Peace from Broken Pieces by Iyanla Vanzant
Review by By Pat Weeks
A couple of years ago, Paul Hagan, Jane West, and I went to an amazing conference, I Can Do It! (sponsored by Louise Hay), that featured many of the biggies of the spiritual community, such as Bruce Lipton, Brian Weiss, Carolyn Myss, Cheryl Richardson (who spoke in place of Wayne Dyer, who couldn’t be there at the last minute) and so many others. It was a dazzling two days, and we came away with profound inspiration. One of the most impressive and joyful speakers was Iyanla Vanzant, who spoke so movingly about inner transformation and faith and who had overcome wrenchingly painful personal experiences to become the amazing teacher she is.
In this book, Peace from Broken Pieces, she writes honestly and personally about family patterns and pathologies that are passed down from generation to generation until someone recognizes the destructiveness and determines to break the pattern and go on the difficult journey of healing and transformation.
The book begins with an account of the death of her adult daughter on Christmas morning. Iyanla says, “My daughter Gemma was not the only one who died that morning. My family or origin died. My marriage, already in its coffin died for good. My ministry, which had been the foundation of my relationship with God, was counted among the fatalities, too. My career, my personal vision, my life’s purpose as I had come to know it came to an abrupt end. Most important of all, when my best friend, my middle child, took her last breath, my sense of self died along with her. I was a woman whose dance card was suddenly filled with death and whose heart had shattered into a million pieces.”
Iyanla feels now that lives fall apart because they need to and that a broken life is a test of faith of the highest order. She had been a best-selling author, had appeared regularly on Oprah Winfrey’s show as a relationship expert, and lived in a million-dollar home. But everything fell apart and she lost everything. In her journey to rise again, she had to explore her family of origin and the generations of dysfunction. She realized that her story was very much like her mother’s story who, in turn, lived a life very much like her mother’s. She also realizes that her much-loved daughter’s mental and emotional pieces were shaped by Iyanla’s pathology, which she had not known about in the time she reared her daughter.
Iyanla’s early life was full of cruel abuse. Her mother, an alcoholic, discovered she had breast cancer when she was pregnant with Iyanla. After her mother’s death, Iyanla was put in the home of her grandmother, a harsh, unloving woman whose constant wrath and mental instability left the little girl constantly terrified. “In Grandma’s house, I learned the silent, crushing pain of not being wanted and feeling I was unloved.” She muses that if we really do choose our families before our births, she wonders why she chose a family grouping that needed so much and had so little to offer. Her father took her and her brother in, but he also was cruelly abusive. It is painful to read about how these small children were subject to so many vicious beatings. She was taught that her own actions warranted the abuse. It took her many, many years to realize that she attracted people into her life to prove that her unconscious, personal lie was true, that in the DNA of the story that she had inherited, she was bad, wrong, and unlovable. She now says that there was no specific trauma that shattered her sense of self but the repeated instances of neglect, violence, rejection and deception “left a gaping wound in my soul that everyone knew about and no one acknowledged.”
Iyanla became pregnant when she was 13. Her baby was placed in foster care and died 6 months later. By age 21, she had three children and a physically abusive husband. Her emergence from that seemingly hopeless situation is astonishing. She escaped her husband with her children and provided for her family by public assistance. She saw a sign on a bus one day and became determined to change her life. She went to college and graduated Summa Cum Laude in three years and then went to law school and worked for the Philadelphia Defender’s office. She left that position and taught a class to women who were being trained to transition from welfare to work and published the workbook she developed for the class. She was on her way to remarkable out achievements.
The book outlines the astonishing outer successes of her life, but the real message is about rising from the ashes after everything falls apart, and how she found her spiritual truth. It is a searingly honest account that I honestly couldn’t put down while reading it. She had the courage to confront the puzzles of her life and do the difficult labor of self-realization to break the pattern that had unknowingly led to everything falling apart. And, finally, through enormous struggle and deep and abiding faith and wisdom, she has rebuilt her life into a place of joy and fulfillment. She has made her broken pieces whole.