The same wave of nerves that walked me into middle school somehow made their way back from 2001 to accompany me to the Redbud Writers Retreat.
New to the guild, I felt jittery walking into the first whole-group gathering of the weekend. The expansive room was peppered with small groups of women sharing friendly conversation, but the few Buds I’d met were either occupied or not yet present. I didn’t want to insert myself into a conversation or awkwardly hover nearby waiting for an invite. As I scanned the room, my brain scanned through worried questions.
Where do I belong?
What if I don’t belong?
After a minute of this, I did what any prepubescent, nervous tween with a history of braces and questionable body odor might do. I walked out. Except, I’m thirty-three, traded braces in two decades ago, and am the proud owner of prescription strength deodorant. #Blessed
Back at my dorm, I shuffled around the room, pretending to repack my retreat bag with my itinerary, pens, and pack of gum I carry to mask the coffee breath I also carry. But, the shuffling didn’t quiet how disappointed I was at the way my introverted brain was reacting, or the familiar refrain resurfacing:
I don’t have the margin for this.
For the last 10 years I’ve told myself I didn’t have margin—the time or energy, sometimes the extra cash—to join anything resembling an online community of writers. As a stay-at-home mom of four young kids, my working hours were limited to the margins of my day, and sometimes during those margins I had not a brainwave left to type a coherent thought. With the demand to keep up with social media, reading, writing, researching, emailing, and preparing for speaking engagements, how could I pile on the expectation to connect with other authors on the internet too?
Walking back in
But even though I had little margin for a season, that didn’t change the fact that I craved connection. Respecting time and energy limits wasn’t the only obstacle I consistently faced as an author, nor was it always the hardest. There were also the whispers of discouragement, lingering especially in the loneliness:
Where do I belong in the vast ocean of writers?
What if I’m just a gawky, nameless fish that doesn’t belong?
Thankfully, God satisfied my unspoken desire for connection in the thick of early motherhood, graciously providing local friends who could meet during the day. Our meetings weren’t fancy. I was often bouncing a baby on my hip or keeping fruit snacks flowing for a toddler. We weren’t even each other’s target audience. And it was magic.
Four years later, when my youngest started sleeping through the night and my beloved local writing group moved out of state, my friend connected me with someone she knew already in Redbud. Joining the guild was an answer to many prayers, the timing a symbol of a new season in my family life and work life. Which is exactly what I reminded myself in my dorm during my Introvert Timeout on opening night of the retreat.
In that dim, quiet room, I prayed to God for peace to overwhelm me more than my anxieties. I thanked him for the opportunity to join Redbud after so long at just the right time. I inhaled awe of God’s provision and exhaled acknowledgment that sometimes “yes” answers to prayer can feel a little scary at the beginning too. So scary, you might start thinking things like:
I don’t have the margin for this – the easy confidence to make new friends.
After casting all my social anxieties onto God’s mighty hands in my dorm, I walked back to the large-group gathering at the Redbud retreat. I can’t remember who I sat by. Maybe it was Jenny or Dorcas or Lily or Lindsay or Dorena or Prasanta or Sarah or Lara or any one of the many wonderful sisters I sat next to in that room throughout the weekend. And as time went by, the welcoming atmosphere so intentionally fostered by the Redbud board, planning committee, and fellow members settled my middle-school nerves.
Dorina, the president of the guild, set the tone, reminding me how Mary and Elizabeth encouraged each other in their divinely appointed circumstances. Sherene prayed over my anxieties about this new season in my career as a writer. Dorothy encouraged me that Redbud is a place where you get out what you invest. Dorcas reminded me that we make up a body of writers who celebrate and mourn with each other. A body. Not an ocean of nameless, sometimes awkward fish.
It was like my discouragement was whispering, Where do I belong?
And through the Redbud retreat, over shared meals and conversations and classes, the Holy Spirit whispered back, You belong here with us. It doesn’t matter if you’re assigned to be the smelly armpit or the manicured fingernail. Pull up a chair.
God designed our thriving to be interdependent with others.
Encourage one another and build one another up, said Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians.
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, reminds the writer of Hebrews.
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding, encourages Paul in Romans 14.
Gathering with other women at the Redbud retreat made that real for me again. Uniting with others around the desire to honor Jesus with our creativity established a new refrain:
I don’t have the margin to write alone.