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You never know what God might do with your words.
In the late ‘90s I wrote Blind Sight, a suspense novel about a man who was struggling with God’s goodness in tragedy. Near the end of the book my protagonist, a man who lost his wife and two children in a car accident, understands that God is good even when circumstances are not.
Like all new authors, when Blind Sight was released in 2003 I had dreams of a bestseller. But that wasn’t to be. The book’s sales were mediocre at best and, when my second royalty statement showed massive returns—and a large deficit—I was crushed.
I pouted for a few weeks, but eventually realized that I was being selfish. Finally I prayed, “Lord, I wrote this book for you and I’m giving it back to you. If you’ll use it in even one life, I’ll be happy.”
Time passed and Blind Sight was consigned to the ranks of out-of-print books.
But God wasn’t finished with it.
On March 1, 2008, a terrible tragedy happened not far from where I live. Two men broke into the home of Terry and Penny Caffey. They shot Terry, Penny, and their two sons. Then they set the house on fire. Even though he’d been shot five times at point blank range, Terry survived and managed to escape the burning house. Terry’s wife and sons died. Even worse, his teenage daughter Erin was implicated in the crime.
Although Terry was a Christian, he struggled deeply in the aftermath of the tragedy. He couldn’t understand why God took his family or why He made him go on living.
About six weeks after the murders, Terry went back to his property to “have it out with God.” He stood on the ashes of his house and cried out, “God why did you take my family? I need an answer and I need it today.”
At that moment, he saw a brown, scorched piece of paper leaning against a tree. Terry picked it up.
It was a single page from my novel. But it wasn’t just any page. It was the page where my protagonist—a man who has lost a wife and two children—comes to grips with God’s sovereignty in his loss.
The first words on the page were, “I couldn’t understand why You would take my family and leave me to struggle along without them…but I do believe You’re sovereign. You’re in control.”
God used the words on that burned page to turn Terry Caffey’s life around. He forgave his daughter and the others who were involved in the murders, and even lobbied to have the death penalty taken off and now he travels all over the country sharing an incredible story of grace and forgiveness.
God also used that page to change the direction of my writing.
In January of 2009, Terry asked me to help him write a book that would tell his story.
I hadn’t written or published in four years and collaboration was not in my long-term plans. However, because I wanted to encourage Terry, I agreed to help him write a book proposal.
Because of the intense media interest in Terry’s story, Tyndale snapped up the proposal and put the book on an accelerated publication schedule. We signed a contract in March of ’09 and the book was set for a September release.
I had to write it in twelve weeks.
The accelerated writing schedule was probably a good thing, because I didn’t have the time to give in to sheer panic. I’d never collaborated before and I had no earthly idea how to go about it. But it was a door that God had opened, and so I trusted Him for the wisdom.
I dusted off my little digital voice recorder and began interviewing Terry. Then I worked at outlining the book, selecting the stories that would go into it, even using my fiction-writing skills to lay out a plot-line.
As I worked with Terry and wrote what would become Terror by Night, I began to notice something unexpected.
I was enjoying myself immensely.
I love telling stories, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy helping other people tell their stories.
And so now I happily call myself a collaborator. I spent most of 2011 writing a book about Nate Lytle, a young surfer who made a miraculous recovery from a massive traumatic brain injury. I also collaborated on a novella with bestselling author Stephen Arterburn. And I’ve got proposals in the works for two more collaborations, one fiction and the other nonfiction.
I never intended to be a collaborator.
But God led me through an unexpected door and down an unplanned path. And in doing so, He changed the direction of my writing ministry.
Has God placed some unexpected doors or unplanned paths before you? I hope you’ll take a chance and go through them.
You never know what God might do.
“A person plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps,” (Proverbs 16:9, NET Bible).