“Happiness is a choice.”
First-time author Frank Redman worked those two ideas into his debut novel “Elijah.” But first, he saw their power in his own life, both through his work at a home for sex abuse survivors, and again when he was told that he had a rare and incurable brain cancer that would kill him within a year.
Mentored by best-selling author Dean Koontz, Redman masterfully interweaves suspense, substance, spirituality, and even humor in his tale about a young man named Elijah Raven, who can communicate with animals.
As Redman told me during a recent “Christopher Closeup” interview, Elijah doesn’t so much see this talent as a gift, but rather “a curse, because animals don’t tell him about good things that happen; they only tell him about bad things.”
Because of his strong sense of justice and morality, born out of being raised in a physically abusive situation himself, Elijah makes every effort to help whoever is in danger. In the case of the novel, he “stumbles across a child sex trafficking ring,” explains Redman, and risks his life to take it down.
Redman learned that “there are 42 million admitted sex abuse survivors in the United States today,” with an estimation that the number is even higher because “60 percent of people that are sexually abused never even admit it.” And because he and his wife worked for four years at a Christian children’s home that cared for abuse victims, his exposure to the ways in which a child can be mentally and spiritually broken works its way into the story.
Redman said, “I believe that we’re all born with a filter that tells us what is right and what is wrong, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or not. When a child is forced to do something that they realize is wrong – for example, force them to [engage in] some sort of sex abuse act – then that filter breaks. With that breakage, there’s a lot of social norms and things that they would normally have stayed away from that they now seek and pursue instead.”
Recovery is a long and difficult process for sex abuse survivors, but Redman has seen God’s grace as being a vital factor that allows healing to happen. That’s why “Elijah” contains the messages that it does: “It doesn’t make a difference what has happened in your life. With God’s grace, you can overcome it. You are not doomed to be a victim….[Also], happiness is a choice; it’s not a circumstance.”
Redman does an excellent job integrating religious themes and subtext into “Elijah,” without being heavy-handed. To me, the book never felt like, “We interrupt this suspense story to give you an important Christian message!” Instead, the faith elements emerge organically from the characters and their situations.
Redman explains, “I have my beliefs and I’m very firm in my beliefs, but I don’t ever want to push my beliefs on somebody else. My style of evangelism, if you want to call it that, is to befriend people, develop relationships, and hopefully they see God’s glory in my own life, and that permeates over into their life, and they decide that they want to make the decision to pursue God and see what that’s like. That’s exactly what came out through the novel.”
Redman’s faith continues to ground him, especially in light of the dire medical prognosis he received in April 2013. He was diagnosed with Gliomatosis Cerebri, a rare form of terminal brain cancer that strikes only 100 people annually in the United States. Doctors told him he would last one year if he was “lucky.” Most people die within weeks.
“Immediately upon the diagnosis,” recalled Redman, “I did go into despair and was essentially a train wreck for a few days, despite being a devout Christian and having a strong belief in God and Jesus Christ.”
With a successful IT career, a loving wife, and two young children, he couldn’t understand why God would do this to him. A pastor friend helped Redman develop a new perspective. God, he realized, didn’t give him cancer, but He could use all things for good according to His purpose.
As with many people in this kind of situation, God’s love was made visible through the love of others. Since Redman had to quit his job, his wife Sheri started working full time so he could get insurance benefits. Friends from their church volunteered to drive him to his radiation treatments an hour away and bring him home again. Most of all, he appreciates the prayers: “Just knowing that all these people were praying for me and still are praying for me, it’s a huge blessing.”
In addition, Redman has lived long past the expiration date doctors predicted for him. The reason? He possesses a mutant gene called IDH1, which is effective in slowing down and treating the cancer’s progression. It’s not a cure, but it has been a life extender. Says Redman, “I guess I’m some sort of X-Man now…It’s all because of the grace of God that I’m still here.”
Redman knows better than most that every day you’re alive is a precious gift. That’s why he is now using the time he has left to share a story like “Elijah” – and hopefully some sequels.
While the book doesn’t include any explicit language, it does include a “strong depiction of sex abuse” because he wants readers to realize how appalling this crime is. And if anyone knows of abuse that’s going on, he hopes they report it to the authorities: “Don’t just turn a blind eye to what’s going on. That’s a major part of why there is such a dark depiction of the abuse in ‘Elijah.’ So that it gets people to wake up and do something about it.”
Despite the darkness in “Elijah,” it is not ultimately a dark book. In reading his mentor Koontz’s novels, he discovered a common trait among them that he decided to incorporate into his own work: “Hope.”
It’s a quality that can be hard to find or hold onto when life goes wrong, but it’s one that has served Redman well. And it’s a gift he passes on to all the readers of “Elijah,” who may need a reminder themselves.
(To listen to my full interview with Frank Redman, click on the podcast link:)
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