If you really look at something that is living, or someone, you will be amazed by the wonder that is life. The movement of nature waking with the sunrise, watching an ant carry a leaf larger than it is, giving birth to a new human and having them bond immediately knowing they are in the arms of their mother.
These are just a few of the simple ways we know God’s hand is in everything living. Unfortunately, not everyone was raised to know or understand the awe and wonder of life. As we grow, we are easily distracted by friends and circumstances that are sometimes beyond our control, and before we know it, we are no longer living the life we thought we would be. We have left behind the awe and wonder of childhood, for the daily grind of school and work, made of poor choices in relationships or substance abuse, and pushed God aside to “get ahead” because of our own greed and pride. It’s not always our own choice, but others who made poor choices for us, or doing what is needed to be done to survive. These are the stories we find in the new book by Patrick Madrid, Surprised by Life: 10 Converts Explain How Catholic Teachings on Life Led Them to the Church.
Madrid started the “Surprised By” series in 1994 with Surprised by Truth, leading to two more “Surprised By” books. These were the stories of people who were converted to the Catholic Church through extraordinary circumstances.
These stories have brought conversions because of their candid honesty and truth about how the truth of the Church finally convinced these people that this was the True Church. Those like me, cradle Catholics, are moved too by the struggles of those who lived outside the Church and the peace they found once they lived in the Church. Personally, I have always loved reading conversion stories because it shows me that God doesn’t only love those who have always been part of His Church, but he is constantly calling EVERYONE to Himself.
In Madrid’s newest “Surprised By” book, Surprised by Life, are 10 amazing stories of those who took for granted the gift of life in different ways, who were ultimately converted by realizing what a precious gift God gave each of us through life. Many of the stories in this book are difficult to read because they are real and heart wrenching. They are the stories of the broken, the drug addicted, abused, and those led astray. They tell the same story of millions around the world who are living sadly in similar situations. They are the stories that many don’t know because they are hidden, and will be surprised themselves by the pain and suffering that people live with all around the world (at least I was). They give insight into how people fall into these situations, the desperation they feel, how no one gives them another choice because any other choice is too difficult, too much money, too much responsibility, too much work.
As some of these stories go on it seems as though the person telling the story will never find hope, let alone God, in anything that is happening to them. But we learn it is through a small insight, a gentle unjudging heart, or a small miracle, when these brave souls are drawn to something bigger than themselves. One excerpt reads:
I hadn’t let myself really confront the abortion question until that moment when I felt safe, but I think subconsciously it was there all along. That’s part of the reason I had to shut everything out of my head all weekend, because I probably knew that if I thought about it too much, I would cancel the abortion. Can you really call that kind of fear freedom? Is that kind of fear what’s truly best for a vulnerable woman – that she should have to shut her eyes and mind and heart so she will be able to kill her baby? To make that decision, she has to silence every ounce of her humanity. That just doesn’t seem the right way to make a gneuinely healthy choice.
This was the insight of a broken pregnant teen who luckily had someone loving enough to help her not choose to end the life of her baby, but not all broken women have someone in their life to support them. Although life was never easy, she did find her way into the Church and is now happily married with 6 children (one in Heaven through miscarriage, not abortion).
The thread that ties all ten of these stories together is life. Surprised by Life will make you laugh, cry, break your heart, and bring hope that God is always there waiting for us to turn back to Him.
We can all relate to the difficulty of life, although hopefully not as rough as many of the stories, unfortunately, many of us are. Jesus is always calling us to trust in Him and in that trust, we are given a peace that no matter what has happened, the sinful choices we may have made, there is our loving God waiting to forgive us for everything we’ve done (yes, everything!). We are also reminded by the lives of these writers that Jesus works through all of us. We may never be in the same situations as these people, but we all have the power to save a life. It’s wonderful if we could lead a prayerful protest at an abortion clinic or become a world leader who fights for life-saving change, but not all of us are called to this work. By being the friend who drives their pregnant friend to the pregnancy center instead of the abortion clinic, or the husband working with his wife through the struggles of Natural Family Planning and ethical fertility treatments, or even holding a grandparent’s hand as they slip into heaven, we too can be God’s hands supporting life. Through the sharing of these stories, Madrid shows us we too can be Surprised by Life and grow closer to God like the people in these stories did.