Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour: A MemoirWritten by Emily J. Maurits Reviewed By Jenny Salt
When I think of a memoir, I imagine someone writing from the vantage point of many decades of life experience. And given the way in which Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour reads, you could be mistaken for thinking the same. But you’d be wrong. Still in her twenties, Emily Maurits (a radiographer and author with a master’s degree in theology) writes with a maturity beyond her years. In recounting the story of her sister Jasmine’s battle with a brain tumor, she draws us into every moment, describing and evoking the emotions that were hers and her family’s—as they trod this painful path together.
As the title suggests, Maurits’s story is written from the perspective of one sibling coming to terms with the life-threatening disease of another sibling. But an underlying theological question lurks throughout the memoir: How can a good God allow things like sick parents and little sisters with brain tumors? On the one hand, Maurits’s memoir is all about addressing that weighty question, alongside several other confronting theological issues. But it does so much more. It takes us into the inner thoughts of a young woman who loves God and knows his love for her in Jesus Christ. It takes us into the relationship she has with her younger sister, with all its complexities and mess, as well as the love and affection that deepen as the story unfolds.
The purpose of the book is to provide a real-life account of a Christian searching for the good that God promises to bring out of suffering and how they were enabled to keep going even when they weren’t able to see it. Consequently, as the author writes about her own pain and sadness, fear and confusion, she wrestles deeply with the meaning and truthfulness of her conviction that God is good and can be trusted. The reader is implicitly invited to do the same, imagining how we would respond in similar circumstances and to engage with our own pain and sadness, as well as the big questions of life and faith.
The memoir is broken up into four parts, with each part containing five to six short chapters. Within each part the author includes some diary excerpts—“real-time” reflections on what she was thinking in that moment. These grant a glimpse into her mind and heart as she calls out to God. At the end of each part, there is also a reflection page that enables the reader to stop, take a breath and reflect on something connected to the book. For example, at the end of part 1, Maurits provides a reflection on times of hardship. She concludes with this encouragement: “In times of hardship, reach out your hands. People are kinder than you believe, and God is greater than you think” (p. 75, emphasis original).
Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, the recurring words, “It’s still leaking,” made me groan audibly. One can only imagine what it must have been like for Jasmine and Emily and her family as those words were said repeatedly. The diary excerpt from that particular time includes Romans 8:28. The author reflects, “I’ve never liked that verse, but I do now” (p. 209).
This memoir is more than something you might find in “Sick Lit” genre books (as the author’s sister describes it). It is about looking for the good that God promises to bring out of suffering. It is about learning to pray big prayers and learning that God can and does do miracles (pp. 335–36).
The final diary excerpt of the book is especially moving: “HOME … Oh Lord. What can I say? You answer prayers. In the face of ALL odds You brought Jas home—today” (p. 318).
The memoir concludes with an epilogue that takes us eighteen months down the track, after Jasmine’s eventual home coming. It’s a conversation between the two sisters as they walk along a path together. And again, we are privy to the inner workings of a mind that loves God and loves her sister. When Jasmine asks Emily for advice, the author reflects: “Where is the girl I both loved and hated with all the ferocity of childhood? Beside me is a woman, and God put her there” (p. 324).
And then there is a present-day conversation between the two sisters about this brain tumor and what they learnt through it all (May 23, 2021—about 5 years after the events of the memoir). Even though “journey” can feel a rather hackneyed word for describing how God works in our lives, the reader cannot miss the amazing journey these two sisters have been on, in terms of their relationship with each other—moving from their sometimes awkward and angst-ridden older sister/younger sister ways of relating to a beautiful, more mature way of expressing their love for each other with humor as well as honesty and affection.
But more than that, there is a journey in their relationship with God. In the context of all that had happened, the author puts it this way: “I choose to pray big prayers, to wait on God, and to dare to hope—even when it doesn’t come naturally to me.… He is at work, He is good. And if that is the only thing I write until my dying breath, it will be enough” (p. 336). To that, Jasmine says, “Amen.” As do I.
I highly commend this book to readers of all ages and at all stages in their Christian walk. In the midst of the hard and painful stuff of life, it will encourage believers to keep walking by faith and to trust in the God who is truly good.
Anglican Diocese of Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
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