Wednesday, October 10, 2012

When God Whispers in Your Ear

Writing hasn't been a hobby with me for years. It's been my ministry. When I got past the dabbling stage of writing -- where I splashed around in the shallow pool, experimenting with fiction v. non-fiction, and different genres once I settled on fiction -- and began to swim in the deep end of the pool, I knew I wanted my writing to do more than give the reader a few hours of entertainment. I wanted it to minister . . .  in an entertaining way, absolutely, but ultimately to minister. That's what my writing evolved into. And that's why my novels deal with the painful things we experience in life. I hope to touch a place in the reader, to give her hope as she wades through her own difficulties, to let her know that someone knows what she's going through.

My latest novel, Unraveled, deals in part with human trafficking. Lying on Sunday  deals with the loss of a spouse and infidelity. Every Good & Perfect Gift deals with infertility and devastating illness. Because my writing is my ministry, I pray about the stories I write and the details of those stories. When I was plotting Unraveled, trying to decide fundamental things like characters and setting, I prayed about where to set the overseas part of the story, because I didn't want that setting to be a cliche. I wrote about my choice of Moldova, which I'd never heard of until the day I selected it for the location, in my August 20 post, and about the missionary couple, Andy and Nancy, who helped me with the details of the location.

I recently received a newsletter from Andy and Nancy with an update about their ministry to trafficked women who have been rescued and given a place to live at Freedoom Home, a house they built where rescued women can begin to find healing. Andy wrote, "Three weeks ago I was honored to do the water baptism for "Amy," one of the first girls at Freedom Home. Her life is so changed that it is hard to believe. Three long years battling for her life the entire way. But now she is free, full of joy and God's peace." People like Andy and Nancy are ministering to girls like "Amy" all over the world, making a one-on-one difference with the love of Christ. I so applaud them.

To help balance the heaviness of the topics I choose, I try to infuse humor whenever possible, because I honestly believe there's nothing we face that can't find relief in humor. My dad died very unexpectedly in 1980, at the age of 54. I was 28, and in no way ready to lose him. My sister and I had the difficult task of dealing with his belongings and moving all his possessions out of the house he'd lived in most of our lives. We spent several days there just after his death, sifting through his possessions. That included his desk, which was chock-full of personal correspondence. I found, among other things, a letter I'd written to him and my brothers when I was a 7-year-old girl in the Brownies. I had no idea my dad had held onto things like that.

So what does that have to do with humor? My brother-in-law Bob spent a night and a day with my sister and me at Dad's house, helping wherever he could. Of course, the three of us, unable to sleep, talked long into the night. My sister and I were so filled with grief. But my dad had this near-dead spider plant hanging in his living room, and I swear, every time Bob got anywhere near that plant he'd bang his head into it. He'd stand up, bang! He'd turn around, bang! It became so funny to us after the 3rd or 4th time, that we laughed until, well, we cried, but with tears of hilarity instead of the tears of grief that had overwhelmed us since we'd gotten the news of Dad's death. It was a while before I realized that Bob's encounters with that spider plant maybe weren't so random. That he was providing the comic relief we desperately needed. I can't think of him, ever, without remembering the kindness he showed by making us laugh when our hearts were breaking. By letting us know it was okay to laugh. Because we weren't so sure anymore.

As I write this post it is Monday, October 8, the day our son Brian would have turned 40. It's a difficult milestone, but our family will face it together. Besides a visit to the cemetery, we're meeting tonight to share a pizza at Brian's favorite spot. It is, in fact, the last place we were all together just a few days before Brian's death. I understand loss, and I drew on my experience as I wrote my next release, The Color of Sorrow, which should be out next spring, and yes, I found ways to infuse humor into a sad situation.

Just as the Lord drew near to direct the setting of Unraveled, he drew near a few moments ago, interrupting the writing of this post, to confirm to my heart that I'm on the right path with my writing, my ministry. His validation came in the form of a phone call from an old, old friend who lives several hours away now, near San Diego. She had just that minute finished reading Unraveled and wanted to tell me, not just that she enjoyed it, but how much the story meant to her on a personal level, and why. It always means a lot to hear from a reader. But when you can almost see God nudge her with his elbow and whisper, "Go ahead, give her a call. Now's a good time," well, who couldn't use that kind of validation?

