Last year at BRMCWC, Steven James spoke. During his time on the platform he imparted writing wisdom, and had us laughing so hard that tissues were needed and a few had to go back to their rooms for dry undies. Seriously, he was beyond funny. That man can tell a story.
Amidst the laughter, he gave us some instructions to help improve our writing experience. One of the points was to throw our hat over the wall. This was a new image for me, but rich beyond anything he could have ever imagined. The image had to do with commitment. When you come to a wall one way to insure that you’re going to go over the wall is to through something over that you’ll have to retrieve.
As I sat in my seat I got more and more into the image. I even knew what hat I wanted to throw over—but it wasn’t mine…and I wasn’t going to retrieve it.
My dad died in 1989. He had bladder cancer. After he came through the chemo and radiation he had another good eighteen months before it came back with a vengeance, metastasizing everywhere. To say that my dad was a big influence in my life is to barely scratch the surface of how his words and approval—or lack thereof—impacted my life.
I was ten years old when the writing bug bit me. It was the summer between fourth and fifth grades and my friends and I purchased twenty cent steno pads and set off to write the next great American novel. I was so proud of my story. In many ways it actually was my story. I wrote about a little girl who desperately was searching for love and approval. With mounds of hope that my dad would love the story, I asked him to read it.
In short my dreams were dashed as my dad declared my writing drivel. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to pronounce that I would never write anything that anyone would want to read.
It was a very long time before I picked up my pen again to write. Timidly, I tested the waters a bit in high school and received encouragement from my creative writing teacher. I cautiously shared a few pieces with one of the leaders of our youth folk group. Decades later, I found both of these women on Facebook. They remembered me and my writing. The folk group leader even said she still had a piece that I wrote in her Bible.
I wrote a little more in college. The creative writing prof liked some of my essays so much that she asked for copies to use as examples in future classes. A tiny crack formed in the wall. I began to wonder, to hope. Maybe my dad was wrong. Maybe I could write. But the crack was small. I didn’t pay it much mind.
Over the years I wrote for work: letters, newsletter pieces, reflection pieces. Small things reaching a small crowd. When I had a personal Facebook page I wrote for my friends and family. I started a blog and gained new friends and followers. People encouraged me. They actually said they missed me when I wasn’t writing.
Currently, I work as a caregiver. I spend my days caring for an elderly woman who has Alzheimer’s disease. Her family wants to keep her in the family home for as long as they can. I’ve been doing this for over four years. This year she’ll be ninety. In the evenings I care for my now seven year old grandson. My husband and I made a commitment to our daughter, a single mom, to provide his care while she works. It has meant that we have watched him nearly every day of his young life. Doing that has been such a delight. I treasure the opportunity that we have had to be such a big part of his life. But I realize that soon, both of these jobs could end.
The reality and potentiality of being unemployed caused me to reflect deeply on what I want to be when I finally decide to grow up…and old. After a few discussions on the matter with God and my husband, it seemed like it was time to stop writing for work and make writing my work. Step one in that process. Register and attend a writers’ conference.
Having much time to read during my day job sent me to both our church and public libraries. Two authors that I came across were Alton Gansky and Steven James. So it seemed a providential moment when I began looking for a writers’ conference and found one that had both their names attached. I decided to attend. One of the best decisions I ever made.
When I got home from the conference, I went straight to my office and picked up my dad’s black driving cap. He wore it for driving--driving golf balls. I sat in my office chair, trying to decide whether to find a wall somewhere and throw it over…then walk on. Symbolizing my commitment to myself. My decision to defy the pronouncement. My desire to be a writer.
I sat grieving a bit. Shed a few tears. Then I took a deep breath and hung that black felt cap on a nail by my desk. I decided I didn’t need to throw away the physical memento of my father. It wasn’t the hat that needed to go. It was the wall. It was like I went looking and found the tiny crack I had ignored for so long. Further inspection of the wall revealed that there were other cracks there, too. But what was more surprising was that I was able to push right through that wall.
Since the conference last year I have written and submitted articles and devotions to publications in print and online. Several have been published. Some I’ve even gotten paid for! I entered a contest in June and by the end of November, I finished a book. It still needs some work and time will tell if anyone wants to read it, but I did it. And I’m already writing more. Take that you dumb old wall. Ha ha, negative defeating pronouncements made by others who don’t have a clue.
I’ve had another realization. My dad was probably correct in what he thought about my story way back then when I was ten. It wasn’t well written. Even the best editor couldn’t have helped it along. But my dad was not a prophet. Nope. He was a business man and a caring, loving, protective father. Looking back, given conversations we had when I told him I wanted to be a preacher or a social worker and his response that I should consider other occupations—ones that were more financially secure, I’m going to bet that his underlying motive was to prevent me from heading down the road of the starving artist and writer. I chose to believe that because I know how much he loved me, and because grace has taught me to quit blaming. Time to forgive. Time to move on. Time to watch the wall fall.
So, Mr. James, thank you for your powerful teaching, but I think I’ll keep my hat, because that wall—well it’s gone. I probably look more like Mary Tyler Moore throwing my hat in the air and celebrating: life, freedom, and joy.
Whether writing, teaching, or caring for others, Tina Hunt’s passion for communicating and connecting rings through. Trained as pastor and counselor, Tina weaves her insights into down to earth devotions and articles. She brings the same energetic encouragement to her speaking and teaching—but that’s not hard when you’re an ESFP with ADD! You can find devotions by Tina published on line at ChristianDevotions.us and InspireAFire.com, in print with Upper Room and The Secret Place, and included in the devotional published by Pearls of Promise Ministry. She also has a blog where she shares book reviews and spiritual reflections, Pot Of Manna.