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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Dear Deb" (Margaret Terry)

TITLE: Dear Deb: A Woman with Cancer, a Friend with Secrets, and the Letters That Became Their Miracle
AUTHOR: Margaret Terry
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2012, (222 pages).

This book reads like a part-memoir, part-letter, and part-retrospective writing. Addressed to a friend called Deb, who is struggling with Stage 4 terminal lung cancer, the author tries to walk with Deb as a friend, a confidante, a fellow pilgrim, as well as a spiritual counselor. Within a span of six months, Margaret Terry pens 102 letters, of which only 55 are published here. If you were to count the number of envelops on the cover, the number is even less, 52. In this short time, Terry and Deb moves from mere acquaintance to deep friends, joined together by honest sharing of their lives and a common faith in God. What is most inspiring is that while doctors call Deb's cancer "inoperable," and cancer continues to torment not just her lungs but also her brain, Deb is still able to form a close bond with Terry, through letters.

It all begins with Terry joining a prayer group specifically tasked to pray for Deb. Gradually, the focus progresses beyond mere praying for Deb toward caring for Deb. Terry makes herself vulnerable with open sharing about her own life events, and her corresponding emotional attachments. Each letter begins with a retrospective look at one story or incident in Terry's life, progressing with thoughtful reflection and ending with a Bible verse, that sums up God's pronouncement on all that have happened. Terry shares about her encounter with a homeless man, and gradually learns that charitable giving on her part may very well be impeding on the homeless man's "work." She shares how her son, Michael taught her how to view the sky from underwater. He reveals the painful moments of the day when her husband asks for a divorce, and how the Lord is close to the brokenhearted. Terry also writes with flashbacks on her younger years with her mother, her church, her family, her work, and many of her daily encounters with life. By revealing herself more, she hopes to encourage Deb, and in the process, finds in Deb not just a listening ear, but a healing moment. There are questions of faith, how her non-church-going lifestyle was rocked by her sons' strange desire to want to go to church. In doing so, she learns how church has changed through her 25 years of absence. Terry also reflects on how Anne Lamott's thinking of faith and gratitude shapes her own beliefs, that God cares less of what she does, and more of what is in her heart. There is a progression from matters of reflecting events and incidents, toward matters of reflecting deep faith and emotional questions in the heart. Thanks to a captivated audience of one, namely Deb, Terry's letters to Deb become a literary healing center for both of them. Publishing the letters has invited the rest of the world to listen in and be touched. Terry's deepest desire can be summed up in this.

"Freedom. My heart wants the freedom to be a writer without restraints, the freedom to love again without fear, and the freedom to hear God without my insecure self getting in the way. Yup, freedom would feed my heart and give me peace." (Margaret Terry, p204)

Sometimes, I feel that the strongest people emotionally and spiritually are precisely those who are going through deep physical challenges. This book is not simply about one who is strong trying to reach out to another who is weak. It is the sharing of vulnerability on the part of Terry that brings companionship and meaning to a dying cancer patient, Deb. "Dear Deb" reads less of an instructive manual of how to help one cope with cancer, but more of a journey of what it means for two persons to share their lives, regardless of their physical ailments or emotional conditions. This is what friendship is all about. This is how what relationships can become. This is how faith can shape and grow, to make two distant lives become a meaningfully shared journey. This book is a perfect example of how ordinary lives can be made more extraordinary with openness, adequate reflection, sprinkled with humour and lighthearted cheer. Most importantly, it is a testimony that even the most down and out can find hope and faith in God, and people, through God and through one another.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Thomas-Nelson and Graf-Martin Communiations in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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