Becoming A Published Author – Chapter 31

Becoming A Published Author
Agony and Ecstasy of Writing a Book
By Evan and Lois Swensen
Chapter Thirty-One
Talking With God
Dena Sessler

Oh, to be an Author! To touch and impact lives through my words has been a dream ever since I was a little girl, but life seems to have a way of going in a direction that you don’t anticipate!

My journey to becoming an author has been a long, painful road but a spiritual one. I have had a life full of disappointment, devastation, and abuse. People talk about being dealt a lousy hand of cards—well, I felt that I was given a bad deck. Nothing seemed to be going right, and I found myself on the “pity pot” for way too long, questioning and asking, “Why me!”

I grew up in the beautiful state of Alaska, where I still reside. My father was a very religious and hardworking man who was rarely available; my mother had a difficult time showing me any love because of her childhood, and was addicted to whatever drug was fashionable at the time to help her cope with life; a younger sister grew up thinking she was a princess and should have the world given to her. So I had to grow up quickly, taking care of my family in the ways that my mother was incapable of. That is when I started to write poetry as a way to pass the many hours I spent alone and express my feelings, if only on paper, for my eyes only to see.

I went to college and took many courses on creative writing and poetry, and read books on becoming an author and publishing your book. It left me overwhelmed and confused. To make matters worse, I had a college professor tell me that I would never be a published author, at least with poetry, and I needed to consider writing for Hallmark because my poetry was too rhythmic and flowery. Wow, did that cut deep! Instead of viewing her opinion as just that, an opinion, I let her comment define who I was for the next 27 years, embarrassed about sharing my writing with anyone.

I went through life rolling with the punches and saying to myself, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” and “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!” There is a lot of truth in those statements; however, if you allow it to, it will beat you down and take away any amount of worth that you have.

I have had many careers throughout my life, including everything from high-fashion runway modeling in California to heavy equipment operating on the North Slope of Alaska. In 1999 I thought I was doing a pretty good job at managing my life, considering what I had endured up to this point, and felt blessed to be alive. I was living large and had the world in my hands, making a six-figure income a year. God had different plans for me though! In July 1999 I suffered a severe cerebral stroke that would end my life. Unfortunately, it went misdiagnosed for more than seven hours. The doctors were sure that I had overdosed on drugs, even though the toxicology report was negative for even aspirin. After all, I was a healthy 31-year-old woman who was too young to suffer a stroke, so I had to be doing street drugs that they couldn’t detect.

I was sent to the hospital on Elmendorf for supportive care. When I got there, it was apparent to them that it wasn’t a drug overdose at all, and I was suffering a severe stroke. When the MRI came back, it was confirmed, but by that time, my brain damage was so severe that they were sure I would suffer a brain stem hemorrhage and not survive the night. My family was called to say their final goodbyes and a military chaplain to administer last rites.

When I awoke the following day, to their surprise, my family was told I would never walk or talk again. I had lost 40 percent of my cerebellum, and the prognosis was not good. God proved them wrong again. The doctors had no medical explanation for why I didn’t die that night. They were amazed that I was able to understand them or even attempt to stand with help. They racked it up to a medical miracle, but my belief differed. You see, God has a plan for everyone, even though it may not be obvious at the time.

When it first happened, I started to pray to God that nothing was seriously wrong with me. Then lying in the hospital, experiencing the worst pain and suffering imaginable, I prayed for him to take my life because it was more than I could bear. In most military hospitals, or so my family was told, pain killers were not administered to patients who had no hope of survival. The pain of my brain swelling was excruciating, and the only comfort I received was nurses wiping my frail body down with cool rags. I couldn’t help but think, if there was a God, why had he forsaken me? Why was he letting me suffer the way I was? Why wouldn’t he listen to my prayers? Because of my upbringing, I was convinced that I had done something wrong to upset God, and I was being punished.

I spent the next two years learning how to walk again, tie my shoes, feed myself, talk, drive, and the list goes on and on. How humbling for someone who had a class A CDL with every endorsement available! The cerebellum is considered the “little brain” and stores learned skills. Even though I knew how to do the simplest things, my body would not comply. I had to go through every step in my mind and force my body to respond until it became second nature again. It was a long and frustrating process. I had a lot of time to build up a plethora of feelings. Happiness to be alive, pity for me because I would never be able to hold a job again, and anger with God.

During those two years, not everything was terrible. However, life did start to turn around. I met my incredible husband in December 1999, shortly after my stroke. Years later, I came to find out that he had called his mother and told her that he had met the most beautiful woman. When asked what my name was, he replied, “I don’t know, I can’t understand a single thing she says! It was her smile and the incredible sparkle she had in her eyes that got my attention!” Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be too long before I lost both again. I underwent seven major surgeries in the next few years, open heart being the worst, and two high-risk pregnancies.

In 2003 and 2005, we were blessed with two beautiful boys. Life was getting good again. God gave me two boys when the doctors said I wouldn’t have children. Then a new set of challenges began. Our oldest son was diagnosed with autism, and our youngest had severe ADHD and was bipolar. I thought, “Okay, you have to be kidding me! God must see a strength I don’t because I don’t think I can take anymore!”

