Of faith, despair, and "The Spawn of Fashan"
It’s easy to slip into despair, in ways you never anticipate. This year proved this to me so many times, starting that very first Sunday – January 5 – when a crazy man attacked me as I walked to church. I don’t know what frustrated me more in that, the violence or the nearly $10,000 in bills I soon received just to get three stitches put in and taken out. In truth, the real heartache came from my sense of rejection, for this blow trailed dozens of public attacks against my latest novel, The Prophet and the Dove. I felt wounded and dismayed from assaults physical and mental, all from people who seemingly enjoyed going out of their way to confront a stranger sharing his faith and love.
Within two months I couldn’t walk to church anymore – not for fear of ambush, but because my worship community stopped gathering under that roof due to the virus. You know the chaos that followed. Such things spread anguish in far too many ways. I encountered one such surprise when I phoned a friend for a welcome respite, only to get drawn into a political debate I did not want or need. And in what seemed a brief moment, my longtime high school buddy and college roommate no longer wished to speak to me.
Oh, the shock and awe. That January assault lasted but moments, but those words gripped me for months. Not for their power or angst, but as ripples in time. Memories collided as I spent days in general isolation, recalling how my wife left me, then my daughters, my parents, my employer of decades, most of my friends. Decades of darkness choked my nightly dreams, leaving me exhausted and broken.
How could love penetrate such turmoil?
Imagine how it goes down. With each look in the mirror, you see but one face, the same boring face, over and over, day after day after day. Each time those tired, lonely eyes reassure you that no one cares for your looks, your voice, your dreams, your desires. You realize such things have no value to anyone, including yourself, as time grows ever dim and life seems more a punishment than an adventure. You revisit the same old reruns, replay the same old songs, reread the same worn books, gorge yourself in whatever brief comforts food may provide, all in search of distant joys you once knew. Their echoes lead you on, but rarely deliver hope.
Did I give up? No, for I have a close and deep personal relationship with Christ. But was I shaken, challenged, broken? Oh, yes, yes, yes… almost completely... the key word being "almost." For when I consider life’s options, God is ever there, reassuring me, uplifting me. I am not unique in this case – this is true for everyone. You simply have to open your heart and mind to His presence and love. I think that's one reason the Lord put me to work this spring and summer writing The Prophet and the Dove study guide. This forced me to revisit the novel's foundation: God's love for everyone – even the lowest, most evil people in the world. Not that I see myself as evil, but I am a sinner, saved only by the blood of Christ.
All this points to a painful truth: nothing and no one rips into your heart and soul with more vicious precision than your own bitter self. Even Satan takes a backseat to your dark side… although he doesn’t mind, for your inner blackness often proves the evil one’s best partner. And yet in this, the devil runs his biggest risk, for nothing prepares aching souls for God’s healing better than physical and mental hardship. Thus the cliche, "it never rains but it pours," for Satan will seek to harden your heart as much as possible, all to encourage you to reject God's peace and grace. Yet despite all that, and in the midst of all that, our Lord will knock on that door – again and again, as often as it takes. Count on it. For when it comes to making and exploiting surprise opportunities, nothing and no one proves better at it than our Father in Heaven.
Let me share one such surprise with you. This particular one has a name – The Spawn of Fashan. It's a roleplaying game I created and sold back in my college days, only to see it draw worldwide ridicule as the worst of its kind (click on the graphic to learn more). For two decades that 1982 publication lay dormant, or so I thought, only to see it lovingly haunt me anew as divorce ripped my life apart. Multiple inquiries led me to offer the game again, spurring sporadic orders from around the globe through the next decade. Those limited revenues didn’t provide me a new career, but they did help me through all sorts of troubles. It was a strange blessing from God… still, I was glad as interest waned, for who wants to be known for something the world laughs at? Then came 2020. Amid the heartache, from out of the blue I received a Facebook message from someone in Japan named Kosaku Akako. Describing himself as a science-fiction novelist and lover of tabletop RPGs, Akako posed this question: “Is The Spawn of Fashan coming back!? Can I interview about your game and release plans?”
That floored me, for I had pondered publishing a reprint through Amazon as a magnet to my novels. So I shared some of this with him and proposed some interview options. His response blew me away.
“Wow!” he wrote. “Biggest news in 2020!”
Biggest news of 2020… considering the virus, rioting, and death, I marveled that anyone could tie such words to me. Then the truth behind that sank in… someone on the other side of the world cared about what I was doing. Someone I didn't know expressed honest appreciation for my works, my thoughts, my values.
That reminded me of the daily comments I received from a growing Instagram audience following posts of my books, photos, and songs. Often these people messaged me with words of encouragement and hope. My past skepticism towards e-communications (consider how Facebook has diluted the meaning of “friend”) led me to brush off such comments, but now my mind pondered these in a new light. This led to more in-depth conversations and contacts. Then this email arrived:
“Several years ago, (I believe 2010), I reached out to you to see if, by any chance, you still had copies of "Spawn of Fashan" available. You did, and kindly sold me a copy. During this time, you mentioned that you were going through some bad times family-wise. Overall, you seemed to be in a bad place. It seems that you're doing much better now, and I just wanted to let you know how glad I am that it is. Good luck”
Since this arrived through my website, I assume he drew his observations from posts there. But it put my public presence and personal witness in a new light, and it spurred within me renewed wonder at God's mysterious ways. It also changed the way I look into the mirror, though my dreams remain ever turbulent. For even in the depths of Christ's love, we may endure challenges and hardships. But the outcome is never in doubt if we only choose to accept Him.
Thank you for reading this! May our Lord bless you and keep you. May He make HIs face to shine upon you, and bring you peace. Amen!