Monday, April 30, 2007

I'm Speechless!

Our Realtor called tonight with an amazing offer. She said the office got together after we left today, and decided we simply needed to get this house. The house matches us, and we match the house. But it was more than that. She said we are a good fit for Fulton, and we have so much to offer the community. And she felt like the runaround we have gotten was no way to welcome us to the community. So, as a staff, they decided to scrape their money together and buy the house with cash if necessary, and let us buy the house from them for no extra cost, when we get our financing together.

She believes we WILL close on our loan my May 8th, in time to not lose our contract. But just in case, she wants to offer to buy it so we don't lose it.

And from what I understand, this is not something she has ever offered anyone else. It's not a gimmick. It's the most selfless gift of love I've seen in a while. She said her administrative assistant even offered to go without her paycheck for a week if that would help. Considering the AA is a young wife and mother, that is HUGE. Of course, the Realtor thinks they can manage without needing to do that, but the offer is what touches my heart!

Our Realtor said she just kept thinking all day of what she could have done differently along the way so this wouldn't happen. She's just not sure what went so wrong.

The good news is that our loan application is FINALLY in underwriting. So maybe, just maybe, it will close like it is supposed to. And if it doesn't we have a Plan B. We also have a Plan C and Plan D!

So for now, we are waiting it out. Keep praying. We'd like Plan A to work out for once!

Little House on the Blue Grass?

Today we rented a 10 x 20 storage unit (month by month agreement) so Russ is unloading all of our earthly belongings right now. This will allow us to return the U-Haul and not have to pay the large fee for keeping it until we find a place to live. It means unloading and loading again, but that's the best idea we came up with.

Our hosts have informed us they LOVE having us here (built-in Nannies) so they don't want us to rush to make a housing decision that might end up being foolish, just out of desperation. They can see where us being here could be a big help to them, but they realize that we want our own space and our own routine for the day. We are certainly blessed to have their hospitality!

We have a couple of finance options left on buying the house we originally intended to buy, but if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. We will look at homes and apartments to rent, just in case.

Too bad the storage unit doesn't have an air conditioner-we'd be tempted to live there! haha!

It will all work out-it always does!

How Do You Know?

Today we got a phone call from the mortgage department, and found out just SO many errors on their part that we are at our wit's end with them. They no longer can give us a guarantee of a closing date before our contract expires on the house on May 8th. The house has a potential CASH back-up offer, so we can't extend the date any. On Thursday I noticed that they had my social security number wrong, my birthday was wrong by 20 years, and they had not verified my employment prior to this job like they were supposed to. I had sent in W2s from prior employers to help with that, but they lost them. You name it; if there was a way they could mess up, they figured out a way to do it. Well, today they called for not ONE, not TWO, but six different documents. They admitted they had not even sent our application to underwriting yet, even though they told us it was going out by FAX several days ago and by overnight mail last week. The documents they need, they have had 7 weeks to request from us, and now our stuff is loaded behind other belongings in a 26-foot U-Haul. Our bank is 7 hours away, and it's just going to be next to impossible to get the documents they need in the next 5 days, let alone TODAY.

So we are realistically looking at the fact that this bank, this long into the process, isn't going to be able to do the paperwork correctly for us to get a $40,000 loan for a property that appraised at $60,000 with me making more than the median amount for this area. It makes no sense why this could be such a difficult process! Not to mention this is our 5th home purchase, and our last one sold for almost 4 times this loan amount!

We thought about just dropping the house all together, but the rental choices in this area, with 2 pets, don’t look pretty.

And we are paying $40 a day to keep our stuff in the U-Haul so we don't have to unload, load, and unload-which damages our furniture. But we can't do that forever. So another decision is-do we get a storage unit until we know what we are doing?

Also, for Russ to print up brochures and business cards he needs to have a mailing address and phone number. So, should we go get a P.O. Box for the business, and a cell phone billed to the P.O. Box so that Russ has a phone number? If we do that, then he can actually start his new ministry/business. This has been on hold because of waiting to get into the house.

So much to think about!

So we are considering some creative financing options. We can always do a refinance after we get into the house.

Or should we give up this house because these are all roadblocks to warn us not to get it? Or are they just human errors from an incompetent bank?

How does one know what God wants one to do in situations like this? We look for peace, for discernment, for wisdom, name it. That still small voice to tell us which way to go.

We don't want to bust into a closed door, to force an issue just because of our convenience or cost. We want it to be the right thing to do, to be the WISE thing to do. We have looked at all our options. Fulton seems like the right choice-we have peace about it. So, where do we go from here?

Stay tuned as the drama continues. And please pray!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Our New "Neck of the Woods"

I just have to share a little bit about what it's like to start over in a new area of the country, knowing essentially no one, and not having a defined place in the community. When we moved to a new area every other time in our marriage, we served in ministry at a church, and had an entire church community welcomed us with open arms. Now, we had a single family to welcome us. Well, we also have our Realtor.

Here's the thing, though. We've only attended 2 services at First Baptist Church of Fulton, a month between visits, and yet they treat us like family. They are willing to help us unload the truck when we get the house, and to help us get settled in. They want to befriend us. The music minister's name is Russ and he's from Missouri (sound familiar?) and he is already thinking of lots of opportunities for my Russ. In fact, he knows of a church who needs an interim music and maybe interim pastor in the area-so my Russ will be looking into that ASAP as one of his new jobs. The two Russes will meet soon so my Russ can discuss his new ministry concept. He hopes to meet with the pastor of the church too.

