Writers are funny; we all have our little idiosyncrasies and ways we get ideas. I talk to friends about their kids, pray a lot, study my own kids, and ask them questions. But as funny as it sounds, the Good Lord likes to send me ideas when I'm driving my minivan around town. And I think this is very ironic because I can't exactly write them down at the time, of course. But it just so happened that when I was just starting to write Olivia's Gift, the sequel to Olivia and the Little Way, I asked myself what I wanted to see Olivia do. Perhaps I was even driving at the time! Immediately God gave me the answer: Have Olivia go to Confession. Yes, take the reader along with Olivia, right into the box! I told some people about it and, they were a bit stunned.
"Really?" one said. "You're going to bring the reader into the confessional with Olivia?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed. "I can't think of any fiction book that has done this for kids. Can you just imagine: the reader watching Olivia celebrate the sacrament that nobody else gets to see? It's so private, but I think the readers will love going along with her. It will help them feel more comfortable when they go. If they see Olivia go, then maybe it will help them when they go. I want the readers to see how beautiful it is."
But even as I said it, I knew it would be the toughest scene I'd ever have to write.
"What do you think?" I asked, excited yet growing a bit uncertain the more I thought about it.
"You know what? I think you should do it," my friend said.
I knew it sounded like a crazy idea, but I loved it for that very reason.
Still, I was nervous. And doubtful. Maybe I wasn't meant to write this. It might be too private of a topic. If I was going to do this, I had to do this right, and it haunted me for a while. I know there are books for kids that describe the sacrament and what it's all about, but I had never, ever seen one that had the reader go along with a fictional character into this most private place. It had to be handled just so. And the hardest part? The obvious: I've never been in the confessional with anyone else, of course! I only had my own experiences to go on.
So for a long time, the scene didn't get written. Our adversary was all over me.
"How's the Confession scene coming?" a friend asked.
"It's not," I answered. "Let's change the subject!"
Every time I'd sit down to write it, I'd shake my head. I really couldn't believe I was doing this, yet I knew the idea had come from God (as all of my Olivia ideas do!) and I knew He put that idea on my heart for a reason. I did not want to let Him down. What does the great saint Padre Pio teach us? "Pray, hope, and don't worry!" In this case, it would be "Pray, hope, write it, and don't worry!"
God knows what He is doing, even when I don't, I told myself. So I prayed for the help I needed write this very important scene, one of the most important scenes in the book, in my opinion. I wanted my readers to know just how precious—and healing—a gift the Sacrament of Reconciliation truly is, so that they would use it throughout their whole lives to grow closer to our loving and forgiving God.
The scene came to me, and I wrote it. I was so pleased with how it came out, but I still didn't know how it would sit with my readers. What would they think? Had I gone too far with Olivia?
Not long ago, I received a lovely letter from a girl I'll call Nicole. She wrote:
"...but most especially chapter twenty-three of Olivia's Gift when she goes to Confession and is totally nervous. I also feel nervous when I have to go to Confession. But your book really helped me see that we shouldn't be nervous because Confession is a celebration, a joyous occasion. I put several quotes from the book in a notebook and decorated it with holy cards. I also put a Padre Pio sticker on the cover since he is the patron saint of making a good confession..."
After I had a good cry, I folded the letter and put it back in the envelope.
God always knows what He is doing.