Richard Paul Evans: Lessons From Brokenness, Bullying, and Tourette’s
Did you know NY Times Bestselling author Richard Paul Evans was bullied as a child or that he lived in a home infested with rats? Listen as he shares the stories which shaped him to become one of the most loved and heart-stirring authors today.
Richard Paul Evans: Lessons from Brokenness, Bullying, and Tourette's
Richard Paul Evans Bio
When Richard Paul Evans (Rick) wrote the #1 global best-seller, The Christmas Box, he never intended on becoming an internationally known author. The story was written as an expression of love for his then two young daughters. Three years later, this quiet, simple story of parental love and the true meaning of Christmas made history when it became simultaneously the #1 hardcover and paperback book in the nation. Since then, more than 8 million copies of The Christmas Box have been printed. Eight of Rick’s books were produced into television movies and have starred such well-known actors as Maureen O’Hara, Rob Lowe, Christopher Lloyd, James Earl Jones, Naomi Watts and Academy award winners Vanessa Redgrave and Ellen Burstyn. He has since written 40 consecutive New York Times bestsellers and is one of the few authors in history to have hit both the fiction and non-fiction bestseller lists. There are currently more than 30 million copies of his books in print.
Rick won the American Mothers book award, two first place Storytelling World awards, The Romantic Times Best Women’s Novel of the Year Award, the German Leserpreis Gold Award for Romance, is a five-time recipient of the Religion Communicator’s Council’s Wilbur Award and more than a dozen other awards for his young adult series Michael Vey.
During the fall of 1998, Rick founded The Christmas Box International, an organization devoted to maintaining emergency shelters and providing services and resources for abused, neglected or homeless children, teens and young adults. To date, more than 100,000 children have been served by the Christmas Box House facilities and programs.
Rick lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife, Keri. They have been blessed with five children and two grandchildren.
A Personal Connection
Rick has become a great friend and mentor to me. I went to his first Premier Author Training almost three years ago. We had a lot of fun and I learned so much. I felt like I was drinking out of a fire hose just with the amount of knowledge he imparted on not only writing but on marketing books.
The King of Crepes
A little known fact about Rick is he is the crepe-making King. He first learned to make crepes at a friend’s house in Seattle. He then decided everyone should know how to make three things really well. So, Rick know how to make three things: French toast, crepes and fried rice.
Writing from the Heart
I love the ending of Rick's latest book, Noel Street, as I think it gives us a picture of his life. He says, "I've always thought of God as an artist. One who uses our hopes, fears, dreams, and especially our tears to paint on the canvas of our souls rendering something beautiful. The hardest part I suppose is waiting to see what he's up to." So many of Rick’s books dive into people who are broken and waiting to see what God is painting on the canvas of their lives. He seems to write from a personal place of brokenness.
Rick gave us a sneak-peek into the next book he is working on which will launch in 2020. He is taking his writings and blogs from the past 25 years and compiling these personal stories of things which have made him who he is. Some of these blogs have been read by millions of people, so they are very compelling.
Lessons from Hard Times
1. A Broken Childhood
The year 1970 was a really bad year for Rick’s family. They lived in Arcadia, California and his father lost his job and was blackballed in the community where he worked in Beverly Hills. As he tried to provide for his wife and eight children, things quickly went from bad to worse. They lost everything. Eventually his dad found a job teaching in Pocatello, Idaho and moved there with half of the family. To get the family back together, they finally moved into his grandmother’s 70-year old home. The home was next to bars, and pawn shops. It was in bad place, but it was empty, except for the rats. It was filled with rats.
On a side note, people always ask Rick why they feed people to the rats in Michael Vey, and it goes back to his fear as a child that he would be eaten by rats. He would lay there at night and hear the rats running around after hearing his older brothers explain the rats would eat him if he got out of bed.
So, their family situation was a perfect storm. They had no money. His dad, who was in hospital management was now doing construction work and was gone all day. And his mother began exhibiting the first severe signs mental illness. She became highly suicidal and was incredibly depressed. She would basically stay in her room for days at a time.
