Synopses & Reviews
True Stories of Faith in Unexpected Places
In this very personal, welcoming book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Hallman, Jr., shares his journey of faith from indifferent agnostic to growing believer. Faith, Hallman tells us, is looking in the mirror in the morning and wondering why. It’s about doubt and hope. It’s catching a glimpse of a beacon piercing the fog of life and walking toward it, never knowing if you’re headed in the right direction, but pressing onward.
You’ll meet ordinary people and be drawn into conversations that ask probing, almost intrusive questions—conversations that linger in your mind and resonate with your heart—from the ache of a mother who watched her baby die after only twenty days of struggling for life to the peaceful strength of a man working with those whose present situations mirror his past.
Within these pages, you’ll find real and honest accounts of everyday people whose discoveries of faith will inspire and comfort you on your own journey.
The security lock thumped open, and I stepped into Level 3, a neonatal unit where I had been drawn to a drama played out minute by minute. As I stood above two cribs along a back wall, I wondered less about doctors, nurses, and medicine and more about God.
Two babies had been born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. Both had been placed on a heart-lung bypass machine to let their organs rest.
One boy had no name. His mother was a crack addict. After giving birth, she abandoned her baby and never returned to the hospital.
In the adjacent crib lay Jonah Van Arnam. His parents were active members of a church and visited their son daily to pray for him and the nurses and doctors.
One afternoon, a nurse pulled me aside and told me a miracle was taking place: the crack addict’s baby was getting better. But . . . Jonah was dying.
Why had God abandoned this couple and their son?
Where was this so-called loving God?
—from chapter 6
“Tom Hallman, Jr.'s narratives give a graceful voice to the universal struggles everyday people face. He isn't one of those celebrity journalists, looking at the world from afar. He writes from the news trenches and touches readers with beautifully written pieces daily. Tom Hallman, Jr. is required reading in the narrative writing courses here at Stonehill College—along with Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, and Gay Talese. He is one of the best in the business.”
— Maureen Boyle, Journalism Program Director, Stonehill College
“Tom Hallman, Jr. is that rare and wonderful combination: a master storyteller and an elegant writer with a deeply perceptive heart. He has an uncanny ability to see the profound in the everyday and make you see it, too—in ways that will remind you of what’s really important in life. I defy you to read his work and not be moved, enlightened, and inspired.”
— Bryan Smith, writer-at-large, Chicago Magazine
“Tom Hallman, Jr. is one of America’s foremost feature writers, one who knows how to judge—and tell—riveting stories. Above all, he understands that the most moving and insightful tales reveal the hearts, minds, and actions of real people who face wrenching challenges and eventually find redemption.”
— Jame Sinkinson, publisher, Infocom Group
“As an editor and a story scout for Reader's Digest
, I've read the work of some very special writers. Tom Hallman heads the list. Through beautifully structured, easily accessible narratives, he draws readers into stories that touch the soul. This book, in which he explores individuals' journeys to faith, is moving, thought-provoking, and profound.”
— Brian Summers, Reader’s Digest story scout
"On the journey of faith we look for those storytellers who can give voice to our experiences of joy and sorrow, discovery and disappointment, questioning and hope in the presence of God, the Holy Mystery. I have read Tom Hallman’s human interest stories for over a decade. We are blessed to have a great storyteller like Tom as a companion and guide on this journey."
— Rev. Dr. John Beck, PhD, pastor and adjunct seminary professor
“Tom Hallman’s book is full of vivid stories and life experiences that challenge and inspire faith and hope in the most turbulent circumstances. Readers, for example, will learn of the inherent spiritual nature of law enforcement and the indispensible role of faith and prayer in the life of officers who have embraced the transformative power of the Spirit of God. In a vocation where it is thought that fact-based evidence truncates feelings, displaces faith, and modulates crises, we encounter the supremacy of spiritual transformation and triumph of goodness.”
— Supervisory Special Agent Samuel L. Feemster (Ret.), FBI, Behavioral Science Unit
"Chaplains have been comforting hurting people in the healthcare setting for almost 75 years. Faith is an integral component at the bedside as people deal with suffering and dying. At such times, people wrestle with whether God is sovereign in this journey or not. Either God is trustworthy or He is not. He is either present and caring as He promised or He is not. Tom Hallman, Jr.'s book takes readers into that world in a way that is thought provoking, intriguing, and enlightening."
— Jeffrey R. Funk, Executive Director, Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association
“During his career, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom Hallman fearlessly went inside a Hell’s Angels clubhouse, shook hands with two Presidents, rode with police on a high speed chase, interviewed inmates and gangsters, and even had a drink with a Mafia hit-man, but he was afraid to go into a church and face himself. At midlife he found himself, like Dante, 'in dark woods, the right road lost.' In A Stranger’s Gift
he tells how he found the right road through encounters with men and women struggling with the same doubts, confusion, and losses he was experiencing. Their stories broke his heart open. They will open you up too. Tom was one of the finest writers I ever worked with at Reader’s Digest
. Open this book and find out why.”
— Gary Sledge, former Assistant Managing Editor, Reader’s Digest
“A Pulitzer-prize winning reporter, Tom Hallman has stood in the Chicago Bulls locker room alongside Michael Jordan, hung out backstage with Van Halen, even shaken hands with two presidents, but one day a man's vulnerable, passionate story in the church service Hallman was covering for a news story stirred something within. As odd as it was, Tom had a feeling deep down that the man's story was for him. Hallman took the stranger's gift and did what he did best: interviewed people, asked questions, listened, and sought to understand how their story—God's story—applied to him. On his journey from agnostic to believer, Hallman asked the questions we're often too afraid to ask, seeking out ordinary believers from all walks of life. As I read the pages, I walked with him, understood his questions, and thought about the people brought into my life to point me to Him. God uses people, their tears, their struggles, their joys, and their hopes to exhibit faith to others. I can't wait to share this book with my friends. It's one I want to pass around and talk about in hopes of opening up conversations of how faith meets us when we're least expecting to find it.”
— Tricia Goyer, author of Blue Like Play: The Shape of Motherhood in the Grip of God
From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tom Hallman comes thirteen beautifully crafted stories that gently guide readers into the hallways of faith—openly asking questions, exploring scenarios, and finally coming to the beginnings of a breathing faith.
Tom Hallman’s unexpected journey toward faith began with a routine assignment to write a feature piece for The Oregonian newspaper. He begrudgingly found himself in an African American church on a Sunday morning—out of place, uncomfortable, and ready to leave from the moment he got there. But he accidentally found something he wasn’t looking for: he saw faith and prayer in action. And that seeing stirred a curious hunger in him that he’d never known before.
Compelled by this initial experience, Hallman began to seek out men and women across the country who believed. And these people—whom he calls his “faith teachers”—became characters in thirteen stories of exploration. In this book, readers will meet ordinary people and be drawn into conversations that ask probing, almost intrusive questions—from the ache of a mother who watched her baby die after only twenty days of struggling for life to the peaceful strength of a man working with those whose present situations mirror his past.
As the book and stories progress, two narratives unfold: Hallman’s story and exploration of faith, and the stories of the people he met.
About the Author
Tom Hallman, Jr. is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his series of articles about a boy named Sam whose face was severely disfigured. Other stories by Hallman have appeared in Esquire, Men’s Health, Readers Digest, Writers Digest, and other magazines. He has won every major feature-writing award in the nation. Born and raised in Portland, Hallman graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1977. He now writes for The Oregorian in Portland.