Author Spotlight: Betty Sawatzky
We are pleased to introduce Betty Sawatzky. Betty recently published I Am the Prodigal, I Am the Eldest with us, which is now available through the Word Alive Press Bookstore, and everywhere fine Christian books are sold. We asked Betty to share a little bit about her new book and her writing. But first, a little bit about her.
Betty Sawatzky was born into a middle-income Romanian family in Kamloops, British Columbia. It was a family tormented by generations of alcoholism and violence. She often felt the wrath of her father, as he preferred a child who remained quiet and out of sight. Betty was anything but that! She laughed too loud, sang too loud, cried too loud, and was a busy little girl! Needless to say, she was not her father’s favourite!
When Betty was four years old, a neighbour came to their home warning that the next time her dad beat her mother he would most likely kill them all. That day, the neighbour gave them money to travel by train to Manitoba.
Within days, Betty’s father committed suicide. That chapter of their lives closed.
Over time, her mother remarried and Betty and her older sister grew up on a farm in an accepting and loving Christian community. She lived a fairly normal teenage life, but in some ways she remained haunted by the first four years of her life.
What makes a man feel so broken and hopeless that he would take his own life? How could a father treat his family with such cruelty? Betty wondered, “What does the love of a father really look like?”
She gave her life to Jesus at a Billy Graham movie night at her Christian high school when she was fourteen. When she responded to the altar call and came forward to pray, she opened her eyes to see her older sister standing right beside her. She too had been called, from the opposite side of the auditorium!
From that day forward, the two sisters spoke the same language, not just of a violent home but of being followers of Christ. The healing journey could now begin.
In time, Betty married and had two beautiful children, both of whom displayed the Romanian fire that sometimes got them into trouble! Betty could relate, as she had gone through her own seasons of rebellion and repentance, striving to live righteously and then falling back into disobedience and mayhem.
While teaching children’s and women’s ministry, Betty fell in love with God the Creator, seeing beauty and glory in His creation! But she was yet to understand God the Father.
In her thirties, Betty had three miscarriages. She sank into a deep depression, reliving snatches from her early years. In the thick of it, she was diagnosed with four different kinds of anxiety disorder. Where was God in all this? Did He exist in the bizarre pit of debilitating fear and deep despair she had fallen into? Where was her ultimate Protector? The combination of medication and Christian counselling saved Betty’s life, forcing her to dig deeper into those first four tumultuous years at the hand of her angry father.
When her own children got involved in dangerous situations through poor choices and careless living, she found herself fighting for her kids. That was when she finally understood her heavenly Father’s heart. Just as she relentlessly pursued her children to return to their commitment to Christ, she finally realized that God the Father had been pursuing her amidst a broken world. Just as she fiercely fought for her family, the Lord fiercely fought for her.
Upon learning that a dear uncle was near death, Betty went to him and engaged in many discussions about her walk of faith. He often scoffed, yet he asked questions. Although he may have been trying to trip her up, he also seemed intrigued by the concept of a loving God.
In his last few weeks of life, confined to a Calgary hospital bed and unable to speak, they texted each other. One night, she was brave enough to tell him that he needed Jesus in his life, knowing that it risked ending their relationship. Her uncle shared how ashamed he felt. Why would God accept him on his death bed after a lifetime of rejecting Him?
She texted him back: “Jesus meets you where you are, right now, Uncle. He waits for you to turn to Him. He aches for you. Talk to Him. He knows what you’re going through, and He aches for you to talk to Him.”
That is the message of her book, I am the Prodigal, I am the Eldest. Jesus left His heavenly home of royalty and came to this broken world to pursue each of us and call us back. He meets us where we are in life, whether victorious or broken. God the Father aches for us to be in His arms!
Q: What makes your version of the Prodigal Son story different from others?
A: I’ve always been intrigued by this parable that Jesus shared with the leaders of the Jewish faith. But in delving deeper into the culture of ancient Israel, I realized there was so much more to the story. We lose its full meaning due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the times.
As I dug deeper, I had an Aha! moment when it all came together. But I shrugged it off for three years, wondering whether I could write the back. Still, I imagined the chapters, characters, setting, and storyline and sought to digest and sort it out.
Q: What inspired you to finally sit down and write?
A: I was listening to CHVN, a contemporary Christian radio station out of Winnipeg, when I heard about the Braun Book Awards. I thought, “Why not? Go for it!” That was in early February. My husband chuckled at my goal of writing a novel in just over a month, but I was determined to finally get this story down on paper.
Within hours of the deadline at the end of March, the book was written and in the hands of Word Alive Press! No, I didn’t win the award. However, I finished the novel I had longed to write for the past three years. It was really an incredible experience!
Q: How have you used the tragedy in your life to write this book?
A: I have woven different aspects of my life throughout the story. Unfortunately, I know how to explain these experiences all too well. I look back at my life and see how God has used every experience to bring glory to Him. Only He can make beauty from ashes. If my book encourages one person to turn to the Lord, the writing of this book has not been in vain.
But it goes deeper than that! For the many doors God has opened to share my story and hopefully bring readers a little closer to Him, it has been worth it. Even now, as you read this blog, He gives beauty for my ashes!
Q: What did you learn through the process of writing your first book?
A: Being a reporter, I know how to write facts, add historical significance, and include a few quotes… but I do it all from an unbiased and neutral perspective.
In writing this novel, my original manuscript was very descriptive. Full of adjectives! I was writing a novel, not a news story, so of course it had to be descriptive. However, my editor showed me that my writing language was too flowery, almost to the point of being comical. This was not what I wanted at all! Together, we trimmed it down. To be truthful, it took a bit to pry my fingers off the manuscript, but in the process I learned how to write for today’s readers. The sentences are tight and to the point, using exclamation marks sparingly (!).
More importantly, through the process of sharing God’s love as a Father, I fell deeper in love with Him! I learned on a deeper level how the Lord pursues me. I was reminded of His gentleness, forgiveness, and incredible love. He longs for me to turn to Him so He can hold me in His arms as my own personal heavenly Father.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
A: If you have an idea for a book, just do it! Start writing. It doesn’t matter at which point in the story. If the Lord has laid a story on your heart to write, do it. Trust in His guidance to write through you to share the message He has commissioned you to write. I’ve heard for years that it’s best that we write about what we know, and that is true—but God is so much bigger than our own experiences! It took a lot of research and study to write this book, but through it all the Lord directed the story in my head and in my heart.
If God has called you to write a book to build His kingdom, He will be faithful to lead you through the process. Trust in Him and His guidance.
Q: What happened with your uncle? Did he accept Christ into his life?
A: Yes. A dear friend of the family shared the story of the Prodigal Son with him and led him to Christ in a prayer of repentance. However, it wasn’t until well after I’d finished writing this book that I found out that the story of the Prodigal Son is what brought him to his knees. I look forward to the day when I see him again on the other side of heaven and share with him how he inspired me to write this book!
Q: What’s next? Will there be a sequel? Will this turn into a series?
A: I’m already working on the next book, in which the two main characters, the prodigal and the older brother, find themselves in a disastrous situation that takes them to places they would never have envisioned. I also already know the title:
The question is, will these experiences bring them closer together or tear them apart? We are human, after all, and more often than not we react in the flesh rather than respond in the spirit. The second book will remind us that we can only find our strength in Him, not in others—and certainly not in ourselves.
This second book will also tap into the deep relationship I have with my older sister. Our relationship hasn’t always been easy, because we were both damaged during our early childhood, each in a different way. But we both have seen the healing hand of God in our lives, differently but beautifully!
A third book could easily follow, but first we’ll see where these first two books go.