L to R: Cara Meredith, Ashley Hales, Heather Caliri, Caris Adel, Tammy Perlmutter, Emily McFarlan Miller, Nicole T. Walters.
The Festival of Faith and Writing in April was extra special for us. Most of us were meeting each other for the first time, after a year of building The Mudroom. In that time some of us had experienced deep depression, overwhelming disappointment, loss of loved ones, career setbacks, parenting and marriage stressors. We walked through it all in community, alongside each other. Facebook messages, group texts, and prayer chains kept us connected. The foundations had already been laid and now we could enjoy each other in real-life, among other people of faith who shared our loves and longings. Here are some reflections on our time at the Festival.
Nicole T. Walters
A lot of people went to the Festival for different reasons–pitching books, connecting with agents or editors, learning, and presenting. I wanted to learn from the great wisdom offered and I certainly did. I have been typing up the copious amount of notes I took in the sessions, have a list of books a mile long I want to read, and came home with ideas for stories brewing.
But mostly I went to the Festival to see the online community I have built in the last year of my life become flesh, and I was not disappointed a single step of the way. When these people whose work I have read and whom I have written alongside became more than bio pictures on a screen, I was encouraged and comforted.
We read these words on a screen and we idolize those who write them. We place other writers up on a pedestal and feel like frauds among them, full of fear that our words don’t stack up to theirs. Or we doubt if we will ever have the success in the writing world that they have had. At the Festival I sat with real men and women who are just as scared as me. We shared stories of success and failure, doubts and struggles. I realized we have the same hopes and fears, faith and doubt inside all of us.
The excitement is over and the work of continuing has begun but something has changed for me. When I sit here at my computer in this often solitary pursuit of weaving words into something meaningful, I now know I am not alone.
The Festival of Faith & Writing was a revelation. Under one conference roof sat philosophers, poets, professors, bloggers, authors, and writers. I met with publishers, two professors from my undergraduate college, author friends from around the country and many faces I had only known online. It was like a backwards high school reunion, picking out avatars and profile pictures and seeing them in the flesh in front of me. But all these people were a part of a great tradition of both faith and writing. It was like all my best selves arriving under one roof and I was free to be a mama, writer, and a lady with a Ph.D.
What struck me most was the generosity of so many—of Mudroom friends, of SheLoves
contributors and my Redbud Writers Guild
sisterhood. We were real people, not trying to climb some ephemeral ladder to publishing, but saying that we belonged to each other. More than anything, at FFW, I felt at home. It the generosity of speakers — like Sarah Bessey who didn’t bat an eyelash when I ran up to her and hugged her even though she didn’t know me — that moved me. We’re all traveling this odd and beautiful road together, some are just farther along. There is no cool table.
I had a ton of meetings and events and the days felt too full for all the soul-digging that was probably required. But one of my most poignant moments was walking alongside a little pond on campus at Calvin College. I raised my hands to heaven in prophet-like prayer and gave the wordsmithing all back to the supreme Artist. I asked him to make a path, to hedge me in and behind, and I’m beginning to see my words unfurl. Now, it’s time to get my butt in the chair and do the hard work.
What I didn’t expect was to be welcomed so eagerly by these same people. Readers, writers, Redbuds, and publishers alike lavished praise and encouragement on myself and the Mudroom. It was nothing short of astounding. Every interaction I had was shot through with meaning and depth, leaving me feeling like I was being named, blessed and commissioned over and over. I was overwhelmed by grace. I was showered with love and appreciation, I was thought about, pursued, included, seen, and heard. I existed. Women prayed over me, anointed me with oil. I had to walk away a few times to gather myself when I wanted to cry. I couldn’t take it all in.
With every introduction and invitation it was like God telling me, You are loved. You are enough. You matter. I wish more than anything I could remember all the words of blessing spoken over me. They were powerful and grounding. Two words kept coming to mind, Live loved. That’s my calling. To live like I am incredibly loved by God.
At one point, during a session, I was daydreaming. I saw myself earlier in the day, in the Prince Center exhibition hall, talking to someone. I was present, engaged and happy. I was me at my most vulnerable and most welcoming. God told me, This is who you are. This is your deep well. Connecting, building community, lifting others up. This is the real you, and every word these women have spoken is true. Live from that truth.
At our Renew & Refine retreat, Ed and I prayed over each person, looking them in the eye, and saying, “Natalie, you are God’s beloved, and his desire is for you.” Every time I prayed over someone it was like God was hammering those words deeper and deeper into my heart, You are my beloved, and my desire is for you.
I skipped a lot of sessions and planted myself at The Prince where I could just walk around and talk to people, not editors or publishers, just people. And that is what I took away from the Festival. The gracious and extravagant women I met. As I was saying goodbye to a friend, she said, “You bring community with you everywhere you go.” Another friend kept introducing me as an “amazing, fantastic writer, who has known suffering.” It was the best introduction I’ve ever been given.
I am still processing what God did to me there and I know I’m not the same person I was when I registered. I’m going to live like I’m truly and deeply loved. Hold me to it.
For me, the Festival was a surprise. I went expecting to feel less-than, anxious, and oppressed by comparing myself, by my introversion heightened by a crowd of people, by the stress of pitching my work. Instead, what I felt was gratitude. Gratitude for the real relationships I’ve forged that strengthen me and my art. Gratitude for the hard-won accomplishments and confidence I’ve gained with my craft and my voice. Gratitude for the book project that is literally decades of fear and oppression transformed into freedom. Gratitude for the inspiration of so many other artists who take their craft seriously. And gratitude for the incredible generosity of other artists who share what they’ve done and help me figure out how to make my own work better. Writing isn’t easy, and being in community isn’t easy. But to discover that sometimes they give these incredible blessings is a joy.
The writers at The Mudroom are committed to creating community wherever we go. We’re committed to hard conversations and always making more room. Stay tuned for more great words in May and we have a special surprise for you in June! Don’t miss out—subscribe for the latest in that box on the top left.
Fog rolled in last summer, hovering outside my window above…
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