You all might think part of this story sounds kind of, “out there”.
But it honestly scared the crap out of me to write it out, so that probably means I should. Besides, I can never let this stuff go once it’s in my head, so there.
I recently went to Chicago. All alone. Like by myself. I haven’t gone anywhere by myself to a place where I physically know not a soul since college. I’ve grown accustomed to having Davin, or the kids or friends around all the time. Apparently I like being surrounded by people.
I flew to Chicago to attend the Storyline Conference and Writer’s Workshop.
When I was 24 and lying by my parents pool one summer day with my best friend Jen, I read Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz in pretty much one sitting. I remember telling the Lord that there were lots of authors I would love to meet, but that most of them were already dead, however, Donald Miller was still alive and if I could meet any author, it would be him. That was over ten years ago, before authors were on facebook and twitter and were accessible. For all I knew he was in a cabin in the woods and I had as likely chance of meeting him face to face as I did meeting a mermaid (yet another dream of mine).
So then Storyline comes up, like it did last year, except this time it’s different. It includes a writer’s workshop – with Donald Miller as the main speaker.
One of my favorite authors is going to share his secrets on how he writes books and I could potentially meet him.
I was in anguish. See, I’m not a hired writer, no one pays me, this isn’t a real job. How in the world could I justify spending a bunch of money to fly to Chicago, pay for a conference, hotel and rental car, AND leave my kids for five days over Halloween when my actual main job is to be the stay at home, take care of the day-to-day life mom? Writing at this point is just a hobby. This was crazy. But there was a part of my heart that wanted it so bad.
Then I saw this talk by Shauna Niequest.
And I voxed two of my praying friends in tears.
“Why am I crying right now? I’m literally crying over a video on the internet (and I wasn’t even pregnant then). Why am I crying?”
Shauna had said something in her video that hit me deep to the core. I’ll summarize as best as I can, although it’s worth watching the video if you have any dreams.
She essentially talked about what she’d learned from her mom who raised all the kids while her husband did full time ministry. She dedicated everything to it, setting all her other dreams to the side, assuming she’d just pick them up when all the kids were grown. They grew and she realized she didn’t know who she was anymore. It took her two years to discover who she was again. ( I started crying at this point because I felt like I was on that path and it didn’t look so good for me come 20 years from now).
So, just because you’re a mom, doesn’t mean you have to let all of your dreams die or put them on hold for 25 years. Dreams need to be kept alive, even if it’s just one hour a week because they are a part of who you are meant to be. You’re not only a mom, a wife and a homemaker, you are a human whose other gifts are meant to bless the world. Letting your dreams die will slowly kill you inside.
That was her message.
I took a brave breath and prayed.
Jesus, if I am meant be at this conference please make me not afraid to dream and pray about it. I don’t want to scrape up my dead dreams at 50. I want to live my whole life fully alive, even if it’s currently harder than letting my dreams die.
So I prayed. For a while.
Then I got a little more brave and I straight cold asked God. What happens if I go, and what happens if I don’t? And that’s a little crazy to some of you but I really do ask God questions like that and I really do feel like he gives me answers sometimes.
I felt like He gave me two word pictures. They were both long allegories, so I won’t tell them both. In the first one, I go to the conference. In the second one I don’t, and I wander for quite a long time before anything happens. It was a little boring until the end.
I preferred the first one because of how I felt at the end of it. In the second one, I end up in a dark cave full of riches, like Aladdin, but the road there was long and lonely and I had to meet a grumpy lady who didn’t like me. Meah.
Here is the first word picture, summed up. I am outside of a huge warehouse, it’s night. I go in the back door. I wander through a long twisted hallway. The kind where you walk and walk and think, where is this going? Where is the end? I finally get to another doorway. It is blocked by two huge bodyguards. They don’t want to let me in. Inside is a dance club, a big party. Somehow, I get in, after a bit, past the bodyguards. There is a table there for me, with my name on it, but the person who was scheduled to meet me there never shows up. So I leave the table. No one notices me. I feel a bit lost. Everyone is socializing and talking and I am just watching people. I feel alone. I walk to the dance floor and because I don’t know anyone there, I look down at the ground and see a coin. It’s shiny. A few people above on the second floor see me pick it up and are jealous because they didn’t find it. All the sudden a giant chandelier drops down out of the ceiling and I can stand on it, it takes me up to the roof outside on the top of the building. It is still night. On top, the man who is in charge of the whole conference tells me all that I need to know about writing. He shows me the entire landscape of the land. Every direction. At this point I am overwhelmed with excitement. I am bursting. It’s as though I just learned everything I’ll ever need to know about writing, to finally just write without feeling like I’m missing something. It is an amazing feeling. I could explode. Then all the sudden, I am somewhere else, like an Alice in Wonderland type of maze, except it’s morning now. I walk through the landscaped walls and find myself at a dead end, with a boat to one side and a small stream. It is set up for a party. Creatures come and serve me a tea party. It’s nice. Then just like that it’s over, I get into the gondola next to me and sit in the stream for only a few seconds as it takes me past the dead end. Then I get out. It is still morning, so although I was deterred for a short bit, haven’t really lost any time. I’m now out of the maze and completely free. It’s totally open, the whole landscape. Hills, trees, a sunrise the whole landscape is open for me to explore and I feel a complete sense of peace, satisfaction and capability to go anywhere. It is like a crazy exhilarating feeling.
