Raw Grief, Holy Hilarity, and Stubborn Grace

“This book is the story of how we reclaim the things that are lost.  It’s also the story of how a home can become sacred, and how in the process it can sanctify us as well. I can tell you these things because I have been in dark places—which is the only way any of us learns to love the light. . . . Home is . . . where we learn grace . . . where we find or lose God, or perhaps where He finds us if we will only be still long enough to listen.”  (Tony Woodlief, Somewhere More Holy, p. 32)

So ends Tony Woodlief’s introduction to his amazing book, Somewhere More Holy.  It’s the first book I’ve read this year, and I already know it will be at the top of my list of 2012 favorites.  My daughter gave it to me for Christmas, and I began to love it the minute I skimmed through the first few pages.

For starters, it opens with a quote from Frederick Buechner. You know a book can’t be all bad, beginning with Buechner.  I also like the fact that each chapter begins with excerpts from other favorite authors of mine.  But it was really an author completely new to me—Tony Woodlief—who captured my attention with his first words and never really let me go until the end.  Actually, I was very sorry to come to the end.

The book is a story that weaves together many stories.  Stories from, as the cover tells us, “a bewildered father, stumbling husband, reluctant handy man, and prodigal son.”  It is the story of deep loss.  Probably the deepest loss any parent can experience—the loss of a child, a beautiful, exuberant little 3-year-old robbed of the rest of her earthly life by a brain tumor.  Excruciating loss and pain.

It is also the story of some almost-losses: of a marriage, of father-son relationships, and of the ultimate Father-Son relationship with God.  Woodlief recounts these  losses and almost-losses with raw authenticity.  Reader be cautioned: have tissues at the ready.

But it is also a story of hope and hilarity and, as Woodlief says in my beginning quote, reclaiming the things that are lost.  The author has a rare ability to juxtapose joy and sorrow, the eternal and the everyday, the marvelous and the mundane, in ways that constantly catch the reader by surprise.  Reading the book feels like riding a roller coaster.  You never know where the next twist or turn will take you.  And oh, those heart-stopping drops!

Woodlief is a really good writer.  He’s also very very funny.  Never have I read a book that took me from laughter to tears so unsuspectingly.  There are—believe it or not—tons of LOL ("laughing out loud" for any non-texters) moments when Woodlief  recounts parenting adventures with his four wild and wooly little boys.  More than once my husband looked up at me from his football game while I was reading the book, wondering why I was laughing so hard.

Amidst the laughter and the tears, it’s also a great parenting book.  The author takes us through various rooms in the Woodlief home where there have been lessons aplenty in marriage and parenting that he shares with humor, humility, and hope.  Side note: you’ve got to love some of his chapter titles—e.g. “Where the Wild Things Are” for the chapter on the boys’ rooms.

Ultimately, Somewhere More Holy is the story of grace—God’s stubborn, abounding, relentless, amazing grace.  Just what a mom needs more than anything else.  Just what this mom needed more than anything else.  Thank you, Tony Woodlief, for reminding us.  And please, write more books!