Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man (Book Review)

We live in a world that makes a fuss over men who run around chasing each other and throwing balls for a living. We make idols of surgically-enhanced actors or actresses in superhero constumes or singers who leave their pants at home when they perform. We love spectacle. We love drama. We love obnoxious, outrageous behavior. But, much of the time, the true heroes are those who live out of the limelight, serving their fellow humans every day with whatever resources they have.

The book Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man by Anne-Sophie Constant is the story of a true hero. Jean Vanier was a hero to all the people whose lives he touched through his love, kindness, and practical care. He was a man who quietly lived to serve people whom society would call “the least of these”. He saw each person inside the disability or deformity that would send most of us running in the opposite direction. He saw their worth, and even, their beauty.

Jean was not planning to spend his adult life in this way: he had been in the navy, then lived a very religious life of meditation and prayer, and, for a short time, as a professor.

What changed him was a visit to a care home for those with intellectual disabilities and his interactions with two of the men there. “I heard this mute cry…a cry inviting me to be their friend.” After that visit, he couldn’t stop thinking about those people. So he began to visit the places where disabled people were kept and he was appalled by the miserable conditions in which they lived.

Jean decided to purchase a small house and invite some of the disabled men to live with him. At this point he had no financial plan to support them, but acted out of the impulse of love. And just by being willing to take the first step and reach out to those in need, the rest of what was needed followed. People volunteered to serve, a board of directors was formed, Jean chose the name “L’Arche”, and they began a life of community, of family, in this little home in Trosley in the North of France.

What began as a way to serve the needs of a handful of people with disabilities flourished into a worldwide movement. Today there are 154 L’Arche communities worldwide on 5 continents. When I visited the L’Arche website, with all those beautiful faces, my respect grew even more for Jean Vanier and his life of love and service.

I highly recommend this book, which will be published on August 4th, to those who want to read about people who really made a difference in the world and whose legacy continues to change lives after they’ve passed on. Jean Vanier’s life made a difference to many and will continue to do so for years to come.

I received a free e-galley from Net Galley, but all opinions are completely my own.

Poetry is for YOU (plus, a GIVEAWAY!)

I know plenty of people who are bookworms but not poetry lovers. Maybe they were forced to read poetry written in archaic language when they were in high school and then asked to write a dreaded analysis. That kills it for so many people!

Or maybe they just think poetry is full of flowery language that they can’t understand or relate to. No one wants to feel stupid, so poetry gets shelved along with old yearbooks. Let me just say, this is not the point of poetry at all! It’s not meant to be only for those “brainy, heady types”. Poetry is for everyone!

For me, poetry is a breath of fresh air. It’s a way to connect emotion, intuition, and mystery with words. It’s fluid and freeing and touches me deeply in a way that prose cannot.

For those of you whose interest in poetry has been blighted by education’s withering hand, I entreat you to try this: Go to your local library or bookstore. The children’s poetry is often an easy, accessible entry point. Pick up a book of poetry and open it. If one poem doesn’t appeal to you, turn a few pages and try another one. If that particular poet doesn’t appeal to you, set that book down and reach for something else. If you feel brave, find the grown-up poetry section and repeat.

I promise: there is poetry for you, for where you are at right now, and for the kind of language your heart speaks. You don’t have to decipher the meaning, write an analysis or attempt to understand every line. You just have to listen with your heart and see if the poet is speaking to you.

If you’re brand new to poetry, head to The Poetry Foundation’s website to read more poetry than you can imagine. Here are a few poets you might want to start with:

Shel Silverstein

Mary Oliver

Jack Prelutsky

Maya Angelou

Ogden Nash

Wendell Berry

OK, about the giveaway! **U.S. Residents ONLY** I am giving away a brand new copy of Plough Publishing’s poetry book The Heart’s Necessities to one reader. Read my review here. To enter: 1. Subscribe to this blog. 2. Follow me on Instagram. I will choose one reader at random on Friday May 31st. Good luck, readers!

What I’m Reading Now

Happy Friday! Here is a list of five books I’m currently reading. I would love to know what you are reading lately!

Jean Vanier: Portrait of a Free Man by Anne-Sophie Constant will be published by Plough Publishing House on August 4th. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche community in France passed away on May 7th. I’ve read his book Community and Growth, have heard him interviewed on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast, and have a great respect for him and the work he did. He served those who the modern world often sees as “the least of these”, and I was introduced to him through some of Henri Nouwen’s writings. I’m looking forward to an inspiring read about this modern spiritual giant who has left behind a beautiful legacy.

