Let it be known first of all that Spacious Place is written by my wife Elizabeth Frerichs and I have been highly involved in the process of getting this book published. Nevertheless, I would like to collect my thoughts on the content of this book and maybe offer a peek or two behind the curtain of the writing process for this book.
Spacious Place is a collection of seven short stories. Each is designed to dissect a personal issue the character is having in her life that's keeping her from growing in grace and truth. The titles of each story kind of give away what each issue is. The magic of these stories is that at some point, the character is transported, like Alice, through a portal into a hyper-reality where her emotional landscape turns into actual landscape! In this hyper-reality she's able to see, taste and touch ideas like God's Law, a broken heart, bitterness, and addiction. And, in each story she meets (spoiler alert!) Jesus. In that respect, the book works sort of like William Young's The Shack. Most of the action is conversation, punctuated by supernatural illustrations.
The woman in the book is never named. This is for a couple reasons. One is because it's not entirely clear that it's the same woman in each of the stories. If it was, you'd think she'd catch on to the way Jesus is meeting her. Also, the character is basically Elizabeth, but she wanted it to be easy for someone reading the book to think about themselves in the situation. So, as I talk about the stories, I'm going to refer to "her" and "the character." I hope it's not too confusing. I don't think it is in the book at all, but I've found that when I'm talking about it, I have to make this distinction.
A Bitter Draught
The character finds herself in an empty subway station on her usually busy morning commute. This day is an infamous day for her and until she notices she's all alone, she's completely absorbed in thought about how much she doesn't want to face the day. As she descends the stairs into the unknown she finds herself in a dark but tidy cellar with the most amazing wine - it glows green with its own energy.
There is a moment in this story that makes me cry almost every time I read it. It's a powerful scene where she realizes how much Jesus suffers when he takes on our burdens.
The Sculpture's Lair
This story opens in the sculpture hall of an art museum. But a wrong turn lands the character in a working artist's studio. This next part is so creepy and cool I'll just quote it here and then leave you to ponder where the story goes from there. *Note, the book is in no way full of suspense or horror stories
"I waved to get his attention, but he appeared unaware of my presence, or perhaps he was ignoring me. All at once I recognized him. Those were his sculptures in the adjacent gallery, and it was his face they bore.
I moved to better see the statue taking form beneath the artist’s calculated blows. It stood about nine feet tall and was obviously a woman. She wore a long, flowing gown, and her straight hair hung loose down her back. Another step brought her face into view. I gasped. It was my face the sculptor was obliterating in favor of his own.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
He turned, and his cold gaze slid over me. “I am the Creator. Worship me!” He returned to his work. Now I could feel the blows he so skillfully directed. When he chiseled the image, my own face burned with furrows of fire.
“Stop! It hurts!” I screamed.
I felt something running down my cheek and put a hand to my face. I stared in disbelief at the liquid on my fingers: it was blood. More and more gushed onto my clothes. I began to feel faint. On shaking legs, I ran to him and grabbed his arm. His muscles were like cords of steel.
“Stop! Can’t you see what you’re doing?”
He wasn’t even fazed. As he raised his arm for another blow, my strength gave out, and I fell into a crumpled heap on the floor. I lay there, sobbing, bleeding all over. “Please,” I whimpered, trying to see him through a haze of pain. “Please . . . stop . . . help me . . . .”
Suddenly a tall man stormed in. “Stop!” he roared.
The sculptor’s eyes widened, and he stumbled down the ladder. Everything went black."This is the scariest part of the whole book. It's also one of my favorite so I quoted it here but Spacious Place isn't a scary or suspenseful book in general at all.
The Resting Place
We meet a mom with insomnia in this story. She's the only one up again tonight so she spends her time sipping chamomile tea and making lists of things that need to get done in the next few days. Somehow she slips into a dream that instead of a list for every area of her life, she gets a ball to juggle for each area, like work, home, school etc... She's juggling more and more until she finally looses her footing and falls down, cracking her head in the process. She wakes up in a strange cabin that could be either comforting or creepy, but she's too exhausted and hurt to really care which.
The Wounded One
After the final fight in a relationship that was supposed to last, the character retreats deep within herself to encase and enshrine her broken heart. She's fully prepared to camp-out here, fully protected from the world around here, for the rest of her life if need be. Healing seems out of the question and a bit unnecessary since she's worked so hard to encapsulate her heart in a diamond hard shell. But then there is a man who is somehow able to knock on her heart. He is patient and impervious to her verbal attacks and deliberate lack of interest in him.