Here are some other bits & pieces of small town observations and also reflections on how I feel about starting over:

I was shopping in Wal-Mart and a complete stranger walked up to me and said she had noticed a product in my cart that she had a coupon for, and would I want the coupon. How nice is that?

We dropped in on our new State Farm Insurance office, and they guessed who we were even though we came unannounced, and they knew about our entire insurance "binder" (house and 2 cars). They assured us that they considered us covered with them so that there is no lapse in coverage, and that they would take care of the belongings we have stored in U-Haul even though the State Farm in our previous town said the belongings could only be out of our home for a certain period of time and be covered. It just seemed they went the extra mile for us. Another small town bonus!

I checked the median income for our town, and I make more than the median income. That's the first time that has ever happened in my life! I'm not bragging, I'm just saying the cost of living is less here, and people tend to MAKE less here too.

Today at Lowes, I was short 26 cents, and rather than use my debit card, the cashier chipped in the change from his own pocket.

Nelda, my Realtor, is already having fun brainstorming with us about the house, and hopes to come get some cuttings of one of my plants for a church flower arrangement when it is her turn to provide one where she worships. We enjoy each other's company. She attends the First Methodist Church, is a part of Habitat For Humanity, and has a love for the Historic District in Fulton.

We were eating in Pizza Hut today after church, and several families from church stopped in. They all came up to talk to us and acted like we were already family. We went to Wal-Mart and ran into another guy from church, and talked to him like we were already friends. This is what it is like to live in the South in the Bible Belt!

These are just a few of the neat examples of our short time here in Fulton.

But there are scary things too. We are starting over. Will we have enough money coming in for the bills? Will we remember people's names and start to build relationships. Will we have the discernment to pick the right friends? We will be friendly with EVERYONE, but there will be some we naturally connect with more than others. After being hurt several times in a row, are we ready to risk the vulnerability of new friendships? Of course, not being in local church ministry, we probably won't be the target of attacks and false accusations like we have been in previous situations. Maybe we will be safe from the darts. No one is exempt from heartache, but maybe we won't be hit by the same types of arrows as those who serve on staff at local churches. Russ will still be in ministry, but it won't carry the same risks of betrayal and rejection. It has it's own set of risks.

I'm all about the "settle down" at this stage of my life, rather than "new and exciting." I'm all about the "roots" rather than the "adventure." I'm all about stability rather than flexibility. The Lord knows I'm trying to be open-minded to whatever He brings our way, but my humanity is begging for some time in one place to really dig in. I'll still get to do the adventure stuff by traveling with my business, but if my HOME could be in one place for a while, I'd have that same ONE PLACE to come home to every time.

For the past month I've not known that connected feeling of HOME. I long for that again. For now, our U-Haul is like Noah's Ark to me. Everything to connect my past to my future is in that "ark." They say home is where the heart is, but a woman needs a nest too! It doesn't have to be big or fancy (in fact, even though my individual income is above the median household income for Fulton, our home is costing us less than the median value of a Fulton home). Just give me a place to land. A place to develop my own routines and habits and ideosycrisies. A table to serve food to guests and a guest bed to offer comfort to overnight company. Let me always use what I have to serve God and others, whether it is little or much.

Update for Family & Friends

Several of you have asked for an update, so here are the latest details, and my observations of what this time in our lives is like.

We kept waiting and waiting to start the next phase of our lives. At first, we thought maybe we were just supposed to "learn more patience" and wait for all the doors to be open for our move to happen. But as things transpired, we realized that our heart needed to learn to leave our Burlington ministry and friends who we loved so much, so that we could heal from the hurts and move forward with our future.

We selected Fulton, KY for our new home, for several reasons. My employment's home office is situated there. While I do work from home, there are things I can learn by being in close proximity to my boss, and more opportunities to help the firm. The area has a low cost of living, so we will be able to afford to start up Russ's new ministry/business. Also, our health insurance, car license plates, and drivers' licenses will still work by staying in-state. We considered other parts of the country, since we were not limited by anything but our own imagination, but this seemed to make the most sense.

We found out about Russ no longer having a job on March 8th, and we would be out of our house there in Burlington, KY on April 6. So, we went house shopping QUICKLY, looking at rentals and purchase properties. We ended up putting an offer on a foreclosed Victorian Home in the Historic District for a greatly reduced price. At first we were told we qualified for a $5,000 grant, and it took them 6 weeks to decide we were NOT qualified for the grant. Since our mortgage was tied to the grant, it looked like we were going to have to start over. The bank felt terrible about their mistake, so they sent all of our paperwork over to a different bank branch, with a loan officer who specialized in secondary mortgages (meaning they would be sold outside of the bank, but he would be our go-to person at that bank). Because our paperwork is complete it looks like we will be able to close on the house sometime between May 4-May 6, just before our May 8 deadline on our contract. We should find out a FOR SURE closing date in the next couple of days. It was sent for the final underwriting on Friday morning and it should be back in the bank by Tuesday night from what we understand, and the lawyers have everything ready to go for a closing to happen the same day they get the paperwork in.

During our final walkthrough of the house, our realtor took the for sale sign down in the yard. I think it was her way of showing us that the house is ours-it's just a matter of waiting for that final paperwork. But-it's not over till it's over! Still...we are breathing easier than we were on Wednesday when we found out the grant didn't go through.

Before we knew the grant had failed, we had already scheduled the U-Haul and movers (based on the fact that the loan had been approved and the home appraised for 1/2 higher than the loan amount). So, we decided to come on down to Fulton, and be here to tend to moving details and also make sure the bank doesn't drag its feet. We are staying with my boss, Rebeca and her husband Charlie, and their 2-year-old son Anderson (and their 3 dogs). An exciting match for our dog and cat! So, we came down here on Thursday.

