With a minor tweak of Mirriam-Webster‘s definition, “serendipitous” can be defined as “coming from the phenomenon of finding unexpected joy.” And “perspective” as ” true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.”
This being the season for looking forward to a new year, I return to an account of one of my most memorable instances of “unexpected joy” and my new perspective that resulted. You can bet I count this blessing not twice but thrice as I look forward to another year devoted to Jesus and writing for him.
Miss Universe and Me
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.
Those two goddesses and I, a 74-yr-old grandmother, have shared a “this can’t be happening” moment. Theirs occurred at the Miss Universe pageant in December 2015 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.
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.” (When I learned my entry had made the list of 11 finalists a few months earlier, 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.
My tank—or cup if that suits better—ran over completely. (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 become reality. Jerry Jenkins was His 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 could write an essay about why I should attend the conference and not tell a soul. I’d been dreaming secretly about writing illustrated children’s books. And then there was that other event when unexpected joy left me reeling.
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!
Later, on a morning in April 2014, 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.
“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 a quick yank throws it up over your head.
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 work. The consolation: The feedback would be invaluable.
Did I expect the feedback I received on the following January 16? Absolutely not. Was I stunned and traumatized and unbelieving at first? Duh!
For whatever reason, the Lord chose this blessing for me. The story isn’t perfect, but neither am I. By the Lord’s gracious hand, I was granted 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. He might be groaning.
Thank you, Lord.
I haven’t stopped giving thanks … Ephesians 1:16 NIV
YouTube Book Trailer: http://bit.ly/1VZcAi5
(I shared this account on the The Seriously Write blog on May 13, 2016 and on Let’s Chat on June 8, 2016.)
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Lord, please bless readers of The Calling of Ella McFarland in ways only you can.
~ For Jesus’ sake