It was the last Friday in May, the weekend of the Overflowing ladies’ conference. I was polishing off my notes for Saturday morning’s message when an email came through from my writing teacher, Leslie. “I wanted to reach out and let you know about an opportunity to join me at the Harvester Island Writers’ Workshop at a discounted rate!” her email said. “Every year, I offer two scholarships for this event to reduce the cost and make it as accessible as possible. Would you be interested?”
I dismissed it immediately. Alaska? Even with a hefty discount, the awful exchange rate right now would still make it out of the reach of my budget.
I mentioned it in passing to my husband later that afternoon. “Well, you know, we do have all those airline points,” he reminded me. “They’ve been accumulating since before covid hit! Your flight wouldn’t cost you anything.” His words nudged open the door that I had so quickly slammed shut. Maybe an Alaskan writer’s retreat wasn’t as far removed from the realm of possibility as I had imagined. However, I was already a bundle of nerves, anticipating speaking the next day, so I shoved these simmering thoughts to the back burner of my brain and told myself I would decide after this busy weekend was over and I could think more clearly.
I was in knots that weekend for another reason too. In just a few days, I would find out the results of the Braun Book Awards. Months earlier I had submitted a manuscript to Word Alive Press for their annual Canada-wide writing competition, and the winners were due to be announced that week. I really had no idea what I was hoping for. A win would mean having my book published at no cost to me, but having my book published meant I would have to publish my book. Obviously! Was I ready for that? Well now, that didn’t feel so obvious. Was it time for me to tell my story to the world when I was still struggling sometimes to tell it to myself? For me, sending in that manuscript was like Gideon laying out his fleece. The trouble was, I didn’t know if I was asking God to drench it with attention or dehydrate it in obscurity.
Saturday evening after the ladies’ conference, my family went out to dinner. On the way home from the restaurant, I sat in the passenger seat, relieved to have my speaking engagement behind me but unable to fully relax. Where would my manuscript land in the coming week’s announcement? Then Alaska came to mind again. After waffling for so long in how I felt about the possibility of winning this publishing prize, I was exhausted and didn’t want the mental work of deliberating on anything else.
“Lord,” I prayed quietly, “I don’t want to spend a long time trying to decide on this. I’m tired. Will You please just make it abundantly clear? I don’t think I can stand a long, drawn out decision process here.” I picked up my phone, thinking that my Bible app’s verse of the day might contain a crumb of insight for my faint heart. My eyes fell on Matthew 28:19, the first two words jumping off the screen at me. “Go, therefore…”. Now, I know Jesus wasn’t sending His disciples to a writing workshop in Alaska when He spoke those words two thousand years ago. But after the prayer I had just prayed, that’s what He seemed to be speaking to me. I laughed aloud. “Ok. I’ll take it! Let’s go!” It felt good to be settled about something.
Four days later I found out that my manuscript for Unlikely Grace placed runner up in the non-fiction category, losing to a book written by two authors with more letters behind their names and more published books in their rear view mirror than I could ever hope to earn or write. There was a twinge of initial disappointment, but after some reflection, there was peace. I sort of had the best of both worlds — validation for all the effort and time and tears that I had poured into my project but no pressure to publish now. And even though this competition proved to be a dead end for my words, I had this Alaskan scholarship as a consolation prize of sorts.
I had a friend from high school who would comfort himself after getting a disappointing grade on a test or assignment by saying, “Well, I still have Heaven to look forward to!” Of course, as a teen boy, and being the funny guy he was, he would say it to get a laugh. But his words still come to mind when I’m faced with a disappointment.
I’m thankful for God’s timing in graciously giving me something to look forward to in my writing life — a week in the Alaskan wilderness with twenty fellow word wranglers, learning from two experienced authors. And this adventure starts in 12 days!
“The bush planes count every pound!” said the latest email from my instructor, reminding us to keep our luggage light. With a packing list that includes everything I will need to be away from home for ten days plus rubber boots and rain gear and binoculars and books and hiking shoes, this could take some careful planning. I better get packing!