Once

You only live once. But once is enough if you do it right. – Mae West

It usually happens in October. 

But it happened tonight instead. 

The first evening when it really feels like fall in Georgia. 

When I still ride with the windows down, but I need a little warmth on my feet as well. And the chill in the air mixed with the scent of someone’s first-fire-of-the-season reminds me what a great gift this all is. 

We only get one life. To appreciate the beauty, to know gratitude for every simple, majestic moment. 

To feel. 

To cherish. 

To revel. 

To feel every bit of bliss and sorrow our frail, resilient hearts can endure. 

To cherish the other lives inexorably intertwined with our own. 

To revel in the love of God, the source of every good and perfect gift. 

We’ve got one life to live. 

One. Extraordinary. Life. 

Sometimes I find myself wistful that we only get one shot at this thing. There’s so much I haven’t experienced yet, so many places I haven’t been, so much wonder left undiscovered. 

But then the fall air whispers and I’m reminded I’d rather do it once the right way than live a thousand meaningless lives. 

I’m reminded there’s nothing more I need to feel alive than being with those who love me, those whom I love most. 

On an autumn night in Georgia. 

Storyteller

One week from today, my debut novel, Remember Jane, will be available for purchase digitally. In my previous blog, I explained the emotional impetus for writing it – the why of the story.

But there is another motivating factor that has been just as influential in the process of learning how to and actually writing a book.

I want to be a storyteller.

More specifically, I want to tell stories like Jesus told stories.

Over three years ago, I wrote a post about Jesus the storyteller. In it, I shared this:

I feel like we’ve lost the ability to tell good stories in our Christian culture. This is sad to me. If Jesus modeled communicating His message in story form about one out of every three times, and we are becoming more and more like Him, then maybe a natural result of following Jesus should be that our stories get better and more powerful. Feels like the opposite is happening a lot of the time. We’re great at sermonizing, but we don’t seem to tell very good stories. Not that I have any problem with sermons, I prepare and preach sermons often, and I listen to several every month. But it feels like we’ve abandoned other forms of communicating and put all of our eggs in the lecture-format basket.  Even the movies Christians make end up feeling like a 2-hour sermon. Movies are supposed to be stories, not sermons. When I go see a film, I don’t want to be preached to. I want to hear, see, feel a story. I can draw my own conclusions about life, and morality, and God without having them spoon-fed to me. That’s the wonder of the human intellect. That’s the beauty and power of story.

I feel this even more strongly now than I did then.

I’ve never been ashamed of being a Christian, but there have been many times I’ve been ashamed by how Christians tell stories.

It seems as though the most popular stories written by and for Christians in our culture pay no thought to giving people outside the faith a chance to find themselves in the narrative. And this is just unacceptable. How can we alienate with our art the very people Jesus most wants to reach?

Here are two reviews for the recent release, War Room, which is getting a lot of praise lately in Christian circles. To be fair, I haven’t seen the film. And I probably won’t. I’m sure it has its place and if it was encouraging to you, then by all means celebrate it and promote it. But know that, based on most secular reviews, it is in no way accessible to people outside of the faith. Here are snippets from two unrelated reviews of the movie:

  • “War Room isn’t really a movie. Instead, it’s just a glossy, elongated infomercial for prayer. And, if you’re inclined to accept its agenda, it works. Because the audience I saw it with hooted, praised and squealed with joy at the right times.”
  • “If these films truly want to evangelize, then they must step outside their comfort zone…They must acknowledge that life is far more complicated than the typical Sunday sermon would indicate, and that faith means more than submitting to a controlled existence ruled by fear. They must portray the full dimensionality of the material world before they can begin to explore the spiritual one.”

We need to get back to how Jesus told stories.

This is the heart of how I wrote Remember Jane. I studied Jesus the storyteller. How did he communicate? What were the common threads that wove themselves through most of his tales?

There were many commonalities, but for my book I focused on the three I felt were the most powerful:

  1. Accessibility.
    • The characters in Jesus’ stories were real. They messed up. They made bad decisions. Sometimes they swore, were immoral, cheated and lied and stole and chose the wrong path. Just like we have. Just like we sometimes still do.
    • The settings and backgrounds were familiar to His listeners. He talked about sheep and farming and fishing; about business dealings and eating and family relationships.
    • No matter what story Jesus tells, people from all walks of life can find themselves in the narrative, even if they have a different faith background (or none at all).
  2. God is a character in the story. 
    1. He’s not called God. He’s a “father” or a “judge” or a “vineyard owner” or a “farmer” or a “shepherd.”
    2. He acts in the story in ways that are at times mysterious or even frustrating. He’s real. He’s active. He’s up to something, even if the other people in the story (or the listeners, for that matter) don’t know what it is.
  3. A surprise or twist. In almost every story Jesus told, something happens that you don’t expect.
    • A father runs (!) and gives his coat (!) to the returning son who had told his father he wished he were dead and then spent a third of his dad’s money on “wild living.”
    • People who only worked an hour get paid the same amount (!) as people who worked the whole day.
    • The banquet preparer un-invites his distracted friends from the great party and instead orders everyone (!) else to be invited instead.
    • One thing is certain about Jesus’ teaching: it wasn’t predictable, it wasn’t cliche, it was never trite.

