Sophie Hartman, Crowns of Beauty: A Story of Brokenness, Courage and Beauty Rising from Ashes (Westbow Press, 2016), 210 pages, ISBN 9781512739282.
Love is a word we use often, particularly as Christians. Yet, what is it? Apart from the abstract concept or a transient emotional experience, what is love for God, love for our neighbor? Sophie Hartman’s Crowns of Beauty contains one account that puts flesh on this word, love. Sophie’s story demonstrates love pushed beyond a feeling and beyond reason, into the realm of courage, intercession, wrestling, tangible sacrifice, and ultimately the highest form of surrender – motherhood.
Sophie begins her story with an invitation from God: a beckoning to move to Zambia, a land-locked country in southern Africa where she had done a short-term internship. “Slow obedience is no obedience,” she says, and wholeheartedly responds with a “Yes” that does not waiver amid the triumphs and trials that follow through the rest of the telling of her story. In the beginning, the book very much feels like an account of a young girl – emotional, intense, and earnest. By the end, she is someone who has suffered, matured and carries the authority and wisdom from which people twice her age can learn. She is still full of emotion, earnest and intense, but the fruit of her life give her words a compelling and uncontested weight. As one of her Zambian “mamas” points out, Sophie is truly unrestrained in love. Over and over, while reading this book, I found myself jotting down in the margins, “Given,” “she is given over to Jesus.” Her willingness, her fierce tenderness, her abandon to the cause of others are loud invitations to imitate her as she imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
With events unfolding, we watch Sophie’s faith being sharpened as she strives to posture her heart after the cross of Christ (Phil. 2:7). Fearlessly, she allows herself to experience and live out God’s love for people – not only through her actions, but perhaps even more so through tarrying in prayer, on the scratchy chair and concrete floors of her home, in the quiet, where no one can see. This book is primarily a love story between Sophie and her Savior. It is a testimony to intercession and worship – their intertwining, and their living out. It is a glimpse into the quiet place where seeds are sown and watered with hours of prayer and God’s presence. Sophie teaches us about “travailing prayer,” as she works, suffers, longs and pleads on another’s behalf through sleepless nights. She carries the cause and pain of others in prayer and restless action with persistent childlike faith in their deliverance, at the same time learning to revere the time spent in the “sacred in-between” of brokenness and redemption as an intercessor. She discovers fellowship with Jesus through carrying others’ suffering, and teaches her readers about the great intimacy an intercessor has with the Lord of Compassion.
This is a book about the secret place, the place of being in the Lord’s presence.
Ministering to the needy, Sophie has a pure heart. Her story recounts not only the ways in which she was able to give, but also the gifts she was able to receive from and enjoy alongside the people of Zambia. In children’s faces at an orphanage or at a hospital she sees herself, and the mercy she extends to them is the very mercy of God that she herself desperately depends on. If you want to see the heart of Jesus toward the lonely, the sick, the abandoned, the weak – toward you, and toward others – read this book. If you want to see what Love looks like in the midst of pain, uncertainty, and simple earthly realities, read this book. As you do, you will see the beauty of Jesus a little more clearly, the Light of love shining even brighter amid desperate circumstances.
Sophie Hartman writes this book from the bottom of her heart, emotionally and poetically, drawing on journal entries from the years spent serving in Zambia. Her words are truly moving – yet the power is not in the poetry of her writing, but in the love with which the heart that produced this poetry overflows. If we put our hope in the poetry and emotion of this book, the result will be short-lived. If we put ourselves to seeking to know God like Sophie does, then the fruit will last. This is not a book to read to be inspired, but to be convicted, driven to prayer, and changed.