I went to a writers conference last week in Grand Rapids. For something different, I took the speakers tract as I have been feeling lately that I need to give that part of my ministry some attention too. I have no problem talking in a group of friends. Sorry, but I am “that friend” who is always talking over you. I know some of you, okay most of you are nodding your head in agreement right now. I get it, I’m working on being a better listener and have made some good strides but I struggle because I have so much to say! I can’t help it that God has put 20,000 words a day on my heart instead of the usual 10,000 most women speak.
A few years ago, I quit my day job to focus on my writing and explore where God was leading me. My first week of being home Craig and I ran into a bit of a problem. You see I had about 19,000 words left to speak by the time he got home from work. I wasn't using them up at the office during the day like I had been. So when he got home and wanted minimal conversation for a few hours (really?) we had a minor conflict. I was like a puppy whose master had come home and I was jumping around him. I wasn't trying to lick his face, but I did want to talk. Then talk some more and then talk some more! You get the idea here.
I had to figure out how to use my overabundance of words usefully with others, not just my poor hubby. I figured this conference would be a great tool to learn how to use my words most effectively.
Speak Up (the conference) was awesome. I was kind of in and out due to some other life stuff going on, but I was able to hear some fantastic speakers and get some great tips. I was also able to spend some time with friends I had met at previous conferences and make some new ones as well.
One of the speakers was Carol Kent, in fact she started Speak Up over two decades ago. I've heard her before and am familiar with her story. Which, may I say is fascinating! I encourage you to follow this link to the Dateline story that aired about what happened to their family.
It has changed the trajectory of her life and many others forever. I highly respect this woman and was looking forward to hearing more from her at this conference.
This is what I wrote down from her session: (I wrote down many things but this statement I wrote in all caps.) GOD IS ALWAYS ACTIVE, HIS STORY AND MY STORY ALWAYS CONVERGE.
My mind kept going back to that all weekend. This is not new information, but it hit me hard.
The previous afternoon I'd attended a pre-conference workshop called ROOTS with Anne L. Denmark. This session involved putting together a timeline of your life. I went to this thinking, "I could use this, I need a timeline of my drinking days and into recovery to better speak and write about it." WRONG!
I needed a timeline of my life. I went into this eager and quickly lost my enthusiasm when the session started with a craft. I hate crafts. OK, I strongly dislike them. I am not wired for patience when it comes to this stuff. I like to take pictures of crafts and then send them to people to make them for me. People that are good at it! Oh, I’ll do them if I have to. Kids' weddings, things like that but if given the choice...no. No choice in this workshop though, I had already paid for this and the door was shut.
After getting through the paper assembly and labeling of this so-called-timeline with the help of a new friend (shout out Brandais) the fun began. It was fascinating!! Even though we were only able to scratch the surface of our personal timelines it was well worth the three hours. Three hours that flew!
The instructor asked some hard questions to get us going. We had to look at something we remember from the first ten years of our lives. Her point was, if as an adult something stands out from that age, it is significant. There is a reason you remember it - what from that incident did you carry into adulthood?
So when she pointed at me to share something, I was at a loss. Do I tell the story of how a boy told me I had a big butt in my snowmobile suit in kindergarten? I remember that clearly! I think she wanted me to go deeper though.
Here is what I shared in the workshop:
When I was little (maybe around 9 or 10) I looked forward every Saturday to riding my bike to the library. It was about a mile away and it felt like an adventure each week. My sister and I would go to the library and I would fill my backpack and bike basket with as many books as I could carry. Sometimes we got to go to the library and the ice cream parlor. Even now those are some of my favorite things, biking, books and sweets! Sometimes though there was this dark cloud over this exciting outing. That cloud was in the form of pink sponge rollers. My mom would wash our hair on Saturday mornings and then put sponge rollers in our hair in preparation for church the next day. Most of the time, this happened on Saturday nights but occasionally it happened on Saturday mornings. Most likely if we were having a babysitter on Saturday night.
