In the summer of 2019, I traveled to Storm Lake Iowa to visit a close friend. The situation being what it was, with many of her organs shutting down, I did believe that it may be the last time I would see her. This was not the first time that she skated on the brink of death, and in the back of my mind I wondered, how many times will she escape the inevitability of our human condition?
As I crossed the border into the U.S., the CBP guard asked if I was traveling for business or pleasure. I said pleasure. When he found out that I was going to Iowa he said, “Who would want to go there for pleasure? There’s just a lot of corn.” Well, there's a lot more than just corn. There are so many precious people.
Though Joanie has long had underlying medical conditions, she is usually lively and spirited. A sanguine character, she ignites the atmosphere when she enters a room, her booming voice filling every corner of the building with cheeriness and hope. Her joy is contagious and inescapable. Though Joanie’s energy also appears to be inextinguishable, it’s when you see her in the quiet moments at home that you get a glimpse of the flip side and you realize that she actually requires down-time to recharge.
But this time things were different, the powder-keg fuse had been drenched; soaked not in the usual combustible incendiary, but some sort of flame-retardant. With great effort, a smile crawled onto a death-like pallor face; a dimmed glint tried to peak out into her eyes, as she greeted me at the airport, but was hidden like the sun on foggy day. Still, her joy was there and no-less contagious. It was good to once again share the delight of our souls as we worship and praised our Lord for the reunion.
Since meeting Joanie in 2003, I’ve known two things: she has lived an unbelievable and amazing life, and her testimony of how Jesus spoke love and redemption into her is a story that needs to be shared. I’ve always encouraged her to find a way to share her remarkable story, but on that day, as she struggled for breath, there seemed to be an urgency to the telling. She shared that others had encouraged her too, and one lady, a writer no-less, had recorded the telling of her stories, but had been unable to actually take on the project.
“I’ll do it!” The words spilled out of my mouth before I could even thing twice.
“You will? You’re an author?” Joanie exclaimed.
“No. I’ve never written anything in my life, but I didn’t know how to build a well in Kenya either and with God's intervention, I was able to get that done. One thing I’ve learned is when God gives you a task, he’ll also provide the tools you need to get it done. If you’d like me to give it a try, I’m more than willing. I’m not sure I’m the best person to write it, but I’ll do my best.”
Joanie’s ashen face lit up. She was pleased to see the project underway again, and I was thrilled to have sparked a light in her face.
In the next weeks she managed to obtain and forward hours of recorded stories that she’d shared with the author. As I started listening to the stories, I began to put together a story-board of sorts, but the hook eluded me. One night, before I went to sleep, I prayed for God to show me where to begin, and trusted that he would.
I keep a pen and paper next to my bed so I can write down my wandering thoughts. Normally I’m a great sleeper: my super-power is sleeping on a train standing up. In university I would sleep in my dorm room through fire alarms. The ringing, red alarm was located right above my bedroom door, a mere ten feet from my pillow. But sometimes, the worry that I’ll forget my night-time thoughts by morning keeps me up at night, and writing them down lets me rest easy and sleep. That night I received a clear message: begin the story when Joanie meets Jesus. I scribbled those words and fell fast asleep. Gary, on the other hand, thought the sound of my scribbling might be a mouse in the wall, and stayed up all night listening for more scratching.
As I continued to listen to the stories, I was even more amazed by the valleys and ridges of Joanie’s life -- God’s fingerprint on his child. But I knew I had a place to begin, and had to keep listening for it. Little did I know how dramatic that hook would be.
Don’t Tell. Coming soon to a bookstore near you.