Linda Brooks Davis

Unexpected Joy: When My Dream Became Reality

This article about unexpected joy first appeared on May 13 on the Seriously Write blog. For those who did not see it then, here ’tis  again …


Miss Colombia, Miss Philippines, and I have next to nothing in common—not hair color, body shape, facial features, age, heredity, ethnicity, residence, or life experiences—except one, in an eensy-weensy way.

I, a 70-year-old grandmother, and those two goddesses have shared a this can’t be happening moment. Theirs occurred at the Miss Universe pageant last December when Steve Harvey announced Miss Colombia was the new Miss Universe … and then had to admit he’d made a mistake. The crown went to Miss Philippines, not Miss Colombia. Whooops. 

The Miss Universe Mistake. Whoops. An unexpected moment. Unexpected joy for one and not-so-much for another.

Watching that unwatchable yet can’t-take-your-eyes-off-it moment transported me back to January 2015 when I received word my Operation First Novel entry—THE CALLING OF ELLA MCFARLAND—had won first place. I experienced unexpected joy … and a few more emotions.

My first words: “That’s impossible.” (A few months prior when I learned my entry had made the list of 11 finalists, I had told my husband it was a good thing the list didn’t end at 10 or I wouldn’t have made it.)

I expected something akin to the words poor Miss Colombia heard: “I’m so sorry but there’s been a mistake.” Any minute the Whoops call would come. Surely. But the clock ticked away what remained of the evening and the phone sat silent while I worked my way through believing the unbelievable.

The unexpected joy experience was traumatic—in a good way—but traumatic, all the same. I’ve read that when a person experiences trauma, the needle in the brain’s “trauma center” goes “KERBAM!” all the way to “Full” and beyond. That’s true.

Unexpected Joy=A cup that overflows

My tank—or cup if that suits better—ran completely over. (Tweet That!)

I couldn’t wrap my head around such unexpected joy. I wept. And wept some more. Around 11:00 p.m. my husband asked if I was going to be OK. (He was eyeing bed but wanted to be awake and alert if I had a stroke.)

Sure, I was OK. But I couldn’t stop pacing. Shaking my head. And weeping.

I slipped on my wool coat and sat on the porch. The air was cold. The sky clear. The stars in their places. Moon, too. The earth hadn’t shifted on its axis.

Deep breaths. And prayers of thanksgiving. God was seeing to it that my dream would be reality. Jerry Jenkins was the tool.

Johnny Cash’s “Why Me, Lord?” came to mind, reminding me my journey began in late 2006 when I stumbled across an essay contest online. Adam McManus, talk radio host on KSLR AM in San Antonio, together with one of his sponsors, Jerry B. Jenkins, was offering the Christian Writers Guild Conference to the winner.

It wouldn’t hurt to enter. I wouldn’t tell a soul, so I wouldn’t have to answer questions. I could write an essay about why I should attend the conference. I’d been dreaming secretly about writing illustrated children’s books.

2005_12_8 months old.AllThree.Christmas.IMG_0042
Unexpected Joy: The day I learned I would be a first-time grandmother in triplicate form, I reacted in much the same way as when I learned I’d won Operation First Novel.

Our daughter had carried (with great agony) and then delivered (at 28 weeks) a beautiful set of triplets (1 girl and 2 boys) in 2005. She had rejected the fertility doctor’s insistence that she abort one of the babies early on and had spent the better part of 21 weeks in the hospital experiencing every complication in the annals of “at-risk pregnancy.”

I wore my knees out in prayer. (Tweet That!) Daily when I arrived in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and heard “They’re doing OK” I whispered a prayer: “Thank you, Lord, for honoring Lynn Lee’s trust in Your care.” A year later, another boy came along. Four babies in diapers—not your everyday baby experience—requires extra applications of prayer.

Fast forward—past joining several writers’ organizations, critique submissions, conferences, workshops, contests, mentors, tossing aside one idea after another, starting and stopping, reevaluating and going at it again, and even throwing in the towel for 6 months. I’d had it!

Until one morning in April 2014 when I woke with a story on my mind. It wouldn’t let me go. I sat at my computer, opened a document, typed CHAPTER 1 … and began to weep.

Yep. Prayer changes things. Unexpected Joy.

“I can’t do it, Lord. You’ll have to stand beside me.” 

The Kleenex box grew lighter and lighter—the way it does when it’s getting to the bottom and a quick yank throws it up over your head. That’s the picture.

At times I thought I felt Jesus beside me, whispering words every now and then, his finger pointing to a pathway, urging me to get my heart in tune—in rhythm—with His, the most precious moments in my writing life so far.

I did my best to edit the manuscript but on the last day before the deadline, I clicked “Submit” knowing it needed a lot of work. The consolation: The feedback would be valuable.

Did I expect the feedback I received on the following January 16? Absolutely not. Was I stunned and traumatized and unbelieving at first? Duh!

William Tribble and Ella Banks, 1910
William Tribble and Ella Banks, 1910. My grandparents. Mama left a name worthy of the heroine of The Calling of Ella McFarland.

For whatever reason, the Lord chose this blessing for me. The story isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. But neither am I. By the Lord’s gracious hand, I was granted some ideas and words and the freedom to put them together as I chose. My ancestors’ experiences are tucked into the story, and readers see my heart and soul laid bare. Mainly, I hope they see Jesus.

Writers, if I can do this, YOU can. Don’t give up!

And, readers, when you open your next novel, pray for the writer. She might be gasping for breath!

Thank you, Lord.

I haven’t stopped giving thanks … Ephesians 1:16 NIV

Twitter: @LBrooksDavis
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