Book group started badly.
I was a few minutes late myself, and when I got to our hostess' house, there was only one other guest, and the hostess was on the phone. I could tell from the conversation that three of our regulars were unable to come. Including the sister who was going to lead our discussion. And the person she had called to replace herself.
I sat on the couch feeling more and more uncomfortable by the minute. You know in novels how they talk about people rearranging their features in order to mask their true emotions? I felt this sensation more acutely than I have in years. Relieved to not have to be the center of attention? Embarrassed that nobody was coming? Foolish for having thought this could be a good idea? Selfish for all the other things people scheduled in front of my agenda? You get the picture. Hardly a feeling passed through my brain in ten very uncomfortable minutes that was appropriate to express.
Four more trickled in--two who had read it; two who stopped coming to book group early last year because of serious criticism over book picks and the resulting discussions, and had not read the manuscript.
The study questions that the moderator and I had worked on together, and which she was going to present, were stored safely at home on my hard drive and I stared rather stupidly at MY book that I haven't read in its entirety for months. Rational thoughts flew out the window and I shared a little bit about the process of writing this story and the literal years and tears and hundreds of hours that went into it.
But I was also quick to acknowledge many sisters in the room with amazing talents, saying that any great skill that is worth showing off is often the result of much more than talent, some of it is just vast amounts of time and practice. I also wanted to help the sisters understand that this project is essentially a conversion story, and that each of us, just by being in that cozy living room last night had a conversion story that was worth telling. Like Alma tells Abish at the end of my story,
"The visit from that angel was seen by many as a miracle. But to me, the real miracle is what took place in my soul in the days that followed. I know God can snatch a man from the very jaws of Hell and redeem him if he will but decide to follow. The real story of the gospel is not a record of how many thousand men uttered Lamoni’s covenant and buried their weapons; it is one man who loves God so much he would risk all he has in faith to never again disobey the commandments."
While it is exciting and wonderful to think about the growth of the Church into so many countries and how far the Church has come since its origins, I think the real power of the gospel is in the lives of individuals and in the testimonies of its members.
I paraphrased the above and sort of ended with my words hanging. One sister in our group whom I will love forever and ever if only for the following comment, "I loved this book. It got right to the heart of how simple the gospel is. It made me want to live it better."
The tears that smarted this time were not the stupid self-pitying ones that started the evening, this time I felt so joyful. All of the time and effort and work that went into the novel was worth it for that alone. Maybe I DO have something to say that might help somebody else. For those many, many of you out there who have ever encouraged me in this frustrating journey, please know how much your lovely friendships have meant to me.
I don't know, and probably doubt, that my novel will ever be published, at least for some great number of years. Cedar Fort published this in April. Remembering my rejection letter from them almost 18 months ago made such a discovery bittersweet. But do I have the courage to find out that my very best effort rated a mere 3.83 out of five stars? And only got SIX reviews? Amazon's reviews were a little better--but there are only THREE reviews there. Friends of the author. I don't know about the picture they chose. I think Abish is too pretty, and she is wearing enough make up to make RuPaul blush.
But I do know this: writing Abish was worth every minute. It was worth it for the testimony I gained of the reality of the Book of Mormon. It was worth it for the boost and revitalization this story has given a few others. It was worth it if only to know that I could see something through to completion. As awesome as publishing would be, I think there are few things that could compare to the sweetness of the Spirit I felt in our book group last night when we talked about the beautiful simplicity of the gospel when so much church culture is stripped away and we ask ourselves what it really means to be born again.