Kristin Billerbeck, how I love thee.
Well…that might be over the top. Maybe. But heavens, I love this author.
Kristin Billerbeck and Me – The Beginning
As I’ve mentioned before on the Discerning Lilies site, I came across Kristin Billerbeck in a unique way. I was younger (pre-husband, pre-kids) and I ran across What a Girl Wants at my local Christian bookstore. I was intrigued by title and the back synopsis. But ultimately I struggled to decide if I should spend my money on something that seemed so…girly. It was the beginning of Christian chick lit and I was nervous to embark upon it.
(Don’t judge too harshly for my own judgment — I was raised with three brothers and no sisters, had developed a huge tendency toward sarcasm that made me more popular with guys than girls, had virtually no romantic or emotional side, was an avid fan of the decidedly unfeminine sport, ice hockey, and absolutely detested shopping for anything other than books… Not exactly the perfect equation for pink, cutesy book covers that described a protagonist that seemed opposite nearly ALL of those characteristics.)
But one day, after I had passed the book up multiple times (but kept coming back to it), I sneaked a peak at the last line of the book.
“What a girl wants is God’s will for her life. Nothing else even compares.“
I’m a sucker for last lines and that one couldn’t have been better. It resonated and I bought the book that day.
What I found in that book all those years ago was a protagonist who, on the outside, was as different from me as could be. I had absolutely zero fashion sense. I was in no way a drama queen. I also wasn’t lamenting my unmarried status. Ashley Stockingdale and I had very little in common.
Until I looked deeper.
The Joys of Fiction
THIS is what I love about Kristin Billerbeck’s fiction: It is incredibly poignant – weaving hard-to-hear truths into an hyperbolized situation. Or maybe not hyperbolized, but compared to my little midwestern life, it felt so.
Ashley Stockingdale wanted to listen to God. Sure, she wanted a lot of things this world claims to offer: love (a guy), security (a good job), nice shoes (well, expensive ones)… But in the end, beyond the distraction, she wanted God and His will. Truly.
And I had an immediate connection with that desire. When I was first reading it I felt so distracted by non-essentials – worrying over things I KNEW I shouldn’t be worrying over. (Of course, I still feel that way…) And yet, through it all, I had a deep desire for God and His truth, His way. I may not have bumbled things in the same way(s) as Billerbeck’s protagonist, but God knew I’d bumbled them in just as many (if not more) ways.
There’s something beautifully refreshing about finding solidarity and similarities with another. Even if it’s in a fiction book.
Through the years, I’ve enjoyed all of Billerbeck’s titles. Some more than others, certainly, but her author’s voice is a consistent one for me – I can count on her for her wit, sarcasm, and uncanny insights into the Christian life (as long as I leave my self open to considering them).
Back to Life – Kristin Billerbeck
This latest read was one she published years ago. I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet – namely because I’ve been book-money-poor for quite a few years now (getting two adults through grad school while also raising children is not conducive to book-buying…)
But then I found The Trophy Wives Club on sale, and really enjoyed it. Back to Life is it’s sequel, so it was a logical next purchase.
And yet again – I’m in love.
To clarify, I probably identify even less with these characters than with Ashley Stockingdale in Billerbeck’s earlier series. I have never lived in L.A. I have never felt the absolute need to wear the right things or keep up my appearance. I certainly didn’t marry a man who would make me his “trophy wife.” I’d never been domineered by a man, let alone a husband. I also hadn’t struggled with finding my place in the world after my little “safe space” of wife-dom had suddenly stopped.
So what have I liked about these books (Back to Life, in particular)?
- First, on the surface, I sure love the sass that comes with Billerbeck’s novels. She’s got a sense of humor that hits right at my funny bone. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but it sure works for me.
- I really appreciate themes that have women trying to be strong and find their places. I may never find myself in a similar situation as many of Billerbeck’s protagonists, but there are themes that still ring true for me. Living this life is rough, especially when one is trying (and so often failing) and living in a faith-filled way.
- Christianity can be itchy. I love God. I’ve longed to follow him well since my middle-school years. But, gracious – it’s not always easy. It’s not easy when you’re dealing with those outside the faith and it’s sometimes even worse when you’re dealing with those inside. Billerbeck’s not afraid to point this out. Living in any sort of community rubs the wrong way sometimes. As part of the refining process, it can be quite uncomfortable.
So the truths I come across in her novels ring very true:
- “I am someone else here. Someone I don’t like at all.”
- “Jesus may forgive me of my sins, but the church – well, it keeps a long account.”
- “At some point, I have to come clean…but the fear of losing…always brings the clarity that made the lie tolerable in the first place.”
- Zaccheus gave back four times what he stole, but how would that translate for me? I stole someone’s heart and trust.”
- “Guilt exudes from every pore in my being. “I tried Lord!” But I know I failed. Even if I’d wanted to stand up for myself, I didn’t have to be so hateful…”
- “Realizing your life is a mess and actually doing something about it are two entirely different realms.”
I have felt those ways far more than once in this life I’ve led. And it’s not like I’m even out of my thirties yet. These truths are real. Maybe not for everyone, but they certainly are for me.
I ran across an article as I’ve been writing this post, and it’s one that laments the fluff of Christian chick-lit. It uses the term chick-lit somewhat liberally, focusing a lot on YA fiction. But the claims are still ones I’ve heard multiple times: chick-lit is extra fluff that isn’t worthwhile and may actually do the Christian life more harm than good.
I get that concern. And some books, I’m sure, have that failing. Christianity is not something that becomes true or powerful just because a person knows how to throw up a prayer every once in a while. Characters who do that are one-dimensional and take the value out of fiction.
But don’t throw out all Christian chick-lit. Because some of it does a great job of incorporating real life, hard lessons, and this imperfect world in a package that can be both enlightening and entertaining.
For so much of Billerbeck’s fiction, I find myself walking in someone elses’s shoes — until I realize even though those shoes look different on the outside, the inside feels eerily similar to my own.
I don’t think I could want anything more from fiction than that.