Parents often are asked more than once this age-old question “What is God like?”
Matthew Paul Turner and the late Rachel Held Evans attempt to answer that question for parents and children in a new children’s book, What is God Like?
Turner, who already was a children’s book author, was friends with Evans, an author of books for adults who died in 2019 at age 37.
After her sudden and unexpected death, Turner was left wondering why his friend was taken at such an early age. The two of them had explored the idea of writing children’s books, and Evans was all in on the concept.
What Turner didn’t know is that Evans had started working on a book concept while her husband, Dan, sat by her hospital bed in the days before her death.
“I didn’t find out that she was thinking about a children’s book until I was in the hospital with Dan, who told me while we were sitting there next to Rachel’s hospital bed,” Turner explained. “And I was like, are you kidding me? … I can remember lighting up over the idea of reading these ideas to my own children.”
She had done so much work, he said, that it was easy for him to pick up the pieces and bring the project to fruition.
“If you were to look at what I was given and read it next to what is now the book, you would say, ‘That’s Rachel’s.’ She had written a couple of hundred words, and I fleshed it out, colored in the descriptions. I wanted her spirit to be in whatever I added. I wanted it to be something that was meaningful.”
This was not the only book project Evans left unfinished, Turner said. “Rachel fleshed out three or four ideas that are really wonderful ideas that she had sent to her agent. She handed them in three weeks before her death.”
What is God Like? bears Evans’ touch throughout, he added. “I can’t tell you how many times, even just writing this book, I felt like I was with her. I felt like I was channeling her essence. I think the Holy Spirit can kind of do that.”
Turner is no stranger to writing children books and is known for three previous best-sellers in the genre. However, in the middle of completing this book, he decided to tell his own truth by coming out as a gay man in a Christian publishing industry that doesn’t widely accept the LGBTQ community.
“Losing Rachel was a loss that I had not experienced before. And so not only was I able to find some hope and healing in this, this task of finishing her book through the grief process, it gave me hope that whatever was going to happen in my story, that maybe what I was doing here with this book and what I do with my own books, maybe we are changing the tide,” he said. “So people don’t have to go through the stories and can be freed. Maybe other people will find freedom to be themselves and know that God loves them, without having to wrestle and be depressed and feeling anxiety and be overwhelmed, that I walked through. This book was grace for me.”
Turner wanted to bring clarity about heaven to kids while at the same time privately finding his own clarity in his life.
“I was given this book during the most difficult time of my life,” he said. “Telling my own truth, coming into my own truth, that I was a gay man and that I had always been a gay man, I was walking through some of the most painful times of my life because being gay meant that my marriage was probably going to end — to Jessica, who is still my best friend. I needed this book before I think everyone else needed it only because it was some of the most healing, hopeful moments, writing this book, trying to capture the vision of God that Rachel wanted kids to see.”
Now, he believes the book paints a picture that would please his dear friend. And in the process, he was able to paint a picture in his own life about what God is like.
Maina Mwaura is a freelance writer and communications consultant who lives in the metro Atlanta area. A native of Orlando, Fla., he earned a bachelor of science degree in communications from Liberty University and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.