Along with an incredible amount of stress, worry, and weighty ministry work … I have just experienced a string of baffling and unexpected miracles.
You probably don’t know this, but I have been so discouraged. I’ve gone way past the stage where people who started writing when I did are getting amazing contracts and winning awards. I’m sitting through keynote addresses by folks who started writing seriously AFTER I did. This is not an anomaly. It’s happened several times. In fact, I’m now sitting through lectures by people who started writing after me who are so successful that they are not allowed to enter contests anymore. The more this happens, the more I wonder if perhaps this twenty-two year experiment was in fact a giant waste of time.
However, there is a conference I have wanted to attend for about a decade. It is too expensive, but I have been lurking on their website a long time. Entering contests (and finaling … but not winning) that granted free attendance. Hoping for a “someday” moment. Then the conference was cancelled. Someone tried to start it up again and failed. Then someone else tried and succeeded. Yay! However, it was still too expensive.
In a fit of optimism, I applied for a scholarship this year.
I got two.
It wasn’t enough and so I stuffed my hopes one more time and declined the scholarships.
Then I pulled a CD I’d been saving for decades (yes, you get $ from the government when you lose a parent as a child) so that we can fix the roof on our house. Scruffy (my husband) pulled me aside. “That can’t just go to house repairs. We’re gonna make sure you get to your dream conference.”
I told him, “Maybe next year.”
The conference was already full, we hadn’t fixed the roof yet, my risk-averse nature just couldn’t handle living the dream quite yet.
The next day, I got an email from the conference director. A spot had opened up as well as another scholarship. An even bigger scholarship. I waffled, still scared. Should I? Dare I?
“Go for it!” Scruff insisted.
And so I did, but with much prayer and uncertainty lurking beneath my excitement. “Lord, I need to know if I should keep trying. I need direction, new ideas, a bit of hope. Could You send me just a little bit of hope?”
Most of the deadlines for the conference had come and gone, but with a few days left, I managed to enter their writing contest about courage.
I found a flight that was one third of the expected cost and I even got the last seat in another attendee’s rental car from the airport to the conference!
Did I mention they have flowers in California. Flowers. I walked away from two feet of snow and into a flowerstorm.
Through getting lost in the parking garage and other hijinks, I made four new friends in the women I shared a car with. Then on the very first day, I ran into a good writer friend I hadn’t seen in a year. Laughter, tears, so many good things.
Then somehow, the key note speakers all spoke about the pain of writing, the uncertainty, the hopeless times, wanting to give up. The lament of writing, the uncertainty. After twenty-two years of hard work with little fruit, I soaked up their words and let them settle on all the dry places I hadn’t dared look too hard at for such a long time.
This year just happened to be the first time in years that they had a major morning track devoted to children’s writing. During the first morning of children’s teaching, I had an idea, a new idea. Then I had another and another.
I met with an editors. People I had planned to talk with and people who were surprises. Someone whose house had rejected seven of my manuscripts told me, “I love your writing,” and one more little seed of hope stretched through the soil. Agents gave me fresh ideas and encouragement. Then, Sunday service was about what to do when God doesn’t give you a guarantee.
It was as though God had pulled back the curtain around my dutiful little heart and saw the truth. As I slogged forward, keeping on keeping on for just one more grueling step, my Lord saw me and He brought teaching, talks, conversations, and even a sermon that spoke directly to me. To someone who had been persevering for too long. Too long to actually keep hoping.
The sermon was by the agent of one of my good friends. Bob Hostetler spoke on three times that famous Bible people hoped without a guarantee. When Jonathan son of Saul said “Perhaps the Lord …” and attacked the Philistines just him and his armor bearer. When David said, “Maybe the Lord …” and stopped his men from lopping off the head of a man cursing him. And of course when the three Hebrew slaves told the king of the world they would not bow. That God was able to save them, “But if not …”
God hasn’t given me a guarantee that my words will find a home. However, He absolutely does miracles. I see them all the time about other things. If Jonathan was willing to risk his life for “Perhaps the Lord …” who am I to stop writing after honing my craft for a couple of decades?
Ten years ago, I knelt during worship at the ACFW conference some dear friends paid for me to attend. After ignoring the call to write a camp blog, I gave God my book dreams with tears streaming down my cheeks and told Him yes, I would write the camp blog. Whenever I hear that song, I remember my promise. I remember my call.
Our little blog was a decade old in December and He has worked in it and through it.
There was never a question of quitting the blog. But what about the fact that I’ve spent over twenty years learning my craft, have brought my writing up to a high level, and it hasn’t been enough?
What about those twenty-six unpublished children’s book manuscripts sitting on my computer? Wasn’t it about time to give up on them?
Honestly, I don’t know.
However, on our last day of worship, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I knelt again.
I gave all those stories to Him, one more time. Victory or defeat, they were His. I let myself hurt and let myself hope and rested in the pounding beauty of the song as it filled the chapel.
The next day we enjoyed our final classes and then zipped back to the chapel to wrap things up.
So many new friends.
So much knowledge and encouragement.
It was just so much.
Then the conference director gave out a few awards and shushed me for laughing too loudly. Yes, I always sit in the front. She said that we had made it really hard on her this year as she tried to judge the writing contest about courage. That 50% of attendees had entered. That the entries were all so so good.
Then she said my name.
She called me up and said that they had picked mine.
I still don’t know God’s plan for my writing beyond the camp blog.
But I know that despite the last twenty-two years of stumbling on, I will press on just a little bit more.
I’m not sure that I could have written this piece about courage if my heart hadn’t been so shattered and raw.
Even that, my friend. He uses even that.
Psalm 34:18–“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”