By Lori Hatcher, author of Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time, represented by the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency, and the editor of Reach Out Columbia magazine. Her passion is to help busy women connect to God in the craziness of life. She’d love to connect with you on her blog, Facebook, Twitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).
The mountain breezes are cool as we snake our way up the interstate to the Ridgecrest Conference Center. My fellow writers and I are on our way to the legendary Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in Black Mountain, North Carolina, the second largest annual gathering of Christian writers in the nation. BRMCWC has a reputation as the place where careers are launched, visions are realized, and years of hard work find their reward.
It’s also the place where dreams sometimes die.
As we near the conference center, we see, for the first time, the charred acreage of the mountaintop, still black from April’s fire. We wonder, will our dreams, like these quiet woods be charred by week’s end? We pray for favor, mercy, and God’s good providence to guide the events of our conference.
As we queue up in the registration hall, new conferees glance over their shoulders, aware of a presence, but unable to catch a glimpse of it. Veterans recognize the stalkers—fraternal twins assigned to each conferee—Fear and Faith. Inseparable, like warring siblings forced to share the back seat of a Yaris, they stay close together, needling their respective charges and whispering messages into their ears. This might be the year you land a publishing contract, Faith says. Why are you here? Fear counters. Can’t you see this is a place for REAL writers? Back and forth they spar as the conferees inch their way forward until there is no turning back.
As the week progresses, Faith finds its voice through kind editors, inspiring keynote speakers, and tenderhearted fellow writers. Literary agents provide gentle guidance. Instructors condense years of learning into 75-minute workshops. Shared stories and vision find comrades in arms around lunch and dinner tables.
Fear still brandishes its sword and delivers a few jabs, but insightful fellow soldiers triage the injured, apply pressure to their wounds, and dry their tears. The balm of Truth heals and restores their souls.
Conferees pitch articles, books, and blog posts. Authors compare publishing houses, agents, and cover designs. First-time attendees, like hungry children at their first buffet, salivate over classes on fiction, non-fiction, and screen writing. They load overfilled plates with back-to-back workshops, appointments, and mealtime meetings. Each night they stagger back to their rooms popping Advil to soothe their over-stuffed heads. The more outgoing among us fill their evenings with late-night gab sessions to exchange tales only writers will understand.
Genre night celebrates the broad brush with which God paints his creativity across the writing world. We hear stories of heartbreak and hope, tragedy and triumph. Writers speak of passions as varied as the hurting souls who need their words. We sit in humble awe as one brave writer shares his ping pong path to success, giving us courage to pick up our paddles and join the game.
Faith swells with pride while Fear sulks in the corner, rifling through his ammunition cache and coming up empty.
And the Selah awards banquet—a rare chance to dress in clothes that usually hang unworn in our closets. For artists who do our best work in pajamas, glitter and glam is both awesome and awkward. Fear and Faith settle into seats, eager to see what the night will bring. Finalists wipe sweating palms on linen napkins and pray for grace to accept judges’ decisions. The especially nervous push food around on their plates, unable to swallow past the tennis balls in their throats and the rocks in their stomachs.
The long list of awards begins, and it’s not like a politically correct end-of-the-year baseball picnic where everyone gets a trophy. Some writers leap from their seats in surprise, shocked that someone besides their mother sees value in their writing. Others watch the parade, spectators on the curb while the band marches by. Those who know the stories behind the winning titles nod their agreement like Purple Heart recipients inducting another member into their corp. Winners smile for blubbery pictures off to the side and “losers” surreptitiously dab their eyes when no one is looking.
It’s a happysad time.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Faith whispers, “and weep with those who weep.” Fear swaggers among the tables looking for a vulnerable soul.
Thursday’s events are the dénouement, the clean up after the party. We pack our suitcases and our laptops, exchange a few more business cards, and pray for safe travels. Our steps are slow, not because of the suitcases we drag, but because we don’t want the week to end. The real world awaits, and it’s messy and hard.
We pile our belongings in the car, program the GPS, and settle wearily into our seats. Heads filled with to do lists, goals, and action steps, we glance back. The mountain behind us is a living metaphor. Faith points to the broad green acreage. Fear points to the charred black spot.
Then Faith pens the last word, for she sees what Fear cannot. In the center of the fire ring are tiny sprigs of new growth. These fledgling trees will one day form the richest and most verdant part of the forest.
And Faith smiles.