by Jeanette De Melo, Father C.J. McCloskey, Matthew Rarey, Clare Walker, Rachel Zamarron, Register Correspondents & Staff
With summer upon us, the Register offers reviews of books by frequent contributors to our newspaper. Jennifer Fulwiler, Randy Hain, Father Dwight Longenecker and Christopher White’s writing has all appeared in these pages and online. Now, we consider their latest books. Happy summer reading!
SOMETHING OTHER THAN GOD
How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It
By Jennifer Fulwiler
Ignatius Press, 2014
256 pages, $22.95
To order: ignatius.com
BY JEANETTE De MELO
AND RACHEL ZAMARRON
“The longest distance in the world is from the head to the heart,” so the saying goes. It’s just such a journey that Jennifer Fulwiler chronicles in her memoir, Something Other Than God. The story begins with Jennifer rejecting Jesus at an east Texas summer camp. With camp counselors and her peers waiting eagerly for her to be “saved,” the young camper responds: “Can I think about it?” Little did she know then that she would spend many years thinking about it, until she finally found herself in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jennifer grew up in a home that valued thinking. Her father was an atheist; her mother was agnostic, and they encouraged their only daughter to explore the world through reason. After her awkward experience with Christians at camp, 11-year-old Jennifer admitted, “For the first time, I assigned to myself a label, a single word that defined me: atheist.”
Yet it wasn’t long after that moment that a heavy thought set in: that this life was all there is, and one day we’ll all die and be nothing more than cold, lifeless fossils.
Soon, to squash the “awful feelings” brought on by her deep existential questions, Jennifer begins avoiding Christians and chasing “moments of happiness.”
Then Jennifer meets Joe, a brilliant Ivy League lawyer and a Christian (though he hadn’t been to church in years). The two are a perfect match. While Jennifer can’t wrap her head around Joe’s belief in Jesus, she falls for Joe; and, soon, matters of the heart push her into asking existential questions again.
After the birth of her first child, she finds her atheism challenged, and her journey toward Christianity and Catholicism begin.
Something Other Than God is a captivating read. As the wide audience on her well-read blog at ConversionDiary.com attests, Fulwiler is an engaging and vivid storyteller. Her book — which was five years in the making — tells, with humor and depth, her quest for truth and her effort to find meaning in her life experiences — which include giving up a successful career as a programmer, supporting her husband in starting his own business, converting to Catholicism, birthing six kids in 10 years and suffering through complicated health issues.
One striking part of the Fulwilers’ story is how the Divine was pursuing them, especially through their encounters with Christians who were placed in their lives at critical moments.
Something Other Than God brings to mind what Madeleine L’Engle once wrote: “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Jennifer found this light in the Bible, C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine and even her blog readers.
The Fulwilers eventually found answers to their questions about life’s meaning in the Catholic Church. It was not a sudden whim, but took years of investigation.
Jennifer’s faith journey isn’t simply an intellectual assent to the truth of Catholicism; it is an encounter with persons who are Christians and then with Christ himself. In a moment of grace and forgiveness, at her first confession, we see Jennifer circle back all the way to summer camp, as she weeps tears of remorse for her rejection of Jesus as a young girl.
Ultimately, her story makes the words of C.S. Lewis come to life: “All that we call human history … [is] the long, terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.” Thus, the book’s title.
This memoir brings both laughter and tears to readers. It is for those who question and for those who think they already know. Most of all, it’s for those who seek true happiness — and don’t we all?
Jeanette De Melo is the editor in chief of the Register.
Rachel Zamarron is the Register’s customer-service representative.