Speak Up- The Conference I Came to For All the Right and Wrong Reasons-

I came for: Polish. Pizzazz, Professionalism, Networking. I came to become a better writer, a better speaker and a better leader.

All the reasons anyone attends a conference like this. The right reasons.

And all the wrong reasons- because it’s not about me.

When I arrived- I’ll be honest- I was a hot mess. (Even more than usual.) I wasn’t even sure I should be here. Wednesday morning we were in the oncologist’s office- where she told us my husband’s cancer had spread to the bone.

I struggled with whether I could or should even come. “Really? A conference on ministry this week? “Speak up?” I don’t think so. I think I need to stay home, eat cupcakes and cry. Besides- how selfish can I be? Leave a man at home who’s struggling with all the emotion wrapped up in facing the next level of treatment for a zombie cancer that refuses to die? (Scroll down for the Zombie cancer post.) It doesn’t make sense.”

Except- I’d already paid. And my husband said: Go.

So, I came.

In part for escape and distraction. But mostly= to hopefully become “good enough” to finally be a part of God’s work.

When I arrived- (Slightly nauseous- maybe a side effect of cancer-guilt? And maybe- because- well-  I don’t have a book out  (yet) I don’t speak to groups of thousands Why should I attend a conference like this? Then there was the whole: “Seventh grade-I won’t fit in thing.” I have tattoos. I say awkward things. My humor is a little. well-iffy. So,  yeah.

I checked in- sat down and opened my Conference guide.

Which is when I realized I’d signed up for all the wrong breakouts.

I signed up for everything I’m actually already pretty good at  already. How to present a professional image… How to look good on and off stage….How to take your ministry to the next level with social media and branding…. All GREAT and necessary things to learn and do-

Unless you’re me-and those are things you use to hide your insecurity behind and use as excuses not to do the next thing.

The truth is:

  • I hide behind a polished appearance- so people will think I’m pretty enough and good enough- to listen to. Because I think I’m not good enough.
  • I hide behind professionalism- so people will think I’m a “pro.” Because I think I’m not talented enough.
  • I hide behind  title and position- so that when I network -people will think I have credibility. Because think I’m not credible enough- on my own.
  • I use  bad hair days,  greasy face days or fat pants days- as been an excuse to hide from those I should be loving and connecting with.
  • I use not having a certain level of “professionalism”  as an excuse not to engage in a professional pursuit-unil I’m good enough. (With a stronger better portfolio… something.)
  • I use my lack of a degree and experience as an excuse not to face my fear of  seeking to be published. “Because – all the books say- I need X.Y.Z’s after my name”  in order to land a contract.

During one of the sessions Carol Kent said- “If you are looking at your schedule and are wondering “Why on earth did I sign up for that” Change it- Go where you need to.”  Stay on your track for the small group experiences- but don’t be afraid to change your breakouts.”

So, I did.

Instead of taking breakouts to help me hide better and build a better set of excuses- I went to the breakouts that I needed to LEARN from:

  • “How to Write a Winning Book Proposal”  With Cindy Lambert (Because I’ve been avoiding the book proposal process like a vampire avoids the sun. (Think: Stoker not Twilight.)
  • “Outlining with Pizzazz” Because I suck at outlining.(I write out my talks like chapters- then try to figure out how to make an outline from that. Totally backwards and complicated.)
  • “Mind Mapping” With Kim Cordes. Because My husband told me this could help my outlining and planning. (He ws right- Oh how I hate and love that. It (forgive the bad pun in advance) BLEW MY MIND! There IS a way for this creative ADD chick to plan and outline that flows and doesn’t get my drawers in a bunch! Who knew?)
  • And “Writing With Humor” With Lorilee Craker. Okay- confession- humor is not usually a weakness for me- I went to that one because I love Lorileee and knew it would be fun.

And then I had “accidental” moments- that could not have been coincidences. Moments that had to be organized by God- because I’d done everything I could in advance to avoid them.

I was however caught off guard by one thing.. I signed up for  the speaker’s track – that involves giving 2 different 3 minute talks and being critiqued by a pro and a group of peers. The first one I had prepared in advance- the second one I planned to work on during down time- I thought it would only take a few minutes- because I was planning on taking part of my “stripper” talk and using that. Piece of cake.

Except- There was a MAN in my small group. AHHHHHHH! Then, I learned that the facilitator for my second talk would also be: a MAN! Hello- even I have some boundaries. Doing a “stripper talk” at a Christian writers and speakers conference- might be crossing a line. I even know that. So  I stayed up till 2:49 a.m. trying to come up with something else. I had nothing. I spent one of my breakout trying to re-write the talk and figure out how to make it work. Nada.

I thought about skipping out.  By 1:30 p.m. I still had nothing.

I went anyway. I desperately wanted to dart out the door and just: GO HOME.  All I could think was: “I shouldn’t even be here.” “I can’t do this.” “I’m not prepared.” While others gave their talks and received their critiques- I was pretending to take notes- while working on trying to come up with something- ANYTHING.

