I had the wonderful blessing of a retreat last week that was both a writers' retreat and a spiritual retreat - a perfect combination, in my opinion! And it couldn't have been in a more beautiful location (click on the pictures to see them full-sized). Glen Eyrie Castle is situated right next to Garden of the Gods, in the foothills beneath Pikes Peak. As if the natural scenery isn't beautiful enough, we were surrounded by gardens, hummingbirds, wild turkeys, and a herd of bighorn sheep.
Colorado Springs is a four hour drive south of Laramie, Wyoming, and the home of one of my dearest friends (who was my maid of honor). I could never have afforded four nights at the Glen Eyrie Castle (their rates are pretty reasonable, but still, four nights adds up!) if not for K.A.'s hospitality. Not only did she provide hospitality - but the ultimate - kid-sitting! She offered to have my daughters Blaze & Dreamer stay too so they could get lots of play time with her daughter, Lori. Truly an amazing friend to take on two of my kids in addition to three of her own, for three and a half days.
It ended up being more of a writers' workshop than a retreat, though we did get two hours every afternoon to either write, pray, or hike one of the many amazing trails. I spent one afternoon with my laptop in the rose garden (starting with prayer for God to bless my writing. Which He always does, when I remember to ask), one afternoon stream-walking up Queens Canyon to Dorothy Falls (I can never resist the opportunity to see a waterfall), and the last afternoon strolling around the grounds with Karen and the kids taking pictures.
The workshop part of the retreat was both inspiring, but also hard. The truths of the publishing world are never easy to deal with. The workshop was led by four amazing Christian authors: Nancy Rue, Kathyrn Mackel, Angela Hunt (author of the Tale of the Three Trees, one of my kids' favorite books), and James Scott Bell. I've read dozens of books on writing and publishing, have been to two writers' conferences, and I regularly follow most of the major writing, editing and publishing blogs - but I was surprised at how much I still had to learn.
Here are some quotes from the authors that caught my attention:
We write a novel to evoke emotion - Angela Hunt
Creating art is an interaction between you and God - James Scott Bell
Good writing is where precision meets passion - Nancy Rue
If even your writing never sees the light of day (publication), you can make it see the light of life. - Kathryn Mackel
They all stressed how to the road to publication is like an apprenticeship - you have to work hard and follow the rules for years, without any compensation. And there is still no guarantee. Even if you do finally get something published, the road doesn't get easier. I saw first-hand how stressful and difficult it is for a recently published author: all the work you have to put into marketing in addition to writing on strict deadlines, plus dealing with the disappointment of meager sales. God was definitely showing me that even if my writing is nearing a publishable quality, I am still not ready for publication at this time in my life: with four small children, the amount of work I would have to put into marketing, promotion and travel, in addition to writing, would be prohibitive. But at the same time, I felt like I had several significant "breakthroughs" in my story. So I came away feeling God was still directing me to keep writing faithfully and to keep honing my craft.
God had some other important things to teach me, outside of Glen Eyrie. I met one of Karen and Ed's good friends, Double D. Ed has joined a biker club called Men of Praise and his biker name is FedEx (long story) and Double D is one of his closest friends. I learned all the details of biker lifestyle ("ride it like you stole it"), what biker church is like, and and the complexities of club interactions, including the especially tricky interactions between Christian bikers and hardcore groups like the Sons of Silence! But I also learned some spiritual wisdom from Double D. We got to talking one evening and I could tell this guy had an amazing story behind his life, so I asked him to share his testimony. It was both heart-breaking and amazing. He didn't stop with himself, either. He looked at me straight in the eye and asked me if I was carrying any baggage.
Oh yes have I been carrying baggage! Anyone who has read any of my posts so far in 2010 has seen some of my baggage - financial stress and depression. There's other burdens that I haven't shared, too. Insecurities that I started to recognize via Beth Moore's excellent book So Long Insecurity - things she helped me recognize, but I hadn't come to complete terms with yet. At times I do give my baggage over to God (and sometimes I even manage to leave it with him for a few days), but somehow I keep picking it up and carrying it again. Double D told me to envision giving my suitcase of baggage to Jesus, and then to envision Jesus throwing your suitcase into the fires of hell – it’s gone. Permanently gone. Not something you can pick up again. He told me, with genuine seriousness, "it's really gone now. As of this moment. Do you believe what Jesus has done?"
His directness and earnestness took me off guard. Envisioning something does not make it so; but Double D doesn't think that way. For him, it's real. His earnest faith really made look with eyes of faith - "we live by faith, not by sight." I'm not saying I'm cured of depression or that all my financial problems will just melt away. God will never completely take away our problems because they are necessary to help us grow and become more Christ-like. But something happened that evening. Jesus did take some of my baggage and burned it so I can't take it back. Double D is going through some painful trials of his own right now, and I am praying for him. The Lord has put him through a furnace and turned him into an amazing man, and I will never forget him.