Review: Finding Sanctuary by Jennifer Hubbard

Jennifer Hubbard is an award-winning journalist and regular contributor to the Catholic monthly, Magnificat. Before the birth of her children she achieved success for nine years working at a large corporation. She is currently the president and executive director of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary. This was established in memory of her daughter, a first-grader who was killed on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Hubbard has written a moving account of her days since Catherine’s death, Finding Sanctuary. This is an excruciatingly difficult book to read. The death of a child makes it necessarily so. But it is also a stirring story of discovering rich depths of spirituality. Somehow, rooted in unspeakable tragedy, this book is life-affirming.

Hubbard has the gift of establishing an almost immediate intimacy with the reader. Although we have not met, I find it much more natural to refer to her as Jennifer. Throughout the book she addresses the reader as “my friend;” even, “my beautiful friend,” when the point being made is particularly important.

Father Peter Cameron, in the book’s introduction, quotes C.S. Lewis, that “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” The “you too” of this book is suffering. Jennifer refers to it as a person’s it— “Their own unspeakable sorrow, their life-altering moment, their it.” The reader is drawn here into a journey of suffering, but also healing. Early on Jennifer assures, “Recovery and healing are not only possible but also promised for those who offer their sufferings back to the One who suffered for us.”

Be prepared to shed tears, for Jennifer is generous and brave in sharing her experiences, however raw, in the bond of trust with her friends, the readers. Nothing is spared. The first chapter recounts her having to cancel an appointment, immediately after the tragedy, for a family Christmas portrait with a local photography studio. Another memory is of their aging and enfeebled dog having to be put down, two weeks after Catherine’s death. As her 8-year-old son Freddy makes his goodbye, he whispers to their dog, Sandy, “Tell her I said hi.”

In the book’s introduction, Jennifer explains her purpose: “My hope is that as we sit together, in some way our heavenly Father will speak to you, and that—just as I found hope in the simple and unexpected places—you will find your hope and trust renewed.”

The death of a child is a horror few of us will experience. Nevertheless, many vignettes shared by Jennifer are relatable. There is a marked ordinariness about her. She has moments of epiphany at her kitchen table, reading scripture, and at a traffic light in front of a Stop and Shop. She admits to feeling anger and later, exasperation when her suffering does not end with Catherine’s death. “I had endured plenty enough for a lifetime,’ she writes, but still, further sorrow would come with family divisions, her father’s death, and the demise of her marriage.

Father Cameron calls this an “achingly beautiful book,” because Jennifer chooses not bitterness, but trust in God. She yearns for answers, but when they are not immediately known, her faith is unwavering: “There is a purpose for me and you. He promised this for me alone and you alone. And he never breaks his promises—never.”

Lest the journey be incomplete, there is even a chapter on Forgiveness. It includes brutal honesty. Jennifer writes that “The Cross is not a comfortable place.” But she comes to reason, “forgiveness, in the purest definition, is the release of any debt due. Even when, by human standards, the debt is so egregious, it should be paid in full ten times over.” Through close reflection on Christ’s passion, she reaches perspective: “No amount of earthly wealth—material or not—can compensate for the hurt and pain any it launches on a heart. Hurt and pain cannot be repaid; they can only be healed.”

The book’s title alludes to Jennifer’s spiritual journey, as well as the animal sanctuary founded in memory of Catherine. While Jennifer is its president and executive director, her true vocation is as a writer and extraordinary spiritual guide.

Read this important book, which is a priceless aid in the navigation of our challenging lives. In her concluding words, expressed in candor and heartfelt sincerity: “Storms will gather, and when they do, I will be sheltered in the peace of my Lord God. And in that knowing, I can embrace the here and now, the joys and challenges of today, and today alone, knowing they are preparing me for whatever tomorrow may bring. And in that knowing, I am blessed. Blessed abundantly.”

by Andrew McAleer