Charlie and Rebeca own a very large old story-and-a-half bungalow. We are staying upstairs in the open room that is their double office, scrapbook studio, bedroom, and bathroom. So that gives us a little privacy and space when we need it and also a space for our pets away from the hubbub. And it allows the Seitzs to have their own space and we aren't always under foot. But we get along so well that we share some meals together, and enjoy fellowship and time playing with Andy and the dogs. We try to carry our weight around here by helping with some of the meals and watching Andy sometimes so they can do other things. It's the LEAST we can do for having a roof over our heads!

I'm going to write more in another note-about this area of the country and about church.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Little People/Big World

One of my friends (Teresa) wrote to say how much she enjoys watching Little People, Big World on television. I just had to share a neat tidbit about the wonderful people on this show.

I met the grandparents from the show at the writers conference in California. The grandparents and the parents (the "Little People") on the show, are all Christians. Joy just overflows from these folks, and they are so real and transparent (that is why the show works!).

The grandparents spoke during one of our meals, and I fell in love with them, but had never seen the show. Then, during chapel, I happened to sit behind them, and at the end of the service, they turned to talk to me. The Grandfather said, "You should be singing professionally. In fact, your singing inspired me so much, that *I* even sang out, and I don't normally do that."

And then his wife got a twinkle in her eye and said, "I wish you WOULDN'T have! He can't sing!" It was soooo funny!

When I returned home from California and moved to temporary housing, I received cable and could watch the show. Now I see why it is so popular. It is refreshing, it is addicting even!

I can attest that these folks are very genuine! If you get the opportunity to watch the show, tune in!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What Do I Stand For?

You know, one thing I've been thinking a lot about over the past year, and you might call me a curmudgeon for bringing it up, but I wonder how the world sees us when we take a stand.

I want them to see what I stand FOR, what I believe IN, rather than what I am AGAINST.

What defines me as a Christ-follower? Is it a long list that makes me more righteous than the world, or is it a passion for souls and living a life that is designed to please Christ alone? Am I meeting them where they are, or am I expecting them to act like something they're not (yet)?

What am I doing that might alienate the lost and how can I change that without changing my morals or staining my integrity?

How can I show love to the Lost? How can I display love to other believers in a way that will show them just how special they are to God?

When others think of me, do they think of me as a "hater" or as a person who cares? Am I puffed up in pride, or am I real?

My prayer has been that I allow my life to be defined by that same unconditional love that Christ gifts me with, and that I would crucify any haughty attitudes and judgmental spirits that remain in me.

I'm not there yet. It is a process. And the Lord reminds me when I slip back into that "you should do this" mode (whether I'm "shoulding" myself or others). He patterns to me how to show grace and how to exhibit compassion. I'm learning every day.

It's so hard, and that is why I'm confessing it to you, because maybe you will join me in these goals.

May God bless us in our growing pains.

(c) 2007 Kathy Carlton Willis

Monday, April 16, 2007

More Home-Away-From-Home

We still haven't moved to our "new" house, so after 10 days at the Extended Stay Hotel in one itty-bitty hotel room with a cat and dog, we decided to say "yes" to an offer by friends Vickie and Casey to stay at their place until our new place is ready for us. We were unsure about staying with anyone due to our pets. Well, Vickie has a craft room, so we were able to put Libby (our cat) in there. And our Boston Terrier fell in love with their Dachshund, so that worked out GREAT! They are having sooooo much fun together! I'm really glad they aren't fighting with each other. It's actually quite entertaining to watch them!

So, tonight I'll get my first solid night's sleep in the past 18 days. The last 10 days, I haven't slept well because our cat is nocturnal and every time she would move around in the hotel room our dog would wake up and chase her, and that would wake ME up! Before that I was getting the last of our belongings ready for storage. And prior to that I was at the writers conference, and didn't sleep much there either. So, I'm already grateful, in advance, for the sleep I'm going to get!

We are glad to be in a place where we can spread out a bit. And Russ did laundry today for free, rather than $2 a load. All of that helps out!

At the Extended Stay, we had to laugh because the kitchenette was equipped with:
2 plates, 2 bowls, 2 salad plates, 2 small plastic cups, 2 coffee cups, 1 saucepan, 1 skillet, 2 sets of silverware, 1 steak knife, 1 serving spoon, 1 spatula, 1 strainer. And that's it! We had to ask for dish soap every other day because they only gave us enough to wash up a couple of times. It really was NOT a home away from home!

No matter where we stay, I still feel disconnected from any sort of "roots." I need a nest! No call will be so welcome as the call that our place is ready and we can "come on down."

What happens when you finish reading a chapter that ends with the main character going through multiple trials and emotions and upset? You want to turn the page and get to the next chapter to see how it all comes out. Well, I'm there in my life. Ready to turn the page. Being stuck somewhere between, "to be continued" and "happily ever after."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What's Really Important To Me?

Today, in our Extended Stay Hotel, the fire alarm went off. Not just the smoke alarm. And I wasn't even cooking! I noticed the alarm was hotel-wide rather than just my room. I had to make some fast decisions. What was really important to me? Russ wasn't here to help in those decisions.

First, I scooped Jazzy into my arms. She needed comforting anyway due to the high pitched squeals of the alarm.

Second, I grabbed my purse so that I would have my identification with me.

Third, I grabbed my coat and shoes, since it is so damp/cold outside.

