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Interview: April 24, 2014

Francine Rivers has been a bestselling author of Christian fiction since the mid-'90s, when her highly acclaimed statement of faith, REDEEMING LOVE, was re-released by Multnomah Publishers. Her latest novel, BRIDGE TO HAVEN, is about a young woman named Abra, whose early childhood trauma has left her angry and confused. Seduced by the glamour of Hollywood life, Abra burns every bridge to get what she thinks she wants --- only to find the price of fame too high, and the attention not enough to heal her broken heart. In this interview conducted by reviewer Michele Howe, Rivers talks about the biblical story that inspired BRIDGE TO HAVEN and how her personal struggles are present in all her writing. She also discusses the sometimes-paradox of heartache, the difference between what the world calls “love” and love that is real, and the transformative power of accepting God into our hearts.

The Book Report Network: What was your inspiration for writing BRIDGE TO HAVEN?

Francine Rivers: Ezekiel 16 is the inspiration for BRIDGE TO HAVEN. It is an allegory about God’s love for Israel, but can also be applied to an individual’s faith journey. We all look to other “gods” until we realize they are mist and offer nothing. There is only one true God and He sent His Son Jesus as the perfect representation and fullness of Who He is. We are all called to make a decision whether or not to believe. Few understand it has always been and always will be a life and death decision. When Jesus returns as He promised He will, time is over.

TBRN: The symbolism of the bridge is so applicable to the life of faith. Even though Pastor Zeke found Abra under the bridge and Joshua brings her to the bridge, Abra had to decide for herself if she wanted to cross it. Is there any hint of an autobiographical truth to this fictional account?

FR: There is always an element of my personal struggles in anything I write. It took me a long time to come to faith, and when I did, it was a matter of deciding to believe, not something that came from an emotional response or out of an emotional experience. I had lived my own way long enough to know that it brings heartache and damaged relationships. I also needed to understand that just because my parents raised me to be a Christian didn’t mean I was one. Each person must make the decision to surrender to Christ. When we do, we realize we are free, freer than we ever thought we could be as we are being transformed by the Lord to become more like Jesus.

TBRN: The whole decision by Peter and Priscilla to adopt Abra is a wondrous one, and yet somehow Abra missed out on believing they truly loved her. Why does one’s own private heart pain often make us self-inflict heartache when there should be love instead?

FR: We often see through our child eyes, holding onto old hurts, closing our hearts in an attempt to protect ourselves, allowing past experiences to define us. Pain can blind us. We want to escape and find ways that often bring deeper hurt and harm. Some people turn to addictions, others to relationships. We are often stubborn, wanting to find our own way out of the difficulties we fall or dive into. Abra was told the truth many times, but refuses to believe. Dylan takes one look at her and knows exactly who she is and how to captivate her. How many predators are doing that today? They seek out the vulnerable, offer counterfeit love, seduce, ensnare and trap. Abra sees Dylan’s beauty. She listens to his lies. When she sees the truth, she allows shame and guilt to hold her prisoner. She hangs onto pride. How can she go back and admit she was wrong? What awaits her if she does? Pain can also be a teacher. Pain can drive us to our knees before God. 

Abra is adopted. So too is every believer in Jesus. When we come to faith in Christ, God adopts us into His family. We become His daughter or His son. Like Abra, we make the choice to accept the love offered and step into His open arms. The problem is there are so many rulers, principalities and evil forces in this world that can confuse us. Free will means we can experience terrible things at the hands of people who have given themselves over to evil. Not everyone has a loving family or a family at all. Often people define God by what they have experienced at human hands. We all carry wounds, some more than others. The world shouts and screams for our allegiance.

God whispers. He is a still, quiet voice. And He is the only one who can heal deep down hidden wounds and resurrect the soul. We walk dead and wounded until He brings us back to life. When we cross the bridge of faith, when we lean in, listen and seek to learn from Him, the pain recedes and joy grows. We are real. We are alive. The most amazing part is how God can use anything and everything we have experienced for His good purpose when we love Him. He gives us new eyes and ears, new life so we can pour out that hope and love to others.   

TBRN: Forgiveness is such a simple yet complex process. Is there anything Pastor Zeke might have done differently to help Abra work through her anger toward him?

FR: I don’t think anything would have made Abra feel the separation and hurt any less. What Pastor Zeke did in an attempt to make it easier only made it more difficult for the entire Matthews family. This is why Peter and Priscilla ask him to stay away and why they decided to attend another church for several years. They hoped, given time, they could win Abra’s love. Instead, Abra closes herself off from everyone except Joshua. Pastor Zeke was also grieving deeply over the loss of Marianne, and he still had the responsibility of pastoring a congregation. Zeke gave in to Marianne’s desires when he agreed they would be Abra’s foster parents. After Marianne’s death, he returned Abra to the family who always wanted her. God used both sets of parents to set the stage for His plan for Abra.

