Along with reading the stories in scripture of how God has worked, I also find it encouraging to hear the stories of people who are living now. Reading memoirs is a wonderful way to see God being present with people in their struggles.
“Memoirs and autobiographies [give a] valuable kind of learning…not a definition of grace to be memorized, but the experience of grace as perceived through the window of another person’s life…” Richard Lischer
Rose Marie [the mother of Paul Miller] grew up with a schizophrenic mother and began following Jesus as a teenager. But for many years, her life of faith was one of trying to control her circumstances and avoid painful memories as she describes in Nothing is Impossible:
“I kept God at a distance, building walls of self-protection and self-reliance. I said I was a Christian but my life said, “I can manage without God.” When crises came, the walls went higher. But there came a day when building walls did not work and I was left with, “I don’t believe God exists, or if He does exist, He is a dark cloud over my life— a cloud of fear, guilt, condemnation, and loneliness.” Into this dark cloud God spoke, not with an audible voice, but with life-giving words. God, for whom nothing really is impossible— not even changing a self-righteous, independent, desperately-trying-to-keep-it-all-together pastor’s wife— gave me Himself.”
Rose Marie is honest enough not to end her story there, in what sounds like a triumphant final victory. She continued to struggle, make mistakes, and fall back on using God:
“… when the youngest of the four rebelled and left home angry and bitter, eventually living with drug dealers, I realized that much of what I had done was motivated by wanting a perfect family that did not embarrass me. Her younger sister, our fifth child, was influenced by her and also went her own way. It was a very sad and humbling time. I had missed the fact that only God changes the heart. I was expecting all my work to do what only God can do.”
She continues her story to the present day, now in her 80s, working with women in London, and still discovering her never-ending need for God’s grace.
Joni and Ken tells the story of Joni Eareckson Tada and her husband Ken, and how once they were married it wasn’t quite ‘and they lived happily ever after.’ As the years went on, Ken became overwhelmed by caring constantly for Joni. As she lived in extreme, chronic pain, he sank into depression and emotionally they drifted away from each other. Eventually they found their way back to God and to each other.
“When I wake up an hour or two from now — and I know I will — please let me see You, feel You. I need You, Jesus! Let me know that You’re there and that You’re with me. You have said You will never fail me or forsake me. Please, Lord … may I sense that tonight at some point?”
Later that same night, when [Joni] woke up again, pain seemed to fill the whole room. The atmosphere was thick with it, like a heavy fog off Chesapeake Bay, with dark spirits darting in and out of the mist, taunting, jeering, whispering nonsense. More frighteningly, she could feel her lungs filling up.
She called Ken, and he came to her, stepping into the dim illumination of the bedside lamp. It was the third time that night she needed him, but there he was once again, so patient, so kind, so ready to help, deep love and concern written across every line of his face. He turned her body to another position, pushed on her abdomen, helped her blow her nose. Spoke words of quiet encouragement. Stroked her hair. Chased away the demons with words of prayer as he worked.
Suddenly, Joni turned her head and looked up at him, eyes wide with wonder. It took him by surprise. Was she hallucinating? What was she seeing? “You’re Him!” she said. “I … I don’t understand, Joni.” “Ken … you’re Him! You’re Jesus!” Fresh tears began to flow, and he dabbed them from her face with a tissue. “I’m not kidding. I can feel His touch when you touch me. I can see Him in your smile. I can hear Him in the tone of your voice . Right now! I mean it,” she said with a sob. “This is what I prayed for. You are Jesus!”
“Jesus had never said, “I am the power cord; you are the iPhone.” He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” If [Joni] wanted that life — and she did — there couldn’t be any disconnect. Abiding was what desperate people did who realized they had no life, no power, no resource within themselves.”
Life Lessons from the Hiding Place might be better titled, “Life Lessons after the Hiding Place” because it is the story of Corrie Ten Boom’s life after she was released from the concentration camp. She faced a life without much hope: she was a single 52-year-old woman, who had suffered the loss of her father and sister, and who now faced the challenge of making a new life in war-ravaged Europe while sensing a call to continue what she had been doing before the war: sharing the love of Jesus, and telling how He had ministered to her in the concentration camp.
“As Corrie recounted [her experience], one of the neighbors said, “I am sure it was your faith that carried you through.”
“My faith? I don’t know about that,” replied Corrie. “My faith was so weak, so unstable. It was hard to have faith. When a person is in a safe environment, having faith is easier. But in that camp when I saw my own sister and thousands of others starve to death, where I was surrounded by men and women who had training in cruelty, then I do not think it was my faith that helped me through. No, it was Jesus! He who said, ‘I am with you until the end of the world.’ It was His eternal arms that carried me through. He was my certainty.
“If I tell you that it was my faith, you might say if you have to go through suffering, ‘I don’t have Corrie ten Boom’s faith.’ But if I tell you it was Jesus, then you can trust that He who helped me through will do the same for you. I have always believed it, but now I know from my own experience that His light is stronger than the deepest darkness.”
Other memoirs I’ve posted about in the past:
Rich Mullins: Like an Arrow Pointing to Heaven
Little Black Sheep by Ashley Cleveland
Isobel Kuhn Omnibus
What memoirs would you recommend?