February 2, 2021

Advocating for Surrender & The Light That Emerges

Book review of "I Give Up" and "Beautifully Broken: A Memoir".

Leigh McLeroy & Reema Sukumaran

68 1 4 6Advocating for Surrender

I Give Up, Laura Story with Leigh McLeroy,
W Publishing, 2019, softcover, 227 pages, US$17.99. Reviewed by Lael Caesar, Adventist Review.

The epigraph that opens Laura Story’s 2019 book, I Give Up, is the lyrics of a song of hers that gives this book its name. The lyrics are a testimony to the blessedness of soul surrender to God and a sustained note on the struggle to arrive at surrender. Her final stanza captures the paradox: “So here’s my life to take, though you’ve heard this prayer a thousand other days. . . .”

The title of Story’s opening section—“Surrender . . . Who, Me?”—then sounds like a vote for continuing resistance, a note that questions the book’s idea. But Story is not in search of an answer: she writes as one who has found joy in living the lessons learned with pain. And in the course of sharing them, beginning with her very first chapter, she shows herself to be a credible commentator on living real life—not the dazzling fantasy of big-screen fairy tales, but the day-to-day humdrum of coping with a new life demand before the previous challenge has had any chance to grow old: still newlyweds, just taking up her first job, she and her husband, Martin, learn that he has a brain tumor. Later they must decide how to explain to the kids, Josie and the twins, Ben and Griffin, that their coming baby brother was going to have “a funny lip” (p. 15).

The book repeatedly references biblical characters whose stories are used to illustrate a given argument being developed through the book: Abraham—chapter three; Naomi—chapter four; Peter—chapter five; God, the Promise-Keeper—chapter six. Story’s handling of these biblical episodes demonstrates admirable spiritual, not to mention theological, understanding of their import. Moreover, her continued reliance on the Bible stories is itself commentary on her sense that Scripture is relevant here and now; that it works for people who want to know how to live the winning life today, and taste what the book’s cover promises: “the secret joy of a surrendered life.”

I Give Up may not be Story’s autobiography, but she shares enough to teach her reader that her writing is distinctly more than mere theory. It took her no time at all to realize, as a confident worship leader at the Perimeter church in Atlanta, that a brand-new music degree and four guitar chords were not enough to qualify one as a worship leader. Chris Tomlin had already sung Story’s “Indescribable” [“From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea . . .”]. She had already made a mark. But now, as a church worship leader with life to deal with, e.g., her newlywed husband’s newly diagnosed brain tumor, she was learning that worship was “a deeper, conscious choice to praise” the true God (p. 208), He who is always worthy of our praise.

Worship leaders, church administrators, Christians who organize anything—if nothing more than their daily walk with Christ—need the truths of Laura Story’s story in our lives. The more we get and keep what she here shares with us, the truer will ring her thirteenth chapter title: “When I Surrender, I Leave a Legacy.”

68 2 5 9The Light That Emerges

Beautifully Broken: A Memoir, Reema Sukumaran, Self-Published, 2020, softcover, 181 pages, US $16.99. Reviewed by Wilona Karimabadi

Reliving past trauma is never easy. Reliving past trauma that lays your heartache bare for strangers to read is almost impossible. Yet Reema Sukumaran has done just that.

Her story, the child of Indian immigrants trying to find a place to fit in and flourish while living in an unstable and abusive home, is one that will resonate with many regardless of ethnic background. In her book, Sukumaran recounts a personal history filled with witnessing the physical and emotional abuse her mother and brothers at the hands of her father, enduring her own abuse, the rampant instability of her family life, the pressures of fitting in with church and school environments that were at times indifferent, and her journey of finding the peaceful, loving family life she’d craved since childhood.

Sukumaran also bares her truth about being sexually assaulted by a well-respected youth ministry professional and the mental and emotional toll it took on her life.

Beautifully Broken is not an easy read. Sukumaran’s story is heartbreakingly raw and emotional. But even within passages recounting unimaginable abuse, she is still able to pull out moments of hope that carried her forward. We see resilience in her ability to delve into dark places in order to speak out. The path her life has taken from a scared child afraid of a volatile father to blossoming in university, finding her life partner, and raising six sons is testament to a God who delivers the oppressed to better days—a hope that so many of us cling to.

In 2021 the conversation about abuse against women—especially within the church—must continue. This is a book that brings ugly truths about the topic into the light to confront it. It causes the reader to ask the hard questions: “What would I do? Who around me has gone through this and how should I have helped? What can I do now?”

Sukumaran’s story is about bravery, courage, and the internal strength God has placed within all of us. She writes the following in a passage about her mother’s terminal illness: “Now, I listened as my mom shared her happiness, her hurts, her belief in God, her love for her children, and her pure unconditional love for her grandchildren. I realized that there is another definition of ‘strong’ that I had not considered before.” Indeed, within all of God’s creation lies a strength He has placed that we may have never realized was there.

This is a book with an important and necessary story for church book clubs—especially for women’s and family ministries, as the message is equally important for men to take in as well. As a solo read, Beautifully Broken will hurt your heart but take you on a journey that shows the goodness of a Savior who never leaves.