It’s been a decade since an unbelievable opportunity fell in my lap. A gift that changed my life forever.
It just so happens to be the same amount of time since I became an “us” with my husband. In 2004, we started dating. In a few days, we celebrate seven years of marriage. But the life-changing opportunity happened a week before he made his move to start dating me.
This week, 10 years ago, God made his move in the mountains of North Carolina.
I’ve been seeing on social media posts and pictures and plans for the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference. It’s a conference near and dear to my heart because it was there that God showed me the possibilities. It was there that He planted the seed of what writing could mean in my life.
But that’s getting a little bit ahead of things.
I’ve been reading Restless by Jennie Allen these past few months, and in that book, she talks about threads in your life and experiences that shape those threads. And in looking back over all of my 36 years, the times I’ve been most fulfilled are related to writing. So, whether I knew it or not, I think I’ve always been a writer. I remember filling notebooks with handwritten stories and forcing those notebooks on unsuspecting guests at our house, silently begging them to read what I’d written and to tell me it was good. (I think I’m still doing that sometimes.)
And when I worked as a journalist all those years after college, I was most satisfied by stories that made a difference. Some won awards, some didn’t, but always, always, I was filled by telling other people’s stories.
It was during those journalistic years that I was approached by a generous couple with an offer to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference, all expenses paid by them, to further my writing career. Even typing those words a decade later I’m still in shock at the offer. (P.S. I lived in Illinois at the time, so it’s not like it was close.) I had no clue what a writers conference was or why I should go but when someone offers to pay your way to spend some days in North Carolina, you say “yes.”
It was scary and thrilling and overwhelming all at the same time, and I wish I could go back and appreciate the experience for what it was.
Because in truth I had no idea there were so many Christian authors and because I was clueless and didn’t know any of the authors or what they’d written, I had no episodes of being starstruck. (Though I’m sure if I went back and looked over the names, I would smack myself on the head for not being more in tune with Christian publishing.)
See, at the time, I was a journalist. I’d been a journalist for four years and I had no plans to stop being a journalist or any energy to do more writing in my “free” time. I’d dreamed of maybe writing books someday, but that’s all it was: a dream. One writer asked me why I was there and my answer was an emphatic: I have no idea.
Sometimes I think I wasted that chance, but when I look at the experience as part of the whole journey, it really was just the beginning of something bigger.
I would love to go back someday but now I’m worried I have too much information and would still squander the opportunity. Now, I know more and I’m intimidated by conferences and expectations and meetings with authors and agents and the like. Now, I have words I’d like to see published and the risk of rejection is greater. When you have nothing in the way of goals, you risk nothing, and that’s what my first experience with the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference was for me: low-risk.
But there I met people like me. People who had worked as journalists and now wrote books. People with stories bubbling inside of them. People who’d traveled the publishing path and were passing on knowledge. I still remember some of the tips from the workshops and encouragement from other writers.
It was the beginning of a journey, but I didn’t know it at the time.
But do we ever know when the journey starts?
In the last year, I’ve begun taking my writing more seriously. Yes, I’ve blogged for years but that’s always been for me first. An outlet I needed in the midst of the early years of motherhood. If no one had ever read a word, I still would have written because I needed it.
But for years I’ve also been working on a novel. A very part-time effort that at times seemed to have no end. That’s changing, and it’s scary sometimes. I’m writing and pursuing ideas and making intentional efforts to connect with other writers and share my progress and learn about storytelling. A published novel is still very much a dream. Attending a conference has been almost impossible these past few years but it’s no longer completely out of reach.
Which is why I’ve been thinking back on that first conference.
Ten years seems like a really long time. And sometimes I wonder if I could have done more sooner. If I should have done more sooner. If I’ve missed my chance or if my chance is still out there.
I don’t know if God made me a writer at birth or not, but He has birthed something in me.
And for years He’s been building the writer in me, one brick at a time.
I’m sad and hopeful, frustrated and excited, discouraged and giddy about this crazy writing journey. I have no map or destination. I’m unfamiliar with the route. But I know where I’ve been, and I don’t think I’m lost. Not anymore. I’m seeing signs that I’m on the right path, wherever it might lead.
I have wanted to give up on it. I have wanted to call it a silly little dream. I have wanted my calling to be anything else because certainly anything else would be easier.
But I can’t. And it isn’t. And it wouldn’t be.
Sometimes, to keep moving forward, you need to look back and see where you’ve been.
That’s where I’m at this week. Looking back so I remember to keep moving forward.
(And trying not to be jealous of anyone spending the week in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mountains+writing=bliss.)
How are your dreams coming along these days?