When I was 13 years old I picked up a notebook and my favorite roller-ball pen and began to write. I’ll never forget the thought processes I had as I began my first novel. I was sitting on the floor, leaned up against my bed, hiding from the rest of the world. My parents were arguing, and I turned on the music in an attempt to drown out their voices. More than anything else I wanted to escape. I remember thinking as I stared at the blank pages of my notebook that I could write myself away from this place. I also remember thinking if I wrote a book that I could be whoever I wanted to be and overcome anything. The possibilities were endless.
So I picked up my pen and began to scrawl in my chicken scratch handwriting across the lines of my three subject notebook the story of a girl with psychic powers. Her name was Samantha, and she, too, was sick of listening to her parents argue and the memories of abuse that haunted her constantly. More than anything else, Samantha wanted to forget her pain. One day, when she couldn’t take it anymore, she ran away from home. She wanted no memory of the life she was leaving behind and began telling herself over and over to forget it all. Because of her brain’s supernatural abilities, Samantha was able to wipe away every memory of her life and start a brand new one.
For the next several months, Samantha’s story became my own escape. And when I finished her story, I began writing another supernatural tale that enabled me to flee my current circumstances. By the end of high school, I had a box filled with seven or eight stories I’d written over the years.
Writing became my passion, and I dreamed of the day that I might truly escape my mundane life and become the next Stephen King. There wasn’t much I liked about myself, but when I called myself a writer I felt a little pride. I had three or four friends who read some of my books and wanted to help me write. At PE sometimes, we’d pass my book around writing what we wanted to happen next. It was the one thing in high school that made me feel like I belonged.
But then life happened; I got a job, got married, and had our first child. The times I had available to write became few and far between, but I still managed to write some. By this time, I had a word processor and a floppy disk to keep my stories on. I printed the first few pages of one and shared it with a family member who told me I needed to finish it, because he said it reminded him of Stephen King. They were the words I’d longed to hear, and they motivated me to keep writing. I even took a writing course through the mail. I was so proud of myself when I finally held in my hand the almost two hundred and fifty typed out pages of a teenage horror novel. My book shelves began to fill with books on how to get a novel published, and I started the process. However, after three or four rejection letters, I became discouraged. I knew rejection letters were a normal part of the process, but the rejection knocked the wind out of my sails and my attempts to get something published stopped.
In my late twenties, I met another writer at church. When I told him about the most recent book I’d written, he was intrigued and wanted to read it. He had a friend who was published author, and he said if he liked the book he’d help me get it published. So I pulled out the most recent story I’d written, and gave it to him to read. He came back the following week telling me how much he liked it and wanted to help me get it published. He said he was a really good editor, and he could help me make it better before attempting to get it published. We began working on the final drafts of the novel together.
As rewrites go, it was a long process. I’d email my friend a chapter or so at the time and he’d make suggestions. We’d discuss making story changes and keep tweaking the wording and the story until it became better. I eventually asked my friend to consider being the coauthor of the book, because he’d put it a lot of time rewriting with me. He agreed and we decided we’d split any profits if we were to ever get published. He sent his friend, the published author, samples from the book and he said it was good and encouraged us to keep writing. But then the process slowed. Life happened and the book began to fall by the wayside.
The church we attended began to have conflict surrounding members of my husband’s family. It was a very chaotic and confusing time and it soon became impossible to attend the church any longer. The wife of my employer, who was an authority on all things religious(or at least she thought she was), began to encourage us to attend another church where sound doctrine was taught. My husband and I decided to take her advice and attend a church thirty miles away. It was the place where my abusive pastor taught.
I was still working a little on the book with my friend when I began counseling with my former pastor and the memories of the sexual abuse from my adopted father began to resurface. I told the pastor that the book I’d been working on was about an incest victim, and he asked could he read it. I gave it to him. He returned it the next week and told me that working on the book was damaging to me and could prevent my deliverance from sexual abuse. He’d told me recently that he thought I was in the process of being delivered from the damage of abuse, and I’d believed him. He said the book was not doctrinally correct, and that I should stop working on it. In the meantime, my employer’s wife told me after reading some of the book that it wasn’t that good, and also that it wasn’t wise to be working on a book with someone of the opposite sex, because I could be tempted to sin. My brother-in-law had also told me during the conflict at our last church that I was the root cause of all my husband’s problems. And tragically I believed all of them.
It was this series of events that caused me to pull my books from storage and tell my husband that we needed to get rid of them if I was to be delivered. My husband wasn’t a reader or a writer, so he’d never read anything I’d written. He, too, had an abuse history and looked at our new pastor for hope of a new beginning. Because of the supernatural nature of the stories, I believed that there was some sort of demonic stronghold associated with them, and if I burned them I’d be set free from the evil associated with them.