I certainly don’t want to sound bitter or jealous of the success others have had. I’m not reacting against something as much as I want to get back to something – to model my writing after Jesus in hopes that others will like it and attempt to do the same. There are authors who are already doing this well. William P. Young, Josh Riebock, and Brandon Clements are just three examples of writers who are ahead of me on this path. I’m in debt to them for their courage and influence.

Writing a book is a humbling experience. I have no idea if I was able to do what I set out to do. I have hope and that is all I have.

I hope you will read Remember Jane. I hope it will engage you on a deep level. I hope you don’t feel preached to, but that your heart will be stirred all the same.

I hope you find yourself in the story.

And I hope you find God waiting for you in the spaces underneath the words, between the pages.

 

Remember Jane

On a hot August summer evening in 1990, I returned home from my shift at the Sky Lift at Stone Mountain Park. As soon as I walked in the house my mom sat me down on the couch. What she said next would send shards of my shattered heart hurtling into the void of tragic space and alter my life forever.

Sonja Larson is dead. She was murdered.”

I can rewind and play the scene in my head as if it happened just moments ago. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for my mother to say those words to me, but I know full well how excruciating they were to hear. And how the implications of those words would remain as an unbearable weight for weeks and months to come until my soul just couldn’t take the pain anymore and it would grow numb for a while. Only to have the weight bear down even harder the next time. And this process repeated itself over and over again for a long, long time:

When I heard a certain song, a song maybe she had sung to me once upon a time. When I saw her face on the news. When a well meaning, but misguided friend would say her name, or make a bumbled attempt at consoling me. When a holiday came around, or her birthday, or the anniversary of her death. Anything could trigger it, really.

And this is what it means to mourn, to experience loss at its deepest levels. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Grieving an unexpected death is outside of the normal patterns or “five steps” that are supposed to bring us toward closure or at least closer to some semblance of relief. Even the cliches fall apart in the face of such overwhelming tragedy. Because you discover that time doesn’t actually heal all wounds. The edge and intensity may ebb and flow,

but

the pain

never

really

goes

away.

Over the course of weeks, months, and years, you may find peace (if you’re one of the fortunate ones). And you begin to look for ways to honor the memory of the one you lost, to maybe redeem the tragedy in some small way.

For me, one of the ways I wanted to honor Sonja Jane Larson was to name my daughter after her. Sonja Elizabeth Paul was born on June 27, 2004.

Another way I wanted to keep her memory alive was to write a book as a tribute to her. I wanted to tell a story, to spin a tale. The result of this decades-long desire (and three-plus years of work) is my debut novel, Remember Jane.

Remember Jane is, primarily, a love story. It’s about a boy and a girl; about a boy who lost a girl and what happens in the wake of that loss. The boy, Marty Drake, is a fictional character; as is the girl, Jane Carson. It is not a biography. Some things included in the book actually happened. Others are strictly fictional. I don’t want people who actually knew Sonja Larson to be confused. This is a tribute and not a literal recounting of her life.

However, my intention was to capture the kindness, creativity, fierce love, tenderness, and joy that defined our friendship and Sonja Jane Larson’s very existence.  And while the character of Jane is not the protagonist of the story (in the literal sense of the word – that would be Marty), my hope is that she is still the star. I want you to love her as much as I do. I want you to know how wonderful and beautiful and real she was and still is in my heart. I want her to change your life, too.

I’m so eager for you to read this story that I want to give you the first three chapters for free.

There is a box in the upper right corner of this page that has the words “subscribe to our mailing list” above it. Just enter a valid email address and click the subscribe button. That’s all you have to do. All new subscribers by this Sunday, September 6 will receive the first three chapters of my book in PDF format (on Monday, September 7) at absolutely no cost. Hopefully you will be intrigued enough by what you read to purchase a digital copy of the full book when it is released on Amazon on Tuesday, September 22, 2015.

Any questions or comments, please feel free to engage with me in the comments section below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

I can’t wait for you to help me Remember Jane.

Grateful.

– mp

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