Book Review: The End of the Island

IMG_9952In a chaplain’s world, theodicy is that delicate and difficult balance of the gut-wrenching work of understanding why the Divine allows evil and human suffering. Human as we are, there is such a temptation to distill the work of theodicy into neat little pieces. As if pain, suffering, loss and grief would EVER be done “neatly.”

Many books attempt to express this through allegory or rigid theological systems. Instead of a systematic expression, however, Tucker places his allegory in a kind of contextual theology. Thus I approached this book with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Jeffrey Tucker takes as his muse “The Happy Prince,” a children’s short story written by Oscar Wilde. (You can read it on-line here…)  In the postscript of his book he delves into some of the influences of that story in his work as a chaplain. It’s worth reading first before you delve into the topics his work contains. I would have liked him to develop his own perspective on why he thinks he might be the Prince. It would have given his story a better foundation, for this reader, anyway.

The book is organized around the narrative of an old man traveling “to the end of the island” – a journey he feels he must make as his “time is short.” The “journey” is expressed via short vignettes, spread out over several chapters, each addressing a different question as it relates to human suffering. The questions include:

  • Where is my Suffering?
  • Where am I in my Suffering?
  • Where is the Divine in my Suffering?
  • Where is my Human Support?
  • Where are my Hope and my Deliverance?
  • Re-Defining Forward Movement
  • Finding the End of the Island

On the journey, the old man meets several individuals who help him re-examine what he is experiencing, where he is going, what he hopes to find, and what other lessons might be part of his journey. I particularly liked the author’s reflections in chapter 4 on “Where is the Divine in my Suffering?” His analogy of God being in both the tidal wave and the tidal marsh were poignant and personally meaningful to me.

At first, this structure is somewhat confusing and disjointed. (Perhaps a better “How to Use This Book” section is needed?) However, because of the nature of the questions which Tucker addresses, having “space” in between the sections of the old man’s story is helpful for allowing the reader to engage and reflect. This is not a book to read at one sitting. In fact, if you rush through it, you will miss the beauty of the struggle in this journey we are all on – of life and death, of hope and discouragement, of suffering and release.

Tucker’s premise is that our life’s journeys are not about “solving” the problem of pain. It is not meant to provide simple strategies or pointers. There aren’t Bible verses to read and write down your reflections with Jesus as your Best Friend in suffering and God always bringing healing and relief. (In fairness, there were many places where I found it was easy enough to be drawn back into Scripture and journal. It just was more raw than pretty, honest than victorious.)

This book is also going to make the more conservative readers among us a tad uncomfortable, for the author invites us to dwell with the wider views of spirituality, and to engage in mindfulness practices around the journey we are all struggling through. However, you will be invited to explore fresh and new ways of walking through your own personal, painful, rough patches. And that, in itself, is enough. For God is enough.

As the author says, “The totality of all our questions will never be resolved completely. For remember, I am talking here about movement – not a neat, linear journey.”

Here’s to the messiness and the reality that God is there in the mix. Always.


The End of the Island by Jeffrey C. Tucker. © 2016 Eugene, OR. Resource Publications (Wipf and Stock): Paperback, 156 pages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: “Ruined” by Ruth Everhart

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape; sexual assault.


As a mother, I’ve had more than enough good advice to pour into my daughters’ ears.  (I’m sure, in fact, I’ve said TOO much!) Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to say, “here is my story… learn from it!” But Ruth Everhart’s memoir is one of courage, honesty and integrity.

The setting of her memoir could be near any of a number of college campuses. It was a Sunday evening, after church. A houseful of Christian college women were forcibly held and raped at gunpoint… and lived through the experience. Ruth and her friends survived a night of chaos, distress and violation.

It’s a club no one wants to join, this sisterhood. It’s a story no one wants to hear. To live through. To have to testify about to a room full of strangers. To somehow pull the shards of your life back together and try to finish college, go to graduate school, get married, have children…

To compound her recovery, Ruth had to navigate the restoration of her sense of safety and worth. She had to redefine what it meant to be a single woman in a purity culture of high moral expectations. And, somehow, she had to find a way to experience wholeness and forgiveness… despite the label she felt she would wear forever… RUINED. Or, as the judge called the victims at the sentencing of one of the perpetrators, “marred and scarred.”

Ruth’s greater story is the one of how she recovers her understanding and perceptions of God. For how could she hold to the tenets of a faith that allowed this horrible event to occur? Where was God when she was raped with a gun to her head?

