Friday, September 30, 2011

Seeking the Label

Photo credit: blog.worldlabel.com

Labels...

We are surrounded by them. We are defined by them. And, truthfully, we even rely on them. 

I posted awhile back about how we can allow labels and our own sense of perceived ability can stop us from taking a step of faith or trying something new and potentially scary -- because honestly, we're afraid to fail.

That's not the type of label I'm talking about here...well, sorta. But, I'll explain...I promise.

Imagine a shelf stocked with row upon row of steel cans with all the labels removed and no other identifying marks. Now imagine that in order to eat, you HAD to pick one of the cans off of the shelf -- and that can, and that can alone would be your sole meal option. No trading, no bartering, no givebacks.

As a fervent loather of fish and most aquatic offerings, I would be horrified to open a can of anchovies. Ewwwh...or imagine pate or pickled brussel sprouts (no offense if you like any of the above...I just don't). Anyhow, you can insert your own "eewwww....gross" food item here.

In this instance, knowing exactly what something is makes all the difference.

However, the last few days (and really the last twenty or so years), I have been grappling with one label that both thrills and terrifies me at the same time.

It's what I long to be defined as, yet it is something that also makes me want to avoid any association for fear I might crumble under the pressure.

My label of joy and dread is....

Writer

It's what I've wanted to be since...well, forever. The first time I ever picked up a novel and was transported to a distant land, I was hooked. The notion that people could travel the world, change their life, learn a skill, save a marriage all due to the written word astounded me.

I always did well in primary school in Language. Once I got to junior and senior high, I discovered the joy of research and proving my points and backing up my beliefs and notions. I enjoyed each and every English class -- even the ones that were not so good -- because I got to do what I loved for classwork and homework.

One of my proudest moments was when my dad asked a speaker/writer who was staying in our home to read my senior term paper. I was a bit embarrassed, but curious as to what he would say. I was amazed to hear him tell me how impressed he was by my work and his encouragement to keep at it.

Eventually, I majored in English at college and graduated with a degree. I didn't want to teach. I wanted to write. However, life took different turns over the years as I tried on different hats and careers. I've been hired solely on the basis of my degree and/or a writing sample. However, even some of the job positions I accepted due to the promise of writing seemed to fall through.

A job that consisted of writing day in and day out seemed to elude me. Either we needed the money and I couldn't be choosy or I didn't have enough experience to be considered. How does one even break into the field of publishing and writing? I didn't live in a major publishing city like Los Angeles or New York. I didn't really have the idea or desire to necessarily write a novel. I've always liked the notion of writing pieces for magazines -- infusing some real world examples and infusing them with the sacred, like one of my writing inspirations, Chuck Swindoll.  But, truthfully, I have no clue of how to even make that happen.

So I journaled. I wrote poetry. I traded a bajillion emails with my now husband when we were courting. Friends and family were encouraging.

But then after children came along, all I could do was cope. I am embarrassed to admit I have not completed a baby book for any of my four. I've started journals about their birth and that experience, but have not finished. For a time, it felt like that part of my died. I grieved the loss, but I didn't know how to retrieve that passion and how to redeem the time I lost.

And, then...I found blogging. 

Admittedly, I'm a bit late to the party. But I honestly didn't have a lot of time to spend in front of the computer to write, much less read what others had written. Plus, some of that might have been just me avoiding what I know I would miss terribly.

However, I jumped into the world of blogging and flailed around a bit -- not sure if I should be attempting it and questioning my ability and whether I had a right to be in the blog-sphere at all.

Even my infrequent and inconsistent postings could not quench the joy I felt to once again to be doing what I loved -- and yes, even felt created to do.

So, yes, I was a blogger, but was I actually a writer?

I've struggled with giving myself that label.

And I think as I just typed that, I realize what the struggle has been for me -- "giving myself" that label. After all, it's much easier to accept or take on something when a label has been assigned or given to us. And not all are bad (again, that is another post entirely). I gladly embrace the labels of wife, mother, friend, sister, lover of God, American, Californian, 37-year-old (okay...that one not as much). These are all true. They are all accurate. I am all of these things and more.

