3 out of 4 stars
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The House of Shekinah: A Struggle to Find the Visible Presence of God by Ruth Elizabeth (Heighton) Gibbs is a personal memoir written for her children and shared to be an encouragement to those who struggle with grief. If you have ever asked, “Why me?” this book should be an encouragement to you.
Ruth grew up in the Pacific Northwest with a strict religious, yet dysfunctional upbringing. As a youth, she challenged the doctrines she was taught. Pious church ladies looked down their noses at her when she wore makeup and jewelry. But Ruth chose to believe that God was bigger than those trivial things. She believed God loved her and wanted the best for her.
Ruth and her husband Don began a career in ministry. With her husband pastoring, her job was to “polish the jewels” God had given her, their children. As the Gibbs family grew, others found their family’s life to be inspiring and wanted to “hitch their wagon to her star.” The Gibbs eventually named their home “The House of Shekinah.” (Shekinah was the visible presence of God that led the Israelites through the wilderness in the book of Exodus.) Their lives took some twists and turns and not everything played out as Ruth may have dreamed for her family. Though they had some struggles, it still seemed God’s blessing was upon them. Her husband’s career moved them throughout the Northwest and California where they developed many life long friendships. During this time, they were also introduced to people from the Charismatic movement and other Fundamentalist belief systems who challenged more of her theology.
Because of the doctrinal beliefs by which Ruth was raised, a paralyzing fear of death became deep-seated in her. She avoided conversations about death and certainly steered clear of funerals and cemeteries. When her oldest daughter was diagnosed with a life threatening disease, she had to face things she never dreamed would be a part of her God blessed life. Her struggle was to reconcile her lifetime of theological understanding with the reality she now faced. In the last chapters she talks about dealing with grief and the healing process. One quote that stood out to me was, “In the process of healing, I realized most individuals were trying only to bring relief, and their ignorance resulted in more damage than healing.”
Ruth now has a degree in Philosophy and Religion and a certificate in Pastoral Care. Her writing style is very smooth and soon you feel like you are sitting across the table from her, listening as she shares her story. In fact, at the end of the book she shares her email address and website. She encourages those struggling with grief to contact her. The first half of the book can feel a little bogged down at times, but the last half will keep you engaged as you begin to feel Ruth’s struggles and emotions. I personally enjoyed her descriptions of the locations were they lived and visited. Having lived in Oregon myself, it was like going back for a visit. Also, as a Charismatic Christian, I found myself challenged by some of the encounters she had with other Charismatic believers.
This is a lovely memoir for her family and I especially recommend this book for all pastors, church leaders, and those who have a ministry with those who are going through any type of struggle. There are lessons to be learned along the way and the last few chapters may change the way you minister to the grieving. However, I feel it could use a round of editing to streamline the story a bit for those who are not family and may find the story too detailed in areas. I also found several editorial errors throughout. Ruth’s memoir could be very helpful and encourage those experiencing grief, especially while struggling with their faith and the things well-meaning people say in the process. For these reasons, I give the book a rating of 3 out of 4 stars.
The House of Shekinah: A Struggle to Find the Visible Presence of God
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