Sometimes, blessings come in strange little boxes.
It was March of 2008 and I was busy preparing for the release of my first novel in June. As is the case with any writer who has spent months, even years, finishing a novel, “shopping it” to agents and editors, dealing with rejections and self-doubt and a steadily declining will-power, these were exciting days, a regular dream-turned-reality.
But there was something else going on too. I had been having some rectal bleeding, a nuisance more than anything that had hung around for the better part of three weeks. Finally, at the urging of my wife, I saw a doctor. A colonoscopy followed and on March 17th I was given the grim news—“I’m very sorry, but you have colon cancer.”
At thirty-five with a wife and three daughters and a hopefully budding career as a novelist I had to ask, “Lord, in my head I know you’re in control, but my heart is wondering what’s going on here. You sure you know what you’re doing?” My biggest fear was that this cancer was going to take my life and leave my wife a widow and my children fatherless. I remember praying early on, “Lord, I don’t care how hard this is going to be, but please don’t let it take my life.”
A whirlwind of a month later I went in for surgery to remove the tumor and eighteen inches of my colon. A month after that (and just weeks before the big release) I started on a six-month chemotherapy regimen.
As you can imagine, all this was cause for a little reflection on life and living. I started evaluating my priorities, separating the wheat from the chaff, if you will, drawing a line between the things that really matter and those things that only seem to matter. Eventually, the microscope found my writing, and I took a good hard look at what I was writing and why I was writing it.
Now, what we write and our motives for writing is a highly personal affair for authors and each of us needs to wrestle with it sooner or later. After much reflection, much searching, and much wrestling, and in the words of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, here is the conclusion of the matter: I want my writing to matter; I want it to move, to convict, to change. I want my words to be more than mere stories; I want them to be reflections of life, reflections of the heart, reflections of issues that matter.
So what does all this look like? Where is the point at which idea and practicality intersect? Well, for me, being a Christian author, it begins at the feet of my Savior, placing my writing before Him and saying, “Take it Jesus, it’s all yours. I surrender it to you.” And it fleshes itself out by approaching everything I write with an eternal perspective. Does my writing bleed with issues of eternal weight? Is it meant for more than smiles and temporal fuzzies? Do my stories house themes that are truly life-changing and perspective-altering?
I sure hope so. I sure hope what I write–the stories, the characters, the themes–are worth more than fleeting sentiments and momentary feelings. I hope readers walk away from my stories truly impacted and provoked to really think. In my book, that’s success as an author, that’s writing what really matters.
This is just one of the many blessings this strange little box has produced, but it is oh so important. Life is too short and too much is at stake to be spending time producing words that only seem to matter. At the end of my life, no matter how short or long it may be, I want to look back and be satisfied that I got it and in getting it I wrote stories that mattered. Really mattered.
Cancer. What a strange little box, indeed.