The wilderness opens our eyes to the intrinsic value of Christ’s body by stripping us of our independence.  It shows us how dependent we are on the gifts and graces of God.  Most often God infuses these graces into our lives through the lives of other believers.  Among others we can better figure out what is good for us.  With them we can discern what is necessary for our well-being.  We live life together for the good of one another and for the good of all creation.  It is together that we live a robust life in the kingdom of God and bring life to others.  It’s together that we survive in the wilderness.

About six years ago a new Resident Director was hired for my college dormitory.  Her name was Marlena Graves.  Within a few months I was babysitting her sweet daughter and getting to know her and her husband as well.  At the end of that year, I applied to work as a Resident Assistant and spent the next two years working under her leadership.  Since then, Marlena has been a friend, a mentor and a surrogate family member.  Now we’re fellow members of the Redbud Writers Guild.

a beautiful disaster

When I first met Marlena, I’ll never forget her casually saying, “I’m a writer.  I am working on a book.”

Today I’m so thrilled to be reviewing that very book.

A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness is special to me because it was written by a friend.  But I have found it to be special for more than that.  This book is a treasure field, chock-full of wisdom.  I read it slowly, savoring and pondering its truths.  I am sure that others will find it as life-giving as I did.

Marlena writes about the desert wilderness of the spiritual life.  Dorothy Greco rightly refers to Marlena as a “wilderness guide”, one who has spent time learning the lessons of the desert and now leads others through their own spiritual deserts.

In A Beautiful Disaster Marlena writes powerfully about her dysfunctional childhood.  “I lived in a world of turmoil…. I needed God to show me his path through the desert wilderness of poverty, DUIs, adultery, mental illness, prison, a house fire, the death of loved ones, and my own bad decisions.”  Marlena found God in the wilderness of her childhood and learned lessons there that served her well as she grew.  In her adult life, she encountered more wilderness experiences.  Yet instead of despairing in these deserts, Marlena found God there.  She discovers that “desert land is fertile ground for spiritual activity, transformation, and renewal.”

Rather than being preachy or platitudinous, as many writers tend to be when discussing suffering, Marlena’s tone is consistently gracious and humble.  The book is brimming with wisdom, intertwined with stories, Scripture and quotes.  The result is a thoughtful, serious, and beautiful guide.

After just one reading, my copy of A Beautiful Disaster is marked up with notes and scribbles throughout.  Each chapter seemed better than the last.  I will certainly be revisiting this book many times in the future and will be giving copies away as well.  Out of all the books I’ve read on trials and suffering, this will definitely be the one that I recommend to others.

Finally, it seems impossible that I write any endorsement of A Beautiful Disaster without also endorsing its author.  As I said before, Marlena is a friend and a mentor.  I can attest that Marlena’s life matches her message.  She is sincere in her pursuit of Jesus and is constantly encouraging others towards him.  Marlena reflects Jesus in her writing as well as in her life.


 We come out of the desert with a healthy dose of self-forgetfulness and a firm resolve to serve God and others in love.  Like Paul and the other apostles, we resolve to remember the poor and the afflicted.  The desert has made us more compassionate towards those who are suffering, and so we seek to do what we can because we remember what it is like to despair and to feel alone.  Serving God has become our pleasure.  We live for the sake of God and others, for we have experienced the beauty, the brevity, and the fragility of life.


Because I believe in this book, I am buying a copy with my own money and giving it away to a reader.  To be entered in the giveaway, please do the following:

1. Share this review with your friends/followers on a social media network

2. Leave a comment below telling me where you shared it!

This giveaway will close on 27 August 2014.  I’ll use a random number generator to choose the winner and will post it on 28 August.  When you comment, please make sure you include a way for me to contact you (email, twitter, etc) in case you’re the winner!


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