A person’s writing can change incredibly in a passage of three years if they practice and hone their craft. This is what I tell my students in the workshops I present.
When I committed to coming to the Write-to-Publish conference, I wanted to take advantage of the free manuscript critique that was included. I have an agent for my non-fiction book in progress, and the essays I am working on are still in rough draft stages, and not polished enough for a critique. I decided a month ago that I would pull out and dust off my manuscript that chronicled a couple’s journey through cancer, the true love story that was slated for publication in 2009, before I began having doubts about the publisher and terminated my contract. While I have gleaned essays from that manuscript for several anthologies, I have not read it in its entirety since. Nor did I read over the first chapter before sending it to this conference. After all, it was slated for publication and was already polished, right? My intention was to take advantage of the free manuscript critique, and not to seek either representation or a book contract. I’d already decided last November that this book was not complete, after all, and would be including both my mother’s and my grandson’s cancer experience.
When I picked up the critique, I noted immediately that it had been done by a respected gentleman of a “certain age.” The comments were all positive in regards to my writing style and competency, but this agent saw no reason he would turn the page after this first chapter. This comment did nothing to my fragile ego; after all, I wasn’t here to sell something. I’d just wanted an honest opinion of an expert who reviews manuscripts all day, and there it was. When I got back to my room I pulled out that first chapter, the one I’d written in 2008 and hadn’t touched in years. I read it, and cringed; this poor man, likely old enough to be my father, had endured reading the word “breast” half a dozen times in the span of a few pages! Controversial May Time magazine aside, in the good company of a Christian elderly man I would not have dared to have spoken that word, and yet here I had referred to it several times in regards to the womanly art of nursing an infant.
My second thought was to agree with him. I wrote the thing, and other than continuing out of an overdeveloped curiosity, I wouldn’t have turned the page either.
This was a bit disconcerting, to say the least. Three years ago this book had been slated for publication! I thought about that for a bit, and before I went to bed, I prayed about it. “Give God his glory,” I had clearly heard during the writing of that book and I’d obediently added an entire chapter devoted to how God had worked through others. I’d felt led to write it, and had been certain then it was meant for publication. And yet now, three years later, the pointed way I’d attempted to hook the reader with the anomaly of an attachment parenting lifestyle is blatantly obvious and falls flat. Who cares that this young college coed manages to capture the attention of a lonely man eight years her senior? The fact that they have eight children, homeschool, and struggle financially hardly makes a good story, even if a reader becomes curious about their lifestyle. When cancer rears its ugly head and the couple’s marriage is revitalized, the story then becomes about marriage and relationships, which is all well and good. But where is God in all of this?
David and I weren’t even attending church during his cancer treatment. Even if he had felt well enough to go, he wasn’t interested. I made only half-hearted attempts to attend services during that period of time myself. We were Christians. We believed in God, but we had no personal relationship with our Savior. Yes, our marriage improved dramatically, to the point that we were finally experiencing what God had intended in the “two become one” Biblical mandate for marriage.
But where was God in my story? Relegated to a chapter on the goodness of others and referenced only vaguely.
This morning, after more prayer, it came to me in the shower. That story, the one I had written during David’s cancer treatment and completed shortly after we’d bought our first house and moved into town, had ended very happily; couple gets married, has eight children, struggles with an imperfect mate and marriage, husband gets cancer and wife cares for him, they learn to love with an unselfish, giving sort of love, buy a house, spend time together, enjoy a marriage that now seems idyllic. The End.
That story ended there. When I shoved it in a drawer in September of 2009, I only took it out occasionally to pull sections from it for anthology submissions. When my mother died from cancer, it occurred to me that perhaps the book was not done. Then my grandson was diagnosed with cancer less than two months later, and I was certain it was not complete.
