Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Death and Rebirth of a Dream

For years I've dreamed of being the next Toni Morrison. Okay, okay. I said "dreamed". When I would awake from my dreams, I would settle for being a pretty good novelist in my own right. I dreamed of writing the latest breakout novel. I could visualize my novel title on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Well that was before my dream died... and resurrected. Here's the story of that resurrection...
I boarded the airplane prepared and self-assured. My rolling suitcase contained khakis, a few colorful tops and sensible black patent loafers. I had packed my hair essentials and three-ounce bottles of Japanese Cherry Blossom shower gel and body cream. Most importantly, I was armed with my laptop and five copies of my novel proposal. My confidence at an all-time high, I spent the long flight to California gearing up for a packed week at my first major writer’s conference.
            This would be the week I’d be discovered as the breakout novelist of the year. I anticipated the faculty’s praise over my captivating metaphors, vivid scenes and engaging dialogue. I knew I didn’t possess a perfect manuscript, so I expected some constructive criticism along the way. Still, I hoped to land my first contract through some direct contact at the conference.
            On the first night of the conference I attended a workshop entitled “How to Make the Most of the Conference”. I could feel the energy in the room full of writers and wanna-be writers. An excited buzz permeated the room. A group of eager-beavers, we sat with our backs straight and our eyes glued on the speaker. A seasoned author and editor, she represented the conference faculty. She’d moved up the ranks years ago, having earned the medals and stripes of several published works.
            Her heart-felt advice was invaluable from the start. She encouraged us to be energetic, yet cautioned us to be still at times. She told us to be assertive, yet courteous to the conference faculty members and our fellow conferees. Her last encouragement: be satisfied.
            One piece of advice still rises to the top of all she said that evening. I can hear it like she said it yesterday: “Some are here to get published. Be here because God has something for you.”
            Mind you, this session represented merely a precursor to the actual conference. A preconference freebie, if you will. But God was already challenging me deep down where no one else could see. Did I attend the conference as a means to an end? Did I sign up in my quest towards becoming a published author, or to meet God in a way that I couldn’t back home? Was I open to whatever He wanted to do in and through me?
            And what if I didn’t get “discovered” this week? What if by the end of the week, I’d fallen into the abyss of anonymity with the majority of the conferees there? Maybe I wasn’t such hot stuff after all. Maybe, as a writer, I was actually quite ordinary.
            God would soon answer all those questions for me.
            Throughout the week I attended several workshops, all plenary sessions and a fiction track. The wealth of information far outweighed the expense of the conference. Meeting countless people that shared my passion for the written word, my soul was filled to the brim. I received invaluable information about my love and my craft. A wonderful bonus: I met a sampling of God’s most kindhearted, sincere world-changers. Many of them were fledgling writers like me.
            Like many of my fellow conferees, I took advantage of this opportunity to rub elbows with professional writers. I had several meetings with a variety of professionals – editors, multi-published authors and literary agents. I approached these meetings with my face smiling on the outside and my heart pounding on the inside.
However, after perusing the first two chapters of my novel, these folks were less than admirable of my work. After each appointment, I took a deep breath in, deep breath out, squared my shoulders then moved on to the next. Clinging to my floral dollar store journal, I noted each piece of constructive criticism of my work. It hurt to process their assessments, but I knew I would utilize them to improve my writing.
            By the end of the week, it was crystal clear that I wasn’t exactly the breakout novelist of the year, or even of the conference. Unfortunately, after reading my work no one had exclaimed breathlessly, “Carla, where have you been hiding all these years?” I was not the conference “it girl”. Not one author/editor/agent was beating my door down.
            By the end of the conference I questioned myself, while wiping tears from my cheeks. Did I have any writing talent at all? Was I cut out for the writing life? Had I been delusional my entire adult life?
            God didn’t answer my questions directly. But He did remind me of the poetry, short stories and plays that I had written as a little girl sitting on the purple carpet in my purple bedroom. I remembered a writing camp I’d attended while in high school. I had received an award for an investigative writing piece. He pointed out all the positive feedback I’d gotten in recent years over my magazine and newspaper articles. I thought of the favorable comments I receive after I post a new blog.
I haven’t received a lot of compliments about my novel, but I have received more than my share over my nonfiction works.
            During the conference, I also received the most amazing affirmations ever. During breakfast, one lady stopped me and told me, “You know, you’re as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.”
            Another lady told me I had a “commanding presence” while a gentleman told me I had the “aura” of a professional speaker.
            I laughed inside at all the compliments. Little did they know that while I’m married to a full time pastor who lives to speak from a pulpit every Sunday – and whenever else someone will let him – I practically run away from public speaking opportunities. They were also unaware that I’d spent the majority of my life battling low self-esteem and questioning my self worth. Only in recent years have I experienced major victory in these areas.
            While at the conference I had been studying the book of Malachi in the early mornings. A few days into the conference, I came across Malachi 2:7, “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction – because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty.”
I’m certainly no priest, yet I felt God encouraging me to use my writing to preserve knowledge and give instruction. I felt Him calling me to be His messenger. I realized I had already been doing that through my nonfiction writing.
Since the conference I've received more writing assignments than I have in years. Since my "revelation", God has opened my eyes to amazing stories all around me. Sometimes I wonder if I'll live long enough to get all my ideas down on paper!
Telling imaginative stories certainly has its place in the world. I personally love curling up to read a good novel or watch an amazing film. Yet, at this season of my life, God is calling me to write moving true stories.
            I may not be the world’s next Toni Morrison or Francine Rivers, but by following my passions and His leading, I am becoming the woman He wants me to be. And by dreaming His dreams for my life, I'm becoming the writer He wants me to be.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Word of Grace for Mother's Day

