In the book, Unforgettable Roads, the character of Eddie makes a stunning conversion from disbelief and a life of living for the next fix, to one of complete and utter faith in God. His conversion comes after he steals a beautifully hand-crafted chest containing the personal journals of Jack Elliott. In reading Jack’s life, Eddie, for the first time, hears the wisdom of how to live. It’s in believing that wisdom, finally understanding that the choice to have the life he’s always wanted is his choice, and experiencing God’s mercy that leads to his full conversion to the Catholic Christian faith. However, that conversion would never have been possible if Eddie hadn’t first been starving for that change.
Eddie was raised in a series of foster homes and had graduated from the child services system at eighteen, launching into a world of adulthood without having been formed in a family. A disclaimer: There are many amazing foster families that work themselves to the bone to love a child who has not been loved. There are also foster homes that don’t do that. There are foster children who thrive and those who simply can’t. For the sake of creating a character who hadn’t thrived, Eddie’s foster care experience included amazing foster parents and less than impressive situations. In Eddie’s case, he was moved from family to family and when he was old enough, he entered the world.
Complicating an already fragile upbringing, our world does not support a wise and Biblical life-style. There are advertisements selling us things we don’t need and things on which we shouldn’t waste our money. Entertainment is violent and sexy and ignores the idea of marriage before sex. That was Eddie’s world.
Eddie clung to the elements of life that brought him pleasure, even if that pleasure lasted as long as there was beer sloshing in the can. He didn’t think about tomorrow, because tomorrow always came with the same problems, the same hungers, the same people. Eddie was starving for food, starving for a change.
When the reader meets Eddie, he is stealing a chest from the trunk of a car thinking that if the contents of the chest are as beautiful as the chest itself, he could pawn it off and make a small fortune. There was something amazing inside, but at first glance, the set of spiral notebooks seemed a cruel joke.
He read the journals reluctantly at first, but then with fervor. Within those hand-written pages he met a real man; someone who had grown up in a broken family, but found family. There were bits of wisdom scattered throughout the pages with quotes from scripture. Jack’s life story inspired Eddie to embrace responsibility. Eddie realized that life is what he brought to it. If he wanted success he must practice successful thinking. If he wanted respect, he would have to be respectful. Because he wanted to be like Jack, he would quit stealing, start working harder, and leave behind the practices and people that were not inline with his new way of life.
Within days, he had turned a corner. Within a few weeks, he’s unrecognizable. A year later, well, that book is coming. But the question still lives: why was Eddie’s conversion so strong?
When a virtuous life if offered to those who have never seen virtue, they can either wash themselves of their lack of virtue and put on the robes of God, or they can turn their back and continue on their way. Eddie chose wisely. If people don’t see that, then they are not hungry enough for God. If people can’t see the power of God’s mercy, then they have never been at the gate, dressed in rags, waiting for someone to stop and welcome them into the banquet.
Eddie embraced Jack’s principles and put them to the test. He found that his suffering felt different when he looked at his life through the lens of faith. Suffering isn’t always a punishment, but an opportunity to align our discomfort with Jesus’ sufferings. In other words, suffering can inspire when we know there is a purpose behind it and that we are not alone in it. Suffering is necessary because it makes us stronger. Suffering can be a gracefully received gift or it can be an ugly torture. It inspires love or disgust, thankfulness or bitterness.
That entire change of heart Eddie experienced might seem sudden and unrealistic to people. But it is real. It is possible. And for many, it is necessary. Eddie was starving for family, for love, for success, for a life that meant something. Hunger destroys the soul. The banquet of God’s mercy lasts forever. That’s what Eddie discovered. When the menu of real living was put before him in Jack’s journals, Eddie ordered freely and ate heartily.
It wasn’t just Eddie that experienced God’s surprising mercy. This writer, too, was surprised to find herself writing Eddie into the story. He was not a part of the original story plot, but asked, “If Jack’s journals are stolen, what effect would they have on the thief?” That’s when Eddie was born. He was a delightful surprise and an inspiring addition. Like so many people we meet in life at just the right moment, Eddie introduced the concept of complete change for and because of God.