Here’s something you may not know about me: I am rooting for you. I root for (almost) everyone.
I want people to achieve their dreams. To overcome obstacles. To learn, grow and live a happy life. I guess you could say I’m a cheerleader at heart.
But I’m also realistic. Pragmatic. Sensible. I know the odds are not (forever) in your favor (yes, I am lame enough to make a play on this infamous Hunger Games phrase!). So while I’m hoping against hope that dreams are achieved, addictions are overcome and lotteries are won; in truth, at times, I end up…disappointed.
But then I remember; sometimes dreams really do come true. Some people overcome. Some people beat the odds. Victory happens. It inspires me.
Author William P. Young is one of those people. Perhaps you’ve never heard of him. Or, if you’re like me, perhaps you read his 2008 bestseller, The Shack. I had the opportunity to hear Young speak at Grace Community Church last week. The topic: Where’s God When.
Even if you didn’t like the book, keep reading this post. Young’s story is a fascinating one. All I can say is, wow.
First, a bit about the book. The Shack is a bit out there. The story starts with the reader finding Mack, the main character, shrouded in anger and misery over the events in his life. He is unhappy, hopeless and yet doing nothing to change. This married father of three cannot see anything good about life, he is stuck. He is angry.
Then one day he receives a letter in the mail. The letter is an invitation to come visit Papa for the weekend. Mack, who grew up in an abusive home, no longer speaks to his father. And the place he is to being asked to visit is an abandoned shack where his young daughter’s bloody clothing was found after she was abducted and killed. So the question is: who sent the letter? Who exactly is Papa?
Mack isn’t sure. The note could be from his father, could be from his daughter’s killer, or he wonders if perhaps it is from God. Out of curiosity he decides to go to the shack. Indeed, the note is from God who in this story is portrayed as an African American woman named Elousia. Over the weekend he has many conversations with Elousia. He also meets Jesus, a carpenter of course, and Sarayu, an Asian woman representing the Holy Spirit. The entire story is about Mack coming to terms with his daughter’s death and other disappoints in his life. It’s a story about finding hope, about where God is when bad things happen.
Whether you found the book gripping or as some say, heretical, here’s what I think: the story of William P. Young’s life is even more compelling than the book he wrote.
Young was born to missionaries and moved to Africa with his family as a baby. Here he grew up in the wild with an African tribe. Unbeknownst to his parents, tribe members sexually abused him regularly; it began before he turned six. In addition, his father, repeating the cycle his father had taught him, abused Young for most of his childhood.
At age six, Young was sent off to a boarding school for children of missionaries. Here he spent nine months of every year away from the only family he’d ever known. The school, which was run by missionaries, was not the safe haven one would think it to be. I am horrified to report that here again, the school children were abused regularly.
Young’s upbringing seems not to have deterred him from his faith, however it did cause a myriad of issues for him as an adult. He admits to being obsessed with pleasing people and God, of succumbing to sexually addiction, having an affair and at one point, being so broke that he had to sell his family’s home. He tried to keep his issues hidden but once the facade fell, everything in his life fell apart. In his worst moments, he thought suicide to be the best option for himself and his family. He had a plan, a place, and luckily, someone to stop him from going through with it.
Young says it took over ten years to turn his life around. Ten years. For ten years, he kept trying, kept praying, kept striving to heal his brokenness. I’m not sure I could last that long. He worked hard to tear down the walls he’d created in his life, to learn to love himself, and to become brave enough to ask others for help. Ten years it took. It wasn’t until after he’d healed that he wrote The Shack.
He wrote the story to give as a Christmas gift for his children when he couldn’t afford to buy them anything else. Having a few extra copies, he shared these with friends. Word of mouth led to increased readership. Eventually demand led to it being published. At present The Shack has sold over 15 million copies and is currently being made into a movie by Forest Whitaker.
A difficult childhood. A messy addiction-filled adult life. A broken man who was once shrouded in shame is now telling his story to the entire world. That’s what God can do. That’s what faith can do. That’s why I’ll never put away my pom-poms or give up hope. It’s worth a little disappointment here and there.