“Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”
It was one of those nights. Dark, not quite cold but chilly, I had my little space heater running in my room. My lamp cast a dim glow across my desk, and my coffee was culprit of keeping me awake.
But my pen wasn’t moving.
After a long day on the job, I was trying to catch an hour at my story before it was time for bed. I had spent the past several days typing up my work, reading over the previous scenes, but now it was time to start really writing again. And the worst thing was happening – nothing. I couldn’t get anything to come. I knew what had to be next, in a way I knew what was missing in this scene, and what direction it was supposed to go. But getting it out of my head and down on paper was another story!
I’d recently had two suggestions about my work that made me think – and was I ever thinking!
I’d still been writing – plowing through this sea of words as best I could. But things had gotten very murky. I’d presented myself with a question. Prompted by the suggestions of loving friends, and the curiosity of my own wandering mind, it had taken priority far above working with my characters and developing scenes.
“What’s the purpose?”
That’s what I had been asking myself.
This is what, for the past several days, I had been praying and studying over.
The answer didn’t come in a swift, bright, sudden glow; it wasn’t a miraculous revelation. It wasn’t the handwriting on the wall, per se.
The Lord Jesus did bless me in my writing that evening. Without answering my question, He opened the troublesome scene too me, and I wrote several pages of semi-good work.
But over the next several days, the answer did come. Over the next several days the Lord Jesus opened my eyes to see what He had been creating for me all these years when all I thought of was exciting stories, silly plays, and loathsome characters.
The answer did come.
“If you sell those children, sir,” she spoke rigidly, “Their blood will be on your hands. A life as a slave; with no rights…no rights whatever to protection or self-preservation…would be worse – far worse – than growing up, even as a girl, in a regular den of prostitution. At least in a whore house each child would sooner or later have the freedom to escape – as a slave, there would be no escape.”
The nun ~ Enslaved to Freedom
In my current work-in-progress, Enslaved to Freedom, I have found myself scribbling for over a year and a half about a man who, through these months of working with him, seems to grow worse with every page.
Of course, his troubled past, sin-ridden present, and blotched future all work to make the story exciting – what isn’t exciting about a pirate living on the open seas, hiding in African forests, who loves to steal, will kill a man if he has to, can’t overcome his addiction to alcohol, and has a temper to match the devil himself? There are endless avenues to explore not only in that sort of character, but in his habitat, and in the other people he interacts with as well.
But the further I have moved in this story the deeper the question has pressed me.
“What’s the purpose?”
I do not write for mere entertainment.
If anything, I loathe stories that are written for mere entertainment but that tout the name of Christian fiction.
Christian fiction is not supposed to just be a ‘filler’ to make up for what the world has that Christians aren’t supposed to read/watch/listen to. Like everything in a believer’s life, fiction must serve a purpose. Spiritually.
So, looking over Sullivan’s life, over his day-to-day activities, I kept finding myself being stared in the face by a huge, confused lump of…nothing?
But I can’t quit writing.
The story is still moving, still growing. I pray about it, the Lord Jesus gives me thoughts, gives me scenes, creates new characters. And what about the sequels? Two, Three, Four, maybe Five?
There had to be a purpose.
As a follower of the Lord Jesus, I consecrated my writing to Him several years ago. My purpose in writing I know is to glorify Him, to honor His Name, and to help others to seek Him.
But couldn’t that be achieved in a story more tame? One that didn’t include alcohol drugs, and prostitution (Not to mention stealing, fights, and murder?)
“I stared at those words.
My pen dropped from my fingers, blotted my page.
I rested my head back against the smooth top rail of my desk chair and closed my eyes.”
Sullivan ~ Enlaved to Freedom
For as long as I can remember I have loved characters who were not perfect. There has always been something repulsive to me about a character who is always sweet, kind, thoughtful, always doing the right things, settling everyone’s differences, and taking all the blame for everything – even if it wasn’t his/her fault.
Sometimes there is a place for such a character. Sometimes such a character is even necessary in a story. I’m sure I’ve had someone like this in one of my stories before…I think.
