1. Much of this memoir turns on the contrast between faith and intellect. Do you believe that the two are fundamentally incompatible? Does Rhoda?
2. The story frames breast cancer as a “lady problem,” but the narrative implies that there are other far more significant lady problems. What are they? Does Rhoda suggest any solutions for these lady problems?
3. When Rhoda and her brother played the geography game, she stumped him by choosing Chad, a country so large and obvious that her brother wouldn’t spot it. Have you ever had a blind spot the size of Chad in your life? What was it? What did it take for you to notice it?
4. Why does Rhoda use humor to downplay her struggle with cancer? At one point Rhoda suggests that since childhood she has struggled with avoidance. Is the cancer humor an example of avoidance? If so, what is Rhoda failing to confront? If not, what positive function might the humor have? Can humor enable growth? Can it free us from fear?
5. Rhoda grew up in a sober Mennonite community, and she is surprised to find that the Pentecostals really know how to shake it. What other differences did you notice between Mennonite and Pentecostal services? Have you ever visited places of worship different from your own? Did your visit broaden your understanding of your faith?
6. Rhoda says that gratitude has become so important to her that she is willing to do almost anything to get more of it. In your experience, what are the positive outcomes of gratitude? Gratitude is an action that Rhoda goes out of her way to practice. How does she achieve it? Can anyone achieve it, or do you have to be predisposed to it? Can you think of any dangers inherent in the deliberate cultivation of gratitude?
7. Rhoda speaks of learning to put down past resentments and grudges. How has she achieved that? Have you been able to set down your biggest grudge, your all-time worst hurt? Can it be done without calling on a Higher Power?
8. When it comes right down to it, chapter eight, “The Gottman Island Survival Experience,” is an argument for abstinence. What are the pros and cons of abstinence in contemporary American culture? How would your life have been different if you had (or had not) embraced abstinence before making a commitment to your partner?
9. Rhoda and Mitch wonder if other couples have been similarly impacted by the sacramental power of the marriage covenant. What do you think? Is the institution of marriage ultimately any different from a monogamous romantic partnership?
10. Chapter ten, “The Poovey Voice,” suggests that spiritual seekers must learn to give before they will receive. Do you believe that financial giving is important to spiritual growth? What about other kinds of giving? Think of the greatest, hardest gift you have ever given; did it result in your growth?
11. Mitch admits that Albert does not love him “overmuch.” Do you know any parents who do not love their children “overmuch”? Rhoda and Mitch believe that Albert’s chronic negativity is harmful. How do they respond to it? What should adult children do when parents display unhealthy behavior? How can we have both boundaries and forgiveness?
12. Albert keeps all of his late wife’s things. Rhoda says she believes in “a clean sweep” after a breakup or the death of a loved one. In what ways is Rhoda making “a clean sweep” after her first marriage? How is Mitch making a sweep of his own?
13. Rhoda is a poet who finds meaning in the laundry room wallpaper, whereas Albert prides himself on his ability to face facts. When Rhoda describes her mother’s “merry heart,” we recognize this same quality in Rhoda’s approach to her life, even in hard times. Albert approaches his life with a darker outlook, priding himself in his ability to confront tough truths head-on. What are the pros and cons of each perspective? What do Rhoda and Albert have to teach one another?
14. One of the most haunting moments of this book is when Albert recalls being visited by Billy’s ghost. How does Albert’s rational mindset affect his response to this otherworldly experience? How would you explain the ghost?
15. How does Rhoda’s parents’ marriage shape her expectations for her own new marriage? What role does faith play in Rhoda’s relationship with Mitch? How does their relationship change from the beginning of the book to the end?
16. What does Rhoda learn from her church? How does her spiritual life grow and change over the course of this story? What did you take away from her journey?