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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: What If It's Wonderful? by Nicole Zasowski 
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"What If It's Wonderful?"

I have found myself asking this question so often while reading Nicole Zasowski's book of the same name that I can't help but picturing Zasowski showing up at my doorstep saying "Would you stop already?"

Probably not.

"What If It's Wonderful?" is the second book I've read in recent weeks essentially centered around the spiritual discipline of celebration, though it's likely fair to say that "What If It's Wonderful?" certainly expands upon that boundary.

It's a discipline I've been contemplating greatly as of late. This is mostly, to be honest, because I'm simply tired of the story that I'm telling the world.

This doesn't mean I'm not happy. This doesn't mean that I'm seen in any negative sort of light. For the most part, I believe most people in my life view me through lenses of optimism, hopefulness, perseverance, and achievement.

However, as I read Zasowski's words I was confronted time and again with how often I choose to elevate the traumas in my life to a lofty place in my self-identity that they've never really earned.

It's hard. The traumas are real. From being born and living with spina bifida to years of childhood sexual abuse, spouse/child loss, and other adult traumatic experiences, I've long been a creative type whose works largely help me cope with a world for which I often feel ill-equipped for day-to-day life.

I'm different. I'm different physically. I'm different emotionally. I'm a kind but socially awkward fellow who has spent most of my adult life traveling around by wheelchair raising awareness on children's issues. In some major ways, my traumas have become identity and my life has become one gigantic coping skill.

"What If It's Wonderful?" is truly an invitation to release your fears, choose joy and, perhaps most importantly for me, find the courage to celebrate.

Zasowski writes eloquently about how immersed she could become in the more traumatic life experiences she's had, most notably multiple miscarriages, and how she began to view life through that lens. There's an honesty to this storytelling that resonated with me and gave me permission to similarly explore those dark spaces and how much they've shaped my self-image and how I interact with life.

This was the simultaneous gift of "What If It's Wonderful?" - It helped me go into those leftover dark messages like "I was so awful to be married to that my wife had to off herself and our newborn" but it also gave me permission to begin the journey of reshaping that lens piece-by-piece. It's not that I'd never dealt with those issues, of course, but this book helped me identify how those experiences had too much influence on my identity and my daily life.

I'm 56-years-old with spina bifida. I live independently. I work full-time. I've lived FAR longer and with a much higher quality of life than anyone ever expected. How can I do anything but celebrate that? Do I have to acknowledge a birth defect that will never go away? Of course. I also have to deal with the myriad of ways it shapes my daily experience, but what if instead of viewing my daily life through a lens of physical challenge I choose celebration for a body that has accomplished so much in terms of surviving and thriving?

Zasowski is wonderful at acknowledging the differences in stories. At times, I felt disconnected from the book precisely because in some ways Zasowski seems to write it from the other side - in other words, while there's much talk about the impact of her miscarriages and infant loss there's also the reality that she has a loving spouse, three young children (all of whom are vividly brought to life here - they sound adorable), and a terrific support system even as she herself is a marriage and family therapist and an author. It's not that anything ever "replaces" those devastating losses (it doesn't), but it still feels different than someone who lost "everything" and then never experienced anything else (no remarriage, no children). Is it different? Maybe not. That might be unfair, but it's just how I felt.

But, then again. Zasowski then pushes back (it really did feel like she was reading my mind here. I think I would find her completely irritating as a therapist!) by acknowledging the reality that this is not about denying trauma, denying reality, or not facing the fact that for some people reality never changes. At times, I wish the book delved a bit deeper into how people choose "celebration" when the realities of their life experiences don't change but this is a minor quibble for a book that challenged me emotionally, physically, spiritually, and in a myriad of other ways.

Zasowski grounds her writing deeply within a theological construct and scripture. This is always a tricky prospect considering the myriad of theological branches in the world, though for the most part Zasowski sticks to fairly straightforward scriptural application to our daily lives.

Zasowski ends "What If It's Wonderful?" by offering up introspective discussion questions that can, and likely should be, shared within the framework of a trusted small group yet they've also been beneficial for me to work through independently as I journey through recent limb loss and the recent losses of my mother and brother. I've found these questions beneficial for exploring thoughts, feelings, fixed ideas, and what Stuart Smalley used to call "stinkin' thinkin."

If you've read my reviews for any length of time, you know that I worry less about critical evaluation and more about sharing my experience with a book. I don't really believe in "good" or "bad" books for the most part, though I do give negative reviews when I'm feeling it. Instead, however, I want my reviews to help people discover if a book is right for them. I suppose what I can say here is that "What If It's Wonderful?" is most certainly right for me.

Zasowski writes like a therapist. She writes with a measured compassion that invites you in and holds space for safe exploration of one's fears and how we can so easily choose fear over joy and to allow our traumas, challenges, and life obstacles to become our identity instead of finding the courage to celebrate because of who we are in God and the myriad of other things in our life that, when we look closely, invite us into celebration.

I continue working my way through the end of "What If It's Wonderful?" as I've committed myself to exploring celebration in deeper and the same life-changing ways in which I elevated trauma and disability and loss and other things. As an author myself, I have committed myself that my next book will come from a place of celebration and "What If It's Wonderful?" is helping me discover the inner voice that is helping me get there.

So much to love and, indeed, so much to celebrate with Nicole Zasowski's "What If It's Wonderful?"

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic