Last Wednesday, I left West Michigan for a trip to Chicago to attend the Story conference.
I got my hair cut. Picked out the coolest clothes I could find (my nearly 6 year old helped me). Got a few amazing ladies to help with my kiddos (thanks to Betsy and my Mom). Waited for my ride to pick me up.
I attended the conference with a few of the coolest of the cool. Amelia Rhodes (author of “Isn’t it Time for a Coffee Break? Doing Life Together in an All About Me Kind of World“…pre-order on Amazon!!! Do it!). Kedron Rhodes (designer, snappy dresser, and one talented photographer…he did my head shots). Kim Gottschild (writer and brand new editor in chief of Burnside Writers Collective…check out her Cupcake Countenance HERE). Creagon and Joy Muldoon (newly-wed missionaries who fight human trafficking in exciting and creative ways…I was beyond honored to hang out with these two. Support them financially by clicking on their names…plug, plug).
Now, the best way I can think to communicate this experience is to break it down as much as possible. So. Let’s start at the very beginning…
Day 1 We arrive in Chicago
If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit Chicago…well…friends, get thou to Chi-town (sorry, bad Hamlet joke…you have to forgive me, I’m running on fumes). I get excited whenever I see the Sears Tower come into view (I know…it’s called something else now. But I’m an old lady and can’t seem to let go of things like that). Really, all we did the first night was check into the hotel. But it was exciting nonetheless.
Day 2 Meeting up with “The Creative Class”
We arrived at the church where the conference was held. We were greeted by a lederhosen clad accordion player. It was…ahem…interesting. We got coffee (fairly traded even) and found some seats. And then the creativity flowed.
Sleeping At Last opened the conference with a mini concert. If you’re a huge Twilight fan, you’ll recognize one of their songs. I, on the other hand, was very impressed by the lyrics…and tried to block out the fact that the word “Twilight” was even mentioned.
Bob Goff was next. You might know his name from Donald Miller’s writings. Bob spoke with wisdom about living, really living. With hard hitting ideas like “Our picture is already in God’s wallet” (so stop working to make Him love us, just live like He already does), “We’ve got to stop living symbolic lives” (and live actively and with joy), and “Stop living life like it’s a business trip”, Bob convicted me. He encouraged us to use the creativity that God has given us. To live in creative ways to do good in the world. Bob is a storyteller. I recommend looking him up on YouTube. You will love hearing the man speak. If ever you need a pep-talk, Bob is your guy.
Breakaway Session 1: Inciting Incidents the book was recently released. It shares the stories of 6 contributors who faced disappointment and turning points in their lives. 4 of the contributors sat on a panel for the conference to share a bit of their process. We sat on the floor, ate grapes, and listened. Perhaps the story that moved me the most was from David Hickman who lives with mild Tourettes Syndrome and his years struggling to maintain a false self to compensate. The session, as a whole, caused me to reflect upon the incidents in my life that have formed me.
the Soil & the Sun played us back into a main session. The music was intense. I truly enjoyed them.
In the program, Isaac Rentz ‘s head shot looked like a sleek, thirty-something. Honestly, I thought something was wrong when a hip-hop looking kid walked up on the stage. He talked about his (relatively) young directing career. He makes music videos. At first, he was known for work like this…
But then, without knowing he was capable of such art, he made this video (nominated for a Video Music Award…and this has now become the theme video/song for my current novel in progress)…
Isaac also discussed the importance of artists letting go of the rules that can keep us from doing the work that God truly inspires. Even if those rules are made up by the Christian industry that we are trying to fit into. Create what God inspires. Forget the pigeon holes that humans create.
Surprisingly, the missionary-raised, Beastie Boy looking kid who lives in L.A. and crafts music videos impacted me more than any other speaker at the conference.
Lunch Met independent author Brandon Clements in line at a food truck. Ate deep dish pizza. Got a little bit hit on by a very young guy (he told me my eyes were purple…which confused me…I told him that my hair was mostly gray and that I had a husband and kids at home….which sent him running. And, yes, this is significant. I don’t get hit on often. It was…ahem…awkward).
Mason Jar Music presented a project of playing folksy music in old spaces with great, full arrangements. These guys are smart and talented. Worth checking out. However, I believe that the two guys who spoke (who were EARLY twenties) stole sweaters from my Dad’s 1979 closet. Can someone please explain this to me?
Rachel Held Evans (who I met earlier in the restroom) spoke about her book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” (releasing October 30). Most noteworthy about her talk was the focus on becoming women of valor and not using Proverbs 31 as a blueprint or bullet point. Rather, becoming women of valor with God’s strength and for His glory, using Proverbs 31 as a love poem that encourages and spurs us onward.
Vertical Church Band led us in some worship.
Then…gasp…Anne Lamott took the stage. She is the author of “Traveling Mercies”, “Bird by Bird”, among many others. Anne is as quirky in real life as I expected. She is also full of experience in the writing life. Things I learned; steal pens, have paper on you at all times, share, be kind, ask for help, ask GOD for help, thank God when He helps, you don’t have time to worry about how big your butt is…live.
Day done, my super cool friends and I took off for dinner. THAT, my friends is a story for another day.
Makoto Fujimura is an artist, writer, and all around kind man. I met him the hallway on Thursday. Instead of acting like a crazy person, I just let Kim speak. It is always best if I remember to keep it calm. Makoto spoke to us from Matthew 13. The way he wove the parable of the Sower and the Seed into the life of an artist who desires to glorify God…well, friends…you had to be there. But, the idea is this, the parable isn’t about the seed. It isn’t about the soil. No. The parable is about Jesus. And we, we are the receiver of His seeds. We have only to use what we have to glorify Him. Not out of utility or function. But out of art. Out of praise to Him. (sigh) I wish I could have bottled his words.
Kyle Idleman is a minister at Southeast Christian Church in Kentucky. He is the author of “Not a Fan”, a book about being an authentic follower of Christ. Kyle spoke about not allowing our creativity to become an idol. About how all that we do must point to Jesus, not distract from him. Art does not serve for its own purpose, but to glorify Christ.
Lunch involved a 1.3 mile walk, fish and chips, a grumpy lady, and RAIN! Again. This is a story for another day.
And, no, I was not the grumpy lady.
Phil Vischer passed us on the sidewalk during the lunch break. He said, “Hi, there”. I almost fell over. Bob the Tomato had just said “hi” to me. My kids, no doubt, would be freaked out by that (which, sadly, they were not…ah well). Phil spoke about how his “big thing” (ie. Veggie Tales) had cost him everything. He discussed how he worked on his own, trying to earn God’s love. But, really, he already had it. How now he works day to day, trying to do what God gives him for that 24 hour time. No 20 year plan (“that’s none of my business”). No big one big thing. No Big Hairy Audacious Goal (or B-HAG). He doesn’t want to limit God with his own goals and ideas.
The conference ended with Mocktails (yup…fake drinks), hugs, pictures, and a refreshed creativity.
A renewed purpose. An eager mind.
And gratitude. More than ever, I am thankful for the artsy-fartsy mind that God chose to give me.