However, I think we've all been witness to some pretty horrifying things when people announce, proclaim, label themselves as something either they are not or we strongly question. After all, wouldn't we raise an eyebrow at someone coming into our friend circle proclaiming themselves as a "genius," or "beauty queen," or "prophet."

We've had bad experiences with people who have delusions of grandeur...or maybe just delusions as to what they have accomplished.

So, labeling myself a writer is difficult for me. I would never want to slap that sticker of identification on myself in an arrogant or self-promoting way. It feels awkward because either you want someone qualified to do it (thereby providing the back-up proof) or you have to earn it.

Does blogging earn it?

I publish posts, but I have not been published.

I write....so does that make me a writer?

For now I think that I can settle on the label of writer as being accurate in that it describes what I love...and it does describe what I do...often...with great zeal. As for the "earned part," the I-paid-my-dues or "I got published" label of writer, I am still grappling with that -- because that's more of the who I am variety.

It's who I want to be....so much so that I came back from the Blog Sugar conference ready to take the plunge. I redesigned the look of my blog. I wrote a blog post about my experience and nervously added it to the other bloggers from the conference. I created a Facebook page dedicated to just me as a writer. It felt huge. It felt scary. It felt a little uncomfortable. 

But I realized that if I truly want to be a writer, I need to be...well, a writer. There is no halfway (which is what I've been doing the last 18 months or so). I haven't fully committed. So, now...I'm all in. No holding back. And if I fail and...well, then I do. But, I won't look back and wonder, "what if..."

Interestingly enough..since I've "gone all in," everything around me seems to beg for me to tell a story. It's astounding really. The stream that had dried up to a trickle is now gushing! I don't think that's a coincidence.

So, I guess my new question would be: when does the want of being a writer meet the reality of being one?

And can it be soon?

**********

What's one label you'd like to have bestowed upon you?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Rosy Life



It started about the 7th grade.

Just when I thought that things couldn't possibly get any worse for me as a freaked out junior higher -- they did.

I had spent the first several weeks (maybe months) of seventh grade with constant stomach aches and twistings (I was probably halfway to an ulcer in retrospect) as I tried to navigate the overwhelming world of changing classes, trying to keep afloat in my Algebra class (how did I even test into that thing?), dressing in front of other girls in P.E., and figuring out why all my elementary school friends had seemingly changed into these baffling creatures over the short summer.

Just when I seemed to settle into some sort of rhythm and felt more comfortable in my new location, I started to feel uncomfortable in my very own skin.

I was a late bloomer.

Without going into needless detail and information, let's just say I became a "woman" this year -- much later than most of my friends. And with that ginormous shift in hormones came something all-to-familiar to most women out there...acne.

I was unprepared for the angry red bumps smattered across from forehead, nose and chin. Even looking at the official school photo of myself from that year makes me sad for my 13-year-old self. I didn't ease into adolescence gracefully...I belly-flopped.

Thankfully, my parents were kind and got me into a dermatologist soon after. However, while it did help some, my acne never completely went away.

Nor has it to this day -- much to my chagrin.

I won't bore you with the other things...the addition of a palate spacer that created a Madonna-esque gap between my two front teeth (which she hadn't undergone at that point -- if she had, it would made my cool quotient become existent); braces complete with stretchy rubberbands; never-ending weight fluctuations and issues, etc.

You get the point.

Fastforward seven years later to when I was in my junior year at college. I had moved away from home and was attending a christian university four hours away. Once again...I freaked out with all the changes and cultural shifts that I was thrust into.

Another thing was eerily the same...my complexion was a disaster. Maybe it was yet another hormonal shift into "child-bearing woman years" or maybe all the inner turmoil and nerves I was feeling manifested itself on my face.

Whatever it was, thankfully once again, my parents found and sent me to a dermatologist in the area. This time things were pretty bad. I almost wished for those little clogged pore bumps. This time it was those huge pockets of pain that seemed to be buried deep into my skin. They were more like cysts than zits.

The dermatologist took one look at me and said the word I had hoped and dreaded to hear: "Accutane."

For those of you with flawless skin or who only get a pimple or two, you probably won't be familiar with the joy and agony that is Accutane. Clinicially shown to dramatically improve desperate acne issues, it also brings along a host of other issues while it's trying to murder your blemishes.

