Bonnie Gray’s panic attacks started in 2011, just as she was making progress on her first book, a how-to title that was to be based on her successful blog, Faith Barista. The attacks didn’t end until 2012, when she turned from that project and embarked on a very different book, the memoir-cum-guidebook Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest (Revell, June).
Every night during the anxiety-ridden year she was trying to write her first book, Gray awakened every two or three hours with severe, choking panic attacks that were subsequently diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by a series of events she’d experienced as a child, including her father’s painful departure after her parents’ divorce and her mother’s strict approach to discipline, which once left Gray alone and feeling abandoned in their basement apartment for hours when she was four years old.
A married mother of two young sons, the 43-year-old Gray says that in spite of her demanding childhood, for most of her life she was “fearless,” meeting the high expectations faced by a first-generation Chinese-American who was the eldest child of a single mother. Gray graduated from UCLA with a degree in computer science and engineering, and for years she worked as a high-tech corporate marketing professional. She cultivated a rich Christian faith, made a home in Silicon Valley, and didn’t bat an eyelash at double-black diamond ski runs.
Gray’s deep, secret hope was to be a writer, but she felt the pressure to provide for her family and earn their respect instead of pursuing that dream. It was only in 2009, when she stopped working to stay home with her babies, that she started Faith Barista, a blog that explores the daily realities of being an “everyday Christian.”
The blog led to the book deal—and the panic attacks. Shaken, Gray sought solace in her faith and the help of a therapist. Finding Spiritual Whitespace, a painful, honest, and inspiring account, chronicles Gray’s discovery that “in order to find my voice and heal my heart, I had to bring all parts of my story back to light,” she tells PW.
Key to the process of recovering her memories and integrating them into both her spiritual and worldly selves was accessing the ability to rest in what Gray calls “spiritual whitespace.” The term refers to the artistic and design principle that it is the unmarked, unfilled areas of a space or image that give the whole piece its definition, clarity, and meaning.
“Whitespace allows a painting to breathe,” says Gray. “It gives your eye a place to rest so you can see the colors.” And in the swirl of modern life, she says, spiritual whitespace “is a beautiful place where souls can rest.” Gray’s spiritual whitespace proved to be her writing, but for others hiking, gardening, cooking, or singing could be sources of this healing rest, she writes. Journal prompts and biblical insights pepper the narrative, inviting readers to embark on journeys like Gray’s.
Now free from panic attacks following a therapeutic breakthrough a year ago, Gray reflects on the obstacles that stood in the way of her healing for so long—and her spiritual growth as she overcame them.
“It’s hard for us to stop and rest because we have to face why we need it,” she says. “But spiritually speaking, that’s our richest connection point with God. I don’t have to do a thing. I just have to rest in God’s presence.”