If you read my blog last week, or follow me on Facebook, or Twitter, or called me, or went to my Bible Study, or overheard me at Trader Joes – you’ll know I stepped outside of my comfort zone to attend the Faith & Culture Writer’s Conference at Multnomah University.
My mind is blown.
So much information. So much inspiration.
I heard my social justice role model, Ken Wytsma, speak twice and mustered up the courage to introduce my fangirl self. I met with one agent and attended seminars by 2 others. I teared up listening to writer, David Jacobsen, teach how to use compelling, creative non-fiction prose. And, oh man, for the first time I heard poet, Phil Long, recite his words so beautifully, there is no painting or sculpture that could come close to the emotion he stirred in my soul that evening.
But if you pinned me down and made me choose one thing I heard, one nugget I took away, one person’s words that resonated with me the most – I’d tell you it was the conversation with William Paul Young.
I say “conversation” like I personally spoke to the author of The Shack and Crossroads. I didn’t. I sat and listened intently as did the hundreds of authors in chairs around me. But I swear, the man spoke directly to me. How did he know exactly what I needed to hear?
I am among the 2% of the earth’s population that did not love The Shack.
(Mr. Young. If there is any chance that you are reading this post, please continue. I promise, I am not a hateful person.)
My Dad loved the best-selling novel and asked me to read it also. I flipped through the first chapter. Eh. Some guy and a mailbox? Not my thing.
“Did you read it yet?” Dad nagged over the following weeks.
I tried again. I read a few chapters until I learned the tragedy of the main character’s daughter.
“Oh, hell no!” I told Dad. “No way am I putting myself through this pain on purpose!”
“Read,” said Dad.
6 months later I tried again.
I finished the book. Yeah, yeah, the images of the Trinity were transformed in a way totally contradictory to what most of us are raised to believe. Whatever.
“Wasn’t it amazing,” Dad didn’t wait for my reaction, “how Young took the image of a mean, old, white guy with a beard and turned God into a loving black woman? How he wrote the story in a way we could understand God’s love for us?”
“Dad, the mean white guy? That’s not my image of God. I’m pretty comfortable understanding God’s love for me.”
I really didn’t understand my Dad’s obsession with this novel.
During Friday night’s opening conference session, I eagerly soaked in the words from Ken Wytsma. I developed a love for Phil Long’s poetry. Exhausted by the break, I contemplated leaving before hearing Wm. Paul Young speak. I decided to stay. And in the next 20 minutes, my outlook on life altered.
Mr. Young came to the stage and instantly drew me in with his humble personality. He told of his background, working 5 jobs (including cleaning toilets) to support his family of 8. He shared childhood stories about his missionary family. He lovingly spoke about his 6 children and how he wanted to write a story just for them. A tale about the Trinity and unconditional love.
Those few copies typed on 8 1/2 x11 sheets of paper and bound at Kinkos served as the family Christmas gift one year. Friends and family shared their love for the words; yada,yada,yada… 15 copies turned into hundreds of millions of copies worldwide. Talk about loaves and fishes!
All of this humility in success is admirable, but not what lead me to fall in love with Wm. Paul Young on Friday.
I am changed because of this message:
Young emphatically stated, “This book did not make me complete. I was content and whole before I wrote this. I didn’t expect to sell copies. I didn’t expect anyone but my family to read it. I could have continued cleaning toilets and been totally happy with my life. This success does not define me.”
In a writing world of Facebook likes, re-Tweets, and comment numbers on blog posts, Young reminded me who I am.
I am content and whole because I am God’s child.
I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend – and that is more blessing than I deserve.
I am a minister. True, it’s been over 10 years since I’ve been employed by a church, but the desire to spread Christ’s love is in my soul.
After a night with Wm. Paul Young, my eyes opened to what others have been seeing for so long. I understand my own father better. I comprehend now his love of the story that makes God a black woman. I will re-read The Shack and then begin the author’s new book, Crossroads.
In this life that becomes my own story, when I see Jesus in human form? I want him to look just like William Paul Young.
Who have you been inspired by of late? If you do see Jesus on the streets today, who does he look like?