The Opposite of Certainty by Janine Urbaniak Reid– Book Review

Janine Reid is a self-described control freak — at least until her life begins to spiral out of control. Her son, Mason, is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although it is slow growing, he eventually needs surgery, and then months of rehab learning to talk and walk again. Even after his recovery, he continues to have problems with his short term memory. Later Janine requires cancer surgery of her own — a double mastectomy.

The Opposite of Certainty: Fear, Faith, and Life in Between by [Janine Urbaniak Reid, Anne Lamott]

These devastating health issues have an effect on the rest of the family, putting pressure on Janine’s marriage and relationships with her other two children. She slowly learns to let go of her expectation that she can be a perfect wife and mother, or that by being “good” she can guarantee the safety of her family members.

The book is well written and easy to read. Any parent will sympathize with Janine’s feelings and dilemmas. However, for me, at least, her spiritual struggles seem a bit distant. She sometimes refers to God as a “higher power” (probably because she is the child of an alcoholic) and there are few, if any references to Jesus or the Bible. She does speak about the mystery of God’s ways, and our inability to ever completely understand them — instead we must learn to accept and experience grace whenever it is offered. However, it’s more a book about navigating serious health issues than growing spiritually.

VERDICT: 3 STARS. It will resonate with anyone going through difficult health issues.

For other spiritual memoirs see these posts:

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey–Book Review

Suffer Strong by Katherine & Jay Wolf–Book Review

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken–Book Review

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird–Book Review

Phosphorescence to Julia Baird is the light within — the things that are important to us, that keep us going when times are challenging, that make us glow. She uses many metaphors from nature — the light released by natural substances or organisms, such as the light of fireflies, phytoplankton (which can look like “red tides”), glow worms, flashlight fish –even human beings who have been found through highly sensitive imaging to glow at levels that drop and climb throughout the day. In this memoir the author enumerates the things that helped her survive a struggle with cancer and several surgeries,

Phosphorescence: A Memoir of Finding Joy When Your World Goes Dark

Unfortunately, for me, this book did not come across as a cohesive whole. It read more like a series of loosely connected essays. In fact, when I got to the acknowledgements, I found that some of the chapters, or parts of the chapters, had previously been published as columns in The New York Times. This resulted in a finished product that was choppy and hard to follow. For example, bits and pieces of Julia’s cancer journey are revealed, but in no particular order. Some chapters had more to do with her opinions about a variety of issues (feminism, climate change, rights of indigenous people and the LBTQ community) than the purported topic; two were “letters” to her children.

That being said, there is some worthwhile information about how to keep our lives properly focused: For example:

  1. Being attentive to nature, noticing with awe the mystery of creation that is all around us
  2. The value of silence
  3. Appreciating the temporary
  4. Accepting imperfection
  5. Being comfortable with yourself

VERDICT: 2 STARS. I disagreed with many of the author’s views, and didn’t get much out of this one.

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.  Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CPR 255. It will not be available for purchase until July 2021 from Random House.