I sat on the edge of the bed, weary from the 12 hours I spent in my car driving the first leg of a 16-hour trip from Massachusetts to Illinois. My body longed for rest, but my mind wasn’t ready to settle. I was too excited for the upcoming Redbud Writer’s Retreat, a couple of days spent with women from across the country, many of whom I’d never met in person.
My mind bounced between questions about the retreat and the drone of the movie as I unpacked my room.
Who would I connect with? Who would I recognize? Who would remember me? How would my publishing appointments go? Did I bring my one-sheet for my meetings?
A song broke through my meandering thoughts,
Don’t you forget about me
Don’t, don’t, don’t you
forget about me.
I glanced up as Becca, a character from “Pitch Perfect,” watched the 80’s cult classic, “The Breakfast Club,” a film that defined a generation in their search for identity, belonging, and acceptance. As a GenXer, I thought back to my high-school years, searching for belonging alongside Bender, Claire, Allison, Brian, and Andrew.
I paused my unpacking to watch Becca wipe away the tear that slid down her cheek as Bender strolled across the high-school lawn and fist pumped high in the air.
Classic 80’s rebel inspiration, and I felt every note.
Good stories do that, don’t they? They touch a felt need and stir something deep within. A passion. A longing. A desire to reach for something beyond themselves. When writers who believe in Jesus share their stories, they inspire and spur us toward life transformation.
A Sense of Belonging
I arrived at the retreat a couple of hours early the next day, giving me time to settle, look around, and process my expectations for the two days these 60 or so women were together—the time we were together.
I struggled to add myself to this mix of intelligence and skill I had already witnessed in these women online, often hovering near the edge of the group, much like I did in high school. Redbuds wasn’t new to me: I’ve been a member for about 7 years. Even so, I struggled to connect and break past some invisible wall I felt stood between me and everyone else.
I often felt like Allison from “The Breakfast Club.” People don’t usually know how to respond to me when I share what I write about—the grief and sorrow I experienced after my daughter died in a fire that destroyed our home. As a result, I often felt like an outsider, sometimes misunderstood but highly awkward around the Claires I watched getting publishing deals and podcast invites.
But for this retreat? I hoped this would be different. I sat on the couch and waited for other women to arrive, silently praying to connect with anyone, even if just one.
Writing is often a lonely occupation and responsibility. You sit in front of a computer or with pen and paper in hand and “open your veins and bleed,” as Ernest Hemingway once wrote.
Sounds fun, huh?
But when we who write experience God’s compassion or consider an insight into Scripture that burns deep unless it’s set to prose, we feel God’s pleasure, as Eric Liddell aptly put it in the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” which makes the work and pain worth it. Usually.
I only sat alone for a short time when another long-time Redbud member walked by. Catherine joined me in the circle of couches, chatting as we caught up on each other’s lives. Soon Jenny joined us, and then Stephanie. Finally, I met a new member, Lindsey, who lives one state away from me. We chatted about life and midlife and caught up like old friends.
One after another, other women arrived, and the din in the room grew loud with chatter as women who had never met before in person greeted one another like longed-for family.
I don’t think I stopped smiling that first night. There was joy in the room, a sense of connection and camaraderie. My prayer to connect with at least one was already answered by many.
But that’s how God works, isn’t it? When we offer him what little we have, like the young boy with the 5 loaves and 2 fish in John 6:1-14, He takes our meager offerings and multiples them so all who receive are satisfied and there is an abundance left over to share.
That night was merely a taste of what was to come. With each conversation over the following two days —at meals, before breakout sessions, even standing in hallways—I bore witness to God’s abundant grace as each woman shared her good story and spoke hope others needed to hear.
When Sarah spoke of her mother, God whispered healing.
When Vina encouraged me to do one hard thing.
When Liz offered insight into narrowing a book’s audience.
When Tasha listened, Marcy shared. As Sarah connected and Dorina declared.
Healing happens in community, whether praying with another or through a tear-filled whispered conversation in the hallway. Something happens when we share honestly about our struggles with imposter syndrome, our worries about failing or general life struggles, and another woman looks us in the eye, sees us, tells us to do the next hard thing, or affirms an idea not yet birthed into a book. This is 1 Thessalonians 5:11 playing out in real life: to encourage one another and build each other up, just as, in fact, you are doing.
We’re not designed to walk this journey alone, as writers or in life. When we speak our stories and share our experiences and thoughts, others see and hear and learn not only that they’re not alone but about God’s character—his grace, mercy, and compassion, and how our uniqueness can bind us together, and together we declare his goodness to a weary and wanting world.
So, what happened during the Redbud Retreat? In words another writer so famously penned:
Dear friend, we accept the fact that we spent a whole weekend in Darien for whatever it was we came to do. So we’re not crazy when we write a few essays telling you who we think we are. Of course, some may see us as they want to—in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But we learned during the retreat that each one of us is a writer … a dreamer … a worrier … beloved … and determined. Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, the Redbud Writers Guild.
(Closing scene: a diverse group of women with arms lifted high in the air)
In the photo from the retreat, the author prays with a fellow Redbud.