The Making of an Online Conference

This is the story of how a few friends and I took what was supposed to be an in-person event and turned it into an online conference…in the middle of a pandemic.

As you know, 2020 was a year of crazy adjustments and Zoom calls. That part of the story will be familiar to you already, but first, I want to back up and take you to a relaxing summer book club where this whole thing began.

A couple of years ago, I was knee-deep in a writing project and needed feedback. The Life-Giving Path started as a book, and it was time to test the things I’d written with real people. My church, Westminster Chapel, graciously allowed me to host a summer book club in the Fireside Room.

Since nothing is more awkward than hosting a discussion about your own book, I found a friend to help facilitate. I think in most creative partnerships, there’s one person with the outlandish ideas, and the other’s job is to pull the space cadet back down to earth. Well, Gina and I don’t work like that. We spent the summer racing each other to the rocket ship.

We dreamed up different methods to bring our discussions to life and crafted props, interactive decorations, and round-table exercises. We loved finding new ways to surprise our ladies when they walked through the door. When I think on that time, it was sheer joy. Writing is often solitary, lonely work, so sharing the journey was a balm on this writer’s heart.

I loved our discussions and was thrilled when the church asked me to speak at Westminster Chapel’s annual women’s conference. I started meeting with a team and figuring out how to take that intimate book club experience and translate it for a bigger audience. Gina and I brainstormed ideas for activities and decorations with the team. I got to work designing the conference booklet.

Everything was set for April 2020. (You see where this is going, right?)

It’s hard to remember those first days when Covid-19 hit, and we were all sheltering in place. I was fairly confident the conference would be canceled, but I couldn’t afford to stop working on it—just in case. If we did decide to meet, I had to be ready with two days of content.

If I could go back in time, I’d give myself a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Those were hard weeks of trying to concentrate amidst worries about life + family + news. I’m sure you can relate.

We had a few meetings to decide what to do. In one of those first Zoom calls, another woman suggested we have it online. If we’d been meeting in person, I would’ve kicked her under the table. I knew she was right, but I hated the idea.

There are some people who do online live events well, but I didn’t know if I was one of them. Zoom fatigue was already a thing, and we’d wanted this to feel soothing—like a retreat.

It took me a while, but finally, I accepted that online was our only option. My husband got out the video camera and set it up in the living room. After some convincing, I filmed a test video.

There is a verse that says we were created “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  I started to see glimpses of this in my life.

The video camera we’d purchased but never really used

The hand-me-down tripod waiting in the coat closet

The extra memory card sitting unopened in its package

Each time I ran up against a roadblock, I’d find another piece of equipment or a forgotten skill tucked away in some back drawer.

I started to have fun with it. Filming and editing the videos, which I’d been dreading, turned out to be my favorite part. Collecting imagery and finding music felt playful and brought the whole thing to life. We decided to break up the content into short sessions, so that everyone could go at their own pace. It felt risky and somewhat unexpected, but I hoped it would help us hang on to that retreat-like feel.

I wasn’t entirely sure that our efforts had worked until I received an email from a friend a few weeks later. She told me that she’d been “filled with anxiety and headed down a slippery slope of depression.” Originally, she’d been disappointed that the conference was going to be online, but she enjoyed being able to pause, rewind, and consider what God was saying to her. The experience felt peaceful and calming.

Like a retreat.

I’m so excited to be able to share The Life-Giving Path Online Workshop with you. It’s my hope that this workshop will be a safe place for you to reflect on your path and to be refreshed, refilled, and renewed for the next step on your journey.

If you’d like to learn more or sign up, click here.

Boost Your Creativity with This Simple Tool

Last week, I kicked off a month-long series on creativity. If you missed Part 1: Developing Your Curiosity, you can find it here: The Rainbow’s End: 3 Ideas to Help You Find Your Creativity.)

Today, I’m sharing my favorite tool for boosting your creativity. It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and you probably already have one. I’m talking about a notebook!

Now, before you run away—if writing things down isn’t your thing, I promise to give you a bunch of alternatives. You don’t have to use a literal notebook! What you need is a safe place to gather ideas and experiment.

