A Daughter's Story of Amazing Grace
CBN.com God can take even the most painful things in our lives and make something beautiful from them, says Kathryn Slattery, author of Lost & Found: One Daughter's Story of Amazing Grace.
In this memoir, Slattery shares her journey through a territory familiar to many baby boomers – the challenge of simultaneously caring for family, for aging parents, and for one’s soul.
With candor, honesty, and gentle self-effacing humor, Slattery unlocks the family secrets, including alcoholism and a debilitating eating disorder, which worked over the years to strain her relationship with her mother. Yet in all the situations of her life – as a child of a alcoholic, as a young woman battling bulimia, and as an adult caring for her aged mom – Slattery sees that the hand of God was working in her life.
She recently discussed the book.
What inspired you to write Lost & Found?
In June, 2006, I wrote a true first-person story for Guideposts magazine called “A Closer Bond,” about the reconciliation that took place between my mother and me in the years leading up to her death. At age 78, when my mother came to live in the in-law apartment attached to our house, I initially worried that it might not be such a good idea. For as long as I could remember, “prickly” was the best word to describe our relationship. We were different in so many ways. We got along better at a distance. But during those twelve years together, we had the opportunity to grow to know, respect, and love each other in a way I never would have dreamed possible. In the last years of her life, my mother suffered blindness from age-related macular degeneration, as well as congestive heart failure. The courage and optimism with which she faced these challenges was absolutely amazing.
The editor-in-chief at GuidepostsBooks liked the magazine story so much, she asked if I would consider expanding it into a full-length memoir. So I did.
What do you believe the reader might “take away” from Lost & Found?
While life is beautiful, it can also be very difficult. All of us have our struggles. It is my fondest hope and prayer that Lost & Found will help readers understand that in God’s economy, nothing in life goes to waste. Everything in life has value – even the pain – and something beautiful and good can come from life’s most difficult circumstances and mistakes. This is the miracle of God’s redemptive grace.
I hope the book will serve as a source of encouragement, hope and healing for anyone who struggles with a difficult relationship with a parent, or who is the adult child of an alcoholic, or who suffers from an eating disorder, or who finds themselves trapped in the “Sandwich Generation,” trying to meet the needs of their own family, while at the same time caring for an aging parent.
Like I said, life can be difficult! But as Helen Keller once said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”
Have you always wanted to write your memoir?
No, I have not. For thirty years my specialty has been writing other peoples’ stories (hundreds of them) as a ghostwriter, and children’s books. Believe me, I prayed long and hard before saying “Yes,” to writing this book. At one point in the discernment process, I remember thinking, Well God, You gave me this life. So I’m just going to give it back to You as honestly as I can, for You to do what You want with it. Now that the book is completed, I believe it was worth the effort. It makes me so happy to think that it might be a source of hope and encouragement to others.
What does your family think of Lost & Found? Has it been painful or hard to accept?
My husband Tom has been a tremendous encourager and sounding board for the book. Because the book is so personally revealing, I didn’t want to make the mistake of writing it in a total vacuum. Many evenings the two of us would go for a walk and I would read to him what I had written that day. Because I wear reading glasses, I had to be careful to not take a wrong step and fall off the sidewalk! The reaction of my two adult children to the book has been to tease me unmercifully, saying, “Just wait, Mom, ‘til our book about you comes out!” Now that (and I think most parents would agree) is certainly a humbling thought. My sister Laurrie, who is my only surviving immediate family member, has also been very supportive. Frequently when I was working on the book, I would call her and read parts of it out loud to her over the phone. I hope she will be touched by how she is portrayed in the story. She is my only sister, and I love her very much.
Did your mother know of your writing this book before her death?
No, she did not. And, as you know, the book is very honest. Oftentimes heartbreakingly, painfully so. But I have dedicated Lost & Found to my mother, and I would like to think that she would be honored and pleased with the book. While working on the book – and even now – I am so comforted by the thought of my mother being alive and well and happy in heaven. In my mind’s eye, I can see her dancing with my father. They loved each other very much, and my father’s too-early death was such a tragic loss. One day, I believe that we will all be reunited – and what a joyful day that will be!
What do you feel your calling is as a writer?
I feel it is my calling, or my responsibility to the reader (especially as a nonfiction writer) to be as honest as I can be. Inherent in that calling is being true not only to others and myself, but also to God. Sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most profound. The three simplest ideas that I know and that permeate everything I write are: God is real. God loves you. God has a very special purpose for your life here on eart. It’s the reason you were born! There – doesn’t that make you feel just a little bit better about life?
When a person goes to all the effort and expense to purchase a book, clearly he or she expects something in return. You could say that there is an unspoken contract between the reader and the writer. The reader expects, at the very least, a good story. The reader expects to get their money’s worth of entertainment.
With a memoir, however, the contract between the reader and writer becomes a bit more complicated. The stakes are higher. With a memoir, the reader expects, in addition to a good story, an honest story. In a memoir, there is no place for a “willing suspension of disbelief.” In addition to getting caught up in a good story, the reader of a quality memoir should be able to actually walk alongside the writer, gain insights and learn lessons with the writer, and ultimately come to know the author like a good and trusted friend. There is tremendous power in a good first-person story well-told.
Danielle Trussoni, the accomplished memoirist, puts it this way: “The real pleasure of reading a memoir lies not in the consumption of confessions, but in watching a writer grapple with the reality that shaped him. War, love, addiction: no matter the subject, a good memoirist positions himself as a lens through which we can discern a universal experience.”
I hope that is what I have achieved with Lost & Found.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors are Anne Tyler, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and Elizabeth Sherrill. And Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee… if only they had written more! I go for writers with heart.
Who have been some of your writing mentors?
My first writing mentor was the late Arthur Gordon, Editor in Chief of Guideposts, when I first joined the magazine’s staff back in 1977. Arthur edited our stories with a black Flair felt-tipped pen that worked absolute magic on the page. With his crisp, confident editing, he had the amazing gift of getting right to the heart of a story. Every manuscript he touched resulted in multiple lessons learned. Plus, Arthur was generous with praise (when it was deserved), and he knew just what to say to encourage a young, inexperienced, tentative writer. In recent years, Elizabeth Sherrill (The Hiding Place, All the Way to Heaven) and Anne Tyler (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Breathing Lessons, Digging to America) have also been tremendously inspiring – primarily by their example as excellent writers, but also through their personal words of generous encouragement.
Never underestimate the power of an encouraging word!
Want to know more?
Check out Lost & Found: One Daughter's Story
of Amazing Grace.
Learn more about the author at www.kathrynslattery.com.
Interview courtesy of McClure/Muntsinger Public Relations.
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