On October 17, 2006, Michael Kelley and his wife, Jana, discovered a rash on the stomach of their two-year-old son, Joshua. A routine visit to the doctor the next morning turned suddenly into a three-year struggle with life and death, faith and doubt, as Joshua is diagnosed and treated for leukemia. In this sometimes gripping, yet often distant and detached, memoir, Kelley shares the glorious ups and the devastating downs that he, Jana, and Joshua went through during these years. He recounts the small moments of joy—such as his and his son’s playing with trains—that could almost make you forget what was happening, as well as the limitations—Joshua’s being hooked up to an IV that beeped incessantly—that reminded all of them of the boy’s condition. In the end, Kelley reflects upon this crisis in his family’s life as a kind of wrestling match with God—like the biblical Jacob’s wrestling match—in which he, and we, are forced to reckon with who we really are, with doubts, selfishness, and fear, and in which God is fighting for our trust. When God has that trust, according to Kelley, God can then give us a name—son or daughter or treasured possession—that signals a new and close relationship. (Mar.)
The impulse to write a memoir after a religious experience is common, but successes in the genre are rather few. This offering by Kelley (Holy Vocabulary; The Tough Sayings of Jesus) is a welcome exception. The material is naturally dramatic: the narrative deals with his toddler son's cancer diagnosis and treatment. Kelley resists, however, falling into sentimentality or easy God praising; instead, he writes with directness about a genuinely difficult experience. VERDICT Neither exploitative nor pietistic, this is a depiction of contemporary Christian spirituality in action in the course of an ordinary life. A good choice for church groups, pastors, and a general Christian audience.