…Everyone who is human has something to express. Try not expressing yourself for twenty-four hours and see what happens. You will nearly burst. You will want to write a long letter, or draw a picture, or sing, or make a dress or a garden.” —Brenda Ueland

Here are 3 reasons to keep a notebook:

1. Give yourself the opportunity to practice, not perform.

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you…” —Stephen King in On Writing

We have more opportunities than ever before to share our work with others. However, sharing your work too soon (or too often) can drain your creative energy.

We need places to practice without feeling pressured to get everything right the first time. This gives us a chance to develop our instincts for what we consider good work rather than relying solely on other people’s reactions.

2. Give yourself a safe space to be honest. 

One of the reasons creativity is so hard, is that we’re not safe even from ourselves. We’re afraid to make a mistake or be found out. However, learning to communicate authentically is a first step in creating better work.

In The Life-Giving Path online workshop, I encourage people to try spiritual journaling as a tool to uncover their honest thoughts. A notebook can be a place to listen without judgment and practice telling the truth.

This can be difficult at first. We’re terrified someone will come along and read what we wrote. However, over time, my journal has become a freer place. It’s filled with typos. Grammatical errors. Sometimes, when I can’t choose between two words—I’ll just write them both down smack dab next to each other in a completely nonsensical way.

Occasionally, I’ll admit to being really annoyed with people I care about! For me, this is a creative and spiritual practice. In my notebook, I lay it all out there so I no longer have to use so much energy covering it all up. Then, I’m free to listen and gather inspiration. When I’m stuck, I ask for help.

3. Give your ideas a place to gather.

Once you begin gathering ideas, more will start to find you. They’re like cats. Word starts to get around that you take good care of strays. Pretty soon, you’ll wake up in the morning and find a whole herd of them waiting for you just outside the door.

“Ideas are like rainbows, we need to record them with a pencil or they soon fade right out sight.” —Kathy Liden

If there’s something you daydream about—opening an art studio, writing a book, starting a podcast—give yourself a place to start making it real, if only on the page.

Some of you may be saying, “Notebooks aren’t really my thing. Now what?”

Here’s a list of notebook alternatives:

  • A sketchbook.
  • A camera (or the camera roll on your phone).
  • A closet where you stuff your latest paintings.
  • The notes app on your phone.
  • A scrapbook.
  • An Excel spreadsheet. (Beautifully-arranged data can be a work of art!)
  • A secret Pinterest board.
  • A portable moodboard (or an envelope) where you stick fabric samples, pieces of trim, or design inspiration.

What creativity tools would you add to this list? I’d love to hear them!

Next up: creative collaboration! What to do (and not do!) when it’s time to share your creative ideas + a few things I’ve learned the hard way…

The Rainbow’s End: 3 Ideas to Help You Find Your Creativity

I’m excited to be kicking off a month-long series on creativity! Today, we’re searching for the rainbow’s end—finding that place where every creative journey begins. Curiosity.

My birthday is in March, so I’ve always thought St. Patrick’s Day was secretly about me. This only got worse after my grandmother introduced me to the color, Kelly green. “They named a shade of green after you!” I thought that was marvelous even though it was obviously not true.

When the grocery stores starting putting away the red and pink hearts and bringing out the shamrocks, rainbows, and pots of gold, I knew things were looking up. For me, all those green and gold glittery decorations signified hope and possibility.

I never found a four-leaf clover or a leprechaun’s shoe, but believe me—I tried. I still remember spotting a rainbow while driving in the car. “Quick, Mom. Keep going! Let’s drive to the end so we can get the pot of gold,” I said.

“I’m sorry. It doesn’t work like that, dear.” It turns out that statement applies to a lot of life’s mysteries.

Still, I don’t regret any of the time I spent searching. Creativity starts with curiosity. It’s the sense of anticipation that gets me out of bed in the mornings. It’s the belief that God has hidden delights in the world for us to discover. For me, creativity is a path that draws me closer to God.