Fourth, I picked up my hotel key so that if time allowed I could get back in to rescue other items. I looked longingly at my computer, thinking of all the information that would be lost if it burned up. But not having enough arms to juggle it all, I left it behind.

Then I went down the hall. Fear and curiosity mixed together. Yet something told me it would all be okay. I didn't have to wait long to have the answer. The people next door were using newspaper to fan the smoke out of their room. He admitted the gal had smoked a cigarette near the smoke alarm and set it off. They had no idea it would set off the fire alarms for the entire hotel.

Relief set in. And then I started to shake. It could have been the real deal, but instead I was safe. And I didn't lose anything at all.

If this happened to you and you had just seconds to pick up what is important to you, what would YOU grab?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Scattered, Smothered, Covered...

If you go to Waffle House, they will ask you if you want your hash browns "scattered, smothered, covered..."

Today, I'm feeling a bit like those tasty toasty taters. My thoughts are darting around every which way. I have multiple projects to work on, and I need to hunker down and get a few items marked off my "to do" list. But how can a person do technical work, or creative work, or any form of communication while the brain is scattered, smothered, covered?

My remedy? Writing in my blog. Perhaps if I jot down a few disjointed thoughts in no particular order or theme, I will be able to get back to my work and produce a better quality "product."

So, here are a few of those scattered thoughts (similar to the scattered thunder showers going on outside right now):

+ How does one know truth from falsehoods? I simply must tap into the discernment gifted to me from my Heavenly Father to help me sort through the confusing statements and actions of others. And to be honest, so much of it JUST DOESN'T MATTER. What's interesting, is that when I get to the place where I am yielded, THEN I start to get the answers that no longer are as urgent to receive. Yesterday I received confirmation on some of my gut-feelings, and this knowledge actually validated me and I experienced a freedom in truth that I could not enjoy outside of that truth.

+ I'm learning it's not necessary to defend myself. Many times I want to. What people think of me matters more than it should. But I'm learning. Even today I had the option of choking back my defense or throwing it up all over another person. I choked back the explanations and reasonings, and I pray truth will come out without me having to defend myself. And in the meantime I pray I learn that the Lord's acceptance of me is ENOUGH.

+ There have been moments today when I would have loved to enjoy a good cry. But I'm not much of a public cry-baby-choosing rather to cry into my pillow in the darkness than let even my husband see me break down. I know that isn't wise, but it's just the way I'm wired. We are staying in the same room 24/7, due to having sold our home and not yet having the paperwork for our new home completed. To unwind, I can't even take a nice relaxing bath, because the fixture on our tub is stuck on shower and won't work for baths. I've tried burying myself in work, but that is only good to do for so long before a person needs a break. Maybe I'll go out for some time alone tomorrow.

+ Today I've been finding comfort in the scriptures. I focus on scriptures about grace, about there no longer being any condemnation in Christ, about God's plans for me, a message of hope that He will use my situations to bring Him glory. I've also learned from Christ's example that I don't have to defend myself-that truth will come out. I can learn the grace involved in turning the other cheek and giving blessing for cursing. It's hard. It's not pleasant. But it's possible.

+ I find that God places in all of us a need for relationships. The ultimate relationship is to walk with HIM, but I believe He also made us to need each other. Part of my grieving process today is saying good-bye to some friends, and in realizing some friends don't hold my heart in their hands as much as I have tried to hold their hearts in mine. Betrayal, rejection, deception, falsehoods, being used and abused...I'm drained and wrung out.

+ Coming to the end of myself (yet again) I focus on my sufficiency in the Lord. And the stab wound I feel in my side can only be soothed with the salve of the Spirit rather than the fleeting words of another human being. But sometimes, when God sends someone with skin on to minister to me, that is a gift of the best kind! And I pray I can be THAT kind of a friend to others.

VERSE for Today's Journey:
"Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ...And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation." 2 Corinthians 1:2-7

Sunday, April 08, 2007

My Mount Hermon Experience

Here’s a daily accounting of my recent trip to Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference:

Tuesday, March 27:

The president of GRPR (Rebeca) called to say her son was ill and she might not be able to attend Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. She wondered if I would be able to go at the last minute if she needed me to. Of course, I said, “yes!” But more importantly, I wanted Anderson to be okay. I decided to get some clothes together “just in case.”

Wednesday, March 28:

I had an injection in the top of my foot, to reduce the inflammation and swelling of a bone spur that has put pressure on a nerve to my big toe. Just a couple of hours later, Rebeca called to let me know that Andy was okay, but that she was sick. She needed me to take her place on the faculty, and to represent the firm to the conferees, agents, and publishing house acquisition editors. CAN DO! So I began to pack in earnest, and also to study for the workshop I would be teaching.

Thursday, March 29:

My alarm rang at 4:30 a.m. and I was on my way. By 6:00 a.m. I was at the airport, and by 7:45 a.m. I was in the air! The flight was uneventful. I landed in Salt Lake City for a 2-hour layover. This gave me the opportunity to get the lay of the land-my first time in that airport. The mountains were snow capped. Gorgeous! On we went to San Jose, where the action began in earnest. First I recovered my baggage, and wondered why in the world I packed so much. Of course, I AM a literary publicist, so it makes sense that I would be carrying quite a few books and manuscripts! I wrestled my 2 check-in bags and my 2 carry-on bags to the shuttle, and stood straddling the tower of bags to the rental car lot. On the way, I met a person who said their bags were filled with books, so I took a risk and asked if she was on her way to the conference. She was, and so my first Mount Hermon friendship was formed—with Kelly J. Eveleth (life coach).

A compact car was reserved in my name, but the Alamo-staff offered an upgrade to a Chevy Malibu for no extra charge. SWEET! I found my way out the loopy airport property, and shot out of the merge lane onto the major highway. It merged with another highway, and at that point I knew I would find my way with no problem. But the radio warned me that a bus fire was up ahead. Then hazard signs explained I might need to find an alternate route. That would be great, but with map quest I only knew how to get from Point A to Point B. I didn’t know which other roads would take me up the mountain! So I waited patiently with the rest of the traffic, as we crept up the mountain, bumper to bumper. My engine temperature climbed up to the notch just below RED. So, I turned off the air conditioner so the generator wouldn’t contribute to the heat, and opened the windows. The view was fantastic, and I felt like I could just almost, if I squinted my eyes, touch the redwood trees!

Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country. I’ve wanted to attend for YEARS, but the price (between $600-$900 depending on accommodations) kept me from attending. A few months ago, Cec Murphey donated 10 scholarships to the conference, and I was one of the judges who determined which writers were the recipients. I told the coordinator of the scholarship program that it was funny for me to pick other writers to go to the conference, since I had never been myself. I was actually happy for all these writers who won the special funding! The coordinator told me she just knew one day I'd get to go-just wait and see. Well, that "someday" didn't take long! The very year these recipients got to go to the conference, because of unusual circumstances, I was able to walk alongside them on the trails grinning ear to ear-for them (they don't know I was one who voted for them) and for me!

Once at the retreat center, I had no clue where to park or even where to go first. So, I found the largest parking lot and added my Malibu to the assortment of cars, pulled out just my purse for this first trip, and hiked up to the administration building. Lo and behold, Kelly from the shuttle bus was also there! We collected the keys to our housing for the week, and parted ways yet again. I trekked back to the car and pointed the vehicle in the direction of the steepest hill, to The Founders Cabin. I parked and wrestled my luggage to the upstairs room, my home away from home for the week. Jan Coleman was assigned to be my roommate, while Robin Crouch and Beth Jusino had the two downstairs rooms. Equipped with 3 large bedrooms with multiple beds, 2 full bathrooms, a living room with fireplace, a dining room, and kitchenette, we were set for the week. We also had front and back decks for our enjoyment. Later you would often find Robin, Jan, and I spread out critiquing manuscripts, preparing for our workshops, or writing down potential business dealings.

I called Russ to let him know I made it, and then I unpacked. By then 2 of the 3 cabin-mates made it and we became “sisterchick” friends right away. I studied my lesson for Friday, and studied the binder full of conference materials, in preparation for the week. I was faculty—I had to at least ACT like I knew what I was doing!

I found out I could hike down the hill with my laptop, perch on a park bench in
The Commons and pick up a wi-fi signal to sign on for e-mail and internet access. This way I could greet people as they walked by, enjoy the fresh air and the scenery, and work. What a great combination! Others checked e-mail in The Central Lounge, but with a signal just as strong in The Commons, I made my choice to remain out-of-doors. Others later commented that they felt this was my office-as often as they found me there working or having one-on-one appointments with conferees.

After e-mail was checked, it was time to get in line for the first meal of the adventure. I heard the food was good at Mount Hermon, and I was not disappointed. But the best part was the fellowship time. While waiting in line, John Leatherman came up to greet me. He has been in my online critique groups for the past 2 years. I also met Jan Eckles from The Writers View online group, and Merrie Destefano, editor for Victorian Homes and Bungalows and Cottages magazines. She introduced me to her friend, B.J. Taylor. I had the best time talking to them!

After dinner the faculty met for a meeting. This year’s conference had record numbers. There were over 450 at the conference, with 70 faculty members! It was great to put faces with industry names I’ve studied for years. Even better was learning just how REAL they are. They have servant attitudes and are very accessible to those just learning the ropes.

It was nice to go back to the cabin after this to get to know my cabin-mates better. The coordinator could not have placed me in a better cabin! Well—except for that brutal hike up the hill-almost a straight shot UP. The good thing about rooming with 2 others over 40 is that all 3 of us became breathless on the upward journey and had to take rest breaks. By the end of the conference, we were able to walk it without stopping. Maybe we became accustomed the altitude and air, and maybe we became a bit better conditioned! (And I’m sure the inhaler I packed for emergencies didn’t hurt either!)

Friday, March 30:

I skipped breakfast in the cafeteria (ate a protein bar instead) so I could spend more time getting ready for my day. Breakfast is the only meal faculty is not required to attend. How does a publicist dress to represent the GRPR firm, when the setting is rustic and the temperatures change about 30 degrees during the day? Since Friday was the day I was to teach my workshop, I chose dress slacks, a layered tank and jacket combo, and flats. For a more polished look, I spent more attention to my make-up. Robin confirmed that I had “just the look” for a publicist. YAY!

After getting ready to greet the day, I hiked down to The Commons for more internet access. A great place to work and network at the same time!

As I got ready to line up for lunch, I saw 2 beautiful, polished women in the back of the line. I’ll be honest that even though I’m usually fairly confident, I felt inadequate and had to think twice about joining the lunch line behind these two. I talked myself into it, reminding myself of my adequacy in Christ, and I’m so glad I did! Shawna and Sheryl were both great to get to know, and now Sheryl and I are pursuing a professional as well as personal friendship. God knew that Sheryl’s husband had been in a similar church experience as the one we just went through, and she was so kind and compassionate-powered with the empathy of a fellow survivor.

After lunch, we split up in two groups. First-time attendees went to the main auditorium for orientation while the alumni attended a session on how to get the most out of the conference. I have to admit it was odd to attend the newbie meeting as a faculty member, but found several other faculty who had not been to Mount Hermon prior to this year.

At Mount Hermon, conferees can select a major morning track to attend. These run for a combination of 8 hours, taught by the same instructor. In the afternoons, writers can choose from a variety of one-hour workshops, a total of 70 for the conference. Lots of good choices, taught by very knowledgeable and experienced faculty. Role models in the industry!

After the orientation session, we combined for the official kick-off meeting with everyone together in the Main Auditorium. The faculty was introduced-all 70 parading across the stage in different categories (agents, acquisition editors, critique team, freelancers, etc.) I was the lone publicist, and it was up to me to explain to the group the difference between an agent and a publicist. I’m so glad I had that opportunity to explain what we do as publicists.

By the time the main meeting ended, I made a mad dash to the lounge where my workshop would be held. I had set up the room in advance, since I was teaching the first workshop of the conference. Each chair held my business card, the business card of Austin Boyd (a client in our speakers bureau), and Austin’s brochure. At the podium, I had placed several ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) of books, to show what PR can do.

The workshop went well. I discovered JUST how passionate I was about public relations when I shared with them what our firm does and what we can do to promote their book. One of the faculty members attended the session (Ken Kuhlken), and he gave a great deal of positive reinforcement during the workshop. That made my day! I enjoyed interacting with the others in the session, and collected business cards from each of them for future networking.

At mealtime, I was to be assigned to a table, so that conferees could pick my brain for the hour. But, they had pulled Rebeca’s name (since she couldn’t attend) and forgot to put my name in the mix. So, I wasn’t assigned to a table. Fine with me! I had just finished my workshop, had stuck around to answer questions from those waiting in line to talk to me, and was running late to dinner. I enjoyed just sitting back and not having to be “on.” I sat at a table with Dave Meurer. Dave works for the United States House of Representatives as an aide to a Californian Congressman and he currently serves as a liaison to state and local elected officials as well as to the general public. Dave is known for his humorous parenting insights (in both columns and books). It was a pleasure to sit by him!

At the first evening General Session, I got to hear Dick Foth for the first time. He uses illustrations and stories to make amazing spiritual applications. Here is his bio: Dick Foth is from Falls Church, VA where he invests his days in the nation's Capital, much of the time with leaders who oversee the annual National Prayer Breakfast. He finds discipling and small group work particularly fulfilling, especially among those who live and work on "the Hill." He has always loved communicating truth in words, both spoken and written, especially by story. An author and former president of Bethany University in Scotts Valley, CA, Dick and his wife, Ruth, are the parents of four and grandparents of ten.

After this there was a faculty reception in the cafeteria for all the conferees to have an opportunity to meet us. To be honest, it was crowded and difficult to have any sort of meaningful conversation, so I made eye contact with the various groups as I jostled through the crowds, bumping elbows along the way. The snacks were non-diabetic friendly, so I abstained and determined to make the trek back to the cabin to crash. But, rather than crash I had more unwind time with my two cabin-mates (Beth wasn’t scheduled to arrive until Sunday).

Saturday, March 31:

I determined to go to breakfast to grab some protein. Robin and I sat at the table with Dick Foth and his daughter Suzanne. Dick and I found out we both have some connections to the Bible colleges in Springfield, MO. So then he said, "May I be so bold to ask you something that really is none of my business?" Of course I said, "sure!" He looked at my nametag and said, "I don't know anyone affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship as a pastor's wife who hyphenates her last name. Do you fit in very well with your fellowship?" I laughed. You see, on my nametag, they mistakenly had me as "Kathy Carlton-Willis" rather than using Carlton as my middle name. I explained that it is my middle name, and why. He smiled because Suzanne, had done the same thing out of honor to her family. I told Dick that on the continuum of things, I'm somewhere about 3/4 of the way between doormat and feminist. He laughed again, and asked if that was a bit of progressive thinking for the BBF. He knows us well! I did explain that there are a few in the BBF who are progressive, while others remain very conservative. He said that is the same with the Assemblies of God, of which he is affiliated. I’m not a liberal, but I’m not in the Stone Age either. I’m so glad there is freedom in Christ to choose what works best for our life calling to best bring glory to His name.

After breakfast, I attended the Career Track. I didn’t actually qualify to attend-members needed to have 2 books published to be a part of the group. But, since I was on faculty, I was welcomed in, when not meeting with conferees or teaching workshops. The kindred spirit there was special and unique. And…what we discussed there we “swore” would remain in that room so I can’t talk about it here unless it is common industry knowledge.

At break-time I hiked back over to The Central Lounge to purchase a soft drink (caffeine was essential), and to find a restroom. On the way, I had the opportunity to talk with Terry Whalin, an e-mail friend of several years. This conference was our first chance to meet in person. By the time I made it to the restroom, my tweed gauchos were hip-huggers. Nice problem to be losing weight, but I didn’t want to lose my pants! So I begged a safety pin from another gal, and no one was the wiser (except for the paunch of fabric making my blouse stick out in an odd sort of way).

I went back to the Career Track, and then on to Lunch. At lunch, I was “on duty” as a hostess of a table. I met some interesting people who all had neat stories to share. Many had questions regarding book proposal, publicity, blog tours, and our speakers’ bureau. In the afternoon I met with conferees, discussing their work, and also worked on my laptop as time allowed. I ended up not making it to any of the 70 workshops because of the individual appointments scheduled during that time. My prayer for the week was to build up other writers, rather than think of my own writing career, so I was pleased to have so many opportunities to interact with others about their work.

