171 – In the Valley of the Shadow of Death with Guest Sharon Hinck, Part 1

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In the Valley of the Shadow of Death with Guest Sharon Hinck Part 1 Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young

Are you in a deep valley? Do you feel alone? Rejoice! God is there! Our guest Sharon Hinck can prove it from her valley experiences. Join us as she shares what she experienced, and the wonder of what God did in her life and writing.

About Sharon Hinck

Award-winning author Sharon Hinck writes “stories for the hero in all of us,” about ordinary people on extraordinary faith journeys. She has been honored with three Carol awards, and the 2020 and 2021 Christy Award in the Speculative Fiction category. She has experience as a church youth worker, a choreographer and ballet teacher, a church organist, and an adjunct professor for Creative Writing MFA students. One day she’ll figure out what to be when she grows up, but meanwhile she’s pouring her imagination into writing. When she isn’t wrestling with words, Sharon enjoys speaking for conferences, retreats, and church groups.

Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!

Erin: Welcome, listeners. We’re so excited that you’re here with us because we like you. And because we have a guest!

Karen: Our guest is Sharon Hinck, and I’m sure many of you know her. She writes what she calls stories for the hero in all of us, and she does a phenomenal job with that. She writes about ordinary people on extraordinary faith journeys. I love that.

Her books are known for their authenticity, their emotional range, and spiritual depth. I mean, you talk about a trifecta in fiction? That’s outstanding. She’s written humorous contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, the ground breaking Sword of Lyric fantasy series, and her new Dancing Realms series.

She’s been honored with a Christy finalist medal, three Carol awards and a 2020 Christian award in the visionary category for her fantasy novel Hidden Current. That’s about as impressive as it gets.

Erin: Indeed.

Karen: She says when she isn’t wrestling with words, she enjoys serving as an adjunct professor for the Creative Writing MFA program at Concordia University.

Again, impressive. She also shares with conferences, retreats, and church groups. Sharon and her family make their home in Minnesota.

Sharon: Ya, sure, you betcha!

Karen: I’m married to a Norski, so I know all about that.

Sharon: Ah, you know.

Karen: Uff da!

Erin: Oh my goodness. Sharon, we are glad to have you all the way from Minnesota.

Sharon: It’s great to be here. Thank you.

Erin: Let’s just jump right in, like one of those Minnesota lakes, right? The Land of 10,000 Lakes? What does the deep mean to you?

Sharon: Well, I’ve been thinking about this question. I’ve listened to the podcast, which I love and love this thought of what the deep means.

I was thinking one of the deepest places that I have gone with God and seen him at work is in the valley—which is deep, valleys are deep—the valley of the shadow of death. That is the place I found myself, and many people found themselves, in these past few years as loved ones have gone ahead to heaven.

And not just the loss of death. I think there’s also death of careers, death of health, death of visions, death of all kinds of things people have dealt with these past few years. But for me, I call Dream of Kings my pandemic book because I started writing it in the pandemic.

I was really looking to play with the notion of biblical inspiration. I do that with a lot of my fantasy novels. I take a character or a story, or even a very obscure Bible verse, and then I look at it from a different angle and put it in the fantasy universe that I create to gain some new insights. To ask story questions and to learn more about God’s nature.

Karen: Mm-hmm.

Sharon: So I was playing with this idea of someone who was a dream teller, and I made it a woman: Jolan the Dream Teller of Norgard. I think I was probably inspired by a Minnesota winter when I started the book. Jolan is betrayed by her own people, her guild, and she’s sold to an enemy country. So you can see kind of where the inspiration came from.

Because of that, I assumed my theme would be about forgiveness, seeing how what they meant for evil God meant for good, and how God works out good.

What I didn’t realize was the way God would shape that theme much more into the avenue of how he is with us even in loss. It played out in my life in that I had written about 80,000 words and life was difficult. I have chronic health challenges, which keep me mostly home bound and I struggle quite a bit.

