In the very small house, on the very grand hill, in the very small town author Rachel Thoene – daughter of veteran bestsellers Bodie and Brock Thoene - masterfully explores the captivating notions of forgiveness and grace in The Vase of Many Colors. This beautifully written and colorfully illustrated family tale peeks into the world of the very bouncy girl and her old, crooked grandmother. A world where rainbows appear on the walls and simple flower-gathering is a nightly ritual.
And where broken things are mended with the gentle breath of love to become a masterpiece for all generations to enjoy.
In a world where broken things are tossed aside with ease, Rachel Thoene’s story is a captivating reminder of the power of forgiveness and grace to mend life’s cracks and create a Vase of Many Colors in you.
Rachel knows what it’s like to pick up broken pieces. As a site administrator at two alternative schools for at-risk students in an urban school district in
Q & A with Author Rachel Thoene
1) One of the major themes of Vase of Many Colors is restoration. Can you tell us a little bit about what restoration means to you and how restoration is different than just forgiveness.
Restoration suggests that things are being repaired and made new again. When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do with my mom and my Nana (Mom’s Mom) was to go visit antique stores. While they frequently searched for the exquisite and the rare and the beautiful, I always felt that some of our greatest treasures were the old chairs … the ones with the woven cane seats. They were old, dusty, tired and broken down, but when we would come across chairs like that, if they suited our needs, Mom would get them to an antique restorer who would tirelessly restore or repair the caning in the seat of these old chairs… it always amazed me how the new canes could make that old tired chair new enough and strong enough to hold our weight.. even though the rest of the structure was 100 – 150 years old… but the structural integrity of that chair was restored to a point where it could support a grown man’s weight. Same goes for stained glass windows… bits and pieces of colored glass would be cut to size to repair some of the stained glass windows we bought from those same antique dealers… it became an act of everything old becomes new again… plain old forgiveness can be too easy… simply brushing off a wrong, without really acknowledging that it caused broken-ness. But restoration is work…an art and takes delicate craftsmanship… if you restore someone or something, you are investing time and energy into righting the wrong.
2) Sometimes forgiving yourself can be the hardest part of all. How can you learn to forgive yourself when everyone else has already?
Humans have a tendency to continue the mental flogging don’t they? I have a terribly guilty conscience… and will lay awake at night mulling over and re-hashing scenarios until I have horrible headaches and my stomach and shoulders are in knots. And why? What does that accomplish? Sometimes I have to go back to folks I’ve wronged a couple of times and explain, “Hey, I’m still feeling this way about what I said or what I did… and I just want you to know that I’m having trouble forgiving myself.” My current boss and I have that kind of relationship and we just talk until we’re all talked out. He calls it “un-stuffing” and it has really helped me come to forgiveness of myself a lot quicker. Maybe the idea is to be thorough in your discussion of forgiveness and not so quick to dismiss the wrong. Folks don’t enjoy reliving painful experiences, but sometimes you have to cut away the infection to get to healthy tissue again. Then you’re truly clean and ready to start fresh.
3) Your parents are legends in Christian fiction. How has your upbringing affected your writing style?
WHOA! Yup. They sure are legends alright! And the funny thing is that I never saw myself as a writer… I expressed myself privately in poems and prose and could write really long letters and emails to friends… and when it came to technical writing and research I could really shine. But I sure never saw myself as a writer of their caliber. And certainly not of that level of self discipline. I grew up appreciating the art form and yet never wanting anything to do with it. It was TOO MUCH WORK! So I’m not sure I even have a style per se… I enjoy words… LOVE a good dictionary and my goal is to someday own an O.E.D. but when I write these days, it is to communicate a point or illustrate a message without putting people on the defensive. That’s a huge part of my job as a school administrator… communicate effectively without causing emotional trauma.
4) What was your inspiration for Vase of Many Colors?
Whew boy. My inspiration was my friend, Val and her relationship and the trials she was having as a mother with one of her sons at the time. But the story really became one of those divinely inspired sorts of messages… it just sort of fell out of me in an email to her… a sort of allegory or parable if you will, about how as mothers, even when our kids make dumb mistakes and bad choices, we can still pick up the pieces and help them put themselves back together again. Of course as I sat back and spent some time with the story, quite a few different messages sort of jumped out at me. And that continues to happen as I review it in relation to different audiences and different life scenarios.
5) Who is the target audience for Vase of Many Colors? Adults or Children?
Oh! Why limit it to just those two groups? I think the target audience is whomever has relationships with other human beings… some of my teachers have used it in their classes with their high school aged students and also with their own grandchildren. I have shared the story with school children and adults in difficult situations. It doesn’t really matter who you are or how old, if you deal with other human beings, you need to read this story. My boss has used it with staff members. I have shared it with some of my students who are teen age mothers and grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren…. The target audience is humans.
