The conversations where words hung holy and stirring in the humid air, the ceiling fans spinning them lazily and thick as warm milk, bolstered my soul.
Finally, I was surrounded by people who needed no convincing to live a bold and audacious faith.
It felt like home. Like I had found my people.
Because I don’t really care how many letters you have dripping off the end of your name, have never really cared whether you’ve single-handedly combatted all the evils in the world and had time to write a bunch of books about it or speak on pedestals high and towering over my head. I don’t really give a crap about your numbers or your likes or how tweetable you are. I don’t care if you’re just a mom, except to say I’ve never met a mom who is anything less than a superhero in the eyes of the children she loves.
But I do care that you showed up. I care that you look me in the eye instead of over my shoulder when you talk to me. I care that you admit you’ve failed as much as you’ve succeeded. I care that humility flows into your firm handshake and that your eyes crinkle at the corners when you smile genuine. I care that you serve the exact same God as me, and I care that we may do it very differently but we’re in this together.
So when she leaned into me and whispered, “I don’t want to feel like a third wheel, I don’t know if I was invited,” I brushed away her timidity easily. Because after all, we’re all just people, going to lunch, going to dinner, hanging out as cords strummed golden notes and voices rose together, erupting in laughter and grace. And wine is poured and passed and stories are told and this is communion. Right?
We’re all participants in this feast. But she left early anyway, and I never paused to wonder if she stood in a corner feeling out-of-place and smiling tentatively and wondering how long she should stay before she could leave without it seeming weird.
And I know some have long histories and roots further back when clacking keys made platforms easier and broader and they’re there in the light, a little more evident. I know the room or time for that intimacy to develop doesn’t just happen so I didn’t think anything of it. Of course some people are going to have a deeper connection, they started at the same time, walked the same road, lifted each other up along the way. Different measures are given to different people. So to me, size and metrics and platform have nothing to do with worth.
“I just want to stay small,” Annie says. And I know she means it because she’s always pulling in those around her. Always making room for someone else’s voice no matter the shape.
And these voices are saying the same things. Or trying to. Whether we’re doing it on blogs, or in the boom and thunder of a microphone, or whispering it in the bedtime lullabies of littles tucked and heavy-lidded, or with feet planted on continents far where the red earth kicks up like blood soaked clouds under a sky that has seen it all, we all take our measurement and weight of glory.
We all step into grace the same way, undeserving and wretched.
And then I overheard the conversation, the sneering disdain for name-droppers and the people who tag Instagram shots with bigger people’s handles to make themselves seem in, when really they’re out. The ones whose tweets shout out trying to climb the ladder, using each other as footholds. And I understand someone feigning an intimacy that’s not deserved or not wanting to feel used when you’ve attained a bit of celebrity for what you do well, but what if names didn’t mean so much?
What if the only name that mattered was the one we can all agree on? And I wondered when it became wrong to seek connection with anyone no matter the size or sphere of influence, big or small, just because that person matters?
And I’ll admit right now, I posted a picture on Instagram and painstakingly tagged everyone in the room because I didn’t want anyone to feel their presence wasn’t appreciated and valued there. And maybe I put too much stake in these things and my stupid INFJ skin is thinner than I ever knew before, easily pierced and tender at the bone but when the Instagrams and tweets showed up, I wondered if I had somehow crossed some invisible barrier. Because I had tagged everyone. Because maybe it looked like name dropping? “Look at me, ma, I’m hanging with the cool kids?” And that made me feel invisible, like a pesky apparition hanging about in unwanted ways.
And it all seemed so flimsy.
The light of that conversation, I was probably never meant to hear, made shabby and worn the beauty I thought I saw.
I spread myself across my hotel bed that night, as the clock ticked into morning and wondered if people would think I was name dropping bigger, better, names than my own, as if trying to build a platform I had long since laid down.
And by God, I cared. I cared that people might think that of me. And so I deleted that picture with all the tags. Wiped it clean and tried to shoo away my very presence.
