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, " 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 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" 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, 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 doesn't really matter in the end.

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

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