Monday, February 25, 2013

Cross Roads... life, seasons, a book

It has been a truly unusual morning. My cheeks are cold and wet. Cold, because I just spent the past hour sitting outside on my patio reading. It is 39 degrees outside. Wet, because the book I was reading was Wm. Paul Young’s Cross Roads.
Initially, I ventured outdoors out of curiosity. Yesterday at church, my friend, Anton, asked me if my crocuses were out yet. I couldn’t answer truthfully, because I hadn’t checked. Besides, it’s February. Surely, at best, they were barely breaking ground. 

Imagine my surprise, and delight, to discover I was wrong. Feeble, and a bit sickly looking, there they were. A cluster of purple flowers, greeting the day, seemingly as oblivious to the chill in the air as I was. Perhaps focused more on the warmth of the sun, which was such a welcome respite from the grey days of icy rain. 

There they were, peeking out through the mud, amidst stray autumn leaves that blew across the yard and settled under bushes. There they were, offering a glimpse of hope, just like the book I just finished.

The sun’s warmth felt good on my winter weary skin. So much so, that I decided to spend some time savoring it. I went inside, poured a cup of coffee and grabbed a shawl, my camera and the book. My intention was to read a few pages while I drank my coffee, and then come inside to get warm. Instead, I remained outside, despite the clouds that shielded me from warmth time and time again, and I finished the novel.

Tears threatened to fall, and I let them. Freely they flowed down my cold cheeks as I took in the wonderful story wrapping up in the last chapters of the book. Freely they flowed down my sun-kissed cheeks as I, once again, felt the overwhelming burden of loss of my mother’s death, just 40 short days again. I sat outside on this sunny, but cold, winter day, and I wept. Ahh… the cleansing power of tears.

When I found out Wm. Paul Young had a new book coming out, I was thrilled. After all, his debut novel, The Shack, is my favorite novel ever. Even my husband, who was a skeptic at first (Father God portrayed as a black woman… come on!), gave the novel a chance and ended up loving it, too. Now, in his case, it didn’t take the place of his all-time favorite, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, but it’s close. 

I contacted Mr. Young and told him about my blog and that I post reviews… would he be interested in sending me his new book for review. He graciously responded, informing me he would forward my info to his publisher. Sarah, responded quickly, and said she’d send out a book right away. 

That was in December. Since I received the book, my life took a dramatic turn and mimicked some of the pages in Cross Roads. The main character of the book, Anthony Spencer, spends the majority of his time gracing the chapters in a coma. On January 12th, my mother had 3 massive strokes and never regained consciousness. She was in a coma until she passed 3 days later. The main character of the book I was engaged in and my mother were traveling the same journey… did they experience similar crossroads? I have no way of knowing. But the parallel did not go unnoticed, which is probably why it took me so long to finish the book. There were days I just couldn’t go there

All of my personal issues aside, the book is an absolute gem. Young does not disappoint in this much-anticipated second novel. He proves, once again, his ability to think outside the box when it comes to faith issues. While the “religious” among us seemingly love to put God in their own, clearly defined, boxes, Young sets Him free and makes the reader think about the Trinity in a whole new light. 

Is the book theologically correct? Who knows? It’s a novel, and not intended to be read as anything but. As a novel, it has suspense, humor, twists and gut-wrenching realities that make it hard to put down (barring any family crises… ). Above all, however, its plot is original and refreshing. While at times it may mirror the reader’s own personal demons, it shines brightly with a message of redemption.

For me, the only problem with the book is that there are uncanny similarities to the novel I am working on, which I started before I delved into this treasure of Wm. Paul Young’s. Now, I have no choice but to change some of my book, so as to not sound as though I am copying his. That only means I am challenged to make my story even better than it originally was, right?

The Shack changed my life. It made me see the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in a new and refreshing way, especially in the way it personalized the Holy Spirit for me. Cross Roads does the same, challenging the reader to think about the crossroads between here and the afterlife/eternity with new eyes, almost as if we were seeing through another’s.

It begins:

Some years in Portland, Oregon, winter is a bully, spitting sleet and spewing snow in fits and starts as it violently wrestles days from spring, claiming some archaic right to remain king of the seasons – ultimately the vain attempt of another pretender. This year was not like that.

Tony, the protagonist in this novel, is unlikeable… initially. By the time Young finishes weaving his story, however, I wanted Tony to be part of my life. I wanted him to get inside my head and see through my eyes. I wanted him to teach me lessons I stubbornly refuse to learn. Lessons like this one:

Tony was overwhelmed by the holiness of the everyday, the bits and pieces of light that surrounded and embraced the simple routines and tasks of the ordinary. 

The “holiness of the everyday.” Isn’t that a marvelous concept? When was the last time I considered a day to be holy? Yes, the novel convicted me. I was/am convicted of taking the simplest things for granted. Simple things like crocuses surviving the brutal curse of winter and emerging unscathed. People surviving the brutal curse of abuse and embracing grace. Amazing. But then again, grace always is.

While it takes a while to love, or even like, Tony, it is easy to find affection for Cabby, a 16-year-old with Down’s Syndrome, or Maggie, a charismatic African American who pulls you in and doesn’t seem to let go until she has you “doing church” in your own living room. You laugh with her. You cry with her. And she makes you want to pop in some good ol’ Gospel music. Now that I’m finished with the book, I know I’m going to miss Maggie. 

Would I recommend Cross Roads? In a nanosecond. My plan was to finish the book and then pass it on to my mother. That’s not going to happen now, and that, like so many other things, makes me sad. But then I remember a few scattered lines from Chapter 15 of the book:

“Don’t you understand? I am not sorry. I wanted to be here [heaven]. This isn’t about me, this is about you… I am better than you can imagine. I am a melody, too.”

Cross Roads, like The Shack, will be a melody I will hear for years to come. And when the melody starts to fade, I’ll revisit them. For in these books, I find a reflection of God I do not often find in theological commentaries or even in my mind’s own distortions. This is a God of extraordinary grace. 

Once again, Wm. Paul Young has revealed Him in this praise-worthy book.

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