Thursday, April 19, 2012

Backstory: "Angels Unawares"

This installment of my "Backstory" series not only celebrates a short story of mine that is now available as an e-book on Smashwords, but it also represents a major step into the "Way-Back" machine.  "Angels Unawares" is the first story I ever published in any form.  It was originally posted onto a site called back in 2003 and no longer appears on that site.  Granted, publishing there at the time was really easy: Just post your story.  No editors, no acceptances or rejections.  The first story of mine to actually get accepted by an editor was "The Other Woman," which is also on Smashwords and which will be the next "Backstory" entry.  But I digress.

As you might have notiiced, the title comes straight from Scripture.  In the King James Version, Hebrews 13:2 reads, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."  It's always been a thought-provoking verse for me, and in this case, it gave birth to a story.  I came across the verse in my devotional reading one day, and the idea just started to build in my mind from there.

The story itself was written back in 2003, a very tumultuous time in my life.  A year before, my first marriage had disintegrated, and I was only getting to see my then-four-year-old daughter every other weekend.  Because I was pastoring a church in a small town in western Georgia, I got hit with the additional blow of that career ending, as the by-laws of that and many other Southern Baptist church prohibited a divorced man from serving as pastor, regardless of the reason for the divorce.  In short, my world had been effectively shattered.  I found myself back in my former (and current) hometown of Griffin, GA--working full-time as a long-term substitute teacher in an elementary school special education class, working part-time in a Chick-fil-A restuarant to make ends meet, living in a one-bedroom apartment, and struggling along from month to month.  Though I can say that I never turned my back on my faith during that time, it was a very dark period of my life, with a lot of doubts and questions for God that weren't getting answered to my satisfaction, not to mention a lot of loneliness, bitterness, and depression to sort through.

It was out of this place in my life that the protagonist for "Angels Unawares," Dr. Thom Staples, was born.  "Thom" was a shortening of Thomas, as in "doubting Thomas," and "Staples" came from the S in the name of a former atheist who later became a great Christian author and theologian, C.S. Lewis himself.  I crafted his name to symbolize the doubts I was experiencing, coupled with the hope of Christ making all things new.  Dr. Staples wasn't a likable character, nor was he meant to be.  I wanted him to represent the road not taken, the result of what happens when a faith crisis causes a man to turn his back on God.  Putting all the bitterness and woe into him, and letting it spill over into everything he did, seemed the logical result.

So hopefully you'll check out my first-ever published story and leave me some feedback.  I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for stopping by.  Philippians 4:13.--SMS

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