Thursday, November 15, 2018

Review of Priceless Jewel, by John Marshall with Marilyn Marshall

There are some things we cannot know apart from experiencing them. Among them is what it is like to be seriously chronically ill, or to be the caregiver of one who is. John and Marilyn Marshall’s book, Priceless Jewel, cracks open the door to give us an inside look at two lives and a marriage in which grievous suffering—for decades—was the order of the day.

In addition to the physical pain, the book explores the spiritual agony of the sufferer wondering why (“Lord, why are you doing this?”), what (“Lord, what do you want me to do in the midst of this?”), how long (“Lord, when will this trial come to an end?”), and the other questions and doubts that plague a faithful believer when encountering pain most of us can’t even imagine. As readers, we get to observe how genuine faith is buttressed by Scripture, loving friends, a faithful church, and competent, caring members of the medical community.

The major sections of the book are organized around Paul’s formula in 1 Corinthians 13:13: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Each chapter contains citations from rich resources such as Streams in the Desert, Amy Carmichael, Puritan writers, and other giants of the faith. The Marshalls’ writing is crisp and engaging. While the book belongs in the genre of personal memoir, it’s truly an excellent theology of suffering set in the real-world story of a two lovers who had to wrestle with the consequences of an increasingly confined and painful life.

Much of the book was taken from Marilyn’s journal. She recorded not just the physical struggles but the deeper spiritual wrestling matches that occurred as she experienced serious physical illness without any certain diagnosis. Her struggles were exacerbated by laymen and sometimes even medical professionals who advised her that it was “all in her head.” By the time the primary diagnosis of lupus was nailed down (after several decades of suffering), she was experiencing a cascade of concomitant diseases and prescription drug reactions. In her journal Marilyn gives full voice to her struggles with fear, doubt, anger, confusion, and the supremacy of faith. John provides us with the viewpoint of a caregiver who must live caught between the demands of employment, care of the house, preparing meals, and the intensity and heartache of ministering to the one he dearly loves even while he watches her gradually crushed in the slow-motion train-wreck of her illnesses.

Amid the severe trials she maintained a steady faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God and was committed to sharing the joy of Christ with everyone who crossed her path. Marilyn was a true missionary, not to souls in some dark rain forest but to white- and blue-gowned professionals in bright, pristine, antiseptic halls. As the book records, Christ touched dozens of lives through her witness.

Thankfully, few of us will experience or even know someone who suffers a situation as extreme as Marilyn Marshall’s. But most of us do know people doing battle with chronic illness, either as victim or caregiver. This book will be both a comfort and a challenge to those who are caught in the grip of God’s severe mercy. Five stars—highly recommended.

[Full disclosure: I am a friend of the author.]