Flaking, peeling, cracked skin became the norm and the results of me trying to pancake make-up over the issue created a lose-lose situation. Either I got to expose everyone to the reality of my face of horrors, or they got to see it under a thick layer of foundation that really only made things worse.

In reality, I wasn't hiding anything.

I'm happy to say that Accutane worked and I got to walk across the stage to get my diploma pretty much acne free.

Things were good for a long time. Sure...I still had problems with my skin. I'm guessing that I always will. But nothing like I had before.

I even experienced times where my skin looked great (usually during or after pregnancy...those darn hormones again!)

I could live with it.

Until....

...the "R" word.

R-o-s-a-c-e-a.

Once again, I was tossed into the tumultous sea of "skin conditions." What I thought was just a "pregnancy mask" with my third child -- and thereby ignored and didn't get diagnosed -- wasn't that at all.

With horror, I watched the right side of my face on my cheeks turn red...and then slowly spread across my nose and to the other side.

When I finally stumbled into the dermatologist office and got the diagnosis that I dreaded but expected, I was blown away. In my research on rosacea on Web M.D., I had discovered that it was a skin condition that the medical community still didn't fully understand. One thing they all agree upon is that there was no cure -- and once the condition has progressed, there was no going back to "clearer waters."

A Rosacea suffer can look forward to redness and heat on the face (as the blood vessels constrict), broken blood vessels, bumps and acne, and the best of all....a bulbous nose like W.C. Fields.

Who wouldn't want that last little gem...am I right?

In fact, it can be so bad that 74% of rosacea sufferers say they have cancelled events due to their appearance.

Causes are not limited to sun exposure, spicy foods, hot beverages, intense exercise...even avocados! This is pretty much the sum of my life and non-negotiable if I were to be honest. Who wants a life without trips to the beach, kick-butt salsa and guacamole, outings at Starbucks and running with my friends?

The treatments include: multiple expensive laser treatements; antibiotics (sometimes for the rest of your life!), facials and chemical peels, prescription topical gels and creams, and expensive cosmetics to counteract the redness and cover it.

With a family on one-income, and therefore money too tight for most of the treatments listed above, you can imagine that this is not a condition that any sane woman would sign up for.

Let's just be honest here.

We women struggle enough with self-esteem. We know all about feeling inadequate and like we don't measure up the world's standard of beauty.

Over my life, I have come to an honest self-assessment that I don't have a classically pretty or even necessarily cute features. My oval face can seem looong if I wear my hair in certain styles. My nose was confused as to whether it wanted to be a cute Hayley Mills upturned button, or a longer Julie Andrews type.

I've had someone study me for a minute and pronounce that I had "an interesting face" and then ask me if my people were from Scandinavia. (Which of course, I took as a compliment!)

At this point, the lack of, or addition of features that are looked on as beautiful doesn't really affect me. After all, I think we all come to the realization that we were given what we were given. There is beauty in every face...it's a compilation of our parents and our ancestors...right there in the mirror every day.

There was a long stretch of time where I would never ventured in public without "my face" on. Foundation covered up any imperfections or uneveness in my skin tone; eyeliner helped to somewhat define eyes that have a tendency to disappear (especially when I smile); lipstick helps bring some color to my face, etc. However, once children came along and sleep was few and far between, waking up early enough to "beautify" became less appealing. While I definitely feel more comfortable with makeup, I got to where I could venture out without it, if need be.

And, since I very much esteem inner beauty over the outer, I have become comfortable in my own face over the years (my body is another story for another day). So, at age 35 when I heard the "R-word" pronounced over me and my face, I really struggled.

Part of me wondered why I had to suffer yet another skin condition, after enduring a lifetime of it. I felt like I had given and was currently giving my dues in that area.

Why the face -- one of the epicenters of a woman's identity and sense of femaleness?

Would I really end up with Mr. Field's ginormous nose and how would I possibly not scare away my grandchildren (by the way, a wart condition on my nose would really seal the deal of terrifying)?

Mostly....I just felt sorry for myself.

I tried to cheer up by reading that many refer to rosacea as the "Irish skin disease" because it usually is found in those with a fair and/or red-headed complexion. Since I love Ireland and all things Irish, that was a plus...sorta.

I tried to convince myself that the guy at the gym who said, "dang! Your face is really red!", was actually concerned about me potentially passing out, rather than being dismayed at my sweaty blushed up face.