As she wrote:

It had been more than a year and I still couldn’t live with the implication of what I’d always believed: that everything happens according to the will of God. The God I loved simply wasn’t that monstrous…”

In the process, Ruth found ways to overcome being a prisoner of her past. She fought her way past the most visceral of reactions to claim her healing. She shares the process of moving from victim to survivor to overcomer. It wasn’t a straight line, for like all of us in the healing process, there are zigs and zags in the road to wholeness. She discovered a way to take the hard parts of her life and allow God to not only release her from them, but to become a woman God would use, as she says, “not in spite of them, but because of them.”

I won’t spoil Ruth’s story for you… because I think as you read her experiences and reflect on her spiritual journey, you will ponder the way of your own. You might also consider the injustice done to women through the patriarchal systems of the “purity culture” of fundamentalist Christians. You will also have to reflect on that notion of God’s grace — how it reaches us and transforms us. And that in itself will be a blessing.


Ruined by Ruth Everhart. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.; Reprint edition (August 2, 2016).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the author and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

BOOK REVIEW: Daddy, this is it. 

Daddy, this is it. Being-with my Dying Dad by Julie Saeger Nierenberg. Self-published (c) 2013. ISBN: 0-9919-2070-8. Paperback 72 pages.
This simple, autobiographical volume shares the journey of one daughter with her father through hospice. Julie writes about the real, painful journey of walking with her father through his diagnosis, treatment and eventual admission into hospice. As one person’s story, it brings a limited viewpoint. But those of us who work in palliative care settings or hospice need to reflect on what her story could teach us.

My take-aways included:

Listen for the back story. What was he concerned most about? Being unable to see. Being alone. Not being able to see his wife (in the next room). It’s those “little things” that support a higher quality of life for the patient.

Find ways to help the patient stay involved in the lives of their family and friends. Skype is probably the best way I know to help people stay connected. Grandchildren. Friends. Church. Exercise partners (in this patient’s case), the “Hill ‘O Beans” walking buddies. Being pro-active and at times, an insistent advocate for the patient is a necessary part of helping them feel connected to the important relationships in his life.

If you are the chaplain, be engaged, be involved! The biggest disappointment for me was that there was no mention of the support of a chaplain in their journey. There may have been one (spiritual care providers are essential in the whole-person care of hospice) but either his/her impact was minimal, or the family refused chaplain visits. There was mention of the nurse, social workers and “sitters” but not the rest of the interdisiplinary team. The logical conclusion is that, at least in Tulsa, chaplains are not as prevalent or engaged in whole-patient care. I hope that’s corrected now, over 2 years later.

And finally, Keep telling your story! Other need to hear it!  Whether one is a practioner or a family member, we need to hear the ways that lives can be enriched, supported and encouraged as we walk this hospice journey together.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the author and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: So Not Okay: Mean Girl Makeover

SO NOT OKAY is the first of three books in a pro-active series on bullying by Nancy Rue. It is juvenile fiction in content, but its topic extends far beyond the age group.

The book centers around a middle school girl named Tori who has to learn how to stand up to a “Queen Bee” named Kylie and her friends. Tori discovers how to “take back” her control over friendships and her attitude towards others.

Among the other themes are learning how to stick up for your friends, what it means to truly be “best friends” (hint: it doesn’t mean being a doormat!), and how to go about getting support and help when it’s needed.

Anyone who has made it through middle school and high school knows the effects of bullying. Rarely does anyone make it to adulthood without enduring some kind of mockery. In a world where the bullied student responds with firearms or IEDs, it is important to teach alternative ways to “fighting back” — ways which demonstrate self-control, self-respect and self-awareness.

Ms. Rue’s book touches a chord. You remember what it was like to be scared to present in front of the class. You feel those gut-wrenching moments of ridicule and frustration. You relate to the quandary: tell or stay silent? stay with my friends or go to a “cool” clique?

There is also an excellent role model for Tori. Lydia, a research assistant for Tori’s father, has real life experience in dealing with bullies, disappointment and taunting. Her gentle guidance and example help Tori and her friends come up with a solution.

While I think it would be a great book to get in the hands of older elementary school students and middle schoolers, I think I am little too old to judge it for certain! My plan is to share the book with some students at our church and get their feedback. But – I feel certain that they will be encouraged, challenged and strengthened by this book. The book has some Christian content as its backbone, but it would not prevent someone from another faith group from gaining valuable lessons from its pages.



So Not Okay: Mean Girl Makeover, by Nancy Rue. Published by Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN. (c) 2014.

Soft cover: 284 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-4003-2370-8
Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: All That Bright Light — A story of love, murder and healing

Courtesy of Michelle Basch, WTOP Radio

The cover shows a blurred image of balloons rising over a football field at sunset. It was a sight that must have been viewed through eyes blurred by tears at the Rockville High School stadium that night.