I let everyone else go first. I still had: nothing. Well- nothing but the truth. That I’d come here a jacked up mess and had nothing of value to offer and that I’d come for all the right and wrong reasons. Besides- my husband has cancer and I shouldn’t even be here. I’m a bad wife. And- for pete’s sake- Women aren’t supposed to be teaching men! (yeah- I was shocked that was still somewhere in my head and heart- too.)

I didn’t throw up. I didn’t bolt out the door. I just- told the truth.

The truth is: We all hide behind something. Whether it’s appearance, professionalism, education, title- polish….but we’re all still a jacked up mess.

Jesus doesn’t need me with more polish and pizzazz-the truth is- he wants to shine through my brokenness.

The bible says this: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

I took a risk- I stripped off the things I hide behind- (Relax- no nudity- duh. Just my name tag, my jewelry, my make up, and my leopard print of power.) I shared my real- messed up- tattooed -scarred and scared self. Because that’s what Jesus can and longs to shine through.)

And: I DID’T SUCK!. It was enough. It was enough-not because of me- but because of God through me. I was exhausted by the time I was done- but, I was also:  exhilarated. I’d faced my fear and done it anyway. And God showed up.(Duh. HE’s always here- He’s everywhere!  Why do I forget that?)

I can’t even tell you all the little ways God stretched and grew me this weekend. The doors he opened and the appointments he arranged for me- even thought I’d done my best to hide from them and avoid them.

I’ll sum it up with this –

This is the centerpiece that was on my table during Saturday’s lunch.


My regular readers know- that birds and nests have become a beacon of hope for me and a reminder of God’s presence where ever I am.

It started with me arguing with God as he spoke through this scripture:

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

(Psalm 139) The truth is I was giving god sass—- “Seriously Lord, here? Im my mess? In cancer? In Sickness? In pain? In heartbreak? Even here? Yeah- I turned his promise into a question-Im like that.

But he has patiently and lovingly answered that question with nests. See- A few years ago I got a tattoo of a branch with a nest, three eggs  and 5 flowers. One egg for each child- a flower for each member of our family (Because duh- my kids are long past the egg stage.) all on the branch that cradles the nest.  It’s my  reminder that God is holding and growing my family. Always. Below the nest, I have the words “Even here.” Because that- was God’s answer to my sass. (Come on- I can’t be the only one who backtalks God… am I?)

From the cancer center- to the tattoo parlor- to the Speak Up Conference-God has used nests to remind me he is with me- wherever I am. (You can use th search bar to read more about those experiences.)

The nest on that lunch table Saturday- was the fingerprint of God in my life-saying to me: Even here. I am with you- and you are right where I need you to be. Yes- at the Speak Up Conference.

So yeah- I came for all the right and wrong reasons- I came with guilt and a suitcase of insecurity.

I’m leaving that here. (Sorry Prince center @ Calvin College- you’re a great host- you can just toss it!)

I’m bringing home- in it’s place- not just the “skills” I need to do the next thing– but also the courage I need- jacked up mess that I am.

If you have a chance to attend a Speak Up Conference-I encourage you to- even if you think you’re not good enough- even if it doesn’t make sense because of what’s going on in your life, or budget-you just might find- that it’s right where God needs you to be.

“Dear Lord- you know I’m a mess. You know I hide, you know I have excuses for everything… thank you for meeting me here. thank you for stretching and growing me. Thank you for using my broken messes to shine through. I love you lord- even here- amen.”

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6 thoughts on “Speak Up- The Conference I Came to For All the Right and Wrong Reasons-

  1. So glad you listened to your husband and joined us for Mind Mapping – The Whole Brain Writing Tool! I enjoyed your participation and meeting you. I hope we cross paths again soon!

    All the Best,

    Kim Cordes

  2. I’m so glad you’re always willing to Speak Up! Great message for us all to still speak up even when we know we’re a hot mess. 🙂

  3. Precious daughter of the King of a Kings,

    I laughed and I cried and laughed and cried again! I’m soooo glad you were at the conference! My heart hurts for you and all you love as you face the Zombie cancer. Thank you for assuring me I wasn’t the only scattered, ADD woman at the conference who wrestles with questioning the goodness of God in the midst of suffering.

    My encouragement to you is that you are one amazingly gifted writer and God has big plans for you! (Big may be in serving your family, but with God, that’s more honoring than speaking to thousands!)

    What I’ve learned as an author and speaker who has been “on hold” for several years due to divorce and other pain, is that people are longing for us to vulnerably tell the truth about out imperfections, our addictions, our insecurities and our brokenness. Then our scars can point others to the One who brought us through the battle.

    I wish I could hug your sweet neck! I want to see the tattoo! And I’m grinning from ear-to-ear, cause it’s just like our Abba to give you your very own centerpiece!

    “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” Ps. 91:4

    Grace and peace and hugs from Atlanta,
    Cynthia Spell

  4. Wow! So glad you shared. It was my first time at the conference. It way surpassed my expectations. A life changing event indeed.

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