World of Words: My Experience at Festival of Faith and Writing

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

I had the privilege of attending the Festival of Faith and Writing or #FFWGR on twitter hosted by Calvin College every two years. It’s THE literary event and it floods our city with artists, creative, wordsmiths, and readers.

Maybe I’ve mentioned before the power of community to inspire, motivate, and engage people. Well the #FFWGR community is a testament to that power. They are my people. What a sense of kindred spirit.

However, I have a confession and a regret. I’ve considered myself “well read” but even as a voracious reader I found that I had not read anything by any of the numerous speakers.

In the months leading up to the Festival I checked out the speakers and facilitators. Looking at their books and descriptions on Amazon. Visiting their author pages and websites. Hitting their social media sites. All to find, I knew a handful of names and their reputation in the writing world.

Despite having read zero of the represented presenters, I have to say what an awesome event. It was filled with great tips and advice; motivation and humility; and an energetic group of vibrant characters. Did I mention they are my peeps?

Mostly the Festival provoked in me a challenge and a desire to do what I love; to write. I learned that swimming in words surrounded by others who love words as much, is the place I am at my best.

At the end of each of the three days I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from all the interaction and knowledge. I am after all an introvert which means I get zapped by the social parts of life. And still, my mood was high. I didn’t yell at my kids like I do when I get home from working. I responded differently. They experienced a kinder, gentler mom.

Calvin Campus © 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Calvin Campus
© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

Writing is many things. Speakers referred to writing as:

  • Higher calling
  • Stewardship
  • Self-Examination
  • Silence
  • Worship
  • Mirrors and Windows

For me, writing is all of that plus it is who I am. My sanity is tied to my writing. It relaxes me in the midst of hectic life. Writing helps me express what I feel, what I want to see in the world, and how I want to be remembered.

No matter how many times I quit, coming back to a world of words is like coming home. Every speaker and contributor, every participant, and every moment of the Festival was the jumpstart I desperately needed.

My favor quotes and the most tweet-able statements (please keep in mind that the speaker may have been quoting someone else and I didn’t do a good job of capturing that):

The cynics among you have a lot of blah, blah, blah to lay at your feet. Skepticism is good. Cynicism is the killer of dreams. ~James McBride

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.

~Hugh Cook

We give language to longings that have yet to be articulated. ~Sharon Garlough Brown

If you will extract the precious from the worthless, you will be my spokesman. ~Tracy Groot adapted from Jeremiah 15:19

When we choose the right word, it’s worth a thousand pictures.

~Richard Foster

I gave up pontificating for Lent. ~

Silence is writing. If you want to be a better writer, if you want to have things to say, you need to spend time in silence. ~Nathan Foster

Failure is an integral part of success … recognition is earned not bestowed … If I’ve never failed at anything in life, I am setting my goals to low. ~Pam Munoz Ryan

True objectivity is fiction. We all write from a specific social location. ~Valerie Weaver Zercher

What I know about anything applies to everything. ~Anne Lamott

You are so loved and preapproved. ~Anne Lamott

The sacrament of puttering … Laughter is carbonated holiness. ~Anne Lamott

It’s the business of the writer to tell what haunts us. ~Valerie Sayers

Talent is a God-given gift often squandered. ~Valerie Sayers

Writing fiction is like being in your underwear in front of the world.

~Suzanne Woods Fisher

I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing. ~Suzanne Woods Fisher adapted from 2 Samuel 24:24

All fantasy has a happy ending or at least a hopeful ending. ~G. Willow Wilson

Any belief system worth anything should tell an ethical message to all people. ~G. Willow Wilson

As writers of faith, we don’t have to operate with the scarcity principle because we serve at the pleasure of a generous Master.

~Rachel Held Evans

This is not a competition, it’s worship. ~Rachel Held Evans

Sitting in the sanctuary of his words. ~Rachel Held Evans

Amazing right? How can I not face writer’s block and rejection after hearing such statements of faith and writing? Bulletproof comes to mind.

I am still processing all of it. Ruminating.

I’ll tell you what though … since all of you are my peeps too, mark your calendars for the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing.

I hope to see you there!

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: A “Dear John” Letter to a Fictional Character

Dear Baby Girl,

What can I say? Arriving at this moment is surreal.

I thought we would be together for a long time; friends for life.

