In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
–Psalm 5:3 NIV®
I sorted through my inventory one more time, counting books by touch as they lay stacked in my pink plastic tote. No matter how many times I ran my fingers over their spines, I kept coming up short: two paperback editions of The Epiphany of Joy had gone missing. I sighed. Over the past month, several books have gone AWOL from my box. Why do they always disappear? I wondered. Why can’t extra books just magically show up for once? After several re-counts, I scratched the two volumes from my inventory, dismissing them as lost.
I snapped on the lid, lifted the pregnant tote and set it on top of the roll around handcart. As I tugged the cart through my office door toward the garage, excitement eluded me. Maybe it was the lost books, or perhaps it was because Mary and Hannah couldn’t come with me that morning, or maybe it was because the weekend before I’d sold only two books at the signing in Austin. A whole lot of effort for very little gain. Maybe, just maybe, I’d set my expectations way too high; I was still waiting. Expectantly. Regardless, my mood remained stuck in neutral as I loaded the car for the 60-minute drive to the Dallas Public Library to participate in the 2015 Dallas Book Festival.
When I arrived at the library at 10:30, I snagged a table kitty-corner from the elevator and directly across the corridor from Dr. David Bedford and Stella Brooks, fellow Progressive Rising Phoenix Press authors. As I unpacked, I noticed the ladies set up next to me manned a table covered with brightly-colored purses, and on the table next to them was stacked slice after thick slice of homemade cake. I thought this was a book signing, I pondered as I spread my black table cloth and set out my book stands. Not a craft fair. …
The library—clean, huge, beautiful—buzzed with people. My hopes notched up a bit. Patrons, mostly kids and young parents pushing baby strollers, passed by the tables now staffed by nine or ten authors offering their wares. Many folks walked past with smiles and polite nods. Several adults stopped by my table to say hello and introduce their kids to me. I enthusiastically encouraged the young writers to never give up. “I’ve been writing for 37 years. If it’s in your heart,” I counseled, “stick with it and keep doing it no matter what.”
Folks looked at my titles, many asked questions and several grew genuinely excited when I told them my 17-year-old niece, Emilie, started illustrating Melted Clowns when she was 15. Despite the traffic, though, no one bought any books. At 12:30 the Alma y Corazon Tejano Ballet Folklorico Company began their traditional dance revue, and suddenly I found myself staring at David and Stella across the empty corridor while festive music and the sound of excited clapping came from the dance company and the crowd gathered down the hall.
This isn’t a book signing, I lamented. This is a craft fair! I fished my notebook off the floor and scribbled a couple of paragraphs about whether or not to get back into professional editing. I checked my iPhone. I ate my peanut butter sandwich and nibbled on Lays potato chips. As I read the love notes Mary and Hannah had snuck into my lunch pail, I noticed a young lady, ten or eleven years old, sit down on the couch next to my table. She carried two thick books wrapped in crinkly dust jacket covers. Fidgeting, she opened one of the books and began to read. I asked her what she was reading, but she either ignored me or was so absorbed by the book she didn’t hear me.
Suddenly a woman appeared in front of my table, tall, straight shoulder-length hair, dark eyes, big smile. “What’s your book about?” she queried, pointing to The Epiphany of Joy. I detected a slight German accent.
“This is a Christian inspirational book about my three year search for joy.”
“Well, it looks like you found it!” she said with a beaming smile.
I shared my story of how God told me to write the book, how until then I’d focused on horror, how I’d quit my job and taken a year off to finish it.
“But what’s the essence?” she asked.
“You mean about joy or about the book?”
“Joy,” she clarified.
“What I found is that I really didn’t have to search far to find joy,” I said. “Joy was in me all along, I just didn’t recognize it. I think that was the lesson God intended for me to learn while researching and writing the book. And because we have this joy in us, because we have this light, we can be light for others.”
“Now you’re speaking my language,” the woman said. She handed me a card—she was a Reiki practitioner. She told me she wanted to write, but hadn’t taken the leap yet. She told me she wanted to blog, but didn’t know how to start.
“Pick a focus, something unique, something you’re excited about, and write about that.” I encouraged her for another minute or two.
Her smile grew bigger. “I feel like you need to be in leadership,” she said.
“Thank you,” I replied. For the last several months it’s been on my heart to put together a “joy speech” and to preach the message at churches. This woman’s unexpected comment reinforced that direction. As she turned to leave she called to the young lady reading on the couch.
“My daughter loves to read,” the woman said.
“Encourage that,” I told her. “Keep her moving in the right direction.”
After we said our goodbyes, an older woman approached my table. “I’m just looking,” she said, frazzled. “I’d have had money if my ex-husband would’ve paid my child support when he was supposed to. I don’t know why it’s so damned hard to pay me on time.”
She asked about my books. When I told her about Melted Clowns and how Emilie had illustrated it, she related how her oldest daughter had graduated from high school and was planning to go to nursing school. Her face glowed with pride.
“My two oldest sons went with their father,” she said, “but my daughter came with me. One of my sons is in the pen, and the other’s in big trouble. And my daughter graduated from high school!”
“Keep encouraging her to keep going,” I told the woman. I then asked if I could pray over her. “What’s your name?” I said, taking her hand.
“Janice,” she replied.
“All right, Miss Janice, let’s pray.” And so I did, and I still am.
Not long after that, a man approached my table, his face burned, the pink skin around his nose and lips contrasting sharply with his dark chocolate face. He looked at me with gray eyes. “I’m homeless,” he announced. “This is my first time at a book sale like this.”
“What’s your name?” I asked, standing. I offered my hand. He smiled big, revealing a mouthful of gold teeth.
“Travis,” he said, and as we talked the conversation turned toward my books.
“This is my dream,” I told the man.
“I dream of starting a car wash,” Travis said. “Those people charge nine bucks to do a car! Or maybe a pressure washing business, where I could wash houses.” He spoke excitedly about his dreams, and he never once asked for money or even a book—he seemed content that someone not only acknowledged his presence and asked his name, but also took the time to listen to him talk about his hopes. He smiled that big golden smile again as I shook his hand before he walked off.
“I think I know why I’m here today,” I texted Mary. “Just to encourage. This is definitely a different world over here.”
“Let your light shine!” she texted back.
I sold four books that day, and gave away two to the library, but what I received that long afternoon was far more valuable than money. By encouraging I received encouragement, by confirming I received confirmation, by taking a moment to pour into folks, I was poured into. I was being the light, and the light of others shone on me. And as that light washed out my expectations for the day, one of Mary’s favorite sayings shouldered its way to the forefront of my thoughts: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” And, I might add, they shall experience far more than they could have ever expected.
Copyright © 2015 David C Hughes