For the vast majority of my life I have lived in a small town in southern Mississippi. It’s the kind of place where you know half of the people every time you go to Wal-Mart, and it’s the kind of place where last names matter. That’s why I was drawn to read The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by journalist Rod Dreher.
This book tells the true story of Ruthie Leming–lifelong resident of St. Francisville, Louisiana–and her battle with cancer. But it is not just about her battle against cancer. Rather, the author, who is Ruthie’s brother, taps into a few important lessons that he learned throughout his sister’s struggle.
Importance of Community
Rod learns the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong community of loved ones. Growing up, he never felt like he belonged in St. Francisville, so he couldn’t wait to move away to pursue his dream of writing and journalism. While Ruthie and her family were going through such a difficult time, Rod saw the way that friends and family from St. Francisville sacrificially served the Lemings. It struck him that his family, while having many friends in the various cities they had lived, did not have this level of communal dedication.
But this book doesn’t offer a romanticized view of small-town communities. He is very honest that this sort of setting comes with its challenges. I found this refreshing when so often writers swing the pendulum too far in either idolizing the city or idolizing small towns.
Neither does Dreher seek to convince every reader to move back to their hometown or small, rural community. Rather, he guides readers into seeing the importance of developing a sense of community–whatever their geographical location may be.
Faith Amidst Suffering
Dreher, along with the rest of Ruthie’s family, deals with questions of faith in God while going through tragedy. It was a joy to read that Ruthie continually exhorted her three daughters to not become angry at God over their difficult circumstances. Dreher rightly explains that he doesn’t know the exact reason God allowed all of it to happen, but he does see how God worked through his sister’s cancer to affect the whole community and family.
Though I enjoyed the emphasis of trusting in God throughout suffering, I can’t say that I completely agree with the theological convictions of Dreher. I obviously disagree with his Eastern Orthodox use of icons in worship and mystical leanings. Also, he and his family often speak of praying to Ruthie, which I don’t believe is biblical. Though I believe these are problematic, I don’t believe they ruin the book in the least. Rather, there is much for Christians to learn from the way this family leaned upon God during the most difficult of times.
Loving Through Difficulty
Dreher shows the abiding love of family regardless of disagreement. Just as the author doesn’t romanticize small towns, he refrains from painting his sister in a perfect light. He is honest about the strain in their relationship and some of Ruthie’s shortcomings. He makes clear that there was a deep love between the siblings, but it was not because of their perfection. Rather, the love between Rod and Ruthie was there despite their many differences. This, I believe, is the truest love there is. It is not the warm, fuzzy love so often portrayed on television and in movies. It is the love that stands through sin and heartache.
Overall, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming was a well-written book that–though often sad–was an enjoyable read. I would highly commend it to all, especially those wanting to consider the importance of faith, family, and community in all things.