Post Author: Katie Churchwell
The other day, after school pick-up, my daughter and I swung by the church I serve to quickly pick up something. Naturally, my daughter had to use the restroom. While washing our hands, she asked with an earnest curiosity, “Does God brush his teeth here?” I asked her, “What made you ask that?” She responded, “Well, this is God’s house, so this is his bathroom – he must brush his teeth here.”
My biggest fear is being separated from my children by death. To miss moments like that one, or the feel of her hot breath on my neck as she naps on my shoulder. To no longer feel the weight of my son as he barrels at me as fast as he can with joy and excitement when I come home from work. The feared absence strikes without warning: in moments of utter bliss as I watch them sleep or moments of the unforgettable mundane as we prepare for school in the morning.
There is something (to borrow from Glennon Doyle Melton) “brutiful” about watching your worst fear played out in print. Brutal and beautiful: this is Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. Bowler captures the reader with honesty, humor, and raw emotion as she dives into her story: how to live life in the midst of dying; how to love others when you’re about to say goodbye.
None of us are strangers to loss, but Bowler’s vulnerability brings the intimacy of fear and love and longing right into our very lives. I tend to anxiously avoid facing my fears of “what if” the very worst happens. This book brought me face to face with those fears, while at the same time I was comforted and held in the structure of Bowler’s story. A difficult but important read, I discovered that as a priest and as a mother, my life needed this book.
As Bowler’s story begins, she knows full well that life is not perfect, but she and her family have worked hard to surmount so many obstacles to reach a point of what felt like “happily ever after” with relatively good health, enough money in the bank, and the birth of their son.
And then she is diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.
As a scholar of the prosperity gospel, Bowler knew firsthand the despair and longing that people would bring to tents and megachurches around the United States. The pain of life can feel too hard to bear. Living with cancer – and a cancer that has such a slim chance of survival – Bowler confronts illness, death and dying, the good will of family and friends, and even the ill will of strangers directly as she opens herself in her writing.
Displaying a vulnerability I have yet to encounter in any other contemporary writer, Bowler shares her story not as one who has endured difficulty and come out on top, but rather as someone in the grey of life, holding hope in her heart while death lingers in the corner. Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber says that preachers should preach from their scars, not their wounds. Kate Bowler preaches with grace and vulnerability from a gaping wound: after all, how much can a wound heal if you are going to die?
If you are in search of a deeper understanding of how to offer pastoral care in the face of overwhelming tragedy: read this book. If you are looking at your own fears of “what if” and need a guide for the journey: read this book. If you need to check your theology about just what it means to be healed, saved, or blessed: read this book.
This book is not for the faint of heart or those who shy away from brutal honesty. Rather, this book is for those who look at the reality of life through clear lenses, those who know life isn’t fair, those who have raised their cry to God in the darkest hours of the night and felt the dawn of the new day, or at least have hope for a new light.
This book is for those who know that life can suck but have hope anyway.
The Rev. Canon Katie Churchwell serves as a priest at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter. As Canon for Community Formation, Canon Churchwell works both within the church and the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, to build an integrated and collaborative relationship. Canon Churchwell is president of the Downtown Business Association and Director of the Food Is Medicine St. Pete collaborative - a program that brings free health education, health screenings, and fresh produce to food desert communities.
Image by: Random House
Used with permission