Monday, November 11, 2013

"Heaven is Here" by Stephanie Nielson

Does this title look familiar?!  It should.  My dear friend Micaela reviewed it back in February.  I've been curious about it since she reviewed it because it's a memoir, and that's kind of my "thing" lately.  But Micaela wasn't raving about this book, so I was hesitant to dive into something I might not like.  And I have a weird thing about "churchy" books...I usually don't like them, so I find myself skirting away from them.  But, ta-da! it was this month's book club book, so I took a chance on it.

The beginning of the book is a bit syrupy.  I interpret that as Stephanie having the gift of seeing life through rose-colored glasses.  Stephanie lived her entire life, until she was a mother of two, in Provo, Utah.  I lived several years of my life in Utah County, from 9 years old to 22, so I'm pretty familiar with the world she grew up and lived in.  Before my family moved to Utah we lived in St. Louis, so Utah was a huge culture shock for me.  I finally admitted to myself as I read this book (which made me really inspect some deeper parts of my heart and history) that I never really fit in with the Utah scene.  When I moved with my husband and infant daughter to Boise, Idaho, almost 10 years ago, I finally felt like I had found an environment I could thrive in.  (I hope none of my Utah friends are hurt by this confession--if it weren't for you those years would have been wholly unbearable.) It was an environment Stephanie thrived it, but it produced perpetual challenges for me. Once I moved outside of "the bubble," when I came to Idaho, I felt freed from that.  I found more people like me.  (Not that Idaho is wildly different from Utah.  But on the other hand, it is.)

I don't blame Stephanie for her charmed life leading up to the accident. She and I are different people who have lived different lives in different circumstances.  I do not, in any regard, mean to undermine or reduce the significance of her accident and what she has gone through to recover her life.  I loved this book and her story.  I never cried as much in any other book as I did in this one--and for those who know me best, that's saying something.  I am not a cryer.

However, I had experiences earlier in my life that taught me things about who I am and what I'm made of at a younger age than she did.  No, I never went through the harrowing and life-threatening ordeal she went through, not even close.  But because of who I am and the life I had, I learned of lot of those lessons about self-worth and value at an earlier age.  I'm not saying I'm better than anyone because of that, but I was sorry it took a plane accident and months of agonizing recovery for her to learn those essential, divine truths about herself.  But like she says in her epilogue, God has a plan for each of us.  And hers is exceptional.  She's a fighter, she's an overcome-er.  

Yes, I wept during this book.  A lot.  It was so tender.  I cried because I couldn't fathom the physical pain she endured.  I cried because I understood feeling depressed and worthless.  I cried because I have four babies of my own, and have questioned if I'm the mother they deserve.  I cried because she triumphed over the countless, mammoth hurdles in her path.  I cried because of her testimony.  I cried when she felt like she couldn't endure one more day, because I knew she could pull through.  I cried for her husband, who had to be strong for everyone while going through his own hell, because I have felt like I've played that roll in my life as well.  I appreciated how vulnerable and honest Stephanie was.  It is never easy to unearth the deepest, most intimate parts of yourself and expose them to the world.  But after the accident, she never had the luxury of hiding who she was--her face will never blend in with the crowd.  For her to have the strength to share herself as she did in the book, I am grateful.

I thought the title was cheesy before I read the story.  Stephanie shared similar sentiments when her editor suggested "Heaven is Here" for the title.  She said she finally agreed to it because she realized hers is a story of choosing to be happy and thankful despite your circumstances.  And she's right.  But I thought it pertained more to a specific part of the story after her accident.  When she was in the induced coma, Stephanie spent time with her grandmother, who had passed away years before.  But when it was time for Stephanie to wake up, she had a choice:  she could return to her body and her family, or she could stay with her grandmother. And she chose life.  Because here on earth with her beloved husband and children, that was heaven.  We can make our own heaven in our own homes.  It's not easy, as Stephanie and her family well understands, but we can do it.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard many people rave about this book, so I think I'll just have to put it on my hold list! And I can say that SE Idaho is a LOT like UT, and felt like the bubble, but the Boise area is SO DIFFERENT. So I can attest to your sentiments about it feeling freer than the bubble. If anyone tries to rebut that part...