But for the most part, the characters that most attract me, make me love them, and endear themselves to me are the imperfect ones. The ones who have a hidden sin, the ones who lose their tempers, the ones that openly embrace the darkest parts of this world, or the ones who seem alright now but have pasts to rival a miniature Hitler’s.
I can remember relishing tales about these sorts of people back so far as when I was only five or six. It was always the ‘bad guy’ I liked, not the poor, mistreated ‘good guy’.
As I began writing it was these sorts of people I wrote about.
Under-the-table slave traders, selfish, egotistical monarchs, money-hungry nobility, murderous outlaws, pickpockets, spies in the Civil War.
One character I can remember in my stories who was almost perfect – or either so young and innocent she could have been perfect. But even she eloped at fourteen and had a child out of wedlock.
But even considering this, when I started writing Enslaved to Freedom, I realized almost immediately that it was going to be different than any story I had ever written.
I had always loved pirates, but had never read/watched anything about them – much less attempted a story on the subject! I couldn’t stand the gruesome tales that had grown up around them.
But as I went on writing, it became more and more apparent just how much different this story would truly be – not only in setting, but in content.
I was, needless to say, shocked and a little uncertain; my writing was (and still is!) covered, and drenched, and drowned in prayers!
But I was loving every moment of it.
I had never written such a high-strung story before.
There had been ‘high-points’ before in my stories, points where things just seemed to ravel loose and get out of hand. (Such as when the outlaw in Huldah finally broke patience and outright beat her.) But never before had the main character of the story actually been the out and out villain, never had such delicate topics been touched, never had sin been so openly laid out and revealed.
Some scenes left me shaking and in tears when I’d finally finished writing them – some I had to just get up and leave the room before I finished penning them.
Never had a story gripped me so much. Never had characters so entangled me.
But imagine what a state I would be in if I were there with Sullivan, with the heroine, with the prostitutes, in the tavern, watching that man get flogged, the other one shot dead….
Imagine what sort of person I would be if I could not overcome alcohol, or tobacco, or some sort of illegal highly-addictive drug, or if I were a man in a state of severe lust over a woman I knew I could not touch.
Imagine what my life would be like if I were one of the women at White Rock tavern forced into selling my body, into aborting my children, into living among savages in cannibalistic Africa with no one there to fight for me – when my only crime had been taking passage across the sea in the mid-18th century.
And there are people out there who suffer – just as much, if not more, than the characters in Enslaved to Freedom.
Heimler stepped out into the hall, curbing my thoughts, “I’d give anything to tare all their throats out,” he spat in contempt, “Blast wenches, can’t control those screeching voices.”
I gave a short laugh, as I stepped inside the tiny closet of a room, “Isn’t that the truth,” I agreed with him, but quickly lost my voice, numbed by what I saw, “Heimler…,” I found my breath and called him from the hall, “What is that?” I nodded towards several bundles piled in the corner as he joined me.
Heimler moved closer, “Um…infants…sir.”
“Are they dead?” I asked, all but holding my breath for an answer.
Heimler was quiet a moment as he sat on his heels and pulled the matted rags off from around several of the tiny, skin-shrouded skeletons.
The young German shook his head, “No sir,” he felt one child’s face with the back of his hand, “But they’re very nigh on it – I don’t think they’ve been bathed or cleaned since they were born, much less fed.”
I was nauseous with disgust. The tiny bodies were motionless, save for the occasional rising and falling of those sharp rib-cages. I was struggling to breathe – I could only begin to imagine what these infants were suffering. Their weak attempts were hardly successful against the mold and dankness of the so-called air standing stagnant within the walls of this filthy den.
Curses escaped my lips, “Heimler – go, get one of those girls and bring her back in here this moment.”
Part 2 ~ Enslaved to Freedom
As much as we, in our warm and happy homes, tend to ignore it there is suffering – of the acutest kind – going on all round us.
And not just in under-developed countries, where laws and ethical standards are so low, but even in our own, secure nations – where we feel the strong arm of the law, the order of the people, and the knowledge of right and wrong exist too heavily for great infraction on humanity.
In many a family there is at least one soul who is sold to addiction of some kind – alcohol, drugs, things even worse. Many of these people are happy living this way – much like Sullivan was happy with his life at the beginning of the story.
