Friday, November 14, 2008

A View from Joan Hochstetler's Window!

It is truly an honor to have Joan Hochstetler with me today! Joan is not only the author of four terrific books, but she is the founder of Sheaf House publications. Joan actively seeks God's direction in her life in all areas, and she has fought her own faith-battles over the years. Her latest novel, One Holy Night will renew your faith in God's perfect design for our lives even in the midst of difficulties we can't understand.

Please, give a warm welcome to Joan Hochstetler!

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

One of the main ways I try to make sense of life is to write stories about it. So One Holy Night grew out of my wrestling with the kinds of gritty issues that impact our lives every day—intergenerational and interracial conflict, addictions, war, illness, death, and divorce. We all know families or individuals who have gone through difficult times, and we’ve all encountered our own personal times of brokenness. I certainly have. And over the years I’ve questioned how we can make sense of our lives and find purpose, strength, and healing.

I first started tinkering with the idea for this story back in the late 1980s when I was working with another author on a book of short stories that revolved around Christmas. I was assigned to write a miracle story, so One Holy Night started out as a short story with the same basic idea but set right after WWII. When the project got shelved, I put it aside and forgot all about it for a long time.

Around 1998 or 1999, I got it out again, set it in the Vietnam era, and then worked on it off and on for a couple of years. Then 9-11 happened, and right around the same time a young mother in our church was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, an

d then died within a year. The following year my parents both died as the result of a car accident. The wars in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, were in all the headlines, and as the casualty count grew so did the opposition.Commentators began to compare the war in Iraq with the quagmire of Vietnam—a conflict I was well acquainted with since I was in high school and college during those years.

So all these things started to find their way into this story set in 1967 about a family in a small town in Minnesota that is faced with these kinds of issues while the son is away, serving in Vietnam.

Was any of your family ever affected by the Viet Nam war? In what way?

My brother served in Viet Nam, as did a number of boys who graduated from our high school or attended college with us. We personally knew families who had a son serving, and one from my graduating high school class died in the war. Thankfully my brother came home. We had friends who wrestled with whether they should move to Canada if their number came up in the draft. Some did, while others, like my brother reluctantly decided to serve, and then were forever changed by that experience. Many of us were actively opposed to the war, and some participated in anti-war protests. So it was a very personal thing. I suspect that no one who didn’t go through it can really understand how chaotic that time was in our nation’s history and how deeply it affected those of us who experienced it.

Do you think bitterness against the Asian people still exists because of this war? Why?

I do believe for some it still does, and to some extent that’s understandable. So many people have been personally affected by the wars our country has been engaged in. There’s been suffering—whether through the death or severe injury of a loved one or some extent of economic sacrifice. And it’s human nature to be suspicious of those who look different from us or have done us harm in some way. We assume that all those who share physical characteristics are the same in personality, character, and belief when that isn’t true at all.

What is so inspiring and hopeful is that there have been amazing stories of forgiveness and reconciliation between those who fought on opposite sides. Senator John McCain is one well-known example of that, of course. But prejudice, whether against Asians, African Americans, Hispanics, or others is alive and well in this country, to our shame. I totally agree with Martin Luther King, Jr., that people should be judged not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. So I hope and pray that One Holy Night will encourage readers to think about these issues and open their hearts to the urging of the Holy Spirit to extend God’s love to all those around them, no matter what their racial, ethnic, or religious group.

Cancer - and any other terminal illness - always causes some to question God's purpose in suffering. When you have to answer this question from someone walking a difficult road, how to you explain illness, war, etc. to them and reassure them that God still has a plan amid the chaos?

I truly believe that’s the hardest question we humans have to deal with. Like Julie asked in the story: “Why don’t we have a God who always answers our prayers, especially if it concerns the welfare of someone we love, especially someone who also happens to be a believer?” We can offer platitudes and pull scriptures out of the Bible to try to make the point that God loves us and has a plan for our lives in even the worst situations. But at the end of the day, God’s will and ways are inscrutable. We don’t know because God doesn’t choose to reveal everything to us, and our human minds couldn’t encompass the explanation if He did. So we’re left with the choice to have faith and to trust—or not.

