book review, loss, women, writing

The Polygamist’s Daughter By Anna LeBaron: A Book Review

 

Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome.                                           –Birdee Pruitt from Hope Floats

I had a great childhood. It wasn’t Beaver Cleaver, but it was idyllic in the crazy, eccentric, lower middle class, country hick sort of way. I think back on family camping trips and Christmas cookie making with a homesick nostalgia that sometimes aches even now in my mid forties.

Anna Lebaron’s childhood, going on at roughly the same time but on the other side of the country, was nothing like mine. Quite frankly, there aren’t very many people in the world who could say they had a similar childhood. I can’t say no one, because as she begins her memoir, “At age nine, I had 49 siblings.” Anna was not alone in this world, but her childhood was far from safe and secure. Growing up the daughter of notorious polygamist Ervil LeBaron, she lived a life that was marked by regularly moving to avoid the authorities, often leaving behind her few possessions, and being reared by various family members that rarely included her own parents. In her memoir, Anna shares about going hungry, being forced to work long hours at family owned businesses, and even being promised in marriage as a young child to an adult member of the cult.

As I read The Polygamist’s Daughter, I found myself drawn into this world of violence and twisted faith that I could not comprehend. Through each move and struggle Anna experienced, I found myself in shock and disbelief. I kept stopping to look something up on the Internet in order to learn more about her father, the cult, or the events mentioned in the book, such as the 4:00 murders.

Anna’s gripping story is far more than a tale about a broken childhood. Anna’s story is a tale of courage and faith. She tells of her escape from the polygamist cult and her coming to a true faith in Jesus Christ. She shares about her journey of healing and the hope we can all find in Christ.

Those of us who have experienced tragedy or loss, whether from childhood wounds or in our adulthood, will appreciate the hope that Anna offers. My favorite line from her book is, “But sorrow always accompanied the joy, inseparable twins at every event.” Recovering from the pain that life can bring often means that we live in a place where the joys and sorrows of life often collide. Anna allows us to walk with her on her own healing journey, and we can all find hope along the way.

I truly enjoyed reading this memoir. I read it more quickly than a typical book as it was difficult to put down. While not the most polished of writing, and a couple of times the timeline seemed a little disjointed, the story read like a suspense novel. I was engaged and emotionally drawn into the story from the start. Anna skillfully shares her story and invites us into her healing journey. I recommend this book to anyone who love stories of faith and courage.

The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron releases March 21st and is available for pre-order at http://annalebaron.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Tyndale.

I received an advanced reader’s copy for my honest review.

 

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Christian, gifts from God, loss

Stained Glass Lives

wreckedThanksgiving Eve in 2015, I sat in church holding a rock. As part of the service that evening, we were each asked to write something on that rock as a memorial. We would place those rocks on a table as a thankfulness monument to what God has done. What was God doing in our lives? What gifts had he blessed us with? Who were we becoming that should be memorialized? The word that kept running through my mind was “WRECKED!” God had wrecked my life. He hadn’t just thrown me a curve ball, nor had he simply turned things upside down. He had wrecked it. He had torn my heart out of myself. He had destroyed my very being. Could I be thankful for this? Could I see it as a blessing? I sat in my own little prison of broken dreams and silent pain, and wrote on that stone, “Wrecked my life.”

It wasn’t an accusation. It was both fact and resignation. I was working things out in my life or maybe more accurately, God was working some things out in my life. I was trying to catch my breath and lean into God in the midst of the pain. I was giving it over to Him and thanking him for the suffering, not in the, “I love agony” sense, but in the, “I know that God is good and I can trust him to turn the pieces of my heart into something beautiful” sense. Jesus and I had been clenched in many a wrestling match over the years, and I had stumbled through some pretty graceless dances with him as he tried to lead me, but nothing compared to this. I was holding onto the pieces of my life and waiting in wretched expectation.

Holding those broken pieces was difficult. The sharp edges cut deeply, and I was bleeding out. I was sure I died a few times. If I’m honest, I wished to literally die several times throughout that season. I couldn’t bear the place God had brought me, and I wouldn’t open up my bloody scarred hands and let him help me. As I was spilling my life out slowly and gasping for breath, Jesus was working his miracle. He was working out His perfect plan. I am certain he had been working it out long before I even knew I was broken.

I wish I could say that it was the end of the breaking, but He had barely begun. There would be a lot more shattering and crushing in the months that followed. I’m not naïve enough to think that he’s done the painful work, but I am far enough along to see the light shining through the artwork that he made from some of those broken pieces. I am far enough along to see that darkness helps us to see the light, and that my mind isn’t big enough to imagine what He had in store for me. This week I found myself counting the blessing that have come from the brokenness of that year, the brokenness of my life. Stained glass needs to be seen from a few steps away or you miss the full extent of its beauty. Sometimes life is like that too.

 

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gifts from God, grief and loss, loss

The Cumulative Impact of Grief

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I’ve been thinking a lot about grief these past weeks as we move into the holiday season. This year will be a hard year for our family as we celebrate the first Thanksgiving, birthday, and Christmas without our son. I have cried a little almost every day since the week before Thanksgiving. I haven’t sobbed or broken down, but tears roll down my face during car rides, certain songs on the radio, or just at random moments. For me, this is the 3rd major loss I have experienced. Each being different, they began with the loss of my father 20 years ago. 20 years ago. It seems like I should be long over a grief that old.

