When I read Aundi Kolber’s first book, Try Softer, I learned to tend to myself and my wounds with a new compassion, to “try softer” instead of “try harder.”
That message runs counter to everything we have been taught in our Western culture, which urges us to push ourselves to new heights, to accommodate everyone else but ourselves, that being strong means toughing it out every time. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, etc. Except none of that is really true. “What doesn’t kill us can actually make us isolated, traumatized, and deeply harmed if we don’t receive the support we need to go through it,” Kolber writes. There has to be a better way to move through hard things.
Trying softer is a fluid concept, one that flows beautifully into the notion at the heart of Kolber’s new book, Strong Like Water.
Here, the author and trauma therapist proposes a different kind of strength, a flexible, expansive and adaptive strength that takes on different forms—softness, boldness, gentleness, and fierceness—as different situations call for it, like water. “Just as water can change from a gas, to a solid, to a rushing river or a gently flowing stream,” Kolber writes, “so too has God imbued our bodies with this ability, this strength.”
I took away so much from this book, dog-earing the pages and underlining and starring so many passages (27!) it was hard to narrow down its most valuable truths, which would, of course, vary from reader to reader. Some readers might lean into learning how their nervous systems and brain chemistry works—there’s plenty of intriguing science here for fans of Gabor Maté and Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score.
I most resonated with the parts of the book where Kolber explains what it is to tap into resources of goodness, which I took to mean intentionally depositing all the good things in life—kindness, laughter, nature, comfort—against the day when the road is rough and challenging. I wrote in the margins of the book, “Some days will bring deposits of goodness; others, withdrawals.”
Kolber details what a “glimmer” is—“experiences, sensations or ‘micro moments’ that cue safety, calm or regulation in our nervous system. In every respect, a glimmer is the opposite of what is often called a trigger.”
She also outlines what it means to internalize connection—which she calls “the remedy,” love and safety for when we inevitably feel disconnected, unloved, and unsafe. It’s all about a resilience that is supple and strong, attuned to one’s body and emotions and connected to God’s love and the care of others.
In a world that pushes us to “get over it”—whatever it is—to bear burdens alone, to climb every mountain, even on broken feet, this book gently offers a counter message. As we grow closer to the God who is filled with feeling, and created us in his image, we can turn with compassion toward our own stories, especially the hard parts.
“If we orient ourselves to the good, the true, the beautiful—to Love itself—we can begin to learn how to carry that around with us wherever we go,” Kolber writes.
We can become emotionally flexible, expansively resilient, and strong like water. (Tyndale)