But nothing on the internet is every really gone and I felt silly it had been out there.
I was 10 years old again, hoping I would get the pink party invitation envelope that held the promise of friendship and belonging, doing my best not to seem too anxious. The one that everyone else got except me.
And maybe this is the tilted lens by which I see, maybe I look through cracks and everything slants, and belonging always feels a bit elusive.
No one wants to be used, and I can imagine it’s hard to be big, and not feel that everyone around you wanted something other than you.
But it made everything unravel for me. The woven thread, hanging limp and torn.
Peter Greer said to have a healthy distrust of your own motives.
That stuck with me because I know the deceitfulness of my heart and the way she’s lied to me, lulled me, kept me silent and wanting. Made me feel outside and other. And so I combed my way back, wading through memories of driving rain, soaked and shivering in the pew, after the monsoon lunch we were caught in. I traced my way through the days of Idea Camp and each intersection of humanity along the way.
I thought of ways I might be contributing to the separating lines of who is in and who isn’t. And I remembered walking down the street toward the parking garage on my way to dinner after Idea Camp had come to a close and I was already placing down memories and writing posts in my mind.
I remember she was walking ahead of us, slightly to the right and I had chatted with her briefly earlier in the day. She had her head down until I came close and she looked up and our eyes caught for a second while I flashed her my warm smile. And then I looked away and kept walking, caught up in my conversation.
I know I am not the savior of all the lost people. I know. But I sensed she was alone.
I sensed she was standing around as things wound down waiting for someone to notice her. I sensed she had given up and was walking back to wherever alone, an empty hotel room, a table for one somewhere, or a greasy fast food bag sitting shotgun in her rental car? She was right there as we were all gathering for dinner. I know she overhead the chatter about what restaurant and where and who was driving with whom and I never said anything at all.
But I knew. Because, I had been that girl, in the corner, hair swooped down like a covering, hiding crimson cheeks under shame filled eyes, smiling bravely and withering inside, knowing that I could never, would never belong. Knowing I would never be whole and fit my broken pieces into something that mattered. Someone who was seen and known and loved anyway.
And I hadn’t even realized it until I overhead that conversation that so solidly drew the dividing line, maybe it’s because I wanted to fit also and my place was precarious, because I am small and unknown. Because I’m still haunted by that girl, the ghost carrying chains of shame and loneliness rattling in my bones.
I wanted to have the conversations and talk about the things I care about with the voices I admire not because I wanted to be bigger, but because I wanted to belong. To feel the kinship and comraderie of writers who craft sentences with perfection, and tell my own story with their words. And I was too afraid of my own place to invite and fend for someone else. Or better yet, lose my place and choose to go with the one who was alone.
So there you have it. All this talk about human care and at the core of it all, I saw someone alone and lonely and I did nothing. I didn’t want to lose my place.
I am counting on the relative anonymity of this blog space and hoping that if anyone reads this, you will know that it is my journey, my struggle, my own wrestling with flesh and calling. I don’t believe it’s my job to meet everyone’s needs but I do wrestle with seeing someone longing for connection and moving past them.
I pray for grace in the reading, as you might feel this is about any one of you. It is not.
It’s about me and learning to tell the truth, even if it makes me look like an ass. Which this post kind of does. So there you have it. I read this post by Sarah Bessey today and felt the itchy finger burn of words that needed to be written.
I’m in process and learning too. Trying to do things better in light of his glorious grace while struggling under the weight of this broken world.
I also want to make sure to preface this conversation with the fact that the VAST majority of Idea Camp was inspiring and beautiful and now that I’ve gotten this off my chest, in a cathartic blog dump, I’ll be free to write about some of the beauty and grace abundant during my time in Austin. The dregs that came out were/are things God is at work in my life and has been for some time. These are the ramblings of that journey to belonging and not a reflection of the actual attendants present in Austin.