So Rick basically had no parents. He was eight or nine years old at the time. It was the same year his Tourette’s Syndrome manifested. The first Saturday in their new home, his mom took the three youngest and dropped them off at a dollar theater. As they walked out of the theatre, they were surrounded by a gang of kids who wanted to see them get beaten up by the local bully who was about a foot taller than them. Finally Rick said he would fight them, but his older brother couldn’t stand for his little brother to be defending them and he walked over, pushed Rick aside and his brother actually beat the kid up. Rick just remembers him kicking the bully in the face on the ground, and the bully screaming for mercy. Of course everyone was laughing because everyone loves to see a bully get their due. Then the crowd dispersed. His mom then pulled up in the station wagon and they just got in and didn't say a word about the fight.
In the midst of all this upheaval there was also a tremendous amount of bullying going on at school. One day Rick was so tired of being bullied he just stayed home. His mother never knew because she never came out of her bedroom. To make it worse he had this soul-crushing teacher named Mrs. Covey, whom the kids called Covey the Ogre. To give you an example of what she was like, a week before Christmas, she asked all the children in her classroom, “How many of you believe in Santa Claus?” Most of the kids raised their hand. Then Mrs. Covey said, “Don't be stupid. There is no Santa Claus. Your parents lied to you.”
Mrs. Covey, the Ogre
So, their teacher just dashed their beliefs. That day Rick went home and ventured into his mom's darkened bedroom. He said, “Mom, Mrs. Covey said there is no Santa Claus.” Rick’s mom responded, “Rick, Santa Claus is the spirit of giving.” He countered with, “But he has a reindeer and sleigh, right? And he comes down the chimney, right?” She just looked at him and sadly admitted, “No, there is no Santa Claus.” Rick’s little nine-year-old heart was broken. He kept thinking--wait a second, faith, goodness, and good people are supposed to prevail, not the nasty ones. So he looked at his mom for a moment and said, “Well, did you lie about Jesus too?”
A few months later Rick was walking home from school and got beaten up by some boys who took his only treasure--his Mickey Mouse watch. It was the only thing he owned and treasured.
"Ricky Evans, The Great"
The next day Rick was sitting in class working on his homework and he wrote down “Ricky Evans” on the top of it. And then something possessed him to write "the great" next to his name. Now, he was not arrogant. He had no reason to believe he was anything. At this point in his life, he had no parents involved. He had no friends. No one who would defend him from the bullies. He was nothing. But for a few seconds, it felt good to write “Ricky Evans, the Great,” and turn the paper in. The next day he got the paper back and Mrs. Covey had erased “the great” and wrote three of her own "shame on you." She then got up and gave a lecture on pride and sin.
Rick hasn’t seen Mrs. Covey since he left fourth grade. He is sure she is long dead because back then it felt like she 200 years old. But he would like to see her and look in her eyes and say, “That little boy went on to reach tens of millions of people with his words. His movies were some of the biggest in the world on television. And he started a shelter that helped house more than a hundred thousand abused children. He was invited to the White House and he danced in the Green Room. But that Ricky Evans was greater than Richard Paul Evans. Ricky had nothing and yet he got up every day and got himself ready. He had gruell for breakfast and walked to school every single day. And he just did his best amidst all the abuse and the violence and just tried to be a good kid. Rickey Evans was great. And you, woman, are just mean.”
Lesson: Don't Let People Erase Your Greatness
The lesson Rick learned from all of this is we all have people our life who are walking around with these erasers like Mrs. Covey. They try to erase the greatness from our lives. And the biggest lesson Rick has learned is, “Don’t listen to them. Don't give them that power. Don't wait around for people to validate who you are because you'll be waiting a long time.” Rick continues to plead that we "tell kids that they're great.” To clarify, he isn’t talking about hubris or pride. He just wants us to “acknowledge their intrinsic value and worth. That's what they need.” Tell them, “You are great and beautiful in your soul--in spite of your bad choices, decisions, and your circumstance. Greatness resides within you and you don't get it out by erasing it.”
2. Tourette’s Syndrome
Rick wasn’t officially diagnosed with Tourette’s until he was 40 years old. His diagnosis came because his son Michael has Tourette's. People used to ask him when he was younger if he had Tourette’s and he always wondered why because he wasn’t swearing. He did have the impulse to swear, but he didn’t. What he didn’t understand was only 10% of people with Tourette’s have coprolalia (or swear all the time).
