"God alone is the Alpha and the Omega.
He is the beat of my pulse. He is the strength in my bones.
He is my beginning and my end,
and there is no hope in anything—anything
—Isle of Hope by Julie Lessman
OH MY ... HOW I LOVE CHRISTIAN READERS!!
In an amoral world where sex before marriage is the norm, mommy porn is rampant, and we actually have transgender bathroom laws, I gotta tell you — I love readers who want more from their fiction than just a great story. Not only because some of them buy my novels, but because I connect with them on a heart level — women (and some men) who crave a touch of God in their lives and in their books.
If you read last week's Journal Jot and saw all the wonderful pix, you know I had a blast at the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat (CFRR) followed by the American Christian Fiction Writers conference (ACFW) in Nashville a few weeks ago. But without question, the highlight of my trip — other than meeting some of you and spending time with dear friends (and you know who you are!) — was CFRR, where I was blessed to spend a wonderfully jam-packed day with reader friends like you!
WOW, what a privilege and honor to be one of five guest speakers at CFRR — along with Tamera Alexander, Mary Connealy, Laura Frantz, and Ruth Logan Herne! And WHOA! Was that a day I will never forget. Nor will any of the 105 people who attended this truly amazing inaugural retreat, where precious reader friends laughed, prayed, worshipped, ate breakfast/lunch/snacks, and just had a blast with some of their favorite authors.
Ruth Logan Herne and Mary Connealy provided comedic inspiration followed by Tamera Alexander and myself sharing our testimonies while Laura Frantz hosted a unique reader panel where authors asked readers like you the questions! All in all, it was one of the most memorable days of my life, and I thank God — and the CFRR planners/moderators, Bonnie Roof, Annie C., and Carrie Schmidt — for all the hard work they put in and allowing me to be a part.
In conclusion, the event was a resounding success that can be summed up in words like anointed, intimate, inspiring, heart-wrenching, heart-pounding (the Pucker Up panel!), wild (speed chats, which are like speed dating, only with authors!), and a whole lot of fun!
That said, I thought it might be fun to post my speech for you here today following the announcements below (for me anyway, so I could relive this wonderful day in some small way!), so I hope you enjoy it.
Hugs and Happy Weekend!
And if you have read it, can you spread the word for people to download it? The more downloads the better in this biz, so please SPREAD THE WORD!
She’s a wounded girl serving up trouble.
He’s a pastor’s kid bent on serving God.
But can they find a glimmer of hope
for a future together?
From the moment Jack O’Bryen kissed the sixteen-year-old tomboy next door, he knew he would love her forever. Lacey Carmichael was everything he’d ever wanted—intelligent, warm, and brimming with life, the perfect complement to his serious and sensible self. A girlfriend who not only shared his faith, but he hoped his future as well, the perfect mate for a would-be pastor.
Eighteen-year-old Lacey Carmichael has dreamed of marrying Jack O’Bryen since she was twelve years old, the boy next door who always picked up the pieces after her father shattered her heart. But when her cousin leads her astray while Jack’s away at school and her father’s rejection soars to new heights, Lacey finds herself at odds with the boy that she loves, not only jeopardizing their relationship, but Jack’s faith and heart as well.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2016 — Join me on Seekerville this next week when I will be sharing even more about CFRR and giving away three of my signed books (paperback or ebook) and a special framed quotation memento that was given out at CFRR. So, hope to see you there on Wednesday and here's the link:
HAVE YOURSELF A VERY MERRY (AND EARLY) CHRISTMAS!!
HO-HO-HOPE you've checked out my upcoming Christmas novella, "Last Chance Christmas," part of the Cowboy Christmas Homecoming collection with Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, and Anna Schmidt. It's a fun and heartwarming story about an accident-prone ex-saloon girl and a pastor that is now available for PREORDER! Here's the back-cover copy:
Accidents happen and then there’s Grace…
Pastor Cole McCabe isn’t sure he’ll survive the holidays with his new housekeeper and nanny. She’s dyed his long johns pink and scorched nearly everything she cooks—even catching fire to the kitchen. But he’s desperate, and she’s as destitute as they come.
Though she’s no good with her hands, Grace sure has a way with her heart. She’s brought a warmth into Cole’s home, added color to his daughters’ lives, and broken down the wall he’s built up since his beloved wife died.
When Grace’s past threatens his family, they have one chance to celebrate Christmas together at home. . . If Grace hasn’t burned it down by then.
