By Katelyn Gendronkatelyn@thereminder.com
Michelle DeRusha, 43, spent more than 20 years grappling with the idea of faith and a higher power.
A product of a Catholic family in East Longmeadow, she rebelled from church altogether during her college years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst ’92, and it wasn’t until a 2001 move to Lincoln, Neb., that she began to reexamine her turn to atheism. Her journey has been chronicled in her first published work, “Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith” (Random House: Convergent Books).
“Things began to fall apart because I was in a very different, wide open landscape. I didn’t have a community and network of friends and family,” DeRusha said of the move for her husband Brad Johnson’s job. “I didn’t have a job to identify myself anymore. I had a new role as a mother [as I was eight and a half months pregnant when we moved]. I was in a new environment. It was a midlife crisis, which precipitated an identity crisis.
“When you hit that rock bottom moment and everything that previously defined is gone, it’s a really good time to start thinking that we need something bigger than what is available in a physical form such as people and a job that we use to identify ourselves. That precipitated my very slow turn back to faith and God. It was a slow journey,” she continued.
DeRusha confessed that she’d never written creatively even though she’d earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s degree in English from the University of Connecticut ’94. She’d only written press releases and marketing materials at her previous positions as a communications specialists with MassMutual and Holyoke Community College.
“When I started writing creatively, I was really surprised. I was digging into my past upbringing as a Catholic. I wrote 75 pages before I realized I was really writing something here,” she recalled.
“I tell some hard stories [in the book] about some of my parenting and spiritual failures, which people can really relate to the authenticity of those stories. They can hopefully see themselves in some of my stories and realize that it is OK to have doubts and be a faith-based person, it doesn’t have to be one or another,” DeRusha continued.
The book took her two and a half years to complete while she was working in journalism and raising two sons with her husband.
“I was working part time so I could only write during the fringe hours,” she explained. “It took another two years [after I wrote the book] to gain a literary agent and another two years after that to get it sold to a publishing house.”
Her spiritual journey, DeRusha said, led her to “take a leap of faith” in 2012 and begin writing full time. Her decision was ultimately rewarded when she signed a contract to pen “50 Women Every Christian Should Know,” which will be published in September.
“I have to be candid and say that Nebraska was not my first choice for a state of residence coming from New England [but] I have to say now that it’s really my home,” DeRusha said, crediting her husband for his support with the transition to the mid-west, as well as her full time writing career.
“He was the one who kept me going,” she added.
When asked about her plans for the future, DeRusha replied, “I am hoping to write another book, another memoir. I still have a lot to say.”