I couldn't believe it. My hero was not at all what I'd imagined.
I'd run across her obscure but charming little novel in the 80s and fallen completely, surprisingly, obsessively smitten with her wise, witty, resonating characters and the subtle but searing Christian message that gripped my soul.
I'd never read anything like that. Why, I didn't know it was possible to write like that. My heart was moved. I was inspired. Hey, maybe, just maybe ... one day I could touch someone's heart like that with the written word too.
I tried to contact her several times during the next three decades—as I followed my own writer's journey—to tell her what her little book meant to me, but only ran into dead ends. She seemed to have fallen off the planet. Every few years, I'd reread the book and become hopelessly smitten all over again, try to find her and fail.
By the summer of 2014 I knew by personal experience how very, very much it means to hear affirmation from your readers so I decided to try one last time to reach her. This time, it worked. I actually uncovered an active e-dress and whoa doggies ... she responded.
I was star struck. Here, at last, was one of my earliest writing heroes in the flesh. One of the primary motivators that pushed my own writing upward from once-a-year Christmas newsletter status to award-winning author.
As we corresponded and I learned more about her life and teachings, it began dawning on me gradually. Painfully. She wasn't what I expected. Oh, she was a very nice lady, but not at all what I'd pictured in my fertile imagination and built up to be bigger than life ... a super nova Christian. A force of nature so in touch with Papa God that being with her would feel supernaturally like being in His very presence.
It was a bit like the time years ago that I heard Bob Saget open his mouth in a comedy routine and was completely horrified by the profanity that gushed out. What? Who was this rabid impostor who looked exactly like the kind, lovable, squeaky clean dad on Full House all those years I was a die-hard fan? How could this foul-mouthed man squash my well-ordered expectations like that?
Nope. People sometimes aren't what we expect. Not at all the person we thought we knew.
I guess that's why I strive so hard for authenticity in my writing and speaking ministries. Genuinity (I don't think that's a real word, but it ought to be) is very important to me. Above all, I want to be real—to demonstrate how a sincere follower of Christ can blow it, fall flat on her face, but get up again and know she is just as beloved by her Papa God despite her stupicity (another word that should be), drastic mistakes in judgment, and ugliness. Yes, even ugliness.
Because I think Papa God looks through our ugliness. I imagine He looks at me—and you—through little round Benjamin Franklin eyeglass lenses made entirely of love. The same kind I wear when my preschool grandbuddy does something intentionally defiant but I love him to pieces anyway.
It really makes my day when someone says, "You know, Deb, you write just like you talk." Good. Raw is good. Transparency is good. Real is good. Especially in fallible people. Like Christians. Because realness is relatable and restores hope. And for cryin' out loud, don't we all need more of that?
So my New Year's resolution this year is to surround myself with more genuinity. And to not just hear someone say, "Hey, Deb, you write like you talk, " but "Hey, Deb, you write like you live."
Debora M. Coty is the author of 10 books and is a newspaper columnist, orthopedic occupational therapist and tennis addict. Follow her on Twitter @deboracoty.