I arrived an emotional wreck. I left the memorial service early, an emotional jumble, and arrived in Portland soul scattered. The memorial for Wayne wasn't possible to push out of my mind. Wayne left his mark on the world. Saved by the gift of a new kidney, Wayne literally fed people with heart, soul, and hands. Food and soaking up the words of others were his imprint; his way of saying thank you to God for a new lease on life. Then the unexpected hit him and us: heart attack.
I'm mad at you God for taking Wayne. His story wasn't over yet. It was just beginning.
My heart ached as I drove north. “What exactly am I celebrating?” I asked myself as I battled Portland traffic. Stuck in my mind. Stuck in the slow lane. Stuck.
A 2014 finalist in the Cascade Awards, I was again à table; a 2015 finalist for unpublished children's picture books. Would anything come of the awards banquet, or the presence of my story? Would my stories find their way into a larger world, one bigger than my mind?
I've certainly asked Him more than a time or two. This God, who plops me in His lap and reads stories to me; He seems to be my only audience. Yet like an eager 4 year old, I try to repeat back my favorite parts, learn them well and remember, and then make them come alive for anyone who will listen. But what will become of these stories? Will they be told by future generations, or simply stay on my hard drive?
Stilling my soul on the hotel porch, the mighty Columbia River rolled by. While Ipad pings interjected, I sought an inner calm amid the roaring of PDX jets overhead. A Safe Families situation vied for my attention. A message about a family needing to place children in temporary care, and a foster to adoption story, riveted my beating heart. I wanted to be with them in their stories right then, and forgo mine.
Be still my soul.
I finally got up and changed, putting on cool but dark summer clothing, i.e., putting on what I hoped would be a class act. I'm pretty sure it failed, and that's fine. I'm definitely not a girl who is driven by her outward appearance. Much of my life is lived in the interior, and I've finally begun to accept and embrace this inner dimension of mine. Sitting in the banquet room, surrounded by linen and china, I put on a smile and tried small talk, but really, I wanted to be headed for a starry hill draped black.
I wanted to be with Wayne in the community kitchen chopping vegetables. I wanted to be on the phone helping make sure that family found resources for their crisis, and I wanted to meet the young girl who was meeting her adoptive parents for the first time. A young girl who's been in 19 foster homes in 12 young years of life. I wanted to be in the middle of their stories, not mine. I wanted this awards banquet to be dinner at Sylvia Beach Hotel, a haven for readers and writers. Yet here I was with God's story surrounded by a sea of people, and He wasn't parting the sea for me.
Both the tiny Sylvia Beach Hotel and the massive hotel I was enclosed within perch above mighty waters. Both have dining rooms that birth stories, but are they stories of consequence? Surrounded by glass, tinkling china, and extroverts I wanted to know.
Surrounded by readers and writers, I wanted to know.“What do you carry in your pockets?” I wanted to ask, “Do you carry precious stones a boy child has given you? Do you carry the ordinary turned extraordinary? What about feathers? Do you?” I wanted to ask, “What are you doing with your one wild and precious life?” If we sat around the table at Sylvia Beach Hotel playing Two Truths and a Lie, what would your truths be and what of your lie? I wanted to ask you how you keep the burning at bay, or if wild words burn a hole in your pocket. Spilling into the world. I wanted to ask if like George Eliot you bear the burden of words with joy or grim determination, or a bit of both. I wanted to say: “Remember you've been given a womb to spiritually carry children, birth, and incarnate stories.”
I wanted to ask you what makes you afraid. Are you afraid of all the awards represent, or afraid to ask yourself and others if they don't represent anything at all?
Oh mighty agent and editor, instead of the raging river out the window, I dipped my toes in lukewarm waters and asked, “Do you have hope in the industry?” You said you still loved story, but your eyes seemed doubtful.
For what is the recognition of men and mankind when our inner burning is to know and be known? To see and be seen is not what we seek. Is it?
Receiving my award, I rose awkwardly early. He was still reading the text of Callie's story, and poorly at that. I arrived on the platform a nervous mess, but trying to trust. I left that night a nervous mess, trying to trust. I came for dinner and left after worship. I didn't stay for the key noter. I'm sure it was lovely, but another story called me.
That story had me unloading sweet alfalfa from the back of my rig for still sweeter lambs and sitting under twinkling stars. That story had me sitting under the Perseid meteor shower, pondering what's a life well lived, and worshipping the Creator of my stories in the black of night, and doubt. Maybe I should have stayed.
Maybe I should have attended all week. Would my story have found its break and opening if I'd been more present? Yet conference fees are extremely high, and I wasn't sure my tribe was in Portland. One pays those high conference and hotel fees for two reasons: If your tribe is found by the river, and if you know your story will find its path by your presence à table. I was sure of neither. I write children's stories, and the Christian market is not risking upon children right now, or unknown children's authors. But children are my whole life. Right now. Safe Families, my own family, and my stories are all about and for children.
Oh mighty agent and editor, at linen cloth and crystal cup, you made it known you only want authors with an existing platform, memoirs appealing. Yet if authors are called to risk writing the words God has given them, should you not risk supporting them? Is the book industry, secular or religious, for author's and stories and souls these days, or just a machine? The world is watching. Us. I show up and write, but I cannot sell my soul to tell a story, or sell story that is not sacred. Are we selling souls or blessing souls? The exclusivity of God1 must sit ever on the page. It must be first.
Will my award propel Callie forward? I don't know. I believe God propels words forward in the world, in their write time. Book awards are not trophies, but maybe they're a recognition of beginnings. I'm thankful for the award. I'm thankful for the lovely editors and agents who judged my work worthy of winning. I'm thankful for the recognition of new beginnings, and I have hope the ending is being written by the Great Storyteller and the pliant hand that picks up the pen.
Out the window of the large Red Lion, a bridge spans the Columbia River and I ask, "Are we are bridges?" I wonder if anything I write, or we write, will stand the test of time. Will our words, my words, withstand a shaking? Will the bridges we build in this world hold up for crossings into another world? The other world. I hope the collective community of writers upon the shores of the river, in a man made palace of glass, breathe in and out streams of refreshing words. And may those words wash over mankind. May they stand. May they prevail.
And so today, I get up and write. Crumbs lay all around me in the coffee shop. I'm a messy writer. I want more. I want food and story to mean something. Like at Sylvia Beach, the Red Lion, or Fishtrap, I want conversation and deep connections long after dinner is over.
And suddenly you know: It's time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.