The protagonist of my contemporary romance is a woman who has just turned 40 and finds that she has plunged into a mid-life crisis. Someone once told me that she is the character most emotionally and intellectually close to who I really am. That is no accident. When I wrote the story, I purposely dove into my personal experience in ministry, particularly with my current congregation, with whom I have been for nearly 11 years. The church sequences in the book are my love letters to the people and life I have experienced in that United Methodist congregation. And, if you read the book, which is told in the first person, you might notice that Lins’ voice is like mine on this blog. I even went through a mid-life crisis in my 40s – but I ended up in graduate school. So, sorry, gang, no rocker and no band for me.
Simply put, Lins is like me, but not me. Maybe the best way to explain it is that she’s my avatar who lives in a fictional world.
In Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll, Lins is questioning the career and calling she thought she had settled on in her twenties. Her daily life has a predictable pattern (if you can call serving a church “predictable”). She refers to it the “same old, same old.” In addition, Lins can’t stop thinking about the fun and satisfaction she had fronting a rock band in college. The nostalgia is so acute that she moans to her friends Pattie and Sue, “I just want to rock one more time before I die.”
But how did Lins get into ministry, to begin with? While it does come up in the book, I thought I would put her “back story” in one place to see if we could get a grip on her character.
Like most of us who are serving churches or ministries beyond church walls, we will tell you that we were called to it. But how that calling happened, when we first became aware of it, what we felt called to do differs person to person, but frequently we know before we acknowledge it.
Lins is a military brat and one of two children in the Mitchell family, the oldest being her brother, Dale. Her dad is a Marine and, because he is a “lifer,” the family moves a great deal. So, family, rather than location, becomes Lins’ anchor.
The Mitchells’ peripatetic life, however, comes to an abrupt halt when her father, who has been sent to Lebanon, is killed in the 1983 bombing of the Beirut barracks. Lins is only eight years old and later says of that the time, "was when everything changed.”
Her mother is given grief support by the military chaplain and the other dependents living on the base. Once she has passed through the first shock and through her husband’s burial, Lins’ mother makes a decision to take the family back to New Jersey and move in with her parents. Lins’ grandfather, who is a Methodist minister and affectionately known as Gramps by Lins and her brother, Dale, now takes a central role in her life.
It is Grampa who recognizes that his grandchildren need therapy to deal with their grief and sees that they receive it.
Let’s stop here to sum a few things up. Lins is shaped by a close family life, the sudden death of her father, and the support of a loving grandfather, who happened to be a minister.
Despite their tragic loss, the little family moves forward. Both the children grow up and attend college. Lins’ mother does not remarry and stays single until her death in a car accident about three years before Heart Soul begins. Lins does not speak much of this in the book, but I know there’s a story there.
However, all that is in the future for Lins the college student. While at school, she blossoms. A music-lover, she becomes the lead singer in a rock band with her friend Patti and Robbie, another friend who quickly becomes her boyfriend.
Lins is smitten with Robbie. In the book, she relates, “I was absolutely certain that he was The One. If I had been a cartoon character, my eyes would have turned into throbbing pink hearts whenever I thought of him.” And why not? The couple talked about getting married and “rocking into the sunset together.”
Since Robbie is a couple years older than Lins, he graduates first. And things change again for her because, predictably, the love of her life meets another woman. The next thing Lins knows, a “Dear Lindsay” letter arrives in the mail.
Remember how important relationships are to her? The break up devastates Lins. Feeling lost, she turns to Grampa for advice. Instead, he gives her a journal. She doesn’t understand how that is going to help her. Grampa tells her to write a little something every day: feelings, questions, observations. He says, “When you go back and look at your entries you may see a pattern, you may see where God is at work and giving you an answer.”
Sure enough, a few months later, Lins reads over her journal and sees that church was a large part of her life and that she had been doing lay ministry all her life. She says, “…it was as if a voice whispered in my heart, ‘See? You are mine, Lins. You are my child. Follow me.’”
How that moment of acknowledgment happens – and it can range anywhere from “ah-ha!” to “are "you kidding?” – will vary from person to person. But when it happens, things change. For Lins that means going to seminary, although she doesn’t go all the way to ordination. Her explanation is semi-autobiographical. I did the same thing.
"… I had a strong calling to teach and guide people in their faith formation. So, I became a 'Christian educator' and because I had some preaching and leadership skills in worship, later went on to become an assistant minister. I never bothered to get ordained…”
She also gives up playing in a band, although she still loves rock music, because she can’t rectify serving a church with being in a band. I had a similar experience. Eventually I gave up trying to write novels and shifted to writing “churchy” things like sketches for worship and youth group, Christmas pageants, and articles. Until... well, that's another story,.
When Lins hits 40, she wonders if she is called to something else. And that is where her story begins in Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll.
Strangely enough, as I read the material over to write this blog, I realized that Lins’ struggle to understand that God might be calling her to rock out shadows my own struggle to understand that God might be calling me to write novels.
On Monday, we’ll look at Neil Gardner – a guy who grew up in a family vastly different from that of Lins. He wasn't exactly raised by wolves, but close.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder