“Are you okay?” Someone shook me hard. I lay there, unable to speak, eyes welded closed.
“Are you okay” the voice came again, louder this time, more insistent. No answer. I felt the press of fingers to my pulse followed by a quick sweep of my mouth, clearing all obstructions. With a pinch of my nose, someone began to breathe life into me while a gentle hand compressed against my chest, finger on my heart …
Okay, just for the record—I did not choke on a piece of chicken at an American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference or ever have to be resuscitated in any way. Uh … that is … at least not physically. But emotionally and spiritually? Yep, I was a goner. Cried enough tears that I thought the housekeeping staff would think I was heisting their Kleenex. But something amazing happened to me at the very first ACFW conference I ever attended—I received CPR in a very unlikely manner, and I gotta tell ya, folks—it saved my life. So I thought since we are less than a week out from this year’s ACFW conference in Denver, it might behoove me to share about this life-saving experience I received when the Holy Spirit administered a heavy dose of truly miraculous CPR—Cry, Pray, Repent.
Oh, how I wish, wish WISH someone had told me what I’m about to tell you before I went to my very first writers conference in Houston, Texas in 2003. It was the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, only back then, it was ACRW, American Christian Romance Writers. I went by myself without knowing a soul, which is a hard thing to do, as so many of you are aware. Up until that point, I had done everything I could to put me on the path to publication—took fiction-writing courses at the community college, attended small writing seminars and local RWA chapter meetings, queried publishers until I was blue in the face, and entered contests until I was in hock over binder clips.
I knew in my gut that the time had come for me to venture far from home and interface with other writers of my ilk. I mean how difficult could this be? Although by nature I am a recluse of sorts, I have the misfortune of having an outgoing personality, so the word “shy” just isn’t part of my vocabulary. So I smiled and mixed and mingled until my teeth ached and made a lot of acquaintances, but no real “friend” that I felt I could connect with. Everything felt surface to me, and it seemed like everybody I spoke to was either published, had an agent, a contract in the works or fulls being considered.
That night I cried on the phone to my husband, and I’m talking major sobbing! I told him I felt lonely and jealous and like publication would never happen for me. He comforted me and prayed with me and told me everything would all right.
But it wasn’t. The next day I would attend a seminar, then go up to my room and cry, clean my face and go back down to smile some more. That went on all day as the loneliness and jealousy seemed to grow, and that night my poor husband got another earful of long-distance weeping. God love him, he prayed for me and encouraged me and told me to put my hope in God. Yeah, right, I thought to myself at the time, and how is that going to change these waterworks? That night I cried myself to sleep, rivers of tears seeping into my pillow.
What happened next is nothing short of supernatural. The next morning, even before my eyelids peeled open, my brain was pelted with hope scriptures in rapid-fire succession:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. - Romans 15:12-14
And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. - Romans 5:4-6
No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame. - Psalm 25:2-4
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. - Psalm 62:4-6
But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more. - Psalm 71:13-15
Now, first of all, I wasn’t aware that I even knew that many hope scriptures. In fact, they shocked me so much, that my eyes popped open and I lunged for the Gideon Bible inside the nightstand drawer. I flipped it open to the first few pages where they list scriptures by subject and scanned the list for “Hope.” It wasn’t there, so I settled on the scripture for “Fear.” There were only two, mind you, and I quickly paged to the first one: Hebrews 13:5.
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
Come again? What does fear or lack of hope have to do with covetousness and ingratitude? Give me a break, the Gideons have TONS of scriptures to choose from and they choose this???? I blinked several times … and then the Holy Spirit nailed my butt to the wall.
I had spent the last two days of this expensive conference doing NOTHING but coveting other writers’ success and complaining that it would never happen for me. My husband had forked over $800 bucks (airfare, hotel room, conference fee) so I could fly to Houston and instead of being grateful, I was utterly lonely and jealous. Talk about a one-two punch! I fell to my knees and sobbed again, only this time my tears were tears of repentance. I told God I was sorry for being such a brat, and I prayed for every woman that I had been jealous of, that God would bless the socks off of them. I asked Him to change my attitude and give me hope and help me not to be lonely the rest of the conference.
For the umpteenth time that weekend, I cleaned up my face, put on my name badge and squared my shoulders to go downstairs. The elevator opened, and I flashed a smile to the couple in the back and turned to face the door. The woman gently tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re from St. Louis? I live in Illinois, just twenty minutes across the river.”
I turned around and will NEVER forget the look of kindness and warmth in that woman’s eyes—like an angel sent from God. She was an ACFW author named Diana Brandmeyer (who, by the way, has a GREAT new book coming out with Barbour next January entitled Hearts on the Road, so check it out on her website at http://brandmeyer.homestead.com/). Anyway, she invited me to sit with her and her husband for breakfast. Trust me, conference food had never tasted so good!
Later that day, there was a contest for book giveaways. You simply had to write about someone who had positively affected you at the conference so far, and if the ACFW Master of Ceremonies (Brandilyn, of course!) picked your comments out of the hat, the person you wrote about won a free book. My eyes smarted with tears as I dashed a quick note about the kind woman in the elevator “whose eyes radiated love and warmth—Diana Brandmeyer.”
If you can believe it, out of over 350 women and like 2 men (grin), Brandilyn picked a handful of notes to read, and one of them was the note I had written about Diana, which referred to her “eyes full of love and warmth.” My heart jumped with excitement … until Brandilyn read my name instead of Diana’s. My heart froze when I realized I must have written my name down by mistake, thus winning a book for myself instead of Diana. Brandilyn called me up, and I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth, so I intended to return the book after the function was over. Imagine my shock when a few moments later, Brandilyn read another note about a woman “whose eyes radiated love and warmth,” only this one was the note I had written about Diana! Yes, you guessed it—two women who broke the yoke of loneliness off of each other in an elevator wrote almost exactly the same thing about the other. Go ahead, tell me that’s not a God thing!
That conference turned out to be a pivotal time in my career, not only because of the amazing friendship/critique partnership that Diana and I still share today, or even the very encouraging paid critique I received from author Tracey Bateman later on that day, but because of the invaluable lessons that the Holy Spirit taught me from the pages of a hotel-room Gideon Bible.
Yes, contests, writing classes and writers’ conferences are all important tools in traveling the road to publication. But the most important tools needed are spiritual—to keep your heart clean of jealousy by praying for those who incite it, to praise and thank God wherever you are in your journey instead of complaining, and to renew your mind with hopes scriptures instead of despair. Because the bottom line is, “hope never fails” … and neither does He.
So, I would love to hear your own conference CPR stories—I know you all have them (uh, especially Mary Connealy and Melanie Dickerson!), and there are a lot of first-time conference attendees that could use the encouragement. And for everyone that leaves a comment, I’ll toss your name in the hat for a chance to win a signed copy of your choice of one of the three books in The Daughters of Boston series. Good luck … and take a deep breath!