I wanted that feeling. I wanted that end.
To me, that represented the feeling I would have in writing if I attended the conference.
So I talked to Davin and I’m pretty sure in the end we were both the bodyguards. It was hard to justify leaving my kids. It was hard not to feel selfish for taking a trip like this. It’s not like we’re super loaded and can just drop two grand on a spur of the moment trip. We researched, we prayed, I debated, I prayed. I finally sorta-kinda committed. I signed up for the conference. I kept telling myself I could always back out if I needed to. Then I reserved a hotel room. All things I could still back out of. Then two different rental cars. We didn’t buy my flights until it was almost too late. Now I couldn’t back out.
In the end, I knew I had to go. Even though I was six weeks pregnant and beginning to feel the sharp pangs of morning (see: all day) sickness, and excessive sleepiness. I told Jesus that he was going to have to help me A LOT on this trip. When I travel, Davin takes care of everything. He checks flights, carries my bags, drives the car. All I have to do is walk next to him. I’m like five years old in responsibility world when we travel together. Now I had to do it all, with a preggo brain and uneasy stomach. I put on my very tight big-girl pants and got on the plane. I just took it one step at a time.
The conference was amazing. I did walk away feeling like I’d finally gained the insight needed to just write confidently, not worrying that I’d be missing some obvious skill or rule that all the other writers knew. I do feel more free to just write. But I don’t think the whole process is complete yet.
My head was filled with so many good ideas and inspiration over those four days that I came home in a bit of a daze. I’m still sorta in that daze.
One speaker told us to say yes to almost everything, just for the experience. Some speakers told us to say no to almost everything, so we could say yes to only what was best. I resonated with Shauna Niequist the most when she spoke about being very good at efficiency – getting everything done, while in the process only allotting a specific short amount of times for silly-play or fun with her family. She shared how she’s become very good at managing everything and everyone in her life but not really living it. I could have cried. I know that person oh so well. I’ve been working this past year and a half of blogging, to NOT be that person anymore. To slow down, to do less, to savor and enjoy the simple little moments more. She talked about how we are always going to disappoint somebody, we just need to choose who. This struck me. How many times have I chosen the wrong person to disappoint? She also said, “only do as much as you can do in love.” I’m not operating in love when I am rushing, getting to the next thing, or charging through a to-do list. Shauna was inspiring and honest.
The way I’m going to apply what I’ve learned from Shauna is to start my days with Jesus. I usually do this anyway, but I’m going to be a little more intentional about it. Not just reading my bible like I’m pretty religious about, I want to also then spend time just talking to God. I don’t mean praying to ask him for things which is still important, I mean praying to ask him his opinion about things, like what should my pace be today God, what’s on your heart today God? Maybe it will look more like me sitting and staring at the oaks in the field across our street and just thanking him for the beauty of the day, just resting in his creation.
In the writer’s workshop they talked all about using words, and only a few words, and only the best words… it all made me a bit intimidated to ever put a sentence on a page again. They talked about how writing is a horrible, painful process. By the end of it I was thinking to myself, “Why the heck do I want to be a writer? This sounds miserable!” But, these speakers do it for a living, and I get the pleasure of only doing it when I want, as a hobby. So, I decided that it was okay that I still loved writing, and maybe that didn’t mean I was doing it wrong, maybe I just am just going to have the pleasure of loving it? Let’s hope so:-)
And lastly, my favorite concept that I took from the entire conference was this: we are all telling a story with our lives, and your story matters. They said we all have God given gifts and talents in us, and that if we are fully operating in those, we will be telling a meaningful story. They had so many examples of people living their dreams, and changing the world in the process. They were all unique, just a person pursuing their passion, and in the process doing something huge to help others.
So, along with me, let’s ask ourselves what truly lights us up? What do we daydream about? Donald Miller said he daydreamed about making trails in his backyard. He said he thought that was dumb until the life coach he was speaking to said that was exactly what J.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would do as they came up with ideas for Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
So, what do you daydream about? It just may be the thing that helps you change the world.
Here are some obligatory photos from my trip (most of them were taken to send to Davin, and I have to say, I feel totally ridiculous taking selfies, by MYSELF. It’s really awkward and embarrassing. I had to keep myself from telling others around me, “these are for my husband, I’m not just in love with myself…”
Here is Portillo’s and the “meatless choices” they offer: halibut and tuna. Not exactly what I’d call “meatless” ha!
The best view I actually had of Chicago – didn’t really get that close.
The only shot with Donald Miller, of course, it’s blurry;-) Whateve’s I didn’t want to take up his time. He had a looooong line of people waiting to talk to him. Had there been time, I might have said, “Snap! You are an amazing writer – thank you for introducing me to a type of writing that I actually felt like was a voice similar to mine. I love your raw honesty and your writing has inspired me to write myself. Thank you.”
Thanks for reading!