My mom was battling Alzheimer’s, and I was trying to care for her. But I was still plugging away at this book because that’s what God’s called me to do: write. I can still do that even when I’m stuck in bed, I can write.

Then Mom fell and broke her hip.

Erin: Oh no.

Sharon: She had surgery, hip replacement, and went to transitional care. We couldn’t visit for quite a while because they were trying to protect patients, so you had to wait several weeks. On the day I would be able to go and be with her again, transitional care called and said, “She was unresponsive this morning when we went into her room. We think she had a stroke. We’ve sent her to the hospital.”

I’m, like, shaking. I get to the hospital. They only allow one family member in, because this was in the midst of everything.

Erin: At least they let you in.

Sharon: Yes, at that point, I was able to go in. But I felt so alone. So scared. I had her medical directive. We had talked about it when she was lucid. I knew her wishes. But there they are asking me, “Well, you know, her brain, there’s this blockage. If you don’t make a decision soon, she’s gonna lose all function. What would she want?”

I’m looking through all of the directive and it was really hard to discern. I said, “She spunky. Yes, she has Alzheimer’s but she still laughs. She still loves life.”

They said, “We can put a catheter in and try to pull out this blockage in the brain, and she might recover. But you know, she has broken hip. She’s probably in a lot of pain, so maybe just let her go?”

Oh, that was an agonizing choice.

But I said, “No, I think at this point we should try.”

So then they did the surgery. She came through it, but it didn’t make a difference. She was paralyzed, unable to speak very much. And she was paralyzed on the side opposite of the broken hip. It was pretty rough.

I was there with her in intensive care. Then we worked with hospice to get her back to her apartment that she shared with my stepdad. I was able to be there and care for her. And here’s where it was interesting, because you know what it’s like as a dedicated writer, you think, ” I’ll just keep working somehow.”

Karen: Right.

Sharon: I brought my laptop and thought, “While she’s dozing in between me giving her her medication and caring for her and wiping her forehead and doing whatever else she needs, I’ll keep working on this novel.”
Within five minutes, I realize that’s not what God’s calling me to right now.

Karen: Right.

Sharon: I thought, “This is a sacred time. She is on the threshold of heaven and I need to just be here with her.”

So I set it aside and thankfully I had plenty of time. I wasn’t on a tight deadline. I wasn’t being irresponsible. But I could set that aside and just be with mom. After several weeks she went to heaven. We had precious time together. I played her favorite music. I read her favorite Psalms. We watched episodes of Colombo, her favorite TV show.

Karen: (Imitating Colombo) “Eh, eh, just one more question…”

Sharon: I kept joking I was gonna buy her a raincoat like his.

Karen: There you go!

Sharon: It was a precious time, but also heartbreaking. Then came cleaning out the apartment and sorting through her things and planning a funeral and helping my stepdad move.

I was so beaten down by grief that I really thought, “Maybe I’m done. Maybe I won’t be able to pick up the threads of the book again.”

As I said, I was about 80,000 words in to what was planned to be 120,000, because it’s an epic fantasy. And I thought, “I just don’t have that in me.”

The grief counselor I talked to had said, “Don’t make any decisions the whole first year after a significant loss.”

Why I talk about this valley of the shadow of death? We had six significant losses in six months. The same day Mom had a stroke, my uncle passed away. We had friends, we had other relatives, Ted’s brother. I mean, those months… And I know it wasn’t just me, which somehow didn’t comfort me that the whole world was dealing with grief.

Karen: It doesn’t. When you go through grief, nothing comforts you for a while. But then God gets through. I hear you.

Sharon: Yeah. It almost augmented the grief, knowing that so many in the world were also going through that kind of heart-wrenching loss.

Erin: Yeah.

Sharon: I went to a writer’s conference a few months later and was teaching. God often makes me teach the things I need to hear because apparently I only listen to myself. I don’t know.

