God loves even meBy Melanie Springer Mock
Tricia Gates Brown, whose previous work includes two books about Christian Peacemaker Teams, turns in this work to her own life — to her experiences growing up in a conservative, evangelical family, and to her discovery of God’s love for her.
Gates Brown frames her memoir around the visits she makes to Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, just outside of Lafayette, Ore. The Abbey, nestled in the Willamette Valley foothills, becomes a sanctuary for the writer, whose unsettled life searches for its anchor. She finds one, of a kind, in Martin, a Mexican-American monk who serves her burritos and listens to her story.
Throughout the memoir, Gates Brown returns again and again to The Abbey and to Martin, allowing her narrative about love and love lost, heartache and redemption, to unspool around these visits. Gates Brown finds comfort in Martin’s continual reassurance that Jesus loves women — that Jesus loves her — a point that becomes the resonant theme guiding the book.
That Jesus loves women as much as men may seem obvious. But, as Gates Brown rightly argues, many churches have conveyed a different message: that men and their gifts, their voices, their ideas, are valued more by God.
She writes: “It was certainly obvious to me that women needed men, girls needed boys. Males apparently exemplified all that was right with God. So if women and girls were to be saved, they had to be washed in the blood of the man.”
This misguided understanding of God and God’s love becomes a driving force in Gates Brown’s life, causing her to make complex decisions in her desire to seek the attention of men, and so of God. Her longing to be accepted compels sexual experiences that cycle into shame, disappointment and more distance from the God she seeks.
Gates Brown is unflinching in her details of failed relationships, which include two divorces and a dalliance with a man whose enigmatic past could — when seen through certain lenses — spell danger for Gates Brown and her daughter.
Reading about these men and their own brokenness is especially difficult, and as I read, I wondered what they and their families feel about being portrayed so starkly, their own lives opened in this way to an audience. This is, of course, a potential problem with any memoir, and Jesus Loves Women is no exception. Our stories our always intertwined with others’ stories, and to tell about one person’s experience will mean telling about another’s.
Gates Brown moves toward redemption as Martin from The Abbey serves as her shepherd and guide. His friendship, and his reassurance that Jesus loves women, allows Gates Brown to find healing: to discover that Jesus loves “clumsy and broken” women too, and that “connectedness to God does not exempt us from struggle, from losing our heads on occasion and breaking our own hearts with our bumbling. It does bathe the experience in love … the love of God.”
By her memoir’s end, Gates Brown has found peace — peace with her broken relationships, peace with herself, peace with God. Such peace comes in great part through a series of “grace notes” that remind her of God’s close presence, even in moments of loneliness and fear. She and her daughter are living inland from the Oregon coast, in a cottage restored by the hands of her community and friends — a reminder again of “love, love, love,” the words with which her narrative concludes.
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