Survival stories - what comes to mind when you hear that? People being pulled alive out of the rubble of a collapsed building following an earthquake or tornado when it seems unlikely that any more survivors would be found? Hikers lost in mountains, jungles and in all manner of inhospitable terrain without provisions for weeks on end, who somehow hold on and against all odds come out alive? 'Somewhere More Holy' by Tony Woodlief is a survival story but you will not see it featured on the Discovery Channel. It is the story of the survival of a marriage, the preservation of a family and in my opinion, that is just as miraculous. It all depends on your definition of a miracle.
I know when a book is impacting my life when I reach for a highlighter to mark the passages and even more so, when I know that what the author has written on the page will be copied in my own handwriting onto the page in my journal set aside for inspirational quotations about the home and family life. I did not have my journal with me when I first read 'Somewhere More Holy' by Tony Woodlief. I was on a long train journey and had just commenced the introduction when I began to tell myself to take mental notes of the pages. 'Pages 30-31' I kept reminding myself as I read further. At one point he uses the analogy of a train station - I was actually in a train station at that very moment and knew then I was meant to read this book. If not for myself, it would be to recommend to others who are facing trials or in circumstances that could tear apart their family.
It was not a quotation or an observation that had me wiping away the tears from my eyes as the knot in my throat became tighter but a list of medications on page 20. A list of medications for a three year old girl who was in the most horrendous pain from a brain tumour that would soon claim her life and leave her parents devastated and their new-found faith floundering. Tony Woodlief kept that medicine diary in his dresser drawer and tells us that sometimes when he thinks his paltry troubles are overwhelming he digs it out and thumbs through it. I had to ask myself why on earth would you want to keep something that would be such a painful reminder of what your child endured but I have never been to the place that he and his wife have been to. Their days he informs us 'were framed by her suffering.'
He keeps telling himself that he was going to be strong, the rock for his family but the truth was that the rock was crumbling away. The author's deep shame and regret does not prevent him from letting us know just how far he fell - the anger at God for letting his daughter die, the frustration directed at his wife - never fists but as he states 'words can do plenty of damage on their own.' Finding his solace in a bottle of scotch and sliding downwards to the act of ultimate betrayal.
I've already told you that this is a survival story. The phrase 'God's grace at my place' comes to mind, for the breakthroughs did not come in the counselor's office or in healing meetings in a church building - the realizations of God's incredible mercies poured out for wounded people occur in the home - in the everyday happenings of family life. In sword fights (with rubber swords that really do sting!), in the gentle touch of a forgiving wife and in conversations with a two year old. 'Sometimes' he tells us 'God is in the whisper of a little boy.' We are invited into his home and taken into every room. The living room is affectionately referred to as 'The Ring' where nothing is too precious and boys are allowed to be boys. We are beckoned to the table for a family dinner and regaled with wonderful and often hilarious stories of meal times. 'Every Day a Baptism' is an accurate description for their bathroom. 'A bathroom not a playroom' he tries to explain to his sons! I've said this to my children too, then realized that I supplied toys that squirt water! And I truly did appreciate the chapter on the home classroom - for this family has now taken on what he describes as 'an experiment'. That is what I termed our home education venture 13 years ago!
Perhaps the hardest room for the author to describe is the master bedroom. The room where a couple watched their daughter die and held her in their arms for the very last time. It is in this chapter about a room for intimacy where a father shares his most intimate thoughts about his daughter's death and the aftermath. A significant room - you do not have to lose a child to realize the truth in his observation, that the very room where we create a family can be the very place where that family is undone. The raw and honest revelations will find you asking yourself 'How did this marriage survive? There are no neat or easy answers or principles to apply, this is not a survival manual for marriage but as those who have been reconciled can testify 'where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.' Grace is what saved their home - God's amazing grace which seeped into their lives and was evident in the faces of their children and a wife who deserves to be called most gracious. It is beautiful, restorative and healing grace and it is seen and experienced in the home - a place 'Somewhere More Holy.'
For every moment of shade in the story there is light. As I came to the closing chapters, I knew I had just read a very special book. A book about family and the importance God places upon the home, a book that offered hope for those in despair. And it is for this reason, I had to review this book at my blog. I do not know who it is for or who will be encouraged after reading this book but someone will. For me personally, it is still the writing on pages 30-31 that has impacted me most. Here are some of my favourite quotes from these pages, a very short sample of the writing that will delight your soul if you choose to read this book for yourself.
'We forgot that home was meant to be a sacred place because we were meant to be sacred.'
'Yes, we can go to churches and temples to seek Him out, but I wonder sometimes if our homes are not just as sacred as these buildings.'
'If God is not in such a place (the home), in the muck of our daily existence, in our beginnings and endings then He is nowhere.'
' We used to understand that home is sacred ground and a place of sanctification. We understood that it is where the sacred and mundane meet, which is to say, where the hand of God touches the broken heart of man. We used to know these things, and so we laboured and we bled to build our homes, and to protect them.'
- Tony Woodlief
If you have read this book or purchase it after reading this review, I would love to hear how it helped you. Your testimony may be a blessing to others. I must add that this is my own personal review and I was not asked to review it on behalf of any publisher or seller. For those in Australia it is available through Koorong.
With Love and Joy,