Empty Your Pockets: A Conference Review of Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. 2018. California.
I started writing at age eight. At the childhood years, writing is mostly fanciful scribbles across bits of notebook paper, plagiarizing famous authors (Louisa May Alcott, for one. . . . Hey, why not copy the masters?), manuscripts that are presented to Mommy in one huge run-on sentence or paragraph (bless my poor mother’s eyes!), and writing about your pets or family.
But when I grew up, I learned writing was a whole different world.
Writing was a business. An art. A calling. Networking. Numbers. Devotion to the craft. Long hours of spewing prayers with friends and in your prayer closet. Finding a mentor. Asking 695,708,214,999 questions. And then asking a few more. Learning from writers, mentors, agents, editors, publishers. Soaking up every piece of information found in Writer’s Digest or any online writing instructor’s super helpful blog posts (like Linda S. Clare and Ginny L. Yttrup), or writing craft book or building platform book by Michael Hyatt, and countless other great professionals.
Writing is a determined path to publication fraught with the key to acting as a little yellow sponge for anything about writing and editing. For only the best advice about writing and editing, that is.
So what does this have to do with emptying your pockets? you ask, scratching your head and tilting your mouth sideways.
Ohhh, my friend, let me tell you!
True. I’ve been writing since I was eight. But I’ve been really writing and studying the craft since I was 12, when I started my WWII series about horses and the American home front. And seriously writing and devouring craft of writing since 2016, after graduating with a master’s in English Education.
I’d heard about Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference for a few years, and Director Kathy Ide even encouraged me to go last year. But I couldn’t afford it. At all. I’d just moved, getting settled into my new place, making a living on my own as an editor. No. Way. A conference all the way in California was going to happen. Midwestern girl, that’s me.
Well . . . I have been known to rethink things. Blame it on that analytical side of my brain where I have rationalize and consider all the possibilities for success. Yeah. That happened—the longer I read through the Mount Hermon conference website information or saw a Facebook post from all my West Coast author friends. Logic over passion, I closed each tab that talked about Mount Hermon. No. Just no. I simply cannot do it this year. Maybe next year.
Passion has a way of wiggling in and winning. You know how it works.
It was then my friends messaged me and told me I needed to attend! I shook my head. Seriously, people. I’m a starving and poor writer living in the Midwest. NO! And I’ve even read Real Artists Don’t Starve too.
So if passion wiggles in and takes root, then God’s prodding must be even stronger, right? Right. God reached in and would not let go. I tried to pull—yank—free. How sad on my part.
Go to this conference, God?? The airfare is nearly half the conference cost!! Can’t you send me to a conference that’s closer? Like in my own state? There’s one coming up in June . . .
No. No? No! You sure know how to pull a fast one.
With Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference only five weeks away, I had to do something quick. Like pray my guts out. I had no financial resources to even attend. Well, my credit card . . . but then there was paying the thing back, and I am not one for accumulating debt. (Yes, Dave Ramsey and common sense all the way.)
“Trust me,” God said. Trust. Right. Wasn’t that my “word” for the year, anyway? Hadn’t I asked God to let me trust him? Where was MY faith now? Hadn’t my word for 2017 been “adventure,” and hadn’t I asked God to increase my adventuring for 2018 and add “trust” to it? What a liar I was. Fraud.
I wanted to crawl into the closet. Not the prayer closet. But the closet of shame. My faith wasn’t even the size of a mustard seed. And I called myself a Christian. Sigh. Okay, God, I’ll pay for this conference with my credit card. I’ll trust you for the money and the results.
Then I saw my favorite author Sarah Sundin was teaching a mentoring clinic. Wouldn’t that be the best dream ever to receive a manuscript critique from her? Immediately, I shut down the thought. I’m broke! No. Money. Remember, Tish?
God said, “Register for the Mentoring Clinic. Empty your bank account.”
Regist—really, God, now this isn’t funny.
“Just register already.”
I registered, hands shaking, my bank account sobbing, my head spinning. My lips moving.
A few weeks later, I learned that Sarah Sundin would not be leading the mentoring track. Someone else would. As I read the email again, I picked up the phone to cancel the trip altogether. If I couldn’t sit under my favorite author’s instruction, I might as well not go.
“Na-uh,” God said. “Don’t do anything.”
To be quite honest with you, I was mad at God. Why are you turning everything upside down? Why? This mentoring clinic is my only one pleasure out of this whole trip all because you asked me to empty my pockets.
I could hear him laughing.
When I bought the plan ticket, I had a miser’s heart attack. When I left for Mount Hermon, I had no solid plan because I’d spent the last four weeks proofreading the only gig I’d probably have for a while. “Trust,” God said. Okay! I trust you, but you’d better please make it good.
I stepped onto the campground in the Santa Cruz Valley and the feeling of freedom engulfed my spirit. This place was beautiful with its sky-reaching redwood trees, quaint cabins, and beautiful grounds. However, that feeling of fear gnawed at me the whole conference, even though I was trying hard to trust.
But like a good writer trying to make good on a business investment that was sure to fail, I went to the mentoring sessions, talked to my peers and instructors, met many writer friends, exchanged business cards, pitched my book, laughed and took silly photos with Sarah Sundin, Marci Seither (Mount Hermon emcee), Crystal Hughes (who won the True Grit Award and has an amazing story), and Robynne Miller (Director of Inspire Christian Writers), got my manuscript critiqued from the Critique Team, and even got my picture taken with the “legendary and scary” Steve Laube of The Steve Laube Agency.
For those who haven’t met him, Steve’s not scary but a kind agent who has the patient heart of a teacher (as do many other agents). Even though he rejects nearly every writer who’s ever submitted to him, it’s not the agent’s rejection that’s important, but what you learn from that rejection. That’s another Mount Hermon story for another day.
And like a starving writer, I let whatever come, come. Thanking God for the connections, new friends, and much-needed conversation about writing and editing. I even visited the beautiful chapel to spend some time to calm my spirit, which was a royal mess.
Throughout the week, in those moments of fear, that aren’t necessary but you have them anyway because you’re just as human as the next person, I saw God give confirmation to me as a writer and and an editor, But that wasn’t all. That pocket starving inside the writer? By the end of the week, it was groveling. I had emptied my pockets, given my last two mites to go to this conference.
Then God showed up through the giving and gracious heart of a dear friend I’d just met that week. My new friend found me at dinner and handed me a card, hugged me, and said to keep in touch. Of course. I forgot about the card, until I was on my last flight home.
A beautiful card about “trusting God”—there’s that word again!—“to remind [me] that he is near, he is able, he is faithful . . . in all the ways [my] heart needs most.”
Inside that lovely card was a generous financial gift that filled my pockets to the full, sent tears streaming down my face, causing my faith to fly where it deserved and needed to be—on God.
Truly a Mountaintop experience? I’d say so.
Here’s what I learned from Mount Hermon:
- Sometimes God asks us to work with him (as Allen Arnold had said in his closing keynote) and to empty our pockets, drain our bank account, just so we can watch him fill it up again.
- Never turn down an opportunity, even if it’s not the one you had your heart set on.
- Our fears are our greatest enemy, but our fears can also be our greatest motivation.
So, what about you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
What is your greatest fear that’s going to be your greatest motivation?