I am listening to The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton on audiobook. It is read by Joanne Froggatt (Lady Mary’s maid, Anna Bates, from Downton Abbey) and is a gorgeous, intricate, many-layered tale containing murder, mystery, ghosts, and voices from the past and present. I haven’t read a Kate Morton book in several years and am truly enjoying this book!

She’s My Dad: A Father’s Transition and A Son’s Redemption by Jonathan K. Williams with Paula Stone Williams is an eye-opening, heart-wrenching true story of a Christian minister’s family turned upside-down by the revelation that their father is a woman. Told through the son’s eyes, the story is filled with many references to charismatic 80s and 90s church culture in the U.S., ( with which I am, for better or worse, familiar). I am only about a third of the way through and will give a full review when I finish the book.

I just began reading In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden last weekend. It’s the story of a successful businesswoman in her mid-forties who decides to join a Benedictine order of nuns in Sussex, England. At this stage, she has just taken the train to the Abbey and has been allowed inside. This is going to be a wonderful story, I think. This is my first Rumer Godden book for adults; I’ve only read her children’s books. (My favorite children’s book of hers–and all-time favorite Christmas book is The Story of Holly and Ivy.) She has several titles I am adding to my TBR list…

As so many others are doing because of her recent, untimely death, I am reading Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding Church by beloved writer Rachel Held Evans. Because I have struggled with my relationship to church, I want to read the words of someone who has been there and understands.

From Red Earth (Book Review)

I knew when I saw the cover of Denise Uwimana’s book From Red Earth: A Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness that it would be a weighty read. Although I’ve heard missionaries talk about the Rwandan genocide, of the hateful, horrible violence and desolation the small East African country experience, it was only in general overviews. I’ve never read the first-hand account of someone who survived it, and even more incredible–someone who has been able to forgive the perpetrators of these horrific crimes.

Having read many Christian biographies and autobiographies to my kids during the years we homeschooled, I was pleasantly surprised to find this book is as well-written and captivating as a good novel.

The author does such a wonderful job describing her surroundings in the town of Bugarama, creating a sense of danger and foreboding, and she vividly recounted her childhood in such a way that I was transported through the story along with her. And even more importantly, I quickly felt a sense of connection with her.

Denise’s personal thoughts and feelings, that she generously shared with readers throughout the book, gave a beauty and individuality to the story, and invested me as a reader.

What she, and the Tutsi people of Rwanda experienced during the hundred days of genocide is unimaginable, horrible violence, pain, and grief. The fact that the international community did nothing to stop it is unthinkable and shameful. The descriptions of barbaric, hateful atrocities that humans committed against fellow humans are difficult to read, to take in, but necessary to remember in the hopes of preventing history repeating itself.

The second half of the book focuses on what happened after the violence. Denise wrote how she and the people who survived began to process what had been done to them and to their loved ones. So much grief, pain, anger, and hopelessness permeated their hearts and minds. Many had no home, no family, no land and seemingly, no future.

As time passed, Denise gradually found healing and was miraculously able to forgive her enemies. She began working to help other survivors to find healing. Eventually, this became her full-time work: to help widows of the genocide toward recovery and restoration.

I believe everyone should know what happened in Rwanda, even those of us who live far away and may never visit. We need to be reminded of the cruelty that is possible in humanity, and that we are not immune to it no matter how much we think we are.

Reading this book provides us with a first-hand account of the Rwandan genocide; more importantly, though, the message of hope, healing, and restoration that shines through this story is one that the world also needs to hear. I highly recommend this book!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Plough Publishing, but all opinions are completely my own!

The Heart’s Necessities (Book Review)

I recently finished reading The Heart’s Necessities: Life in Poetry by Jane Tyson Clement and Becca Stevens. It shares the story of Jane Tyson Clement’s life, which was woven throughout with poetry.

She began writing poems as a teenager, and that is the way she seemed to best express herself. As a young woman, she married, had children, and, for a season, moved from the States to a Bruderhof community in South America. Jane was a lively teacher and a loving wife and mother, who always had poems singing through her head and heart. Her poetry was wound up in Nature and in the intricacies of her daily life.

Becca Stevens is a songwriter who has been influenced by Jane’s poems and wanted to share these quiet and beautiful gems with the world. She wrote the book with a chapter on Jane’s life, interspersed with snippets of poetry, lovely photos of nature, several poems at the end of each chapter, followed by Becca’s reflections on Jane’s life and poetry.

Like many other offerings from Plough Publishing, this book would make a wonderful gift for a poetry lover or songwriter, or for anyone longing for a glimpse at how the ordinary life is transformed through poetry. It will be released on April 22 and you can preorder it here.