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Murder, Bones, and Reality Checks

| written by A.J. Coulter | 0 comments


I wrote my first opening scene in weeks, and I shared it with a former student of mine. The scene was of a central character at a funeral of a woman she murdered. I described not only how she strangled the woman in the casket but also how she took pleasure in killing her.

The whole purpose of the scene was to grab the reader’s attention, and it succeeded. The questions back from my student were not about the writing but about me instead. Her interest rested in how I—the father, the former pastor, the believer—reconciled so easily to write from the point of view of a cold-blooded murderess. It seemed too easy. Why was it so easy?

She was not questioning the validity or sincerity of my faith, nor was she accusing me of being capable of murder, but I understood her questioning. I question myself. And others. And God. Often. 

To move forward, as is my theme for the year, I had to see the darkest parts of myself and acknowledge they were there instead of the religious, dead exercise of denial. I am both a Child of God and completely human. That lesson is a huge one: Moving forward does not require denial, perfection, or even deliverance. Moving forward means acknowledgment and deciding—deciding to go on and live a full life even though all of that ‘stuff’ just happened, even though all of the pain still hurts, even though more ‘stuff’ will happen in the process. 

All of the judgment and the pretentiousness fade when we recognize we too are capable of hurting. No, not feeling pain. No, we are all capable of causing it. Little rays of forgiveness start to break through the darkest of offenses when we see ourselves as we truly are instead of as what we wished we were. 

So I remind myself: forward. Sure, I think I have taken some pit stops along the way, but today I am still here. So I have the opportunity to decide. Whether we like the scenery or not, we are all in a Valley of Decision, and the answer is not in the walking or the navigating our way out. It’s all in the deciding. 

I would have chosen a different valley for myself. I would have rather experienced my Dark Night of the Soul in a different zip code, and I would love to say that I have spouted Scriptures and praised my way through the darkest moments. Nope! Some days I cried in my office when no one cared to know why I was even upset. Each day eventually led me back to the same stinking Valley of Decision, full of my own, dry bones. 

In order for the dry bones to become the army in Ezekiel 37, no one denied the dryness. We see it. We acknowledge it. But still we decide to speak life. To say, “God, only You know.” And to move forward anyway. 

What do you need to decide today?

(Photo credit: Brian Koprowski via photopin cc)

A.J. Coulter writes fiction and poetry that often explores themes of identity, faith, relationships, and Southern Appalachian life. He founded the fiction critique group Hendersonville Writers and occasionally teaches college writing courses. You can find him on his writing blog or Facebook.