Today (a day before it’s released in stores, go Ignatius Press!) I read Jennifer Fulwiler’s long-awaited (really, I’ve been clamoring to read this) memoir/conversion story, Something Other Than God. I knew that her writing style was by turns serious and laugh out loud funny, so I was expecting the same thing in the book, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The book isn’t a blow-by-blow account of Jen’s life. What it is is a story about how God worked in her life from its earliest stages, even if she didn’t realize it. Raised by non-religious parents, she considers herself an atheist for most of her life, but still can’t shake the feeling that there is more to life than just…this.
When she meets her husband, Joe, she slowly starts to consider Christianity. Joe is a Christian but he doesn’t take it seriously, but he does believe in Jesus. And through conversations and reading books like Mere Christianity and Orthodoxy, and writing out her objections to Christianity on her blog, Jen starts to think that Christianity might have something going for it. If Jesus Christ is real….then we aren’t in a lonely abyss hurtling toward annihilation. If Jesus Christ is real…..
A whole new vista opens up for Jen. Eventually, she and Joe decide they’re going to become Catholic, and start the RCIA process. But at the same time, Jen becomes pregnant with their second child–and develops a life-threatning blood condition that could be potentially fatal if she has any more babies.
I have to say, this is the part of the book that really hooked me, because I’ve been in her shoes. Even before transplant, my medication regimen was complex. A lot of the drugs I take now are absolutely verboten if you’re pregnant. Absolutely. When I was in college, and was engaged, this was a huge thing for me. Getting pregnant would be horribly not good for me and the baby. But I was–and am–Catholic. I am not going to use birth control. How in the world do we reconcile the two? I loved reading about Jen’s mental process through all of this, because I’d been there.
(She now has, by the way, six children.)
Jen’s conversion story isn’t fluffy, pretty, God-appeared-to-me-and-said-do-this! variety. It’s a real story. It has meat in it. Jen struggles and she lays those struggles out for us. She has questions, she has doubts, she prays to God in a bathroom and sneaks away to read the Bible, afraid she’ll get “outed” as the former atheist turned Jesus Freak. And this is the first Catholic book I’ve ever read where the author says she prayed for the soul of a deceased rapper–which makes Jen all the more relatable to me. While we probably haven’t met Tupac (the rapper she prays for), we all know people who live lives that may not be all good–but they believe in God.
She asks tough questions, especially about suffering. One of my favorite parts in the book is this bit:
He snapped out of his daze. ‘Oh, well, if you mean that they’ll have a bunch of tough things happen to them, sure. Do you remember what Noe said they do to Inquirers at the Rite of Acceptance?’
‘They mark them with the sign of the cross. The sponsors trace a cross over their eyes, their ears, their lips, their heart, their shoulders, and their hands and feet. It’s to prepare them that the cross will touch every part of their lives.’
‘What?’ My face contorted into a frown. ‘Well, that sounds horrible. Where do I sign up to have more misery in my life?’
‘No. I said ‘suffering’, not ‘misery.’
‘But it’s not!’ Joe said, an urgency behind his voice. ‘That’s Christianity’s whole message: The more you love, the more you’re going to have to give up–you can’t hold anything back. And that’s going to mean suffering. But it’s also going to mean joy and peace.’
I stared at my hands. ‘I’ve been doing this Christianity thing for months now, and I think I have less joy and peace than I used to.’
‘But are you really putting God first?’
I didn’t answer.
‘We might go broke, or have to live with your mom for another decade, or whatever. It probably won’t be easy. But we’ll have peace.’
I stared at him, searching his face for the smile that would accompany the punchline to this dry joke, but it didn’t come. In his eyes was a gentleness, a bottomless vulnerability that I had never seen before.
Really, that sums up the whole book, and why I needed to read it right now.
Jennifer has done amazing work here. Read the book, and then read it again, and attempt to put God first.