This morning it hit me like a thunderbolt~ my true story about our marriage had ended before our faith journey began. Cancer had not made us more faithful. It had brought us closer together and improved our marriage one hundred percent. But it was with my mother’s death on my birthday in November 2010 that I was given a great gift of faith, one that helped me get through my grandson’s cancer and grew steadily during the following months. By November 2011, I’d had a spiritual experience at a Christian Writer’s conference and knew, without a doubt, that heaven was a reality and that the goodness and light of a heavenly Father would always triumph over the evil in the world. David was having his own spiritual transformation; he’d begun reading books by Joyce Meyer, and watching her on television. He’d sit back on the couch, relax, and the remote would come out. Click, click, click, until he’d find one of her programs on television, and he’d watch it whenever he could. He’d loaned out his favorite books, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real to our friend, Bob, to read. In the hospital after David’s heart attack he hadn’t wanted any reading material until he saw me reading Getting to Heaven, also by Don Piper and Cecil Murphey. “Leave that here for me,” he’d asked. I was astonished one day when I visited him and he’d raved over the blessing he was receiving each day. I’d never seen him get excited over a priest’s blessing before, and there he was, beaming with joy. David, the quiet Christian, was finding his own path of faith.
I met with the distinguished gentleman this afternoon and explained who I was. I informed him I was not looking for an agent. I told him the manuscript he’d critiqued was three years old and that I now knew it was not the story I wanted to tell. It was not meant to be a story of a couple’s cancer journey. It was meant to be a journey of faith; faith through cancer, yes, but then a gift of faith through my mother’s death on my 51st birthday, and a grandson’s cancer diagnosis less than two months later. This is how the story will open, I told him;
“It is early March of 2012 and my husband David is sitting across the table from me. I am writing, as I always am, and David jumps up to refill my coffee cup even before I’ve realized the coffee has gotten cold because that is what our marriage has become. We take care of each other. It wasn’t always like this. Before his cancer in 2006, it would have been much more likely we’d have been bickering over breakfast.
I continue writing, only to look up because I sense David’s gaze. I smile at him, and go back to my work. God had recently been blessing me by opening up many doors in writing and public speaking, doors that opened so swiftly they’d been slamming against the wall. We’d both marveled at how God had been working in our lives since the death of my mother in 2010.
I had a newspaper column to complete and was furiously writing when I realized my husband was still watching me. “What?” I’d asked, “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking how beautiful you are, and how talented. That you can just write like that amazes me. I love you so much.”
Tears filled my eyes. David had become my biggest supporter in my writing endeavors. But how could he think I was beautiful? I was still in my pajamas, my hair disheveled, and my face without makeup. We’d been married nearly 33 years and I still managed a blush at his heart-felt sentiment. I knew then that he was seeing the girl that he’d married and the woman I’d become.
“You are a beautiful man, and I love you,” I said, and I meant it with every fiber of my being. I’d always found him handsome, but with all we’d been through together, he was beautiful, inside and out. What our marriage had become in the last five and a half years was as close to perfection as any relationship on earth could be.
Less than three weeks later, my beloved David was dead.”
The agent was stunned.
“How could I handle that tremendous loss without a personal relationship with God?” I asked him. His eyes widened slightly and he nodded knowingly.
“How could I sit down the next day, pick up a pen, and with fingers thick with grief, struggle to write in a journal, thanking God? I thanked him for what I’d had with David, for giving me those bonus five and a half years after cancer. I praised him for opening doors for me so that I would have an income without David, for bringing my daughter a youth group for a support system, for my friend Beth, who had recently gone through the same loss before me, for my sisters who would minister to me. How could I have continued to thank God every single day since then, without faith that I would be reunited with David some day? THAT is the story; a journey of faith.”
“Now would you turn the page?” I asked him, and he grabbed my hand with a triumphant “YES!”
I don’t know how this story ends yet. I don’t know when I will write it, but I do know it will be written.
And in the writing of our story of faith, God will be given his rightful glory.
Tomorrow would have been our 33rd anniversary. Thank you, Lord, for bringing me here for healing and wisdom.