I tried to reassure myself that all the work I had tried to put into "beautifying the inside" would now be called into play.

I even gave myself a mental reality check -- listing all the other terrible diseases and fatal illnesses that I could have instead.

I know all of this.

Yet, honestly...it really sucks.

Just as I've gotten more comfortable going makeup free, I now have something else to cover up.

Rosacea is my "thorn in the flesh." I don't yet know why God allowed me to have it, and why He doesn't just heal me of it (I've asked). I'm definitely sure that it isn't to keep me from vanity about my looks -- because I honestly don't have that struggle.

Or, do I?

Hmmm...just because I am not "model flawless," doesn't mean that I don't struggle with vanity. The reality is that I think about myself altogether too much.

I do know that having rosacea makes me all-the-more determined to make sure that what's inside of me is what shines out of my rosy-cheeked face.

And maybe that's a thorn worth keeping embedded.

What's your thorn?

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If you enjoyed reading this, check out related post(s):
http://www.mosaicmomma.net/2011/10/my-god-wink.html

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Heather vs. Holiness



At this stage of my life -- 4 rambunctious children under the age of 9, our small "bungalow," the joys of making a life on one income (by choice so don't feel too bad for me) -- it's hard to get some quality alone time.

Actually, I should qualify that....quality alone time in my house. Women's retreats....great alone time. Flight to Branson without the family...alone time galore.

But there's something about being the momma of the house that makes it virtually impossible to disappear to do something (read, blog, go to the bathroom) without somebody coming to look for me. I know I'm not the only one who literally has to lock the door to keep little people from constantly coming in and interrupting.

So, instead, I get to hear constant manuevering of the door handle and pounding against the hollow door and repeated, "Mom! Mom? Moooommmmm....are you in there?" As if I popped out my bedroom window screen and snuck out to the backyard to hide out (okay...so I've thought about it).

So now you get the picture of what I am dealing with...and if you are a mom too, then you have your own picture and certainly don't need to look at mine.

Flashback to yesterday....

As with most days, a good portion of the afternoon was eaten up by homework time (which everyone loathes, with me at the front of the line) and repeated distractions of food, bathroom needs (or not...I question some of those "urges"), and what the younger brothers are up to....again, you get the picture.

On top of it all, I knew that rehearsal for my church's worship team was that night at 6 p.m. and I needed to get dinner started and finished a bit earlier than usual. Added to that was my husband's fervent desire that he go to the "Guys' Movie Night" that had been on the schedule for weeks but for which he had neglected to secure a sitter -- full-well knowing that I had rehearsal that night of the week...just like I always do...ahem.

I digress....

Family members were unable to babysit, and so at the last minute, I called in our "nanny" to save the day (I just like to call her that....she's really our preferred sitter, but that sounds more glamorous).

After figuring out that I would need to leave the house at 5:40 with all four kids fed and dressed in their pajamas to pick her up and take her with me to the church to watch the children there, and being informed that my husband would be leaving at 5:30 p.m., I started getting a little crazy.

Dinner became "Leftover Night" -- a.ka. "wow...look guys you can have ANYTHING you want...as long as it's strogonoff, spaghetti, lemon chicken or bacon!" As the clock ticked closer to 5:30, I realized I hadn't learned the song that I was supposed to lead that evening in preparation for this coming Sunday. Granted, I only received it 24 hours before, but that didn't mean I wanted to fumble around on the mic in front of the entire band.

So, I told my husband I needed a few moments alone, grabbed my iPhone and earbuds and ran back to our bedroom to learn/practice in peace.

Yeah, right!

As I tried desperately to listen to Kari Jobe bust out a beautiful performance to Gateway Worship's, O The Blood, and learn the words and phrasing, I had just started to sing along as child after child busted in to ask me a question, or ask me to help them to do something...you get the idea.

Which led to a sad comedic episode that went something like this:

Me: (Singing the chorus) "O the Blood of Jesus washes me...."

Child #1: "Moooommm! Hadley is kicking me...make her stop!"

Me: (Gesturing to her and making a shoo-ing motion out the door) "O the Blood of Jesus shed for me..."

Child #1: "Well, are you going to doooo something?"

