Quilt of Souls by Phyllis Biffle Elmore — Book Review

When Phyllis Biffle was 4 years old, she was sent to live with her grandmother, Lula Horn, in rural Alabama. It was a difficult transition for her, a life completely different from the one she had known in Detroit. There was no electricity, no friends to play with, no indoor plumbing. However, her grandmother had one thing in abundance — love. Gradually Phyllis came to treasure the time spent with Lula, especially the time spent creating “soul quilts.” Each quilt Lula created contained pieces of fabric from the clothing of special people. She was often asked to make a quilt when somebody died, using scraps that their relatives remembered and associated with the deceased. As Lula quilted, she told Phyllis stories about the people who were represented in the quilt. She makes a special quilt for Phyllis, a quilt that contained not just fabric but precious memories of family members and friends.

Phyllis learned many things from her grandmother, and the most important lesson was to forgive. In Lula’s words:

“… Grandma never wants you to look at the bad in folks and go backward. I wants you to look at the good in them and go forward. If you just look at the bad, you gone find ‘xactly what you lookin’ for. Even the worst folks got a speck of good; you jus’ got to find it.”

The stories Lula told about her family included difficult times — slavery, forced separations, early deaths, and mistreatment of many kinds. Through it all, her Christian faith inspired her to hope for the best, and to love and serve her family and neighbors.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. An inspirational read.

For more memoirs see these posts:

What is a Girl Worth by Rachael Denhollander–Book Review

No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler–Book Review

The Redemption of Bobby Love by Bobby and Cheryl Love–Book Review

this beautiful truth by Sarah Clarkson–Book Review

This poignant memoir tells the story of Sarah Clarkson and her battle to counter her mental illness with experiences of light and God. A rare form of OCD causes intrusive, violent images to inhabit her mind, leading to anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Raised in a Christian family, Sarah’s faith begins to unravel — how can she believe in a good God who allows her to suffer in this way?

This Beautiful Truth: How God's Goodness Breaks into Our Darkness

It is beauty of many kinds that leads Sarah back to hope. She wrestles with God in the darkness, but also encounters brief moments of transcending joy — through art, music, literature, nature, the liturgy, the hospitality of others and more. God, with His love created and is present in all of things things.

Sarah is not cured, but she learns to counter her feelings of failure, guilt, shame and doubt with these small moments of knowing and experiencing the presence of God. Instead of feeling broken and inadequate, she feels love and acceptance.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. Moving and beautifully written. I especially enjoyed the many literary references!

For more Christian memoirs see:

Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey–Book Review

Memories of a Devil: My Life As a Jesuit in Dachau by Father Chester Fabisiak–Book Review

Nothing is Wasted by Lore Cottone–Book Review

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review

Ian Cron is an Episcopal priest, speaker and author. I previously reviewed his book Chasing Francis (Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron–Book Review). I liked that book so much, I searched to see what else he had written. He calls this book, “a memoir of sorts.” It’s not just a book about faith, but about God and faith in the midst of all of our life and our suffering. In it, he recounts the story of his life with an alcoholic father, his painful adolescence, and his own experiences as a dad.

Ian’s dad was an enigma. He was often absent, and sometimes abusive. His alcoholism led to instability in the life of the family. Later Ian discovered that his father had worked for years for the CIA under the “cover” of other professions. Although Ian prayed for his father to change, that never happened. The rejection he experienced led to bitter feelings toward his father, and toward God. Still amidst the suffering were moments of grace, and eventually they led him home to the church. He was able to forgive his father, although they were never completely reconciled.

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me: A Memoir. . . of Sorts

This book will make you laugh and cry. He tells his story with honesty and humor. It will make you think about your own story with gratitude as you remember those experiences of God’s grace and presence that have marked your journey.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. An easy and enjoyable read.

For other memoirs see:

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird–Book Review

In My Grandmother’s House by Yolanda Pierce–Book Review

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

More Than One Angel by Billie Hughes Locke–Book Review

Billie Hughes, who wrote this book, was the speaker at our congregation’s Valentine’s Day Dinner this year.  A friend purchased her book for me, and I finally had time to read and review it.

Anyone who has experienced difficulties in relationships will empathize with Billie’s story.  She was a difficult child in a neglectful family.  She ran away to marry as a teenager.  By the age of twenty-one she was the mother of four children;  one child died and another was born with serious facial deformities.  Her marriage ended, and she leaped into a second marriage that was also difficult.  Eventually she divorced again.  Billie said she didn’t need just one angel, she needed a band of them!

Throughout her life, Billie struggled to educate and improve herself.  She obtained a high school diploma and became a master barber with several shops of her own.  Somewhere along the line, she began to realize that God, not material success, is the key to contentment.  She prayed and studied the Bible. She learned to forgive She realized that her basic problem is trust and commented:

“How could I trust someone I couldn’t even see, to handle my life?  Everyone else in my life had always had more important things to do than care for me.  Why would God be different?”

She admitted that her theology was mixed up, but it was a start.  With a third marriage, she achieved a more peaceful life and became a writer and speaker, emphasizing that God can do the impossible and any life can turn around.  Her book is sprinkled with small miracles and what I call God-cidences, that lead her to a deeper relationship with Him.

I find a couple of big problems with this book.  First, nowhere in Billie’s faith story does she mention a church, Pastor, or community of other Christians.  Possibly, she has these things, and simply didn’t talk about them, but I would find that unusual.  In my experience, I have learned and grown the most when in a relationship with other Christians.  We need to be mentored and to mentor others.  (Hmmm… remember our “one-anothers” monthly theme?).  Billie does have some Christian friends who influence her, but I get no sense of the stable, progressive Christian growth a church home provides.

Second, I am disturbed when near the end of the book, Billie makes this statement to her son:

“You are the master of your destiny at this point.  Everything you really need is right inside you.  All I can do is pray for you.”

This is definitely some mixed-up theology.  God is the master of our destiny, and all that we need is in Him, not ourselves.  It is another example of stinkin’ thinkin’ that sounds good, but doesn’t stand up to correct doctrine and interpretation of the Scriptures.

My Verdict?  Two stars.  Read it if you want to enjoy Billie’s story, but not for sound theology.


Costly Grace by Rob Schenck–Book Review

Rob Schneck has the gift of leadership.  Growing up in the 70’s he converted from nominal Judaism to evangelical Christianity.  His faith journey took him through a variety of roles:  van driver and lay preacher at a shelter for heroin addicts;  Assembly of God pastor; activist in the anti-abortion movement;  supporter and leader of the religious right; minister to a number of top government officials and now founding president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute.

Rob’s memoir is an honest account of one man’s struggle to fulfill his God-given calling.  He freely admits his failures (lack of attention to his family, being influenced by pride and prestige, being judgmental, etc.)  I think most Christians who are seeking to grow in faith will identify with Schneck as he wrestles with God, allowing himself to be changed and molded in the process.

Verdict:  I couldn’t put this one down.  It’s a new release so you should be able to borrow or request it from your local library.