Can we know wholeness if we have not been broken?
Raw truth has not been better spoken than in this line on the last leg of JJ Landis’ memoir, Some Things You Keep: Letting Go. Holding On. Growing Up. Consistent to the entirety of the story, it’s written in a delicate yet certain way that only those who truly experience the road of suffering and scraped hearts can dispense.
I know I am a bit behind on posting my review, but when I received JJ’s book, I knew it wasn’t something I simply wanted to read through quickly just to get my thoughts out. I wanted to digest each chapter, and the paragraphs within them. So while I may be tardy as far as her book release date goes, I do hope that I’m right on time with the words that need to be written about JJ’s journey.
I met JJ at the Speak Up Conference in Grand Rapids two years ago. Right away, I was drawn to her reserved demeanor and knew there was something intriguing about her. One night, we were at the same round table of manuscript editing. She passed around a chapter of her memoir and began to read it out loud. I was hooked. Her tragically beautiful description of the pain surrounding her the morning after her mother’s suicide, the details of a little girl passed into a new world and the perceived betrayal of laughing in the midst of grieving—I couldn’t wait for the day when her words would spring to life in the form of this book.
Its arrival has been a long time coming and anticipated greatly. When JJ announced her book’s publication and I held a copy in my hands, my eyes lingered on the cover, simply reveling in the great accomplishment of the woman whose name was printed clearly on the front. I could not wait to uncover more. I nestled in my couch in the late hours of evening, cup of tea at the ready, and turned the first page. Here she opened herself to the world, which, ironically, she struggled to do for decades with her heart. She shared her early years, the upbringing where a timid girl fell more and more into herself as family tragedy and distortion played with her delicate demeanor. I lived through her eyes, the toys of youth she held onto, the nights of parties her mother hosted, while little Jennifer tried to sleep in a bedroom above the chaos.
As JJ moved into places unfamiliar, I descended with her into the abyss of suffering and destruction of drugs, drink and loss. Each new chapter surprised me, as I marveled at the lengths God went to reach her. His hand stayed over her life, and it is a tribute to His love and mercy, told beautifully by a women unafraid to lay it all on the line in time to lay it at His feet.
The few word titles introduced each chapter and vibrant details peppered the ebb and flow of a life spiraling desolately into the arms of God. I couldn’t believe her story; indeed, this was reality—her reality—as she cried out to be comforted. I ended up marking many pages with bookmarks made of torn paper on lines that stood out to me, whether for their beauty or their impact.
Some of my favorites:
Like my quilt was made with scraps of discarded fabric sewn together into something beautiful, so was my life. New life had come from the tatters. (pg. 114)
My sadness was an open wound that I kept picking, not allowing it to heal. Maybe I kept it sore so I wouldn’t forget my basic identity: The Wounded One. When people came into my life I hid behind humor or sarcasm to keep my distance. If that didn’t work, I would crawl into my ‘I’m an introvert’ hole. Eventually, because people had a way of being in my life still, I picked open my scab and let myself get hurt. I was perpetually being reinjured. (pg. 156)
We suffer in life. But suffering isn’t the whole of our lives. Joy, splendid joy, inhabits our earthly existence as well. But sometime the joy is to be unearthed from beneath the rubble of disaster and heartache. (pg. 163)
If I had swallowed back the bitter taste of bile and gritted my teeth, staying strong and holding in the toxin—the pain—the flowers wouldn’t have grown. Beauty comes from letting go. (pg. 163)
What’s special about JJ’s story, besides the beautifully strung prose, is that it is still active, moving through people as they read her pages. With raw honesty, she admits that while Jesus has done a redeeming work in her life and soul, there is still growth to bloom from those flowers found from the bitter.
I am proud to know JJ and proud that her story is now being shared with the world. Hers is one that strikes familiar chords in so many hearts today, and her voice is a reminder for those who feel they have nowhere else to go but down, that Jesus is in the mess, walking through it and taking the fragmented pieces of their soul on a pilgrimage that begins by letting go.
Please pick up this book and support this strong, resilient, transparent woman who bravely crosses oceans each day to capture the brilliance of God’s grace. And please continue to get to know her and keep “living real” together at her blog.