Hope for Writers

Faith and Culture Writers’ Conference Reflection

Author: Chara Donahue

In my stocking this past Christmas was a gift from my husband. A small little piece of torn notebook paper with  “one writer’s weekend” scrawled across it.  My husband had asked me what I wanted, and I told him a weekend of quiet to focus on writing. He gave the okay with that little corner of  paper. The beginning of the year was crazy: I was in school again working towards a History endorsement and Biblical Counseling certification, leading a women’s ministry, starting a blog, and trying to maintain sanity at home raising my four little rascals.

Fast forward two months, and across my newly opened twitter feed I saw that Kari Patterson  would be speaking at a writers conference in Portland.  Being that she was the first (non-relative) writer  to read  a very small piece of my someday book, It drew my attention. I clicked on the link and  managed to scrape together the funds. My Christmas present arrived in April in the form of the Faith and Culture Writers’ Conference.

I was a bit excited:

Going into this, I knew I was going to have to stop hiding from the fact that I am a writer. Pretending that this piece of me is a dirty little secret of pages needing to stay under a mattress wouldn’t do. It was time to embrace it as part of how God has scripted my part in his story. It was also time to be amongst others who know what it is to write.  Those who simply want to serve the world by weaving together letters that create beautiful words and words that create lasting stories.

All this seemed big but not necessarily scary.  I mean, what risk was there?   I know how to wear big girl pants.  Yet, emotionally I heard whispers of peril and intimidation, because I love writing and this was my first real proclamation of that. I was putting something I love out on the offering plate and I had no idea if it would be received.  Nevertheless, I was going and I would call myself a writer.

I longed to enter into a retreat where I was able to talk about writing and not have the fear of appearing prideful, because the people there would understand I don’t write out of pride or self-elevating desires. I write to process, to expose hidden glories, and to seek out the truest truths.   I don’t write because I know it all. I write because I have something to say.  That in a world of billions of voices, I want mine to make people ask, “Who is this Jesus?”

So to Portland I went. While I drove to the land of exotic food carts, the weird, and an airport carpet that’s got a platform 10 times the size of mine, I asked God “What are you going to do? I am listening. How are You going to challenge me? How do You want me to love people?”

The challenges came in many forms:

Can I go from Blank to Beautiful?

Can I wash windows so that others can see God’s beauty more clearly? — @sethhaines

Can I point people at God and change hearts with my words?– @NishWeiseth

Can I remember It ‘s not about my greatness it’s about God’s?– @AshleyMLarkin

Can I bleed out onto the page in incredible ways?– @karipatterson

Can I learn “how to market without selling my soul?” — @kurtbubna

Can I just follow the advice of @karenzach, by never going to a cold computer and telling that nagging inner editor to “shut up” as I write fictional accounts of Kenyan boys choosing their paths?

Can I like @CorneliSeigneur , “Ask God to show me why He saved me?”  or create space to build up, honor, and encourage others while living Isaiah 50:4?

Can I tell stories that create beautiful images that people will never forget like @tonykriz and his  Albanian lights?

Can I search for reason in unreasonable space?– @phievalon

Can I read the headlines of my soul  from a bench on a Tuesday as tears hug my eyeballs?–@emilypfreeman

Can I–just show up and  be willing to tell the painful, shameful stories so that others can find life?–@RomalTune

Can I strain my best and truest stories through glory and trust my Lord with the results? —@AliaJoyH

Can I be in my heart and not my head and get out of the way so that what I am trying to convey can break through? —@christaljenkins

Can I write a crystal clear book proposal?– @MacGregorLit

Can I remember rightly and craft beauty out of the pain Jesus has healed me from?–@ChapinChick

Can I step out of the box God is willing to climb into in order to be with me, and reach for Him instead?– @wmpaulyoung

Can I accept the challenges, and love the people?

I loved the inspiration and the information, but the people…the people at this thing brought the joy.

When I have the deepest truths written and interwoven into my very being, I can risk loving others freely and sincerely from the heart.

I could tell my unedited ideas to a room full of other writers because like everything else in my life my writing belongs to God – NOT to me. I could sit with them, be motivated, and as I nodded along with truths from the speakers, I could join the cacophony of Yays and Amens coming from those around me.  I could genuinely be more interested in their stories than in telling my own, because all insecurities, hang-ups, and self protective measures become small when God is big; and this God of ours is BIG.

I felt accepted by people who invited me to sit at their tables, ask about their lives, and talk about writing in the ways that only writers do. Faces I had only met once became faces of familiarity that made all the other unknown faces a little less alien.  They too want tales to be told, so that faith, hope, and love can seep into  the world as we place words on alters of paper, web pages, and open air. They know writing is not an exclusive club. It is a desire that drives, and that is why I feel a kinship with them – “my tribe.”

But really, they are not my people in the closest sense of the word.  My husband, my children, my church – those are the people that were still there Sunday morning when the conference was over.  I love my daily people, still there, still my favorite humans offering rest when I come down from that conference high and face reality and responsibilities that reach outside of my writing bubble.  But my writing people have been grafted into my awareness.

These fellow writers are still there in my mind, so I can be reminded that there are people out in the world that would understand my blank expression when other more familiar people ask me why the dishes are pouring out of the sink and the kids are still in pajamas,  and I say sheepishly, “Um, I was writing?”

I may only see them on Twitter (which I am loving by the way); hopefully, I will see some of them next year. Reality tells me I may never see some of these people again–at least on this side of heaven. I know it might sound trite, but truth is I am okay with that. That’s life. I am so pleased and filled by those, “Hey, it was nice to meet you once before heaven, see you when we get there” kind of interactions, because they are hopeful  glimpses of eternal community.

This is what I love the most. That these people were my people before I knew them because of Who they know. They are my people because we have the same Ultimate Person. We have Jesus. So yes, these people are my people in that they understand a facet of me that some of my close people just don’t get.

Ultimately, though, these people are not my people because they are writers. These people are my people because they are Jesus’ people. But, it sure is nice that they write.

That I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.–Isaiah 50:4

Want to check out the conference with me next year?

@FaithCultureArt   http://faithandculturewriters.com/

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