A few months after coming home from Hutchmoot 2012, I stumbled onto an analogy for my three-year experience with this conference: Star Wars!
That’s right, for me, the very first Hutchmoot could’ve been called ”A New Hope.” That’s the year Walt Wangerin was my Obi-Wan and through him Jesus placed a stamp on my arm that said “Jedi,” which in the Hutchmoot realm meant artist, and for me specifically, writer. The whole weekend, everywhere I turned I was meeting my people. I’ve never felt belonging the way I did that first year when there were suddenly real life, 3D versions of all the rabbits I’d only interacted with online. There were so many little extra touches which felt tailor-made for me that year. From the artistic, delicate salads to the awkward first introductions to people I’d admired for years. Every session I heard and every note I took seemed like a kiss that came straight from God’s lips and landed right inside my heart. In truth, an angel whispered in my ear one night—out in the field, before the days of the white tent—that the world I’d left behind was gone and this place, these people were my real home.
Enter year number two, when the enemy struck back. I was so excited to come back to Church of the Redeemer, home of the Hutchmoot, just at the end of Rainbow Place. I was absolutely positive that everything would be wonderful once more. I couldn’t wait to see my old friends whom I’d gotten to know even better since that first year, and I was excited about meeting new people and making new lifelong friends, just like I’d done the last time. My expectations were about as high as they could be and that should have clued me in—but it didn’t. The hay rug was pulled out from underneath me, just as my bunny feet landed.
“Ever’ man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but ’tain’t easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life…” —Penny Baxter (from The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)
It’s a somber moment in The Yearling when Jody hears these words from his father, but the situation is bound up at the edges with love, knowing what we do about their relationship at this point in the book—how Penny anticipated the sadness his son would face and tried to head it off at the pass. Jody’s stubbornness kept him from receiving some of that care from his father, but it didn’t stop Penny from still being there for him in the end.
So, what do you do when you find yourself in Jody’s shoes, and all the sad things feel true? Do you have someone in your life who loves you like Penny Baxter? Someone you can reach out to, who will help you see more than what you’re feeling, who can point past all the dark clouds to a patch of clear light? There have been times in my life when I felt like I didn’t have anyone like that but Jesus, and while he’s absolutely the most valid voice one can listen to, there are also times when you’re so far down in life’s holes that it takes an actual physical hand to pull you out.
It may seem contrary to all the old hymns which tell us Jesus is all we need, but the truth of the matter is Jesus made us to need other people, too. Otherwise, wouldn’t we all be living on solitary planets with just ourselves and him?
By the time I was a freshman in college, my Dad had been dismissed from the position of Senior Pastor at four separate churches. This is a hard fact for me to admit. It was even harder living through it. But I did, and miraculously, so did my faith. A few years ago, I started trying to write a book about how it all happened but it’s turned out to be much harder writing than I ever expected. And yet I believe I’m called to do it. Saying it that way sounds so pious to me, but I know no other way to say it. I don’t always believe it either, but there have been a few holy awakenings scattered along the path which help remind me of the truth.
The most recent began on a weekend last September, during Hutchmoot.
John and I were sharing a vacation house with three other couples and ended up sleeping in the kids’ room on separate twin beds. There was a skylight directly above my head, and just before the sun rose that morning, it began raining. I’m a light sleeper, so the steady drizzle woke me up. I lay on the bed watching raindrops splash, scurry, and drag down the glass, and I thought about an assignment we’d been given the day before, during a planning meeting with the rest of the Hutchmoot staff.
We were discussing an upcoming storytelling session. The idea was to open up the floor and let people share their stories, but in case everyone shied away from the microphone, a few of us were to have a tale in our back-pockets ready to go. To stay casual, the stories were supposed to be lighthearted and funny. Well, that certainly limits my participation, I thought to myself, and in my head the voice of Anne Shirley concurred, “I prefer to make people cry.”
There’s no doubt about it, my mother has the gift of hospitality. Enter her house nearly any time of day and you’ll be greeted by the warm smell of something delicious being whipped up in her kitchen, as if she were just hoping someone might stop by. Her house is always immaculate and inviting, neatly decorated and comfortable, and she converses easily with everyone she meets. She just seems to know intuitively how to make people feel welcome.
But I did not inherit my mother’s gifts; most of my talents are from my Dad. I am a thinker, an introvert, and I do not have an aesthetic bone in my body. So imagine the shock I experienced when I decided to stay home and care for my firstborn son. I knew, because of the wonderful care my mother had given our family, how important it was for me to take on this role, but I hadn’t realized how naturally it came for her until one day when I asked:
“What did you want to be when you were a little girl?”
“All I’ve ever wanted to be is a wife and mother,” she told me.
It was not the answer I wanted to hear. Something must be wrong with me, I surmised. And thus began a warped worldview I’ve only recently realized I possessed. Unfortunately, I lumped all of women into two distinct categories: those who were naturally gifted in the domestic arts, like my mother, and those who were not, like me.
One of the best things I heard at Hutchmoot this year came from Thomas McKenzie during the session on cultivating artistic community. “Create content,” he said. Not “write the next great novel,” or “paint a really stunning portrait.” He did not advise us to compose Shakespearean sonnets or Bach-like symphonies. In fact, Thomas made a point of telling us that just because some people are professional artists, does not mean everything else regular people create is cow dung. “Simply create,” Thomas encouraged us. “The community will come. You just have to do your part.”
Every day I live, I must decide if I am still a writer. The way I decide is by what I do. If I sit down with a pad of paper and pen and put my thoughts in paragraph form, I am affirming the name placed on my lapel. If I read good books about writing, I am showing concern for my craft. If I take time to think about the topics I wish to address and if I organize scatterbrained thoughts about my book, I am performing the functions of my calling. If I pray about the words I choose as I sit at my computer screen and type those words into life, I am focusing on the steps as I take them, but more importantly I am taking those steps.
Doubt usually springs on me right after I’ve finished writing. When I sit down to revise, I find myself thinking: You are only thirty-four years old. Who gives a hoot ‘n holler what you think or know about life? Why would anyone want to read your stories of a stay-at-home Mom who’s never published a book, whose life is radically unexceptional? Aren’t you supposed to DO something with your life, or at least live more than half of it, before you can write a memoir? And besides all that, how many days a week do you actually wake up believing everything you just said two paragraphs ago?
Thankfully, and perhaps providentially, I’ve been reading Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. Buechner has a few things to say that have helped me quiet those doubting voices.
One Saturday morning in February, I was reading through several old essays and detected a couple of threads where certain themes held together. I began printing and grouping and by the time I finished I’d come up with an outline for what might be a book of essays. There was one piece in particular, [...]
One of the most meaningful moments at Hutchmoot 2010 happened before the event officially began. There we were, huddled in small, safe groups, smelling freshly delivered pizza, holding tightly to the backs of cushy chairs in order to avoid tripping over ourselves. The tension was palpable, at least it was for me. Many of us [...]
I had the idea a while back to write a post about two of my favorite bands: Waterdeep and Wilco. I like alliteration and alphabetical categories as much as any other former English major, and the comparison of what, in my mind, were two strikingly different groups, with startlingly opposing themes would give me plenty [...]