Me: (Making "mean mom eyes" at her, while drawing my finger across my neck) "What a sacrifice, that saved. my....

Child #2: "Mom...she's lying! My leg just kicked out on accident!

Me: "It's the blood....

(Child #2 kicks Child #1 for good measure when she thought I wasn't watching)

Me: (Screeching) "Get Out! Get out, GET OUT! I need five minutes here.... (and then coming in on)...."my victorrrryyy."

Me: (Attempting the last verse with the soaring vocals at the end) "O what love, no greater love..."

Child #3: (Walks in with a Gogurt in hand and shoves it in my face) " Want Some!" (he's 2 years old)

Me: "...grace, how can it be" (to child #3)....."go take it to Daddy!"

Me: "Yet in my sin....yes, even then...."

Child #3 (Shoving the Gogurt in face again) "SOME!"

Me: (Primal scream out to my husband for help!)

Child #4: "Mom...where's Daddy?"

Me: (Realizing he's gone, gone gone without letting me know) "Arrrrghhh! Forget it!"

O the blood is right. Don't think I didn't catch the irony of singing about being "in my sin" as I was threatening, shoving, passing off my children.

It's crazy; it's hilarious; it's my life.

But my underlying point is that sometimes holiness is hard. I really did want to enter in and worship to that amazing song. The reality of what Christ did for me on that cross stuns me; it humbles me. I wanted to cry....for about 30 seconds...and then I wanted to cry because I was not allowed to do so!

In my desperate attempt for "a moment with God," I ended up becoming a fire-breathing, evil-intented, insane woman who was about as far from holy as you'd want to be.

That's the juxtiposition that most of us live with each day. As the band, Stellar Kart epically sings, "we were meant to be part of something Holy." I absoutely believe that. However, the world in which we live is most often anything but. We don't get to live in a convent surrounded by penitents who pray and worship all day. We rub shoulders with sinners. We *are* those sinners.

It's that tragic struggle that keeps us coming back to Jesus. Because without Him, we're just raving lunatics throwing socks and underwear from the laundry basket at our children so they will get the idea that they need to vacate the room.

I probably should have just given it up in that first 30 seconds. Holiness would have said, "this isn't going to work. I should have done this earlier. The worship leader will just have to understand. I'd better go mediate the kung-fu kick battle (even thought it was the 5th of the day) and feed my little guy his tube of yogurt."
But Heather didn't want to do that.

I had some repenting to do in the van en route to pick up the sitter -- some apologizing to do as well.

In the end, it all worked out. With that 15 minutes of drive time and the 20 extra minutes we had once I realized that I rushed to rehearsal 30 minutes too early (it's always been 6:30...getting there so early and in a crazed mood just shows how frazzled I was), we all had plenty of time to sing along with Kari.

Thankfully, the last thing I got to hear before we all exited the van was the beautiful true refrain,

"It's the blood....it is my victory."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Finding My Voice



I had no idea what was in store for me yesterday.

At 8:10 a.m., I found myself picking up a friend of a very close friend --  someone with whom I've probably chatted for about 10 minutes total face time with some Facebook back and forth here and there -- in our faded-blue-painted '98 Corolla with the intent of driving down to Westminster for a blog conference called, Blog Sugar.

I was a touch irritated because I forgot my cute grey ruffled sweater that matched so nicely with my outfit (I just knew all the girls at the conference would be dressed amazingly).

In addition, I was a bit mystified and yes, a little nervous about what I had signed myself up for because truthfully, I really didn't know.

My friend, Lori, a talented photographer and owner of SnapCandy Photography, and I connected a few different times at a mutual friend's events -- finding that we both have a lot in common. We both have 4 kids, enjoying being creative and would readily admit we're "not that mom" (to quote Meg Duerksen, the author the "Whatever" Blog).

The lovely and Gracious Lori
A few months ago, I caught a random Facebook post she wrote about going to a blog conference and whether anyone wanted to go with her. I immediately thought, "Me, me! I want to go!" So, I rashly posted that I was interested. She gave me the link to check out the conference and what I could discern about it (a blog conference for women) seemed interesting. However, the price of the tickets snapped me back to reality and I sadly told Lori I couldn't swing that expense. She graciously offerred to give me the ticket if I'd be willing to pay for the gas to get down to the conference and so the date was set.

