I was asked a few months ago to teach a class at the SNAP Conference in Utah. I was humbled, honored, and mostly nervous. I’d never taught a sewing class before. The sewing class went great and I’ll share more about that project another day because that would be a huge tangent from this post.
So I went to the conference. It’s my third year attending (even though I missed last year). Dana had asked me a while back if I would share a room with her. I was like YES immediately. Then a few days later Dana asked if I’d mind if Katy and Delia stayed with us too in the room. I started to have some anxiety….staying with three girls I really didn’t know that well when usually I stay by myself?! This is one of those instances where you should always say YES. Even though it’s crazy and outside of your comfort zone. And I said yes.
The first night it was just Dana and I. We stayed up until 3am catching up and talking about what we’d been working on. The next day Katy and Delia showed up. I’d never met them in person before. And I had reservations about sharing the tiniest bed ever with someone I’d just met, and a bathroom with three others, and what kind of pajamas do grown women wear because I just wear an old t-shirt and yoga pants to bed?! Katy and I ended up sharing a bed and I think the funniest part of that first night was realizing we had identical gray t-shirt and black yoga pants pajamas. It’s funny how you think you know someone from reading their stories online…but you truly don’t know someone until you’ve met them in person. Even then, you might not really get to know them. What I loved about getting to know these women is that it was so effortless to hang with them…and I learned so much in just a few short days.
A bunch of us decided to go late one night to meet a few other local bloggers at a restaurant for dessert (women who also blog but hadn’t attended the conference.) Anneliese had the idea to come up with questions and we would go around the table one by one and answer them. We went around the table one by one and answered the same question. First: How did you meet your husband? then What did you do before you started a blog? The answers were very diverse but there was one trend….every woman at the table was Mormon. Except for me. I joked that somehow I had infiltrated their group.
I told them how years ago two young men had come to my door and had tried to tell me about the Book of Mormon….but I must have been their first door….because the pitch was horrible. I made them come in the house and try again. After they’d had some water and cooled off, I interrogated them: Who would send you here in the middle of summer to knock on doors? Don’t they know it’s 115 degrees? You look nice in your suit but it’s just too hot for that kind of clothing this time of year. Did anyone in this neighborhood even open their door for you? Half the neighbors leave for the summer…for good reason..it’s TOO HOT to be outside. We need to get your introduction nailed down or no one is going to even hear you out. You won’t make it a week out here! Here’s my number you call me if anyone give you a hard time okay? And they were the nicest kids. For the longest time I thought about them and that I should have just asked them to come by a few more times while they were in the desert to hear them out…even if I was just practice for their mission. I always wonder where they are now.
Anyway, as we went around the table telling all of our stories, everyone’s stories (except mine) involved something Mormon-specific. It got to be funny because someone would mention BYU and I would just feign surprise. You went to BYU? You met your husband at BYU? You are Mormon? I’m shocked! But there was so much I didn’t know about the Mormon/LDS church and each person would consciously stop and explain some name or term they used, before I even asked. It was like they didn’t want me to feel left out. I didn’t expect it…but hope they know how much I appreciated it. (Christie, Jessica, Danielle, and Cheri too!)
So on the last day of the conference I sat in the afternoon pondering which afternoon class I should go to, but all I could think about was the temple. I wanted to see it, and maybe pick up another Book of Mormon (because somehow I lost the one the two young men had brought me.) At some point I just stopped pondering….and walked straight out the side door of the hotel.
It was cold and rainy and I had little more than a thin hoodie to keep me warm. I literally froze solid waiting for the train to arrive. Once on the train car I asked a woman if I was headed the right direction. She said yes. She told me she was going to the homeless shelter for the night. I saw her eyeing my hot pink “SPEAKER” badge. “This is your stop,” she said a few moments later. The door didn’t open and I stood there like an idiot. She got up from her seat and pressed some magic button that opens the door. “I’m a train newbie,” I said to her. She just smiled and said “You’ll be an expert soon.”