I started to write again, with new motivation, a way to touch and reach my boys. I now had this belief that I had to start doing everything possible to make God happy so he would stop punishing me. I drove my health and family into the ground with my volunteering and quest for acceptance with the Lord. Boy, did I have it wrong! It wasn’t until four years ago that a friend from church said to me, “Your pain has become your identity. The Lord doesn’t work that way, and you are his incredible masterpiece. Turn everything over to him and ask for guidance. He has an incredible plan for you, so stop searching and ask the one who knows! There is a reason you have gone through what you have, so find a way to see the blessings in it.” I thought, “Yeah, right! I’ve been there done that, and it doesn’t work. Find the blessings; you have to be kidding me!”

I spent the next few years doing a lot of work on myself. I started to share my poetry with my husband and trusted friends. I would write touching poetry for birthdays, weddings, classes, and funerals with beautiful responses. I thought to myself; maybe there is something to this.

My mother had been battling cancer for 14 years, but in June 2011 started to lose her fight rapidly. I found myself being a caregiver, trying to take care of a family and two boys with special needs, and continue what I thought was the Lord’s work and the direction he wanted me to go. In September 2011, I wrote another poem for my son, who was struggling with his autism, and why God had made him that way. I didn’t know that this was the beginning of the incredible children’s book that was soon to follow. I remember praying to God that night. I said, “Lord, I know this can’t be what you want for me, a life of suffering and service with no joy. I am your servant; please use me as your tool for your glory! Show me what it is you would have me do, and I will do my best to obey!”

I came home late one night in October, exhausted from the events of the day and caring for my mother. My family was in bed, so I made a cup of tea, went outside, and tried to relax for just a minute. I had an indescribable desire to start to write, so I went in and grabbed a pen and paper and started. It was as though the Lord himself was telling me what to write, and I just moved the pen. Three and one-half hours later, I went to bed, excited to share with my husband the next evening what had happened and the beautiful poetry that seemed to pour out of me that night. The next day, to my disappointment, I couldn’t find my notebook. My husband told me to write it again. I told him, “You don’t understand! I can’t remember what I wrote!” It was highly uncharacteristic for me not to be able to recite verbatim something I had written or said. I spent three days tearing the house apart, looking for it. Finally, I found it in my youngest son’s room, covered with pictures of God, robots, cars, and flowers. Instead of getting angry, I thought, I get it, you want this book to be illustrated by children. So I went to Eagle River Christian School, where my boys attend, and asked the children for artwork.

What followed was a wave of excitement. I went looking for a publisher! Everything I had read up to this point about publishing your book led me to believe that it would be easy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is easy enough to find a list of publishers online; however, in my experience, they either want your money, all the control, or your book outright. This left me upset and frustrated. I tried to find someone who believed in me, my vision and was honest and virtuous. I found that in Evan at Publication Consultants. Not only was I supporting a local business, but Evan got it! He could see my vision was compassionate, encouraging, and helpful. He never tried to control me and my book, only giving gentle suggestions and sound advice. Evan led me, every step of the way, through the process of getting my book published. Wow, a publisher who cared about me, the author, and my book was something that I hadn’t been expecting. Evan has been there to hold my hand, explain things to me, share my frustration and excitement, and always available to his authors.

This part of my story and journey is now coming to an end, but I know the best is yet to come. More books are in my future, and Evan and Publication Consultants will be right there with me! It is difficult to capture one’s life in 2,500 words, but I have shared parts of my life to give you inspiration, encouragement, and hope. It’s not meant to minimize your own story, but to share with you my struggles and challenges, realizing now that God can take even the most broken life and turn it into something beautiful. You see, God doesn’t answer prayers the way we think they should be answered or submit to the pressures of our impatience. It is said that “the truth will set you free.” Well, so will getting rid of all the garbage and baggage that we carry with us through our lives. For me, my writer’s block wasn’t lifted until I dealt with and rid myself of the anger, resentment, hurt, and pain that I had been carrying with me for way too long. Healing my relationship with the Lord, my image of myself, and relationships with others was also imperative to smooth out the bumps and craters in my path. It has taken more than 40 years, but I finally got the answers to the burning questions I had had for so many years—a published author of spiritual poetry for children. Wow, I didn’t see that one coming!

My advice to anyone wanting to become an author is this:

Don’t let anyone define you.

Hold tight to your dreams.

Get your thoughts down on paper.

Don’t allow anyone to compromise or change your vision, and find a publisher who cares about you!

Many blessings to you all, and the best of wishes on your journey to becoming an author and the success and joy that is undoubtedly coming your way!

Evan, who lives in Anchorage, has 9 children, 25 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren. As a pilot, he has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time in Alaska, in both wheel and float planes. He is a serious recreation hunter and fisherman, equally comfortable casting a flyrod or using bait, or lures. He has been published in many national magazines and is the author of four books.