Our lives are inextricably linked with a common thread …

Eight year old you wanting to escape, finding solace in the pages of a book. Struggling to deal with the loss of your grandmother. Realizing the fate of two worlds rests on your young shoulders because only you can defeat the villainous Red Queen. Fighting the internal battle of the truth that surrounds you or accepting your mother’s beliefs.

And my forty something self, also longing to escape by penning your tale so others can escape into its pages. We’re a match made in heaven.

Yet here we are …

I have other characters whispering, okay shouting in my ear. Waking me from sound sleep and vibrating for my attention. Of course, I’ve denied them till now because I was committed to you. But I can’t deny my feelings for them any longer.

They speak to me in ways you haven’t in far too many months. Six to be exact. That’s not an accusation. It’s a fact. We don’t talk like we used to. Let’s face it, the spark is gone.

I crave the newness that comes at the beginning of a relationship. The “Honeymoon Phase” they call it. I miss that. I miss the excitement and exploration and surprise as we were getting to know each other. I need that.

Still I held on …


Because calling it quits would mean failure. Calling it quits would mean admitting that your story is bigger than my ability to tell it.

I know it’s selfish. I’ve stayed for the wrong reasons. I stayed because I was afraid of not finishing.

This may be cliché but:  It’s not you … It’s me.

After three years and four months of trying to make it work … three years and …

  • Countless reams of paper
  • Megabytes of memory
  • Tens of thousands of words
  • Three journals
  • Hundreds of phone calls and meetings
  • Lots of tears and heartache …

I have to say goodbye.

I have to put you on the shelf and walk away. We’re just holding each other back. I’m sorry. I know I’ll regret this one day.

There’s an old saying:

“If you love something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, it never was yours to begin with.”

Baby Girl … I pray you and your story come back to me. Please know that I love you, I just can be with you right now.

Tell the others bye for me …


Joy Unexpected …

Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn’t want to do but found yourself saying yes? Only to find out that you would have missed something amazing if you had opted out?

That’s what recently happened to me.

I’ve been asked to participate on a committee for our church’s women’s retreat. My first inclination was to say no. Give the excuse that I am operating at capacity and didn’t have room for one more responsibility.

But I said yes.

Then I received the request to travel to the retreat location. The first couple of times there were valid reasons; scheduling conflicts and I couldn’t make the trip. On the third attempt to plan the road trip I couldn’t find a way out.

My excuse I wanted to give? It just happened that I’d had a hectic week and wanted my weekend to myself so that I could rest and rejuvenate. I didn’t want to make small talk or be out in the cold.

And frankly the words “campground” and “cabin” created mental images of outhouses or toilet paper rolls in the woods. I wasn’t always a luxury loving lady but I doubted that I’d made the right decision about facilitating a retreat in the woods.

But I said yes.

I am so thankful I did. If I hadn’t I would have missed out on a beautiful autumn day with two fabulous ladies whom I admire.

And, it turns out “campground” and “cabin” in this location is equivalent to condos near the lake with Wi-Fi and other modern conveniences like indoor plumbing, wood floors, and gas fireplaces. Each condo is appropriately named to entice folks to come for a retreat:

  • Peace
  • Joy
  • Happiness
  • Hope
  • Faith
  • Rest

I need to enter through one (if not more) of these doors. We’ve rented out the first three.

If I hadn’t said yes, I would have missed out watching my friends’ children and grandchildren playing together. Laughing and enjoying the crisp and clear fall day. Seeing the next generation forming relationships did my heart good.

If I hadn’t said yes, I would have missed the spectacular view of Lake Michigan from the gazebo where people may choose to say “I do”. A tribute to ceremony and commitment. I love it.

If I hadn’t said yes, I would have missed these scenic views of the lake. I needed the beauty and serenity of this place. It revitalized me more than sleeping in could have done.

If I hadn’t said yes, I would have missed this quaint little building:  The Prayer Chapel. It’s only tall enough for you to enter and kneel. How amazing and humbling!

And best of all it allowed me to come back and share these wonders. It will allow me to promote the retreat with an enthusiasm and excitement. I am so thankful for the unexpected joy I experienced by saying YES when I wanted to say no.

What are you’re unexpected joy moments? I’d love to hear them.

Photo credits:  Gail A. Hanson

Summer Swan Song

Dear Summer,

Thank you so much for coming to visit. It seems like just yesterday that you arrived.