Getting off the train it was windy and my umbrella began to come apart….literally in pieces. I wasn’t sure where I was going so I ventured into the building labeled “Church Museum.” (if you get to Salt Lake go through the museum, the history of the church is fascinating and the artifacts in the museum blew me away). I told the lady at the front desk that I only had about a half hour to see everything, so maybe she could plot out the must-sees. She motioned for a man named David to come over and asked him to give me a quick tour. I’d walked in with another family and the husband said to me “It’s all true.” I didn’t know how I felt about someone trying to warn me that “it was all true” before I’d even had a chance to doubt…but I liked his enthusiasm. I think I really walked into the tour like I’d won the lottery.
I got the VIP tour and I began wishing I had more time. I asked David, my tour guide, question after question. I was literally glued to every detail. So much of the Mormon religion I already believed for myself without even knowing. And I was truly, deeply interested in this common thread that all my new friends had.
After the tour I thanked David and went on my way with my map of the church campus. I ran across the street (I think I jaywalked…I’m bad at navigating city-life) through the iron gates of Temple Square.
I stood in front of the temple (now drenched from the rain) in awe, with my half broken umbrella. The tabernacle was closed due to rehearsal but I could hear the muffled singing of the choir and suddenly it dawned on me that I’d actually left a conference, traveled by train and trekked through the freezing rain to see a temple I couldn’t even go into. And when normally I would have felt anxiety about missing something or the appearance of having bailed…I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be. I just stood there for a few moments. I thought about the woman who was on the bus headed to a homeless shelter for the night, who had helped me find my way. I thought about the effort that went into this temple and the trek to Utah and Salt Lake City by this group of people over a 100 years ago. And I thought about the persecution. And I thought about my new friends and how they had embraced me as a non-Mormon. And my soul took a huge picture of it all:
True spiritual experience often begins in those instants when your soul takes a picture of things. -Rob Bell
This is definitely not the conference recap post I ever expected to write. I could post a gazillion photos of the fancy decor and the sponsor booths and myself standing with famous people….but I didn’t really take any photos. I could sit here and tell you what an amazing time I had at the conference, how many amazing people I met, how much I learned from the classes etc…but I won’t do that because I skipped some of them and I don’t want anyone to know whose I skipped. Honestly, I think I somewhat checked out for some of the time because it was as if I was going through this identity crisis: who am I? what am I? where do I want to go with all of this?
I think conferences can be intimidating if you let them be. It’s easy to start wondering where you stack up against other blogs. And at blogging conferences people don’t naturally ask you your name…they ask what your website is, as if that’s who you are. It’s a strange phenomenon. The other thing is that people gravitate toward small groups….because that’s just human nature. We are looking to connect. It starts to seem cliquish but I don’t think anyone means to be that way…you look for where you are comfortable. I do try to wander but it just starts to look like I’m walking around aimless and lost.
Another reason blog conferences can be intimidating: there is a lot going on in the blog world. And you start to look at the class list and attend classes and you realize you aren’t doing anything right. Your page views are low, you should be monetizing things to bring in income, you aren’t utilizing social media, your photos stink, you need sponsors, sponsors etc etc….it’s all overwhelming if you look at it like that. But I think that’s why I checked out a little….I had an epiphany:
I create my own path.
Ok maybe it’s not a huge epiphany for most people….but it was for me. It’s way too easy to compare myself to others and start feeling like I need to be doing what everyone else is doing. I always feel like I’m so behind on the trends and the social media and it all just makes my head hurt. And all I really want to do is write and share and support others. This quote is written on an 8 foot tall chalkboard in my office….this is my vision for each day….and when I’m focused on so many other peripheral things I probably accomplish this 10% of the time, or maybe that’s generous:
Noelle Pikus-Pace spoke at dinner one night at the conference. She told some great stories about the Olympics….one ending with the moral:
Where you look is where you go.
It stuck with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the minutia I kept getting bogged down in.