Because of a double-booked time slot, I was quite fatigued by the time Dinner break rolled around. I hadn’t even made time to use the restroom! So, after interacting with my table, I walked back to the cabin for a quiet evening rather than attending the General Session. Some of my cabin-mates decided to do the same thing, so we had an enjoyable quiet evening, with a fire burning in the fireplace, and critiques for conferees’ manuscripts sitting in front of us on the table, to be turned in at breakfast. I also tried to get ahead on work, knowing when I returned to Kentucky I would be in the middle of a big move. What was supposed to be an early evening to turn in ended up being another late-nighter. Who goes to a writer’s conference to sleep, anyway?!

Sunday, April 1:

This morning we had a FABULOUS Palm Sunday service in a tabernacle with PHENOMENAL organ music and singing, as well as scripture readings. It was just so very touching! I needed that inspirational time to make sure my focus was solely on adoring my Lord and worshiping Him for coming to this earth to take my place. He will eventually take me to the home my soul is hard-wired for which to long. Earlier in the week Dick Foth worded it like this:

Jesus left His place
To come to my place
To take my place
To take me back to His place!

Mount Hermon has a busy schedule on Sunday, with various workshops and tracks meeting. But they are famous for their meditative church service before lunch-always on Palm Sunday. We also shared communion, which was a touching part of the service.

Then it was on to lunch-with more conferees. Afterward, the faculty met for a short meeting to nominate writers to receive awards at the last night’s award service. Then I met with more one-on-one appointments and retired back to the cabin for the evening, skipping the General Session yet again. I know my limitations. Too much input and I’m overwhelmed!

Also on Sunday, I got to meet Beth Jusino, our final cabin-mate, and a literary agent with Alive Communications.

Monday I skipped breakfast again, opting for a protein bar so I could look over some projects and prepare for some appointments. Today was my last day on campus, so I had to make it count.

Lunch and Dinner were more of the same-talking with conferees and building them up. In between, I attended another session of the career-track.

During the conference, I was able to meet some of our clients face-to-face for the first time and there was such a connectedness that I am just jumping with joy that they are with GRPR!

I attended the final evening General Session. It began with the presentation of several awards. It was good to see ones I respected in the industry be awarded with their “just reward.” Dick Foth concluded the program in a powerful way, and then we all headed to an autograph party. Several GRPR clients and potential clients had books to sign, so I attended the party to give my support.

After that, Robin, Jan and I met back at the cabin with another fire blazing in the fireplace. How cozy! We brainstormed about the conference and about our personal careers and each challenged the others to step out of our comfort zones to get to the next step in our career progress. One thing I learned here was that I was charging way too little for my freelance editing. So, as of now, my rates go UP! I confided in them that I was always afraid to ask the going rate since I didn’t have a college degree in the field. They insisted a degree does not matter as much as having the right skill-set and experience. They had looked at my edits and critiques and said I had what it takes to make $30 an hour or more! Wowser!

Tuesday, April 3:

My alarm buzzed at 5:00 a.m. and I opted out of taking a shower so that I could do the last minute packing and be ready to hit the road at 5:45 a.m. to join the rush hour traffic in the dark of pre-sunrise. Jan and Robin got up to say goodbye. Robin grabbed the keys to my rental car, and backed it up to the door to help me load the truck. What heart-friends I have made in these two gals!

The drive was harrowing. No shoulders, lots of curves and hills, and unsure of what lane to be in at any given time to make my exits. But eventually, without any hitches I might add, I made it to the rental car drop-off, right at sunrise. Then, I wrestled my luggage on to the shuttle bus and made it to the airport. There I had plenty of time before my flight.

I forgot to tell you that I was randomly selected for a complete security check of my luggage on my flight to and from the conference. I'm writing an article on it, so won't go into detail, but it was a bit unpleasant. But even more unpleasant were the pat-down friskings I received. You see, I was told when I had the spinal cord stimulator implanted that I could not go through the metal detectors at airports, but that they would use a wand on me. No biggie. I've seen those wands. But I guess because of heightened security (Code Orange) they chose to ignore the wand and do a complete frisking-both sides of legs, up my inner thighs, between my breasts and even under my breasts-all over-just like a criminal frisking. Then I had to sit down and pick my feet up so they could check the bottom of my feet as well. It was unreal! I wonder if other passengers thought this middle-aged white female was a "sleeper" security threat to their airplane, since the guards were checking both my bags AND me? What are the odds?

I made it from San Jose to Salt Lake City with no problems. Then, we sat on the tarmac for over an hour in St. Lake City due to delays (they said our airplane was overweight so they had to dump fuel, and also they said weather was treacherous in the Cincy area so they had to wait for it to pass). Of course, one of the passengers in my row had to ask, “Don’t we NEED that fuel to FLY?” There was a large amount of panic on the plane, as many were concerned about making their connecting flight. In fact, the Delta flight attendant got on the PA system and said, “Many of you are worrying too much about your connecting flight. The truth is, no amount of worry is going to help your situation, so just quit worrying about it until we land. Sit back, and enjoy the flight.” Yeah-right they said! Easy for HER to say!

I made it home, better late than never, and hugged Russ like I hadn’t seen him in a month rather than a week. There’s no way I could even begin to tell him what my week was like, so mostly, I just sat back and rested in the realization that it had been a most glorious week!

