Empty Arms, by Pam Vredevelt. Published by Multnomah, 2001, 176 pages paper. [Reviewed by Brenda Hoekstra.]
In an age where the mindset is about liability and compensation, even God’s people can get caught up in wondering why some things have to happen the way that they do. An event going awry often gets us started mentally replaying our lives. When some small thing happens that we are not happy about, we wonder what could have been done differently, and where we can go to have it made up to us or ‘fixed’ for us.
For some people, something happens in their life that goes beyond inconvenience or personal preferences and it cannot be fixed. That ‘something’ can be colossal, irreversible, life altering and can make them want to scream for the entire world to STOP! In the middle of the throes of joy and beautiful anticipation, that something can be the devastating sudden death of a newborn or near-born baby.
Dashed hopes do not begin to describe the emotional roller coaster they find themselves thrust onto. The book Empty Arms, by Pam Vredevelt, takes you there. From the first page, Pam takes the reader with her and her husband in their experience. Beginning with a day that starts out with a routine doctor’s appointment, it brings the reader through their self-accusing guilt, their pain, sorrow, and struggles.
This book has solid, compassionate, biblical encouragement for any couple and their extended families that know this loss. With an emphasis on following a Christian’s calling in such a time, this book gives solid answers and reassurance to those who experience this loss. It also shows the body of believers the biblical way to support and edify the people who need our care and love at such a time in their lives. Others want to help and don’t always know how, but this book reminds us of scriptural principles on which to base the words of comfort that we want to bring, enabling us to be more careful, tactful, and empathetic.
In addition to the author’s personal experience, this book also covers stillbirths, miscarriages, and tubal pregnancies. It deals with the physical and medical realities, emotional challenges, and spiritual wrestling. It offers personal insight as well as practical help. It is well researched. It is not ‘preachy’ or trite but straightforward as it brings God-centered hope and comfort to struggling couples.
In a litigious age and a country full of people asking ‘why’ and looking for someone to hold responsible, this book brings the refreshing and humbling reminder that “we live in a fallen world and sometimes the pain and suffering of that world touches our lives.” It emphasizes God’s sovereignty and explains why God is the safest One to run to during dark and painful times.
Empty Arms, by Keren Baker (lives in the UK). Published by EP Books, 2009. 125 pages, hardcover. [Reviewed by Brenda Hoekstra.]
Orphan, widow, widower; these are all words for people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. What word is there for those who have lost a child? Perhaps it is a loss that is too painful to label with one word.
Keren Baker had the uninvited intruder of death break into the life of her family, and within the space of one morning, her life and her family were changed forever. Her autobiographical book reads like a journal and takes the reader along on their journey through grief. The sudden loss of her very young daughter due to an acute illness gives rise to this personal account as she sorts out her feelings, fears, and faith. This book helps the reader understand bereavement and shows how God understands the bereavement of His children and how He remains near them each day anew.
Mrs. Baker is frank about the ugliness of death and reminds us of how God Himself endured the death of His own Son, an equally piercing sorrow that I failed to consider fully until I read this book.
As she and her family passed through the various phases of grieving, she relates their response in those phases. She explains the things that she did and learned to put into practice that helped her move forward. You get a sense of the struggles she went through as she describes weaknesses of her own. She sometimes gets things a little out of perspective and leaves you with a sense that she has few answers, but this was her reality and she simply wrote her experience. Answer-less is what our own perspectives can be too, especially during difficult times. She is a regular person, not a theologian; this means that she, like most of us, doesn’t always have all the answers. At first this put me off, but then I realized that my expectations were misplaced. Her purpose in writing was not to give us all the answers but to have the reader walk the struggle with her in a personal way. The author gives a really solid confession in the end, and we are reminded that life is a pilgrimage in which we are often unsure of the way. Life is where we work on finding our answers by searching the beloved Scriptures in the midst of our trials and troubles. Mrs. Baker witnesses to the care of the Lord for her and her family and quotes many helpful Bible passages. She traces God’s unique and providential care in the way that He had even prepared them for the loss of their daughter. She skillfully sheds some light on the difference between joy and happiness and confesses God’s sovereignty.
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Thus, we have two books with the same title that deal with similar ideas. Would I recommend one over the other? No, readers would benefit from reading them both. They speak to different types of readers in their own unique way. Written by believers, these books meet the purpose of edifying others who are going through a difficult time, and I found them to be biblical books. They encourage and bring comfort. In the middle of living with the sorrowful effects of this life, they speak to the reader of God’s sovereign, purposeful love and care.