Today is June 27, 2009. Thirteen years ago, very early this morning, my Aunt Shirley went to live with her very best friend Jesus. She was forty-three years old. She left behind her husband, my dear cousin Brian, and countless people who were forever changed by watching her live and die.

I guess that words can never really sum up a person, but I sure wish they could. I've spent the past hour trying. I guess, if you want to know my Aunt Shirley--and I truly feel sorry for anyone who didn't--you only need to listen to "Amazing Grace." She lived it and breathed it, and it's no wonder it was her favorite song. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that, had she beaten cancer and lived, Chris Tomlin's version would have been her favorite. It's definitely mine.

And a God thing? Her granddaughter was born on this date... five years later.

Amazing Grace
by John Newton

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now, I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear,and Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come.
T'was Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.

When we've been here ten thousand years,bright shining as the sun,
we've no less days to sing God's praise then when we'd first begun.

I miss her, y'all. Every single day of my life.
C'mon, y'all. You knew Third Day had to show up some time. It's been awhile since the post on "Creed." Since God's been whopping me over the head with "This Is Who I Am" pretty much since the first time I heard it (and more than ever today), I figured it was time.

And, yes, it's the ringtone on my cell phone. :-) Glad you asked. I go back and forth between this one and Brandon Heath's "I'm Not Who I Was." Sensing a theme yet?

So, anyway, not only is "This Is Who I Am" a pretty rockin' song, it's got the great line, "This is who I am. So take me and make me something so much more."

Every time I hear the song, I think, YES! I am all of these things but, Jesus, make me something so much more! Build me into the image YOU have for me.

Here's why this is today's post, though. I sat here last night until nearly one in the morning, doing the very last thing on my manuscript before I do the very last read-through. There are "weasel words" in our writing. Words like just, suddenly, that... Let's just say (see that "just"?) there were over 1,200 "that" weasel words in my manuscript when I started. It took two hours to whittle it down to 471. And in the middle of the searching and replacing, something happened.

I grew to hate my book. By midnight, I hated it with a furious passion. I mean it. I could have deleted that puppy right off of my computer and sung songs of joy because I'd never have to look at it again. I started having fantasies. Ooh, I can scrap the book and go back to teaching and make real money again. Or, or... maybe one of the Christian bookstores in town is hiring and I can work for them. Or... I can wait tables again; tips aren't bad sometimes. Or... I wonder if they'd pay me to scrape the scum off of the pond near our house? (Okay, so it didn't go quite that far.) At midnight last night, I'd have done just about anything other than put another word in that book--or any book ever. I absolutely hated it, hated the act of writing, hated my desk chair, hated my computer, hated it ALL. (It's been coming on for a while now. Last week, a friend of mine from high school found me on Facebook and said she couldn't wait to read my book. I told her I couldn't wait to STOP reading my book.)

I went to bed with my happy little non-writer fantasies. When I woke up this morning and looked at myself in the mirror, I heard Cec Murphy's voice in my head. (If you were at Ridgecrest, you know where this is going, don't you?) If you can quit... quit. Here's the thing: I can't quit. Even if God said it was okay to go back to "regular" work, I'd still be a writer at heart. I'd still have stories stirring in me. I'd still ache to put words on paper.

This is who I am. I am a writer. God put me together this way. He built me to take letters, make them into words, mold them into sentences, and craft them into stories. Since I was able to write my own name, I've been a writer. I've never been anything else, even when I was doing other things. There is no quitting. It'd be like stuffing my ears with cotton and trying to listen the birds sing. It just wouldn't work. To quit would be to deny who I am, would be essentially to kill a part of me.

What happened? Why did I hate my book so much? Because I lost focus. Somewhere in the editing process, it became MY book. Ah, but it's not mine. It's never been mine. It's God's. I tried to take it away from Him. I stopped listening to Him when He told me what to put in and what to leave out. My eyes were off of my God and on my self. Not good. Never good.

I am a writer. God, this is who I am. Take me and make me something so much more.

I have no idea what it is about dropping my daughter off somewhere, turning on the radio, and having God make me cry. He likes to do that to me sometimes, I guess. Maybe it's because it's one of the few times I'm actually sitting still? Hmmmm...

Today, I dropped the little monkey off at Bible school and switched from the original Hannah Montana CD to the radio. (Yeah, I said it.) I was treated to one of my favorite songs, Jeremy Camp's "I Still Believe." When he sang, "Even when I don't see, I still believe" the tears whopped me right outta nowhere.

Even when God suddenly goes invisible on us... Even when we go deaf to Him or He stops talking for some reason... Even when we pray and "nothing" happens... Even when the desert is wide and dry... Even when it seems like our prayers bounce off of an invisible ceiling back to us...

We can still believe. Why? Because God is no liar. He said He'd never leave us and never forsake us. Never. And when God says that, He means it. He. Is. Never. Going. Anywhere. Feeling Him and seeing Him and hearing Him and all of that isn't what it's all about. Even when we don't see, we can still believe. And for some reason, this morning, "even when I don't see, I still believe" spoke so much love to me from Him that I couldn't hold it back. See, that line is not a testimony about us and our faith; it's a testimony about God and His faithfulness.

One other line... "The only place I can go is into your arms where I throw to you my feeble prayers." Oh... even when He is silent (or I'm not listening, take your pick), where else would I go? Where else could I run? There is none like Him, and no one loves me like He does. Walking through the desert with God in my life is far, far better than walking through life without God at all. Makes me think of Peter in John 6, when Jesus asked if the disciples were going to leave and Peter said (my paraphrase), "Lord, where else would we go?" If you're thinking about "leaving" God, ask yourself that question. "Where else would I go?" Even in the hard times, there's nowhere better.


