First, allow me apologize that Wednesday's Recipe of the Week didn't get posted yesterday. Life has a way of interfering every so often ...
I first met Robert Benson at a little function of about 16,000 in 1999. CBA (Christian Booksellers Asso.) held its annual international convention in Orlando that year; I somehow made it into the closed event. It was here I met two people who would become important in my life and in my career. The first was Susan Schlabaugh. Susan was the Acq. Ed. for Barbour Publishing. Until two weeks earlier, she was Susan Johnson. Her business cards still said Susan Johnson but there was a blue ink line through her old last name and the handwritten new last name above it. I still have the card.
I shared with Susan a book I'd been wanting to write about marriage proposals. I had no idea she was a new bride. She was quite taken with the idea and, 9 days later, she called and offered me a contract. My entry into the world of publishing began with the words, "Quick! Tell me your parents' marriage proposal story."
I was staying in a house with about 9 other women writers or wannabe writers. During the day we worked hard at meeting new people and seeing new things. But at night we played just as hard, swimming in the pool, sitting around on the floor with cups of coffee, talking and laughing. One of my housemates was a woman named Paula who mentioned--during one of these chats--that she had seen that Robert Benson was going to be at the Penguin booth at some point. The next day, I happened upon said booth and upon a decorated stack of Robert Benson's latest book, Living Prayer. I stopped, picked it up, and a sales gal told me to take one. I ended up, stupidly, asking if I could take one to my roommates. I suppose I should have said housemates, but I didn't. She said yes. You can imagine the look on her face when I picked up close to ten copies! It's a wonder I was ever allowed back in, but I was a sure hit that night back at the house. Paula (as well as a few others) went on and on about how wonderful this man was as a speaker. They couldn't wait to see what he could do with a "pen."
I had an appointment with the Penguin Acq. Ed. the following day. Truly a miracle, considering I'd nearly annihilated their supply of Living Prayer. I approached the booth and was relieved to see a new stack of books by Mr. Benson. Apparently, they had more in the back somewhere. A man with a long dark ponytail, thick beard, and John Lennon glasses stood a little off to the side. He looked official so I told him I was there to meet with [insert name here; I believe it was Carolyn]. He walked off, told someone, who then returned with the man and said that Carolyn was a little behind schedule but would be with me shortly. She left, leaving me and the man.
Have you ever stepped into an elevator with a stranger. You have no idea what to say. So, with nothing to say, I pointed to the stack of books and said, "I got this yesterday. My housemates told me this guy is a really good speaker and they hope he's as good a writer."
The man answered back. I don't remember what he said but his voice was soft and kind. So were his eyes. Looking back, he probably saw me as the dunce new to all this and himself as the wiser one. Whatever he said, he kept me from looking positively stupid. We talked for about five minutes during which I shared everything I'd heard about this man named Robert Benson. He nodded. Said "Mmm-hmm" a few times. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Paula making a mad beeline for the two of us. Her arms were outstretched and she was smiling. "Oh," I said. "There's one of my housemates now."
Two seconds later, she introduced me to the man I'd been talking about Robert Benson to as being Robert Benson.
Everything we'd suspected about Mr. Benson's work was true. It was pure poetry on paper. Not too long after, I found myself in the fortunate position of being called Robert's friend. We even got lost together along the back roads of Central Florida's untamed area on our way to a retreat in which he was the speaker and I was the driver of said speaker. I still laugh when I think about how we spotted a sign that said, "Police Department--->" and Robert said, "They'll know how to get us to where we're going."
I slid my Mustang into the driveway of the small brick building with POLICE written across the front. Robert got out, ran to the door, and immediately ran back. "Apparently, it's a volunteer force," he said. "The doors are locked." I believe we sat and laughed for a good five minutes.
We finally made our way to where we were to be. Late, but we arrived. Somewhere in the course of that retreat (which included long periods of silence), Robert said words to me which have resonated within my spirit ever since. "Eva Marie," he said. "The only person who knows what God has whispered into your heart is you. But you won't hear him if you don't hush."
Since reading Living Prayer, I have read approximately ten Robert Benson books. I have come to love him and his wife Sara as a sister loves another sibling. My highest respect goes to them both. There is a bookshelf with nearly nothing but Benson books. They are not given away. They are not loaned. If you want to read them, you must either read them while in my house or buy your own copy. Living Prayer is nearly falling apart, I've read it so many times. It holds three things I consider special: 1) a letter from Robert sent to me from his home; 2) his signature, which includes 3) the word Namaste.
I am currently reading The Echo Within. It's not a big book. Or a long book. But it's a book to be savored. It brings to light the words you see written by Robert above. Reading it makes me want to be a better writer. A better person. And, most of all, a better daughter of God.
Do you have a book that has changed your life? Or words spoken to you that have done the same? Tell me about it ... and put your name in for this week's drawing!