198 – The Blessing of Tragedy with Guest DiAnn Mills

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The Blessing of Tragedy with Guest DiAnn Mills Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungIf you’ve faced tragedy in your life, you know the first reaction is to ask why. Even get angry with God over what’s happened. Guest DiAnn Mills shares how God led her through all those stages, but even more, how he blessed her with reconciliation because of the tragedy. Come listen in as she shares all God has done in her life and writing since the worst day of her life.

About DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and won two Christy Awards, the Golden Scroll, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Carol Award contests. Connect with DiAnn at diannmills.com.

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Erin: Welcome, listeners. I’m excited that you’re here with us in the deep, and there’s extra excitement today, yay, for our guest! Karen will introduce her.

Karen: Hey, we are welcoming DiAnn Mills to the podcast today, and we’re so excited. DiAnn has been a part of publishing for so many years, I think almost as long as I have. She’s an award-winning, bestselling author many times over, and a popular speaker and teacher at conferences. She’s a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers. Thank you for that, DiAnn!  

She’s a former director of the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference and a member of the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association and of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. It’s amazing everything that she does, and she shares her passion for helping other writers be successful by teaching writing workshops around the country.

Not only that, she has been termed a coffee snob and she roasts her own coffee beans, y’all. She roasts her own beans. I am so in awe. She and her husband live in, as she says on her website, sunny Houston, Texas, but I think it’s fair to call it blazing Houston, Texas, with the way it’s been now. DiAnn, welcome. We’re so happy to have you here.

DiAnn: Oh, thank you, Karen and Erin. It is just wonderful to be with you. I’m excited. I’m always excited to talk about the craft of writing and especially to talk to my friends. What more could I ask for? 

Karen: I know!

Erin: Well, let’s start right off with what does the deep mean to you, DiAnn?

DiAnn: The deep means to me that the longer I know Jesus, the longer he is in my heart, the more that my power hour with him every morning deepens our relationship, the deeper we go. I love that. 

We just keep traveling this journey together, and he’ll say, “Stop a minute, DiAnn. I want you to see this. I want you to feel this. I want you to experience this.” 

I love that. There are no words or senses that we can talk about that can compare with what it means to go deeper. To go deep with Jesus. 

Karen: There’s an old hymn that I love called “In the Garden.” I come to the garden alone, and then he comes and meets you there and walks with you and talks with you, and the joy you feel as you tarry there? That’s that continual relationship with Jesus.

You don’t find it anyplace else, that continual conversation back and forth throughout the day. That continual sense of his actual presence and his guidance. It’s astounding when you finally realize as a believer that he is there for every minutiae, every second, every millisecond of your life, and he is guiding and directing and loving you.

It’s a new depth to your understanding of him and your submission to him. Because you can trust him so wholly. I mean, it’s amazing. 

Erin: It’s also where we grow. 

Karen: Yeah. 

Erin: We experience transformation in those times. We might not recognize it. It’s hard to measure your own growth in the moment, but without that continual contact, that power hour, that walking in the garden, we don’t have transformation. We don’t grow closer to Jesus, we don’t turn into that image, without him shaping us in those times. 

Karen: That’s exactly right. I know, DiAnn, that you’ve come from a very difficult and painful time in the last several years with the loss of your son, and that has probably drawn you even closer and deeper into Christ.

You’ve incorporated some of that into your newest book, Facing the Enemy, some of that experience into your fiction. We talk often with people about how we incorporate our own stories and our own struggles into fiction. I’d like to hear from you about your journey through that time. It was difficult, but I’d like you to share with our listeners how God met you there and how you got to the place where you could share what happened on that journey in your book.

DiAnn: Actually, it was July 2021. We were on a vacation in Ohio with my brother and sister and their spouses. My youngest son called my husband. My husband got off the phone and said, “I need to tell you something. Brett was…” Let me take a big deep breath here… “Brent was hit by a car. Hit and run, and was killed.”

The first thing I had to do was thank God for life, and for the years that we’d had with him. The second thing was, “Thank you God, that I’m with my brother and my sister.”

Karen: Yeah. 

DiAnn: That helped tremendously. Once home, I journaled. We always hear the value of journaling, but until you walk through a tragedy, it just does not have the impact of what that can mean. So, over the next days, I journaled. I journaled, “God, why? Why now? Why him?”

The way it happened, I was angry. I was hurt. I cried. I was angry at the whole world. 

Karen: Mm-hmm. 

DiAnn: The time came to write the book, and I knew that I needed something in my character’s life that was earth shattering, and there it was right in front of me. So, Facing the Enemy was my healing book. 

While it’s my healing book, it’s still hard to talk about those emotions without feeling them and experiencing them all over again. What I did is I took my heroine, whom I called Risa, her name means laugh in Spanish, and I had her experience the same thing that happened to our son, but in her personality. 