My husband started the fire in a big metal container in our back yard. We stood by the fire watching years of stories go up in smoke. When I was done, only two stories were left, the one that I was working on with my friend and another on my word processor that I kept because it was a Christian novel.
Looking back on that time, I realize that I was emotionally disconnected as those books went up in smoke. Now I’d give anything to remember the rest of Samantha’s story. A sadness stirs in the depths of my soul, because she and my other characters are gone forever. Much like the ten years I gave to my former pastor, who’d became my new identity after my books went up in smoke.
I cannot for the life of me understand how in the world I allowed myself to be so deceived. I’d always considered myself to be a mentally strong person. I believed I could recognize deception when I saw it, but I didn’t at all and totally lost my way.
I told my co-author that I would no longer be working on the book with him. Needless to say he was very confused and didn’t believe at all that the pastor was correct about the book. He believed it was a good story that could help others who’d been abused. He didn’t want to stop working on the book, so I told him that he could just finish the book himself. It didn’t seem fair to ask him to throw away all of his work. So I deleted all the copies from my computer and gave him the original. I also stuck the one other book in a drawer and decided that I wasn’t quite Stephen King, and it was time to let the dream die that I ever would be.
Ten years passed before I finally realized I hadn’t been delivered at all, but rather put into more bondage with my pastor. When I couldn’t take the lies I was living in anymore with him, I sought the help of a counselor, who interestingly enough told me to write about my pain to help me to heal.
Since that time, I’ve come to understand the therapeutic role writing has played in my life. In a world that wasn’t safe as a young girl, I’d managed to create a safe place to process my trauma and it had kept me sane. It wasn’t a demonic stronghold. It was actually God’s provision.
The story I wrote originally that my friend helped rewrite was probably the most therapeutic book I’d written, and when I told my counselor about how I’d just given it to my friend she told me that it was my intellectual property, and I should attempt to get it back.
When I wrote my friend, he was initially glad to hear from me, but when he found out that I wanted a copy of the book, he refused to send it, and asked instead that I put in writing that I gave him all rights to the book. He explained that he was sorry for all I’d been through, but that he’d been working on the book for the past ten years, and he couldn’t give it up. I didn’t ask him for the book again and ceased to communicate with him. I also refused to give him permission to reproduce the book without my name.
I emailed a couple of people whom I’d given copies of the book to to read and ironically two weeks ago the former pastor’s daughter texted me saying she’d found a copy of the original manuscript. Needless to say, I was surprised that she’d agree to mail it back to me, but she did.
I wondered as I tore open the envelope with the novel enclosed if I’d find all almost two hundred pages with obscenities scribbled across each page. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had. She’d been in the dark about the true nature of the relationship I had with her father, and telling the truth brought her family much pain. But instead of obscenities, I found a note saying she hoped getting this book back would help me on my journey. She even wished me happiness.
The myriad of emotions I felt as I read her note are too much to write about. I immediately emailed her thanking her. I wished more than anything at that moment I could tell her in person. I wished I could express to her the deep regret I’d felt and would always feel for being a friend who’d lived a lie with her father. But I knew no words could ever take away the pain she had suffered, and more words might just cause more pain, so I thanked her for her kindness and wished her happiness as well.
Now that I have a copy of the book back, I can’t help but read the title, In a Mirror Dimly, and be swept away by the sovereignty of our God, the greatness of His love, and the power of His forgiveness.
Except from In a Mirror Dimly,
The squirrel cracked open the pecan, but dropped it quickly. Meranda could see from a distance that it was dry and shriveled inside, much like her own existence. Her whole life seemed rotten and wasted, and she knew she’d only spoil what little happiness that he had…
There on the pages of this story is the lie that I had believed my entire life – that I brought out the worst in others and that my life was dead on the inside. I’d believed that because a man of God, a pastor, said he loved me that there was hope for me. I’d believed that his love would cover all my sin and make me new. But when the relationship went to dark places I never believed it would go, I found myself looking in the mirror believing once again that it was all my fault.
But Meranda’s story has a happy ending, and so does mine.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 ESV
Though my coauthor has put countless hours of work into the novel and his efforts definitely made it a better story, and because of this I’d never consider taking away the credit due to him, but there’s no doubt that the original characters and story are something that were a part of my original story. He can put his name on the novel, but this truth will never change.
When I look in the mirror these days, I see someone who God says is a daughter of the living God. And because of His love there is hope for me and for all of us.
No, I’m not quite Stephen King, but I’m proud to call myself a child of a loving Heavenly Father who does indeed restore the years that the locusts have eaten.
And I’m very thankful to have this part of my story back.