I sat at the computer, staring at the screen. Would this project fail because my computer ate the file? I’d truly felt led by God to write this book. Now, just five hours before the deadline to deliver the manuscript to the printer, the book was locked inside a computer that refused to release it. The mission I thought I’d been given now seemed impossible.
I found myself speaking aloud in the empty room, pouring out my heart in a disjointed prayer. “I thought this was Your plan, Lord. What’s going on here? Did I completely misread this whole situation? The story will glorify You. You seemed to open every door to make this happen.”
Sighing, I thought back to all those open doors. My friend, Carola Spencer, had been shot and critically injured. A gunman had come into Carola’s business early one morning to confront his estranged girlfriend. He shot and killed both the girlfriend and a coworker as other employees escaped out a back door. When Carola came out of her office to investigate, he shot her in the head, then turned the gun on himself.
I learned of the shooting when a mutual friend called me, saying, “Turn on your TV quick. Carola’s been shot!”
I watched in horror as the SWAT team swarmed Carola’s office. I prayed for my friend and her associates.
The media reported that Carola had been airlifted to a trauma center, but hours passed before her friends learned of her condition. She lost an eye and her sinuses, and the bones inside her face were shattered. Hours of intricate surgery and five titanium plates saved her life and her face.
The only help I anticipated offering Carola was my prayers and the prayers of others. As soon as I learned of the tragedy, I went to the LoveKnot, an Internet email loop of Christian women writers, to ask for their prayers.
All of them agreed to pray, and one of them said, “Why don’t you write Carola’s story?”
“Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll think about it.” It was too soon for me to think about anything but Carola’s recovery.
Just a few days after the shooting, Carola agreed to a number of television interviews. She faced the camera, with a road map of stitches covering her head and pale face.
“How did you survive?” a reporter asked.
“I know that God saved me,” Carola answered. “I don’t know what He has planned for my life, but I know He saved me for a reason. I just have to figure out what it is that He wants me to do and do it.”
Carola’s friends weren’t surprised to hear that she maintained the deep faith and positive attitude that we all admired so much. Although she had a long way to go to recover her physical health, her faith helped her maintain her emotional balance.
Carola had always participated in numerous charitable and civic activities and helped people in need. However, she hadn’t treated herself as well as she’d treated others. She had no medical insurance to cover her astronomical expenses.
A group of friends formed an organization, Friends of Carola. As we discussed possible ways to raise money for her medical expenses, someone said, “Lillie, you’re a writer. Could you write a magazine article about this and donate the money?”
This was the second time someone had suggested I write Carola’s story. Could this be a message from God? I shook my head and started explaining why a magazine article wasn’t a good idea.
“A magazine wouldn’t pay enough to make a dent in the medical expenses.”
Another friend asked, “Couldn’t we use the article as a plea for donations?”
“I don’t know if we could get a magazine to accept such an article. Even if we could, it would take months,” I answered.
Another person spoke. “This story needs to be told. Look at how Carola and her employees live their faith. Surely other people going through terrible tragedies could be helped by learning how they coped.”
Not knowing what to do, I turned the discussion to other avenues of fund-raising. We ended the meeting with no firm plans.
A small voice in my head urged me to write a book, but I wondered if the voice came from my own ego or from the Lord.
I could think of a million reasons to ignore the voice. Carola and her employees and family might not want their story told. People might think I was taking advantage of this tragedy to publish a book, when I hadn’t been able to sell any of the manuscripts I’d completed. We probably couldn’t afford to publish the book ourselves, and selling the book to a publisher would take too long. Maybe I didn’t have the talent to tell the story effectively. The project would take too much time away from my life.
Most importantly, I worried about my own emotional reactions. I identified strongly with Carola for several reasons. I had been a crime victim, robbed and molested in my retail store years ago. I had struggled through months of medical treatment and therapy following a debilitating stroke five years earlier. I had seen my business suffer when I couldn’t work for months. Although Carola’s experiences and mine weren’t exactly the same, there were too many similarities for me not to relive many of the strong emotions I had experienced.
Yet the idea wouldn’t go away. A few days later, I went to a meeting of the San Antonio Writers Guild. The speaker was a printer/publisher who specializes in self-publishing for authors. After the program, I asked him if he thought we could raise a significant amount of money for Carola’s medical expenses if we published her story. Not only did he assure me the project was viable, but he offered to do the printing at a reduced price if we delivered a camera-ready manuscript in time for him to print it during a brief lull between major jobs.
