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Written By Bobby Schuller
Cliff Shiepe (CS) is the author of the book Cliff Falls. As someone who has witnessed first-hand the struggles child stars go through, Cliff's book is about a child star on the run who hides in a mega church. Cliff has worked in the entertainment industry for years and today travels the country speaking to groups. Cliff and his family have attended the Crystal Cathedral for many years and they consider this their home church. Cliff's book Cliff Falls is available in bookstores everywhere. Bobby Schuller (BS) will interview Cliff.
BS: Cliff Shiepe says, "Going over the falls will change you but how it changes you changes everything." Today, author Cliff Shiepe will share with us how his exciting novel, Cliff Falls, changes lives. Child star advocate Paul Peterson, who many remember from the Donna Reed show, called this novel "absolutely the best book on child star syndrome."
Please welcome to the Hour of Power, Cliff Shiepe. Cliff, thank you so much for making the time to come here today and tell us your story. Now the first question I have is this: were you actually a child star?
CS: I was not a child star, but I worked in entertainment and I knew child stars. There was one in particular. He was on a show in the mid ‘90's, one of the most popular kids you'd imagine. All the girls wanted to date him; all the guys wanted to be him. And the reality of his life, he was a pretty sad kid. His dad wasn't in his life. One of the executives used to take him fishing.
And I was really drawn to the difference between the internal of his life and the exterior, and that really inspired this book. It's about a child star on the run, hiding in a mega church. And it's really helping people in deeply personal ways.
BS: Let me ask you when you studied all of these things about child stars, why is it that so often so many child stars end up on the negative side of news?
CS: I think for many, all they know is what they don't want. What they're not. But they haven't had time to ask the question who am I? What do I want? They're preoccupied with I'm not that thing on TV, that character. And I think that's something we can relate to, all of us.
I think the reason people are relating to the book so deeply is we see child stars as train wrecks. We consume them twice. Once when they're on television, and then when they grow up and stumble. But we never really see ourselves in them and I think that's part of why this has caught on.
BS: And you said the book is catching on and people are responding. What are some responses so far to what you've written?
CS: I've been really surprised at some of the responses. I recently spoke at the Betty Ford Center where they were having a large event. People with histories of recovery, abuse, sexual abuse, they're finding some sense of healing. The main character basically has to enter all his pain, all his hurt, and risk being consumed by it in hopes of getting to the other side. So I think the reader goes on that journey with the character.
BS: So the character finds himself lost and you see this sort of transition in the darkness or in his suffering.
CS: That's right. He starts a fire the night of his 18th birthday. He had collected all these consumer products, put them on the back lot, lit them on fire and took off. Now he doesn't know the difference between doing something bad and believing he himself is bad and that's an important distinction. In fact it's a tree we can all hang from.
BS: How? Explain that to me.
CS: Who are you apart from what you do? Good or bad? What is our identity as Christians? How can we come to believe that we're beloved apart from the bad or good things that we've done?
Scripture says that we were loved first. It's a little bit like that light that's on me right now. We look to the light. We find our identity in the light. We bask in that light and anything we do that's good is just a response to it. So in a sense, it's helping people connect with that identity, which helps them stand up to the things they've done in life, good or bad.
BS: As I look at the title of your book, it says C.B. Shiepe, but your name is Cliff. So I'm reading the title Cliff Falls, and to me it sounds like a word play. Is this really an insight, in a way, to your life?
CS: In a way, yes. I wasn't a child star, recovery is not my background, and this book isn't even about recovery. But we all go over the falls in life. I went over the falls at age 26. I had a very full life, I was working in entertainment, and I then got sick. I was sick with something that it took them a while to figure out what it was. I had a series of fevers, some as high as 107, so my illness really isolated me.
So when you're separated from everything you've put your identity in, everything that's meant life to you, that's an opportunity. It's an opportunity to find out again who you are apart from what you do or have done.
BS: When we go into these dark times in our life, of suffering, it doesn't feel like an opportunity when we're really hurting. We feel alone, we feel like God's forgotten us. So what do you mean by it's an opportunity?
CS: Well it doesn't feel like an opportunity in the moment. In a way, you're dying to things that have meant life to you. But that's where the trust comes in.
For me personally, I always said I wanted to be Christ-like, but I never really took into consideration that feeling forsaken might be part of that journey. It's not the end but it can be part of the journey for a Christian and I know that was my experience. Now I was very blessed. I had a very encouraging family. In fact my mom in particular really kept me going with a sense of belief that I was going to get to the other side of this, no matter what that looked like.
BS: You mentioned to me when we were talking downstairs, that out of this illness was where the book came from. Here you have this illness that you're struggling with, and you've tried all sorts of different things to get out of the illness, and then finally the doctor told you to do what?
CS: It was seven years in and I had seen 70 doctors. I had spent the first couple of years in and out of bed, and I ended up at a research center in Los Angeles. They found a bacteria in my system and the only solution was to fast so I asked the doctor how long do I need to fast? Is it like lent? Three days? I can do that. And he said no, ten and a half days. I needed to go on a ten and a half day fast.
BS: So what could you have, water or juice?
CS: Water only.
BS: Just water. You must have lost a lot of weight.
CS: I did but you know people ask me how I did it. I was so desperate to be healed at that moment that I would have done anything. And I know a lot of people who have been in that place.
BS: So was it while you were fasting that you wrote this story?
CS: Yes, during the years I was sick and isolated, I used what I had left and did what I could do. So this book started as a screenplay, then a TV pilot and then it morphed into a book. And one thing my mom said that really stuck with me was I asked, "What happens if the book isn't any good? What if it doesn't take off?" And she said, "Well first of all, it will be when it's done. And secondly, you don't need this book to be a best-seller for this process to have been worth it. The process shaped you and prepared you." So this book is the fruit of all those years that I spent isolated and had to step away from life.
BS: And of course your story is connected to this ministry because you grew up in this church, right? I mean this is your home.
CS: Yes, in many ways, this was a huge part of my family's life, and that perhaps seeped into the story. It's a child star hiding in an inspirational church (and I'm not confirming or denying anything.) But the ministry of belief and of overcoming obstacles has ministered to us and that's something we're really grateful for.
BS: That's wonderful. The message that I keep hearing through your words is the idea of the beloved-ness of God getting you through those tough times of suffering. And maybe that's the theme in your book. Is that what I'm sensing?
CS: Absolutely. When I was sick in bed, and I wasn't working, I couldn't point to anything to kind of validate my existence. Every day it's a decision to believe that you're a beloved child of God and that God is with you wherever you're at in life, and He's going to walk with you through that challenge.
BS: Cliff, thank you so much for coming this coming. Your story is deeply touching to all of us and I think it really connects well with so many people who are suffering, especially in the time that we're in today. People hurting, losing jobs, so on and so forth; that the beloved-ness of God is what keeps you centered. That's the message. Thank you, Cliff, come back again.
CS: Thank you so much.
BS: Thank you. Cliff's book is called Cliff Falls and you can get it at clifffalls.com or Amazon.com.