In a few weeks I’ll be attending my second writers conference in a distant city. There’s nothing like a gathering of like-minded people to stir your enthusiasm and propel your purpose.
As I reflect upon that first conference in Dallas two years ago though, I can tell you little about what I learned as a writer. What I do remember is the front porch theology and validation I received. A dear friend, whom I had not seen for over 25 years, tenderly held my soul and peered deeply into my thoughts as if there were gold to be mined. She listened, without judgment or reservation, to what moved me and kept me awake at night. She looked long and deep. And I felt valued, because in her actions I saw the magnified grace of God.
Isn’t it true that each of us hunger to be seen, to be heard, and to be known like this?
Hannah Brencher wrote a delightful memoir entitled If you Find this Letter. As a twenty something single living in NYC, she wrote encouraging letters and left them in hidden places to be found by perfect strangers. In one such letter she wrote:
…do me a favor and know the truth: You’re worth it. You are absolutely, unbelievably worth it and you were made for mighty things. Keep pushing on. Keep pressing. Don’t let anyone in the wide, wide world ever try to snuff out the light you bring.
The letters connected to the common hunger we all have for significance. In Hannah’s journey to help others feel known and valued, she actually found her own purpose.
I’m convinced that we need more intimate conversations like the one I had with my friend. Less talking at each other and more talking with each other. Focusing less on how to fill the silence and more on being present.
And yet, there is weight to presence. This means we have to turn off our cell phones, ignore texts, and accept an incomplete to do list. It’s a priority of people over plans.
In conversations, I frequently look for those common threads to connect me with others. Before you congratulate me, let me confess that often those efforts are about my own comfort. But just maybe sitting in the quiet mess of life together is where the magic happens even when your life looks nothing like mine. Validation and significance are cherished gifts when offered to each other.
Maya Angelou once said,
“They may forget your name, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
I enjoyed not only a conference that year in Dallas, but a feast. I consumed that which could not be taken on a fork or filed in a notebook. What I tasted was so much more.