I am a bit of a picky reader: I love a good story with engaging dialog. How this works out in practice is that I love reading fiction books (I’m curious to see what will happen at the end), but I RARELY make it all the way through a non-fiction book. Usually, I just read far enough to get the gist of what the author is saying and then it joins the condemning pile of partially-read books which tower on my night stand.
So it should tell you something when I say that I FINISHED reading Michelle Van Loon’s book “If Only: Letting Go of Regret” this past weekend. It is a gentle and easy to book: it reads like sitting down with a friend over coffee – but not just any friend. This book puts you in the company of a friend who makes you laugh out loud at times even while you are constantly aware that their wisdom and care for you saturates every word, even as you process some of your deepest hurts and most shameful regrets.
I wrote a review for If Only on Amazon (click here to read it!), but for now I will say no more. Rather, it is with real delight that I get to introduce Michelle Van Loon directly to you with a guest post in the “Words that changed my world” series. Enjoy, and then go take a look at her book!!!!
I also have a FREE COPY of Michelle’s book to giveaway – leave a comment below and enter to win (US/Canada entries only, please). Entries close Saturday 6/21, and the winner contacted via email.
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘it might have been’.” – Kurt Vonnegut
I ran errands, shopped, prepared meals, organized a few closets and pantries, and provided companionship for some elderly clients trying to stave off checking themselves in to a care facility during the two years I worked as a paid caregiver. 93 year-old Mrs. H, who I visited twice-weekly for nearly a year, showed me the nature of the kinds of unresolved regrets that surface at life’s end. When we can no longer hide from them in our busy-busy lives, when our key relationships get stripped from us one by one either through sickness or longevity, buried regrets make their way to the surface.
There is no place to hide from our “might have beens” when we’re at life’s end.
The long-widowed Mrs. H never had children (something she didn’t seem to mind), but had filled her privileged life with bridge club gatherings, throwing dinner parties for the clients of her executive husband, travel and golf. She lived with her ancient dog in a giant home in an old-money suburb of Chicago and had enjoyed remarkable good health until shortly before I came into her life, unless you count trips to a podiatrist to deal with pesky ingrown toenails a serious illness. But a couple of falls had convinced the cousin charged with keeping an eye on her that Mrs. H needed a bit of extra household help. As I got to know her, I discovered a woman having a very hard time finding places to hide from her regrets now that her socialite friends had all died and she was homebound.
We spent a lot of time talking about her regrets, even as I vacuumed the coils on her fridge (not in my job description, but it made her happy) and prepared her favorite dish (boneless chicken breast baked in cranberry juice cocktail). She still flinched reflexively in attempts at social and religious performance, driven by the condemning voices she still heard in her head of parents and mean-girl gal pals who’d judged her, amplified by a lifetime of judging others who were other than, less than, greater than her.
Mrs. H was uncertain that she’d ever been happy, and had lived nine decades disconnected from her true feelings as she’d engaged in the play-acting of the social circle in which she’d lived. So much of where she’d invested her energy had no comfort for her now save for a few bittersweet memories. Her regrets surfaced, and they seemed scary and irreconcilable at this point. Her days were spent in the company of “It might have been…” I learned that any sentence beginning with those four words never leads anywhere productive.
Mrs. H and I talked a lot about God the year I worked for her. She’d had a formal relationship with God throughout adulthood: church on Sundays in a Chanel suit, followed by brunch at the club. Without those props, she found herself trying to connect the simple faith in Jesus she had as a child to the regrets she carried at the end of her life.
“Is that faith enough?” she asked me one day toward the end of our time together, as her body began betraying her and her family was making arrangements at a nearby nursing home. Her if onlys had grown more and more insistent. There was no do-over.
And I knew that question was why I was there with her at that time in her life, in that moment.
Yes, I told her. Yes.
It is more than enough.
Michelle Van Loon is the author If Only: Letting Go Of Regret (Beacon Hill Press, 2014) and two books about the parables of Christ. She’s contributed to four recent devotional projects including the Hope In The Mourning Bible (Zondervan). She’s been a church communications director, served on staff at Trinity International University, and currently serves as a consultant for a handful of small faith-based non-profits. She’s currently enrolled part-time at Northern Seminary. She’s married to Bill, and is mother to three and grandmother to two. Her writing focuses on issues of the church and spiritual formation. She blogs at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pilgrimsroadtrip/.
And now? Leave a comment to win a copy of this fabulous book!! Entries close Saturday 6/21.