When Rick’s son Michael was two-years-old he began swearing. He and his wife wondered, “Where did you even hear these words?” They realized something was going on with him. So, Rick wrote the Michael Vey series just for his son. Rick confesses, “I wanted to make Tourette’s more mainstream because it's always just a joke.” People swear and then they laugh and say, “It’s my Tourette’s syndrome.” Rick continues, “Well, some of us actually do have Tourette’s” and tic or twitch.
The Anonymous Letter
One day Rick spoke at a church about grace and God's love for us. Afterwards he got this anonymous letter from a woman who wrote, “You have no place in the house of God. You have no place speaking. You're obviously a sinful man. I can see through it because I saw you were ticking, blinking, and twitching.”
Shining Light on Disabilities--The Viral Blog
In response to her anonymous letter, Rick wrote a blog, “To the woman at church who wrote me an anonymous letter.” In that letter he explained yes, he is a sinner, just like she was because, “We're all broken.” He then went on to explain, “That's not why I was twitching. I was twitching because I have Tourette's syndrome.” Rick wrote this blog and posted it on Facebook. He got up the next day and had 80,000 shares and went viral. People wanted to help find that woman. Rick actually hoped she would see it.
In his letter, Rick wrote, "In all honesty, I must admit that I was angered by your letter. But not for me--I am far beyond your reach. I am angry for those children who are still trying to figure out who they are: children who are teased and ridiculed and bullied by cruel, self-righteous people like you. I am angered for those sweet, innocent children, who would rather die than show their tics, because you are so eager to let them know how unlovable and imperfect they are. And some of them do take their precious lives. Yes, this makes me very angry. The other day, at a book signing, a young woman I had never met before, put her arms around me and told me that she loved me. I asked her why. She told me that she had Tourettes and the kids at school made fun of her. But now many of her schoolmates are reading my books and, knowing that I have Tourettes, are now treating her better. I told her that she is not her Tourettes. I told her that I loved her too."
Lesson: The Greatest Disability is the Inability to Love
Rick concluded his letter by saying, "Dear anonymous, I hope you read this letter. I hope it opens your eyes. Or, better yet, your heart. But whether you change or not, remember this: we, the “abnormal” are not the ones to be pitied. The greatest disability is the inability to love those who are different than you. May God Bless you with His unfathomable and unconditional love."
3. Look for The Hand of God
Rick likes to remember the words of Kierkegaard when looking back on his life. He said, "We can understand our life looking backwards, but we must live it forwards." Rick says he clearly sees the hand of God when he thinks back on everything that has happened to him.
With his first book, he took the story to a local publisher but it was rejected. He recalls being so disappointed and discouraged. But now he realizes that rejection was God looking down and saying, "No, I have big things in store."
Always Trust God
Beyond the path that his career took, Rick has felt a personal relationship with God throughout his life. He says that when he was going through hard time he always trusted God. He knew God would not drop Him. There have been times he wondered why he has been hurt, but now he understands. Those things he went through made him who he is and have given him empathy and heart. Because of this empathy people read his work and feel understood.
The Power of Writing and Healing
After Rick was diagnosed with Tourette's, his diagnosing doctor (who wasn't actually taking clients), told Rick he wanted to return the favor to him and took him on. Rick wondered what favor he was referring to, as they had never met.
The doctor then told Rick he and his wife had lost their only child. His wife had become very depressed and the doctor worried she might take her life. Neither he nor psychologists could help her.
Then this woman read one of Rick's books and it gave her hope. The doctor saw her smile again--for the first time in years. This woman knew Rick was another person who had truly suffered, so she felt she could trust him since his books are written from the heart. She began to heal after reading one of his books.
Lesson: There is a Purpose
God can see the purpose of things we don't understand in our lives. Keep trusting Him and someday, you will understand and it will all make sense.
4. How I Saved My Marriage
Rick also writes many of his blog posts from the heart. One particular blog he remembers is his post, "How I Saved My Marriage." This post went viral very quickly, but his wife Keri didn't appreciate Rick had written about their struggles.
