I want to thank you commenters for your patience these past two days, which I’ve spent holed up in a recording studio working on the audiobook version of The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. To my very great surprise, we finished the whole thing this afternoon, in half the allotted time. It turns out that all that reading aloud to the kids turned me into a pretty good reader, which made it all go quickly. Regular posting resumes on Wednesday.
I must say that I like the second half of the book a lot more than the first, though that’s understandable, given that the last 60 percent or so of the book deals with Ruthie’s cancer, death, and aftermath. It’s where the emotional payoff is — that is, where you see that the ordinary life described in the first part of the book really reveals itself to have been prelude to something breathtaking.
I’ve been living with this story for a long time — first, living through it; second, reporting it; third, writing it down; and finally, sifting and re-sifting the material. Some friends who have read the book were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it through some of these chapters without being overcome by emotion. I wasn’t worried at all. I know this story; familiarity has sanded the edges off.
Or so I thought. While I never lost my composure during the recording, or ever came close to it, I often found myself stunned by the power of what I was reading. Understand, I’m not praising my own writing. The writing is okay. What I’m talking about is the power of the story itself, and the things my sister said, which I recorded here. In fact, I’m really glad that I recorded many of these things in real time, on my blog, and I’m so pleased that I interviewed Ruthie’s family and friends so soon after her passing, while the memories were fresh in their minds. I’m so glad that I saw with my own eyes, or heard from eyewitnesses, what people in my town did for Ruthie and her family. I might have found it hard to believe this stuff otherwise. I might have thought, “People only say those things or do those things in the movies.”
But that’s not true. It happened here, in my town. In my family. In my sister’s heart. I drove home today from the studio, reminded of why what I saw and heard caused me to change my life — and thinking that re-acquainting myself with it makes me want to keep changing for the better. My friend Eric Metaxas, who wrote Bonhoeffer, said in his endorsement of Little Way:
This true, powerful, deeply-moving, and masterfully-told story is nothing less than a gift. And yes, indeed: it will change lives.
Similarly, Wm Paul Young, author of The Shack, said that “interacting with this story will change you!”
I came away from this experience reading the book aloud thinking: you know, those guys are probably right. The reading public will be the judge of that, of course, and for all I know, the book will fail. There’s no predicting these things. Yet, after these past two days, my confidence in this book is soaring, and here’s why: if the power of Ruthie’s words and deeds, and the deeds of the people of St. Francisville, made even me, the guy who has been living with this manuscript for so long, rethink my own actions and priorities after reading it aloud, how much power will it have to change the lives of readers coming to it fresh?
Ruthie always said that she trusted that God would bring good out of her cancer, and that we didn’t know what God was going to do with all this. I’m starting to get an idea now of what’s going to come for a lot of hurting people — people suffering from sickness, broken families, the lost, the lonely, the estranged, those without hope. In the book, I talk about how people who barely knew Ruthie would come away from her thinking they’d been friends with her all their lives — especially after she got cancer. She changed people’s lives all the time. They told me that. I wrote it down.
And she’s about to do it on a scale she couldn’t have imagined when she was alive. All because she was faithful in small things, and did everything with love.
What a privilegeto tell her story. What a privilege to have been her brother, and to count as friends and neighbors the people in this town, in this story. As a matter of
fact, the only time I got emotional during this entire two-day reading was when I quoted at length the sermon James Toney, a country Pentecostal preacher and friend of our family’s, gave at his mother’s funeral. I wrote about that here last year. As I read it aloud today, I felt myself being convicted by James’s words, and thinking hard about some pain and resentment I can’t seem to let go of, but of which I need to be free. I had to work hard to push that out of my mind so I could keep working through the text. But even now, as I lie in bed writing this post, I’m thinking about what James preached, and how I have to change my life. It was that strong, because James has such a good heart, and a gift for telling the truth.
Wait till you read more of what that man had to say. I do not exaggerate when I say that the finest homilist ever heard at Chartres couldn’t have preached the Gospel more eloquently than James did that day. And I was there to hear it, to record it, and to tell you about it.