Last weekend I went to my first Christian writers’ conference. I had no idea what to expect, but let me tell you, it was money well spent. I was a little intimidated at first, walking into this fancy schmancy hotel. Marble floors fancy and humongous chandeliers schmancy. But I walked right in, tried not to stare with my mouth open, and found the escalator up to the conference room.
My second clue that this was no joe-schmo operation was my name tag. My name was already on it. Typed in big bold letters. Like I belonged there. Next, I spent 10 minutes placing the name first on one side of my chest and then the other. Then on my stomach and then back to just under my throat. All the while the voice in my head is saying, “Stop it. You’re obsessing. It doesn’t matter, it’s a name tag. Stick it somewhere and walk through the door.” I was just so nervous.
Since I had compulsively arrived 45 minutes early, every table was empty. I got a cup of coffee from the “coffee station”, loaded it with sugar, and sat down at a table near the front of the platform. Ten minutes later, I grabbed my stuff and moved to a different table a little further back, because I felt too visible. Five minutes after that, I moved again, this time to the table right next to the door. Easy access to the bathroom, and a quick exit if this thing goes south and they discover I shouldn’t be there. By now I’m sweating, hopped up on sugar and trying to figure out where to put my purse. I hung it on the back of my chair and it fell right back off. If I put it on the floor, someone will trip over it for sure, spilling out 300 empty gum wrappers and a brush that looks like someone’s been chewing on it. I finally shoved the purse under the table in front of my feet. Man, I was nervous.
Why was I so nervous? Because from the moment I arrived I was convinced I didn’t belong there. I have not published a book, therefore I can’t call myself a writer. I am someone who wants to be a writer, but I’m not actually a writer. I was nervous because I was believing a lie. Within 10 minutes of the start of the conference, I knew I belonged there. Because I write. Because I am compelled to write. Because my world is unmanageable unless I can write. Because writing makes me feel alive. I am a writer because God has called me and gifted me to write. I want to be a woman who walks confidently, with my head up and not down, in what God has called me to do. I had not realized this had been missing until I attended the conference.
People were starting to trickle in, and soon all the tables filled up. My table had three other women and one man (a nice missionary from Zambia.) We took a few minutes to tell each other our names and where we had driven from. And then we shared what made us “writers”. Two of the women at my table had published books. I talked about my blog and the book that I’m in the throes of writing. By this time I was starting to relax and finally stopped fidgeting with my name tag, which was looking fairly ragged at this point. The conference hadn’t even started and it was already torn and refused to stay stuck to my chest. I got up for another cup of sugar with coffee in it and resisted the urge to just lick the back of the tag and stick it on my forehead.
Finally, they got started, and from that moment on, I was captivated. Each speaker had 20 minutes to download as much as they could to us, and I was their sponge. At one point in the afternoon, a woman got up to teach us to use active voice more than passive voice, and what kind of verbs to avoid. I was taking notes like crazy and looked around to see others taking notes, nodding, all paying attention. Not at all like in math class. Suddenly, I thought, “These are my people. I have found my people.” I was giddy.
One speaker, in particular, was significantly impactful to me. She talked about leaving nothing out. Her name is Jennifer Strickland and she tells her story in a book called “Beautiful Lies“. She talked about having to set the book aside, a lot, because it was too painful to write, and how God finally told her to just close her eyes and write it all out. Every memory, everything…just write her story. She told us that much of her healing came from just writing it all, leaving nothing out. And when she had written it all, then she went back and edited, taking out whatever would have dishonored her husband, her parents, or her readers.
I have been struggling with my book because so much of it is painful, and I’ve hated having to go back and remember those painful parts. So I keep putting it away. When Jennifer spoke, something clicked. During a break in the conference, I got the chance to speak with her, and she encouraged me to write it all out. To go to the painful places with God and don’t stop writing until the story is done, resisting the urge to edit as I write. She assured me that it would be hard, but it would also be healing, and when it’s done, the editing can begin. So that is what I’m doing. And it has been hard. But I have felt God in it with me, listening, comforting. I still have a lot of story to write, and then a lot of editing to do, but it’s ok. I am healing.
I didn’t write this just to tell you about a writer’s conference and the awkward angst that is my life. I wrote this to tell you that your story matters, so stop avoiding the hard parts. Go there. Your healing is in the hard parts with God. Tell it to Him, write it out, whatever works for you, but leave nothing out. Then edit what dishonors.
But mostly, I sat down here to tell you this —
Our stories are hard and pain is written into them. But in every story, God is there. Rescuing. Delivering. Providing. Comforting. Healing. Restoring. Saving. If we keep our stories about us, they will remain hard and painful. But when we make it about Him, our story becomes beautiful and full of glory.
God is the glory in your story.