It was horrible writing that scene. But yet it was comforting, because I don’t want to experience anything and shut it up inside of me if it could help someone else. Some reader may have had a loss and have never been able to deal with it. I wanted that transparency.

I wanted to take my pain, what I was feeling, and use it in a story that might help others. Granted, my goal for writing is always to entertain, inspire, and encourage. Always. Once I got past that part of the tragedy, and where my heroine decided to go, and what she decided to do with it, I picked up my second great passion, and that is for adoption.

I have four sons. Three are adopted. I say the youngest one’s my fault. Brett was one of the adopted sons. I used a bit of an apprehension that I always had as a woman in my late twenties and having a new baby, a new toddler in my life who was calling me mommy.  I also knew that the mother had six months to make a decision whether she might want that child back, and so you live with that.

The two passions, the two things that I can cry very easily about are in Facing the Enemy. That’s one of the ways that God brought me deeper. 

I hesitate to say this because I’m concerned that readers might think, “Well, she took her son’s death and she just used it to write a book.”

Oh, that gives me a gasp in my spirit, and I hope no reader thinks that. Sharing pain is very difficult, but the transparency is where we grow and change and become better people and grow closer to Christ. I remember, and I’m going to say this in one breath, and I might have to stop and get a drink of water here, that at the funeral, my son, the youngest son, gave part of the message to everyone.

Because my Brett struggled with drugs and alcohol, struggled very much with that, and the addiction always had more control than what he was able to do. And so my youngest son said, “God said, ‘Come home. Be free.'” 

Yes. Yes. One more drink of water for me here…

Karen: It’s fine. Take your time. 

DiAnn: Oh, I don’t know what you’ve got to cut out… But anyway, that was the one thing I’ve always been able to remember. I think that helped in the healing process, not only for me, but for my character in the story. 

Erin: Wow. 

DiAnn: For all of us. 

Karen: I’ve always said, as I teach at writers conferences, that nothing in God’s economy is wasted. Everything that happens to us, if God has given us the task of writing about him and stories centered on him and his presence in our lives, nothing that happens to us is ever wasted. It all is used by him for his purposes to refine us or to grant us illumination that we can then share with others. 

My husband and I have struggled for lo these forty-three years of our marriage. Yet God has sustained and provided for us and brought us to a place where we’re stronger than ever. Though, we still struggle. 

We have such different backgrounds. When I wrote my book, The Breaking Point, I drew on so much of what we had experienced, not to capitalize on it, but to say that this is the reality. This is the reality of walking into a marriage without prayer. 

This is the reality of bringing two completely diverse backgrounds into the same quarter. This is the reality of when you grow up in Leave it to Beaver and your spouse grows up in Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s not an easy road. It’s very difficult and coming to a place where God has brought us that we have submitted to him and to each other, we still have to do that submission every day.

I know from the reader letters that I’ve received that book affected people and helped them in their struggles in their marriage. Because as believers, aren’t we called to transparency? Aren’t we called to share out of our own experiences and not hide our weaknesses? Not try to seem like the perfect Christians to everybody on the outside, because there’s no such thing. There’s just a forgiven believer who follows a suffering Savior. 

We have to be honest. Christ was honest. He shed blood, sweated blood, and that struggle was real, and it was for us. If we’re not willing to then share our own struggles and difficulties, we shouldn’t be doing this. 

Erin: Right. 

I want to circle back just for a minute to what you said first, DiAnn, about how you journaled. How you journaled first. I think that’s so important because there is where you were dealing with the brutal honesty of how you personally felt. You worked through those issues to the best of your ability at that time. You poured out that anger and that hurt and that why and that grief in that journal.

I love that you did that beforehand so that you weren’t trying to do that necessarily in the book. When it came to writing the book, you were able to draw on those feelings, but you’re speaking into that from the other side. People are getting the best of both worlds there, so I love that you did that. 

But I’m wondering, obviously when you had to write those scenes and especially that one scene, practically speaking, how did you manage that in a practical way? Do you have any tips for the listeners on how to make yourself write those words on the keyboard? 

DiAnn: Uh, after a lot of tears. And I could only write a little bit through my journal at a time. I would read what I had written, and then I would close my eyes and tell myself, “Risa, how would you walk through this? How would you handle this?” 

By doing it through my character’s eyes… and I’m an organic writer, everything comes out of character. I’m a panster and my publisher may not always enjoy that. I am pretty much a panster, but I am organic. I will have seventeen pages of who my character is and a lot of backstory and things of that nature. 

In fact, one of the questions I asked myself came from Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel, and taking many of his workshops, and that is, “What is the most painful experience you’ve ever walked through and who was there? What was the dialogue? What were you feeling?” And all those kinds of things. 

How many times have I given that advice? But when I had to do it, it was incredibly painful. That to me is a testimony not only to how valuable that question is, but to our God. As you said, nothing is wasted. 

