In her first book, Love Amid the Ashes (read review) author Mesu Andrews tackles the story of Job, perhaps Scripture’s second-most famous story on suffering (the first being Jesus, of course). In excruciating detail, Andrews articulates Job’s trials—the smell and seepage from his physical wounds, the agony of loss, and yes, his restoration by God. Using her life as a canvas, Andrews writes as one who has and does live with chronic pain and illness. It is with great pleasure that I present Mesu Andrews’ Take 5 with Backseat Writer.
Dinah, the daughter of the third patriarch, Jacob, is molested at the hands of the Shechemites, which causes Jacob great distress—because his sons take revenge. Dinah’s is never mentioned again! Why did you choose to complete her story?
Actually, she is mentioned once more in Scripture: Genesis 46:15, where she’s included in the list of Jacob’s family going to Egypt. I fell in love with Dinah when I read Anita Diamant’s, Red Tent. I was fascinated by the possibilities of Dinah’s future after reading Ms. Diamant’s account. However, writing her into Job’s story was not at all my idea! When I began researching Job’s wife, ancient Jewish tradition was split on her identity. Some believed Job’s wife to be the same woman at the beginning of his suffering and at the end, giving birth to all twenty of his children. Another source said Job had two wives, one in the beginning (who died) and a second wife at the end of his suffering. A third source combined the two stories and gave other interesting details to weave into the biblical narrative. Further research named Job as the “Jobab” listed in Genesis 36, meaning Job would have been Esau’s great-grandson. The more research I did, the more Job’s and Dinah’s stories converged. It was like a grand puzzle, putting together the corner and edge pieces and then filling in the middle as it progressed!
I think merging the characters of Dinah and Job is an interesting choice, but some may argue that you are “adding to the Bible.” How do you respond to these naysayers?
I write fiction. But because my stories are based on the unalterable truths of God’s Word, I feel a responsibility to accurately relate the details of Scripture. If I ever write something that conflicts with Scripture, it is an honest oversight (because there is only One flawless Author). That being said, let me share the reason I write BIBLICAL fiction. God’s Word is like the air I breathe. I need it. I love it. I’m passionate about it, and I long for others to experience its life-giving truth. As a pastor’s wife, I heard repeatedly, “I just don’t get anything out of reading my Bible.” Before my health issues, I used to teach Bible studies and offer the added information of a Scripture’s context, culture and setting. These human factors gave biblical passages life and breath to those listening. My goal in writing biblical fiction is NOT that folks read my books instead of Scripture. My goal is that Love Amid the Ashes will send readers back to their Bibles to check out what God’s Word says to them about these living, breathing, suffering, redeemed characters.
My mother also suffers from fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue as well as a host of other physical ailments. How did your illness contribute to your understand of Job’s (and Dinah’s) suffering?
I think our understanding of Scripture deepens when we identify with the biblical character we’re reading about. I had studied the Book of Job several years ago, while I was in the throes of my early diagnoses, feeling alone, betrayed, unloved by God. Job’s words have a rawness about them that get to the heart of the most desperate of hearts. Later, when I had worked through much of my own emotion, I needed the Lord’s guidance as my family worked through their adjustment to my illnesses. Part of the reason I wrote this book from the perspective of the women in Job’s life was because I wanted people to understand the emotional strain on caregivers, how it feels to watch someone so vibrant and capable dwindle to such a level of dependence. However, writing after I’d worked through many of the emotions of my illness enabled me to really celebrate the redemption that comes when God reveals Himself in a big way.
The story of Job is very important to you personally because you learned through your own struggles that Job didn’t learn why he suffered, but he learned who God is in the midst of his suffering. How had the same been true for you?
Oh, this one I must blame on my critique partners. Meg and Velynn are—well—graciously ruthless. Is that possible? They love me into complete disclosure. They won’t let me submit a manuscript until I have bled on the page. The first draft of Love Amid the Ashes was very clinical and precise in its analysis of Job’s suffering, whining and redemption. But, as my partners gently pointed out, I hadn’t experienced God with my character, Job. It had been years since I’d dealt with the pain and disappointment of chronic illness. Years since I’d grieved the life changes necessary due to lack of energy, daily migraines, constant pain. I didn’t want to feel again what Job experienced. I just wanted to write about him and what God showed him. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. So, for a couple of weeks, God and I got real honest about suffering. I discovered that He hadn’t changed, but I had. My tantrum didn’t last quite as long this time, and He opened the same warm arms to embrace me. My accusations weren’t quite as loud, and He uttered the same quiet assurances to soothe me. Sometimes, you just gotta roll up your sleeves and dive in. He’s waiting. I still whine some. I still yell at Him some. But all-in-all, He overwhelms me with His presence and love; and I remember WHO He is…and the other stuff fades.
Now, onto a lighter question, tell me about a hilarious embarrassing incident. Come on, we’re all human, after all!
Oh, I don’t have trouble sharing an embarrassing incident, just deciding WHICH embarrassing incident to share! Many years ago, I sang in a church choir next to a college student majoring in Voice Performance. She was fabulous! High soprano, vocal chords like an angel…which made me sound spectacular since I stood by her. I was feeling pretty good about hitting the high notes with her, and even more confident when the director stationed the two of us next to the microphone during our Easter cantata. At the most crucial moment of the musical, the soloist held her last note, and my singing buddy and I hit that ultra high C and held it…until I belched. The sound, of course, was amplified through the sound system, and my high C partner and I hid behind our music folders, giggling through the rest of the performance. The worst part of the whole thing was that I had prayed before the performance, “Lord, I’m feeling a little proud of my voice. Keep me humble, Lord. Don’t let me become arrogant.” I’ve never prayed that prayer again before any public event.
Because Mesu Andrews is such a lovely woman, dash to her website (MesuAndrews.com) for all sorts of goodies, including a preview of the first chapter of Love Amid the Ashes as well as a Bible study and discussion questions for the book. You can even sign up for Mesu’s free weekly e-devotionals!