To someone facing those kinds of devastating experiences, all I can do is to point to the cross and assure them that Jesus has been there and that the God who loves us and has prepared a good future for us sees our circumstances and is working on our behalf. God walks along that road with us. There are times when all we can do is to cling to Him.

Have you ever experienced a contemporary miracle in your own life that you'd like to share?

I suspect if we really think about it, all of us can point to at least one miracle in our lives. One that stands out to me happened back in the mid 1990s. I was living in Nashville, Tennessee, at the time and going through a really bad, drawn-out divorce. Driving back to Nashville after yet another hearing that had gone nowhere, in the midst of the worst discouragement of my life, I had a blowout right in the busiest section of I-65 on the north end of Nashville at rush hour. It was like being kicked when I was already down.

I pulled over to the shoulder on the left side of this busy highway, and I had no idea what to do. This was the days before cell phones were common, so I couldn’t call anyone. There was no exit nearby, and even if there had been, there would have been no way to cross 4 or 5 lanes with a crippled car in that much speeding traffic. I didn’t have the energy to call out to God or even cry. I just put my head on my hands on the steering wheel and sat there in total despair.

In less than a minute, a car pulled up right in front of mine. I didn’t even look up, I was so discouraged—and I was afraid of what motives the driver might have. When I heard a tap on my window, I looked up fearfully to find a clean-cut, neatly dressed young man who appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He was blond and had bright blue eyes and a small stud in one ear, and he smiled at me. When I glanced at his car, it was a nice one, and I saw his wife in the front seat and his young daughter in the back, and they were looking at me and smiling too.

Well, you know how I felt at that moment. God had provided not only a helper, but absolute assurance that I was safe. I rolled down my window, and the first thing he said, so kindly in a soft Tennessee drawl, was, “Are you all right, ma’am?” I knew I was in the presence of angels.

The tire that blew out was the right rear—the one closest to the traffic. I was very fearful for him as he changed it, and I stood right behind him the whole time, watching the cars flying by and praying for his safety. In no time at all he had the spare on and everything stowed away in the trunk. I was in tears as I thanked him and asked him if I could pay him—knowing I had no money on me. Smiling, he shook his head, and then he did the most amazing thing. Gently he put his arms around me and drew me close. “It’s going to be all right,” he told me. He had no idea what I was going through, but he meant it absolutely, and I believed him. He was an angel sent by God to come alongside me when I was at my lowest point. And God kept that promise.

What exciting things is God doing in your life right now? Any words of encouragement you'd like to share with your readers?

There are a lot of exciting things going on for me right now. I find myself spending more time in the Word and feel the Lord drawing me ever closer to Him. I’m especially excited about how the small press God called me to found, Sheaf House, is growing and becoming a real ministry to both readers and authors. I’m thrilled with the authors the Lord has brought to me to join my team and the books they’re writing. I’m delighted with the reception One Holy Night is receiving, and I can’t wait to release the 3rd book of my American Patriot Series, Wind of the Spirit, next March. A lot of readers have been asking about that one, and it’s finally coming to reality, which feels really good. The most exciting thing of all is knowing that all this is the Lord’s doing, not mine, and that God has chosen to use me for His glory. That pleases me more than anything in all the world.

I know a lot of us are discouraged because of the uncertainties of our country’s economic situation and the recent election. There’s a lot to be concerned about. But when I look back at all the times the Lord has restored my life and brought faith and hope and joy out of really bleak circumstances, I have to rejoice. Nothing is impossible for our God! Nothing! Even when we can’t see it, God is constantly working for our good. He will accomplish His perfect will for each one of us individually and for our country and the world. The battle may rage, but there’s nothing more certain than that our God reigns victorious!

1 comment:

J. M. Hochstetler said...


Thank you so much for your encouragement and kind comments about One Holy Night! I really enjoyed doing the interview. It's been such a pleasure to "talk" with you. Thank you for featuring me on your blog!