The friends, family and teachers of Michelle Miller gathered to offer words of hope, grief and joy, even as they struggled to understand why a 31 year old Army recruiter, Adam Arndt, shot first Miller and then himself in a murder-suicide. They lofted helium balloons with messages of love, hope and courage.

“Release the balloons,” a clear, young voice booms through the sound system.

We have been waiting for this moment. It is truly awesome as hundreds of brightly colored balloons seem to light up the sky as they float through the last rays of fading sunlight.

For a few moments the stadium is silent as we all watch our balloons, which like Michelle’s bright spirit, are now heading for the heavens. (All That Bright Light, page 28).

Coming to grips with a loss this devastating seems impossible. How does one find a way to make sense of it? Why did a young woman, full of joy, vibrancy and promise, have her life ended in such a brutal way? How do you embrace your faith, your family and your sense of fairness? What do you do when you feel that justice has not been served? Can you forgive? How do you forgive?

These and other questions flow thoughtfully and with reflective  realism from the author, Alice Miller. A psychotherapist, she has  been the consoler and counselor to others who were in deep grief. Now, just weeks before her beloved granddaughter, nicknamed Lulu, was to graduate from high school, she was killed by the 31-year-old Army sergeant who recruited her for an Army ROTC program.

This is a story that breaks the heart. And it is a story of conflict between the Army and a heartbroken family.

Alice shares her personal journals from this tragedy, from the moments they found out that Michelle was dead, to the grim details of her death. She talks about the outpouring of love, meals and care that surrounded the family. She writes of her own grieving process, one that she fully understands is not over.

Grief, I have learned, is like a cocoon, which from the beginning has encased me in its pain. Now, gradually I need to learn to emerge from that sorrow if I am every again to fully embrace life. The hole in my heart may never go away, But time, I believe will smooth the rough edges. The hole, however, remains. (All That Bright Light, page 128)

The title is taken from the words spoken by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when she responded to the outpouring of love and condolences upon the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. All his bright light has gone from the world. All of you who have written to me know how much we all loved him and that he returned that love in full measure.”

When someone is murdered, the spark of their love and life is no more. At least, not on this planet. As Miller writes,

“Your bright light may be gone from this world but I know that it will shine through into the next.”

For those who have experienced this kind of traumatic loss, you will find a companion in the grief and anger that the author knows so well. For those who wonder at the ways that injustice, especially when accompanied by crimes of rape and physical assault, you will hear the passionate plea for accountability. For those of us who are parents, there is the practical reminder to go home and hug our children and those we love.

I recommend this book. Though Alice finds peace through her Christian faith, she does not insist that you follow her path. She offers perspective through her own pain and grieving. She admits where she is struggling and invites you to carry your own losses with realism and honesty.

All That Bright Light  underscores the simple reminder that we need one another. We also need to stand up for those who have been rendered voiceless by other’s criminal acts. And most of all, we need to give one another space, time, and comfort to grieve and grow through these difficult losses.

The lessons from this book reminded me of this quote from Mother Teresa:

“Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house…let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

So may it be.

All That Bright Light: A Story of Love, Murder and Healing, by Alice G. Miller. Self-published. November, 2013. Available on Amazon.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Grief — A Mama’s Unwanted Journey


I read many books about how to raise and care for my little boy. I had anticipated his arrival with joy and hope. But I was completely unprepared for his death. There was no book telling me how to take leave of him.

From Chapter Ten: A Bed for My Boy, Grief: A Mama’s Unwanted Journey by  Shelley Ramsey.     WestBowPress.

Shelley Ramsey writes about a mother’s nightmare: the loss of a child. She tells her experiences of her years-long recovery from the traumatic death of her 17-year-old in a car accident. Her words are real, raw, and honest. She expresses the grim reality of coming through grief to a place of wholeness and healing, recognizing that the loss of a close relationship is not something that “goes away” and does not have a timeline.

Those of us on the mourning bench must let ourselves be broken and allow ourselves to hurt…

We cannot walk out of the cemetery and back into life as we knew it. We must take time to grieve.

(from Chapter 24: Grief Doesn’t Come With Instructions)

Ramsey describes her struggle with anger, depression and emotional exhaustion. She doesn’t sugarcoat her own journey back to wellness; she also notes where and how she made progress through her own pain.

The story Shelley shares is at times difficult to read. There are places where the reader will identify with the heart-rending tasks of grief: informing family and friends, picking a casket, composing the gravestone, walking by the empty bedroom. These are raw, painful moments that are common to all who grieve.

The author not only helps to normalize the struggles of grieving individuals (being forgetful, feeling exhausted, stressed by social events) but offers some practical tips. She gives some great examples of what NOT to say in Chapter 28: No Consoling Words. She also shares her personal self-care steps to recovery that she tried to do on a daily basis:

I was in such bad shape that I had to begin with the most basic. I made a short to-do list for myself every day: (1) Get up and dress for work. (2) Make a plan for dinner. (3) Throw in a load of laundry. (4) Touch base with someone today. (5) Jot down one thing I am thankful for.