I came home and said, “It’s time to look back. I’ll just open the manuscript and see what God wants to do.”

And he just empowered and inspired and I wrote and wrote and wrote. But what was weird is that the themes weren’t what I thought they were going to be.

Karen: Right.

Sharon: I didn’t even see it till my critique buddies were reading it. They said, “You’re talking about loss of identity, loss of role, loss of loved ones, loss of freedom. That’s the theme here.”

That just always amazes me how God’s able to do that. How he’s able to use these things. I love Corrie Ten Boom’s quote, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

So my character is in a very deep pit, literally. Imprisoned, treated unjustly, suffering loss. One of my favorite things, and it’s just a God thing, is that she was describing her losses as if it was a shelf of books, and she would pull out each volume and page through it and feel sad and feel that loss.

But by the end of the story, she’s able to mentally open each of those, and the pages are gilded with the grace of God as she sees his mercy in it all. If that makes sense.

Karen: It does. It’s a beautiful image.

Erin: What’s so interesting to me is that obviously there’s a difficult, difficult experience—this valley of the shadow of death. Very difficult. But I truly think that the book became a different book. You stopped at 80,000 words. If in some way you would’ve just tried to push through it, it wouldn’t have been the book that God wanted to happen.

After those trials, after that groaning, and after that time of grief and learning, then you were able to write with so much more depth of feeling. It just made the book a different book. I love how God does that.

Sharon: I do, too.

Karen: It made the book a better book. It made it a deeper book, and probably a far more profound book.

Erin: Yeah.

Sharon: I love what God shows us about himself in those deep places, because he was so tender in so many ways. I just saw his hand shaping situations when I felt so broken and beaten down. He was there. But not only is he with us in those dark places, he transforms the dark places. He creates beautiful things, and he fulfills purposes.

In Dream of Kings, which parallels biblical dream tellers, God’s also able to show that what you went through had a purpose that’s much bigger than you knew.

Karen: Yeah, I’ve always said that in God’s economy nothing is wasted. Everything that happens to us in God’s economy is an element of our refinement, or teaching us, or blessing us. The losses can actually bless us once we get through the pain.

It’s just a testimony to his goodness, and like you said, his tenderness.

Sharon: Yeah, and I think when we’re in the deep place… Before you called, I was reciting Psalm 121, which was one of my mom’s favorites. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” RSV

I think when we’re in the deep we look up. We look for God instead of our own power and our own wisdom. I tend to be a little self-reliant, so when things are going well I rely on me. But when I’m in the deep places, I have to look up. I have to look for him.

Erin: Yeah. I also like the idea here that you had a ministry of presence with your mom. I think we can get so focused on our writing, and our doing, and our this and our that. Sometimes we forget the most important thing: a ministry of presence.

Let’s be present when we’re making dinner with our family. Or, let’s be present when we’re watching our kid play soccer, or whatever we’re doing. Or, let’s be present with someone who’s hurting. You know, whatever it is, those things are important, too.

Writing is important, but what we learn, or what we can give or offer through our ministry of presence, it’s priceless.

Karen: Amen!

Hey guys, we hope you’re enjoying this amazing podcast with Sharon Hinck, because the second part is coming up in two weeks, and you will just learn so much about what God does for us in deep valleys.

Guest @sharonhinck shares how even in the deepest valley, even the valley of the shadow of death, God is with you! #amwriting #christianwriter Share on X

Have you felt like you’ve traveled through the valley of the shadow of death? What helps you cope with it?

Book by Sharon Hinck Mentioned in the podcast

Dream of Kings by Sharon Hinck

Dream of Kings by Sharon Hinck


Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thanks so much to our August sponsor of the month, Priscilla Sharrow! She’s working on her memoir called Bonked! Life, Love, and Laughter with Traumatic Brain Injury, which will be coming out with Redemption Press. Learn more about Priscilla at her website priscillasharrow.com and follow her blog for the TBI/PTSD community.

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!


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