Book Review: God Never Blinks

Recently, I finished Regina Brett's book, God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life's Little Detours.  The moment I was finished, I started it all over again. It's that good. The book was originally a piece from Brett's Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper column to mark her 45th birthday. She outlined 45 key life lessons and then, on her 50th birthday, added five more. The 50 lessons have been expanded to 50 chapters and each one is a jewel. Brett has seen a lot of hard things: childhood neglect, rape, an unplanned pregnancy, dropping out of school, breast cancer. Anyone who has survived what she's survived and is still smiling gets my attention.

My favourite chapters deal with the notion of comparing our lives to others. While I know that by 65 everyone has been affected by illness, crime, death, divorce, or serious financial setback (and, sometimes, all five) at the age of 41 there are still a lot of people out there who through birthright and good fortune have managed to escape the hard things in life (often, they will attribute their lack of misfortune to good planning; I know I did.) And if you've suffered major setbacks, it's hard to not feel resentful of those who haven't. Brett has felt this way too and offers some practical ways to embrace your lot in life with grace.

Brett is a firm believer that God never gives us more than we can handle. She writes about the book Breath, Eyes, Memory:

Author Edwidge Danticat describes a group of people in Guinea who carry the sky on their heads. In her lyrical novel about the tragedy and trauma one family of women face, she tells the tale of a people who are powerful enough to bear all things. Their Creator designed them to carry more than others. They don't know that they were chosen for this. But if you experience many difficulties in life, you were designed to bear them. ... God never gives us more than we were designed to carry. Some of us were designed for more, some for less. No matter what, even if we are asked to carry a portion of the sky, it is beyond bearable. It is a gift. 

It's a pretty great way of looking at things.

A long time ago, I had a piece in an anthology about mothering. One of my co-writers was Sheree-Lee Olson, who wrote a brave piece titled, I Am My Father. In it, Olson writes about how hard it was to leave her baby with her at-home husband so she could return to work. As she felt herself morphing into her father - the hard working, driven breadwinner - she referenced the gardening concept of hardening off. Gardeners gradually expose young plants to harsh environmental conditions in order to toughen them up and help them survive the outside world. I'm not a gardener, but Olson's image stuck with me over the years. Hardships create survival skills. Moreover, plants that have not been hardened off don't tend to flourish unless
confined to a greenhouse.

When I read Brett's book, I was reminded of this notion. I've never viewed the hard things I've had to face as a gift. Frankly, I had a lot of resentment. Seeing things from Brett's perspective allowed me to think about things differently. When the hard times come - and they always do - some people will not be ready. They have not been hardened off. And so something really minor - a kitchen renovation going awry, a temporary job loss, a non-fatal illness - will unseat them. I've always been judgemental of these people, gnashing their teeth at the most insignificant things. The problem with hardening off is that is can devolve into growing hard. I saw as weak and foolish the people who'd not been gifted with hardship and who then fell apart over something seemingly small. After reading this chapter, I was finally able to view them with empathy. Or course they are falling apart; they are a seedling and it's their first winter. Per 1 Peter 1:6-7, they have not been refined by fire. They don't yet know the importance of leaning hard on your faith, holding things lightly, and putting love at the forefront.

Brett has made me realize that I'm one of the lucky ones, which is not something I've been feeling in a while. I can feel sorry for myself or I can get up and use my sad tales to help others going through hard times. So many of the writers I know have suffered terrible hardships. I can only assume that somehow the two things are linked. Perhaps writers go through hard things, so we can write about them and help others feel less alone in their struggles. If so, I urge young creative types to seek another profession stat.

I have a sense that, in part, this blog is a way for me to share my journey. A way to let people know that in spite of life's trials one can go on and one day sit in the sun and drink a Bellini on an island in Italy.

Because Brett believes in that too. She's a big fan of using the good china, burning the expensive candles, and putting on the good lingerie. Life is short and sometimes brutal. We owe it to ourselves and to others to find the joy.

(If you want to feel really grateful, go see Joe when it's released. It will make you happy to not be living those lives. And yes, that's Nic Cage on the left.)