I don't normally agree to more than one out-of-state speaking engagement in a year, and I had agreed to speak in Ohio on March 10. Agreeing to two trips in one month was a little crazy, but the CLP opportunity doesn't come around every day, so I said yes.
I had two of my talks prepared but the third just wasn't happening. Actually it was my second talk but the third one to get written. When I found a spare moment, I drew a bubble map like Ben and Matt taught me and sketched out my ideas, with the main idea in a circle in the middle and others spidering out.
Then, between the two out-of-state trips, we went to the 4-day ACE school convention in Newberg. In a spare minute, I stopped in at Goodwill, bought a notebook, and tore a bunch of pages into recipe-card-sized pieces. During the rallies, I pulled ideas off the bubble map and wrote one idea on each paper. And when the hipster songleader* had us all stand to sing slow praise songs I tried not to scatter paper bits all over the auditorium.
*Hipster + ACE is kind of like tennis shoes + a silk dress--it Just Doesn't Go.
The idea was to get home late Thursday night, arrange these papers and my thoughts in order, write like mad, pack like crazy, and prep like fury from Friday to Tuesday, since we were leaving Wednesday.
Preparing three talks and numerous handouts is a HUGE job.
From then on I was in that weird, shocked, suspended mental state that is typical when a loved one dies, plus I got very little done except talk on the phone over and over and over again. But on Monday, by God's grace, I was able to type up my talk and also the handout. We flew out Wednesday with no major glitches, unlike the trip to Ohio.
Thursday we went to CLP and I picked up the stacks of handouts they had printed for me, tested the microphone, and got nervouser by the minute. As everyone arrived and the main-assembly session began, I felt rattled and scattered and unprepared. Then, minutes before the first talk was to begin, I flipped through my binder and discovered that somehow I had forgotten to print out that second talk.
What to do??!! Well, at least I had my flash drive. I snagged Rachel the nice secretary and asked her to print it for me. She was very helpful but came back in 5 minutes and said that talk wasn't on the flash drive.
HOW COULD I DO THIS TO MYSELF??
I frantically tried to call Ben, Emily, Jenny, SOMEBODY.
Finally I called school, and Mr. B. said Jenny had gone home sick, which was providential, as it turned out.
Everyone left for their workshops at the end of the morning announcements except for the 85 people who were taking mine. I started my talk, feeling kind of like that dream where I got up to speak and didn't have any notes.
I think I told them what was going on with the missing notes.
Halfway through my talk, Jenny called me. I made the hasty and desperate decision to answer my cell phone and immediately felt ridiculous, talking on my phone in front of everyone, and told her I'd call back.
Real professional and cool under pressure, that Mrs. Smucker.
As soon as I finished the first talk, I called Jenny back. Praise God she was home by the computer. She found the file and emailed it to Rachel the secretary. Rachel printed it out minutes before my talk. The talk went swimmingly.
But I felt So Dumb And Unprofessional.
Let me turn down a side road here. I don't know if it's like this for all speakers, but I've found that if good things come out of my talks, it's entirely a God project and not something I orchestrate, plan, or scheme.
I've seen astonishing things happen to people who listened to me talk, but I'm always as surprised as they are. It's always a matter of their hearts being open to a miracle, and all they need is a nudge.
This is a strange example, but you know how, when you're a frazzled and hormonal young mom, and you just really need a good cry, then invariably something happens to push you over the edge. It doesn't seem to matter what it is. Maybe the son dumps the potted plant or the baby wakes up after only a ten-minute nap, and that does it and you burst into tears and pretty soon things look a lot brighter.
Well. Sometimes people's hearts are just ready for a change, a turn, a new understanding, or an outright miracle. All they need is a little push and God does the rest.
Sometimes, the words I say are the nudge they need, and I think this is astonishing of God to let this be so.
Like I said, it's the Lord and not me, because often people hear things in my talks that I never put there, at least not consciously, or I just mentioned it in passing, on the way to more important points. So I always pray ahead of time that people will hear what they need to hear, and for God to instigate the change they're ready for.
Back at the conference, we fast forward through a panel discussion I was on, a second day of sessions, a third talk, and many many intense one-on-one conversations with women who just needed a mom.
By suppertime on Friday evening I was so deep-down exhausted in body, mind, and soul I wanted to collapse.
Ruth Kuepfer is a lady we met in Kenya years ago who lives in an apartment right next to CLP and works as an artist. She had invited me over for chai but we hadn't set a time, and I kind of lost track of her. Things were winding down and people were leaving, so I found out where Ruth lives and slipped away and knocked on her door. She had a bunch of girls over and they were talking and laughing and eating, but they welcomed me anyhow.
I sat on the couch and Ruth handed me a cup of chai, and I can't tell you how thoroughly ministered-to I felt in body and soul as I sipped that cup of hot sweet milky dew from heaven.
A nice girl sat beside me on the couch. We got a bit acquainted--I'll call her Faith. She kind of impulsively said that she enjoyed my talks but her very favorite thing was that episode of forgetting to print my second talk.
Faith said she is also very scatterbrained and always forgets things and leaves her sweater behind, stuff like that, and she felt like it was a flaw that would keep her from ever making something of herself. Yet here I was, obviously scatterbrained also, but up there speaking and doing fine.
I sipped my chai and thought, "!!!You have got to be kidding me!!!!"
My worst moment, suddenly redeemed.
Then Faith kind of paused and said she wants to tell me something else. She used to love to write and journal and express herself in all kinds of words. She just wrote wrote wrote.
But then something really bad happened--she didn't specify--and she thought she could never write again. And for several years, she didn't, not a word. She just couldn't put pen to paper.
Recently a friend talked her into writing a little bit of poetry, but that was all she could manage.
Then, she said, I told them three times on Thursday that if you're a Christian, then you have something to say, and you need to say it. It went right to her heart and she thought, All right then.
(Did I really say that? Three times??)
That night she sat down and wrote in her journal for the first time in years. Pen on paper. Words and thoughts flowing onto the page.
Then she called her mom and told her what had happened. Her mom started crying and said, "You have to thank her."
Faith said, "Mom, there's no way, with all those people, and someone is always talking to her."
And then I walked in and sat beside her on the couch and drank tea.
* * *
I still get tears in my eyes, thinking about Faith's story and the timing and that sense of her and I being on the inside of a big light-filled soap bubble that was popping right now.
God is always working behind the scenes, and He is under no obligation to show us what He's up to. We are to trust, believe, and obey whether we see the results or not.
But once in a while the curtain is briefly pulled aside and we get to see the unseen.
I'm pretty sure that the only way to be eligible for God's surprises is to walk in faith and obedience.
This is why I do what I do, working with people and words, doing what I feel called to do. Because when you walk the path God sets you on and go through the door he puts in front of you, even if you're scatterbrained and a little crazy and don't know what you're doing and get so tired you can't focus your eyes, sometimes God picks you to be the nudge to set a miracle in motion in someone's heart--a turn, a change, a sudden hope, and maybe even restoring the voice and words that they were sure they'd lost forever.
* * *
When I emailed Faith to get permission to tell this incident, she said, "I've been keeping a consistent 'story journal' (or what ever you wanna call it) every evening of every day since that. I have been surprised by the grace and healing this has worked in me."