Fast forward until two days ago, Saturday night. Things have been pretty crazy busy and I hadn't really kept tracking with the conference or done much more investigating. Figuring I should probably at least make sure I knew where I would be driving, I checked the blog site and got my first surprise -- the conference was faith-based! Yay! (I'm not sure how I missed that the first time around.) The second was that this was a VBD (very big deal). Somehow I dropped the ball by not cluing into this amazing blog world and getting to know and read all these amazing women bloggers. I started to feel a bit unprepared -- like I had homework due and I didn't know it.

Yet, because of the reason I said yes in the first place -- I long to express myself creatively through writing that challenges and makes a difference -- I set forth with our family's well-loved back-up vehicle, pen and paper, laptop (which I never cracked open) and a large amount of coffee.

I picked up Lori and we waved goodbye to her husband and some of her kids (I could see him thinking, "do I *know* her?" Which the answer to was, "no....no you don't!") as we made our way to the 99 freeway and southbound!

Now you might think that two women who have a lot in common but really don't know each other all that well might find a 4-hour car ride challenging. That would not be the case. The hours flew by as we talked about everything and anything. It was a great refreshing soul cleanse from the crazy of both of our perspective households and lives (no offense the hubs and kiddos, but having a break is always good for everyone!)

We arrived relaxed and ready for some cooler temps (it's been in the 100's here) and coastal breezes. We settled on hanging out at Seal Beach. After walking to the end of the pier and me gagging on the smell of fish and relaying my fish fears and aversion to Lori, we headed back to Main Street for some lunch.

Along the way, we happened upon an unusual site, two men playing the blues out of the back of an old beat up truck. Somehow, they got a grand piano in there (sans legs) and affixed to a crossbeam across the truck bed. I kept picturing how odd of a sight it would be to see that truck rambling down the road or freeway (especially with the musician at the keys!)

You never know where you might "find your voice."

After perusing various restaurants, we settled on Beachwood BBQ. We decided to share our prospective sandwiches --I got the special - Pork Tenderloin with Garlic Aoli sauce on a pretzel bread bun...mmmm and Lori got the bbq pulled pork sandwich. Both of us were inspired by the food and the row of retro black and white photos of family life from the 50's/60's.

When we ate until we couldn't anymore, we decided to drive down PCH a bit, which turned out to be not very much when I got my times confused between the dashboard clock (which is set 20 minutes too early -- I dunno...ask my husband about why that is) and the actual time. We ended up heading over to the conference in Westminster and arriving half-hour early.

As we got out of the car, we were confused by the confluence of some young teens skateboarding around this concrete area, some older young people singing acapella at the top of their lungs and...bag pipes?

Upon further inspection, the concrete area was a war memorial and not a skateboard park. The young Glee-sters had disappeared, and the bag pipes were getting louder. As we walked over to the conference area, we realized that the police station across the street had a band that was practicing...you guessed it...with bag pipes. It was so odd to stand there at this pink and orange embellished area and hear some kick-butt piping. In a good way.

While we enjoyed the ambience, Lori and I got our photo snapped. Love my glasses, hate my hair. Such is life...


After photo time, we got to know our gracious "photographer", Angela, better. Co-owner of Cuckooface, a blog devoted to fun and funky hand-sewn designs, Angela was there to learn more about how to blog effectively and spread the word about her fabulous wares. She showed us the purse she was carrying and we oohed and ahhed over the craftmanship and were impressed when she told us she had made it. We were even MORE impressed when she told us she had whipped it up the night before.

After checking in to the conference with our new BFF and getting our oh-so-cute pink Blog Sugar bags and swag, we mingled and enjoyed the beverage bar, appetizers, cotton candy bar and the "photo booth." Then we ventured inside to the amazingness that was the meeting room.

Can you tell I'm enjoying using my Hipstamic app?



We scoped out the best seats (middle section, very back table next to the dessert bar!) and got to looking through our itineary and oohing and ahhing over the table decor and our "favors. Lori and Angela are both very "in the know" about Blog Sugar and many of the "celebrity bloggers." They would squeal and point and say, "oh my goodness...oh....my.....goodness." It was fun to watch, but I felt a bit left out (darn me and my crazy ol' schedule/life and neglectfulness of doing my "research!")

