About this time a year ago, I looked longingly at Facebook photos of authors I loved and book fans gathered at a restaurant in Nashville, TN for the first Reader and Writer Brunch. More than anything I wished I could be there. I've been a Christian fiction reader for at least twenty years, if not more. I would raid the church library from the time I was a kid, and once books went digital, my first Kindle given to me by my parents for my birthday one year became a prized possession. As many of you know, I love doing book reviews and supporting as many authors as I can. There are just too many reasons why I've never stopped, but one of the big reasons is the connections I've made with some of these authors that I admire so much.
A few months ago when a Facebook post about buying a ticket to The Art of Writing conference and The Christy Awards gala popped into my feed, that longing rose up again in my heart...and I hoped more than anything that this would be the year I could go. It seemed basically impossible. I would have to take off a few days from teaching (and we don't get a lot of personal days ;-) ), arrange for the kids schedule to be taken care of, etc. I presented the idea to my husband and I think he was feeling a lot like I was...this would kind of be a long shot. The best thing I could do was go to God with open hands; to surrender the longings of my heart and receive the blessings He wanted to give, whether it be what I wanted or not.
What seemed like a long shot became a reality when God provided the cost of the ticket, my loving husband agreed to take care of our children's needs, and my brother and sister in law welcomed me to stay in their home while I was in Nashville. My excitement, and even some anxiety, grew as the day drew near for me to take off to "Nashvegas". On the way up I called one of my best friends and we talked about what I hoped to see God do while I was there. She knew about my interest in writing, along with insecurities I had about being good enough or if it was even something God was calling me to. It could be that God just wanted me to continue being a reader, fan, and book reviewer, which I was totally OK with, too. I told her I was going in with open hands, once again, ready to receive whatever God wanted to show me and do in my life through the experience.
Last Wednesday morning my heart was beating so fast. I sent a text to my husband and asked him to pray for me. I wasn't used to driving around in a big, unfamiliar city by myself and I simply wanted to find good parking and not have a wreck or something before I had a chance to arrive at this year's Reader and Writer Brunch. He replied, "Praying. No need to be nervous." He was right! God provided an awesome parking space, for free, right where I needed to be. Deep breath. Now I needed to walk into this restaurant by myself and start mingling with people I've never met in person before. I like meeting new people, but it was still a little intimidating. As I walked in and looked around, I caught sight of one of my favorite Christian fiction authors, Becky Wade. When she saw me, she
stood up, walked over to me and said something like, "Hi Stacey! I recognized you from Facebook and I'm so glad you're here!" To be seen and known...one of the most beautiful gifts a person can be given, especially when they've been having a rough season. We were able to have a lovely conversation and she introduced me to Courtney Walsh, another author that I have connected with some online. Courtney also made me feel so welcomed and we proceeded to have a great conversation. The morning went on and I was able to meet several other kind and generous authors and even some fellow readers like myself who happen to live only 20 minutes from me! God never ceases to amaze me. The whole morning was like an infusion of joy to my heart.
Right after the brunch I decided to go ahead to Lipscomb University where the conference and gala were being held. I wanted to make sure I was able to park (why was I so stressed about parking?! lol) and figure out where I was supposed to go. I met some other authors and readers while I was waiting and it was so much fun! My tank was getting so full....but I was just getting started. As I was checking in, I saw one of the people I've longed to meet for years. Laura Frantz is an award-winning author, but for many years we've also been friends...however, we've never met in person! Our acquaintance started about 7 plus years ago when I requested a bookplate to go inside one of her books and she sent me the sweetest note of encouragement with it. It just so happened I received that note at a time when I was experiencing some heartbreak over a broken friendship and it blessed my heart so deeply. Our friendship grew as we exchanged notes and messages online over the years. To say I was happy when we were finally able to hug each others' necks is a gross understatement. We spent the next several minutes talking like old friends, which made me feel so special and cared for. Simple acts can feel so deeply fulfilling and holy. We spent the day hanging out with another sweet friend I've known for about 8 years, Melanie Dickerson. She is also an award-winning author and has been so kind and generous to me, encouraging me to write and has helped point me forward when I wanted to pursue it. Two amazing and beautiful people that I was blessed to spend time with.
The night ended with a wonderful dinner, fun conversation with my new reader friends, and cheering on the authors who presented and won for their categories. What a wonderful privilege it was! As I said my goodbyes all I could think of was what an incredible day I had. I went into this day with open hands, wondering if God was going to give me some insight about writing and if I wanted to try to move forward or if I should stay where I'm at. At the end of the day, I didn't necessarily have the answer to that question. What I did walk away with was what the Lord knew I needed most: a day to feel loved, known, of joy overflowing, and belonging. Those are just a few of the things. It's not that I never have those feelings in my everyday life, but there have been a lot of hard days lately. Open hands to the gifts He wants to give me, receiving His blessings and responding with gratitude, is the way I want to move forward.