19: There Are Writers in There

19: There Are Writers in There

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

There Are Writers in There

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.

~Author Unknown

I sat in my minivan and watched the rain roll down the windshield. It was a soggy April day. And I was in a church parking lot. My church parking lot. I’d walked in those doors a thousand times.

But this day was different. This day, our church was hosting a Christian writer’s conference. And I wasn’t a writer. Well, I wanted to be. But that desire was a tiny dream, pressed into the folds of my heart, buried under the million real things that created my real life.

“Okay, Shawnelle,” I said to myself. “You can do this.” But truth was, I wasn’t sold. Sure, I’d tried to dress like a writer. I’d bought a notebook and a pack of ink pens. I’d even twisted my long, red hair into a sophisticated knot. But I felt like I was a little girl playing dress up. I was a mama of five. An eight-year homeschool mama. A mama whose breast pump was on the seat next to me, peeking out from the top of my business-like new bag.

I glanced at the floorboards. There was a stack of mail strewn about. On the top, face up, was a coupon from a local department store. A good one, too. Maybe I should run away and shop for the day? But no. The registration fee, the one my husband had paid, was steep. And my encouraging girlfriend had taken my boys for the day. No. Shopping was out. I had to go in.

But there were writers in there.

And the thought scared the high-heeled writer boots right off me.

I sat and watched headlights stream into the parking lot. I watched doors open. Umbrellas bloom. People walk through those doors with confidence and grace.

“Here’s your chance,” I said out loud. “It’s now or never.”

It was true that I was scared. But it was also true that there were always words, waves and waves of words that washed through my thoughts and heart and days. Words that wrapped into and wandered through my life. Words that I had to set free.

I grabbed my bag and book and package of black pens. Then I opened the door, stepped over a puddle, and walked toward a new chapter of my life.

It wasn’t that I regretted the life choices I’d made up until then. Not at all. I was the bustling, proud mother of five sons. And mothering was grand. Rich. Rewarding. I loved my days, from the moment the sun rose and I burped and bathed my baby, until the evening hours when I stayed up late to chat with my teen. But there were times when I wanted to share the ins and outs of my days. Times I wanted to reach out to people outside my home, to encourage and inspire and help others.

The one allowance I’d made for myself, writing-wise, was to pen a yearly Christmas letter. It was an attempt to record and share the small moments of life — what the kids had done, where we were as a family. The responses I received after I mailed my letters were always generous and kind. People were uplifted. Something in me felt good — fulfilled — when a friend gave me a post-Christmas-letter call or took a moment to write back. It felt like my desire to care for others had been stretched a little further.

And the stretching felt good.

But now this new stretch of being out of my element, in soggy boots, lost and confused in the very foyer I buttoned my kids’ coats in every Sunday? Not so good.

“Um, excuse me,” I said to the elegant lady beside me. “I’m new. Can you tell my where to go?”

“Sure.” She smiled. “If you’ve registered, you can pick up your conference packet over there.”

She pointed to a table that had been erected outside the nursery I knew so well. I thanked her, put one foot in front of the other, and went to get the goods.

A few moments later, the sanctuary buzzed with excitement. It was almost time for the keynote speaker. I chatted with my pew neighbors. Most of them were writing novels or had publishing credentials. I reconsidered that coupon on the van floor. I felt self conscious, like the words “Christmas Letter” were stamped across my forehead.

But when the keynote speaker took the podium, when this accomplished veteran author began to speak about writing and the blessing of written words, something in my spirit broke free. A streak of passion, more bold and wide than my fear, began to pulse in my chest. And later in the day, when we had the opportunity to spend fifteen minutes with one of the presenters, I knew I had to speak with Cecil.

I sat in my own church gym, in a chair like the dozens I helped to unfold each Sunday, and felt my heartbeat hammer in my neck. I looped my scarf a little tighter.

“What have you been writing? Did you bring anything with you?” Cecil asked.

“Christmas letters,” I said. “I send one. Each December.”

I pulled a copy from my bag. The snowmen on the stationery border suddenly looked silly. I handed it to Cecil and hoped he hadn’t seen my hands shake. And then he read my letter. Quickly. Quietly. When finished, he looked up at me.

“I’ll bet your friends love this,” he said.

I nodded.

“The writing is a mess. But I can teach you to write. You have talent, and that’s something you either have or you don’t. You have a gift.”

Cecil and I talked for a few more minutes. I tried to hold the tears inside. He gave me a reading list and said that he’d come back to the area to teach a workshop soon. He also put me in contact with a beautiful writer named Julie. I left the conference that evening armed with books, encouragement, goals, and hope that shone brightly on that cold, wet day.

After that, things happened pretty fast. I read all I could about writing. I won a contest and a trip to New York to learn from the editors of an inspirational magazine. I sold a manuscript. Cecil came back and held a class in my home. I had stories published regularly. I started to blog about motherhood and marriage and family.

And my life, my wonderful life, got even better.

I often think about that conference, that April, now five years ago. I was so afraid to reach for my dream. I was scared to stretch into the unknown. Goodness, I was terrified to even walk through my own church doors.

After all, there were writers in there.

It turns out I was one of them.

~Shawnelle Eliasen

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