6) How can adults and children both benefit from reading Vase of Many Colors?
I think the story speaks to the fact that ALL of us have made, currently make and will continue to make mistakes. We will experience heartaches but WOW! The good news is that we can be forgiven, we can be healed, and we can be whole again. And it even applies to really deep hurts, like death of a loved one or a serious illness, loss of a job or other traumatic spiritual and emotional experiences… we’ll be all busted up to pieces but you know what? God can put us back together again. And when He does, we find ourselves staring into the old dark, musty closets of our past and wondering how in all heaven and earth He is going to take all that garbage and make anything good of it…. But He always does. And we never look the same but we’re new and improved… we might have a couple of emotional limps or scars left over but you ask any cancer patient who has beaten the disease and they will tell you that the scars serve as reminders of the battle and their courage to win and also as their reminder of their humanity. Those reminders cause us to be compassionate toward others who are experiencing the same or similar issues.
7) What book has most influenced you personally?
Oh boy. Am I being graded on this? Next question… do I have to have only one? I don’t think I can narrow it but if I had to I would say that the most currently influential book I have read is called “The Penny: A Novel” by Joyce Meyer and Deborah Bedford. Do you want me to do a full book report? It’s just one of those books that soothes your heart and your brain… like Chapstick after a really bad cold.
8) What book are you reading now?
I’m reading about six books right now but the most powerful book I’m reading right now is called “Good to Great” by
9) What do you want readers to know most about you?
Hmmmm…. I think I’d rather have them understand the importance of what I do as an educator for underprivileged and at-risk children. And then put my job into perspective with what folks do at home with their own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. We all share a responsibility to help shape and mold the young people’s lives and a good, solidly structured home, consistent behavioral boundaries and expectations for our children really do make a difference when they start the journey into young adulthood. But don’t be over-protective of your kids either. Let them make their mistakes in a safe environment, because the world at large can be a REALLY unforgiving place and sometimes, if we make mistakes out there, they can prove to be fatal… I want readers to HELP ME help my students…. And my teachers… help us continue to make a difference in the lives of our students and the communities we work in.
10) In a society where many things are considered “disposable”, how does restoration figure into the mix?
MAN! So I work in the Educational Options Division of a school district in urban Sacramento California and we have, in our division, for many years said, “We are known as throw away students, throw away teachers and throw away administrators.” Meaning all of us, from the students through the administrators have at some point been considered throw aways… less than… not good enough for “regular education.” All of us, in one way or another, in our previous schools and/or jobs, didn’t fit the mold of what good students, teachers and administrators were supposed to look like so we were dismissed and “sent” to continuation schools where we would either be re-habilitated or just wait out the life of our professional careers. Well we have started a trend in our district, courtesy of Dr. Larry Buchanan, ret’d and Dr. Patricia Newsome, Acting Superintendent, of really building up the Educational Options Schools. So we are shifting attitudes and acknowledging our mistakes but moving ourselves toward a better, healthier future. It’s really a shift in attitudes that will change society… consider the “Green Movement” currently afoot in America… we change out our old incandescent light bulbs in favor of energy efficient fluorescent bulbs. We recycle everything from aluminum to plastic to motor oil. We see people trading SUV’s for hybrid vehicles and taking their own bags to the grocery store. We compost our garden and yard scraps. And yet I have two schools and am associated with two more which house over 1400 students who are considered to be “throw aways.” I have a CalSafe program on my campus which is a daycare center for teen parents… I have 18 babies and toddlers enrolled in that program right now and more on the way. Down the street from my campus, I know a woman who lives under a bridge because the older man she was taking care of passed away so the family fired her and she started drinking and can’t seem to hold a job. I have students enrolled in my school who have no place to call home but the back of an abandoned car or a filthy motel room, and I have a significant portion of my students who are enslaved to the Foster care system….
I could fill a semi-truck with the number of toothbrushes, pairs of socks and coats we’ve handed out over the years I’ve been here. Society has deemed that some of its own members are “disposable”. So how does “restoration” figure into the mix? It doesn’t figure into the mix… it IS the mix. We need to start cleaning up the souls we’ve thrown away and disregarded and judged and sentenced right here in our own neighborhoods. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a hot topic for me because there are some who start talking about “THOSE KIDS …. THOSE PEOPLE…” and they sort of get on their high horses and peering out through their glass houses and pointing fingers at all the systems, the government, the educational system, the welfare system and such… But THOSE KIDS aren’t THOSE Kids… They’re OUR kids…
If you want to clean something up, start with your own sock drawer. Then move to your t-shirt drawer and then your closet and your garage…. Restoration starts at home. And our churches, communities and schools are an extension of our homes. I’ve got to quit because I’ll get all riled up. I guess I’m kind of passionate about the issue.
Restoration is another word for healing… so let’s heal our families and our communities first before we start trying to tell other folks how to fix the rest of the world.