My life is a story of redemption, restoration through grace.
So much of it has laid untold and hidden away because there are those who don’t want to hear that you strayed away from Jesus. They are fine if you never knew Him but this prodigal thing gets a little uncomfortable. Perhaps our churches have more “brothers of the prodigal” than we care to admit.
For years I’ve waited, sitting in the margins anticipating that moment when I would receive permission to speak. Waiting to tell the story of God’s grace and the peace He poured throughout my soul to draw me back to His arms. In my impatience I’ve waited for man’s permission. In the waiting, I forgot.
I forgot that the God who saved and healed me was the One gently tugging my heart to love His creation. To bless the beautiful men and women like me who had drifted away or had never found themselves in His presence with the hope He’s been flooding over me.
For years now, the chorus of voices have risen around me. Songs of grace, mercy, joy and peace cascading over the mountains. As the man made walls of self righteousness have crumbled with every trumpet blow, I find myself stepping out to shine light in the dark places.
I am not alone.
Recently I traveled north with friends to the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference. These are the highlights I carried back home.
It started on a rain soaked Friday night.
We stepped into an old Quaker church, wooden pews glowing under stained glass with balconies jutting out above the already crowded sanctuary. We were weary from the long drive. Our bellies full of dinner at the grocery store deli but our hearts were open, ready to worship.
Beautiful music raised past the rafters as voices of praise drowned out denominational barriers, doctrinal differences, publishing contracts and insecurities. Sitting shoulder to shoulder were novice writers, popular bloggers and published authors.
In that room we were all artists, worshiping the Author of our lives.
The podium was filled over the weekend by speakers sharing their knowledge and wisdom. Most of all they gave us pieces of themselves. The called us into community with courage to look around at others whose audacity was buried deep in the past.
They filled the empty spaces of doubt with a new measure of clarity and strength to keep stepping forward. Building a community, I heard, was far an above more important than building my platform.
As Deidre Riggs spoke of quieting ourselves to listen to the gentle voice of God and to be willing to step closer, I realized that my focus has been to be heard. What I need is to be still and listen.
To build community means to lives alongside others, learning, supporting and growing each other.
When I focus on a platform I see numbers, marketing strategies and analytics. I find myself needing to be louder, wittier, more poignant than others instead of harmonizing the way a community does.
Through the weekend my heart hummed the melody the drifted throughout the sessions.
We were told to merely be present as Tony Kriz asked us to look around and see ourselves in our fellow writers.
Sarah Thabarge reminded us that our stories just might not be finished.
David wrote in the midst of deep pain and sorrow. Paul Louis Metzger brought to our minds the beauty of the Psalms. They weren’t written from a place of happiness or riches but in desperation to cling and commune with our God.
A sense of courage was fostered during a breakout session and personal mentoring with the incredibly gracious Emily Maynard. Her words to me were consistent with Sarah Bessey’s urging to write in the here and now.
Sarah also warned us that strategy would mask our fears and writing without an agenda gave her the freedom to write. In her afternoon session she helped us all see the importance of sharing our words when they come. “There is no hoarding in art” and “No saving the best for later”. We are to put it all out there in the here and now.
Oh how I loved the comparison to manna. Manna was only for that day. We should use it now, not store it up for another time. Manna means “What is it?”.
I want to take the words that filter through my heart, lay it out for my community to be nourished and be perfectly comfortable hearing, “What is it?”
I want to ask the questions: “What is it Lord that you want me to write? Who is it Lord that you want me to touch? How is it Lord that you want me to move forward on this beautiful earth in my messy life?”
I want to say “You Lord, will make sense of it. You will allow the seeds planted to grow and sometimes the soil will lie fallow but it is you I will trust with this gift of life.”
The voice you hear from this place will only strive to be authentic. The piled up drafts waiting for perfection will be discarded or published as is, while my soul still rings through them. I hope you’ll always feel welcome here.
My verse has been and will still be Isaiah 43:19a
“I am about to do something new.
It is beginning to happen even now.
Don’t you see it coming?”
There were more speakers who blessed us with their words and writers who shared a table and meals and laughs. I’m still soaking it all in.
Two days after I returned I was asked to do a Saturday sermon. It flowed out of me like a conversation with old friends. The courage I brought home from that weekend reassured me that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am called to do. Only once did I fight the old “If I mess up they’ll never ask me again” because I fought it with “throw it out there and let God sort it out.”