What I learned about:
She came out here, by herself, from Kansas. Are you kidding me? And then took a taxi from her hotel to meet us in Balboa Island for breakfast. You guys, she was so sweet. Like beyond sweet. Totally real, totally charming, totally warm. You felt like her best friend after like 30 minutes. Not afraid to just be herself, she was encouraging and fun. I felt so happy getting to meet her [since I wasn't expecting to]. And her kids have the coolest names: Wilder & Story? Are you kidding me?
She was immediately engaging. She wanted to chat and joke and get to know you. Just totally easy to be around. I was super bummed when she had to leave. She wrote about that here, and I'm bummed that I wasn't more sensitive to what was going on [mostly because I didn't know]. April is a gem.
This girl is beautiful inside and out. You could not have surgically removed her smile from her face, she was just so grateful to be there with us [plus I think she's probably always that way]. Her mom got her a ticket last minute, without telling her, and her hubby let her come up early to spend Saturday night with us. I loved how she talked about her husband: he is so supportive, you guys! That was really fun to hear about.
|don't mind the odd face i'm making. i guess i didn't know the photo was being snapped? everyone else knew somehow|
So tender hearted. So hospitable. She was the one who made cute little bags and filled them with goodies for us, her roommates. She cried when she talked about her husband and how amazing he was, telling us a story of something that happened just a week before. She told us a beautiful testimony of the circumstances surrounding her birth [i won't give it away in case she plans to blog about it]. Just sweet and sensitive, is how I would describe her.
She instantly made you feel like a friend. There was never a shortage of things to talk about, and she was hilarious. So comfortable to be around, AND one of her spiritual gifts is encouragement. If you "know" her at all, that's no surprise. I remember her being one of the first and most consistent commenters on my blog, even if it was short and sweet, she took the time to do it just to bless me. She's just like that in person. Cute and fun and talkative [in a good way], and easy to be yourself around. Instant friend.
She is such an artistic soul. I love that. She feels comfortable being herself and she isn't afraid to do what she needs to do. Just as one example: on Sunday we all headed to the beach for individual quiet time. I noticed Shauna walking waaaay down the shore, taking pictures as she went, until she found a suitable spot to plop down. I think I realized that taking photos is worship for her. And you'd know that her photos are gorgeous, if you've ever been to her blog. She takes most of them on her phone, you guys?! And then she told us that she'd meet up with us later because she wanted to head to the mall and have lunch by herself [one of her favorite things, eating alone, we learned]. I love that she wasn't afraid to just be Shauna.
I think it's no secret that I love this girl. I want to be just like her when I grow up, and I'm not kidding when I say that. We've met before, a few times, and that's probably why I felt comfortable going up for a weekend with mostly girls I'd never met. She embodies everything that you think she would when you read her writing. Filled with grace and beauty, I heard many people that weekend describe her as elegant, graceful, intimidating even. Luckily I knew she's anything but intimidating. Sure, she reminds you of Nicole Kidman, but she's so relate-able and approachable. She is accepting and inclusive. Inclusive feels like the most accurate description to me, besides wise and caring and gracious.
Mostly from observing Shauna and Leslie, who have been real life best friends for a long time, I was able to learn a lot. When Shauna wanted to head to the mall by herself, Leslie didn't scoff at that. She nodded along, as if to say, "yes, I know you, and I know that you require alone time to recharge, and I'm so excited that you're going to take advantage of that. Have fun, we'll see you soon". Wouldn't most girls say, "okay, but you're going to leave me with these girls that I just met and now I have to entertain them, and I thought you were my friend. I'm so annoyed with you". Leslie didn't do any of that. Grace, acceptance, love, understanding. That's what they gave to one another all weekend long. They deeply understand each other and they eagerly embrace the differences. I learned so much from watching them interact.
[Shauna is probably thinking, wow Aly, you really didn't like the fact that I went to the mall by myself... which is not true at all. Actually, I'm the same way and I crave alone time. If at any time during the weekend someone thought I was being uncharacteristically quiet, it's because I was mentally retreating into a virtual alone time, right there in front of you. So, I actually love that you went to the mall by yourself. I want to have the courage to do the same when I grow up, to feel safe and loved and accepted enough to just be who I am and do what I need to do, you know? I love that!]
