I stood gaping in disbelief at the thick novel my good friend, Deborah Ordan, just placed in my hand. With much reluctance, my wide eyes met hers. “You want me to read this?”
Deb tucked her short brown hair behind her left ear and flashed that heartwarming smile. I knew in that instant avoiding her request would be nigh onto impossible.
“It’s a good book!” she said. “I enjoyed it, so I thought I’d share it with you.” With a wave of her hand, Deb high-tailed it down the hall. “Got to go! My class is at the other end of the building.”
Thanks for nothing! I exclaimed, but only in my brain. In truth, I was glad she couldn’t hear the impertinent comments running through my head because Deb’s friendship meant the world to me. Even so, how could she ask this of me? Didn’t she know how I felt about reading—books? Up till now I’d been successful at avoiding the written word, as much as a junior high student could. I cringed at the thought of accomplishing such a task. A novel! An irrepressible shutter caught me unawares.
My friend might as well have issued me a jail sentence.
As Deb moved out of sight, the initial shock wore off. Curious, I turned the book over and read the back cover. I knew in that instant what Deb’s game was. I kept telling myself there was something strange about that girl. Why didn’t I listen to the warnings in my head? Avoid her like the plague! All right, Deborah, now that the cat’s out of the bag, I’m on to you! Maybe this is a romance, but … this inspirational label is definitely not an oversight on the publisher’s part. The title, Not My Will, was enough to make me squirm. This is just grand. Just what I need—another Jesus freak trying to shove the gospel down my throat.
In a bit of a daze, I moved down the hall toward the cafeteria with my yellow sock-it-to-me lunch bag draped over my shoulder and sat down to a nourishing meal of raw carrots, peanut butter and Hostess cupcakes. Yum! My friends at the table were off on some tangent, so I escaped to my own little internal world—something I was good at.
My life did seem to be scattering in all directions of late. Were the emotions stirring inside me part of a greater plan, or were they a figment of my imagination, mixed up in this teenager’s head? My thoughts didn’t stop there; they plagued me throughout the week.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t believe in God. After all, I’d gone to church all my life. I’d been confirmed, I sang in the youth choir, and participated in plays about the baby Jesus—even the baby Moses. Never once did my pastor try to pressure anyone into having a personal relationship with a God who was up in Heaven sitting on His throne. You know, like a King of sorts.
I had always thought of my pastor as a wise man. But, I did wonder if he knew about this life-changing power so many were talking about. Oh, he went out of his way to teach folks how to be good citizens. He participated in social events. He reached out to and cared about people in general, but he didn’t try to invade their space. At this phase in my life, that worked. I liked things the way they were, crisp and clean, with no one trying to prick my conscience or tell me I’m a sinner going to hell if I don’t repent. Besides, what sins were they talking about? I was only thirteen, a good person—or so I thought. I did what I was told—most of the time. As far as I knew, I didn’t cause any major problems in other people’s lives. So what was the big deal?
Church should be a nice place for people to socialize with others wanting to help their community, not a place where the preacher wants you to get down to the crux of your spiritual problems and implores you to make them right.
My mother’s friend, Phyllis Bodtke, had already turned my home life upside down. I could hear the two of them talking. Quite often I found myself hanging on their every word. Of course, I only joined them at the table for a cup of tea and to eat Mom’s incredible blueberry muffins. After all, everyone needs nourishment. So what if it took me an hour to eat each one! The weird thing was, they never seemed to mind my presence. In retrospect, I’d say some of their conversations were intentional.
As if telling her wasn’t bad enough, Phyllis would open her Bible and show Mom passage after passage telling her about the life of Jesus and His desire to have a personal intimate relationship with His children. Mom read the book Phyllis brought her, Face Up with a Miracle. From what I could tell, she bought the whole spiel, hook, line, and sinker! I suspected life would be all downhill from here.
Hmm ... if that was true, why was I so intrigued—yearning to hear more?
