Thursday, October 4, 2007

I Never Wanted to Be An Author


Unlike other would-be authors, it was never my intent to be a writer. In fact, I was quite happy teaching Early American Folk Art. I didn't make much money, but I got along and I loved working with students.

By my mid-forties, my work had been recognized by some major art dealers and I had been asked to teach at the Museum of American Folk Art in Manhattan which morphed into a three-season stint on Lifetime's "Our Home Show" as their decorative artist. It paid $350 a show and I was responsible for most of the products used on air which meant I basically worked for nothing, but I didn't care. I had finally 'arrived'. Then the following May, that elation was forgotten as my journey took a sharp, left turn.

I had finished a grueling day at the studio, taping three back to back segments and was exhausted. The studio car had just dropped me off at the front of the house when I heard the phone ringing. I decided to let the machine catch it. All I wanted was a shower and a lie down. Then, I heard our son, Daniel’s voice. I could tell by its timber that something was terrible wrong. I grabbed for the phone.

“It’s dad. He’s been hurt.”

He and his dad worked together in construction. Trying to keep his emotions in check, Daniel told me that his dad had fallen fifteen feet onto concrete and had been rushed to the nearby Danbury Hospital.

"Hurry, Mom. The doctor's think one of his ribs has punctured the heart."

I made a mad call to our parish priest, asked him to pray, then dashed to be my husband's side. The prayers seemed to work. The doctor's fears were unfounded; still, Paul had been seriously injured. The medical bills mounted.

We were one of the millions of uninsured in this country. I had battled cancer in 1981 and health insurance premiums were more than we could afford, consequently, we were forced to do without. Now faced with a mountain of medical bills, we sold our home, cashed out stocks, retirement funds and most of our savings. When the last check was written, everything that we had saved throughout a twenty-five year marriage was gone.

Then, in October, in a far worse tragedy, our beloved four year old granddaughter, Marissa ran behind a dump truck filled with gravel that our son was backing up and was killed. Only those who have suffered the loss of a child can understand the heartache our family endured. Not willing to place any additional burdens on our son, we spent the last of our meager savings to pay for Marissa’s funeral.
People often ask how we got through that year and the answer is by faith and prayer. Faith is more than just professing God’s grace and love during the good times. True faith, I have learned, is to believe during the hard times, especially when the silent question... “How could a loving God allow this to happen?” encourages us to doubt or renounce our faith.

But I have also learned that faith is a commitment. We often hear preachers glibly speak about ‘mountain moving faith’ as though it could be conjured up like an alchemist’s potion. The faith exhibited by Abraham was a covenant faith. It was a contract between two parties. God pledged to be faithful. Abraham pledged to trust even when it didn’t make sense.

As I prayed for God’s grace and renewed faith, a book came across my path entitled, The Biography of George Mueller. Mueller was a minister in England during the early eighteen hundreds who through faith and faith alone was able to build more than two million dollars worth of orphanages, thus saving the lives and souls of tens of thousands of children.

But the thing that really caught my attention was Mueller’s complete reliance upon God to meet all his ministerial needs. He pledged never to ask for a donation, or solicit money in anyway, thus proving God’s faithfulness. Throughout his long ministry, Mueller carefully logged each need—food, clothing, staff, buildings, and the likes, as well as how those needs were meet, in oftentimes the most amazing ways. Mueller hoped by this careful account of God’s dealings, he might encourage other Christians to rely on the Lord when confronted with similar trials.

I had walked with the Lord long enough to know that nothing comes by chance. Had this book been delivered into my hands at this time for a specific reason? Was God challenging me to trust as Mueller had? What if I were to keep a journal listing our needs as they developed and record how God met those needs with the hope that someday I, too, might share these stories with others?

So began an amazing experiment. I bought my first spiral notebook and began to carefully log each of needs as they materialized, leaving room for God's response. It was an exciting and sometimes hair-raising adventure, but slowly, God was proving that His arm had not been shorted since the days of Abraham. He still was able to provide exceedingly, abundantly, more than we could ever hope or imagine. In fact, not only did God meet all of our needs, He even threw non-essentials like a strand of pearls asked for in a moment of unabashed self-pity. (I’ll leave that story for another blog.)

I’d like to say that things went on smoothly. That I never doubted nor worried even when faced with mountainous needs. But that would be a lie. I am, for better or worse, mortal who often falls flat on her face.
Paul was to turn sixty-four on September 25, 1999. I was awake before dawn and finally got up at 5:30, dressed and went for a walk. It had been a sleepless night, tossing and turning, my mind consumed with fears that were quickly giving way to anger. There was just one more year left until Paul's retirement and still God had not restored us. I looked out over the ensuing years and saw only uncertainty. Would my dear, Paul ever be able to retire? His body was now riddled with arthritis. It was growing more and more difficult for him to continue with his trade.