When I found out these dreaded sponge rollers were going to be a part of my Saturday I was immediately grouchy. I always left for the library pissy that I looked like a freak on my banana seat bike. I always got over it as I got caught up in the excursion. I would forget about the pink rows of curlers on my head as I browsed the aisles of our little town library and made my ice cream selection. That is until I rode past my reflection in a window and was reminded of those darn rollers. Instantly deflating me again.
After I shared this childhood memory with the class, the instructor looked at me thoughtfully and said, "What does that compare to in an adult experience?" I had to think for a moment and then I instantly related it.
I said, “Well, I am an alcoholic in recovery.” Gulp, I hadn't planned on putting that out there right away to this group. I continued, "It makes me think about how many times I dreaded a social event because I couldn't drink. I made everything about the event, about drinking. Not the place I would be or the people I would get to hang out with. The whole event was going to suck because I could not drink. I attend the event with a bad attitude until surprisingly, I would start to enjoy myself. Then I would go to the bar for a diet coke and see all those pretty bottles lined up and I was reminded that I could not partake. The inner child in me reminded me that I was different and should feel ashamed. Instead of sponge rollers making me feel this way, it was alcohol.” Wow, where did that come from? The instructor looked at me and said, “Write that down.” So I did.
This activity helped me to see that my whole life had not been about drinking. There was so much more to me than that! It was a challenge to explore a whole new way of thinking. And I like a challenge - as long as it doesn't involve scissors and tape.
Now I know why I wrote this statement down from Carol Kent.
This is so evident in the two stories I shared. When you spread out your timeline like I did, you can absolutely see that God aligns all things to come together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. That's the best way I can think of to describe his hand.
I’ll tell you something else about this timeline: we had to make it in decades and each decade was represented by an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper. I don't have as much paper left as I would like. It made me see that our lives here on earth are easily reduced to about an 8 feet timeline. My eternity timeline will not end at 8 feet. Pretty deep thought, isn't it? Makes me want to do much more with the 3 or so feet I have left.
Which brings me to my next bold statement I found in my notes from Carol’s talk:
Just when I get all excited with what I am learning and doing, I'm reminded that it is God teaching me all of this in the first place. When I compare the timeline and jigsaw puzzle, I picture it with the edges first. When we do a puzzle, we always start with the edges and leave the middle to fill in. Working our way outward to inward. Giving us the pieces that fit one into another until the picture is complete. Complete means eternity.
My eyes have been opened once again that I have been a work in progress since the day I was born. I am not the four piece farm puzzle I do with my grandson, but more like those 1,000 piece puzzles that we leave out at our cottage for anyone to work on. Where the pieces are all tiny, but in the end make a beautiful picture.
I love watching friends and family linger by the puzzle table at the cottage. Every once and a while someone gets sucked in and works on it for a while. Finding pieces that fit. Then our little Landon comes along and puts some pieces in the register and they are temporarily lost. Just like the puzzle of life. Sometimes the pieces fit because of the love and support of others. Sometimes the pieces are absent for awhile and we have to work harder to find what fits. (Aka down the register.)
That is you and I, my friend. Each little piece of your life, whether it is hard stuff or beautiful periods of life, know this: God has aligned each piece to fit perfectly in your life so that in the end, we are the beautiful picture he has created us to be.
I always felt like when I looked back on my drinking years I had lost precious time. That I lost a piece of the puzzle. Now I know I just had to be patient to see where it would fit. You know that moment in a puzzle where when you put in a certain piece it leads to a whole bunch of other pieces fitting into place? That's how my puzzle looks to me now. Once I found out where that piece fit, so many more pieces made sense.
There are still a lot of pieces to fill in my personal puzzle. I find that a little daunting at times. I am not sure what each piece will bring me. I work hard not to live in fear of any of them when I am handed a piece. God promises me that he will work all the pieces together for good. I trust in that.
Puzzles are like crafts to me. I don’t like them. I’m working on it. I want to see the big picture too badly to not put it all together. I don’t stress about it, God will show me how they fit.
Peace on your weekend, Sherry