PS--A bonus for the day... The song that was on the radio when my alarm clock sounded this morning? Third Day's "Nothing Compares." Wakin' up to Jesus music sung by Third Day? Gotta love it!
Ah, vacation. Time to turn off the brain, walk on the beach, veg, and not think about writing for awhile.

We'll all pause while I roll on the floor and laugh until my abs explode.

For whatever reason, when I hit the beach, my imagination went into warp speed. I wanted to drag a notebook down to the water and write story after story after story. The mental overdrive wore me out. By the time I got home, my brain hurt and I never wanted to think about another story again. You'd think it would be a great thing, but all I got the whole five days was vague images and imprints and feelings, the ingredients of scenes but no gorgeous Kitchenaid mixer to stir them up with. It stunk.

I did get quite a bit more read in Donald Maas's book. (I'm taking it slow and absorbing. There's another reason my brain geared up into hyperdrive...) One point for productivity! But it was my vacation! Should productivity have been my goal?

Anyway, if you're a regular reader, you know I've been plodding my way through the desert for awhile, drifting around in the land where I KNOW God is there but FEELING Him is difficult. Usually, I can step onto the beach first thing in the morning, take a deep breath, and set my feet on a good walk with my Jesus. It's why I absolutely love Ten Shekel Shirt's "Ocean."

That didn't happen.


Wanna know what I've learned? I'm having trouble being quiet. (If you know me at all, you're laughing right now because you already knew that. SEVERAL people who know me well have sent me Flair on Facebook that says, "People who don't know me think I'm quiet. People who do wish I was.") I sit down with Jesus and my brain refuses to shut up. It's gone Energizer Bunny on me: plots and prayer requests and chore charts and everything else bounce around in my brain like white noise. My noise-meter pegs and I give up on the God conversation. It stinks because I know He's in there somewhere, but I can't hear Him for all of the racket.

Well, Thursday night, I managed to get quiet for about ten minutes. And it was beautiful. Oh, I felt my Jesus! He all but wrapped His arms around me and showed up. And I closed my eyes and I turned my face to the sky and I heard the ocean and I smelled the salt and I felt the rain and then there was this breeze that kicked up and just kind of brushed my face, and it was like the hand of God, if that makes any sense. It made me think of a poem by Christina Rosetti (who is hands-down one of my favorite poets EVER):

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing thro'
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.

Oh, yes, the touch of God on a trembling leaf like me... It makes all of the difference.

This is slower going than I had planned for it to be. Oops. We are traveling a bit here and there, visiting family, so I'm away from the internet a lot. That and, school's out, so there's a five-year-old demanding my attention! Needless to say, a lot of work-related things have slowed down.

Rather than go day-by-day, I'll hit on the highlights of the rest of my Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference experience.

I had the privilege of meals with Mindy Starns Clark (we talked about the Titanic), Janet Benrey, Cec Murphy (we talked about running and about slogging through those spiritually dark places), and Chip MacGregor (we talked about the military and how sometimes it's okay to laugh at a funeral). AND I got the privilege of meeting Cec's right-hand woman Twila. (Hi, Twila!) Every one of these faculty members and every one of the men and women I sat with at their tables laid some sort of stone on the altar of my life. They're all built into a part of me now in ways that can't be put onto paper. It was amazing. Sometimes, I talked and laughed so much that I forgot to eat. (I'm looking at you, Kay...)

Evenings were great in the lobbies. Everyone sat around and chatted about everything. I spent one evening in conversation with several of the faculty members about different things (including research for new books) and two talking with fellow writers about life in general. I didn't get to sleep until after one in the morning, but it was so worth it!

And the banquet! The food was amazing! Chicken with mango salsa and green beans I'd break an arm (someone else's!) to know the recipe for. And then Steven James led us in what can only be described as a Creation Rap (and I'm sure our fellow writer Gene will never forget the line, "I'm a pretty flower. Would you like to smell me?")

Let me say this... There is nothing in this whole world like sitting in the company of other writers. I learned volumes in classes and keynotes; two weeks later, I'm still absorbing it all. But the greatest take-away for me was being on a campus where there were no strangers. Hundreds of writers, hundreds of people just like me, all wanting to put words on paper in some form or another for God. I made friends at meals, friends in sessions, friends just walking from one building to another. I made friends in my first couple of hours--Suzanne, Sheila, and Heather--and we were each other's cheerleaders for the remainder of the week (which reminds me, I have pictures for them). I made friends with Kay Shostak, who not only made me feel famous for about twenty seconds, but who also brainstormed the book of the century with me. We'll write that puppy one day... Or not. (The world ain't ready for THAT book!) I somehow managed to stalk Steven James--I swear, everywhere I went, there he was... or everywhere he went, there I was. Or something. If I had run into him one more time, I would have asked him what prophecy God had given him for me, because it was just getting weird.

Folks, go to a writer's conference. If you're even THINKING about writing, go to one. I'd go again tomorrow if I could get to one tomorrow. The Novel Writer's Retreat is in the fall, and I'd love to be there... but I've got to find enough change in the couch cushions first! Anyone care to send donations? I hear Kay's gonna be there... and I'm thinking the book of the century might be born! :-)