Two years ago, I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing as a presenter, along with Bromleigh and Jenn and Erica, my beloved clergy writing group. Ben and the girls came along to hang out in Grand Rapids. On the drive home we daydreamed about being able to return in 2014 without the girls, thinking that it would be a perfect first getaway. Thanks to Grandma, we really did it: three nights and four days on our own. Well, "on our own" with 3,000 fellow writers of faith.
It was so good. For my writing and for my faith, for my marriage and for my friendships.
I tracked down my notes from 2012. Two of the things I highlighted made me laugh. First, from a session on building a platform, "Please be a normal person. Don't be car salesman. Be who you are. Don't be creepy weirdo stalker." And second, from a session on the tricky bits of writing memoir, a quote from Jennifer Grant: "I want to be a person who is being excellent to the people in my life." I laugh because I must have succeeded in being a relatively normal, non-creepy weirdo stalker person, because I'd had two thoughts when I heard Jennifer Grant say what she said about being excellent. I thought: me too! I want to be a person who is being excellent to the people in my life! And I also thought: I want to be a person in Jennifer Grant's life. And lo and behold: I am now a person in Jennifer Grant's life! And a bunch of other amazing writers, many of whom are also part of Ink: A Creative Collective, which debuted at this year's festival. I am pinching myself that I get to be a part of this talented group, not only as a colleague but as a friend.
The Ink debut was a highlight, but only one of many. I laughed hard with old friends, and hugged new ones for the first time. I revisited favorite restaurants and had some truly holy conversations. I talked about building bridges of Christian Unity with a dear conservative Baptist friend while actually standing on a bridge. And I heard some speakers who delighted and inspired me (particularly Luci Shaw, Rachel Held Evans, and one I'd previously never heard of, Sharon Garlough Brown).
My writing and my faith have been in an appropriately Lenten place lately. There's a lot of unexpected shifting and stirring and upending in my heart, all of which has left me feeling what I've described as "holy sadness". It's not a bad thing, exactly, except that sad doesn't always feel good, even when it's holy. I'm starting to sense that Easter is coming. Not that I'm going to skip past Holy Week, liturgically or otherwise. But I have some new hopes for my writing, and feel as though I'm on the cusp of actually parting with some of the fears and - dare I say it, sins - that have shallowed my spiritual life.
Case in point. Before the Festival, I'd been thinking that once I actually got around to blogging I would write a post revisiting that old topic of pastoral and writerly identity. Sharon Garlough Brown, in her session on "writing as the beloved", said this:
"I get nervous when people identify themselves as a writer or pastor. Our identity is that we are beloved children of God." S Brown #ffwgr
— Chris Schoon (@muddiedprayers) April 12, 2014
I'm just going to say it plain: I really needed to hear that. It's a pretty amazing thing to come away from a big fancy literary festival astounded by the simple fact of God's love for me. It changes everything in my life because it changes me.