Alison inherited her writing gene from her father, Lee, and grew up comprising stories on everything from napkins to typewriters. Her talent earned her many awards throughout school, a two page spread featuring her work in her senior yearbook, and even saved her from failing college chemistry. it wasn’t until she moved to California after college that she wrote her first full-length novel, and that’s when God made Alison’s lifelong dream come true.
Alison and her family now live in Colorado. When she’s not writing, she reading, obsessively stalking her favorite online parenting forum, playing pet store(or reading books or teaching homeschool) with her daughters or out with the whole gang exploring their new home state.
You can visit her website here
An Unexpected Encounter
When I was in college, God brought me together with a roommate named Jen. We quickly became friends, and our sophomore year God used our late night chats to bring her into a relationship with Him. The transformation was awesome. She was on fire, a natural evangelist. She stood strong in the face of persecution from friends and family. The presence of the Spirit was almost palpable when you were around her.
I spent my junior year abroad, and one morning I checked my email and found a message from her. It said, “I am so depressed. I want to kill myself.”
It came from nowhere, at least for me, six time zones and an ocean away. My mental picture of her was still that of a young woman living passionately for Christ. I didn’t know about the slow descent into depression she had endured over the last few months, or the history of mental illness that ran in her family. Although curiously, neither did she. It was a carefully hidden family secret—but one you can’t run from when it’s inside your DNA.
For the next three years, Jen struggled to first get a diagnosis, then to get her family’s support for the illness they said was “all in her head” (they were right, but not in the way they meant), and then to find a medication that would keep her stable. She was in and out of the hospital, struggled to pass her classes, and hurt and confused by the new label she wore: bipolar.
Struggling to Find God’s Peace
As you might imagine, her faith took some hard hits. But what made it infinitely worse were the ignorant, asinine, and wholly unfounded judgments and advice she received from fellow Christians.
One guy from our church claimed to have been bipolar until he prayed for deliverance. And while I didn’t doubt his story, it was his assertion that she just wasn’t praying hard enough for healing that made me want to sock him. A hospital chaplain flat-out blamed her, saying her walk with the Lord wasn’t strong enough. And there were people who said she just had to get over it, stop dwelling on it, or push through it, as though she was just being lazy, as though she didn’t agonize over this new reality and would have done anything to change it.
What is it about mental illness that the church has such a hard time dealing with?
What is it about needing medication to keep your brain chemistry stable that makes them think you must not be a real Christian? I’ve never heard someone tell a diabetic they shouldn’t need their insulin, and that they’d be healed if they just prayed harder. I’ve never seen someone tell a wheelchair-bound believer that it’s their own sin that keeps them in the seat. What is the difference?
When Jen was newly diagnosed, we went searching for resources to help her cope. We found a couple books written by people with bipolar, but not much, and nothing from a Christian perspective. I knew then that I wanted to write a book someday that talked about what it was like to be a Christian who struggled with mental illness, and how the people in her life could help her.
Giving a Voice to the Silent
Fast forward ten years: I’m a novelist now, with the ability to do just that, and so I’ve written Composing Amelia. But, as I experienced with Reinventing Rachel, my plans for the book and God’s plans for the book were not the same. And since God always wins in the end, Composing Amelia is not the book about bipolar that I expected it to be.
At first I was frustrated: the Christian community desperately needs some help in this area, and I really wanted to be a part of bringing understanding to that community. But the more I think about it, the more fitting it is to me that Composing Amelia is about so many other things, and not just the issue of mental illness as it was in my first drafts, because people with bipolar disorder are not defined by their illness, nor is it the only thing they will struggle with in their lives.
But regardless of how the book does or doesn’t influence the Christian community’s understanding of mental illness, it has had a tremendous influence on me, because for the second time now God has bludgeoned me over the head and said, “Hey you, quit trying to save the world. That’s MY job, not yours.”
I do tend to get a little starry-eyed at the thought of my books having an impact on people—the impact I want them to have. But as an author who writes for Christ, I need to remember that I am just the messenger. My job is to tell that message as skillfully as I can—not to decide what the message should be. I fought with Reinventing Rachel for the same reason, but apparently it takes me a while to learn my lesson. I think I’ve got it now, though.
I do hope readers out there who struggle with bipolar or know someone who does will be affirmed and encouraged by Composing Amelia. And I really hope they won’t be offended by the fact that I didn’t explore the many ancillary issues that I could have. Apparently this wasn’t the right book for that. But it was the right book for something. I know He has plans for it. And though they’re not likely to be the plans I was expecting, I’m excited to see what they are.
Newlyweds Amelia and Marcus Sheffield are recent college graduates and city dwellers, trying to stay afloat in LA while searching for their dream jobs. Marcus hopes to become a mega-church pastor. Amelia has an esteemed music degree, and longs to play piano professionally. The Sheffields are clearly city people.
But when a small town church offers Marcus a job, the couple’s dedication to their dreams and each other is tested. After a risky compromise is made, Amelia falls into a dark emotional place, where she finds skeletons she’d fought hard to deny. In desperation, she calls out to God. But why can’t she find Him? While Amelia struggles, Marcus learns news that nearly crushes him. He must lean on his faith to withstand the pressure . or risk losing his wife forever.
You can purchase Composing Amelia at:
www.christianbook.com › Books › Fiction
View the video on YouTube here