About

Version 5

It’s on a cold night of January, 1968, that I took my first breath of croissant-scented air. My Canadian father and American mother had moved to France to teach music at the European Bible Institute, just north of Paris. On the evening I was born, my mom sang all the alto solos of The Messiah to a packed room of concertgoers in Strasbourg, Alsace, and—as an encore—gave birth to…well…moi. (Legend has it that there was a midwife in the front row and a getaway car in the parking lot in case I’d decided to make an early entrance.)

My parents didn’t know then that their daughter would develop an enduring love for all things buttery, romantic and wordy, but they sure fueled those élans by allowing me to grow up in a French castle. Yes—a 17th century castle in Lamorlaye, where they taught music and worship and I roamed the corridors and grounds, crafting tales of swashbuckling heroes and timid heroines who looked an awful lot like me.

I’m sure my missionary parents hoped that my multicultural background would grow me into a walking, breathing, one-person United Nations, world-savvy and multilingual. Some of that did indeed happen, but they hadn’t banked on the firm (abusive) disciplinary tactics of the French school system or the corrosive effect of additional traumas and the mental instability that plagued my early years. I loved speaking French fluently, being surrounded by beauty and history, and the cultural emphasis on writing and creating. But my family and my life needed some healing, so…

I left the French school system in 9th grade, when I moved to Germany to attend Black Forest Academy, a school for the children of missionaries. I was a boarding student for my first year there, but my parents moved to Alsace the next year, so we could commute across the border each day for me to study and them to teach at BFA. That brought a whole new dynamic into my life, a dynamic I liked to refer to, in my mellower moments, as “Why-oh-why-do-you-have-to-be-my-parents-AND-my-teachers?!” I was experiencing a bit of teenage angst at the time.

Black Forest Academy played a pivotal role in my life. The French-American-Canadian child I was had never felt “normal”—not in the States, not in Canada, and not in France. BFA became home to me. My heart-home. My belonging-home. My I’m-not-weird-home. My someone-actually-understands-me-home. If you cram enough identity-confused teenagers into a small space, their abnormalities become the norm. There was healing in that. Great healing. Particularly as I had by then been rendered a chronically depressed and introverted teenager by the subtle and overt assaults of the French and missionary cultures on my fragile spirit.

img016-1

Anatole France

College in the United States was hard. I carried into it all the unprocessed grief of alienation, losses and the unachievable “shoulds” imposed on MKs in multiple ways during their formative years. The American culture was a mystery to me and its intensity on the campus of Wheaton College (above) felt untenable. “Fish out of water” doesn’t begin to express the person I was as I plowed through my education there. I was a deeply troubled, angry and stubborn “fish” – utterly convinced that this country and its people held no potential for me. Not for happiness. Not for belonging. Not for friendship. I had decided before I reached the United States’ shores that I had nothing but contempt for it—and that rather uninformed and arrogant posture only exacerbated the alienation and discomfort I endured. (It informs much of the teaching on transition I do today.)

After college, I worked for a year as a screenwriter for a now-defunct Christian association, writing discussion-starter videos for youth groups…in the style of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (Welcome to the eighties!) It was something of a dream job: my boss lived in Colorado, which meant I only met him once a month—when he flew through O’Hare Airport—to hand over the fruit of my thirty days of labor. No office hours. No one breathing down my neck. All the time in the world to watch late-night talk shows and sleep in until Days of Our Lives. And there was a Long John Silver’s just around the corner.

When the company ran out of funds, I joined the ranks of the unemployed for a couple of months, spending my free time herding cockroaches around my little apartment and becoming an expert in the mysteries of soap-opera plot lines. When a cheap ticket to Europe allowed me to fly home to spend a couple weeks with my parents, I sat down for a talk with Black Forest Academy’s principal and the rest, as they say, is…ministry.

I joined the staff of Black Forest Academy in November, 1991, ostensibly to be a writer in the communications department. Instead, I spent two decades reinventing myself nearly yearly. I taught English and French and Creative Writing, directed school plays, vocal ensembles and the high school choir, lead student council, wrote and directed a yearly, large-scale outreach dinner-theater event, cooked (and otherwise helped out) in BFA’s residences, and spent as much time as humanly possible with the students I loved more than words could adequately express. All the struggles I had faced as the child of missionaries, the challenges I’d failed and the hurdles I’d overcome, found their completion in my work with the young people who lived and learned in that unique and inspiring place.

grad

Sharon O’Brien

I wrote my first novel in college—a tacky (t-a-c-k-y!) romance. I was convinced I’d be able to sell the manuscript to Harlequin for about three and a half million dollars. It had all the requisite plot elements: slightly needy girl, athletic guy, charismatic dog and the kind of chemistry only a college student who’d never had a real boyfriend could have drummed up. I still have a copy of the manuscript sitting around somewhere, but the mere thought of Ravages (original, huh?) seeing the light of day makes me blush—and not in a good way.

My next literary project was a cutting-edge novel written mostly in the form of emails exchanged by high school sweethearts who lost touch after they graduated, then reconnected online thirteen years later, when disease struck the male half of the star-crossed couple. Ironically (but not in a ha-ha way), the female character—who is an awful lot like me—developed breast cancer in the story. Little did I know then that my own life would take that direction years later. Can a person prophesy her own future? Apparently so.

Then came a full-length play I wrote for BFA. It had to do with heart transplants and cell-memory and relationships and grief and redemption. Right around the time I produced and directed its premiere, Hollywood came out with “Return to Me.” Once more, that three and a half million dollar check had slipped right out of my grasp. Or out of my imagination.