Some of my favorite people—the ones who are the most wise—are also the most childlike in their excitement and wonder. They receive every flower, every sunrise, every rainbow as a gift. Recently, I listened to a friend tell me about a doe in her yard. The way she marveled over the deer, she might as well have been describing a unicorn. Some things are better than a pot of gold.

Next week, I’m going to share one of my favorite tools for boosting your creativity. However, it may help to simply indulge your curiosity first. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

3 Ways to Develop Your Curiosity:

  1. Try something new. Make a list of 5 things you’ve wanted to try. (It’s okay if your list doesn’t sound particularly “creative.” Taking action on something you’re curious about—even if it’s just rearranging your pillows—can put you on the path of new ideas.) Can you try one of the things on your list?
  1. Spend time with joy-filled people. Do you have a friend like the one I described? Sometimes, it’s helpful to let someone else’s excitement wash over you. Can you text or phone that friend this week? Let them know how much you appreciate them.
  1. Refresh your reading (and watching) list. I’ve heard a lot of friends talking about their reading habits over the past year and how it’s been difficult to concentrate. I can totally relate! One thing that’s helped has been setting aside time to find new books and be honest with myself about the kinds of things I want to read.

Do you have other ideas to add to this list? I’d love to hear them!

Hope for Christmas

I wrote this for last year’s Christmas newsletter. Despite all that has happened in 2020, I think it still applies, so I decided to share it again. If you’re not quite ready for Christmas, you’re not alone! I hope this helps.

Thoughts on Faith:

When I sat down to write this month’s newsletter, I’d planned to talk about the New Year. December is my favorite time for dreaming and reflecting. Outside, nature slows down, reminding us that it’s okay to pause, too.
However, over the past few weeks, I’ve listened to friends and bumped into strangers who are struggling with Christmas. While I hope this letter finds you full of joy and good health, I’m sure you wouldn’t have to look too far to find someone in need of kindness.
There are broken hearts. Family rifts. Disappointments of every shape and size.
At church, we talk about Advent being a season of preparation. We prepare our hearts to receive the gift of Jesus.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Mary on that first Christmas. Mary had many wonderful qualities, but when we picture her placing baby Jesus in a manger, the word “prepared” doesn’t exactly spring to mind. Nesting probably looked different back then, but even so, no one wants their baby’s nursery to be a stable. I’m sure she would’ve preferred to be near her family instead of 70 miles away from home.

I think it says a lot about God that He didn’t wait for Mary to get herself organized or “more together” before Jesus arrived. God could’ve chosen a different time and place. Instead, He picked the moment before she was ready when she probably felt like a failure.
That’s the thing about Jesus. He doesn’t wait for us to sort things out before He arrives. He shows up here. Now.
Preparing our hearts is a noble idea and a worthwhile way to spend our time. Still, perhaps it’s comforting to know that there’s nothing we can do to be fully prepared.
Jesus is not waiting for you to finish decorating so you can put your feet up and start thinking holy, spiritual thoughts. He’s not waiting for your family to reconcile, so He can finally show up and bless your celebration. He’s not holding out until good news arrives in the mail.
He is Emmanuel. God with us. He shows up in the middle of the mess.
Things might feel chaotic or stressful or disappointing right now, but Jesus says, I’m here. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
As Christmas approaches, I don’t know what you’re facing—great joy or mind-numbing sorrow or, most likely, something in-between—but if you can still fumble your way to the front door, there’s one guest you might want to invite in early.
He won’t mind that things aren’t finished or perfect. He’s not bothered by stuff that’s tarnished or broken. And He’d never ask you to put on a brave face and pretend that everything’s okay when it’s not.
In fact, He’d love to show up early and help you with all that. I’ve needed His help this entire season. This has been my prayer (and perhaps it’s yours too):
Lord, I’m so grateful that You don’t wait for us to get our acts together. Instead, You offer us the gift of Yourself. Help us to be willing to acknowledge the things that are broken or imperfect and release them into your care. Above all, I pray that You would give us the courage to leave the doors of our hearts unlocked.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! I’m taking a few weeks off so I can rest, play, dream, and plan. I look forward to seeing you in January.

Thank you for being here!

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