Dad had questions, too. Oh, he wouldn’t ask them in front of my mom … but he was asking.
My father, raised a Pennsylvania cattle farmer, was now a smooth talking sales manager for a chemical corporation. His determination to serve and please others could not be faulted. When my friends offered comments about my parents, they were always positive. Those comments would only confirm what I already knew; Dad and Mom were a rare breed—special.
Don’t get me wrong. My parents weren’t perfect, but in an era where marriages were being dissolved right and left, I never doubted my parent’s love for each other. Oh, they had their share of spats just like everyone else; however, in the end, they would openly forgive each other. Dad’s all encompassing arms would shelter Mom in a warm embrace and he would kiss her like there was no tomorrow—in front of all of us. There was no pretense involved in their open displays of affection, just two folks—crazy in love with each other. In my opinion, all children should have the chance to witness a love like theirs in action.
Having watched my parents over the years, I seldom missed a thing. Rarely, did Dad do anything that would make Mom think he was rocking the boat. I could see that if Dad really looked at the situation as it stood, he’d see that Mom not only rocked the boat, she had gone overboard with her good friend and spiritual sister, Phyllis.
A bit of a skeptic, Dad had his doubts. I’m not sure why, but I shared his sentiments. Maybe it had something to do with me being born on his birthday, or that I was named after him. I don’t know.
One night, Dad’s curiosity must have overridden his doubts. He woke all four of us kids up after Mom had gone to bed. When he led us into family room—practically sleep walking; we were all looking at each other, wondering if we had done something wrong. Whatever it was, it must have been terrible for Dad to wake four kids up in the middle of the night!
Being the daring child, I sat down on the sofa and chanced a peek. The expression on Dad’s face was not one of fury, so maybe this wasn’t about us. Good thing! Nothing I hated more than being drilled to find out who did something wrong when only the guilty sibling had a clue as to what Dad was talking about.
I watched in silence as he closed the sliding door between the family room and the hallway. Hush! Hush! We were about to embark on a covert meeting, of which Mom was not a part—a highly unusual situation for our family who did almost everything together.
When Dad began pacing, I couldn’t help but wonder if something was drastically wrong with my rock-solid father. Questioning his love for us was rarely an issue. Having lost their first beautiful daughter, Deborah, at three years of age to a thoughtless drunk, my parents knew better than most that life held no guarantees.
Minutes passed before Dad stooped down and eyeballed all four of us. We were taken aback. His words were even more shocking. “What do you kids think about this Jesus your mom’s been talking about?” As far as I could tell, he really expected us to give him answers. You know—spiritual ones!
Pam, a tall slender beauty and the oldest at fifteen, opted for silence—totally within the bounds of her personality. Todd, the ten-year-old son with a handsome face not unlike Dad’s, joined Pam in her valiant efforts to ease our father’s disquieted mind. Craig, the blonde haired, blue-eyed dreamboat at only eight, was seldom expected to house a vast array of knowledge—and this time was no different. That left me, Donna, at only thirteen, holding the key to all wisdom in the spiritual realm. I wanted to help, but the key I had would not open the lock—leaving me clueless as well. Another look into those desperate blue eyes and I knew I had to say something—anything that would help my father sort this out. I had never seen him like this—almost vulnerable.
I asked, “What do you want to know about Jesus, Dad?”
“Well…you know what Mom is saying.”
I took a stab in the dark. “I did hear Phyllis tell her that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. And … that He wants to have a personal relationship with us. What confuses me about what Phyllis said is that we have to take the first step toward Him. How can we do that when He’s up in Heaven, Dad? You know what Pastor says, He’s seated at the right hand of the Father.”
“That’s what I’ve always thought! But, your mom has really been affected by this relationship she claims to have with Him now. Have you noticed?”
All of us nodded. She really was different—peaceful. The conversation went on and on. While little was solved that night, it did get everyone to thinking and opened the door for many more discussions that would follow.
