On the other hand, if you have blood in your veins and breathe air, maybe you do. Because the truth is we're all painfully human, and the lesson God imparted to me then will most likely speak to you now, whether you're a writer, reader, or starry-eyed hopeful like I was back then, desperate to soak up everything I could from workshops, sessions, and people in the know. Whatever your story, here's mine the year I learned the most important lesson of all.
“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 nor ever had to be resuscitated in any way.
Uh … that is … not physically.
But emotionally and spiritually? Oh, yeah, I was a goner. Cried enough tears for the housekeeping staff to think I was heisting 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 ACFW is right around the corner, it might behoove me to repeat a past Seeker blog 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 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 like to joke that I have the misfortune of having an outgoing personality, so the word “shy” 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” to 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 requested.
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, 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, 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 from which to choose 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 immediately 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, then turned to face the door. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. "You’re from St. Louis?" The woman's eyes were glowing with warmth, gaze flitting from my name badge to my face with a joyous smile. "I live in Illinois, just twenty minutes across the river.”
Diana Brandmeyer. Anyway, she invited me to sit with her and her husband for breakfast, and as God is my witness, conference food never tasted so good!
My heart froze when I realized I'd written my name down by mistake, thus winning a book for myself rather than for 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. Nope, the main reason was the invaluable lesson 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 hope Scriptures instead of despair. Because the bottom line is, “hope never fails” … and neither does He.
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. 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 any of my books, including my upcoming release, Surprised by Love.
So goood luck … and take a deep breath!
So goood luck … and take a deep breath!
Award-winning author of “The Daughters of Boston” and “Winds of Change” series, Julie Lessman was American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards. She has also garnered 17 RWA and other awards and made Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction. Her book A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers' Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. You can contact Julie and read excerpts from her books at www.julielessman.com.