Rick and Keri went to dinner a few nights later night, with Keri still upset. They met a couple while out at dinner who thanked them for saving their marriage. They had been on the verge of divorce but read Rick's post and decided to save their marriage. Rick started hearing from marriage counselors who said they were using his post as a resource for their clients, as well as friends saying it saved their children's marriages.
Writing the Truth
One day Keri told Rick she felt he shares too much. Finally, Rick apologized, but asked if he anything he had written wasn't true. Keri acknowledged everything he wrote was true.
Lesson: Share Truth
Rick has always felt it is important to share truth with the world. He says he doesn't know any other way to write. He then told Keri if he had to choose between her and the talent God had given him to write and share the truth, he would choose God. Keri agreed, and he has to continued to write the truth. This became a very defining moment for him.
5. Tips for Hard Times
Rick knows we don't always feel hope during the Christmas season. But he explains if you are in a bad place there are a few tips you should remember:
a. Remember life is cyclical. As soon as we get up, life knocks us down again. And if we are down, life will pick back up again.
b. Hope comes from faith in God. Keep that faith--even when things are hard.
c. Find the stars. While the reality is we will all suffer, Rick says his hope that there is something better is what keeps him going. "The really dark nights is where we see the stars."
d. Show kindness to strangers.
e. Choose to love. We can make the choice to love.
f. Be worthy of your sufferings. Rick remembers the quote from Viktor Frankl about choosing to be worthy of our sufferings. It took awhile for Rick to understand what that meant. We can't take away suffering, but we can learn from it and keep going through it. It will refine us and make us better.
Poignant Bible Story
For Rick one of the most poignant part of all scripture is when Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. While there he looking up to heaven and asked, why have you deserted me? (Matthew 27:46). In those greatest moments, we ask why, just like Christ? Christ knew he was alone. Rick believes there are times God leaves us and says, "No, I'm going to let you have this. I'm going to let you walk alone. I'm going to let you have the greatness and understand what it is to be great."
In the Screwtape letters CS Lewis share some wisdom when the Demons are talking. They say something like, "Nowhere is our cause of evil more threatened than when a man, nailed to a cross looks up into a universe devoid of God, say, why have you deserted me? And still he marches on. And still he holds fast to truth. That shakes the very core of all evil."
Lesson: You are Not Deserted or Alone
There are a few moment of life where we have nothing, where we don't see a reason to go on. But we should remember to keep going--that we will not fail. "We are not deserted. We are not alone even when it feels like it."
6. Determination, Prayer, and Miracles
Rick remembers one of the hardest times of his life when it felt like he was crawling on glass. His daughter Jenna even asked him, "Where is God? Why has he left you alone? Dad, you are carrying this by yourself."
Rick was pleading with God and trying to keep his son alive. He told God, "I am doing everything. I don't know how much longer I can take this. Keri has finally broken down. It's just me. I don't know how long I can carry the entire family and all of this. We need help." After telling God he had done everything he knelt down and told God, "It's in your hands. He's your son too. I have given everything."
After this heartfelt prayer, Rick went to the hospital and had an incredible experience with his son. An incredible miracle happened. Everything switched and it was such a powerful and faith promoting thing.
The great ending this story is that now Rick and his son are buddies. He is so proud of him, what he's accomplished, and what he's overcome. Michael has told him, "One of my sisters is a pediatric nurse, another does makeup for movies, another is an international bestselling author. The other is a scientist. And then there's me." When Michael told him this, Rick looked at him and said, "And you have accomplished more than all of them. You have climbed a higher mountain than all of them."
God's Message--Keep Going, Don't Quit
Another example of this was when the board voted to close the Christmas Box House due to lack of funding. Rick left the meeting for a moment to pray and ask God if he could please quit. And he received a distinct impression, "If you fail, no one will succeed." So Rick returned to the meeting and said no, they weren't going to quit. He told everyone he would accept their resignations but he would not be quitting. Everyone stayed.
Now, the Christmas Box House has helped more than one hundred thousand children. Rick is extremely grateful God did not let him quit.
Lesson: Get on Your Knees
He says his best advice for finding hope when discouraged is getting on your knees. We may feel at times God has left us all alone. There are times when we say, "I'm done," but God says, "No, you're not."
The greatest times in Rick's life were not when we was getting an award. They were private victories. They were times when he was on his knees and chose not to quit and kept going with God's help.