I always describe myself as shy, but not quiet, when I'm meeting new people. I will not walk up to you and start a conversation, but if you talk to me, I'm friendly and talkative and comfortable. I just can't initiate a conversation. [oddly enough, in a crowd of people I do know, I'm much quieter, don't talk all that much] This weekend, on many occasions, I thought to myself, you should probably stop talking so much! Ha! I'm not sure if anyone else would agree with that assessment, they'd probably still say I was generally on the quieter side, but for some reason I felt free-er. I really and truly felt accepted. I don't know why that's always been such a huge glaring thing for me: feeling accepted, feeling like I belong... it could be that these women, and all the other women I met at the actual event were so inclusive and wonderful that I felt accepted, or it could be that I've been on a journey this past year that has taught me that I'm already accepted. I do belong. I do have a purpose and I do matter. To God. He has accepted me and loves me and has prepared great things for me. I think this weekend it all sort of came together. I finally believe that, and I was able to experience what that belief feels like, how it manifests itself when I'm faced with my biggest fear- a whole weekend full of strangers. Is anyone tracking with me? Probably not.
Blogging and God
I always knew that blogging could be powerful and meaningful and make a huge difference in my own life, and in the world around me. I started writing because I needed to. I felt compelled to. I needed a place to dump all the wonderful things that God was teaching me, in a semi-organized and thoughtful way. And sure, I could have just journaled [which I definitely do] but I knew that maybe these things would be important for other people to learn, too. I didn't know who, but I knew probably somebody. And if you look at my "stats", my followers, and keep track of the [lack of] comments that I receive, you'd probably tell me to give up. No one's reading, no one cares, just throw in the towel. Luckily, it hasn't always been about that for me. There are things I need to write, so I write them. It helps me to really grasp what I'm learning, and really believe those things, and then in the future, go back and really remember them [I can't tell you how many times I've read something I wrote and been blown away by God's faithfulness again, or taught myself the same thing again... you probably know what I mean].
I have always believed that God has a unique purpose for me [for every person]. That there is something very specific I was created for. It has to sort itself out as"real life" chugs along, but what was so wonderful about Blog Sugar is that the speakers totally reaffirmed that for me. They believed it too! That we were all created for something specific. That God intends to use us in a powerful way, and that we are only limited by our own fear or laziness or unbelief.
I was blown away by the number of women who said, "oh yeah, I know your blog", when I told them who I was. That helped me to believe that something was working, people were reading, and I don't need to be the one worrying about that. God will bring people to this little space when He needs them to come. When they need to read what I've written, what He's taught me. It will all happen when it's supposed to. I desire to use my blog for His glory, and I hope that's been evident to those of you who read regularly, or even occasionally, or even just now for the first time. What I learned is that God wants to use it for His glory too. And if that's true, I don't have to strive or contrive or scheme or strategize about how to make it happen. It just WILL [and already does] happen. I always scoffed when people would say, "whether you have 5 followers or 5000 followers, your voice matters"... because, come on, a voice with 5,000 people listening makes a much bigger impact. But maybe not? For some reason when they kept saying that at Blog Sugar, I began to believe them. You don't know the ripples that go out from your words, from what you've shared that someone may have never heard of and it impacts them so much that it determines their life's course. It's not about the sheer numbers, it's about God bringing the one specific person to your blog, who needed to read the specific thing that you wrote, so that He can accomplish His purpose in their life and yours. That's inspiring, you guys. I told my husband about how this community makes such a huge difference, using Shop for Sharlie as the most recent example. Blogging, and the odd-yet-supportive-and-family-like little world that it has created can change lives. It can save lives. [You have to head over to Jess's blog to read the update about the campaign. It's really a miracle. And by all means, if you haven't yet, go shop for a good cause!]
At this conference, overwhelmingly, I felt like I belonged. From the very first minute we walked up to register and Rachel gave me a big hug and said "Hi Aly, I'm so glad you're here". Huh? I mean, sure, we met at the Queen Bee back in May [where I was first blown away by her hospitality and inclusive spirit] but really, I expected her to have no idea who I was. Whether she genuinely did remember me or not, didn't really matter. She makes it a point to make sure that everyone feels like they belong, like they were personally invited, like they matter. Her attitude set the tone for the entire event; everyone was that way. I hear that's not how blogging conferences usually are. They don't always feel like a community of sisters. Sometimes they feel like competition and they center around stats and money making and other things. Blog Sugar was not this way. It centered around community and humility and Jesus. That's the kind of thing I want to be a part of.
If you didn't have the chance to go this year... GO NEXT YEAR. I just can't even stress that enough. You don't want to miss out. You want to be a part of something like this. It is healing and inspiring and challenging and fun all in one short evening.
Oh, and don't forget to read about Love146 that Danielle shared with us that night.
PS don't ask me why I abandoned the "all lowercase letter" thing that you're accustomed to here. I have no idea why the "shift" key was easier to press while I wrote this. Usually it feels so cumbersome which is why I never use it. Hmmm. Weird.
** the first three photos were taken on shauna's phone. the middle one may have been from april or jami, since shauna's in it? i really don't know... and the last two were from the professional photographer Melissa Mundig.