The first time I wrote fictional dialogue, it was an assignment for my British Literature class at Abilene Christian University. On the day we would receive our scores, I was eager to see if my creativity had paid off.
My professor, Dr. Jack Welch, tall and lanky with gray at his temples, faced our class and grinned, a twinkle in his eyes.
That look, I’d seen it before. I settled back in my desk and prepared to be entertained by his dry humor.
He pulled out a paper from the stack, cleared his throat, and read from my
homework assignment—a modern recreation of a scene from The Canterbury Tales. After reading my favorite part, he lowered my paper and rumbled with uncharacteristic laughter.
My heart soared. My writing had cracked up this proper gentleman.
“Don’t you get it?” He focused on the slouching, unimpressed college students around me, his gaze fluttering across their unresponsive heads in dismay. “This is good stuff.” He shook his head and read on, stopping a couple of more times to chuckle. When he finished, our gazes collided.
He got me. I smiled. It didn’t matter that my classmates didn’t get my humor or maybe more accurately, they didn’t care. I had reached someone and entertained him with my creation. As long as I live, I’ll never forget my first taste of those addictive writing endorphins.
He handed me my paper, and I deflated from all his marks and comments. His suggestions for improvement baffled me. I had completed the assignment and received my grade. Why would I keep revising?
On my way to the exit, Dr. Welch stopped me. “So…” He held out his hands. “You’re a writer.” His expression shined like he had discovered something wonderful.
All his students knew Dr. Welch loved to write, and I had a copy of his Christian novel in my dorm room. I glanced down at my story riddled with errors. Years of red seemed to flash before me, chasing away any lingering endorphins. I had always been drawn to the creative side of writing, but my pitiful grammar held my dream captive.
I laughed and shook my head. “No way. I’m not a writer.” But it was exciting that he thought I was. “I’m glad you liked it, though.”
The spark in his eyes faded a little. Had he been disappointed that I didn’t want to pursue the craft? Little did I know at the time, but he saw talent in me that I wouldn’t identify until years later. If only I had listened to his encouragement, or at least explored the possibility and asked a few questions.
During the following summer, while studying abroad in the Czech Republic with a group from ACU, I became closer to my professor and his sweet wife, Alice. Toward the end of the trip, Dr. Welch shared how he wanted to give something back to the people instead of consuming all the brilliance of their culture and leaving them with nothing.
After we returned, that desire led him to work with the Let’s Start Talking Ministry. He would form a group destined for Russia the following year. This time, he would devour the culture and leave the Russian people with the gift of the gospel.
On the last night of the Russian trip, after an emotional farewell, his body was discovered on a trail that led back to their hotel. Though he appeared healthy, his life-long heart condition was likely the reason for his death.
I had come close to attending that trip, but family commitments had kept me home. Even now, I wonder how things might have been different if I’d been with him when he died. Would I have been able to help?
Alice had struggled with the same questions, and many more while we cleaned out his office. She passed on a couple of his books to me, and years later I came across one of those writing books.
My throat tightened. I wanted so badly to be able to call Jack and say, “Hey, guess what? I have a story I want you to look at.”
Oh, to have the opportunities I hadn’t appreciated back in my twenties. Now a wife, a mother of three young boys, and recovering from cancer treatment, I felt the weight of so much wasted time.
So I prayed and asked God for another chance, to help me find someone who could be my Jack. That same night, I discovered the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Scribes online critique group. I managed to get in on the monthly orientation for new members that day and posted my first chapter soon after.
Before I received a single critique, I received an encouraging email from John Cunningham Jr (aka: JACK). Yes, he goes by Jack. My tears surged, because that’s how it feels when God reaches out and says, “Okay. I’ll use someone else to help you because I love you and just so you don’t miss My message, he’ll have the same name. The other Jack’s busy here with Me, smiling with that same twinkle in his eyes. Although, he wouldn’t dream of saying I told you so.”
Both Jacks encouraged me to follow my dream of writing. One instilled the possibility, and the other helped me with the tedious work of reviewing every chapter. God is good, and He doesn’t ignore His children when they call out to Him. I hope you’ll remember my story the next time you consider dismissing your dream. As long as you’re alive, it’s never too late.