Patty Kirk’s first book is my latest discovery in another of my favourite genres: memoirs by women about their spiritual journeys. My best-loved authors in this genre are Anne Lamott (of course), Nora Gallagher, and Lauren Winner. Patty Kirk’s voice didn’t leap off the page and grab me as quickly and securely as any of those authors’ voices did, but as I got into this collection of essays, I felt like I was getting to know the author and enjoying her unrelentingly honest portrayal of her journey through faith.
I think I know why I like books like these. Like many people growing up in evangelical churches, I had a lot of exposure when I was young to conversion stories, both written and preached, in which a person’s life before they come to faith is a terrible mess and then they accept Jesus. And like “they married and lived happily ever after” at the end of a fairy tale, “I accepted Jesus and lived happily ever after” is the end of a testimony.
Except that in real life, it’s not: it’s the beginning of a journey. I love books that explore the ups and downs of the journey that begins after you kneel at the foot of the cross (I also love memoirs like this from faiths other than Christianity, although I haven’t found as many as I’d like). Patty Kirk does have a conversion story — she grew up in a Catholic family, left God and church behind and lived much of her adult life as an atheist, then converted to her Baptist husband’s evangelical Christianity. But that story is told in the margins of the central theme of this book: what it’s like to live day by day as a struggling, doubting, hoping Christian wife, mother, teacher and writer. Kirk’s essays are thought-provoking, insightful, sometimes funny, and above all, honest.