Her name is not important but I will call her Sophie. Sophie’s skin was thin, translucent like fine white porcelain. Her eyes were teal blue and larger than life. At the age of seven, Sophie had become quite ill with fever and cough that left her listless and lifeless. Even though I was an intern in internal medicine at the time, I was called upon to speak to Sophie’s parents. Sophie had a very adult illness. She had leukemia.
I sat down with Sophie’s parents and laid out the grim prognosis for their child. We could certainly begin chemotherapy at our university hospital, but eventually Sophie would have to be transferred to a much more specialized hospital. I will never forget the look of utter horror on her parents’ faces as they gripped each others hands and tears rolled down their cheeks. The mother swallowed and said, “We will take Sophie home. If we have enough faith, God will heal her.”
I’ve held at least a couple of dozen book signings over the years. I can think of at least three of these events where I sold almost 50 books. But, the others? Well, at one signing I didn’t sell a single book. In fact, not a single person even stopped at my table. Most of my book signings result in selling less than a dozen books. So, why continue to work so hard to have a book signing?
It’s the people. You can’t meet people face to face on Amazon or Barnes & Noble websites. You can’t reach out and touch someone through their Kindle or Nook. But, you can look someone in the eye over a book signing table. And, most importantly, you can hear their STORY.
This is what life is all about — sharing our stories; writing our stories; continuing the Story that God has written for our lives. And, there is one story that always plays out at my book signings. It goes like this:
A man in his mid forties walks up to the table. Before him are my first two fiction books, “The 13th Demon” and the newest, “The 12th Demon”. Sitting to my side is my co-author, Mark Sutton and in front of him is a pile of our book, “Conquering Depression”.
The man pauses in front of me and picks up “The 12th Demon”. But, his gaze averts slightly to the pile of depression books. Why? Because that book is the real object of his quest. However, a man cannot admit his is depressed. Certainly not a stranger and certainly not even to himself. But, that book is tantalizingly just out of reach. Maybe if he shows interest in the fiction SOMETHING will happen and he might get his hands on the depression book. There is a deep seated discomfort with his life; a gnawing desire to face the beast head on and kill it; but to do so is to admit weakness, failure, the inability to FIX it! And so, he peruses the fiction book instead and asks me the inevitable question.
“I have a (son, daughter, nephew, grandson, granddaughter) who likes scary books. Would they like your book?”
“If they like books by Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti they will like my book. It’s about vampires so if they like the Twilight series, they’ll like my books. And, don’t worry about the subject. There is a redemptive message in the book. It does have a Christian point of view.”
The man looks at me and I sense a profound sadness. “That may be a problem. You see he/she has renounced their faith. He/She’s an atheist now.”
Ah, here is the question. Here is the heart of this man’s sorrow. It is most difficult to lose a child to death. But, to lose a child to atheism? That is a lingering death that drives the knife into the heart day after day. How do you deal with this? How do you love someone when they no longer share that faith connection with you? Is it possible?
I tap my second book. “One of my minor characters in this book wrestles with just that issue. She has become an assassin but early in life professed Christianity. She has wandered far away from her faith. In fact, she can no longer consider the possibility that God exists because if He does, how will she ever be forgiven for her heinous acts of violence and murder? Is it possible to move beyond God’s forgiveness?
He just looks at me and his gaze drifts for a second to the depression books. “I don’t know . . .”
I am an apologist; someone trained in the defense of the truthfulness of the Christian faith. My discipline utilizes historical, scientific, and philosophical evidence as fuel for logical “arguments” in support of Christianity. But, I have learned the hard way that when someone loses their faith, rational discourse; reasonable debates; objective evidence will fall on deaf ears. It is because evidence is not the issue in question. Most people who fall away from their faith do so because they have been hurt or angered or disillusioned by well intentioned “Christians”. This hurt comes from someone in a position of authority or respect. Bottom line is the person is hurt; a heart felt need. NOT a head need!
I ask the man a simple question: “What happened between the two of you?”
He looks at me as if I have read his mind. What then unfolds is a tale of woe and pain. As with previous such encounters the story is one of a nasty divorce between the person’s parents or an abusive parent or a figure of trust who violated that trust. Bottom line: people will always let us down. Always!
I reach for a depression book. “Listen, you are depressed. This book is what you need. You can buy my books for your nephew/niece/son/daughter. My fiction books will give them something to think about. But, until the two of you repair your relationship, he/she will continue to be distant from their faith. Love him/her. Simple and clean. Show him mercy. Show him forgiveness. Show him the love of Jesus. That will bring him back. Then, one day, if he has questions that need hard factual answers, contact me and I’ll give you some resources. But, for now, he needs your love. In fact, both of you need love.”
I tap the second book again. “In this book the assassin’s anger and violent nature can be traced back to her father. This will provide an angle from which you can find common ground with him.”
He bought all three books. But, what he walked away with was not something to read. It was something to think and pray about. And, a little dose of hope.
I had listened to a sermon at First Baptist Church Orlando the night before. In that sermon, the pastor talked about Jesus being surrounded by a rambunctious crowd when Jarius came to him requesting Jesus heal his daughter. Jesus was headed for Jarius’ house when something happened. He was interrupted. He felt the power go out from him and stopped to ask his disciples “Who touched me?”
Can you imagine the disciples looking around at the milling crowd. I’m sure they wanted to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, Master. This is worse than Disney World on the 4th of July! You want us to tell you who touched you? Look around! Pick someone at random!”
Or something like that! Of course, Jesus didn’t ask them because he wanted an answer. He asked them to see if they were paying attention to the lowly, broken woman who had been shunned by society — bleeding and “dirty” and forbidden from touching ANYONE. Jesus wanted to know if the disciples had NOTICED. They had not. They only saw the powerful and wealthy Jarius. But, Jesus noticed the unnoticeable; the man or woman wandering up to the table in desperate search for answers to their pain; for healing; for the gently touch of a caring conversation or the kind brush of a hand on their shoulder. Jesus noticed this woman and praised her for her faith.
I will never forget this unique perspective on that account from John. I had never seen the woman as an interruption; a divine appointment unforeseen by anyone except God. THIS is why I continue to hold book signings. There will always be one person whose day I hope God will interrupt with a moment of hope and caring. And, I can only pray I will be there with the caring message God wants me to share. It’s not about the books. It’s about the PERSON!