It's the same car accident dream she has almost every night; the car is zooming out of control straight for a concrete traffic barrier. This is about the point where she usually wakes up, but for some reason, the action just freezes. Somehow, she's able to get out of the car. Impact is still immanent as she finds the car is only inches from the barrier. How had she gotten free this time? To her horror, there is someone else here that's not frozen! He's coming towards her down the shoulder of the highway.
In classic Alice in Wonderland style, the character is able to slip through a mirror in her house and what she finds on the other side is a mystery. She had asked to see what is wrong with her heart, and instead she finds herself standing next to a bottomless abyss that looks like it's had bombs dropped into the sides of it. As there is no one around to explain, she's left to explore the chasm. She finds some unexpected things in the craters that have been blasted into the walls of the bottomless pit.
This is the only story that takes place fully in a fictional world. All the others begin and end in "the real world." This one takes place on a sailing ship. But it is quickly discovered that this ship has some real problems: it's been taking on water longer than anyone can remember and there is a ship killing storm looming on the horizon.
I didn't want to get too into the stories--maybe after more people have read the book I can talk specifically about what I love about each of these. There are some great moments. Like in Freedom's Paradox, there's a scene that reminds me of Disney's 1963 movie The Sword and the Stone. It's one of my favorite parts in the movie. In it, Merlin turns himself and Arthur into fish and then swim around in the moat of Sir Ector's castle. In Freedom's Paradox the character and Jesus turn into fish and explore a pond to talk about the nature of freedom. There is a funny exchange with a native fish who's so full of himself that he can't fathom the notion of 'air.' He accuses the two visitors of patronizing with frogs.
So why should anyone read this book? I think this book is going to be great for anyone who wants to grow in their Christian walk. These stories go deep into how we, as Christians, deal with some heavy questions like:
How do we grow when we're weighed down with a broken heart and don't feel like we can trust anyone ever again?
How does someone who's hurt us get off seemingly scott-free while we're left with the consequences?
How is it that God has the right to re-shape us into His image? Won't he kill us in the process?
How do I rest when I've got so many demands on my time and energy?
How can God's law give me more freedom in my life? Isn't it just a list of rules designed to corral me into some blind obedience with huge punishments if I step out of line?
Why do the things I try to fill my heart with always fall so short of making me happy? Even religion doesn't work.
I think this book is absolutely charming. I think Elizabeth's writing style is fresh and compelling. She's a reader at heart and that fact is evident in her writing. I also know Elizabeth is a work horse. I don't know how much sleep was lost over this project or how many tears were shed. She didn't write this in a vacuum either. There was a team of about 10 people (editors and critical readers) who gave such amazing feedback. These friends loved Elizabeth enough to tell her when they thought something needed cut or didn't make sense. They asked questions and sometimes they even liked what they read! There's a lot that got cut and a lot that was added as a direct result of these fine people for the enhancement of the stories.
I'm really proud of Elizabeth for finishing this book. I've watched her struggle during times when it didn't seem like it would ever be done. There were devastating re-writes and files that disappeared. There were flakey computers and memory cards. Even the constructive criticism from our friends felt like too much to bear when there was a lot of it all at once. Each set back and opportunity to just let the project die. But she didn't give in. I don't think she really could stop. There was a real sense of urgency about her that even if she quit (and she probably did a couple times) it only lasted a day or two before she was back at it. She re-typed pages and pages. She sifted through feedback from her editor that was dripping with red ink. And now it's finally done and I couldn't be happier with the result. (I think Elizabeth would blackout or something if she had to read part of it again any time soon.)
It should be noted that Elizabeth does not want any real credit for writing this book. I know she just feels like a channel and that her compulsion to get this published comes from God. It's can get a little hairy saying anything we do is "God's work," so I don't want to go down that path. It just seemed to Elizabeth and to me that writing this book was really important. And the situation was completely out of our control. She only had time to write this book because of her chronic health problems. The book just wouldn't have been written if she had stayed healthy.
Elizabeth has written this book as an out-flowing of the love she has received from God as He has done the painful work of healing in her heart. The tender journeys she has taken through in these stories really happened to my wife. I hope these stories communicate that real sense of adventure we can have with Jesus even if we never leave our seat. He's at work in our hearts, the most challenging landscape in the universe. I hope this book brings you to a Spacious Place.