7 Memoirs For When Life is Murky

It seems a lot of people I’ve talked to lately aren’t where they want to be. They’re waiting. They’re grieving. They’re fading. They’re doubting. They’re caught between where God has promised to lead them and where he has them for now, and it’s hard, brutally hard. They ask me what they should do and I tell them all the same thing: Trust, obey, and do the next thing, all the while remembering that God writes straight with crooked lines. Then I point them to one of these memoirs and say, “See.”

If life has you in the weeds today, or any day to come, may these pages remind you that there is something strong and worthy and intended for good in every messy, meandering story. Even yours.

And Still She Laughs: Defiant Joy in the Depths of Suffering by Kate Merrick
For years Kate Merrick was known simply as “Daisy’s mom.” But there was nothing simple about the crooked path she began walking in 2009 when her 5-year old daughter was diagnosed with a Wilm’s tumor. In the excruciating aftermath of Daisy’s cancer and death, Kate struggled to find a way to live fully, faithfully and joyfully amid overwhelming pain. And Still She Laughs is Kate’s gorgeous, gutsy, sassy account of how she found hope, humor and wholeness in the wreckage.  Pick it up immediately, especially if life has you in a grief tailspin. First, though, note this disclaimer from Kate:

“I’ve been notified that some readers have put the book down sometime in the first two chapters because it’s so sad. Well, friends, there can’t be true happy without some terrible sad. ‘Though sorrow may last through the night (or the first two chapters), joy comes in the morning.’ If you can get through the first 2 chapters, you’ll find encouragement, sass, sunshine, TMI, and all kinds of other things that will make you glad you pressed on! Plus, there’s a poop story involving a pair of corduroy pants  :)  You’re welcome.”

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
If you like memoirs that read like fiction, this one will take you for a ride. In it we meet Susannah Cahalan, a New York Post reporter who literally loses her mind and undergoes $1 million in tests before anyone can diagnose what happened. As if that weren’t enough, Susannah remembers nothing when she recovers. Brain on Fire is what she discovers about her “month of madness” by reviewing her medical records, watching hospital security videotapes of herself, and interviewing friends, family, and her medical team. Crazy, I tell you. And such a good read.

“Sometimes, just when we need them, life wraps metaphors up in little bows for us. When you think all is lost, the things you need the most return unexpectedly.”

Brown Girl Dreaming  by Jaqueline Woodson
I put off reading this for forever because I was afraid of it. It’s written in free verse, so I assumed I either wouldn’t like it or wouldn’t understand it. Wrong! Two pages into Jaqueline’s reflections on growing up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, and I was cursing myself for waiting so long to pick it up. Brown Girl Dreaming is easily the most beautifully penned memoir I’ve ever read. Every page is a gift and marvel. Truly.

“The empty swing set reminds us of this—that bad won't be bad forever, and what is good can sometimes last a long, long time.”

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty
If the bitterness of any kind of loss is a fresh taste on your tongue these days, then this memoir might be the palate cleanse you’re thirsting for. From allowing God to turn the bitterness of unmet desire into new flavors of joy, to finding His nearness when life breaks, Sara leads the way through her own story of spiritual and physical barrenness.

“Every dark place has its redemption in Him.”

Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf
Hope Heals is Katherine and Jay Wolf’s remarkable retelling of Katherine’s recovery from a massive brain stem stroke. It’s a story of irreparable loss, unrelenting love and the God who entered into both.

Over the past seven years of this saga, I have learned to do many things well—to wait well, suffer well, cope well, persevere well, and even to lose well. Our culture tells us to succeed, be beautiful, avoid pain, and be happy. What if everything important in our lives is actually the opposite? Maybe it takes life being undeniably terrible before we can truly recognize its undeniable splendor.”

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
This is a fascinating, moving read for entrepreneurs, leaders and anyone who has ever owned a calling (or a pair of Nikes). If chasing a dream or building a business has you one bad day away from calling it quits, Phil’s story will keep you running. Bonus: If you have a Nike-wearing tween or teen in your life (or one whose English teacher is requiring more non-fiction reading this school year), point them in the direction of this version adapted for young readers. Mine inhaled it.

“We wanted, as all great businesses do, to create, to contribute, and we dared to say so aloud. When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is—you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully, and if that’s business, all right, call me a
businessman. Maybe it will grow on me.” -Phil Knight

When Breath Becomes Air  by Paul Kalanithi
All I can say is that this one gives me chills and pause every time I recommend it. One day neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi was treating the dying. The next day he was a patient struggling to live with stage IV lung cancer. In the midst of it all, he started writing this book. “When Breath Becomes Air,” his publisher says, “is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.” Know this: The epilogue by his wife will annihilate your tear ducts. Brace your nasal passages, too. You’ve been warned.

“This was the life he was given, and this is what he made of it.”

Author: Kristen Lunceford  | www.kristenlunceford.com  | @kristenlunceford

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