Every family has a story. Stories of loss and love, stories of tragedy and triumph, stories of laughter and tears. These are the stories that define or develop us. These are the stories of the unbreakable bonds we share.
As a daughter, sister, granddaughter, wife, mother and grandmother, Francine Rivers knows the weight of these bonds. It was in looking at the women in her family and at the relationship between her mother and grandmother, in particular, that she was inspired to write her most recent epic saga, originally written as one story, but published as two—Her Mother’s Hope, available now, and Her Daughter’s Dream, coming in September.
Although fictional in nature, “quite a bit of it” is true to Francine’s life.
Like Marta Schneider, the central character in the first half of Her Mother’s Hope, Francine’s grandmother was a strong-willed, Swiss transplant who made her way to the Central Valley of California where she raised her family and determined to live out the rest of her days.
But Francine’s parents had other plans. Due to the cost of living, they had settled on retiring in Oregon. This meant selling their home and the adjacent cottage, where Francine’s grandmother lived, and moving away from California. The home they built in Oregon was custom designed for its occupants, including Francine’s ailing grandmother. When her parents invited Grandma to come live with them, she declined.
As a young mother, living in California herself, Francine remembers her grandmother’s final day here on earth. Her grandmother had suffered a stroke, and Francine’s parents hurried down to California to be with her as soon as they heard the news. But, she had passed away before Francine’s mom and dad could get there.
Francine recalls her mom telling her, “I think she died deliberately—willed herself to die—just so we’d never have to talk things out.”
“That just haunted me,” Francine admits. “They were both strong Christian women. They loved each other deeply, but there was a misunderstanding at the end.”
From this, Francine has seen the importance of reconciliation. “I think we need to accept one another and hear people out,” Francine shares. “And then to extend grace no matter what the circumstances, because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And we’re supposed to be that way with other people.
“If you knew this was your last day with someone, what would you say to them? Don’t wait. Say it now,” Francine adds. “It’s important for them to know that you really love them and you want to work things out.”
It was the questions that arose from this misunderstanding, as well as her mother’s well-documented but “emotionless” journals, that prompted Francine to probe deeper into the story behind her mother and grandmother’s estranged relationship.
And this is how
Francine has generated all of her stories—with a question.
Faith and Fiction
When Francine began writing in 1974, she was pregnant with her first child. After losing her first child, she put the manuscript in her closet and stopped publishing.
With her husband’s gentle prodding, Francine began to write again and her career took off in the general market, a time Francine now refers to as her B.C. days. During that time, she sold nearly four million racy romance novels, all of which she presently owns the rights to and are no longer in print.
When Francine accepted Jesus as her Lord in her late 30s, she couldn’t write for almost three years. She felt it was something that God had taken away from her because writing had become the priority in her life, even to the point of being above her husband and three children.
During that time, she made some exterior changes. But it wasn’t until a little boy next door invited Francine to church that the interior changes began to take place. Unlike the churches in southern California that no longer seemed to be preaching the gospel, this church in northern California practiced expository preaching. Francine invited her husband, Rick, but because he was still skeptical of the church, the couple attended an in-home Bible study. And that changed everything.
It was in the study, which was on the Minor Prophets, when Francine read Hosea and felt God telling her, “This is the love story I want you to write.” At that time, Francine never thought she’d write again. But it was this clear nudging from the Lord that led her to write her first book as a Christian—Redeeming Love.
Considered her statement of faith, Redeeming Love changed the whole direction of her writing career, which currently includes 11 novels and 10 novellas in the Christian market.
“My quest is to find God’s perspective,” Francine shares. “The goal is to whet [readers'] appetite for the real thing—a relationship with Christ and to get back into the Word and see it with fresh eyes.”
From Generation to Generation
In her own family, Francine has seen how a transformation in faith has affected one generation to the next.
“Different generations have different ways of looking at faith,” Francine asserts. “[My grandmother’s generation] looked at it as God helps those who help themselves…and my mother’s generation was God gives salvation to those who serve…my generation, the wild 60s, was God is dead…and then my daughter’s generation is very polarized. There are those who absolutely reject any faith message at all and others who are zealous in dedicating their lives to the Lord.”
This legacy of faith also plays out in Francine’s two-part series, Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream. In Her Mother’s Hope, Marta showed her daughter, Hildemara, tough love because she didn’t want her daughter to grow up to be like her sister who was very weak and co-dependent. But as Hildemara grows, she understands the sacrificial love her mom showed to make her strong.
“Very often, children don’t understand when there is sacrificial love going on,” Francine shares. “When I was growing up, my mom never kissed me, never hugged me, never held me on her lap. And I took it as, ‘there must be something wrong with me because she doesn’t love me.’ It was a long time before I realized it was a sacrifice for her because she had active tuberculosis.”
The only way Francine’s mom could be in the same home with her family was if Francine’s grandmother moved in and took care of Francine and her brother separate from her mother. Later on in life, her mother was able to hug and kiss Francine; and Francine understood that the sacrifices her mom made, as well as the sacrifices many mother’s today make, were out of necessity.
In Her Daughter’s Dream, it’s basically a pass down relationship where the grandmother, Hildemara, raises May Flower Dawn while Carolyn goes back to college. This causes some tension between Carolyn and her mother, Hildemara, as Carolyn tries to reclaim her relationship with her daughter. In the end, it’s May Flower Dawn and her faith in the Lord that helps bring about restoration among all three of the women.
In Francine’s life, it has also been the common bond of faith in the Lord that has sustained her and her family, even during the hard times.
Francine recalls going through a very challenging phase with sexual promiscuity in college. Her mom, unaware of the situation, called and told Francine, “It can’t be sunshine all the time or the flowers won’t grow for lack of rain.” And Francine never forgot that.
“God could turn things to good, no matter what you’ve done,” Francine says, remembering her mother’s sage advice. And Francine has seen that come true in her own life. “He redeemed my past and turned it to His purpose.”
God has redeemed not only her past but also her marriage and family. Years after a rocky time in Francine's marriage, Francine’s daughter, Shannon, told her what a strong couple they are. Their example was a witness to her.
For Francine, that is what being a godly mother means—living her faith. “It’s not what we say; it’s what we do,” she explains. “Our children and our grandchildren are watching us whether we know it or not.
“My hope is that they will center their lives on Christ—heart, mind, soul, strength…everything—and that they’ll follow in the ways of the Lord.”