I remember driving up to a local cemetery on a hill and sitting there looking out over the valley and crying out to the spirits of the people who had passed on, asking them if they'd ever felt like I did. What did they do? Had they survived? Had life ever become happy again? I felt that if I knew that even one person had felt like I felt and made it through to the other side, I could hold on. I could have hope.
I got no answers that day. But now, nearly 30 years later, I have answers for that girl who cried in the cemetery so many years ago. Yes, you can survive. Yes, life will become happy again. And yes, the answer to my unasked question, God really does love you.
As a survivor of depression, and someone who insists on thriving despite that illness, I feel a responsibility to share my story of hope and healing with others who suffer from the trials of life. I do that on a face-to-face basis when moved upon by the Spirit.
Which brings me to this book, Forged in the Refiner's Fire compiled by Candace E. Salima and Elizabeth A. Cheever. This is exactly the type of message I was looking for thirty years ago—that life was tough, bad things happen, but faith in God and hope in His mercy will carry you through.
There are many stories here, dealing with infertility, loss, bankruptcy, addiction, health issues. I really appreciated Shirley Bahlmann's story where she decided her family would be better off without her and fantasized about disappearing into some small town in Arizona. I've been there. One night I packed up and drove away, planning to disappear into the sunset, leaving a husband and two young children behind. I, too, was planning to get a meaningless job as a waitress, live under a false name, and just survive. Fortunately, heaven intervened and I ended up back home.
Like the people who contributed their stories and testimonies to this book, I've learned that life is not always going to be sweet and light. Each of us will have trials, many trials, and the key to overcoming them is to remember that trials in life are a refining process; it's necessary. My favorite quote from the book is from Elizabeth Cheever who says, "...if you take the stones out of the brook, the water doesn't babble and sing."
Looking back over the past thirty years, I realize that the music of my life is more beautiful and passionate precisely because of the stones in my brook. I am a better person because of the refining fires I've faced—and I wouldn't trade the gift of who I am now for anything.
And I don't think the authors featured in this book would make that trade either.
Candace and I had a nice conversation about this book the other day. She had some excellent thoughts about life's challenges and writing.
Why did you write this book? Did you have a personal need or did someone close to you need help getting through a rough time?
It is relatively common knowledge amongst our friends, family and peers that my husband has been suffering from kidney failure since February of 2002. The last six years haven’t been easy, in fact, at times, it has been absolutely terrifying. However, through even those darkest nights and moments of stark terror I always felt the comfort of my Savior coming over me as people from across the world prayed for the both of us: For Alvin to recover and for me to stay strong and resolute in the caring and loving of my husband.
With all this in mind, Elizabeth Cheever, my co-author, came to me and asked if I would be willing to write this book with her. With all I was going through and with all I had learned about God and His ever present love and comfort, there was nothing else I could do. We became partners in writing Forged in the Refiner’s Fire.
Share some of your experiences with collecting these stories.
We sent out emails to all of our friends, family and peers asking for stories of trial and tragedy. Specifically we asked how these troubled times brought them closer to God and what they learned from these experiences, including what they did to get through it. Elizabeth and I read a lot about what is required to face times like these and what God’s purposes in times like these might be.
Stories came in by the dozens. We read through them all, chose ones that showed a light at the end of the tunnel and left readers with an uplifting feeling of “Wow, if they could survive that I can make it through my own trials.”
How does creating a book like this differ from writing your fiction book, Out of the Shadows?
Oh, writing nonfiction is much, much easier than writing fiction.
Out of the Shadows . . . Into the Night was my first book and literally flowed out of me. Beginning to end, it was written in six weeks and edited in twelve. It was a free-flow expression of imagination with a story that I was just as excited to see what happened in the writing as the readers are when they turn the page. But as I strive to always be better and to make my stories exciting, fulfilling and entertaining, it becomes difficult to keep the pace where it needs to be. Fiction is a good story wrapped around the truth and sometimes those characters just won’t do what you want them to.
Forged in the Refiner’s Fire was a journey in self-discovery and understanding of the bigger picture in life. It was difficult to sort through the stories and to have to tell people that we weren’t using their stories. Some experiences shared with us were so dark and the people were still caught within the snares of the tragedy enfolding them. There was no hope, no light and learning. Stories like that didn’t serve the purpose of this book. This was a book of hope, understanding and knowledge which we hope will help our readers to feel not so quite alone. There was a much deeper personal investment in this story, because we laid bare our own trials and lessons so that others might know that we too had suffered and triumphed, and so could they.
Which process do you prefer and why?
Oh, I love them both. I’m in the midst of writing two fiction books and two nonfiction books. Each feeds my soul in different ways and I would never restrict myself to one or the other.
I love to tell a good story, literally grab my reader by the throat, yank them into my story and drop them out when I’m done. There is nothing that gives me greater joy than to know people picked up a book like Out of the Shadows . . . Into the Light and couldn’t put it down until they turned the last page at four in the morning.
On the flip side, I love hearing people tell me they were so inspired by Forged in the Refiner’s Fire and now knew they could make it through their own trials. I love knowing people have been strengthened and emboldened to triumph over whatever rests in their present or future. This is what nonfiction can do, the sharing of one’s knowledge, heart and spirituality can strengthen others in such a way that they can become standard bearers of the Savior’s flag, which is my ultimate goal.
Did you always want to be a writer?
When I was 11 I started writing full fiction stories. I continued to do so throughout my life. But when I was 18 I entered college with the intention of becoming a criminal prosecutor. At the beginning of my sophomore year I decided to take a class that would ease the load on my brain and took creative writing from Sis. Dorla Jenkins at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. Six weeks into that class I knew there was a career correction which was going to take place. I prayed, a lot, and then I spoke to my parents. From that moment in time on I knew I was going to direct all my efforts and attention to writing screenplays and books. That is precisely what I have done.
What other books have you written?
Out of the Shadows . . . Into the Light is a romantic suspense in the tradition of Nora Roberts, but clean.
13 and 0: Reflections of Champions is a sports biography about BYU’s 1984 National Championship Football Team.
And finally, the book we are talking about now, Forged in the Refiner’s Fire. I was so pleased to do a video author’s interview about this book, which I’m delighted to share now:
What do you have in the works?
I am co-authoring a book with entertainer, Merrill Osmond, tentatively called Standing on the Fifth: The Long Road, which is an action suspense targeted at the national market and it is a page turner. It has been a lot of fun developing and writing this story. It is our hope that it will be published before the end of 2008, although that is entirely up to the publisher.
I am in the middle of finishing the sequel to Out of the Shadows . . . Into the Light, which is called Dreams Die Hard. This book will pick up where we left off with Shadows, centering on Judith and Sam, who were both introduced in the first book. The battle with the Anqiri continues and Patrick continues to immerse himself in normal teenage life.
The Tale of Two Fathers is a nonfiction book showing the comparisons between my biological father and the father of my heart. Each had horrendous childhoods, difficult situations no child should never have endure. I will share choices made by these men and where they ultimately ended up before shuffling off this mortal coil. One abandoned his family for booze and women and died alone with young missionaries struggling to revive him. The other died knowing his family adored him, all having made the journey home to be with him one last time before he died. One chose God, one did not.
I Was Wondering is a nonfiction book addressing the questions many would ask God if they had the chance to sit down with him face to. I will provide the answers using words from prophets, apostles and trusted theologians. It has been so fascinating addressing the questions which have been asked of me over the years. Truly, there is nothing that cannot be found in the scriptures, both ancient and modern.
It sounds like you are going to be very busy! Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog.
Karlene, I appreciate the chance to drop by and visit Inksplasher. It’s been fun!