@story MARLA CANTRELL
@image BOBBY DYER
What do you say when you don’t know what to say? That’s the question Margaret Wills pondered during the months before she compiled her first book, Pressing into Thin Places, which was published in May by Brown Christian Press.
“You can say you’re sorry for someone’s loss, when someone’s in pain, but if you have something to leave behind, if you have a book they can pick up later, it could really make a difference,” Margaret says.
So Margaret, a former adjunct professor of history at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, wrote a book that weaves together her poetry, lessons from the Bible, and passages from the literary likes of C.S. Lewis and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But what draws you in are her stories of everyday life. In one chapter, she describes her days as a forty-something graduate student, traipsing through a downpour across a soggy campus. She spotted a young man sitting on a bench, sobbing so hard it stopped Margaret in her tracks. She asked if she could help, he shook his head no, so she instead asked if she could pray for him. He said yes.
Margaret went on her way, looked back, and the man was gone. “He’ll remember that moment, though,” Margaret says. “I’ll never forget it.”
To her, this is an example of pressing into a thin place. The phrase comes from the belief that there are moments when the veil between this world and the heavenly one lift enough for us to feel an overwhelming closeness to God, to rest in His presence.
But before you turn away, thinking this book is one of those dreamy, “five steps to the perfect life” volumes, you should know that it isn’t. Life is hard. Trouble comes. And Margaret, like the rest of us, is still a work in progress. “I practice patience,” she says, and then shakes her head. “I do. But you don’t want to get behind me in a long line at Walmart. I’m not nearly perfect.”
And that’s what makes you believe her. She takes you with her on the day when her husband Paul told her he wanted a divorce. The Christmas lights were up, a trove of presents glittered underneath the tree, and Margaret had two children still at home.
“I got into the car and mindlessly drove, ending up on a dead-end road, in front of a sign that read ‘ARKLA Sand and Gravel,’ she writes. ..“I looked at the finely crushed rocks and thought about my marriage. My mind smiled at the irony of me ending up at a rock and gravel pit contemplating a ‘rocky’ marriage, a marriage ‘on the rocks.’”
No, her marriage didn’t end. But it did change her. She wanted everything to go back to normal, she wanted the pain to go away, and she wanted it now. Instead, she learned that no matter what happened, God was with her, and that everything was going to be okay.
Her husband did return. “Paul turned his heart toward home. We love each other so much. He’s my biggest supporter. I worked on myself as well. There was a lot to get through for us. And I think we taught our children a lesson they’ll understand even more as they grow older, that you don’t give up on your family.”
Her stories cover tribulations, from a family who lost a child, to dealing with the downward spiral of an ailing older parent. Through it all, Margaret makes us look, not with rose-colored glasses, but with a plan to move forward.
“When you have adversity, there’s a purpose in it, and it’s to increase your patience and your faith. You don’t try to get out of it early. It’s kind of like going to the gym. You’re in the arena of faith and you exercise it or you get flabby.
“When I asked my mother to tell me one thing she knew for sure, she said, ‘If you lose your faith, you lose everything.’ I’d also say if you lose your faith in God’s goodness you lose everything.”
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. “It’s going to be all right, because it is going to be all right. It’s going to take time, and hurt, but it is going to be all right.”
Now, she says, she no longer demands anything of God. She doesn’t despair if things don’t turn out the way she thinks they should. And that’s given her peace, no matter what comes her way.
Margaret is also aware that the thin places that feel so incredible are only one side of the coin. Life also has what she describes as thick places, which are not nearly as remarkable, or easy to maneuver. “We live on the flatlands,” Margaret says, “in most of our everyday life. C.S. Lewis says remember the time on the mountain. We have to do that because there will be times when you wonder if you’ve even been there.”
Pressing into Thin Places, which is available at Amazon, and select Barnes and Noble locations, is a lyrical, thoughtful book. “We’re all looking for proof that we’re not out there alone, that other people have been where we are,” Margaret says. “My hope is that this book lets readers know something wonderful, that God is also with you.”
You can read more about Margaret’s book at pressingintothinplaces.com, or email her at email@example.com.