I drift mentally from the paper in front of me and the bleak lesson on adverbs. Sister Cashmere (yep, like the sweater) is a sober, rotund nun, redeemed in disposition only by her apple-like cheeks, round and ruddy inside the veil of her habit. I drift and look out of the the large paned windows of St. Joseph's Elementary School only to see a strange man, fully garbed in top hat and black clothes on the roof of the building opposite. He wields a fuzzy black brush on a long handle, and well-versed in Mary Poppins, I recognize a real Chimney Sweep.
In my ten year old eyes, I see a handsome bearded man who tips his hat just for me then proceeds to work. Forget the adverbs (as I am often reminded in editing today)... I raise my hand frantically and flap my paper like a sail driving for the America's Cup. Sister Cashmere startles, cheeks flushing even rosier at the prospect of such exuberant interest in a part of speech. I cannot speak when she calls on me but point instead to the roof outside.
Sure enough, the chimney sweep still balances against the brick chimney of Doc Dwyer's office building, and we all move as one to the window; papers strewn, desks thrust aside, and an excited chorus of amazement accompanies our class--Sister Cashmere as flustered as any of us. A moment of wonder; not sought, not pursued, simply there--and then soon gone with another dip of the top hat.
We go back to our desks with the star dust of fantasy meeting reality still on our backs , but it dissolves quickly enough into the cracks of the hardwood floors. The afternoon seems flat after that. I pick up my paper and my pencil and dutifully write--shadows of the movements I will make many years later as I struggle over a plot line. But the image of the chimney sweep lingers and I begin to think that wonder is experienced only through the spontaneous, a drop of crystal from the Hand of The Loving God. So do I initially believe as I write novels...that the muse, the moment of insight, the impractical delight that fills five thousand perfect words is the dip of a top hat, a fluke even, and I must wait until it returns again.
But then I hear a sermon, in a little white church a world away from St. Joseph's (which becomes a parking lot incidentally)...I hear a sermon about the Wise Men following the star. My mind drifts---yeah, yeah, camels and harness, weird gifts that probably sat on the shelf like knick knacks, the pain of carrying the things about in the move back from Egypt-I think I've got it down. But the Pastor speaks of a different journey and I focus and listen, and then learn a very important fact about writing.
Jesus is probably about two or more when the three or more wise guys show up, and those traveling men move, believe, seek with sweat and tears, for two or more years, the distant glimmer of a single star. They hang on, through doubt and misery and strange meetings with angels and kings...and they seek a King you'd never recognize but for the light of the star. So, what did I learn about writing? I learned that the wonder, the privilege of writing before the Lord is a journey-sometimes long and cold. It is no mere sweep of consciousness and self-pride but the invoking of a will to surrender, to give gifts that cost more than the mind, to travel to unfamiliar and unfriendly places in the soul. I don't have to wait for top hats to tip...it's not about luck but direct design. It costs and hurts sometimes, but it's finding Someone in the words Who transforms my past and delivers my future. And my job? Grab the paper and mount up...eye on the Star.
ABOUT KELLY LONG:
Kelly Long is a bestselling Christian author with novels on the CBD, CBA, and ECPA Bestseller lists. She writes Amish Fiction and was nominated for a Carol Award for Lilly's Wedding Quilt. Kelly is a former English and Latin high school teacher but now spends her time with books and Bible studes. Kelly lives near Hearshey, Pa. with her husband and children and sweet Bichon rescue dog, Sophie. She enjoys hearing from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org. And she can be found on FB FAns of Kelly Long and Twitter KellyLongAmish.
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