PREORDER LOVE EVERLASTING!
Book 2 in the Isle of Hope series, Love Everlasting, available for PREORDER HERE!
JULIE'S SPEECH FROM CFRR:
Okay, right off the bat, I’d like to get something out there on the table: I am romance addict. Blame it on the fact that I was one of thirteen kids in a very dysfunctional family where there wasn’t a lot of love to go around, but at the age of eight or so, I used to sneak downstairs to watch romantic movies after my parents went to bed.
Even at that tender age, I was so enamored with romance that I wrote sweet, little love stories and illustrated them with innocent kisses. I used to hide them, though, because I was pretty good in art and they were fairly anatomically correct for an eight-year-old. Until my mom found them. You might say that was my first one-star review.
But … my romance-writing career didn’t actually begin until the age of twelve, when I read Gone With the Wind. I was so enamored with the love affair between Scarlett and Rhett that I immediately sat down to write 150 single-spaced pages of what would one day be — some forty years later — my debut novel, A Passion Most Pure.
My little sister Katie and I shared a room, and she’d beg me to read my book to her every night. She loved it SO much that she said I should let Mama read it, so I did. But a few days later when I asked Mom what she thought so far, she said: “Sorry, Julie, but it was so dry, I couldn’t get past the first page.” Needless to say, my writing career took a bit of a nosedive after that.
But I still loved romance, so when I was sixteen, I talked some friends into dressing up like nuns to go see a special free showing of Gone With the Wind for the religious community. Back then GWTW was re-released every seven years, and I had never seen it. So we borrowed nun habits from my friend's sister who was a postulant, and off we went. There I sat, mesmerized, shoving free popcorn in my mouth and drinking free soda while watching Scarlett and Rhett. It was the best day of my life. UNTIL we got in trouble after running into the nuns from our high school, but it was sooooooooooo worth it!
Then the free-love hippie era hit, and I ditched paper romance for the real thing. Back then, I was a 23-year-old hardnosed agnostic who was so angry at God that I actually wanted to burn Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms.
As a wild child of the 60s and 70s, I tried everything to be happy—from astrology and tarot cards … to transcendental meditation and witchcraft—you name it. I had a vocabulary that would have made a sailor blush.
According to the world’s standards, I had everything going for me—a hunky boyfriend with a Corvette and a boat, a great job, my own apartment (at a time when other friends still lived at home), and even some success in writing. I was editor of the yearbook and newspaper, published in the National Anthology of High School Poetry, won a poetry contest in college, and aced an advanced writing course at Washington University without showing up for half the classes.
BUT … I wasn’t happy. I’d sit on the edge of my bed and stare out the window, feeling a lot like Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is?”
Then one day, this annoying gal at work approached me. She had a lesser job than me, was divorced with a kid and no boyfriend in sight. I hated her because she came in humming every day, happy as a lark while I was miserable. One day when she and I were alone in the department—I looked up from my typewriter and said, “Just what in the blank makes you so blankin’ all the time?” I literally groaned when she walked over and said, “I’ve been praying you would ask.”
Oh my gosh, a Jesus freak! But you know what? I found myself going to lunch with her, badgering her with questions and accusations. “Your god — just what has your god done for me?” I’d say, “My mother hated me, my father beat me, and my sisters and brothers made fun of me, so tell me, please—what does your god want me to do to believe because I flat-out don’t. Does he want me to run around the building ten times? Give me something physical I can do because I ain’t buying it.”
So she told me to go home and ask Jesus Christ to come into my heart and be Lord of my life. I remember looking up at my ceiling that night, saying. “She says you’re up there, but I think I’m talking to a ceiling. So on the off chance you are really up there, come into my heart and make me know it. I can’t remember if it was one month or three, but suddenly, I believed with all my heart, and my life has never been the same.
When I was in my 50s, I was reading a Newsweek cover article about Christian music, movies, and books, stating that it was a billion-dollar industry just waiting to be tapped. If you recall, that was when Mel Gibson’s box-office hit The Passion of the Christ made Hollywood sit up and notice there was a Christian market. So I’m sitting there reading, when this thought enters my head that says, “now is the time to finish your book.” I remember blinking in surprise because the thought didn’t come from me. And I knew what book it was talking about — the book I started at the age of twelve.
