It all began innocently enough.
Two friends and a Jeep. Loaded to the gills. Headed to Nashville, Tennessee for the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. They had plans to take their first year at the conference by storm, learning all they could, meeting new friends, and hugging those they’d only met online. They were determined to make their presence known in the best of ways.
Their brilliant plan was nearly sidetracked, and their song of joy partially transposed into a melody of sorrow in a minor key only a couple of hours after they arrived in Music City.
As they sat down to lunch, a short text that seemed innocent and sweet and the two minute phone call that followed changed everything.
“Hey, Mom, I just wanted to say I love you.”
This picture was taken seconds before my son sent the above text. I showed that text to everyone at the table. It was just like my sweet son to send a loving note like that. The call that followed cast his message in a whole new light.
One of my friends was on the other end, wind screaming in the background, panic squeezing her voice. She told me there was another tornado plowing through our neighborhood. She was on the way to get my son, who was home alone. My brain shut down. My body went numb. I looked at the friend sitting to my right and said,
“I can’t do this again.”
When the last tornado hit in November 2013, it was bad. This time was worse. My seventeen year old baby was all alone. In the middle of the monster. Was he okay? Did he make it to the bathroom for shelter? Was that text his way of telling me goodbye? All these thoughts boiled my brain as it went into lock down mode.
I don’t remember much of Wednesday evening. Numerous calls and texts. The girls praying with me and holding me. Being kept off of Facebook and away from the news. We went to eat at a local restaurant. I remember the music. I remember standing on the balcony and watching the water below. I remember I did eat something, at my friends’ orders.
Then finally those words came I’d been dying to hear all afternoon.
Everyone is okay. All the kids are accounted for and safe.
I wanted to go home, but was instructed by my husband and friends to stay put. There was nothing I could do, and my husband didn’t want me to have to deal with the mess at home a second longer than I had to. I fought them. I was two seconds from jumping in the Jeep and breaking the laws of the land and physics to get home to my husband and babies.
Then I met Dineen and Heather.
They found me roaming the lobby, I’m sure looking lost and pitiful. They prayed with me. They spoke peace and common sense into me. Both of them felt what I already knew but wanted to deny anyway: I was there for a reason. They refused to believe the timing was a coincidence. Looking back, I agree. I have no idea how I would’ve handled being in the middle of another storm, as I was still dealing with emotional issues from the first one. They convinced me, albeit begrudgingly on my part, I should stay and get what I could from the conference. Gain strength to take back home and share.
For once, I obeyed, and stayed put. I’m so glad I did.
I crawled into bed Wednesday night weary and hurting. It took me hours to fall into a fitful sleep. Finally Thursday morning dawned. It was then I noticed something I hadn’t the night before in my hurry to hide under the covers and wish it all away.
A concierge named Vincent had sent a basket of goodies and a note expressing his sympathy for what had happened at home and his hope my weekend would improve. In that basket, among other things, were two treats I adore and rarely get. One you can’t buy up North where I live now, and the other is hard to find.
GooGoo clusters and Moon Pies.
His simple act of kindness, added to the love and prayers of my friends, were what propelled me out of my stupor. As I enjoyed a GooGoo Cluster for breakfast, I prepared myself anew for the conference. I became determined to milk every last drop out of the weekend. To fortify my armor. To be stronger than ever.
I began to push aside all the depressing, crazy-making thoughts and focus on where I was. It wasn’t hard. Being surrounded by friends, sisters and brothers, made it easier to shove my troubles back and find my joy. Throughout the weekend, especially Thursday, I had my moments. Ups and downs. But there was always someone by my side to pull me up and out of the down times. I am forever grateful.
Then came Friday morning. I’d signed up for a class I knew would be highly beneficial to me. As I sat down, the instructor immediately gave valuable information I could use to better my manuscripts. But something felt off. Not with her, with me. I had a nagging feeling despite what I could glean from this class, it wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
After about 10 minutes, I left. I roamed the halls, trying to decide where to go. Looking for answers. I passed a room with the doors wide open and heard the speaker, Allen Arnold, say something that demanded my attention.