Even though I didn’t take any photos, I did happen to be in a few photos…like this one of my conference roommates and my friend Anneleise. Anneleise offered to take me on a tour of temple square…which is what planted the seed. (She was going to a funeral beforehand and I wasn’t quite ready for a Mormon funeral.) I think I met my match in Dana for asking questions….she’s really inquisitive and I love that. I threw just as many questions back at her because she used to work in the film industry and, well, I’ve seen every movie ever made (or at least 92% of them). Our best discussions were about opportunities we’d walked away from recently because our hearts weren’t in them. It was so refreshing to hear someone else’s perspective on choosing what is right for you personally, despite what the industry thinks is the trend. I learned how Katy grew up with artist parents and it really opened my eyes to what Boo might be experiencing. And I loved hearing her talk about her children (I secretly wish I’d been named Olive or Divine)…and I think she just makes me want to be a better mother all around. Katy brought us all honey in a hand engraved jar she made…she’s embarking on a beekeeping journey (I think that’s what you call it). We talked a lot about zero waste lifestyles and I’m inspired to focus on treating the planet better. (so inspired that I bought the book Zero Waste Home on my phone while we were talking) And Delia…just the sweetest. Over lunch one day she told Dana and I that both of her parents are deaf, something she really hasn’t ever shared publicly.* It really uprooted me. I think I said “that’s amazing” a few times which wasn’t what I meant. It’s just that I can’t imagine a childhood with two parents who live in a world of silence. I still can’t. Hearing her talk about her experiences growing up put me through this range of emotions I can’t even begin to describe except that I felt awe, grief, curiosity and reverence all at the same time.
*I talked with Delia about sharing this multiple times and she was okay with it. I wouldn’t just share a detail like this.
Before my phone starts ringing off the hook I should clarify that I’m not converting to Mormonism (at least not today). I don’t like putting labels onto things. I’ve been non-denominational pretty much my whole life until I became a member of our local Presbyterian church last year. I love the people I’ve met there but I’ve had kind of a hard time with the direction they seem to be heading. I think I feel most comfortable just being on my own, feeling like I can attend any church and any denomination at any time. Most importantly: I remain committed to Christ. I think that’s all that matters. My friend Shivaun bought me a subscription of Give Us this Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic. She visited a few weeks ago and picked up the March magazine off my desk. Well, I can see you’ve enjoyed the March readings. It was STILL in the plastic mailing sleeve. Embarrassing. But, I DID open the April Magazine. I read it today and the reflection is on the Way of the Wind:
In the face of uncertainty, it takes honestly and courage to acknowledge our dependence on God. […] We never fully know where that life comes from or where it will take us. The scene from the Acts of Apostles is a beautiful example of what happens when a community dedicates itself to this gift of hope. The disciples of Christ sold their property and laid it at the feet of the apostles. They gave their possessions, their land, and their lives so that they could be utilized in whatever way the Wind wanted. They allowed themselves to be swept up into the turbulent and hopeful life of the Spirit. They were born again from above. -David Farina Turnbloom, April 29th Give Us This Day**
Oh my gosh. YES. That’s what I want. I want to allow myself to be swept up in the turbulent and hopeful life of the Spirit. And let my soul just take picture after picture.Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m going at my own pace (which is sometimes BACKWARDS….yes). In just a few shorts weeks (literally ONE MONTH) I’m leaving everything I know behind and moving to the Hemlock Inn for our year’s adventure…and I’m excited to just be experiencing, writing and sharing about it all. I want to spend more time engaged with readers and supporting the other bloggers and writers I’ve met along the way that have always supported me. I decided to start Storyline this week. It’s all about creating a life plan. I’ll let you know how it goes but I already feel back on track. One day I’ll figure out what I’m going to be when I grow up.
For now, when I focus on what I feel is true and real….I am doing what is right. And where I look…is where I go.
**I should also note that I am not converting to Catholicism either (at least not today).
P.S. I realize I skipped my weekly letter last week. I’ll resume this Friday. You can sign up for the weekly letter here. That’s all it is…a weekly letter from a friend to a friend. I don’t send out anything else. You can read a sample here.
P.P.S. If you get a chance today just go and meet a few of the women I am so thankful to call my friends. I’ll share more links later. Just don’t want to overwhelm you today. Thank you!
P.P.P.S. I haven’t had a chance to write about American Blogger yet because I wanted Brett to see the whole thing first. I had a chance to talk about that a lot over the last week with women at the conference. The movie is now available and the Lettered Cottage has a great post up today….much better than I could ever do…so I thought I’d just link to Layla for now. Yay for linking ability : )