You Never Know…

Are you discouraged? Keep writing.

You never know what God might do with your words.

In the late ‘90s, I wrote Blind Sight a suspense novel about a man who was struggling with God’s goodness in tragedy. Near the end of the book my protagonist, a man who lost his wife and two children in a car accident, understands that God is good even when circumstances are not.

Like all new authors, when Blind Sight was released in 2003 I had dreams of a bestseller. But that wasn’t to be. The book’s sales were mediocre at best and, when my second royalty statement showed massive returns—and a large deficit—I was crushed.

I pouted for a few weeks, but eventually realized that I was being selfish. Finally I prayed, “Lord, I wrote this book for you and I’m giving it back to you. If you’ll use it in even one life, I’ll be happy.”

Time passed and Blind Sight was consigned to the ranks of out-of-print books.

But God wasn’t finished with it.

On March 1, 2008, a terrible tragedy happened not far from where I live. Two men broke into the home of Terry and Penny Caffey. They shot Terry, Penny, and their two sons. Then they set the house on fire. Even though he’d been shot five times at point blank range, Terry survived and managed to escape the burning house. Terry’s wife and sons died. Even worse, his teenage daughter Erin was implicated in the crime.

Although Terry was a Christian, he struggled deeply in the aftermath of the tragedy. He couldn’t understand why God took his family or why He made him go on living.

About six weeks after the murders, Terry went back to his property to “have it out with God.” He stood on the ashes of his house and cried out, “God why did you take my family? I need an answer and I need it today.”

At that moment, he saw a brown, scorched piece of paper leaning against a tree. Terry picked it up.

It was a single page from my novel. But it wasn’t just any page. It was the page where my protagonist—a man who has lost a wife and two children—comes to grips with God’s sovereignty in his loss.

The first words on the page were, “I couldn’t understand why You would take my family and leave me to struggle along without them…but I do believe You’re sovereign. You’re in control.”

God used those words to turn Terry Caffey’s life around, and now he travels all over the country sharing an incredible story of grace and forgiveness. At this very moment, he is in Slovakia, sharing his story.

My novel wasn’t a bestseller, but God took one page from it and changed a life. And now that man is touching thousands.

Don’t be discouraged. Keep writing.

You never know what God might do with your words.

92 Replies to “You Never Know…”

  1. Wow! What an amazing and powerful story. You’ve shown that when you give your writing to God, awesome things can happen, and that success isn’t defined by dollars or prestige. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow! I can understand the dissappointment with the lack of sales, but being used by God, even better. Thanks for the reminder that treasures in heaven is life’s goal. How wonderful for you to have been allowed to see how God used your words for His glory and another’s good.

    1. Thanks, Melissa. After I learned about this, I said that if I never sell another book, I’ll still feel fulfilled as a writer. It was an incredible gift for God to allow me to see him work so powerfully.

  3. What an awesome story, James. Thanks for posting it. God authors the best stories and we’re blessed to share them with each other.

  4. Well that just made me cry! I want God to use my writing that powerfully. In my head I have my own agenda and plans for being successful and they include such good things as…supporting some of the area ministries, helping to support my new non-profit ministry… I have to keep reminding myself that my agenda is not his, my vision is not his, but most importantly, I and my writing belong to him. I need to start every day and every writing session dedicated to him. Thank you so much. This was such a powerful story.

    On a different note, “performance chalk artist”? Do you do chalk talks? I haven’t seen anyone do one of those since I was a kid (long time ago!!). I am fascinated by the talent and artistry of those and always wished I could do that. Just wanted to say I think that is sooo cool! 🙂

    1. Yes, I’ve been doing chalk talks for 33 years now. I’ve drawn in camps, churches, prisons, pretty much anywhere they’ll let me set up my easel. It’s a blast.

  5. Thank you for this spot-on article James. I always wanted to be a writer and my first 2 novels focus on child abuse/neglect, a subject hard for some to read, but stories I felt compelled to write. The main characters are men and I have been amazed at the response I’ve received from grown men who tell me their own stories and seem relieved to be allowed to vent some of their own journey. I’m not a best selling author, but I knew that road was difficult going in. The reward for my writing has been the heartfelt responses I have received from readers. I pray I am God’s vessel for change and hope.

    1. One of these days, after we get to heaven, I believe that God will let us see what he did through our words. We’ll have a giant writers conference and worship Him together.

  6. what a great reminder that our life, our talents, our gifts, are not about us but about Him. so often i lose sight of that in my desire to think i have to do something big to change the world. God doesn’t need big, He just needs obedience…because He sees further down the road than we do. and He has the better plan…always. thanks for sharing your story and inspiring the rest of us!!!

  7. Thanks so much for reminding us that we don’t just write to sell books and get a following. Such a good and needed reminder. When you asked the questions “Are you discouraged?” I just might have said out loud “Yes!” 🙂

    1. Awesome. When you share this story with your writers group, let them know that my book that tells Mr. Caffey’s story, “Terror by Night” is going to be made available as a free e-book download beginning tomorrow.

  8. That’s an amazing story and points us back to the heart of writing. Thank you for sharing your passion and humility. I don’t expect to be a bestselling author but I do expect God to do good things with a heart that’s submitted.

  9. Thanks for a powerful post! I think perhaps everyone who read it came away with that “wow” feeling. What a wonderful testimony to the power of words.