I am sad to say it but, farewell fun in the sun, fireworks, and family picnics. So long to sipping lemonade, sleeping in, and slip-n-slides. Goodbye going to the park, pool parties, and play-dates. Your favorite activities will be left behind and the playgrounds will be abandoned for a while.

But, we enjoyed our time with you. There are so many wonderful memories. Don’t worry, I’ve enclosed pictures for you.

Remember all the walking we did in the Las Vegas heat. And the littlest dude was sick with strep. That part wasn’t fun but we made up for it by eating well the rest of the trip. The fast food tour of the West coast was worth it.

I loved seeing the family for the first time in five years. WOW. How everyone has grown? Me a little wider. LOL. It was nice to sit and reminisce about childhood. Celebrate graduations and the next phase of life. Soak up some vitamin D on the front porch with you.

I’m so thankful that we were able to stay up late and sleep in. No where to hurry off to. People talk about lazy days and stopping to smell the roses (as the expression goes). Such beautiful blooms to admire, it was wonderful to stop and smell them along the way.

What fun it was to see the sights. Play tourist and buy souvenirs. Like trips to the USMC base, Camp Pendleton, to see the helicopters; the LEGO store; and the children’s museum in San Diego. Imagine an exhibit on garbage and recycling. We learned a lot about taking care of our planet because of it. We won’t forget our time together in California.

The thing I love about you, Summer, is the meals we share. We had a lot of great gatherings; breaking bread and catching up with all of our friends. Chicken and burgers on the grill; fresh fruit; ice cream … making s’mores over an open fire while watching the sunset … all of your favorite smells and flavors.

We read lots of great new chapter books with the boys. And they did some reading on their own which makes me smile. I’m glad it wasn’t all video games and movies. They managed to unplug a little bit too.

We will cherish the laughter and the tears of our trip to Chicago for Comic Con and LEGOLAND Discovery Center. Two LEGO locations, in two different states, during your visit; how funny.

I admit that it wasn’t all good times. There were those moments we had to say goodbye, not like I’m saying goodbye to you now, but final goodbyes to life long friends. People who lived full lives and people who were taken too young. Thankfully, you were here and, we could comfort one another which made it bearable.

Another one of my regrets is that we didn’t really make it to the beach. We drove by several while on vacation, but our feet never touched the sand; our toes never tested the water. Oh well, maybe next time you’re in town we can make that happen.

Thank you for helping us make the most of the season. Now we have new stories to tell; to hold us over until next year. Summer, it’s always hard saying goodbye. We wish you didn’t have to go but it’s time for the boys to go back to school and the rest of us to fall back into our routine.

We’ll miss you … Please take care until we see one another again.

Love Always,

PS. Next year come a little earlier and stay a lot longer.

… And They Lived Happily Ever After.

I love fairy tales and romantic comedies. There is something about a boy-meets-girl kind of story.

Writers and filmmakers are good about letting us enjoy the emotional high of the story. Ending the story with “…and they lived happily ever after.” Fade to black or “the end” with blank pages. Sometimes this line is implied, not stated.

As much as I love a good romance, seeing the moment they knew, no one ever tells you what living happily ever after means. It’s a vague concept that deceives us into believing that everything is rosy. It lulls us into a false sense of security. It tells us that there aren’t any challenges after the issues from the “Meet Cute” to the “Happily Ever After” are resolved.

Every story is packaged in a blue box with a white bow (or something similar).

Don’t be deceived by Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or whichever fairy tale resonates most with you.

Here’s the truth …

After their Prince Charmings swept them off their feet and carried them off into the sunset to the castle in the clouds … A new day dawned and stuff needed to get done.

Someone had to run the household. Even with servants or maids … someone had to supervise all those rooms being cleaned and organized.

Someone had to prepare dinner even if you have a kitchen full of chefs. Someone had to work with the head chef to plan the meals.

Money had to be managed so that the household affairs were in order.

Children were necessary to carry on the royal line. And even with nannies or nursemaids the children are still the responsibility of the parents.

The relationship fires had to be stoked to keep it burning hot. So they had to “show up” in the relationship. They had to learn how to communicate with one another because their filters and upbringing affect their world views.

First fights were inevitable after the honeymoon was over.