So I did and started down the path of query letters, contests, and rejections. I’ll never forget this one contest that I entered after I went off hormone replacement therapy. I kept waiting for the judges’ comments, and they never came. I was so crazed to get them, that I bugged that poor contest coordinator to death, even brazen enough to ask if she could have the judges redo their judging sheets and send them to me. Yeah—I was that bad!
“I’ll never understand what happened to those contest results,” I told my husband months later while we were eating dinner out, AFTER I went back on hormones. I suddenly hear this quiet voice from across the table while my hubby carefully cuts his pork tenderloin. “They’re under our mattress,” he said softly, avoiding my eyes. “Excuse me?” I say, and he finally looks up. “Amy and I hid them from you, Julie, because we knew you couldn’t handle it.” I was stunned, but fortunately back on hormones at the time, so I just laughed. I thanked him and my daughter because I did go home and read those scores, and YIKES ... they weren’t pretty!
I don’t have to tell many of you here that trying to get published is hard work. I received 46 rejections on A Passion Most Pure before it sold in a 3-book deal to Revell. I basically went from winning the booby prize at an ACFW conference for the most rejections in a year, waving my hand wildly at the back of the room, so grateful I was going to finally win something — to standing on that same ACFW stage three years later, accepting the award for Debut Book of the Year.
According to Jeremiah 29, God has a plan for every one in this room, and as authors, we automatically dream of Christy awards and bestseller status. I certainly did when A Passion Most Pure broke Revell’s record for the fastest-selling fiction release up to that time. “There’s nothing out there like it,” the Director of Sales at Revell said, and I thought—I’m on my way.
So when Francine Rivers spoke at an ACFW conference I attended, telling us that she took time off from writing at the peak of her career to focus more on God and refused to enter contests or look at her royalty statements, I thought: She’s lost her mind.
Turns out I was the one who lost my mind — God’s mind, that is, for what He wanted for me and my career, a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Because … economies crash and markets change, and things don’t always go the way you plan.
The Bible says “hope does not disappoint,” but guess what? I was disappointed. So I took an 8-month sabbatical from writing, telling my editor that I wasn’t going to pitch another book or series for a while because I wanted to focus more on God, family, and writing for the sheer joy of writing.
And you know what? It’s the best thing I ever did because that’s when I learned the greatest lesson a Christian author can ever learn and probably the most important thing I can tell you today.
And that is—no, hope does not disappoint! BUT … it has to be hope in Him, not in book sales or awards or glowing reviews. It has to be hope and trust that His plan for you as a writer—or a reader—will bring you more peace, joy, and contentment than any Christy award or bestseller list.
It was during my sabbatical that I wrote my latest novel, Isle of Hope, which is why it’s such an important book to me. Important enough to publish it myself even though Revell did actually want it—if I cut it in half and toned down the spirituality. Both my agent and I agreed that I should not because this story was too personal and too deep—based on my own estranged relationship with my father.
So I’d like to end my talk today with a clip from Isle of Hope that relays the most important lesson I have learned as an author.
In this scene, the hero’s father—a former pastor who is dying of cancer—is seeking to reconcile with his estranged son who hasn’t forgiven him for destroying their family through an adulterous affair. These words are actually my heart and my mindset toward the God Who has called each of us to follow Him.But I also truly believe it is a a mindset that all Christians need if we are going to walk the path God has for each of us with true peace and joy.
His father’s body quivered with a depleting sigh before he rose and walked to the far edge of the dock, hands buried in his pockets while he stared at the river. “Once it happened,” he whispered, “I swore it would never happen again, but of course it did, brick-walling my pride more and more just to keep out the guilt. Until everything came crashing down …”
He turned toward Jack with a slump of shoulders and a glimmer of pain. “I lost my wife, my family, my friends, and my church. The only way my pride could cope, Jack, was to cling to the lie that Karen and I belonged together, to believe that I was the one to deliver her from her troubled marriage and she from mine.” He inhaled sharply, releasing it again in a slow, tenuous breath. “So we left.”
“You mean ran away with your tail between your legs.” Jack’s words hissed in the air.
“Yes,” his father said calmly, “I ran away like the coward I was.”
The aura of peace and calm Jack had sensed before settled over his father’s shoulders again like the mantle of moonlight that broke through the clouds. “It took losing everything, Son, including my life, to finally understand what I was too blind to see. Everything to liberate me from the same pride that lost Lucifer his soul. And that is—God alone is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beat of my pulse. He is the strength in my bones. He is my beginning and my end, and there is no hope in anything—anything—except Him.”