January 5th, 2020

Unrealized Dreams (Thriving in Hard Times Week 5)

82401604_10221813696914204_1089046768160604160_oI wrote my first story by the age of seven. It was about a girl named Katie who loved horses. I didn’t love the story, but I loved creating a new world. I loved bringing life to characters and watching them take on a life of their own. For years when people asked what my hobby was, I’d say writing. Few understood, but I didn’t care. It was something that brought me great pleasure.

Fast forward almost three decades. I continued to treat writing as a hobby, something to do when I was on vacation from work or when I found nothing better on TV. One night as I thought of all I’d achieved, God asked me a simple question.

“What have you done with the gift of writing I gave you?”

That began the road to my writing career. I still worked full time as a teacher. I was mom and wife. Yet for thirty minutes a day, I honed my craft. I polished my story. I wasn’t in a rush. I was being faithful to what God called me to. I wanted to touch others with the gift He gave me. I wanted to inspire others to be closer to Him.

That was fifteen years ago. Fifteen weeks ago I posted this on my social media:

“My rewrite of #TheBeloved was like a quarter marathon. Now it’s time for a half marathon—to finish #TheRedeemed.”

In the past seven years, I have had seven books published. Six of which I published myself. I wrote queries and I pitched each book to publishers and agents, praying if it was God’s will He would open the door. When no doors opened, I self-published. At that time, people looked down on self-published authors, almost considering them as second-class writers. When a door opened in the spring of 2018 to traditionally publish my seventh book, I walked boldly through it.

By this time I was writing several hours a day. My laptop went everywhere with me in case I had a few minutes to spare. I still taught full time and homeschooled (which really meant chauffeuring my teens from place to place). I also taught at writers conferences, led Bible studies, and started being invited to speak, which I loved. When people said, “I don’t know how you do it all,” I usually answered, “By the grace of God.” When I signed that publishing contract in May 2018, two months after my best friend passed away, it seemed like God had heard my prayers and my dreams were finally coming true.

With the contract came new obligations. Marketing. First round, second round, third round of revisions for The Deceived. Interviews and blogs to write promoting the book series. Live videos. Most every moment my mind was occupied with some idea or something I needed to do for my books or for my writing career. I wanted this to work so I could afford to walk away from my teaching job. After twenty years of working in education, it was time I was done. I’d only taken one year off to be with the kids and even then I had to sub the last half of it. I determined it was my turn to be successful in what God created me to do.

I thought I had things under control until this summer, when my dad ended up in the hospital due to complications from surgery. In July my parents became my priority, which they needed to be, but the weight of keeping up with marketing obligations and writing deadlines weighed heavily on me. I told myself once Dad got better, once he went home, I could go back to my crazy, hectic-paced life.

A month later he went home…home to be with Jesus.

Two days after my dad’s celebration of life, at the beginning of my next school year, I received a call from my publisher saying I had to rewrite half of The Beloved—and I had two weeks to do it.

When I told the publisher about all my personal trials, they offered to push out the release date. But I didn’t want to do that to my fans. They had waited a year for my next novel. I negotiated three weeks for the rewrite and finished two days early despite taking a weekend off to move my son to college. I was writing or editing twelve hours a day. I pushed through every day but constantly felt I was drowning, gasping for air.

Once the rewrite was done, I moved on to finish book three of the series, which I had to get to the publisher in three months. I walked to Starbucks every day as my exercise, then wrote for a few hours.

One day in October, as I walked home, a startling realization hit me. I hated writing.

My passion, my escape, had become something I despised. Somehow my dream had turned into a living nightmare. Sales for the first book were not what we’d hoped they’d be. I felt like a failure, like I wasn’t enough and nothing I did was good enough.

In the midst of the confusion and frustration, God asked me the same question He had years before.

“What have you done with the gift of writing I gave you?”

Over the years, I had made it all about me. Writing became how I processed things, how I could make money to walk away from my teaching job. I wanted to reap the benefits of the gift He gave me. Instead of working to please God with my stories, I was working to please my publisher. I was writing for them—not for Him.

The following month my health took a turn for the worse. First came shingles, then a weird lump on my neck. There were biopsies, talk of cancer, and a collapsed lung. Emotionally I was a total wreck. My priorities couldn’t remain the same now, with my mom widowed, my son in college, and my daughter almost sixteen. These three people need me now more than ever. And I need them because I understand how short and fragile life is. I also need less stress in my life so I can be a better wife. My husband has been so supportive over the past several years as I grieved. It’s time I pour into him and our marriage so when we are empty-nesters, we will continue to have joy in our hearts and home.

It’s important to me that I love what I do and do it for the Lord. I can’t allow the world to dictate whether or not I’m a success. My success comes from following the Lord. My success comes from allowing Him to prioritize my life. My success comes in my obedience.

While I was in the hospital recovering from my collapsed lung, I asked to be released from my publishing contract. My publisher was gracious and returned the rights to me, along with my manuscripts. The series will go on, self-published, like the rest of my books.

I have come to terms with the idea that we don’t always understand God’s plan. Sometimes there’s a turn in the road that doesn’t make sense. Though we may never have the answers, we can be assured that He redeems. He redeems time and circumstances just as He can redeem people. Funny, the third book in the Once Lost series is The Redeemed.

I don’t know what He’ll do with the series now that it’s back in my hands, but I’m thankful that He’s The God Who Sees. He saw me drowning just a few months ago and He opened my eyes and made the way for the changes I needed.

I thought my dream was to be a traditionally published author, but really, my dream is to tell the stories God gives me to touch His people. As long as I keep writing for Him, He will be faithful to make that dream come true.

The Lord will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me. ~ Psalm 138: 7-8

Do you have dreams you need to surrender to the Lord? Have you drifted off course from where you started? Jacob’s story in Genesis 25-33 is one of twists and turns, one of deceit, and disappointments that ends in God’s blessing. Seek Him, my friend, and He will work out His plans for your life because He is faithful.

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