losing a son, about pain. Heaven help me. Literally.
So I had a little conversation with God that went like this: “Ok. Sir? Really? There is no way I can read this right now. I just lost my brother. I am a shuffling zombie of grief, and You want me to honor my commitments by reading this? Not. Possible.”
I had fully intended to contact Beacon Hill – to send a simple email, explaining my situation, explaining away my responsibility, explaining that my grief trumps their book and raises it by ten gazillion.
But instead (and this is where things get a little bit weird) the book kept… surfacing. In my messy house where I can’t ever seem to find even a pencil, it kept showing up, on tabletops, on counter tops, at the foot of my bed, by my end table, on my pillow. At some point that elusive pencil got stuck in there. And some notepaper. And one night, all my happy library books had been read, and I had no taste for my glossy magazines, but I needed something to read so I could turn off my brain and sleep, for Pete’s sake.
And here was the book. Again. So, I read it. In one night.
Well, isn’t that just the thing? God gives us these assignments, and we think they’re to benefit others, and we think it’s all about something else, when bammo. The book was for me.
Matt Mooney has written a book about the death of his infant son, Eliot. Matt and his wife Ginny found out their sweet boy had a genetic disease that doctors said would not see him through delivery. And yet Eliot was born and lived and fought valiantly and lived mightily for precious 99 days. His dad and mom fought with him. And prayed with him, and for him.
And yet, he still had to leave them.
I have a lot of praises for this book. The writing is vulnerable, focused, and poetic. It is also at times quite funny, which I simply adored. The story is organized into three sections: “The Before,” “The During,”and the “After.” This is brilliant and kind. Brilliant because we all can relate – All of us remember truly painful events in our lives as: What We Were Like Before, and What We Are Now. We cannot help to punctuate it thus.
But also, A Story Unfinished is kind. Why? Because as much as the telling of it was for Mr. Mooney’s journey and healing, it was kind to me. It showed me After. It showed me what After can be. Grief changes us. Nietzsche says (strongly echoed by those in the greeting card industry) it might make us stronger. I think ultimately I might not be stronger, just closer to Jesus. Stronger by association, I guess. Eliot’s Before and During, but mostly his After carved a part out of my heart that was already feeling sore and sad, but he helped me. I will not forget him.
Life is so hard sometimes. At one point, there was a tiny, but petulant insistence on my part that since I have Jesus, my life, well, it should be easier. Aided by Jesus. I am now not sure this is so. In fact, sometimes I would argue that our aches and pains can be amplified by our faith due to our connection to the One who knew suffering and sacrifice so intimately. In this book, Matt wrestles with this idea, and with the pain of it, just as Jacob of the bible wrestled. If you know the story, you remember, Jacob did walk away, but not with perfect and sweet happy-ending results. “God wanted to wrestle. God wanted to give. But Jacob did not receive only the blessing. Intertwined with great promise comes a wound. He walked away with a limp. His blessing came at a price. There is no way Jacob could receive the blessing and not receive the limp, though I am certain he would have chosen as much if this option was on the table. It was not.”
If we really want Jesus, we cannot keep holding on to our comfortable ideas that He will float in and fix and frost over it all. It’s about to get real, and raw. Grief does that job very well.
“In Eliot I leaned into my greatest fear and found joy and pain intimately linked together. If we avoid the route fraught with pain at all costs, then we may end up avoiding the blessing that God has for us as well. I could not receive Eliot and not also receive the greatest ache I have ever known. Although I would take away the pain, I would never take away that with which the pain came, and in this way I would take it all again. The things I pursued came in with the very things I spent my life avoiding. In this life I limp.”
Because that is what this book is all about. It is about Christ. It is about Who He is, and how He loves us. It’s about learning to go through, not around the pain because He asks us to, and He asks us to stay close. It is about relationship with Him.
In this life, I limp. But I still say:
“God’s name ever be blessed.” Job 1:21
If you’d like to read more from Matt’s blog, click here
For Ginny’s blog, click here.
For information on their charitable organization, 99 Balloons, go here.