Cowboy Church Sunday, January 20, 2019 National Western Coliseum
Thank you, Paul. I am hugely honored to be standing here and so grateful to be a Westerner. I’m also grateful for the National Western and for the strong leadership that has guided it in the past and guides it today to keep it relevant to the future of the American West.
I’m especially honored that so many of those leaders are here, especially Nancy Petry who has taught me more about volunteerism and leadership than anyone—spending an hour with Nancy is like getting a Harvard MBA!
Several months ago, when Paul invited me to speak at Cowboy Church, I went half-crazy trying to figure out what to say, there was so much I wanted to talk about and then finally, as usual, the Holy Spirit rescued me and said, Just talk about Jesus, the greatest Leader of them all.
My story of salvation is not nearly as dramatic as many, but I’m hoping that it may resonate with some of you. If your life is in a big mess and you don’t know what to do, maybe I’m here this morning just for you.
All my life, I have loved God and as unbelievable as it may be, for a long time, I wanted to be a nun until the Reverend Mother at my school in Paris told me to go live my life and if I was meant to come back, I would. Besides, even though I loved God, I didn’t get the whole Jesus-thing. I said I was “religious” whatever that means. If anyone had asked me if I were a Christian, I would have said, Yes! I go to church every week. But as my friend Joyce Meyer says, “You can sit in a garage all day and it still won’t make you a car.”
There’s a lot more to being a Christian then meets the eye.
My first five books, the Lilly Bennett Mystery Series, were set in a made-up town in Wyoming, Roundup, sort of like Denver, Wyoming. And they were all best-sellers but here’s the deal, unless you’re Annie Proulx or CJ Box, if you really want to crack into the big lists, don’t set your books in Wyoming because even if everyone in Wyoming buys and reads your books—which they did mine—there aren’t enough of them to move the needle. Which is why we all love Wyoming so much.
But I always got fabulous national reviews and the books sold extremely well and all the booksellers and my fans were always really nice and happy to see me.
Anyway, my agent and my editor at Doubleday said, you need to leave Wyoming, you live an international kind of life, write on a bigger canvas. So, I wrote Insatiable, based loosely on Kind Hearts and Coronets which was about a butler who worked for a criminal. My editor asked if I could write from a man’s point of view, and I said, Of course! No problem. Well, I found I really couldn’t write as a man, but I could write as a gay man. So, the protagonist was a gay butler named Nigel. Everyone thought the book was wonderful and hysterical and we were all excited about it. Doubleday planned a big tour. I always took fabulous book tours for which my beloved husband, Peter, picked up most of the tab.
About eight-months before a book is released, bound galleys are sent to critics so their reviews are ready to go when the book is launched. Booksellers use the review in the trade publication, Publisher’s Weekly, to determine how many books to order. So, six months before Insatiable was released, the Publisher’s Weekly review appeared. It was scathing. A total hatchet job. A big bommo.
And here’s the thing with a bad review—it’s not the sort of deal where you can say, Oh, don’t take it personally. It’s business. Well, in the fiction business, it is personal. It is you they don’t like. It’s like an actor who doesn’t get the part. It’s specifically him or her they don’t want. All-out public rejection. One-hundred-percent personal.
I was absolutely devastated. Horrified. Humiliated. Deeply embarrassed. I called my agent and said, I’m cancelling the tour, and he said, this tour is not about this book, it’s about the next book which is much bigger.
I began to stew. Get angry. And bitter and resentful. Not at all a common mind-set for me. My whole self-image was upside down.
And, as a mystery writer, I started to think up ways to poison this critic—I didn’t even know his or her name. It was horrible. I was sure people were whispering about me behind my back, although I now know they weren’t—they’re were in their own little messes. I was more miserable than I had ever been in my life.
A couple of months before the tour, I started watching Joyce Meyer, a TV preacher, at 5:00 every morning. I knew I needed God’s help. And I began to learn about Jesus and the Bible.
I left on tour, starting in Seattle. When I got to the first bookstore, the largest in the Northwest, the bookseller had not ordered any copies of my book and said she’d told the publisher and cancelled the appearance. Sorry if the word had not gotten through. You cannot imagine how embarrassed I was. That night in my little suite in the Four Seasons, I couldn’t sleep—I knew the only person who could help me was Jesus. And I said out loud, I know I need You, but I don’t know what to do.
And I heard His voice, as clearly as you can hear mine, say, Just close your eyes and take My hand.
And I did. I handed over my life to Jesus.
And I was completely changed. Just like that. In the twinkling of an eye. And I haven’t had a bad day since, even though I’ve had some really lousy ones. Like Joseph, what man meant for my harm, God meant for my good.
A mean old farmer had an old mule who fell down a well. The farmer said, He’s an old mule and not much good any more. I don’t want to spend the money to hoist him out of there. I’ll just bury him. So he and his farm hand began to shovel dirt on top of the mule and after a couple of days, the mule stopped crying, and the men kept shoveling. What they didn’t realize was that every time they threw a load of dirt on top of the mule, he shook it off and stomped it down. Imagine their surprise when, one day, the mule just walked out of the well.
The point of this story is that there is no pit so deep that God cannot reach in and lift you out.
All you have to do is close your eyes and hold out your hand. And He’ll handle the rest.
The Kellogg Organization, Inc. National and International Full Service Fundraising Counsel Since 1981 www.kelloggorganization.com