 

“Cumulative grief” tends to focus solely on several losses in a short time. That isn’t me. Yet, I doubt that my grief experience is unique.

For me, the loss of my father was deeply devastating. I was a wreck for months. I gradually worked through the loss. I certainly don’t think I would consider my grief “unresolved”, but I definitely miss my Dad, wish he didn’t have to miss so many life events, and at times genuinely ache to have just another moment with him.
When my mom became sick a few years back, I grieved the loss of my father again. Certainly not anything like the original grief, but I thought of him more often, teared-up over little things more often, and longed for him more. As my mom deteriorated and eventually passed, I grieved for my mom, but oddly enough I grieved for my dad almost as much.

Just over a year after my mother passed, we would lose our adult son. It was sudden, like the loss of my dad, but he had not been healthy, so it was always in the back of our minds. We had long expected the day would eventually come. I cried, was sad, and missed him, but not the level of grief that one would expect for such a great loss. But the grief has built up these past days and weeks. It has grown heavier as we enter the holiday.

I grieved now for all three of them. Memories of any one of them might lead me to tears and thoughts of the others. Our son passed late in June. In early September, I remember crying at a family birthday party, because our extended family had gotten so small. There were so few of us now that we could all comfortably sit at our table. That same thought has crossed my mind so many times since that day. My Christmas shopping list is short. The entire family can comfortably be included in a single group chat. I know one day our family will expand. There will be weddings and babies (hopefully not mine). But for now, it is just small and my losses are painfully evident.

Sometimes I am fearful that growing older means that grief will pile upon grief and that each loss will magnify the previous ones. Do we simply accumulate our pain as we walk through this broken world, this world that was never meant to be marred by death?

Grief sure is an interesting beast. It morphs and changes, with an ebb and flow across the seasons and years. Many days it sits quietly, almost stealthily on the sidelines, but in an instant it can come out of nowhere to blindside you. While there are many ways to protect oneself from these attacks of grief, the truth is that grief is a gift. We are people who love and with that love comes a vulnerability to pain. It is only in our loving of others that we face such deep loss. It truly is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

So, no. We are not bound by a grim future of loss. While, Yes, these deep losses will impact us for the rest of our lives, there is more. There is hope and restoration and a supernatural comfort from a God who counts our tears and holds us through our suffering. And it’s enough. It really is.

 

 

 

 

 

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adoption, Christian, gifts from God, loss, parenting teens

A Million Things Spoken and 1 Thing That Wasn’t

Sixteen and a half years ago, Jay and I made a decision to become foster parents. Caleb was an infant, and I was pregnant with Abigail. There is a longer story of God working in our lives leading up to that decision, but that is a story for another time. We filed the necessary paperwork and took the proper classes. The only piece we had left was the home study, but Abigail was born so we put that step on hold. Then a few months later we met Sean. We were introduced to him by Sarah, a Jr. High student in the church youth group I was leading. In the course of time, we came to better understand Sean’s situation and realized he needed a home. He needed a family. Deciding to take on that role was not an easy one. We had an infant and a toddler. I remember discussing it at length and saying to Jay, “Do you think anyone else is sitting around this weekend talking about wether on not they should take Sean in?” And that was that. We were being called.

Sean 3

Sean came into our life through an invitation. We told Sean that very first day that we were inviting him into our family, and that family was forever. We meant it. We invited him and he accepted. One of the first things we did was give him a Bible verse. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Little did we know, but about the time that Jay and I were completing our foster care certification, Sean was in the midst of a crisis. We would later read a note he’d written where he state that his life had no hope or purpose. Reading that note, dated months earlier, was one of many moments in life where I knew God had brought Sean to our family. God was already preparing an answer to Sean’s cry long before we’d met each other. And God, in the way only he can do, had provided Sean with a very specific reply to his letter. God literally answered with words and actions.

The years that Sean lived in our home and the years after would not necessarily be easy, but they were good. We had a lot of fun and a lot of struggle. We were all better for it. We are a family of words. We talk a lot. Dinner time is loud and often very ADD. It makes Caleb crazy that we can’t stick to one cohesive thought. But we talk. We talk about pretty much everything.  We say I love you!  We laugh. We cry. We pray. We sing. We admit our mistakes.

There was this one time we still laugh about. Sean was 17 and we had found about about something he had done wrong. I can’t recall what it was, but we were really working on confession at the time with him. Sean came home and we told him that before he could go out he needed to confess what he had done. We left him with paper and a pen. Sean sat there for a very long time thinking and writing. When Jay and I finally read the note we got cracking up. Sean had no idea what we knew so he confessed to about a half dozen different things that we had no idea about and the one thing we did.

 

Sean would come in and out of our home over the years, but despite the offer, Sean didn’t choose to be adopted until he was 23. Adopting Sean was the court putting in writing the words that we had spoken so many years before. Family is forever. With those papers one word would change. Sean would forever take the name Seidle.

Ours was always a relationship of words, but of all the things I will remember about Sean, all the words spoken between us, the love, the jokes, the stories, what I will remember the most is the one thing he never said. No matter what happened, no matter how long he was grounded, or how mad he got, never once did he ever say, “You’re not my mother.”

 

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