Erin: Yeah. 

DiAnn: Nothing.

Karen: For a long time, I thought that if we say why to God, we were showing doubt, and I thought that was just wrong. I’ve come to understand having gone through the whole doubt process myself when I was angry…not that I ever really doubted God was who he was, but I was at a point where I was like, “Well, if this is what it means to serve you, then who needs it?”

I’ve come to understand that he’s so much bigger than anything that we can bring to him. Any emotion, any anger, any frustration, any despair. He’s so much bigger than any of that. He will meet us exactly where we are in the midst of our pain. 

I’m constantly amazed at the care that he shows us. At the provision. Even when we are sometimes spitting in his face, he is there wrapping his arms around us and loving us regardless.

Erin: I love, DiAnn, that you talked about another passion that you put into that book, because one of the things I wanted to ask you about is how you kept grief from inhibiting your imagination for the rest of the story.  

I see that one of those things was talking about another of your passions, which was adoption, but was there anything else you did to help jumpstart your creativity or help your creativity flow during those difficult times?

DiAnn: Understanding that the writing process is for the reader. It’s never about the writer. Never about me. Never. With that, it was like, “Okay, God, please stand behind my computer and put your hands on my shoulders so I can do this.”

But I always went back to… we were in Israel, my husband and I were in Israel, and we were at the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus sweated blood. I’m thinking just like he made a decision in a garden to take back, yank back, the decision that Adam and Eve made in a garden, then I’ve got to take what he did for me and move forward. That I can encourage somebody in their faith. That I can inspire someone in where they are. 

Also, the process of writing a book has that entertainment factor. That’s foremost. So it had to be a story that provided hope and encouragement and reality. One aspect of this story, and this is on the back cover copy so I don’t think I’m giving anything away, but Risa is an FBI special agent and she realized and found out that while her brother saved her and pushed her out of the way for him to be killed in the hit and run, that car was aiming for her. 

She resigned from the FBI simply because she didn’t want anyone else hurt. So she went back to her old job, which was a professor at a college, a local college, teaching creative writing. I mean, yes, we giggled with that because that’s kind of what I was doing. 

Karen: Right. 

DiAnn: You know, God has a way of just saying, “Hey, Diane, what about this? Or what about that?” 

That really did help. But, and this is a part that’s on the back cover copy. Risa has an assignment for her students, who are all freshmen in college, creative writing, and a short story had to be turned in over Christmas. One student said, “Can I turn mine in early?”

Well, she couldn’t resist, and she read it. Here he told, word for word, what had happened to her with information that no one else knew and that all exploded.

Erin: This is a great example of how creativity is about connections. I love what you’re saying that the Holy Spirit is there with you and empowering you and enabling you and then these connections happen. “Hey, how about if she’s a professor teaching creative writing? And oh, this can happen and that can happen,” and these connections are suddenly firing. I love that. 

As we’re approaching the end of our time here, do you have any final words of wisdom that you want to leave our listeners with?

DiAnn: Yes. Laugh. Be Risa. Laugh. We have to laugh. We have to learn to laugh. We have to reach from within us and laugh.

And hold on to Jesus. Oh my goodness, this world can be ugly and nasty, but look where we’re going. So let’s make an impact while we can.

Karen: I agree. DiAnn, we’re so grateful for you coming and sharing your story and the ways that God has met you in all of this.

Friends, as you listen, I’m praying for you. If you are facing a difficult time, may the God of all comfort cloak you in his presence and in his peace.

If you are considering incorporating your own struggles into your story, turn to him with it and let him guide you. Let him show you the suffering and the recovery, and let him show you the places where you can bring in laughter. Because even in our darkest moments, if we have our focus on him, he will delight us and he will give us reasons to laugh in the midst of tears.

Thank you so much, DiAnn, and God bless you and what you’re doing.

DiAnn: Thank you. Thank you for letting me be a guest. I’m honored, and thank you for putting up with my few moments of “get your professionalism together, DiAnn.”

Karen: No, no. Long ago, I used to sing with my dad a lot, and the words of the hymns that we sing get to me. I said, “I’m so worried that I’ll be singing my verse or doing a solo and I’ll just break down and cry.”

My dad said, “Karen, if that happens, then the people who are listening need your tears more than they need your voice.”

All of it again is used in God’s economy. 

Erin: Indeed! Thank you, Diane.

Facing the Enemy by DiAnn Mills

Facing the Enemy by DiAnn Mills

Guest @diannmills shares how God used the worst tragedy of her life to bless her and bring unexpected reconciliation. #christianwriter #amwriting Click To Tweet

In your own writing, have you found yourself needing to draw from a tragedy you experienced? What helped you through it?


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    • Elisa Maria Hebert says:

      Thank you for sharing. Our joys as we walk with the Lord can connect us, and our grief can connect us even more when it’s shared.

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