Even in the US there are masses of women, young girls and mere children who are trafficked; for the evil pleasures of men whose minds have carried them to the darkest abyss of animal behavior. These women are suffering – suffering greatly.
Many a prostitute is not in her situation because she wants to be. Granted, there are women who chose to live like that, but others are forced – cruelly.
Many other women and children suffer under domestic abuse – men who have an over-inflated idea of their own importance or position torment their families; physically, mentally. The women and children are the victims – they see the world through black and blue stripes. But the men are often victims too. Victims of satan’s blinding; whether that blinding comes from within, or from outward causes like alcohol and drug abuse.
Many girls in society today – even boys – are growing up believing immorality, addictions, and some of the darkest sins are good, are right, are so-called cool.
And today’s fiction caters to that.
Today’s fiction builds up this addicted, self-destroying image that young people, in their still-innocent minds, embrace all too-readily. At the delicate age when young people are learning about themselves and the world through the new eyes of maturing adults, they are assailed by books and media that ingrain in them the thought that to enjoy life is what life is all about.
And its not.
Life is a journey. And not every journey is fun, not every journey is full of pleasure, joy, or opportunities to guiltlessly fulfill one’s natural desires.
Every journey has its beautiful mountain tops, its gorgeous sweeps of rivers and glistening streams. But there’s also the deep, lethal canyons, the rocky ridges, the swampy valleys, the stormy seas.
A hundred years ago – two hundred years ago – young people went out in the world with a serious knowledge of what they were facing.
Today they look at life as a playground.
And its not.
While some play, others suffer. For some, the games turn into a life of misery. They end up as the abused, addicted, used individual who wished they could go back in life twenty years and start all over. Some go on to college, go on to become great doctors, scientists social workers – but they turn a blind eye on their suffering peers. They say, “Some have it, some don’t.” And again, some of the world’s greatest philanthropists have been jailed – for stealing, for abusing children, for using illegal drugs.
And still, Christian fiction continues to paint that romantic, exciting, ‘get-out-of-the-real-world’ picture of life. A means of entertainment, as a ‘time-out’ from dealing with life’s every-changing problems.
And fiction should have a chord of that, I grant – but this should not make up the entire song.
Life is hard.
For many people life is harder than it should be.
My purpose in writing is to reach out to those people – or to those people who are able to help the suffering. To plant the seed in their minds, to remind others that there is a darker place. To give hope to those who find themselves there; to maybe save a few along the way.
As people read these stories, I pray they will be able to associate with the characters. I pray they will see themselves in them – if not in the darkest ways, at least in the smaller ones; like faults of character, lack of faith, selfishness, or absence of love. I pray they will see how the characters found freedom from these problems, how they dealt with their troubles and their sins, and that my readers in turn will be able to apply that to their own lives in even a small way.
“And so, what do you say of it?” I looked out at the ocean…the morning light shimmering off its watery surface like so many diamonds, “My home – my prison,” I turned to find her watching me.
“No prison,” she shook her head, those hazel strands of silk playing round her shoulders, “Many a man would give anything to live the way you do – this is freedom.”
“I know both worlds, lass,” I leaned against the railing beside me, watching those deep, dark eyes, “Both are as evil and murderous as the other – a man can either choose to carry out his life legally or go on his way outside the law; the end is the same in both, and there is no other.”
She looked out at the sea, “You are as blinded a man as you are a liar,” she shook her head.
I only smiled, “Am I?”
“Yes,” she turned back to me, “You never seem to see – even when things are laid out so clearly, so beautifully before you,” she put a hand on my arm, “Look out at the sea, Liam, look at the ocean, the waters, the sunlight shining down on it all – that is the third choice you have. There is another way in life – the Son is shining down so brightly on that way, everything is drawn to it – just like all the waters in the earth are drawn to this ocean. They may fight it, but eventually they find themselves over taken by it. Yet, if they linger and struggle too long on land, they dry up before they reach here. You are being drawn, Liam,” I looked at her – never before had I seen so much earnest, so much sincerity…, “You are being drawn to this choice – it’s being offered to you; but you can only withstand so much fighting. Give in, Liam, give in – before it’s too late.”
Part 4 ~ Enslaved to Freedom