I went home from school that Friday with many reservations about opening the book Deb had given me. While I did long for something more fulfilling in my life, I was sure it had to be something more tangible like a horse—or some other fix. I harbored no doubts; my longing had nothing to do with God.
Though uncertainty lurked in the hidden recesses of my mind, curiosity overpowered impending regret. I opened the book. Like nothing I had ever read, this novel drew me in, held me captive, and would not let me go.
The woman in this story was looking for the same sort of fulfillment I longed for. While I could not relate to her overwhelming sadness and despair, her spiritual turmoil matched my own. What the author, Francine Arnold, said made perfect sense. I could see with greater clarity why my mother was so drawn to Jesus. What He did for me on the Cross—the fact that God loved me so much that He sent His only Son to pay the price for my sin—astounding! I could finally see that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. God made a way for me to enter Heaven. He wanted to be my friend—my guide through life. The key fit in the lock. The only question that remained was would I turn the key, open the door, walk through, and begin my new life in Christ?
Was Phyllis right? Did I have to take the first step? These questions ran through my mind as I read the last page, closed the book, and sighed. Nothing had ever touched me the way this book had. No doubt, this novel was a tool in the hands of a God who loves me and was drawing me to Him.
Setting the book on my dresser, I had every intention of finding my mother and asking her to pray with me. At the time I didn’t know that prayer was something I could do on my own.
However, as I stood up to leave, my sister, Pam walked into the room. Ecstatic about my newfound knowledge and determination to seek a relationship with the Lord, I told her what I was about to do. Being the typical, defiant teenager, Pam wasted no time taking the wind out of my sails.
“Are you serious? Don’t tell me you’re going to give into Mom. You’ll be a Jesus freak just like her!”
I tried not to listen, but I was living proof that older siblings have a powerful influence over younger ones. A wave of doubt transfused me, and I asked myself, Is she right? Perhaps, I am being too hasty. In a moment of boldness, I challenged her. “I’m not so sure I see it like you do, Pam.”
“I know I’m right. Look at the way our life used to be—look how unsettled our family is now, Donna.”
By the time Pam got through with me, I made a decision to put everything on hold. After all, it wasn’t as if I couldn’t do this later.
Every weekend our parents were dragging us to this church meeting or that with Christian friends. It seemed to me, those friends were multiplying. Mr. Overton, a soft-spoken gentleman my Dad worked with, knew the Lord. He talked to Dad about the Lord every chance he got. I’m not sure when Dad made the commitment to follow Christ, but I knew that he had. He and Mom were different—content!
Decisions were going to have to be made. They had something I wanted, and I was missing out because of Pam—or so I thought. I didn’t comprehend that this was a decision I had to make on my own.
Pam had signed up for church camp. She wanted nothing to do with God, so I wondered why she would bother to go. When I questioned her, she admitted that the guy she had a crush on from church would be there. Boys, I thought. Will that girl ever have anything else on her mind? Little did I know God could use anything to accomplish His purposes.
When Mom asked me to pray that my sister would come to know the Lord while she was gone to camp, I did. That week I made it my personal mission—I was driven. I wanted to have a personal relationship with Jesus more than anything. As far as I could tell, Pam was the only thing holding me back. Why did I need her stamp of approval? This made no sense. So, I made a clear decision. Pam had until the end of camp to find Christ. If she came back unchanged, that was it. I was going to Mom and Dad. Pam would just have to deal with having a Jesus freak for a sister!
I kept thinking about the book Deb had given me while Pam was away. The woman’s life-changing experiences continued to taunt me. Or, were they convicting my heart? I didn’t know at the time.
When Pam came back from camp, she admitted that things didn’t go as planned with the guy. However, she now had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My prayers had been answered.
Incredible! So, praying for her really did work.
