God shows up every day.
And sometimes He shows off.
When Mr. Pettit and I moved to Virginia 17 years ago (17 years—how is that possible?), I subscribed to the local daily newspaper. Where else could I find out about store openings and closings, local festivals and the current crop of candidates for the Board of Supervisors or the House of Delegates? And as a former obituary writer, I’ve always been fascinated by the mini-biographies of those who have passed, taking note not only of the length of their lives but how they chose to fill them.
Interviews with local authors having book signings became my favorite recurring feature. I’d read about that person’s writing journey and concoct daydreams in which I was the author at the table, greeting customers and talking about my book.
I knew it wouldn’t happen. Not in a million years.
I’ve never been able to go the distance. I’ve dabbled with words my whole life, from the play I wrote in middle school to the poetry and short stories I created in college to the columns I penned for an assortment of volunteer groups. I started this blog six years ago as a way to compel myself to write regularly, but I assumed I’d never develop the creative stamina and dedication required to put together anything longer than a few hundred words.
I tried to make peace with that assumption. But I never did.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had thoughts locked up inside just waiting to be turned loose. That I was living a sweet life, but it was a three-quarters existence.
Back in January 2017 I prayed (again) for God to show me what He had in mind for me. I finally acknowledged that I was a mess—see my last column, “20/20 Vision”—and that I couldn’t figure anything out on my own.
Shortly afterward—that morning, that very morning—I came across something called “My 500-Word Challenge” in my Facebook news feed. (Visit here for details.) The name summed it up: Write 500 words a day for 31 days.
Since this looked like a message from God Himself I took on the challenge. I decided I’d work on a novel I’d played with for a while, since it’s easier to pick up with an ongoing story every day than to work on a blog. (Writing each entry for “A Moment’s Notice” is akin to reinventing the wheel.)
I wrote faithfully for a month; on the few days I missed the 500-word mark I’d make up for it on the next.
And things started to change.
Novelist Louis L’Amour said that the only way to write is to write: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Sitting down every day with the intention of putting words on paper (or the screen) primes the creative pump, enabling ideas to flow. Dreaming about being a writer is not enough. You have to do it.
In the months that followed Sarah Winston’s story began to take shape. I didn’t always produce 500 words a day (I’ve learned I am a very slow writer), but I wrote steadily. By the fall of 2017 the first draft of Chrysalis was complete.
On May 25, 2019, I spent two hours signing books at Winchester Book Gallery.
Writing is a solitary process. I go to a recliner in our sun room or a chair in what I call my lair (a bonus room above our garage) and plug away, just me and the characters dancing through my head.
But I’ve never been alone.
Jesus has been at my side—He has no problem with going the distance. But He has also sent flesh-and-blood agents of mercy: Mr. Pettit, to whom I dedicated Chrysalis; our sons and their sweet wives and a multitude of friends.
The week before the signing I was cat-in-a-tree nervous. I’ve done some public speaking and I have no trouble striking up conversations. But this was different.
What if no one shows up? What if no one buys one of my books? What if I blether on like an idiot? (Like that’s never happened before…)
The day before the signing I had an appointment with my hairstylist followed by a half-day as a substitute teacher at one of my favorite schools.
I’d made the appointment with my stylist weeks before the signing was scheduled, and the timing confirmed what I’ve long suspected: God does care about little things like good hair days. More importantly, He knew I’d need the pep talk from my stylist, who shared this wisdom before I left her chair: “Just think of the signing as having a series of conversations.”
I let that idea ferment in my brain as I drove to school. As I walked to and from my classroom several people stopped me to wish me well and some told me they planned to attend.
By the time I went to bed that night my nervousness had eased. When I awakened the next morning it was gone completely.
One of the first books I signed was for the principal of the aforementioned school. E carved out time in her busy Saturday—she and her daughter, A, were on their way to A’s dance recital—to visit the bookstore. As did other friends as well as Older Son and Wife and Granddaughters #2 and #3.
J brought along her son, who had made me a congratulatory card with a Chrysalis-like illustration. M came with her son and daughter and two of their friends; I’ve taught all four children at one time or another, but I was still surprised by the depth of their questions about the writing process.
I had a series of conversations with lovely people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Some even purchased my novel.
I returned home with only two books remaining and the bookstore owner agreed to keep copies in stock.
I still find it hard to believe that the book signing I had dismissed as a fantasy actually happened. God pushed and pulled and dragged me through the creation of Chrysalis and brought my dream to fruition.
But that’s not all.
He also showered me with the love and support of beautiful people. I am overwhelmed and humbled by their kindness.
God showed up. And He showed off.