Thursday, March 22, 2007

B&H Sales Conference in Nashville, Tennessee

“You’re on!” Mary-Beth, my author relations person, shout-whispered, running toward me as I walked out of the ladies room and down the hall of the Life Way building. I wasn’t supposed to speak until 9:30 AM but apparently they were running early. What luck! I didn’t even have time to get really nervous as they introduced me. Instead, I had to burst through the door, scoop up my notes and head toward the stage, hoping I wouldn’t trip in my high-heeled, platform sandals. As I headed toward the microphone and the podium, my knees beginning to shake and my palms starting to sweat, I prayed one of my more eloquent prayers, “Okay Lord, this is it.”

Time to give my speech.

I stared out at the sales and marketing people, eighty or so upraised faces, and tried to smile, opening with a crack about blacking out – my voice shaky while I promised to “come to” if they would wave some Starbucks under my nose. That got a laugh, and so, a little encouraged, I plunged into my Olympic relay-race analogy. Which, I hasten to mention, the Lord had just given me the night before. I’d worked hard on my speech, had it mostly memorized according to instructions . . . but the night before, in a lovely hotel room that the publisher put me up in, I lay wide awake most of the night while God...rewrote….my….speech. Ahhh! Why does He always wait until the last minute? But I was sure. I knew what He wanted me to say, and while it was pretty raw, “very transparent” as my editor later said with a kind smile, I was certain it was His message for this group.

After explaining to the crowd how much I viewed this process as a team effort – first me writing it, then the editors and art department polishing it up and then the sales team taking it on the road - and how incredibly blessed I felt to just be standing up there (I finally have co-workers!!) I plunged into how I began writing in the first place. It’s the question I’m always asked, “How did you start writing?” Or, “What made you want to become a writer?” Or “Have you always written?” In trying to honestly answer that question, God reminded me how it all began. On one hand, I have always loved lyric writing. As a girl, I used to swing on my swing (one of those 10 pound weights at the end of a rope tied to a big, old walnut tree in our yard) and make up song after song for God. I didn’t care who was around or if anyone heard me, I just worshipped him, loud and long. I also wrote some poetry and had a “diary” as we called it then, which my brother would find and break into (those locks never worked!) waving and taunting me until I chased him down and wrestled it back. But on the other side, the darker side, stories became a sort of salvation to me. In the second grade I began having night terrors. One, in particular, was so bad I wouldn’t leave my mother’s side for three months (literally). I lost weight, I couldn’t sleep, I was as white as a sheet - the fear dogged me until I felt like I was living from panic attack to panic attack. I looked like I was being haunted in my early grade-school pictures, and I felt like I was being destroyed. My parents prayed for me, encouraged me and tried everything to help me overcome my fears, but nothing worked.

I have a son who was diagnosed with ADD and Dyslexia. For years he struggled to read, doing phonics programs over and over and then taking a special “Discovery” class in 4th through 6th grade. It helped and he’s a much better reader now, but something happened during those early years that has become a special strength for Seth. Because he couldn’t read the world around him, he saw everything differently. Seth can easily remember faces, pictures and symbols. He remembers little details, saying things to me like, “Mom, did you see that man with a red hoodie? He had on a couple of rings on his left hand, curly black hair and a big, jagged scar on his arm?” I look around clueless. “What man?” Now, when Seth looks at signs he doesn’t just read them, he notices things like - letter shape, color, lighting, a missing bulb, etc. While I just read it, Seth really sees it and I know that someday God is going to use this gift in Seth’s future work. That’s kind of what happened to me. To help myself sleep at night, I started to focus my mind on building stories and characters, not allowing the fearful thoughts a chance to come in. This took intense concentration. But after awhile, I got better and better at it until eventually, I could fall asleep within minutes of lying down. Years later, I now see that what the enemy had planned for my destruction, God used for good. When I first sat down to write a novel, the scenes played out in front of my eyes with the ease of long practice. Praise God, He really does make beauty from the ashes of our lives.

You could have heard a pin drop in the conference room as I told them that story and then the eight hard years of struggling to find publication. My eyes filled with tears as I told them when I’d reached the point with God where I just couldn’t hope anymore, and the times I laid it all down. After I was done (I pretty much forgot to talk about the plot of the novel and just wanted to get off that stage!) my editors and several dear people rushed toward me to pray for me and my work, this writing work. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

I guess I learned that people are honored when we share our real selves with them. It doesn’t take anything away from us for them to know our weaknesses, instead it provides an opportunity for hope in the side of good. We cannot fathom what God understands . . . and the million creative ways He can use the circumstances of our lives toward our good and for His glory!

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