Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
I arrived at the Declare conference with a book proposal in hand. Two days later I would have my first meeting with a publishing agent.
But on this first day, I came into the Texas sanctuary of limestone with rough-hewn beams and black bolted hardware, and slipped in near the back. It was a pre-conference workshop about writing a book with Melanie Dale. On this day, I didn’t know a soul, but welcome was in the air.
I sat down and said hello to the women around me. I introduced myself. One with a beautiful smile said her name was Jackie. She patted the spot on her row and said, “Come on up here and sit.” There is nothing like an invitation to sit closer. I slid into the oak pew next to her.
By the end of session one, we were kindred spirits. God knows we were before we ever laid eyes on each other. I think He’s always weaving souls that way, don't you?.
My longtime friends, Leslie and Maureen, arrived wth lunch and I introduced them to Jackie. It was silver and gold for me. Leslie and Maureen are childhood friends. Leslie and I were college roommates, in each other's weddings and have kept in touch over the decades since.
Each night while everyone retired to a hotel nearby, Jackie went home to her husband and two young children while I spent the night with my eighty-four-year-old mother-in-law. We were all straddling two worlds, but met in the middle each morning to raise our hands in worship, taste the sweet goodness of God and chase our dreams.
That has been a lesson for me over the last few years, having my feet on solid ground in two worlds. For me those worlds have been silver friends and gold ones, Oregon and Texas, being mama to big kids at home and Jojo to two two-year-old Wonders, a suburban life and my work with sexually exploited children in the city at Door to Grace.
I have often tried to bring my feet together into one place, but God is not so simple. He loves crossroads. He says, "Just go and I will tell you when you get there". Two worlds. As believers, we are always straddling the realities of our faith and those of everyday life where things are full of not-yet-ness.
At the Declare Conference, there was an overall feeling of solid ground, not that we all had the same experiences, but that we stood together on the Rock. Perhaps we all had just the experience we needed for just this moment in time, though my guess is few of us felt that way.
I remember telling Jackie the moment I met her and she lean over and whispered, "I'm behind", that she was most certainly not late or behind in her dreams. Though I don’t think she had written a single word on a blog or book or spoken a small word outside of her family, she was right on time. I needed this reminder too.
There was no elevated stage at Declare. It was the nature of the venue, but I think it was integral to the design of the conference. All was common ground. We were learning together, newbie and seasoned communicator, dreaming of writing and published author. The speakers stood on the same ground we did and sat humbly at our tables. It was always a surprise who would rise and come to the front to speak.
The sponsors were honored, celebrated and given little moments to share sprinkled throughout the days. They worshipped right alongside us. It was healthy and refreshing to hear many of their backstories, and their second stories too. I was particularly touched by Ann’s personal story of Save the Storks, a non-profit mobile medical unit supporting abortion-vulnerable women and Pregnancy Resource Centers.
Author Sara Hagerty opened the conference that first night as the keynote speaker. I had just read her new book, Unseen, and was completely smitten with her heart. She wrote as a mama to six of embracing the small and ordinary tasks of life like folding laundry and scrubbing bathroom tiles. She said that eighty percent of life was hidden and that same eighty percent was the part that shaped our souls.
Sara was learning to ask God what he thought of her small life.
She told us that there are two or more stories in every person. There is always a backstory. David had one in the wilderness of Ziglag. I have one in Texas and Iran. I have one as a mama of little kids and now of grown up ones. The backstory is strong, but the second story is stronger. Some of its redemptive strength is that it is built on the backstory.
The second story we can cultivate with God. In the second story, we must listen to the real Jesus. We must look up, not out. The real Jesus was a lover more than a worker. She said something that rang in my ears long after I was in bed for the night. She said,
“Lovers will always outwork workers”.
Shout that from the rooftops.
Sara told us she was trying to look God in the eyes and be known by Him, to let God look her in the eyes and be seen by Him above all else. In Sara’s second story, rather than looking to the world for her identity and worth, she was asking God what He saw when He looked at her. God, what do you think of what I just did?
As mamas of babies who need every little thing until the day is gone, it is easy to let our dreams slip through our fingers just to attend to the day. We may originally think it will only be for a few years, but it can easily stretch into a decade or two. We can look up and those dreams seem gone forever, never to be seen again. Of course, we love our children dearly and yet can still feel as though we have lost ourselves somewhere along the way. We may love our choice to cut back or lay so many things down for a season, and still feel the price was just so steep.
Sara’s wisdom for us was that love gets forged in our weakness and our waiting. Her reach for Jesus was her second story and that reach came from a broken place. Oh, what a word for us mamas. It can feel like such a fine line, a razor edge really, between the call to sacrifice to smaller things and the answering of a call to what we think are bigger things.
I felt it as a young mama, and you might be surprised to know I still feel it years later as a Jojo. That thin line is never as comfortable as we one day think it might become. The fear that life is passing us by has a sharp edge to it. It can cut us down or if we are paying attention and attuned to the Spirit, we can let that sharpness cut down between marrow and bone, precise and purposeful. We can pass between two pieces of two worlds, letting the tension rest on Jesus the bridge.
Sara’s challenge to us was to start small and go to God first, asking Him, “What do You think of what I just did?”. Sara left me with the solid idea of shifting my deep desire to be seen from out to up. Look up to be seen.
That will shape a soul.
And so will most all of what surprise speaker Mary Wiley, Marketing Strategist for a publishing house, had to say.
I hope you are writing down what God is telling you.
God came into view because Moses was inadequate..
Test your writing/ministry/ideas with your audience before you publish.
She was darling and bright with moxie and wisdom. Her "Top Ten Ways to Publish and Without Losing your Soul" deserve it's own post and made me want to hug her neck. Which I did, while pretending to get food.
Later, I did meet with a publishing agent and present my book proposal. It wasn’t fireworks and sign on the dotted line. Yet, I knew in my bones it was time to risk sharing it with a professional. And I learned a few good things. It was a real step into the not-yet. I could sense that me and my work were seen by the One who matters most, and in keeping with having my feet in two worlds, by a few others too.
The thing about honey is that it takes small, sacrificial work to create it in the honeycomb where things might be hidden and tedious for a good long while. But then, in waiting and weakness, a sweetness pours forth that is rich and healing and right on time.
Whatever we are working on, or better, is working on us, it is worth all the smallness and hiddenness. Like this rainbow that arched over us one day in a small out-of-the-way place called Grapevine, Texas, we looked up and were seen by big eyes. So are you.