OK, 2 things first:
1-I am a mad, raving fan of Angela, and am completely in love with everything she does.
2-I am The Worst Book Reviewer In The Entire World. Seriously. So I have no idea where this will go. I guess we’ll just have to see!
I have had the privilege of knowing Angela Thomas since 1987, when I was in the 10th grade and she came on staff as one of the Youth Ministers at the church I was attending in Charlotte.
Then she moved on to other things, and I moved on to college, and I kind of forgot about her for a while.
Then one day about 4 years ago I was falling down the rabbit hole surfing the web, and I happened upon her website. And I thought, “Hey-I know that woman!” And as it happened, she was getting ready to speak at a church near me in South Carolina. So I went, and I got to hear her speak on the message from her book, When Wallflowers Dance: Becoming A Woman Of Righteous Confidence.
Attending an Angela Thomas event is like attending a Master Class in speaking and performing-the level of ability is just incredible. But she doesn’t just have the style-she also brings the content; all of her books are extremely well-written, extremely easy to translate into a spoken-word presentation, with messages that are easily received. As in, it’s all laid out there for you, so there’s no way to pretend you don’t know what you now know after you read one of her books.
So now I joke that I’ve become her “groupie”, following her career, and attending her events when I can. And then back in August I had the opportunity to be part of the live studio audience for the filming of the DVD Bible study that is based on her new book, do you know who i am? and other brave questions women ask. I was really excited to go, because I’d never been part of anything like that before. But I was even more excited, because it was the first trip I was able to go on all by myself since I got so sick three years ago. So I felt like I was gaining back a little bit of what fibromyalgia has taken away from me.
I have read all of her books, and have done her other three Bible studies, so I thought I had a good idea of what this would be like. But actually, it’s quite different.
In her previous books she has had one overarching theme and has taken you through a process -developed through each chapter-to get you from Point A to Point B. But this book is structured completely differently; each chapter is kind of a self-contained, stand-alone unit focused on one question asked by women, and then God’s response to each question, both question and answer following the structure, “Do you know who I am?”
For example, the first session we did was on the question, “Do you know I am worn out?” Which of course made all of us just exhale in relief because, yes, PLEASE. Tell us what to do for this.
“Every woman I know feels the need to overcome that worn-out feeling. Every one of us is looking for the bigger answer, the secret key. Anything to teach us how to life this life differently, with greater power and energy.” (p.62)
Yep. And then add chronic illness and pain to that mix, and that desire triples.
Then she writes, “Life in all its glory and all its heartache brings fatigue. Physical, emotional, and spiritual. We will all become tired.It’s the unavoidable attachment that comes with breathing….and we will all encounter the limitations of our humanity.” (p.64,65, emphasis mine).
And everything inside of me said, Thank you!! Thank you for admitting that we are human, and because we are human we have limits. And so we don’t have to feel bad when we bump up against those limits. And that’s OK!!” Because I don’t know about you, but I have read WAY too much self-help-ey stuff that kind of tricks you into thinking that somehow you can be more than human. And that something’s wrong with you if you haven’t figured out how to reach that place yet. (Or people who imply there’s something wrong with you because you haven’t yet figured out how to “cure” yourself of your chronic illness.) But thankfully, there’s none of that kind of thing here.
And then we talked about the response from God: “Do you know who I Am? I am your God who does not grow weary.” And then Angela writes,
“I think the spiritual question is, ‘Where do you go with your worn out? What is your response to the normal fatigue that comes to all of us? And what do you believe about God in the middle of your everyday, run-of-the-mill, exhausted life?’ ” (p.65).
And then the rest of the chapter is a response to that question-gentle, easy, loving suggestions for how to soften the exhaustion of our everyday lives.
Not surprisingly, my other favorite chapters dealt with the questions, “Do you know I am suffering a thorn?”, and, “Do you know that I am trembling inside?” I just felt myself breathing in the comfort and reassurance she offered in those pages. Definitely an oasis of comfort.
The other thing that felt different about the book was that the tone seemed a bit different. Angela has gotten married since she wrote her last book, and besides the joy and companionship of marriage, she is also no longer a single mother. So somehow this book felt like it came from a more settled place, and therefore she was able to be even more open and honest about how she’s experienced life. It felt familiar to me, because it is very similar to the place I reach after I’ve had an extended period of pain and illness. I somehow get through it, and then when it’s over and I don’t have to grit my teeth and hold it together anymore I can look back and say, “Wow-that was excruciating. I have no idea how I got through that. I didn’t think I would, but apparently I did.” (Or, of course, I could just be making all of that up-who knows.)
But it definitely wasn’t just an, “OK, I am married now, and everything is living happily ever after.” On the contrary-she writes about a cancer scare, her mother’s critical illness, one of her children deciding to leave to go live with his dad, and other deeply painful circumstances. I think that’s the other reason I love this book so much-her life is mixed with as much pain and goodness as mine.
Plus, deep down underneath everything, I am, and always will be, one of her Calvary Church girls 🙂
I call it “affirmation disease”. I got really angry at a couple of relatives when I first got sick. They had both fallen for the whole affirmation movement hook, line and sinker. They both told me that if I just thought happy thoughts I would get better. Well, this implies that a) I wasn’t thinking happy thoughts, b) I caused my illness and c) I could cure my illness with the power of my mind. Um, no. This idea is so interwoven in so many self help books, ‘if you just do _____ you will get better’, which implies that you are the failure if it doesn’t work rather than the whole premise being a load of cod’s wollap in the first place.
My friend, who spent many years in the alternative healthcare field, made an excellent point. She says that not allowing you to be sick, with all the darkness that entails, denies you the “dark time of the soul”. This is the period of questioning everything including your faith. The dark time of the soul, if you have the courage to endure it, will deepen your convictions, relationships and your faith. It is the trial by fire from which the Phoenix arises. The best book I’ve found that aids in this trip through Hades is “Close to the Bone”. I still haven’t finished it but I love what I have read so far. Like Angela’s book it doesn’t deny your feelings, symptoms or reactions, which is a wonderful thing!