The struggles they overcame to be together are indicative of life. There’s always a conflict that needs resolving.  There’s always something. “Happily Ever After” does NOT mean you go through life together without any problem or challenge. They just don’t tell us that part of the story.

 “…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.”

The secret to “Happily Ever After” is compromise, sacrifice, humility, and submission. You have to come to the relationship ready and willing to do these things.

My husband and I are living our “Happily Ever After”. We’ve had (have) our ups and downs. We had times we didn’t think we were going to make it. We’ve learned a lot over the years …

The first two years we were together when we would argue I’d get in my car and go to the store to think about things. I am confrontation adverse in that way. He would follow me to the door saying, “Can’t we talk about it?” Over time we’ve learned that I need a little more time to process and he needs closure quickly so I can’t ignore the conversation. We meet in the middle.

I kept a calendar for paying my bills even if I still paid them late. He paid his bills the day they arrived. Eventually, I decided that it was better to let him handle the bills. I always know what’s in the accounts. We’ve agreed that we keep one another informed of purchases but for the most part … managing money is his deal.

We have different ideas about parenting. One example, he believes in paying for “A” grades. I believe children should do their best in school and that reward shouldn’t be monetary. We find ways that allow both our needs to be met without confusing the boys in our expectations.

We have a mortgage and children. Our time is limited and we’re stretched thin. We don’t agree on everything. We are faced with the needs of aging parents. We have family and friends who need and want our attention. But our lives would be boring without all the struggle.

It’s NOT perfect, but …

I will fight for him and he will fight for me. We’re in this together. We compromise and sacrifice our way to “Happily Ever After” with submission and humility. It can be done. But it takes hard work.

What about you? What’s your definition of “Happily Ever After”? Have you found it?

… They Fall in Love …

My rings including my anniversary band …

On my journey to meeting Mr. Right, I often wondered how I would know who I should spend the rest of my life with.

When I was working retail, I met lots of women who were buying new clothes for their honeymoon or engagement party or rehearsal dinner. These women were so “in love”. You could tell by the way they talked about their intendeds.

What a great pool of test subjects? I would ask these women how they knew that this person was the person they should marry.

At this point, they would get that look. You know the one … Eyes roll heavenward … hand falls on bosom some where near the heart … smile goes lopsided … their breath catches in their throat … they check out for just a moment.

Then they would remember that you’d asked them a question; that you were still standing there, eyes wide, head tilted to the side waiting for an answer.

“I just knew. You know?”

It never failed. This was ALWAYS the response. Always. And I have to say, I hated it! I wanted to understand. I wanted to know the “how”. I needed to know so that I wouldn’t make a mistake when it came my turn to choose a life partner.

They would usually tell me the moment they knew. Like:  “I got on the train to go home and realized …” Or, “I was sitting on my deck having a cup of coffee …”

I would say, “Yeah, but how did you know?”
“I don’t know. I just knew.”

How annoying! As a person who is ruled by her emotions you would think this answer would be reassuring, even appealing to me. But it wasn’t because too much was on the line. My forever was at stake.

So enter my hubby to be … We attended my girlfriend’s wedding (remember I needed a date) and when the weekend came to an end, he drove me to the train station. I found a seat on the train. Waved until he was out of sight. Then was immediately plagued by nausea and regret. A series of thoughts running through my muddled head:

  • Why am I on this train?
  • Do I really need to go to work tomorrow?
  • Do I really need a job?
  • Why am I leaving him here?

That was the moment I knew he was the one. That was the moment I understood the, “I Just Knew” response.

Two months after meeting him, my forever fell into place because I’d fallen in love. It reminds me of the movie Father of the Bride when she says, “I met a man in Rome and we’re getting married.” And Steve Martin’s character hears the words like they are coming out of the mouth of a 7 year old.

Two months after that realization, I quit my job, packed up and followed him across country. My family was a little concerned because this was drastic for me. Chasing after a man?

No promises were made (yet), he’d talked about having a surprise for me. I decided we would play 20 questions … “Is it bigger than a bread box?” He said, “It’s bigger than a tree.”

It didn’t matter what the surprise was … giving up my career at the time and leaving my family behind all seemed like it was worth the risk. And it was.

The engagement ring in it’d talking box …

When I got off the plane he helped me load my luggage in the trunk. I peered inside expecting to see a beautifully wrapped package the size of a small tree. But there wasn’t a gift in the trunk. The gift was the promise to love me for all time. A gift that’s bigger than anything you can imagine. Wrapped in the smallest package:  a ring box, containing an engagement ring. He proposed.

