Several years ago following a book event at the library in Cannon Beach I was approached by a beautiful woman who told me a terrifying tale. It, like so many terrifying tales, involved depression and anxiety and brokenness and silence.
And years of unanswered questions.
In the short time that we spoke that woman became a friend, as sometimes happens when authors and readers connect.
Cat and I first connected through the story of Karly Sheehan.
Cat has a tender heart that always, always seeks out the hurting among us, whether that is ministering to abandoned and neglected children or abandoned and neglected elderly. Cat takes seriously the admonition to go and be the change you want to see in the world. When she turns her attention towards someone that person can’t help but be blessed.
You ever met someone and you go away feeling a heaviness in your spirit? A sense that you need to steer clear of that person because there is just something dark about them?
Yeah, Cat is nothing like that.
Light emanates from her.
I’ve met a few people like Cat in my lifetime. People who have endured hard, hard things and yet have come out on the other side of all that brokenness with an unwavering faith that God is good and Jesus loves us and all that love ought to compel us to live a better story.
People like that are a true treasure. We ought to hold those people close to us. The world can be a very dark place without the friendship of such individuals. If you have a friend like that, you ought to drop them a note this week, tell them how much you cherish them and their faith, and how much their friendship means to you. We all need to hear good words these days.
We ought to plant good words like tulip bulbs, with the confidence that a glory awaits us on the other side of whatever darkness we may find ourselves enduring at the time.
We all need to seriously consider our roles as planters of grace.
Cat and I met up again this weekend. This time at an author’s luncheon at The Springs at Sherwood. Cat’s mother, Lois, and her friends pulled together a lovely event that included authors Philip Margolin, Shannon Kaiser and Brian Doyle. I can’t remember when I have laughed so much. Brian and Shannon were inspirational and hilarious. Margolin, the smart one among us, shared how he spent decades researching his first historical fiction. His previous NYT bestsellers have been thriller crime fiction. (Here’s a hint for you Georgia friends, his next book was inspired by St. Simon’s Island).
After the author luncheon, Cat and her charming husband Gordy surprised me with a gift – a painting inspired by MOTHER OF RAIN.
I knew Cat was at work on a painting.
I did not know the painting was inspired by my novel.
Before the unveiling of the painting, Cat shared with me her own creative processes. The pastels lines represent the face of Horseshoe Falls as the water runs down over the stone wall. There is a sun, chickens, a mother with a child, a mother in the bed, a mother gone mad, a picture of how Cat imagined Zeb to be, turned away from the mother and child figure. There is the crucified Christ, and feathers free-falling.
And oh, so much more.
I hung the painting in my office for now, simply because I want to keep it close by where I can study upon it often.
There are few things more meaningful to me than the creative spirit of another.
Cat’s painting feels like a begat moment.
We usually think of the begets in Scripture as the most boring of reading, but that’s because we read them like we are reading a list of items we must remember at the grocers or for a test.
I have come to believe that the reason the begets are in the Scriptures is because God is a Southern Boy. He understands that we can’t know who we are until we grasp who our people were.
Adam and Eve were the only people fashioned from dirt. All the rest of us were begat from a long line of people who mattered, creative and chaotic souls.
It was while I was working on Mother of Rain that Cat and I had our first talk about suicide. Maizee’s story resonated with Cat because her father took his life. Self-murder is the term Cat uses.
He was a minister.
“A man who spent his life loving the world yet he died alone. We, his family, were his life, yet, not a one of us were with him. We all suffer from that loss and honor,” Cat says.
Suicide rates among clergy are difficult to track down. Some report that clergy has the 3rd highest suicide rates of any profession. Others dismiss a number altogether, saying that pastors of all professions have to keep their depression hidden, especially if that pastor is an evangelical.
Pastors by their very empathetic nature may be more prone to depression. Says Cat: “My dad had an overabundance of empathy which made him an excellent pastor and father, although he was clinically disposed to depression. Sadly we did not get him the proper help he required.”
I never met Cat’s father, yet, because of Maizee’s story, I feel like I knew him.
We Christians go around all the time quoting pithy sayings about how God will never give us more than we can handle.
That is such a load of dookey.
Life is hard. Losing a child to cancer, the way Cat’s mother and father did when they lost her brother, can break a person.
Shoot, you don’t even have to lose your own child to be broken by death. I have lost several friends and my own mother to cancer. I have another friend who was just diagnosed this week with esophageal cancer. Sometimes the heaviness of all that feels too much. Sometimes I wonder if I might go mad like Maizee did.
Sometimes going mad seems like the most sane thing to do. Staying calm in the face of death, God’s own declared enemy, seems like the most inane thing to do.
That’s why when I wrote Maizee’s story I put so much emphasis on community. It is the community we surround ourselves with that is often our only hope when facing the hard things of life.
It’s not enough for our pastor to know that we believe in Jesus – he or she needs to see us living Jesus.
Or as my friend Hugh says, we need to be willing to sit in the dark with each other because that’s what Jesus would do.
Cat’s stories about her father remind me the very best pastors among us, the very best people among us, need us to sit in the dark with them sometimes.
People all around us need to be reminded of God goodness and the transformative love of Christ.
We communicate that love best when we are creating things of beauty and wonder and thought-provoking glory.
It is when we create that we beget hope in world besieged by pain.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer University Press).