Stepping into Sunlight
Military spouses or victims of trauma, anxiety and phobias will find hope and healing in STEPPING INTO SUNLIGHT by Sharon Hinck.
The storyline is message-driven and simple. Penny Sullivan supports her husband’s career change from youth pastor to Navy chaplain, even though it requires her to move across the country with her small son and away from her childhood home, family and friends. When she witnesses a multiple murder in a convenience store close to her new home --- and barely misses being murdered herself --- it sends her into a downward spiral just as her husband is deployed for three months.
Hinck shows the debilitating effects of trauma through Penny’s daily life. Unable to do simple things (such as put gas in her car or go to the grocery store), more complicated tasks, like helping in her son’s classroom, become unimaginable. Soon, Penny is a prisoner in her own home and then is barely able to get out of bed. It is a realistic glimpse into the world of anxiety, debilitating fears and phobias, as well as trauma, and will resonate with those who have experienced it.
It’s not unrelenting angst, however. Hinck leavens her story with lighter moments --- a romance between two mission workers, a support group that teaches her the mistake of judging people by appearances (without being too preachy, which is difficult to pull off) and a grits-cooking low-brow neighbor who Penny helps (but also admirably refuses to become a doormat or martyr for).
The messages come through loud and clear. God does not require that we “suck it up and heal ourselves” --- he gives us community and avenues of help that we are supposed to lean on in times of trouble. Trauma recovery requires help, even things that we don’t believe are as tough as what happened to someone else. Counseling is crucial. And God can use unexpected vehicles to get his message across, from DVDs to the over-pierced teen who works at the fast-food joint.
And, as Hinck evinces, this doesn’t mean it’s all about us. Healing requires that we reach out to others, just as Penny does when she begins keeping a little notebook of her “one kind thing” to do for someone each day. When we heal, we learn empathy for others who suffer, as Penny learns to care for her mentally-ill brother who deserted the family years before and unexpectedly turns up again in her life, just when she’s worried she’s becoming like him.
Along the way, Hinck shows the mixed messages that Christians often receive from well-meaning people about their problems. Penny’s sister Cindy adds to her fears and seems to imply that Penny’s problems are a lot less than her own. Her mother is the master of the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get over it” school of thinking. And, of course, there are the messages Penny tells herself. (When she resists counseling, she argues, “I’d seen what counseling had done to my brother.”)
Because it is so message-driven, this might be a good book for Christian counselors to give victims of trauma or anxiety, for friends and family of trauma victims, for book groups who are interested in expanding their knowledge of mental illness, and of course, for trauma and anxiety victims themselves. (Unfortunately, there is no discussion guide, which would have been welcome in a novel of this genre). Husbands and wives of military personnel will also relate to the themes of loneliness, single parenting and communication with loved ones who are away for extended periods of time.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on October 1, 2008