A few years ago I stumbled on a blog called An Inch of Gray and was instantly smitten with the writing and the writer. Anna See, as she called herself then, was laugh-out-loud funny one moment, poignant and reflective the next. I couldn’t get enough of her writing.
Plus I liked her. A lot. I wanted to be real-life friends with her. I felt like we’d do well as friends. We’d laugh a lot, I imagined, and complain about our husbands’ bafoonery from time to time and maybe toss out the occasional curse word.
And then one day I clicked over to An Inch of Gray and read a devastating announcement. Anna’s twelve-year-old son, Jack, had been killed in a freak accident. Her little boy was gone forever, and Anna and her family were left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. I still remember staring at the photograph of Jack’s face on my computer screen, my brain unable to process what I was reading.
Honestly, I don’t exactly know why I kept returning to Anna’s blog after that. Her posts in the days and weeks and months following Jack’s death were almost too painful to read. And yet, I couldn’t help myself. I liked Anna. I loved Anna. I wanted to “be there,” as silly and ridiculous as that sounds.
I noticed something, too. In spite of the almost-palpable pain in her posts, there was something else in Anna’s words, something that awed me. Her faith and hope were still there.
Yeah, they’d been beaten and bruised. No, they didn’t look nearly the same. But Anna’s faith and hope were there, shining like a beacon for the rest of us, comforting us, steadying us — even those of us who had never even met Jack in person and yet still grieved the loss of him.
Anna Whiston Donaldson has written a book — a beautiful, real, raw, hope-filled, faith-filled book about being Jack’s mom, about losing him too soon and about putting the pieces of life back together with her husband and daughter, as best they can. Not only is Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love a stunning piece of writing, it’s a testament to the power of faith and the power of God’s love. This book is a must-read, friends.
Yes, it’s tough. Yes, you’ll cry. But it’s worth it; it’s well, well worth it.
Anna was so gracious to answer a few of my questions about grief, hope and the process of writing Rare Bird. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to welcome her to the blog today:
Anna, one of the themes that runs through Rare Bird is the idea that God is much different, much bigger, than the box we often put him in. How has your experience of Jack’s death and your subsequent grief informed or perhaps transformed your understanding of God?
Anna: Well, I know that GOD hasn’t changed, but I have. I have begun to let go of a need to understand absolutely everything about Him and instead let His majesty and mystery stand. I’ve gone from someone who got pretty caught up in church and less caught up in God, to believing that when we get to Heaven, a lot of what we put our focus on as Christians—denominational concerns, worship styles, etc will fall away as chaff to the ground. I’d love to start living this way now.
Talk to us about writing Rare Bird – I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been. Did the process of writing the book impact your grieving process?
Anna: Well, I started writing Rare Bird right after the one year “crapiversary” of losing our son. In many ways, I was sorting through and grieving in real time as I wrote. I did not know how the book would “end,” but I figured it wouldn’t be all tied up with a neat bow. I found writing Rare Bird to be immensely helpful to me by getting my feelings down, and I hope that will be helpful to readers, either who are grieving themselves, or who better want to understand what early grief is like. I also think it will be a good read for any person who finds him/herself living a life far removed from the one he/she “signed up for.”
As for the writing process, the book really bubbled up inside me as I sat at a Panera restaurant at my laptop. First I had to figure out what the book wasn’t (my whole life story, a how-to book, etc) and eventually I discovered what it was.
You frequently infuse a wry, sometimes sarcastic sense of humor in your writing, especially in your blog posts. Do you use humor purposefully, as a kind of literary device, or is humor more of an organic product of the writing process for you?
Anna: Humor just flows out of me– it’s never a conscious choice. My family doesn’t think I’m very funny at all, so I’m glad you have seen at least a little humor come through on the blog. Okay, I take that back, my sister thinks I’m HILARIOUS!
As a person who has struggled with doubt and often doesn’t always fully trust God, I have to ask: where does your deep trust in God come from? And do you think that kind of trust can be found or learned, or is it simply an innate part of who you are
Anna: I’ve made a conscious choice to trust God. But that doesn’t mean I’m not mad and super disappointed in the way things are turning out. This is NOT the life or legacy I wanted for my son, even though many positives have come out of his short life. I am not sure where this trust comes from. And it doesn’t exist in an absence of doubt. I still doubt. But I’m choosing to trust that God has a better plan. My alternative choice is more alienating and lonely; it’s bitter and angry and closed, so I choose to trust.
A little bit of a lighter question: Tell us about your writing habits. Do you write every day? What’s your writing routine? Where do you find inspiration? What’s one piece of advice you might offer other writers?
Anna: I jot ideas down on scraps of paper when I’m out and about. When I started blogging, I wrote almost every day. I am fairly undisciplined now that the book is finished, and I’d like to get back into the habit of writing daily before I lose my confidence! One piece of advice, which I don’t follow, is JUST WRITE.
And finally, what is Jack’s legacy? And what do you hope yours will be?
Anna: Jack has a way of getting into people’s hearts, even those who have never met him. He was a genuine person, without guile or selfishness. I think his legacy is that people will turn to God in times of trouble, and cherish their families even more, because they realize how much our family has lost in losing him. I think they might consider more of God’s marvelous, mysterious ways because of Jack. It seems that Jack and I were somehow partners in writing Rare Bird. And any good that comes out of the book belongs to him. I hope my legacy will be that I used a gift God gave me to bring Him glory. That said, of course I’d rather have both of my children with me on earth, than any kind of legacy, and I know God gets that, too!
Rare Bird officially releases tomorrow, but I am so glad to be able to offer a copy of Anna’s memoir here on the blog today. To enter the random drawing, please follow the instructions on the “Rafflecopter” entry form below. [Email subscribers: please click here and scroll to the bottom of the post to enter the giveaway]
From the back cover:
With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe.
This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think.
“A masterpiece of hope, love, and the resilience and ferocity of the human spirit.”
— From the foreword by Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior
“Profound, tender, honest—and utterly unforgettable.”
— Gretchen Rubin, author of #1 New York Times bestseller, The Happiness Project
“This is not a book; it is a kaleidoscope. With every turn of the page, a new discovery is made that forever alters your view of pain, joy, heartache, time, hope, and healing.”
— Rachel Macy Stafford, New York Times best-selling author of Hands Free Mama