Two years later we were married in a planned elopement. Our families and friends met us in Las Vegas for a ceremony at the Chapel of the Bells. Followed by a reception dinner at the Rio Hotel & Casino buffet.

I am so thankful; I didn’t have to question my decisions. I followed my feeling of “I just knew” and getting to the feeling of “he’s the one for me.”

Fourteen years of love …

Boy Meets Girl …

When Harry Met Sally...

When Harry Met Sally… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Meet Cute” is a Hollywood filmmakers’ term. defines it like this:

“Scenario in which two individuals are brought together in some unlikely, zany, destined-to-fall-in-love-and-be-together-forever sort of way (the more unusual, the better). The way the characters meet in “Serendipity” or “When Harry Met Sally” or at least half the romantic comedies out there.”

That about sums it up.

And I love those moments. I get to experience the trials of romance without having to live through them. Which is what great storytelling is, right?

For a romantic like me it gives me a chance to “fall in love” over and over again.

But did you know that the “Meet Cute” can happen in real life and not just in films or books?

The year was 1998 and I was tired of being perpetually single. Of my friends, I was always the single one. It needed to end.

I was ready for a real relationship. Something that lasted longer than it’s-so-new-and-wonderful three month period. I was determined to not spend another Valentine’s Day alone or as a first date vehicle. I wanted someone to spend my birthdays with and take home on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It’s the year I talked to God a lot about what I was looking for. I even wrote down on pretty stationery the characteristics I was looking for in a man, so I wouldn’t forget what I asked for. I kept my wish list in the back of my planner.

I knew I had to be open to possibilities that my usually particular self would automatically dismiss. And when my girlfriend from college invited me to a weekend long wedding shower event, I knew it was my chance.

My mantra every day leading up to the event was, “I will meet a man this weekend.” While working or running errands, I would play this in my self talk player. Silly, right?

The weekend of the shower I hopped on the train to San Diego … ready to spend time with my friends and finally find a man.

The bride to be took us dancing in the Gaslamp District. I danced with every guy that asked me. Even the guy whose pick up line was, “You know, the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice.” Really?

I gave my number to the guy who offered me his. Call me old-fashioned but I wanted to be pursued. I’m sure he pitched my number after I walked away. I never heard from him that’s for sure.

I smiled and nodded; joked and laughed; my way through a number of interactions. It was great fun because I wasn’t running anyone through my filter. I was just being open.

But when Sunday came and I needed to catch the train home, I was sad. I’d met a number of people but none of them had the potential to be “the one”. I was exhausted from being open.

So when my sister said her husband was bringing a friend home for lunch, I wasn’t fazed. I’d already given up hope. When she said, “Don’t you want to comb your hair and put on some lipstick or something?” I thought sure why not.

My brother-in-law walked in with a guy in glasses. We were introduced. I said hi and so did he. And then I left to get on the train.

I called my sister to let her know I arrived home safely. She informed me that her husband’s friend told her husband, “Man, she was cute.”

Wow! I hadn’t expected that. We’d said barely two words to one another.

With my girlfriend’s wedding just around the corner here was my opportunity. I told my sister, “If he thought I was cute, give him my number and let him know I need a date for a wedding.”

Yeah, leap of faith. I’d given permission for him to call me. LOL. (I know I have issues.)

A week went by and nothing. I called my sister, “He didn’t think I was that cute.” Not that I should have hinged my hopes on this guy. An hour later he called and we talked for almost 2 hours.

He agreed to be my date for the wedding. And we decided we should squeeze in a couple of dates before than, thanks to my sister’s recommendation, just in case we didn’t like each other. I even have pictures of the first date.

Who knew that I’d meet the man I was going to marry in the last minutes on the last day of a crazy scheme I had to find a date for a wedding? Those few moments were just the beginning of our story.

We joke now, 14 years later, about how I did meet a man that weekend. I just didn’t realize he was THE man. And of course my husband tells the story differently … I asked him out?

Consider me thankful for the “Meet Cute” God gave me despite my approach and persnickety personality. Thanks also to my sister who could see what I couldn’t see at the time.

What’s your favorite “how the met story”? Real life or from the movies, it doesn’t matter.