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Jack Deere – once a bestselling author and popular preacher — calls his first book in nearly 20 years “the unsanitized version of me becoming a friend of God.”

Those were dark decades for Deere, whose bestsellers Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Zondervan, 1996) and Surprised by the Voice of God (Zondervan, 1998) sold over 400,000 copies in all formats. Years ticked by as he sought after what he thought he needed for his life to be complete: his wife to stop drinking, to publish another book every two or three years, and to pastor a growing and vital church.

Instead, the only thing he wrote was more than 100 pages in a journal as he lived through his son’s drug addiction and subsequent overdose and death in 2000. Deere told PW, “His death changed everything. I stopped going to church; I didn’t have anything to say.”

In 2004, Deere became pastor of what he calls “a dysfunctional church that was dying” filled with “people I didn’t want to go to lunch with. I needed a building so I could stand on a stage.” He also battled with his wife, Leesa, as she tried and failed to quit drinking despite four rounds of rehab between 2005 and November 2011, when she succeeded in achieving sobriety. That’s when she shared with him the tormenting memory of being abused as a child.

It took all this time — pastoring a church he didn’t like and struggling as Leesa fought her alcoholism and her memories — for Deere to figure out that God’s grace was not conditional on perfect lives, “that Jesus wants to be friends with me.”

Deere bares all this and more in Even in Our Darkness: A Story of Beauty in a Broken Life (Zondervan, Mar.). “The book isn’t about suffering; it’s about becoming a friend of God, feeling his pleasure in you and you enjoying him,” said Deere. “I was looking for ultimate happiness in a great church, a great book, and in my wife stopping drinking. But I was really learning about friendship with God.”

He had trouble just telling the story. He wanted to add lessons and how-tos and applications to his tale. Deere’s journalist son Stephen and Zondervan editor John Sloan helped edit out the teaching and stick to the story, Deere said.

“I tell stories that aren’t flattering to me and Leesa, but I want the book to reach your heart, to move you, and to move you with God’s beauty and incredible patience,” said Deere. “I hate it when a preacher gives you obligation after obligation, saying ‘you, you, you.’ Peoples’ sin just goes underground. But I’ve found that people are way more influenced by my failures than my successes.”

Deere said he didn’t seek a Christian publisher for his book because he didn’t think he’d be able to be completely honest. But Zondervan pursued him. The initial print run is 18,000, with a second printing already ordered.

Even in Our Darkness is one of those books you pick up and can’t put down until it’s over,” said Ryan Pazdur, associate publisher and executive editor at Zondervan. “Jack’s writing is raw and honest, filled with humor, sadness, and thoughtful reflection.”

Said Deere, “Why write a book that pretends we don’t have these things going on in our lives? Leesa’s prayer is that God will use the book to help set women free from abuse, alcoholism, and (drug) addiction.”

Zondervan’s publicity plans include appearances by Deere on The Eric Metaxas Show and outreach to both Christian and secular media such as Relevant, Christianity Today, Guideposts, and Fox Friends and national Christian radio.

Deere’s speaking events, including The Aspen Institute, will be posted on his website and Facebook page (facebook.com/authorJackDeere).