TBRN: The fine line between brotherly and sisterly love that later morphed into romantic love in Joshua and Abra’s case was beautifully written. Did you wonder if any of your readers might take issue with their evolving relationship, even though they weren’t blood relatives?

FR: This was definitely a challenge! In my mind, there was always a powerful bond between Joshua and Abra. Ezekiel 16 tells an amazing story of God’s love. In human terms, it would be unseemly for a man to claim an abandoned baby girl and rear her to be his bride. Even more indecent is for that girl, now his wife, to give away every gift her husband has given her, including her life and body to other lovers. Shocking! Disgusting! But we do it all the time, squandering the blessings God gives us, crediting ourselves or lucky circumstances. God is Father-husband, Jesus our brother-friend, the Holy Spirit our soul mate. God’s love is higher, deeper and wider than we can comprehend, and certainly far more than I will ever be able to express fully in story. 

My first attempts to keep the Ezekiel 16 story intact would undoubtedly have caused issue. Thankfully, I have editors who pointed out places that might have caused discomfort and brainstormed with me. Abra couldn’t remain in the Freeman household, and she had to be too young to understand all the reasons, but old enough to remember the circumstances of being given to the Matthews. There had to be a good reason for Pastor Zeke to give Abra away. I also kept Pastor Zeke and Marianne as Abra’s foster parents and not adoptive parents. Abra views Joshua as a brother far longer than he sees her as a sister. And even when she sees him as her best friend, it still requires a long journey to understand who God intended him to be all along.

TBRN: Joshua represents all that is pure and good in a relationship to Abra, yet she still chose the villainous Dylan Stark. Do you ever write these tragic scenarios in the hopes that readers facing similar situations might be warned and choose wisely?

FR: Yes. I also hope the reader will see the difference between what the world calls “love” and what real love is. Joshua isn’t perfect. He is broken, too. He has a temper. He physically desires Abra even more than Dylan does. The difference is that Dylan lusts after Abra. Joshua cherishes her. Dylan wants to destroy her. Joshua wants to lift her up. Dylan wants to possess her. Joshua offers the freedom to become all God intended her to be.

TBRN: The whole struggle between loving someone enough to let them go until they are ready to return weaves its way through your story. The question is, was Zeke right in telling Joshua to let Abra go? Or should they both have pursued her more quickly and more intently?

FR: People in the 1950s didn’t have all the tools we have today. There was no way to find Abra unless she wanted to be found, and she didn’t. Had Joshua and Zeke pursued her, she would have run faster and gone further. If Joshua and Zeke had gone to Lilith Stark’s mansion, Dylan would have taken Abra elsewhere, and Abra, in her desperation to believe he loved her as she loved him, would have gone with him. 

We see the same scenario in sex trafficking cases today: a girl taken captive who is manipulated to stay with and often defend the one who uses and abuses her for his own gain. There are many people, men and women, in the world today who are far worse than Dylan, and thousands of lost and broken girls like Abra who have become slaves. 

TBRN: Each character in BRIDGE TO HAVEN has some inner healing to do. It is interesting to watch how different characters work through their pain (or not). Do you plan in advance before writing your storyline how your characters will or will not respond and react to the troubles that come their way? 

FR: No. I’m usually trying to stay out of the way of my characters telling their own story --- as strange as that may sound. (Writers will know exactly what I mean.) Sometimes the characters I think will play very minor roles end up having a mind of their own. That’s when writing is the most fun.

TBRN: The theme of redemption is always right under the surface of your books, making them so much more profound that just a story. Do you believe your readers place themselves into the characters’ places and identify with their own need for redemption?

FR: I think that is the desire and hope of every Christian writer, at least, all the ones I know. I want to write stories that reach the heart and make readers hunger and thirst for God. If that happens, the reader will find Him. God can use anything to reach into the heart of one of His children, even a work of fiction. 

TBRN: Faith, hope and love are frequently the heart’s question in your characters’ lives. Are these facets of life as found in your fictional stories similarly front and center in your readers’ lives? 

FR: Readers tend to identify with different characters, and not always the one who is grounded in faith and walking with Jesus. I hear from many who are struggling or have struggled with faith issues or painful past experiences. Like Abra, they are on a journey. We all long for redemption and, even when assured of it through faith, need to be reminded that grace isn’t a human idea. It comes from God, and it is the indwelling of God that allows us not only to experience it firsthand, but offer it to others without first tacking on conditions. We walk by faith and place our hope in God’s promises. His love is constant and never-ending.

TBRN: What are you working on now and when might readers expect to see it? 

FR: I haven’t started a new project. I have one idea that has been on my mind for a long time, and two characters who are beginning to carry on conversations inside my head. I have no idea what God’s timing will be. I’m still waiting for that nudge that tells me this is the story to tackle and it’s time to begin.