Unfortunately, there was a glitch in my plans. Grandma Williams had flown in from Pennsylvania that day for a visit. Since I didn’t know how much my parents had told her about their life changing experience, I kept my yearning to know Christ to myself—waiting for the hours to tick by. I felt like a pressure cooker ready to explode by the time everyone finally called it a night.
As usual, Pam and I gave up our bedroom for our guest. Turning the light out, my head had no more hit the pillow on the squeaky hide-away bed when I turned to face my sister. Tears blinded me as I asked her to pray with me. I couldn’t wait to know Jesus and experience the peace that recently indwelled so many of my loved ones.
Pam, in a bit of a panic, went for Dad and Mom. She didn’t seem to think her knowledge was advanced enough. She wanted me to know Jesus, but she wasn’t willing to mess this up. I didn’t think for a minute that Jesus would die for me and then turn me away because of her ignorance, but I let her go.
As I waited, the songs I had heard and the films I had watched about the rapture ran precariously through my mind. I could only hope the rapture wouldn’t come before I had the chance to do this. Somehow I knew that once I dedicated my life to the Lord, the nightmares of my parents ascending without me would cease.
In the quietness of our family room, my parents knelt beside my bed. With tears flooding all our eyes, we reached for each other’s hands and prayed together as one—unified. For me, this was the experience of a lifetime. When I asked Jesus to forgive me of my sins, I knew without a doubt that His blood had paid the debt for me—I was born again—a child of the King. The peace of the Lord filled my heart that day, and my life has never been the same …
All of us have been given gifts. Some of them are part of who we are. Some need time to grow. Life has a way of nurturing those gifts. Not only was my mother saved after reading a book a friend gave her, I, too, have experienced first-hand the impact an inspirational romance novel can and does have on the lost. When life experiences are intertwined in the pages of a novel, those characters become real people we can relate to and learn from—tools in the Master’s Hands.
A few years back, I finished reading one of many Christian novels I’ve read down through the years. Giving the novel a second look, my eyes slid shut as I confessed, “We could do this together, couldn’t we, Lord?” Instantly, He gave me the insatiable desire to write. That was all it took—along with a willingness to try. Let me assure you, my journey in writing has been, and still is, like nothing else I have ever done. Yes, it has been hard work learning the craft, but the desire to press on is always there. I’m at loose ends without something to read or a blank page to write on—ever learning—ever growing. God did use a novel to open my eyes to His redeeming love. And now I, too, am compelled to write novels, articles, sketches, or whatever else God leads me to write that will minister to the lost and encourage Christians in their walk.
His purpose for each of our lives is different, but the result should be the same—Kingdom gain. In losing our life for Christ, we actually find it and so much more.
Not every aspect of serving the Lord with our talents is easy. Writing is a wonderful part of my spiritual journey—but writing has not been my greatest challenge. Exposing my creative mind remains one of the hardest things God has ever asked me to do. I’ve learned that while the risk of rejection is scary, the rewards of serving the Lord far outweigh the negatives. I’m not sure who said it—but they were right; if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. Though I’m wobbly at times, my spirit dances on. Every experience is teaching me to trust my Lord to guide me, drawing me closer to the dearest Friend I have ever known.
As God opens doors for me to share what He is doing through me—my heart rejoices. My first four novels in the Michigan Chronicles series: A Decision of The Heart; A Heart of Joy; A Heart Takes Flight; and A Heart Set Free are available. Bucket of Sass is not yet published. Two of my three co-writes are in print. And several more novels and children’s books are in process. I don’t have to know where God will lead me from here. For now, I keep doing my part—fanning the flames of the gift He has given me. Just knowing He will lead me is reason enough to press on.
In these years I’ve been a believer, I have not only tasted—I’ve immersed myself in the sweet fellowship that abiding in the vine avows. In every season there have been mountains to climb, valleys to trudge through and even an occasional oasis along the way. I am ever learning to follow His example of love—the greatest gift we can offer. Outside of my relationship with Jesus, there is no greater contentment to be found …
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” —Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)
From my heart to yours,