    1. Thanks, Katie. Same here. Now that God has allowed me to have a “sneak peek” of what he can do through my writing, my entire perspective has changed.

  10. If it it weren’t true, it’d sound like fiction. Forced fiction writing. And isn’t that just like God? To make our real stories so much more fantastic than what we end up putting to paper.

    What a morsel to hold onto.

    Thank you. And good timing for some inspiration. 🙂

    1. Lol. You’re so right. I’ve said many times that if I had written this as a novel, my editors would have rolled their eyes and kicked it back to me for a rewrite.

      BTW, Mr. Caffey and I wrote this story up as a book, and Tyndale is making it available as a free e-book for several weeks, starting tomorrow. So, if you want to know the story in more detail, check it out.

  11. WOW! What a powerful reminder that as Christian writers our job is to be obedient to His call, to write for Him and to put our work out there. His job is to bring those to it that will be impacted by the words. The world may ask if we are successful by the numbers sold, how many fans we have or how much money we make but God doesn’t judge success that way. He asks if we are obedient to His way. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. How true. I have to constantly remind myself to think in terms of how God defines success. That’s a lot easier for me now that I’ve seen what He can do with just a couple of sentences from one 400-page book.

    1. Gwen,
      It was a long time before I could tell this story without crying. Even now, when I’m telling it in a church or group setting, the tears sometimes flow. It’s just such a powerful story of how God has worked.

  12. This is quite inspiring and motivating. Even more so, is to realize that more lives have been affected by this book, but their stories have not yet been shared.

  13. God is so much bigger…so much better…so much MORE than we imagine or know.

    Wonderful story, James.

  14. Wow. Such a great post. I love this. Often as writers we wonder, “Am I really making an impact? What’s the return on my investment?” We forget that it’s not about us, and that God can and will use our words for a greater purpose. We just don’t always get to see the result (or we have to wait for years…..).

    Thanks for your encouragement to all of us.

    1. That was probably the most important lesson I learned through this. It’s not about me. And it was indeed a privilege to get to see (this side of heaven) a little of what God is doing. 🙂

  15. Thank you so much for your post. It is such an encouragement. It is so easy to become frustrated and discouraged trying to get someone to even read a manuscript but after your post I felt lifted up. Thank you for sharing. I pray one day I can touch a life as you did.

    Glenda Parker

  16. James, what an incredible story. Thank you for sharing it and reminding us that’s it’s really NOT about us; rather how God uses what we write to draw others to Him. I’m keeping this post close by as I work on my first book as a reminder to always keep in mind one who may find a stray page of my book in the ashes of their life and choose to look up to God again. Thank you so much for this.

  17. Thanks for the encouragement. God used your words in you book to bless and encourage Terry Caffey. Now He’s using your words to bless and encourage us fellow writers.

    Isn’t it wonderful when He shows you just a little bit of the big picture. What a gift.

  18. Thank you for being willing to keep writing when you still had no idea of why you were supposed to be doing it. What grace to have a glimpse into how your words were used to lift someone else up in the middle of their darkness. We got news of a young man losing his struggle with addiction yesterday that we’ve known for a long time and then I read your post. Thank you for the reminder just when I needed it that God is there in all things.

    1. I read about your friend on the WSWC Facebook page. I’m so sorry. It’s in situations like that that we must fall back on God’s goodness and sovereignty. When we can’t trace his hand, we must trust his heart.

  19. And it is evident by the comments to this inspiring post that God continues to use your words in extraordinary ways. A writer must wrestle with obedience, too, especially when the air is dry and still. But God is always faithful to raise His purpose up from the ashes and even lift heavy spirits with a single page.

  20. I read your post earlier today, and it stayed with me all day long. It’s an inspiring reminder to not let discouragement have the last word in defining who we are as writers. Neither should sales–although that’s the usual measuring stick of success, isn’t it? But not in God’s eyes.
    Thanks, James, for the reminder.

  21. God is amazing! We see it so much more clearly after we surrender our own ideas of how He’s supposed to work. Thanks for sharing; it was indeed a confirmation for me.

  22. Soaring to the top of The New York Times best seller list pales in comparison to the lofty heights your novel reached. Thank you for sharing this powerful story. Your novel continues to touch lives. Success, indeed!

  23. Huge lump in my throat. God is good. Eternal impact. Impact that continues . . . worth all the blood, sweat, and tears of your effort. Your words–golden in the hands of God. Wow.

  24. This gave me chills too. I’m not a writer but it’s good to be reminded of what a big God we serve.
    Thank you so much.I will be looking forward to reading Mr. Caffey’s story, “Terror by Night” . I will post this on my facebook page.

  25. Amazing how God can use writing and words that may never reach best-seller status to touch and change lives. In this case, sounds like your novel may have reached out and touched and blessed more lives than many best sellers have done. I can only pray that God will use LAST RESORT to bless, heal, and touch others as well. BJ Robinson

    1. Thank you, Max.

      BTW, Tyndale is making the book version of this story, “Terror by Night” available as a free Kindle, etc. download for the month of October. Hope you get a chance to check it out.

  26. I have seen chalk performances by Sarah Malley – they are really special. Thanks for telling the story about the page from your book being Providentially found. That is so amazing. My dreams for my writing aren’t as high-minded, but I don’t really have specific dreams about people being blessed by them. I just write with my God-given abilities and having something like this happen is so outside normal…Wow.

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