"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?" Isaiah 49:15

Well, I haven't blogged in a while for several reasons. First of all, life has accelerated for us recently due to various circumstances of life: raising children, ministry responsibilities, raising children, rushing into our storage closet to escape possible tornadoes, raising children, and again, raising children. Also, I recently attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference in the San Jose area of California. To say it was amazing is the understatement of the year. However, I'd liken this conference to Olympic tryouts or the NFL combine. They didn't separate the men from the boys there; they separated serious professional writers from people that use writing as a hobby or a way to express oneself. And quite frankly, the jury ain't out for me yet.

Yet as I thought of this upcoming Sunday and this all-consuming season of motherhood, I felt like I had to speak life into all the Mamas in my life. Girlfriends, ours is an awesome calling from God. We've got a tough road ahead of us as mothers in this day and age. The world and all its forces threatens to swallow our babies whole. Media, the internet, advertising... How can young people today survive physically, mentally and spiritually with so much battling against them and their peers?

But today I am claiming victory in this fight for our children. The enemy may get his licks in, but we must believe that God won't let him knock them out. This battle will be won in the heavenlies, but we've got to stay in the ring down here too. We've got to stay on our knees for our children. We've got to stay on our knees for our grandchildren and our friends' children. We've got to do our part to make our marriages work. And we've got to stay in the Word of God and encourage our children to stay there too. As one of my favorite Bible teachers Beth Moore says with her big Texas hair and cute Texas accent, "We've just got to do the thing!"

As an encouragement, the Lord has laid three G's on my heart for you, my Sisters, on this Mother's Day weekend.

Mama Grizzly
Okay so let me first say that I'm utilizing a technique that preachers like my husband use all the time. You've got this great sermon planned on the 5 P's of Prayer, and you get stuck on that last P. So you comb through and find some P word that means kind of the same thing as what you really want to say. I usually call this phenomenon "Mama Bear", but hey, I'm needing a G, so "Mama Grizzly" it is.

If you've been a mother for more than five minutes, you understand the deep heart need to protect your babies. That baby could be 6-months-old, 35-years-old or still in utero. When I was pregnant with Kalin and Jada, I had an intense desire to make sure they were safe. While on four months of strict bed rest with Kalin, I daily faced the possibility of miscarriage. If given the choice between Kalin's life and mine, I would have chosen his for sure.

On the other hand, I just recently talked with an 80-year-old woman on a flight from California about her relationship with her 103-year-old mother. Her first words to me when she plopped down in the cramped seat beside me were "I better call my Mom, and let her know I made it on the plane. She'll be worried about me." Lost for words, I just gazed at her, attempting a smile. And since my face probably communicated the words I was too polite to say, she quickly smiled and said, "Oh, my mother's 103."

I smiled genuinely then, glad that my seatmate wasn't some delusional kook. I applauded her on her mother's longevity. Then I marveled that her mother still worried about her. She said, "Oh yeah, you never outgrow your mother worrying about you."

So what does a Mama Grizzly look like? She is Amy Hawkins, who in 2006 became paralyzed after acting as a human shield for her small sons during a tornado in Tennessee. She is Michelle Obama who refuses to allow her daughters Malia and Sasha to join Facebook, until an undisclosed future date. She is the mother that just yesterday ranted over teenage girls being such "b------",  after wiping away her own teenage daughter's tears.

I, while personally refraining from profanity, am a Mama Grizzly. Each of my four children has brought that out of me.

Mama Guilt
Another issue we mothers have in common is carrying guilt. We're guilty over letting our babies sleep with us at night. We're guilty over not breastfeeding for a whole 12 months. We're guilty over not treating each child the same. We're guilty about not spending enough time in the Word with them. We're guilty about not being able to chaperon for every field trip. We're guilty about being too busy or not being busy enough. We're guilty about not keeping the house spotless, the flower beds weeded, the dinner menu exciting. We're guilty about being too strict or not being strict enough. And if we're not guilty about anything, we can feel guilty about that too!

Are you exhausted after reading this list? I'm surely exhausted after writing it. And I'm exhausted by the tremendous amount of guilt that I've carried these 14 years of motherhood. I constantly beat myself up over my inadequacies. I tell myself I'll never be a good enough mom.

Mama Grace
Guess what? I won't ever be good enough. And guess what else? God already knows that. That's why our children need a Heavenly Parent. That's why they need a Savior. He is perfect always. He always makes the right decisions concerning His children. He loves them with a perfect love. The only thing I should feel guilty about is when I'm not pointing my children to the Savior. If I'm pointing them to Him on a regular basis, then I've been the best Mama I can possibly be.

Now let me complete the scripture I began with: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands..."

Now take a deep breath with me and let it out. I can feel the weight lifting, Girlfriend. Can't you?