Why do I love reading love stories that really happened? Is it the part of me that enjoys real butter, homemade bread, chicken soup from scratch . . . or the fact that a little suffering creates a great big desire for authenticity? Most of all, I think it’s the fact that true stories show me another facet of our Heavenly Father. They help me glimpse how He works, and Who He is.
A year ago, my dad’s baby sister – the aunt who’s a lot like the big sister I never had – was diagnosed with cancer. She’s the bubbly one; her quiet husband has little to say. But in the last year, he has said a lot with his actions. He cooks and does the shopping, and plugs away at a difficult job – so she can have the care she needs. He has laid down his life by lying down on the living room floor, or on a hard hospital couch, ready to jump up a dozen times a night to help her. When I commented, he simply said, “She’s worth it.”
Thank God, my aunt is cancer-free today, but complications landed her in the hospital again last month, and I got a chance to visit. That’s how I came to be reading This Life I Live in a hospital room, and a hospital cafeteria on Valentine’s Day.
This Life I Live: One Man’s Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever was written by Country artist and songwriter, Rory Lee Feek, in honor of his wife Joey, who recently died of cancer. I followed Rory and Joey’s story on his blog, and I got to review his film. I even got to listen to the first few chapters of the book as he read them aloud, so I could hear Rory’s voice in my mind as I turned the pages on my Kindle.
The fact that he’s a natural storyteller comes through. So does his humility and simplicity: a refreshing, even innocent voice. And the innocence is all the more remarkable, because subtitle aside, Rory’s story is not really about a woman who changed his life – but the Savior Who did so. And for a while, the tale is anything but a pretty one. Poverty, neglect, temptation, and failure: Rory was not the type of young man whom anyone would want to marry their daughter.
Until Jesus stepped in and turned him (quite literally!) around, clearing the way for not one, but two love stories. One was Rory’s with his Savior. And the second was with his precious wife, Joey.
It isn’t a picture-perfect love story. It’s better: it is real.
That’s what makes This Life I Live a thought-provoking read. It’s not a shake-you-up-like-an earthquake book, but not the kind that leaves you feeling fuzzy and self-satisfied, either. It gently plows up your heart like a farmer turning over soil, and gets you thinking about good things like repentance and God’s plan.
(Just a note: Because of the innocence in Rory’s story-telling, I might give this book to an older teen to read, but considering the mature subject matter, some mamas might want to check it out first.)
Speaking of true love stories that shine in dark places, have you read Eight Twenty-Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up by Ian and Larissa Murphy? Made famous by two videos on Desiring God, this is the tale of a love that lasted through brain injury, two years of silence, and ongoing, everyday battles to walk and to hang onto joy, resulting in a deeply moving marriage and (not long ago) a baby son named Dietrich.
I don’t mean to suggest that beautiful love stories are only those that include tragedy. For a lighter, more relaxing read, there’s Love Stories You Will Love by Stephen and Susie Castleberry. Filled with stories collected from their family and readers (including two of our very own Kindred Grace team members!), it’s like a wholesome Chicken Soup for the Soul. My favorite story included a War War II-era meeting of two strangers on a train.
A few summers ago, my friend Ruth came to visit me in Jerusalem. (Oh the adventures we had!) Ruth’s five young children had been reading Patricia St. John’s wonderful classics, books like Treasures of the Snow, Star of Light, Rainbow Garden, and The Tanglewoods’ Secret. They loved Patricia St. John Tells Her Own Story so much that she brought a copy to me. And in it was the sweetest, funniest, most unusual love story you may ever read: the story of Patricia’s parents. Just thinking about it now refreshes my heart and makes me smile.
I still remember the excitement when one of my heroes, Elisabeth Elliot, published Quest for Love: True Stories of Passion and Purity. Her wise, down-to-earth, sympathetic and yet challenging advice has helped shape my life, and my writing. The true stories she collected in Quest for Love satisfied some of my youthful longing for romance, while tempering it with character lessons that played out in real lives. I was learning then – at an age when I was wrestling mightily with the decision to trust God with my love life – that one of the easiest ways to digest spiritual food is in a story.
It’s no wonder, then, that I leaped at the chance to review Devotedly: The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. I was comforted by their very human ups and downs, and greatly encouraged by the way God stepped in with fresh grace when they needed it. For them, the fact that they were disciples always, always came first, and as I read, it also became very clear to me that it wasn’t the details of Jim and Elisabeth’s romance that I should emulate, but their heartfelt devotion to Jesus.
If you have read Novel Encouragement for Singles, you know I need a story, whether true or true-to-life, to give me a hope-inducing picture of my single days as beautiful and fruitful. I also need tales that remind me:
God is “the best maker of all marriages,” and I’m convinced that He loves to do it! …This is a picture of God’s heart. This is what He wants to do for all His children. This is what He wants to do for me. (His Love Stories)
For those who are still waiting, may I recommend At Long Last by Erin Morris? Lots of love stories include a painful before, but few seem to devote more than a brief introduction to that period. Erin reserves half of her book for the single years, and she’s honest about her disappointments and struggles in a way I really identified with, even though I’m nearly a decade older than she is. I understood the melodramatic feelings she sometimes experienced, and like she has, I’ve experienced the compassion of God in the middle of it all. I identified with the way she had her own future all planned. (Me too, and then it’s as if He chuckled, and said, “Can’t I be more creative than that?”)
How fun it was to see how God began to weave Erin’s story with her future husband’s – years before they met – until finally, He vindicated their trust in Him in a way that was surprising, satisfying, and very romantic.
It’s not my dream-story. It’s hers, and it’s just right for Erin. And that helps me realize that God cares, even about the fact that I’m a writer and I’d like my life to be something that’s beautiful in the telling.
You know, I’ve said it before that God’s goodness to others doesn’t (usually) leave me crushed or jealous, just hope-filled!
Does this attitude seem trite or impossible to attain?
Don’t worry, friend. It’s real.
It’s real, but it grew slowly over a number of years as God proved Himself to me over and over and over again. All the little personal details in my life that He clearly sees and cares for: these make me know that He hasn’t overlooked my deeper desires as well.
And you know, if the subject of romance brings you nothing but pain, it’s not cheating to ask Him to win your trust in this. Not at all! If my heart goes out to you, how much more does His!
While we’re waiting, why not enjoy these stories that – in the end – are really all about Him?
Photography: JenniMarie Photography