Photo courtesy of Lori...thanks!
And then the fun continued as ladies began to filter in and fill up the remaining seats at our table, we continued the oohs and ahhs and business cards started being passed around (I've never seen such cute, impressive, sassy business cards...well, ever!)

See what I mean?
I started to feel...well, inadequate. After all, I was honestly thinking about trying to write a last minute blog post on Saturday night to justify why I was coming to Blog Sugar. After all, I hadn't posted in weeks. All my good intentions of writing every day and posting with consistency had fallen apart. My cards were...not so cute. I held back from sharing them or even telling my tablemates what my blog was about. I felt like a fraud in the face of all that precision and artistry.

I dragged that with me to my first session led by Sarah Markley, creator and writer of the blog The Best Days of My Life. I felt a bit lost since I didn't have any frame of reference about who she was or what she wrote, but after a quick introduction, she got into her session topic, "Carving Out Your Niche."

And then...amazement.

Since Sarah is also a writer and that is what her blog is about (rather than crafting or selling a product or many of those things combined), I instantly connected to her as she talked about story and community and especially about understanding and knowing your own Voice.

It's something I've grappled with...why I'm blogging in the first place and all the questions that come with that like: shouldn't I just be content to write all of this down in a journal and leave it at that? Why share it in the first place? Am I arrogant to think people might want to read what I write? Will I like it or need it too much if they do?

All of that sorta faded away as I listened to Sarah describe her story and her notions of the power of words and the change/challenge they can affect -- beyond what you may ever know.

It reminded me of why I love to write. Her sharing of how she longs to communicate "grace" in everything she posts. How much of what she posts is out relationship and how vital, messy, imperfect, necessary it is to us and how to navigate it. I completely get that. I feel the same way.

I left that session with a lot to think about.

I came back to our table and pulled out my business cards and handed them around the table. By then, it felt "safe" there because I think we all had the sense and comraderie that we were all from different places, but had the same spirit. There was so much encouragement and genuine rooting for success for each one. I couldn't help but to dive into it. So, we did that as we enjoyed our dinner.

And, then....it was dessert time! Our table location paid off as we sampled amazing goodies such as: salted caramel rice cereal treats, decadent dark chocolate truffles, raspberry lemon tartlets and more!

It's okay to drool...we did!
The tarlets on the right were my fav, along with the truffles!
And then it was on to the remaining two sessions (both were great!), and then....a poignant presentation about the conference's featured ministry, Love146, whose goal is to end child sex slavery and explotation. When the video ended, there was absolute silence and many tears as the hearts of all of us women were broken over the horror that is more prevalent than we could ever imagine. I greatly encourage to watch for yourself and become educated about the issue and to please, please give!

And then....the last presentation of the night...the keynote speaker, Meg from the blog, Whatever. By then I had understood that she was a VBD in this blog circle and so I sat back and waited for the pearls of wisdom drop. And they did...just not in the way I had anticipated. She was so real, so transparent and so broken. It was so evident that God had been doing something in her heart, life and blog. Her message was one of obedience and understanding that the "blog life" is not about us...not really. It's all about God and it's for His glory and His purpose.

And on that note, Lori and I gathered up our stuff and said goodbye to our new friends and got ready for the four hour car ride home.

Me with Angela (Cuckooface) and Brittany (A Handcrafted Home)
And as we left, I felt it....that kinship. The sisterhood of the redeemed. There really is nothing like it. All those insecurities had ceased to be under the amazing power of acceptance and grace.

Lori and I chattered all the way home, swapping things we had learned from our mutual sessions, and how we hoped to apply it in our blogs and in our lives. It may have been 2 a.m. on the clock, but it was exactly the right time on God's divine appointment calendar.

I feel so blessed to have been able to go, to have met so many amazing women, to be affirmed and encouraged that what I have to say about my experience and my view on life is just as valid as the next bloggers (famous or not ;) ), that my husband let me "play hooky" all day and managed our crazy household solo....I am thankful for it all.

I'm praying that God would lead me (and this blog) where He would want it to go. Whether 1 person reads it or 10...whether it's just me expressing who God made me to be...it doesn't really matter in the end.

I'm finding my Voice...have you found yours?