Book Review: What I Learned from Juanita Rasmus's "Learning To Be"

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Whew Y’all.

Juanita Campbell Rasmus crashed so that you don't have to.

And if you do, she has crafted a lovely, generous guide through her journey to encourage you, wherever you crash-land, called Learning To Be: Finding Your Center After The Bottom Falls Out.

“I can see that the result of my depression was also the result of years of anger turned inward, ignored, or swept under the rug for the sake of politeness,” she teaches from the pages of Learning to Be. “Judgement and resentment are kindling for anger…a judging and critical attitude blocks our flow of goodness.”

Learning to Be is part memoir, part reflection-and-response, and in its entirety a vulnerable conversation, rich with wisdom and the assurance that pain and suffering don’t just pass—there are gifts and graces that await us when we actually accept the rock bottom.

Rasmus does more than explore and de-stigmatize depression; she uses her lived experiences to take us inside a major depressive episode and shows us how our humanity, both frail and resilient, can be expanded and savored by surrendering to the healing process.

The journey through her inner work is an invitation to begin our own; her visitation to childhood beckons us to probe our childhood holding environments. She investigated the messages she absorbed into her worldview and decided what to toss, and what was authentic for her to keep.

The “Crash,” as she calls it, laid her horizontal—and she consented to a stillness that became the new soil from which her true desires, wants, and needs blossom. Her rest becomes a portal to wisdom and wellness. She teaches from this place of intermission, and with each turn of the page, we watch “Lil' Juanita” become unbound from rules and free herself of an “approval addiction” and return to herself—her true self—a serene visionary, enthusiastic, spontaneous, joyful, and curious.

Rasmus’s description of the help and wisdom she received from many friends, teachers, retreats, contemplative practice, mediation, The Enneagram, and a journey through therapy and medication is like a healing charcuterie board from which we can all be nourished. As an Enneagram teacher, (and a Type 1 myself), I gobbled up her journey like a hungry kid with a Lunchable circa 1992.

Because Rasmus is the founding Co-Pastor of Houston’s St. John’s United Methodist Church and a change agent through ministries like Bread of Life, Inc. Temenos Community Development Corporation, The Art Project and so much more, one would expect an explanation of how she navigated The Crash with her Christian faith. Some may be skeptical that somewhere in the book there may be an invitation to follow “The Way” or something that “seals the deal” for Jesus.

Instead, she provides an agenda-free, wide-open look at how her journey through recovery challenged, reformed, and expanded her faith. Releasing her Christian rulebook frees her hands to abundantly receive her Creator's love and literally soar in it. Through her honesty, she welcomes anyone, no matter where they land on their spiritual journey, to join her in conversation and revelation.

Learning To Be is easy to read and nourishing to digest. She has the ability to transport you from where you are, turning pages, to being seated at the foot of the bed where she lay, nestled on the couch next to her as she sighs before her therapist, and floating through the air, clinging to her as she realizes her childhood dreams.

I felt her hand in mine as I reflected on my own perfectionism, anxiety, relentless pursuit of approval and respect, parental fumbles, and my recent spiritual grappling (angrily, of course).

I was sad to come to the end of the book so quickly. I give this book a 5-star rating. Plus some more stars. It's my blog and my review; I can give as many stars as I want.

Her journey will affirm and counsel any human who is experiencing dissonance—that is the lack of harmony between—what he or she is living and what he or she truly desires. Whether it be a holiday gift or something you give just because, everyone who has ever had a hard time will be seen, respected, nourished, and guided by this book.


Danielle Fanfair is a writer, teacher and consultant. For more information about her writing and teaching, click here.

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