“How can we experience miracles if we never need them?” (Click to tweet)
Okay. I sure needed a miracle. One I didn’t want to need. Hmm. I had to hear what he said next. I rushed inside and chose a seat. That’s when he said he had something for us. Notebooks he’d prayed over and written messages in. There were no names on them, and he handed them out randomly. He was confident they would go to the right people and be the exact message they needed. When I reached up to take mine, our eyes met and he grinned and nodded. In that moment I knew. I was in the right place. That was only confirmed as I opened my notebook to read the message it contained. Tears flooded my eyes and I instantly froze. The first line said:
“Control is an illusion.” (Click to tweet this.)
My toes began to hurt from being stepped on. Yep. He’d nailed it.
The confirmation that this class, this conference, was precisely where I was meant to be just kept coming. That note? Only the beginning.
With each keynote, each class, I was challenged. Challenged to write with God. To see things from a different perspective, whether it be a storm I’m going through or the people and things around me. To become one with God, with the universe, and let myself be used as a conduit. To discover myself as I write. To write for the sake of my own transformation. That the only way to change was through a shake up.
I had to step out of the boat and into the turbulent sea, having faith He would hold me.
Another class that really resonated with me was called “Soul Care for Authors”. Boy, did I need that one! They talked about four aspects: Spirit, Soul, Body, and Community. I learned that God is not a teacher who fathers, He’s a Father who teaches. That He wants that deep communion and intimacy with each of us. That sometimes things would be beautiful and messy, but we had to be willing to say yes to the invitation. We had to be ready to jump on that ride God was inviting us on.
One thing that adhered to my heart like crazy glue was something my friend Kristy Cambron said. “Fiercely protect the moments of holy in your life.” (Click to tweet.) They could come at any time, and we needed to always be ready for those God appointments.
I had plenty of those this weekend.
So many crossed my path, some unknown to me before the conference, who became close friends. Allies. They saw the light when all I saw was darkness. My roommates Michele, Jebraun, and Terri. My friends Lauren, Ralene, Sara, Sarah, Morgan, Dawn, Naomi, JC, Ronie, Amy, Elizabeth, and Cynthia. So many others. Their paths collided with mine in what could only be these special God moments. People sent to me, to love, encourage, and hold me up. They were my Aarons and I am so thankful for them.
Aside from having my soul, mind, and spirit fed by a sumptuous buffet of instruction, and gaining strength from all I was given, there were multiple lighthearted moments that infused my heart as well. From the genre dinner to the awards gala, to dinners out on the town, to hanging out in the lobby talking about everything and nothing. These precious hours of fun recharged me. They steeped me in joy I would need when I went back home. Not all God appointments are serious and somber. He knows we need the levity to balance the heaviness. And He provided for me in spades.
Yeah, my trip didn’t go according to plan.
Really, when does everything go exactly how we planned it? I would’ve certainly preferred not to have to go through this particular storm and deal with the things I faced once I returned home. But I wouldn’t trade the rest of that weekend for anything. If I had to do it all over again, I would still make the choice to stay. God knew where I needed to be and when, and He put me there. He knew I needed these people, the teaching I received, the fellowship, the strength He gave me through them, and the conversations that forced me to think differently and stretch beyond my limits.
Yes, God can truly use anyone, anything, any situation, to do some amazing stuff and bring incredible good to us. It’s mind boggling how He knows each of us so well, and knows exactly how to nudge us along.
Who would’ve ever thought God would use a stranger named Vincent, and GooGoo Clusters and Moon Pies to be the final push I needed to give in and step forward on the path He’d set before me?
~I always include a song with each blog post. I chose today’s song for several reasons. It’s been running through my head since conference. Instead of being burned by the fire, by the past and all the things singeing me in the present, I will instead BE the fire. I will be the storm. I will take what was given to me, what God infused me with, and I will fight.
Fire purifies. It transforms. I will allow it to transform me, to change my perception. I will be the Phoenix, rising from the ashes, stronger than ever. My greatest hope is that you will do the same.~