I came at it a bit trepidatiously at first. I love fiction, especially fantasy, and Refiner's Fire is a book of true life experiences about people who have faced overwhelming challenges and how they overcame them. This isn't fiction. It's sobering reality. Despite that, the stories hooked me right from the start and wouldn't let me go. I read the book straight through. I laughed. I cried. I did a lot of soul searching and came out with a better understanding of myself and of God and how he works in people's lives.
The wide range of stories in this book give something for almost every reader to connect with. Seeing how other people have overcome their challenges has given me two wonderful things, and another surprising serendipity. First, I realize I am not alone in my own personal refiner's fire. Others have walked the same path I'm on and come out better in the end because of it. Second, I realize how good my life really is. All the little things that I think are so hard seem slight in comparison to some people's trials. I'm left with a profound sense of gratitude for my life.
The third thing was rather a surprising little shock, not something I'd really anticipated from reading Refiner's Fire. I'm also a writer, and for several years now have been getting the same feedback from editors, my agent, and other writers. I stopped even taking my stuff to critique groups, because I already knew what they were going to say. I needed better characterization, deeper characters, more character development. Okay sure, I get it. I know what I need, but the knowing and doing are two different things. So for a long time now I've been on a quest to study and learn and read and practice and try somehow to deepen my characters. Plot? I've got it, no problem. Deep meditative characters? Ack.
It was a day after reading Refiner's Fire that I had my little revelation. The book had made me feel things incredibly deeply, and I was still struggling to deal with those emotions. It was like a window opened up in my mind, and I realized I was repressing the whole thing. Discounting the emotions, numbing them out, pushing them down, whatever. And it was like a little voice said to me, "You're doing it again." And I realized that I have always, for as long as I can remember, been terrified of expressing my emotions.
I refuse to cry in front of people. I refuse to let myself get angry, or hate someone, or be jealous or irritated. Somewhere I figured out these were "bad" emotions, and so I wouldn't ever let myself express them. I read back through Refiner's Fire paying special attention to how people had not only felt and expressed these emotions, they'd even gone so far as to write about them in a book for others to read. For my part, I can't even bring myself to write about that kind of thing in my own journal where no one will probably ever see it. Just the thought of doing that brings me close to a panic attack.
Then another thought came very clearly to me. If I can't even allow myself to express my own emotions, how in the world do I expect to be able to give my character emotions?
Oh, there's a thought. The problem isn't my writing or my characters, it's me on a very deep level. Of course, the thought of expressing any really strong emotion negative or positive scares me to death, I've made a goal to admit that I have these emotions and try to find good productive ways to actually express them. So now I've shared my deepest confession online for everyone to read. Shudder. I'm making a public goal here, to try to express my emotions.
So right now today I am feeling . . . terrified that I'm actually going to post this. And extremely grateful to Candace and Elizabeth for writing such a wonderful book that has impacted my life so amazingly.
Here is a terrific interview with Candace about the book.
I've also sent her some of my own interview questions which I will post here as soon as I can.