Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Living as a Character in a Novel

“Stop living like you’re in a novel,” a guy said after bringing me on a date. I’d just told him that I wouldn’t go out with him again. “I can give you everything,” he protested.

I shook my head. “I don’t think so.” I paused trying to explain it, but I wasn’t sure how. There have been certain things in my life that I’ve just known: Like playing the violin—as if destined, I always knew God created me…to play the violin. At the age of three, I saw a violinist on TV and started begging my parents every single day for a fiddle. Once I hit kindergarten, they finally acquiesced and let me take lessons. 

We found the most wonderful teacher: Atalie Cook. I remember her beautiful, blonde hair and how kind she was even when I pleaded with her to teach me new songs. “This one,” I said once with so much excitement. “‘El Shaddai.’” 

I practiced for hours upon hours because it felt like those musical strings connected me directly to God. His love would wrap around and nothing else mattered. When that hollow, wooden body sang, so did my soul. At the age of eight, I learned that specific song so well I even got to perform it at Andrew and Terri’s unforgettable church—a feat I will always hold dear. And so, from a young age I found my passion, unaware of how truly rare that was.

“What are you looking for?” the man asked at the end of our date, shaking me from my thoughts. “I’m young. I have a ton of money. Women have said I’m handsome.”

“But with us, the most important things are missing.”

He appeared perturbed.

We lacked what I’d found even as a young child with my violin. “Excitement. Adventure… Passion.”

“You’re looking for something that doesn’t exist—a man who isn’t real… I’d be good for you and your kids.”

Sure he looked good on paper. 

I smiled a bit sadly. My children had been through enough with my first marriage. Unless I found the perfect person, I would never get remarried. Plus, I loved being a single mom, and I didn’t need to teach my children how to gamble.

“Best of luck to you,” I said.

“You really should stop living like you’re in one of those stupid novels you read. You will never find happiness,” the man told me. “Ever.”

I told him goodnight and walked into my empty house. My four kids had gone to be with my ex-husband for a couple of days, and the hours always dragged when they did this because they spent almost all of their time with me. As I drank a glass of wine and slouched in bed, the man’s words replayed in my head: “You will never find happiness. Ever.”

I haven’t thought about this for a long time, but for some reason, the memory came to mind this weekend as Mike drove me and the kids to a book signing in Helper, Utah.

Mike and Trey brought several boxes of books into the coffee shop and set everything up. And almost instantly people began pouring in. I saw relatives and friends. I visited with some of my very favorite people on earth as well as new friends who drove miles and miles just to meet me. “I used every extra dime I could to hitch a ride here today,” an elderly woman said—and it blessed my heart more than I can say. “My daughter died of cancer.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I drove hours to meet you. I read everything you write.”

I gave her a huge hug and a free book—that was the least I could do after she’d traveled so far! As we’ve been at these signings, I’ve been absolutely amazed by some of the stories I’ve heard—and by people‘s generosity to me. It’s amazing that they’ve come just to share encouragement and love. I’ve now met people from all over Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Montana, Arizona, and Nevada! 

Toward the end of the signing, a familiar looking woman walked through the door. “Atalie?” I gaped, completely dumbfounded. “Atalie!” My very first violin teacher had actually come to my signing. We gave each other the biggest hug, and tears filled my eyes as she spoke to me.

“I’ve been following your story. Even when you were a little girl you inspired me to try new things and embrace life.” She looked me up and down. And I worried, wondering what she might be thinking because cancer has taken my ability to stand straight or hold myself up for too long. But instead of mentioning any of that, she commented on something else. “I always knew you’d grow up to be an amazing woman. And you did. Look at you now.”

I’m not sure what it was, but her words really hit me, meaning so much. My growth as a person is what matters, not any of that other finite stuff.

I caught sight of Mike then, shaking hands with someone across the room. “You can’t believe a word she writes about me,” he said, his voice always carrying. “She wears rose-colored glasses when it comes to me.” I had to giggle because he’s so perfect in my eyes—my exceptional, wonderful, goofball man.

Indy talked with someone nearby, explaining how cool it is to be in an “actual book,” and I caught a glimpse of a couple of relatives who were smiling at me with so much joy.

“You’re gonna make it through this cancer business,” one cousin told me. “I just know it.”

As we drove home the next day, I thought about how strange it is that this is the very happiest I’ve been in my entire life. You’d never think that cancer could somehow end up being such a good thing. I guess it just goes to show that no matter how hard life gets, if we can just look for the good things in life, then beautiful moments will follow. 

Cancer has brought me closer to my family and helped me appreciate everything. Because of it, I have a book that even my family seems to be proud of. But more than that, I’ve realized what I’ve always been looking for….

At different points in my life I felt like my book is a romance, a comedy, a mystery, or even a tragedy. But right now, my book is truly an adventure. And I’m proud to say that the rich guy I once dated was wrong. I have found happiness, and I’ve found it in all of the right places despite hardship and trials. I’ve found hope and love among the best family and friends anyone could hope for. Joy isn’t something that comes and goes. It’s rooted in gratitude and it blooms even in adversity. I’m so thankful for everything. Whether I continue to get better or not, I’m so happy with my life. And I’m continuing to truly appreciate each moment, just like we all should.

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