by Jennifer Sienes
Praying for inspiration for a new novel is on par with praying for a personal disaster. Because, that’s where I received the inspiration for my first two books – my brother’s suicide and my daughter’s near – fatal car accident. So, I was sure to be clear with God that I really wanted to write about someone else’s tragedy this time. Self-centered, I know, but let’s be honest here – who out there is going to pray for a walk with Job?
Since I already had my third novel mapped out, I wasn’t in any hurry. We all know God takes His time in answering prayer, so I was just being efficient. As if I actually know how God thinks! I didn’t have long to wait. A few days later, I had a chance meeting with Sarah (name changed to protect her anonymity), a woman who works for my husband. I knew a little bit about her background, because she shared it with him when he offered her the job. Fourteen months in a federal prison for embezzlement isn’t something you should hide from a prospective employer.
And while that little fact is out of my realm of normalcy, I never thought about pursuing it as a storyline – until she had the occasion to share it with me personally. It came about as naturally as if we were discussing the nation’s financial crisis, as if this tragedy, and what led up to it, wasn’t a horrendous nightmare most of us will never experience first-hand. But near the end of the telling, her voice cracked and she covered her lips with her fingers to hide their trembling. That’s when my own tears threatened. And I knew. This is a story with which women will connect.
“For the longest time,” she said, “I’d stand in church and just cry. I couldn’t imagine how God could love me after what I’d done.” And isn’t this the universal fear? That we might not measure up in God’s eyes? “But then one night, as I stared at my husband, I heard God speak. I love you. I have always loved you, and that will never change.” She shrugged. “I no longer cry in church.” I hugged her. I couldn’t help it. I think I needed it more than she did. When I asked her if she’d consider allowing me to fictionalize her story for a novel, she didn’t hesitate. “If someone else can draw comfort from my past, then it wasn’t wasted.”
A week later, my recorder in hand, she walked me through her life, starting with childhood. Of course, I wanted to get to the good stuff – the prison experience – because I couldn’t research that stuff on Google. But through the four hours she weaved the cords of her past into a life filled with grace, my excitement grew. Because no one detail of our lives is an island – disconnected from everything else – but a significant piece of the puzzle of a life God holds in His hands.