(from Chapter 31: Trust God in the Dark)

I particularly appreciated the quotes that Ramsey included from authors who understand the pain of the journey through grief. Writers like C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Ann Voscamp, Rick Warren, Teresa of Avila and Anne Lamott augment the personal stories from the author’s grief work. Combined with her thoughtful reflections, they are consoling words indeed.

Ramsey’s book is written from a Christian perspective. She holds firmly to the promises of God and the resurrection of Jesus. Those who are from other faiths may not find the latter chapters in particular as helpful, as they focus more on her own faith. However, it does not diminish the power of her experiences and the gentle, caring way she shares how she personally overcame depression and despair after the death of her son. Those who are newly bereaved may find her book a little too raw to read; I encourage them to set it aside and pick it up in a few months because they will find it a loving companion on the road from grief to life.


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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



As a volunteer reviewer for BookLook bloggers, I have written the following review…

Jennie Allen, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, offers her second stand-alone offering, Restless. True to her education and ministry in conservative circles, her book focuses on principles of biblical living that are from a more traditional viewpoint. She wants to “catalyze a generation of women (emphasis mine) to live what they believe” (from About the Author). Her take on what will bring women to a state of rest (vs. restlessness) does have good intent, though her scope is limited to a conservative cross-section of Christianity.

In terms of the overall helpfulness, the book offers some good material for personal discernment. In particular, the chapter on “starting places” uses a “parable” on the Christian’s walk. Allen asks whether our “starting place” is from a place of being “numb,” “thirsty,” “running free,” or “at the starting line.” She suggests that we look for others who are in the Christian walk/race with us and are also seeking God’s direction, and help them move forward. She notes that we can always start again, running with better focus and remembering that it is God who is always there to help us and sustain us. This chapter also offers insights for those folksp who are just coming into a place of spiritual awakening.

Allen explains her formula for the discernment process as: God’s story + my threads + the need + the Holy Spirit = my purpose. (p 66)

Jennie shares her own story of being restless, and where she personally struggles with questions of direction, calling, ego and life balance. A poignant story towards the end of the book describes a moment in her young adult life that had far-reaching effects:

“I remembered being home from college and sitting in church with my parents. Our pastor preached that morning on biblical womanhood. One of the women in our church led a very influential international ministry. In the midst of his sermon he asked her to come to the stage, where he announced that she was quitting her ministry to stay at home with her kids.

The church erupted into a standing ovation.

In my head, the applause turned to boos and condemnation as I saw myself moving in the exact opposite direction of the woman my church celebrated many years ago. Even though there wasn’t a doubt in my mind I was moving in obedience to God, I feared appearing like I was in sinning because my calling didn’t fit in the prescribed picture of motherhood in my conservative community.”

“…all of our view of our roles are shaped by our culture and by approving or disapproving messages.”

(Restless, page 190)

These subliminal dis/approving messages are very familiar to Christian feminists!

The author encourages journaling, reflecting and then discussing with trusted friends, family and advisors the “threads” that make up who you are and where you can serve God as your “purpose.” These “threads” include our gifts, moments of suffering, our passions, the places we live/work/serve, the people in our lives (those we need and those who need us), and where they all intersect with “God’s Story” and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Allen is most effective when she writes about those moments where we are afraid to move forward with a goal or a dream. She addresses “shrinking back” – the common ways that we choose or rationalize not serving God (physical, emotional, relational or spiritual). She exhorts her readers to move forward by facing fears head on. However, it is notable that she includes a letter from her husband telling men that it is “OK” for wives to pursue their own calling. Rather than being “freeing” for women (as is the stated intent) it puts a layer of patriarchy over the book’s content.

Her intended audience: It is pretty clear that Allen is writing this book for women only. She specifically seems to use examples of married women with children. Her material could be restructured and more applicable to all Christians if she were to include examples for men and women, regardless of gender or marital status. This would make her material more accessible to women who do not feel they “fit” into the conservative complementarian model. The methods she suggests for discernment are helpful. I would love to see them freed from these patriarchal constraints.

Recommendation: Do I think this book is helpful? Yes, absolutely. However, because Allen chooses to write to women, specifically married Christian women, she is missing out on an opportunity to reach a larger audience. Her discernment process is sound and would help men AND women. Anyone who is in the process of determining their “next steps,” Restless would help them see how and where they are indeed “made for more.”


Restless: Because You Were Made for More, by Jennie Allen. Published by W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN. (c) 2013.

  • Soft cover: 220 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-8499-4706-3

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”