We love hearing from you. Tell us about how humor has helped you deal with a sad event, and how God has validated you in a personal way.


Megan Sayer said...

Sharon I'm so sorry to hear about that anniversary of the death of your son, that must be such a hard reminder. And I'm so glad that you received that validation that you did. God is so good like that. I love it how things happen at just the right time.

Pamela King Cable said...

My husband lost his 18 year old daughter to a childhood illness in 1997. The pain never goes away, but we laugh over some of the funny things she said and did. The scar is no longer ragged, but still tender.

As a speaker, it often surprises me when grown men approach me in tears to tell me how my story has touched their heart. And in writing my novel, I was concerned that the Christian audience realize I'm not advocating they leave the church, but to embrace it all while holding their pastors accountable. So many emails and messages later of those who suffered much the same way as my protagonist in my novel, it's simply astounding.

God uses writers. Jesus taught in stories. He still does.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Sharon, much love to you. Thank you for sharing this post today.

When I was 20, both my grandmas died within 3 days of each other. It was a raw time for my family. Fortunately, it happened over Spring break, so we had time to process and grieve together. When all my friends came back to school, my sister and I told them about our grandmothers' deaths. One friend (with good intentions) said, "Talk about killing two birds with one stone!". She instantly slapped her hand over her mouth, feeling terrible. My sister and I erupted in laughter. It was just too funny. My sister and I still say that to one another when life gets heavy.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Sharon, I didn't know you had such a rough time of it. :\ I can relate to you, though I haven't had kids, but I did lose two very special people within three weeks of each other, and that wound still aches sometimes. Just after a family friend died, I would think, "I have to recommend this book to Josh," but then I remembered he was dead. Talk about a gut punch.

Growing up with a family that has four kids with Tourette's, myself included, you have to learn to laugh at the tics that come along because some of them, when you add sound effects, really are funny. I, too, never took my writing seriously until only four years ago. Since then I've written a series flop (that completely needs revamping), and five-and-a-half other books. God never usually gives me so much excitement as when I start digging into the plot details of a new book! He hasn't given me a contract yet, but I have faith: It'll come in its time.

Nicole said...

Sorrow and laughter. Two sides of the same coin. You're such a brave mom. In so many ways. Keep writing your heart so it can touch others' whose might be breaking.

V. Gingerich said...

There is such a fine line between laughing and crying, isn't there. My sisters and I do both with great zeal, in the most inopportune times and places.

I like the picture of Brian. He looks strong and kind and... a bit quizzical.

Hugs to you, Sharon!

Sharon K. Souza said...

Megan, the timing of my friend's phone call was really a gift. And as for our friendship, we'd lost contact for a number of years. It was Brian's funeral that brought us back together.

Pamela, I'm sorry for your husband's loss. You're right, the pain never goes away. Most days it's not as ragged as it was ... most days. As for your speaking and writing, I'm sure it's very touching to know your gift ministers so deeply.

Susie, how sad to have lost both your grandmothers so close together. But what an unintended gift your friend's faux pas turned out to be.

S.F. I'm sorry for your loss as well. And 4 siblings with Tourettes, including you? Amazing. What story material! I wish you all the best with your writing.

Nicole, thank you. Believe me, I don't feel brave.

Wanderer, sounds like you and your sisters are women after my own heart! My sisters and I and my daughters and I are the same way. And you're absolutely right about Brian. You nailed it.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

My God has such a sweet sense of humour. When teaching me to live in the moment He gave me a vision of a book with the pages flipping rapidly over. Each page represented a NOW that I could have, a point of living right then and there, not dragging in the past or blasting toward the future. He pointed as the pages flew by and said, "Oh, there's one, there's one! Oooo! There goes another one!" Engaging me in HIS excitement for our union.
Another time I imagined I was the proverbial amphibian in the boiling pot. I told Him I believed He could resurrect dead frogs. He gave me the thought that after boiling the cell structure of the frog would be changed, beyond dead. Then He said, I'm in the business of resurrecting COOKED FROGS!
His sweetness is soooooooooooo healing! Humour with Hope.