I have always found solace in nature. I had walked country lanes and woodland paths for over thirty years and never tired of the changing landscapes, its beauty. But this morning, I saw nothing. Nature was hidden behind a veil of self-pity.

My shoulders slumped forward, my head down, I fought against the rising tide of anger at what I felt was God's indifference and cried out with fists raised, “Why, why have you forsaken us? Where is the promise of restoration?” Not only had God promised to take care of us in our old age, but He also had spoken through scripture many, many times of restoring our home. What about that?

I had walked a about a mile down a dirt road when the quiet morning was shattered by the 'caw...caw...caw' of crows. This was no ordinary cawing. Something was terribly wrong? A predator perhaps? I picked up a stick and hurried on to do battle on their behalf.

At the top of the rise was a scene straight out Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The entire area was filled with hundreds of crows. They covered every tree branch, fence and rock wall and their focus was on a fallen bird that had a broken wing. Several birds surrounded the poor, suffering creature, pecking at his body, urging him to take flight. His body was thickly dotted with blood.

I love wildlife and my heart instantly filled with compassion. I wanted to help, but how? If I tried to pick the bird up, he would destroy my hands; yet if I went back home to get my car, the birds surrounding him would kill him. Not knowing what else to do, I bowed my head and prayed.
"This is Your creature, dear Lord. I want to rescue him, but I can’t do it alone. You need to send help.”
Now, never for one moment did I actually believe that God would answer this prayer, but as soon as I lifted my head, a car began to make its way down this deserted, dirt road and pulled right alongside the fallen bird. I watched in amazement, as a woman in a nurse’s uniform jumped out and shouted, "Come help me. The bird has a broken wing. I have to get him to the bird clinic in Bethlehem” (a neighboring town).

Caught up in the drama, I hurried across the road as the woman opened the car trunk, inside of which, was everything needed to rescue an injured bird. She donned a pair of leather gloves and handed me a large, plastic bin. Within seconds, she had captured the bird, placed him in the bin which she covered with a lightweight blanket and stuffed him in the backseat of her car. Before I could say "Holy Crow", both the bird and this mysterious woman were headed to the bird clinic in Bethlehem (which, by the way, I had never known existed and I had lived here over thirty years!).
I resumed my walk and began to think of the chances of someone just happening along this back road at this time of the morning with everything needed to rescue an injured bird and who also just happened to know of a bird clinic only seconds after I had asked God for help.
Then I heard an inner voice reminding me of a passage in Matthews...
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart form the will of your Father. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.
Suddenly, all fear and worry vanished, replaced by a warm blanket of peace. God hadn't forgotten me. He knew about Paul's retirement needs, and to prove it, He had sent a living parable to remind me of His faithfulness.
A few days later, the idea for a novel entitled, “A Miracle for St. Cecilia’s” just fell from the sky, and although I was not a novelist and had no contacts in the publishing world, I set about in faith to write the book, using the stories I had collected in my journals. Nine months later, the manuscript caught the attention of a major literary agent who later sold it to Penguin Publishers who in turn, offered me a $100,000 advance and a multiple book contract. I’ve been writing ever since!

Oh, and Paul…He loves retirement.

Katherine Valentine is the author of A Miracle for St. Cecilia’s; A Gathering of Angels; Grace Will Lead Me Home; On A Wing on a Prayer; Country Fair and The Haunted Rectory. She has also shared her faith story on “Good Morning America” and asked to by the Biography Channel to participate in a four part series on the Apostles which aired earlier this year. She is a popular speaker whose faith story has touched the hearts and spirits of groups around the country. Katherine can be contacted through her webpage: http://www.katherinevalentine.com/ .

2 comments:

River Jordan said...

What a beautiful story about faith, trials, and angels. Even the kind that just appear in uniform at the given moment. I was so tired and reposting from the days events but I really loved reading this. I'm so glad I took the time. Now I can go to bed on the right note, with prayers of the heart being answered in wondrous ways.

Looking forward to reading your books.

River

Sassy Sistah said...

I love your story. What a great inspiration and exactly what I needed to read today.

And my heart goes out to you on the loss of your grandchild. My eldest son died several years ago and I do know the heartbreak. I'll be looking for your books.

Sandy