A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to write on a regular basis. I started asking authors and friends who wrote a lot how they got started, and they gave me three great pieces of advice:
- Start paying really close attention to life around you; notice and keep notes of what captures your attention;
- Write and then write some more; get something down on paper and then you can play with it;
- Get around other writers; make connections and celebrate each other’s wins and support each other’s dreams for these are your friends.
After a lot of soul-searching, I decided to travel to a Christian speaking and writing conference called SheSpeaks in 2016. Held in North Carolina and sponsored by Proverbs 31 Ministries (an organization I have long supported and been fortunate enough to volunteer with), this conference features fabulous speakers and workshops along with ample time to meet other writers and speakers and share what you’re working on.
There are also amazing worship sessions; opportunities to meet with literary agents seeking new book ideas; and a beautifully appointed prayer room for us to enjoy. I thought it would be a great introduction to the world of writing and all it offered.
Without a doubt, the conference delivered all it promised and far more. I learned so much about the craft of writing; I came away inspired by meetings with published authors I have long admired; and by the time the conference ended, it felt like I had an amazing new group of friends cheering on me and my pen!
After the conference and after a lot of thought, I realized that who I was in my heart didn’t match up well with what I wanted to do with my writing. While the conference had opened my heart and taught me so much, I needed to work on myself in order to be ready for this calling that I felt to write authentically.
Simply put, I wanted to inspire other women, and I didn’t feel consistently inspired. I wanted to encourage others, and I didn’t feel consistently encouraged. I wanted to provide hope and direction to those feeling hopeless and adrift, but if I was honest with myself, I felt hopeless and adrift, too.
So, I took sort of a sabbatical and “did the work” to get my heart in a place to serve others. I won’t bore you with details of what I did (unless you feel the same and really want to know), but what I can tell you is that first and foremost, I went to Him. I spent time in the Word, and I spent time deep in prayer.
We did some serious work together, and it softened and changed my heart in ways I still can’t fully explain, but if you’ve had those moments, you understand exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, let me encourage you to press in harder and don’t give up. He does speak even today, and He wants to speak to you. I promise He does.
When the time came to register for SheSpeaks 2017, I hesitated. I hadn’t forgotten the sense of wonder and joy I came away with from the previous year, and I certainly hadn’t forgotten the cherished sense of community I enjoyed. What made me hesitate is that while I’d worked on my spirit and heart, I honestly hadn’t written much.
I really struggled with how to express the things I felt needed inking. Honestly, I think it took some time to find my sense of worth in Him, and to truly realize that my writing matters. I prayed about whether to return to SheSpeaks and I felt called to go again, so I did.
This year, I promised myself I’d do some things differently. I would go simply to the conference without an agenda. Sure, I signed up for workshops, and was really excited to see what I’d learn and who I’d meet, but my only true reason for going was to find out why He led me back there again.
I went without expectations, and I went with a sense of “space” in me for Him to fill with whatever I needed to learn. I had spent the last year getting my “house” in order, and while it felt good, it had been a lot of self-focus, so it felt good to set that down and back away from it.
I packed the car and headed down to North Carolina again, and I spent several days again immersed in inspiring yet practical workshops, amazing worship, and fantastic fellowship with other writers and speakers. The situation felt familiar and comfortable, and yet something inside me was radically different.
I enjoyed myself so much more this year, and I think it was simply because I let go of expectation and I had that room within me to just listen for Him. There was a peace and grace about my time in that anointed space that is difficult to describe, and the only difference is that I came with uplifted arms and a willing servant’s heart. It wasn’t about me; it was about loving Him and loving other people well.
What I found this year at SheSpeaks was both simple and profound at the same time: My writing must always point to Him. In order to write well, I have to be deeply connected to Him so that He directs my steps and my words can reach hurting hearts who need them most. It’s not all about me. I serve other people based on my relationship with Him.
Notice that I am not mentioned anywhere in that sentence; I’m simply a vehicle through which He can speak to others. It sounds basic, but it’s really easy to forget that in a world where you learn so much about getting your name out there; about creating a platform from which you can market your message; and about you sharing who you are and what you are working on with other like-minded people.
As Lindsey Smith (theological coordinator at Proverbs 31 Ministries) mentioned in her workshop, “If someone comes away remembering me and not Him, I’ve missed it.” Wow. Yes. And so my writing prayer now is for Him to keep me humble and steeped in giving Him any and all glory. More of Him; less of me. Maximizing His fame with my words and actions.
And Liz Curtis Higgs (best-selling author of Bad Girls of the Bible and 30+ other books – holy cow!) encouraged those of us in her workshop with this: “Embrace your weakness, because it glorifies God. I don’t have all the answers, but I know Who does – let’s walk this journey together.” Oh, yes.
What sweet freedom there is in knowing that we don’t have to have it all together – we just have to walk with God and the people around us and let Him lead us all. And so my day is now structured so that I seek Him first and often. My days are a conversation with my Creator, and it is changing everything. I am consciously leaving margin and open space for Him to fill – and He does.
Jennifer Dukes Lee (author of The Happiness Dare and Love Idol) inspired us with this in her workshop: “Tend to the real hearts that read your work.” Yes. This.
Jesus’ true ministry was the person right in front of Him, and my true ministry is to serve my readers to the best of my ability knowing that He is behind the scenes orchestrating it all (thankfully, because I’m a mess without Him). And so my writing now is focusing on loving and encouraging each woman who needs to hear the message He has called me to write.
I learned so many other things, too, but these are three concepts that are firmly written on my heart and in my daily schedule. This is my “why”, and this is what will drive me not only to write and share my heart more this year, but more importantly, to know Him and point those who hurt right to the One who can help most (hint: it’s not me).