Saturday, August 4, 2018

Writing From Challenging Times

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

Last month, I wrote about the different means available to us for telling a story. My post last month is How Can I Tell My Story?

This time, I want to look at sharing a story that comes from pain, from the heartbreaks in our lives. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s, divorce, loss of a loved one, etc., life is full of times that challenge us. And it is often these stories that we feel compelled to share.

But it hurts. So, we are often reluctant to go there. Where it’s tender and the tears await us.

I see this when I look at blogs about families with special needs children. Many of these websites are what we called orphans, sites with only a couple of posts from long ago. One of these blogs is my own, Started In NC. It was supposed to be about our family and the struggles and joys of having a child with autism. There’s only a handful of posts from several years ago.

When the struggle is so big that it consumes your life, it’s hard to find the strength to post with any consistency. We want to show people how to overcome in their situation. However, most days, you’re just trying to keep your head above water. I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t have a clue either.

Which is why a story from someone going through what is strangling you is so important.

Using a Blog
I asked for advice from my friend, Beth Saadati. She has a blog, Bittersweet, on her website,, about the suicide of her teenage daughter, Jenna. To say this is heartbreaking trivializes the word.

After she lost her daughter, someone suggested that she should start a blog. But it was too fresh. It was after she ghostwrote a book about the persecuted church overseas, that she realized the power of story. And that she needed to tell her own.

She started posting to help process her own feelings of loss. But she began hearing from others from across the country how her story was touching them; parents who had lost their own child, teenagers struggling with the pull of suicide, even survivors of suicide attempts.  Because she made herself vulnerable, she has been a guest on radio, TV, and several live events to carry on a conversation that is needed, but scary. And she saved lives.

Using a Memoir
Don Piper’s memoir, written with Cecil Murphey, 90 Minutes in Heaven, is still making a huge impact although it’s been out for a few years. It’s about colliding head-on with a semi-truck, being pronounced dead at the scene, his glimpse of heaven, then his years of painful recovery. Just the memory of the description of the apparatus they attached to his leg makes me shiver.

After over twenty years, his story is still having an impact. One of his reviewers described the takeaway from his book very well. This book shows “how amazing it is to live with the expectation that every moment is a gift from God.”

My Choices
My life was changed over fifteen years ago when we got the diagnosis that my son had autism. That was the beginning of years of sleepless nights, therapies, and experimental treatments. With autism, the experts tell you that the early, developing years are extremely important and you have to do everything before it’s too late. The pressure can totally overwhelm the new families and their support circle. I know it did me.

While you’re raising a child, there are times you think that this will be my life forever. Daily tantrums, two hours of sleep. You’ll never get through it.

But, I did. And this was the message I knew others needed to hear.

So, I asked how should I tell it in a way where it would be heard? I’m not a MD or PhD. I’m not a celebrity or athlete. My story is only one of thousands that could easily get lost in all the noise out there.

My answer was to start by submitting an article to Guidepost. They accepted it for their Christmas book a few years ago. That one article had the potential to reach over two million readers. Like I wrote in my last post, don’t overlook the power of an article.

In the article, I was only able to show a snippet of what life is like for my son. I wanted to show more, so I started a novel. I decided on a novel as opposed to a memoir so that I could create characters and dialog, but still immerse the reader into the life of a nonverbal, autistic boy. I was able to include a teenager with Asperger syndrome, which is on the other end of the autism spectrum.

In the story, the reader feels the struggles that the parents experience every day. I set the story at an age Madison had already gone through to give me the distance I needed, and so I could, with confidence, give a similar family the assurance that they could get through it, too.

Life on this earth is sometimes hard. Not because God doesn’t care, is absent, or is weak. But that through the difficulties, we can see Him more clearly and will seek Him more often. Your story is unique to you, but many others could be going through similar circumstances. And hearing your story could give them encouragement they need to continue.

I think Beth summed this up well in her email. 

There’s a story only you can tell; tell it well. Expect to cry. Expect to hurt. It will be a wound that constantly reopens. But revisit and write it anyhow. 

I can’t change what happened in my life, but maybe, through sharing the story, God will use it to positively impact others.

Thoughts on #writing from challenging times - @TimSuddeth on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Your story is unique to you and even the challenging times can be encouraging - @TimSuddeth on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Tim Suddeth has been published in Guideposts’ The Joy of Christmas and on He’s working on his third manuscript and looks forward to seeing his name on a cover. He is a member of ACFW and Cross n Pens. Tim’s lives in Greenville, SC with his wife, Vickie, and his happy 19-year-old autistic son, Madison.  Visit Tim at and on Facebook and Twitter. He can be also reached at


  1. Thanks Tim for the encouragement to share our painful stories and not hide them so we can help others. God doesn't waste anything, including pain.

    1. No He doesn't. Some of his most important lessons come through pain.

  2. Loved your post today Mr. Tim. It isn't always easy to write about our struggles in this life, but when done right, God uses them to help others. The amazing thing I've found when writing about mine in the past is that in doing so, God takes away the pain from those memories. God's blessings sir...

  3. Loved this! Rose who has an autistic nephew with Aspergers

  4. Raising any child in our world is a challenge. God bless.