Originally published Wednesday, 16 July 2014.
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Years of anorexia. Disillusionment with the church. A grandmother’s suicide. A two-year break-up. A mother with brain cancer. A heartbreaking miscarriage.
Emily Wierenga‘s story is not an easy one.
It’s not easy, and yet she tells it with such grace and gratitude in her new memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, published by Baker Books.
Emily is an artist, and her gifts shine through as she paints pictures with words in this travel memoir that spans countries and continents.
Frustrated by the rigidity of religion, the lack of attention by her pastor father, a tense relationship with her mother, Emily turned to one thing she thought she could control — her own food consumption. She decided to starve herself, and for four years, she succeeded.
Little did she know the ramifications her decisions would have on her early adulthood, her marriage, her relationships.
Then her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and life was turned upside down. Nothing was the same. Emily writes of how she moved home to care for her mother, whose right frontal lobe had to be removed in order to combat the cancer.
And she makes me remember.
She makes me remember what it was like for the roles to be reversed, when mother can no longer care for child, but daughter lifts the woman who birthed her onto the toilet, tucks her into bed, lifts the mug to dry, thirsty lips.
And through it all, Emily sees God. She sees her God in each crease of her mother’s broken smile, each brush of the cheek, each muted sunrise, even on “the fuzzy days.” And she writes,
“I don’t have the answers. I don’t know how this story will end. All I know is that there is a very real God whom my mother adores, and if she, in all her pain and suffering, can still radiate worship, how much more should I? He sees the little sparrow fall. He sees my mum dancing to the rhythms of his grace, and he sees me in all my anger trying to love him in spite of it all. So I will continue to trust, even if it means letting her go” (p. 228).
I remember the pain and the strain of that tug-of-war, and then the surrender. The surrender and the acknowledgement that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
Emily, too, comes to this realization and depicts it so strikingly as she writes of her own pregnancy, a time when the Lord chose to give life:
“I am starting to understand the concept of second birth — the one God desires of us.
To be born again; to become like infants in God’s womb, entirely dependent, utterly quiet, never alone. Wordless communication, unspeakable love, cushioned against the world’s blows.
Grace within the belly of our Maker” (pp. 240-241).
It’s words like these that leave me coming back for more. I came to respect and admire Emily‘s gentle spirit and soft heart that radiates in her writing even before I read her first novel, A Promise in Pieces. Hers is a voice that inspires me to greater writing, and her words linger in my mind long after my eyes have left the page.
The generosity of Emily’s heart is evident in her efforts to start The Lulu Tree, an organization dedicated to “preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers” in Uganda.
All proceeds from Atlas Girl go toward The Lulu Tree.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Baker Books, in exchange for my honest review.