Denver and Dayton will never again be the same for me.
Yesterday - on the two hour flight from one to the other - I read (with Barby doing the same, over my shoulder!) through Charles & Joanne Hewlett's Hurting Hope: what parents feel when their children suffer.. Here and there we shed a tear. Here and there we parked in a rest area so that we could absorb the view. It is a precious book. It just is.
It will sit boldly on my shelf between Lewis' A Grief Observed and Wolterstorff's Lament for a Son (and eventually the other new Piquant publication, Goldingay's Remembering Ann).
In my jet-lagged state, I've been trying to summon the reasons why I valued the book so much. Here are a few:
The title is as intriguing as the sub-title is clear. Full marks to whoever came up with them. The idea of hope being hurt badly, but not lost or forgotten, captures me. And 'what parents feel when their children suffer' explains exactly what the book is about, just as it should be. I am not going to try and define for whom the book is written - everyone should read it. A morning? An evening? A flight? Even a pointless T20 cricket game? That is all it takes.
How often do you find both husband and wife to be such able writers? It is most unusual and yet this is the case here. The structure of the book is episodic as one parent and then the other shares a story or an insight. Back and forth it goes - with no loss of momentum. I like the specificity which they include in their writing. And I like the lean-ness - leaving spaces for the reader to become involved by never saying too much and often stopping abruptly. I like the way that there is no attempt to tell the full story. They leave huge gaps - but the gaps work on my imagination like silence in a sermon, or space in an advertisement. They draw me in. What would I have done? I wonder what happened after that? How can I begin to imagine what that would be like? Wouldn't it cool to be an angel?
The range of emotion encountered in the book is diverse. There is the raw and gritty with the anger and grief, the fear and dread. But there is also a tenderness and love that is just as poignant. It took me back to the emotion of John 20 (and the way Jesus touched and transformed) and to the Psalms of Ascent - borne as they are in the deepest of pain and yet deeper still lie strata of truth about God that cannot be budged. In the Preface Charles & Joanne write that the book is not intended "to be a theological explanation of pain and suffering" (xi). Fair enough - and yet in the section entitled 'Faith' (pp53-56) I find some of the clearest and most helpful theological explanation I have encountered anywhere. I shall return!
Everyone will drawn to different sections of this little book. The opening 'Sometimes' (pp1-2) cuts so deep, partly because it reminds me how my own experience of fatherhood has been so different ... 'Titirangi' (p23) is the one I've heard Charles retell - so brief, so poignant and so unforgettable ... Janelle enjoying bedtime in 'Acceptance' (pp57-59) ... 'Joanne' (pp79-81) ... and all the photos - but especially p115 and p127 ("atta boy, James!") ... 'Perfect' (pp127-130) ... oh, so many (I probably shouldn't have started singling some out!).
And yes, another biggie for me is the fact that I think Charles & Joanne were in our cell group at BCNZ (now Laidlaw College) when they received the news about Janelle's tumour. I've stayed in touch with Charles throughout his time as a pastor in New Lynn and Titiriangi, his MEd study at Auckland - and then recruiting him to the staff at Carey ... and now he has succeeded me as Principal. For two decades Charles - and all his Js - have never been far from my thoughts and prayers and to see this little book published is such a thrill.
A special thank-you to Pieter & Elria Kwant of Piquant Editions - two of the most enabling people in the mission of God that I have met anywhere. It really is no surprise that they are the ones who wanted to run with this project.