I just finished this book on CD, remarkable. This is one of those, "go find this book and read it" books. Well, let me qualify that. Have you ever had so much in your life that you ended up looking crazy to other people while you knew that just doing as well as you were doing was a miracle? If you haven't had that experience, you just won't get it.
But I have.
Tyler Kasky (sp?) is the main character. He's a young man who is the minister of a small Maine church, his first congregation. He and his wife Lauren are expecting their first child when he accepts the position straight out of seminary. The parsonage is an old farmhouse outside of town and soon the family has settled in with their newborn daughter, Kathryn. Not long afterward, a second daughter arrives, Jeannie. And not long after that Lauren has succumbed to brain cancer. Tyler is the single father of two little girls and the pastor of a congregation that isn't terribly impressed with the way he is managing his life.
As you read Abide With Me, you will agree with his parishioners. Tyler is not doing a great job of it. His mother has taken the baby to care for and the young pastor is now raising 5 year old Kathryn with the part-time help of a housekeeper named Connie Hatchett. Kathryn has all but stopped talking and when she does say something, it is generally shocking to the conservative people of their church. For instance in Sunday School, Katie is heard to whisper at prayer time, "I hate God."
Her hair has a permanent snarl at the back and she is always a little bit shy of well-groomed. She cries and screams but does not speak. Connie Hatchett has never had children and has been forever scarred by the death of her brother in Korea and the change in her husband upon his return. She is unused to kindness or gentleness in the world and doesn't know how to nurture. She is not confidant enough to step over the line and take control of the house, she simply rides the sad tide. In truth, it is a familiar heaviness that she lives with herself.
The congregation of Tyler's church has much to say amongst themselves about Tyler's daughter, his housekeeper, his home and the man himself. None of it untrue, but the wave of simple unkindness is enough to take a man who considers it a miracle that he remains upright and slam him to the ground. Tyler, who thinks he is pleasing God by believing, praying, ministering and worshiping, finds out that this is not enough to his observers. And so, he is finally broken by unkindness despite the surviving the death of his wife, loss of his baby and witness to his daughter's sadness.
The beauty of this book is Tyler's inner thought life. His character and spirit that those on the outside can't see is revealed to the reader and we realize, this man is a hero. An unkempt and sad hero. He is continually before God while those around him are continually gathering to discuss his daughter's latest bad day at school. He is trying to teach her to spell with Alpha Bits cereal as they sit in their sad empty kitchen as his "friends" inform him that Kathryn is retarded because she doesn't not speak or play with other children.
This book will break your heart both from sadness for this little family and, if you are like me, the realization that there are others who have experienced the moments of thinking you've done well to get out of bed while others criticize that you didn't go back and make the bed you barely crawled out of. It's a stunning reminder as well; minister to the hurting. Do not take the opportunity of someone elses struggles to congratulate your own successes. I've done that too.
If you want to shy away from what seems like a downer, don't. The final chapter left me literally crying with worship in my car. It's a sermon disguised as a novel.
It's redemption of the least, the worst and the ones who almost didn't realize they needed it.
If I could, I'd beg you to read Abide With Me. If you are like me, it will both heal and teach you. And anything that makes me cry with the goodness of God finally expressed in man; it's a worthy read. This book is good enough to build a study group around.