In October 2006, national headlines focused on a tight-knit community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where Charlie Roberts, a well-respected, affable milk-tank trucker for Amish and English farmers, walked into an Amish schoolhouse and shot 10 girls, killing five and then himself. The community, not to mention the country, was shocked --- no one more so than Mrs. Charlie Roberts, now writing under the name Marie Monville. (She has remarried.)
Monville had seen no discernible signs of trouble. Charlie, she says, was a great father and a good husband, though sometimes withdrawn, seemingly at a loss over the death of a premature daughter and then a miscarriage early in their marriage, before the births of the Roberts’ three healthy children. Festering, unresolved grief is Monville’s only explanation for Charlie’s violent outburst, which seems a little speculative, though her reader is not privy to his “rambling” suicide letter.
"The story is from start to finish about earthly redemption rising from earthly chaos.... It’s a good story, a great story of hope, of 'beauty for ashes,' to quote the biblical phrase. Read it and share it with others."
Monville doesn’t dwell on the past. (There are only two flashback-to-my-youth-and-marriage chapters.) Her narrative details God’s presence in her life and the community since the catastrophic trauma. She’s been enfolded by a large extended family and amazed by the gracious forgiveness and generosity of the Amish, even (or especially) of the very parents of the victims. Though wary of strangers and rightfully so --- the press-media were relentlessly invasive and some outsiders hurtfully insensitive --- she was surprisingly uplifted by many, from all across the country, who sent condolences, prayers, gifts and resources to sustain her family.
A woman of great faith and devotion, Monville seems able to hear the Holy Spirit in a prophetic sense: “knowing” she would have and raise a daughter after having lost two pregnancies; toward the end of the book, as a widow, “knowing” who she would marry, though she hadn’t set her sights on such prospects.
Though she is someone who walked through an unthinkable trial/tribulation, she has been blessed with a continual assurance of God’s love, care and grace. It is the overriding theme of the book, so much so that it’s a bit overbearing. The 300-page story could well have been told in 250 pages. One page includes a paragraph that ends, “I was crying out to God for help in a multitude of ways. And he was answering! I had leaned into his whispers, longing for peace, and he’d replied with a shout that redefined me.” And then another: “In the midst of suffering, loss, and questions, I was finding episodes of irrepressible joy and unstoppable hope. I became fully convinced that not only could God do anything --- but he would do everything needed.”
Don’t look to Monville for any answers to serious theological questions concerning the problem of good and evil, or the possibility of heaven and hell. The story is from start to finish about earthly redemption rising from earthly chaos. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good story, a great story of hope, of “beauty for ashes,” to quote the biblical phrase. Read it and share it with others.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on October 16, 2013