I went to a big conference this past weekend with a friend. Three things were awesome, and one was funny.
Awesome thing #1: The morning keynote speaker. Back when He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not first came out, Shaunti Feldhahn was one of the few Christian authors willing to blurb a memoir by someone she’d never heard of. I don’t even know who sent her an advance copy, but she read my book (or had someone on her staff read it) and gave a lovely, encouraging quote for the cover. On Saturday, I got to thank her in person, and that was pretty awesome. I mentioned how unusual it is for Christian authors to support each other in this way (I’d say 99% of my author friends are in the mainstream publishing world and we all do everything we can to champion one another’s projects, believing, as they say, that a rising tide lifts all boats. One of my dreams is to see more of this in the world of faith-based books.) When I mentioned this to Shaunti, she told me the story about she sent a copy of one of her early books to powerhouse author Beth Moore…and then received a call from Beth telling her how much she loved the book and cheering her on. “Since then,” she said, “I try and do that for others when a book is really good.” Isn’t that cool? And if you haven’t read her before, Shaunti’s insights on how men and women think and approach things differently is INTERESTING stuff. This is my favorite of her books.
Awesome thing #2: The second speaker, Valorie Burton. She spoke on positive psychology (something I’ve been on a kick with lately) from a faith perspective, so as subject matter goes, she kind of had me at hello. She was so fun and upbeat, and I loved how she pushed back at the ways we sometimes look to God saying, Can’t you make me happy? Why don’t you make me happy? when God gives us a lot of free will and tools we can use to be happier if we’re willing to make that choice and put in a bit of effort. I especially appreciated her points about how we don’t get far in life unless we cultivate self control: She illustrated this by describing how, when she was working to pay off her debt, she needed to put down the pretty dresses she’d see at the store, and get herself out of the mall. She needed God’s help to do this, but she had to make the choices: to ask, to walk away WITHOUT the pretty dress, and to believe that reaching her goal would make her happier than a new piece of fabric hanging in her closet. I took tons of notes in her session and am looking forward to reading her book & checking out her free online Happy Woman Test.
Awesome thing #3: Ruth Graham gave a workshop where she opened by saying, “I know you’re all here to hear a talk about forgiveness, but I’m going to pull a bait & switch. Today, we’re going to talk about LONELINESS.” A bunch of people left when she said this, and wow, did they miss out. I’ve never heard anyone give such a real, candid, and hopeful talk about loneliness, because let’s be honest: talks about loneliness are often given by pastors who aren’t lonely, but want congregants to go meet neighbors who might be lonely and bring them to church. This was different. Graham spoke about LIVING loneliness, and how she works to not be lonely. She talked about how hard it is that even though 60% of people in church in America are single, and most of us spend the majority of our years single if you count the years before marriage and the years after the marriage ends in either divorce or death, churches often focus on family life as the most/only important season. But she’s cultivating this season of her life with a goal to live it with excellence, looking to God for cues on what that means. “If you’re single right now,” she said matter-of-factly, “It probably won’t be forever. It’s just a season. So we should do our best to live it excellently.”
I LOVED this approach. She wasn’t overly emotional, or stridently demanding that she and others change anything or accept their plight. She was just like, “Well, here I am in this unexpected season. Let’s make it interesting!”
You’d think a talk about loneliness would be a downer, but just the opposite was true. In a conference were almost every speaker, performer, and workshop presenter tied Christian womanhood to having a husband and children (almost every speaker opened with some version of “So, how many of you have kids?”) Ruth Graham came and said, “I see you, and God sees you, no matter what relationships you do or do not have in your life right now.” What a gift.
One Funny Thing: There were probably 1,800 women at this day-long conference, and there was no real plan to feed us (other than two people frantically cooking hot dogs at a concession stand.) So the conference organizers sent us all to the hospital across the street, suggesting that we eat in their cafeteria. Isn’t that the funniest thing you’ve ever heard? We dutifully went over, and the cafeteria was lovely…and absolutely emptied of all food within three minutes. We were like locusts swarming through. I grabbed some chicken tenders because they were the last protein I could see – I don’t even like chicken tenders, but let me tell you, in that moment, they were delicious :)
Here’s what I learned from this: if you’re going to blow something, like not having a food plan for 1,800 women at an all-day conference where you expect them to act like Christians, blow it in a way that is both EPIC and kind of FUNNY. Because at least then all those hungry women go home with a good story to tell in the following days. So for lunch…they sent us to the hospital…