With no advance notice of attending the conference, I didn’t have a personal agenda for the week. I didn’t bring any book proposals, one-sheets (a summary of a book proposal), or samples of my work. My goal was just to build up other writers. I believe God blessed that motive and allowed me to make some career-building connections. I was able to provide information to writers and help them grow to the next level. It was all so rewarding. I love mentoring other writers and help them not give up. I also enjoy hooking them up with the right person to further their career (even when they aren't potential clients for GRPR). I just get jazzed being sort of the matchmaker in the process.

I can't even begin to tell you how awesome and draining it was to be on faculty there-yet energizing at the same time. I loved pouring out my encouragement and ideas to writers who just needed to be edified a bit. They needed someone to believe in them!

Several people called Rebeca (the president of the GRPR) and told her how much they liked me, so I guess I "done good." YAY! It was like a big test, and I passed!

They had such positive things to say, and Rebeca shared a lot of it with me. All I can say is, WOW. It has to be all God! I was definitely emptied out and used up for Him. And that is the best part!

If you know me well enough, you know these aren't brags, but they are testimonies of how good God is to give me little bursts of sunshine right now in this transitional stage in our lives.

I can’t wait to meet my new friends at some writer’s event in the very near future. And in the meantime, they remain in my love and prayers.

Check This Out!

Linda L. showed me a You-Tube video that is almost identical to what the artist did at Matt Holman's church today. This is probably a different artist, but the work is very similar. If you are interested, turn up the sound and watch it at:

Thanks, Linda!

Easter Services

Today we had the occasion to visit Landmark Baptist Temple (Pastor Matt Holman), and participated in the most amazing Easter service! Part of the service included an artist writing some of the descriptive names of Jesus in chalk on a black canvas while a song was going, and when it transitioned into another song, he took large cans of paint and swept his bare hands in the paint to cover the entire canvas (larger than him) with various strokes and sprays and flicks of paint. First with the red, then with the white, then with some yellow. Each movement was an act of worship, timed to the music. The paint went atop the names of Christ. By the end of the 3rd song, the face of Jesus emerged. Amazing!

They also baptized 18 today. Each one had a slip of paper with their info on it, and while Matt baptized the candidates, another man hammered the info sheets onto the cross. Again, a great object lesson-the visual was so real. Not to mention, Matt performs a thrilling baptismal service-lots of excitement!

His son Jake is amazingly talented with voice, guitar, and keyboard. I would buy tickets to hear him in concert.

They have a light show too, and probably my favorite part is when the many many fairy lights twinkle on a black backdrop as the many stars in the sky on a dark night. It brings the songs to life.

They showed a great video presentation containing a marriage of powerful resurrection words and scenes from their Easter production. Whoever produced it is very talented-it looked professionally done.

And for a bit of comic relief-while also having a message, they played a video of a Terry Taylor-wanna be (Terry was the office linebacker, this guy was the Easter linebacker-tackling anyone celebrating Easter in the wrong way).

Matt's message was great, and lead to 8 souls accepting Christ at the invitation. They culminated the service with two songs from their Easter production.

They crammed all of these elements into just a 75 minute service. How do they do it? Everything is SEAMLESS. Our favorite style of service order.

For all who worshipped today, let us say in unison, "He is risen from the dead-He lives!"

Friday, April 06, 2007

Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life!

Today Russ and I started our new lives, free of the past and moving forward. We are no longer at our old church, we handed over the keys to our home to the new homeowner today, and we are free from financial indebtedness. All that goes with us are fond memories, a storage unit full of household belongings, and a bunch of sore muscles. Moving isn't for sissies! The further we get past age 40, the more we realize we need to put some roots down so we don't have to go through this every few years.

It was a bittersweet day. As we handed over the keys to our home, it was like putting a baby up for adoption. The home was a repo when we purchased it, so we put a lot of sweat equity into it. Not having the house payment will certainly help us while we are transitioning into a new career, though.

Just to show us it was indeed a topsy-turvy day, the weather participated in a little prank. It's April 6th, but the temperatures are in the 20s and the sky was often filled with feathery-snow, blowing sideways through the air. It seems I remember an Easter weekend when I was younger when it snowed. What happened to all those symbols of new life? They're still here-we just have to look harder for them. Our teeth may be chattering, but the tulips are telling the tale of Spring.

Speaking of the bitter cold-we have an additional treat. You see, we have both pets staying with us in an economy studio at the Extended Stay Hotel. This means Jazzy needs leash-walked at least 4 times a day. Did I tell you IT'S COLD HERE?!

We wondered how Libby (our 11 year old Calico cat) and Jazzy (our 16 month old Boston Terrier) would fare in this tiny place. Libby solved the problem for us. She is buried underneath the covers of our bed. Jazzy discovered the lump in the bed, and walked over it. Libby hissed and spit in an unfamiliar "voice" so Jazzy doesn't know who the "monster" is under the covers. So, they are both resting on the bed in peace. Will this last for an entire week? Doubtful. But for now, it's nice to be one big happy family.

I'll share more about our new lives as the days progress. Thanks for joining us on the journey!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter Memories

What are the Easter Plans for your family?

I recall when the Carlton family would all get together for Easter. I staying dressed up in my Easter dress, patent "leather" shoes, and sometimes even white gloves and an Easter hat, to go to see Grandma Mary and all the Aunts and cousins and have my photo taken while we hunted for Easter eggs. I still have my Easter basket (so it must be at least 40 years old). Some years (like this year) Easter was freezing cold, and I remember having goose bumps on top of my goose bumps!

What are some of your favorite Easter memories?

I'll share more this weekend.