Lean Into the Discomfort :: Some Thoughts on the Faith & Culture Writer’s Conference

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Dancing With the Stars started 5 minutes ago.  And a big part of me wants to turn it on, curl up on the couch with my tea now that the boys are in bed.  To ignore that I have a classroom of 3rd graders who will be staring at me at 7:55am ready to start a new week.

Today was a perfectly arranged school-wide day off since we crammed parent-teacher conferences into last week.  I envisioned a leisurely morning of catching up, maybe finishing my overdue library book.  Having my coffee without rushing out the door at 6:45am.  Finishing today’s 1-star Suduko.  Relaxing.  Instead, I filled it with scurrying around after laundry, balancing the checkbook, sweeping up LEGOS and tidying up the playroom/guest room (mind you….it now, 10 hours later….looks almost the same as prior to cleaning).  I made a weekly menu and a grocery list and shopped.

And really?!  All of these things are things on the list.  Not all FUN.  But things to be done.  Often, in an attempt to put discomfort at arm’s length.  Rather than leaning into the discomfort, I am often choosing this, that and the other to conquer and tackle rather than the important.

Instead of reality tv.  Or obsessing over my lesson plans.  I am planting my rear in the chair and writing tonight.  If for nothing else than knowing it matters.

*   *   *  *  *  *  *

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Matt and I had the chance to attend the Faith and Culture Writing Conference this past Friday and Saturday in Portland.  When trying to explain the conference to others—whether prior to attending or post conference—–I always hem and haw, not knowing EXACTLY how to spin, define or explain it.  Yes, the conference is full of writing tips, tricks, opportunities, advice and experts in their craft.  But for me, for the past two years, it has meant so much more.  A place for retreat.  A moment for re-adjusting and re-focusing.  A time for slowing the mind while simultaneously amping my thoughts into a frenzy.  I compared it to one of those blitz 2 week Europe trips where you try to squeeze in lots of museums, restaurants and historic sights and in the end feel a “full”.  In a good way.

This year’s conference started with a pre-conference called “Breathing Space”.  I signed up with the selfish desire of hearing Seth Haines and Nish Weiseth speak—-two bloggers and authors I have been a little star struck over for awhile now.  Seth talked about the need for retreat.  To move away from the drive to create, produce and compare.  That we are called to be “window washers” for others, allowing a new vision of God to be seen.  To clear away and wipe clean the gunk and mess and muck that makes clarity almost impossible.  The conference, for me, was two days of having windows washed; artists and writers and creatives sharing their work, but more-so, their hearts.

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{{such a privilege to meet this lady…got to take her to the airport and it was  highlight of the weekend for me}}

As Nish preached (and if you were there, you know she PREACHED in the best way, and didn’t just “talk” to us!), Jesus is subversive.  We see it in his actions, who he healed who he spoke to and hung out with.  He was relational, giving power to people in the margins.  Christ’s mandate was love.  Our writing is empty without purpose and our truest purpose is to love God and love people.  End of story.  Our writing is meant to serve others.  Our purpose is to use our very lives to live into the beauty and truth that God’s Kingdom isn’t some far off place we eventually arrive at.  It is happening now and that with or without us, we are invited to participate in what is before us.  Right now.

Later that night, two others wove similar themes.  Emily P. Freeman, author of A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, reiterated this point.  As writers, even for me as a teacher, there is a call to

“Write like a hostess, not a crazy person.”

We get to live our day to day lives, inviting others in, or as Emily so eloquently frames it offering a bench to sit on.  Not a required conversation.  Or an agenda or a platform.  But a bench.  A place to practice the spiritual discipline of wasting time.  {{{For me, this often feels like Leaning into the Discomfort….You?!?!}}}  She shared how scary the question

“What is going on in you RIGHT NOW?”

can be.  We often like to talk about yesterday.  Or last year.  Or when I was 12.  Or plans for five years down the road.  But right now we are called to live, work, write, listen and love from a place of love.

At last year’s conference, Tony Kriz left me speechless and practically dumbfounded.  I just had no clue what God planned to unleash through that man’s heart and words.  He was so compelling and I promised myself that I would twist my husband’s arm every which way to read Tony’s books and come and hear him speak.  As Nish’s words and Seth’s and Emily’s and so many others from my writing seminar filled my head (Esther Emery, Velynn Brown, Ashley Larkin, Alia Joy, Kara Chupp, Michelle Watson, Nicole Bennett, Kamille Scellick, Ashley Hales…I could go on and on and on because that seminar was HOLY HOLY ground, almost feeling TOO raw to process here)…Tony pushed us to think about the “jar” we place up on the altar that is filled with how we are and aren’t allowed to think about, to talk about and to write about God.  The words that are fear-based, language used to constrain and constrict our faith.  Tony, in his own amazing way, wove the story that the jar of his youth, the big glass jar that was up on the altar, if you will, allowed for God is to be light…but not a rainbow.  God could be compared to a lion, but not a bear (too Native American).  God could be a strong rock, but not a crystal (too… Portland).  He went on and on and one with comparisons.  And me, being the simile girl {{{WELCOME TO ROOM 15, KIDS….WHERE WE WILL WRITE LOTS AND LOTS OF SIMILES AND POEMS BECAUSE YOUR TEACHER LOVES THE POWER OF FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE!}}} I was stoked.  Tony called us to take risks, use risky language and to even make mistakes with the goal of breaking the culture-imposed boundaries of who God is.

“My faith is like ____________ because it is _________________ . “

To force comparisons that stretch the mind.  That stretch our faith.  That stretch our worn out understandings of who God is and what God can do in and through us.  I am still giggling about when he asked us if we could compare our faith to our pancreas.  Or the Jihad.  Try, folks….do it!

The next morning…Romal Tune and Emily Freeman talked to us and we delved into seminars, hearing about Truth Telling from Alia Joy, The Holy Mundane of the Daily Lives of Holy Writers with A.J. Swododa, the Art of Questioning with Shane Blackshear and even a closing hour with Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack.  Clearly I could write pages and pages about each of these seminars and talks, but for me?  The take away is one full of blessing, richness, meatiness, love and mental exhaustion/fullness.  I had opportunities to sit next to and talk with bloggers and writers I have long admired and realize…they are human.  And real.  And kind.  And funny.  Rather than feel like a D-list celebrity amongst A-listers, it was a sweet time of connection and laughter and listening.  Matt and I had the gift of attending together and sharing a huff and puff hike up Mt. Tabor along with conversation in and through seminars and speakers which was awesome.  After Easter and Parent-Teacher Conference mayhem, not to mention busy children duties, it was so refreshing to walk, eat, listen and rest.

However, as the saying goes, even on retreat, even at a conference like this, there is discomfort and moments of sighs and deep breaths.  Opportunities to lean in (or back like I often due after eating too much yummy Portland food), knowing that you are full, but just need time for it to digest and work its way through your being.  So I am stopping for now.  Maybe will try and catch a few minutes of Dancing with the Stars and fall asleep to dreams of VooDoo Doughnuts and thoughts about Leaning into the Discomfort knowing the truth of Zechariah 4:10. {thanks, Romal, for the reminder of this verse!}

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.”

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