I reported this to Friends of Carola, and suddenly doors opened everywhere I turned. People volunteered to proofread the manuscript. Carola’s friend who owned an advertising business offered to donate the book cover design. Carola received numerous invitations to speak at local organizations, and she could sell books at each meeting. A publisher friend gave me free advice. God’s voice seemed loud and clear.
As I prayed for guidance, I felt called to the mission of writing this book, both to raise money for Carola and to inspire others. Carola, her family, and her employees were overcoming this tragedy through courage, hope, faith, and love. Their positive reactions to a horrific experience could inspire countless people who face tragedies every day.
I interviewed Carola less than six weeks after the shooting. During the next eight weeks, I spent over one hundred hours interviewing the victims and writing the story.
Despite my earlier fears, the people I interviewed were enthusiastic and eager to have their story told. The experience of sharing their experience seemed cathartic for many of them, and they wanted to share how their strong religious faith helped them cope with the catastrophe. Since each person had a different perspective on the incident, tying all the stories together into a coherent narrative proved to be a difficult challenge.
Besides the interviewing and writing, I spent many more hours coordinating the logistics needed to prepare and publish the manuscript. Except for designing the cover art and taking and scanning the photographs, I did everything necessary to prepare a camera-ready manuscript.
The experience was intense, exhausting, emotionally draining, and exhilarating. The remarkable courage, the incredible hope, the abiding deep faith, and the forgiving love shown by all the participants inspired me. I knew the story could inspire many others as well. I felt blessed to have a part in spreading God’s love through this story.
The pressure increased as the deadline approached. The day before the manuscript was due to the publisher, I met with several proofreaders throughout the day, reviewing their comments and questions. Carola delivered the photographs around eight o’clock that evening. I expected to work late into the night to complete the manuscript.
I’d made a back-up copy of the computer file earlier in the afternoon. After Carola left, I made the corrections pointed out by the last proofreader and added the photographs. I planned to save the document as soon as I finished. By one-thirty in the morning, after hours of tedious work, everything looked perfect.
As I tried to save my document, the file disappeared! My computer refused to find the file, and nothing I did made any difference. The manuscript remained locked in a computer I couldn’t access.
Now I sat in my office, alone with God. “I really thought You wanted the story told, and I thought You wanted me to tell it. You have to help me here. If you don’t want this done, let me know. If this is just a trial I have to overcome, I need to know.”
I must have sat at that desk for almost an hour, questioning God and full of doubt. I didn’t hear a voice. I didn’t see a sign. Nothing happened. But gradually a peace came over me. I didn’t make a conscious decision. I just took my last back-up disk into the other room to my husband’s laptop computer. I didn’t know how the book would get finished; I just knew in my heart that it would. I opened the file and re-entered all the corrections I’d made from the day’s proofreading. Since the laptop couldn’t handle the photographs, I went to bed.
When I woke about three hours later, I called Carola’s friend, Jack Broaddus, to ask him if I could use his computer. When he said I could, I called the publisher to ask for an extension of the deadline. He said I could deliver the manuscript at the end of the day.
I spent a long, frustrating day on a strange computer that wouldn’t cooperate. I had to re-enter the photographs three different times, losing them twice. Finally, at the very end of the day, the manuscript was perfect on the screen but wouldn’t print on paper.
I called the publisher to explain the problem.
“Put the file on a CD and bring me the CD,” he said. “Just get it here before we close at 5:30.”
I arrived at the office with the CD barely in time. However, because of differences in computers, what appeared on the publisher’s computer screen looked nothing like what I had so carefully designed.
“It’s Friday afternoon,” I said. “You can’t start on this until Monday morning. Why don’t I work on it over the weekend? I’ll print it out some way and get it to you first thing Monday.”
He agreed, and I hurried home to call a computer programmer. Over the weekend, the computer expert managed to fix my computer so that it functioned just enough for me to print the document, one page at a time. Monday morning when the printer opened for business, I delivered a camera-ready manuscript.
Although I hadn’t known when or how, I had known from the wee hours of the morning on Friday that God’s plan would be fulfilled.
Look Beyond Tomorrow: The Carola Spencer Story was released less than four months after the tragic incident. Carola has spoken at many organizations, and her story has inspired everyone who has heard it. Friends of Carola have sold books in their businesses and at organizations to which they belong. Now the book is available on the Internet for wider distribution. We’ll never know who is inspired by Carola’s story, but we know that the message of God’s love and the power of faith is being shared. I thank God that the mission that seemed impossible became possible with His help.
Carola’s medical expenses have all been paid, and the proceeds of book sales are now being donated to Literacy Initiatives and Family Endeavors (LIFE), a literacy organization in San Antonio, Texas.