Disillusioned—after just two attempts, mind you—with the process of traditional publishing, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap, but it got my novels into the hands of readers, and I was satisfied with that.

Picture1

Pamela Bone

2008 was a momentous year. Not only did I turn 40, but I marked the milestone with two forms of cancer and ten surgeries. The first one was a very rare cancer of the sweat duct (only 300 cases reported worldwide), also known as Microcystic Adnexal Carcinoma. It started me on what I came to call my McJourney, one that I thought had ended victoriously in June ’08, after a series of surgeries to remove the invasive tumor in my cheek. Exactly one month later, I discovered that I had breast cancer. It was, to say the least, a staggering diagnosis. It was also an invitation into a season in which I experienced God’s compassion, comfort and care in such a vivid way—shown though so many of those He sent to walk with me down the treacherous road of recovery.

In 2010, I left Germany and my beloved ministry at Black Forest Academy, propelled out of a place of comfort and fulfillment by the cancer-induced sense that longevity was not guaranteed—and that I wanted to maximize the impact of the years still ahead of me, however many there would be.

So I moved back to the States—back to the very town that had been such a brutal experience during my college years—and from there launched what is now a global ministry. As an MK (Missionaries’ Kid) Advocate, I get to engage every day in a work I love with families and young people whose joys, fears and challenges look an awful lot like mine did. Speaking at churches, conferences and international MK schools. Developing new resources for the MK-Care world to use. Advising families before, during and after their cross-cultural ministry. Teaching at reentry seminars for returning MKs. Hosting the MK Harbor Network—a collection of individuals and families who have volunteered to help MKs who are reentering their passport cultures…

So much work. So many avenues to help and educative. So many blessings as I get to invest my life in doing something important for this generation of MKs to be able to thrive. (Please see the MINISTRY pages of this website for more information.)

The same year I moved to the States, a new friend harassed an Acquisitions Editor at Tyndale Publishing into taking a look at the two novels I’d recently self-published. I met with Jan for ten minutes and left a copy of Tangled Ashes with her. Nearly overnight, I was told to find an agent (who turned out to be my former writing professor’s son!) in order to sign a publishing contract for both Tangled Ashes and In Broken Places with the legendary publishing house. The former went on to be Christie Award finalist in 2013.

Three more novels followed, which were published by Harper Collins (Thomas Nelson). Of Stillness and Storm, came first. Of all my fiction writing, this is the novel that most closely corelates with the work I do in the field of missions. (It’s been called a must-read resource for families planning to go into cross-cultural ministry, those who love them and those who send them). The Space Between Words came out in 2017 and was also a Christy Award Finalist. Fragments of Light, a dual timeline novel that follows the intertwined stories of a WWII veteran and a contemporary breast cancer survivor, came out in 2020. (See my book pages for more.)

Edited Michele

Corrie Ten Boom

My life took a turn again in 2016. After a suspicious shadow on a mammogram led to a biopsy, I learned that a pre-cancerous condition had been found. Women with this diagnosis generally choose to get regular follow-ups and do nothing drastic, but with my cancer history and a couple other recent scares, I made the difficult decision to undergo a preventative bilateral mastectomy. I documented that emotional journey here.

As it turns out, that surgery probably saved my life. I woke up after my December 6th operation to the hard news that three forms of cancer, two of them active, had been found during the procedure. The tumors had been invisible on every test I’d undergone previous to that date, and there was no telling how long they would have continued to grow, undetected, before they were found by conventional means. (My musings one year after the life-altering surgery are here.)

The road to this point has been hard but beautiful, paved with gratitude and the certainty of God’s presence. It has been gratifying and challenging and filled with meaning, creativity and love. My life certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s good. It’s God-led and God-healed. God-purposed, too.

I wake up every morning feeling blessed to be able to keep serving missionary families. And, when there’s a bit of margin in my life, to do a bit of writing too. My heroes and heroines are more flawed now than they were in my childhood’s castle-roaming days, but they embody all I’ve learned and all I want my legacy to be:

There is no ache too crippling for God to heal. There is no despair too damaging for him to redeem. The One who has suffered is near in our darkness, lighting the future with inextinguishable promises—and scattering flecks of gold amid the debris of our pain.
UPDATE

March 2017

My life took a turn again in 2016. After a suspicious shadow on a mammogram led to a biopsy, I learned that a pre-cancerous condition had been found. Women with this diagnosis generally choose to get regular follow-ups and do nothing drastic, but with my cancer history and a couple other recent scares, I made the difficult decision to undergo a preventative bilateral mastectomy. I documented that emotional journey here.

As it turns out, that surgery probably saved my life. I woke up after my December 6th operation to the hard news that three forms of cancer, two of them active, had been found during the procedure. The tumors had been invisible on every test I’d undergone previous to that date, and there was no telling how long they would have continued to grow, undetected, before they were found by conventional means. (My musings one year after the life-altering surgery are here.)

The road to this point has been hard but beautiful, paved with gratitude and the certainty of God’s presence. It has been gratifying and challenging and filled with meaning, creativity and love. My life certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s good. It’s God-led and God-healed. God-purposed, too.

I wake up every morning feeling blessed to be able to keep serving missionary families. And, when there’s a bit of margin in my life, to do a bit of writing too. My heroes and heroines are more flawed now than they were in my childhood’s castle-roaming days, but they embody all I’ve learned and all I want my legacy to be:

There is no ache too crippling for God to heal. There is no despair too damaging for him to redeem. The One who has suffered is near in our darkness, lighting the future with inextinguishable promises—and scattering flecks of gold amid the debris of our pain.