Author Janell Butler Wojtowicz joins us today to share one of her favorite pieces of fiction and how it collides with faith. Janell was born and raised on an Iowa farm, was one of those kids who loved to write the dreaded “What I did on summer vacation” essay. It’s no surprise that she has spent her entire 30-year career in writing, including journalism, Christian higher education public relations, and local government public information. She is a freelance writer/editor, and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Janell and her husband, Frank, live in New Brighton, Minnesota.
Please welcome Janell!
One of the first Christian romances I read was “Rainbow’s End”, by Irene Hannon (Love Inspired, 2007). I was new to writing the genre and was learning the craft by reading novels a dozen at a time. (Tough job, but someone has to do it, right?!) Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of Christian romances, some with strong threads of faith, others with subtle stitching.
But I still return to the story of Keith and Jill in “Rainbow’s End.” In fact, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it. Keith, a pastor who was betrayed. Jill, an artist, who was disfigured. Both widowed. Both wary of, but desperate for love. Both wanting to rescue a little boy, but not sure how. But it was how Keith and Jill’s faith was restored after being broken by loss and the unfairness of life that has stuck with me. Especially after it happened in my family.
I’ve never had my faith shattered by loss. Shaken, yes. My dad died of brain cancer at age 77, just three months after he fell ill. We barely had time to come to grips with the prognosis before he was gone. My mother bravely began a new and often difficult life without her love of 53 years. The death of my 26-year-old nephew in a small plane crash punched me in the gut. However, my grief was more for my brother, sister-in-law and nieces than me. Then our family suffered a different kind of brokenness when my cousin was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Both my father and nephew died while I was writing my novel, “Embracing Hope”, a story of loss and brokenness. Fiction had hit too close to home and I had to put the novel on the shelf during those times. Like my characters, and Keith and Jill, my family struggled with their faith and questioned God. Why was life so hard and unfair? Once time had passed I found it natural—even cathartic to insert fragments of my family’s experiences in “Embracing Hope.”
Of course, “Rainbow’s End” and my novel have happy endings. In fiction—Christian fiction especially—tragedies are overcome, faith is renewed, wonderful new lives ensue. You close the book with a sigh of contentment and a smile, then move on to the next story.
But we all know from experience that happy endings are elusive in reality. We move from crisis to crisis with periods of peace, success and happiness tucked in between. We wonder why some suffer more than others. We grumble about those who never seem to suffer.
Yet we press on, resting on the fact—not fiction!—that someday our family will experience the grandest of happy endings with reunions and perfect bodies in heaven.
Until then, the trials and losses on earth will continue, which is where we have to let faith take over. Faith that God will work everything together for good. Faith in things hoped for, but not yet seen. Faith that brings victory to overcome the world.
Here’s a description for Janell’s new book:
Christian college dean Drew McKinley mourns his dead wife and still wears his wedding ring. He stumbles on a desperate journey to understand God’s motives for her tragic death. Crossing his perilous path is Allison, a graduate student and new employee in the dean’s office. Even as she deals with financial hardships, she recognizes Drew’s unresolved grief from her own loss. Putting up a roadblock is Chris Whitney, the handsome but egotistical student senate president. He carries the secret burden of a dysfunctional family and a below-the-surface temper. The road Drew must navigate is fraught with career upheaval, a reawakening heart, substance and domestic abuse, a violent assault, and the struggle for forgiveness and restoration. Will Drew finish his journey to embrace the hope God offers, the love Allison shares, and the guidance Chris needs, or will he turn his back on all three with catastrophic consequences?
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