Book Review: An action plan for all of us today

By J.E. Helm
The Sooner Catholic   

This gem of a little book offers a plan for living a peaceful and faith-filled life in today’s world.

“On the Other Side of Fear,” subtitled “How I Found Peace,” is Hallie Lord’s autobiographical story of how she “looked fear in the face and discovered that its power is an illusion, definitely destroyed when held up to the light of God.”

She begins her story at a point in her life where she was “36 weeks pregnant with (her) fifth child,” and her husband was laid off.  “We were left with two weeks severance pay and less than a month of insurance to our name,” she writes.

Despite her husband’s many assurances that things would work out, children who surrounded her, friends and family “who visited and poured love into our family in myriad ways,” she locked herself away “in a dungeon of fear and anxiety, where my only companions were vivid worst-case scenarios that played in my head on repeat.”

In the 14 chapters of her book, Lord analyzes fear, presenting it against the storyline of her own life and criticizing it with wisdom borrowed from Thomas Merton, Dr. Phil, Mark Twain, Pope Francis and many others.

Her writing is enjoyable, especially embellished with pithy quotes from her famous sources. She has Mark Twain saying, “I’ve lived through some horrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

She also entertains us with well-written, beautiful description. Her children cuddle with her, “releasing the silly things that had been dancing in their heads into my ear, and kissing their newest sibling as she rolled and stretched beneath my ribs.”

She blends her description evenly with her narrative. Watching the TV coverage of Junipero Serra’s canonization because, as she writes, “I wanted to know his secret,” she again shows us more of her “enchanting children.”

“I wiped up a puddle of milk that I had spilled while preparing dinner, reminded Charlie (who could always be counted on to tend to the duties of his 2-year-old state in life with aplomb) that in our culture we sit in chairs, not on top of the table, and settled down to watch the canonization.”
What was Junipero Serra’s “secret?” Pope Francis explains in his homily for the day that it was “Siempre Adelante! Keep moving forward!”

What she realized was that worry about not getting everything done was futile. She saw that “All of my fear and frustration had been born of a failure to trust. That if I simply stayed close to God and put one foot in front of the other, he would sustain me and bless my efforts.”

She explains many more of the lessons she learns. Dr. Phil exhorts from the TV screen to “Follow your fears to their logical conclusion.” “What is the worst that can happen?” she asks herself. Maybe you’ll be embarrassed or even laughed at, but then, “After a time, you’ll brush yourself off and get back to the business of living.”

She learns to pray for peace and finds that when she does, “all of that darkness (begins) to dissipate.”

She starts to understand that “handing your life over to God isn’t a guarantee that everything will go smoothly” and that “agony is an essential part of being made new.”

This is not easy for Lord. She writes, “I am not a ‘Jesus, take the wheel’ kind of gal. I’m more of a ‘Jesus, you can hop into my passenger seat as long as you promise not to be a backseat kind of driver’ kind of gal.”

She discovers thankfulness. It’s important to review our lives with appreciation and gratitude, and anxiety about the future can stifle this. “Fear stole my memory and made me forget how much God had done for me,” she writes.

She comes to understand “what it means to ‘offer up’ our suffering.” On and on, she narrates all of the many life lessons that carried her to the other side of fear.

What is so nice about “On the Other Side of Fear” is that it is a reminder that we all have struggles, we all have worries; that we are not nearly as alone as we might feel. We are all connected in the experience of this thing we call life. Hallie Lord reminds us that, with God’s very generous and ever-present help, we can, as she did, work through these things and find peace.

Hallie Lord is an author, speaker, radio host, conference leader, and the happily married mother of seven “delightful” children.

Helm is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.