This post is my last as a regular contributor to The-Exponent blog. My time here has been a profound and delightful blessing. Exponent women are among the best people I have ever encountered and I will always remain a part of this community, but I’ve felt pulled in a slightly different direction with writing. In this post, I share one example of why I’m making a change. Writing for The-Exponent has helped prepare me for whatever comes next. For this reason it is quite impossible for me to adequately express my gratitude for the remarkable gift of Exponent in all its iterations.
Thank you, readers and blog contributors, for enlarging my heart and mind with your unique and compelling stories. Thank you for being my sisters. I love you.
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I sometimes find myself slipping back into the mind of my child self as I make the daily forty-mile commute to work on the train. FrontRunner traverses the I-15 corridor between Utah county and Weber county each day. While I was growing up, we passed the Point of the Mountain hundreds of times either coming or going from Provo to Salt Lake City. The point itself has receded through the years and has lost some of what defines it as a “point.” Earth has been scraped away and used for road base or concrete mix or who knows what all else. All I know is that a monumental structure–a mountain–has been changed over time. The north-facing slope where we used to watch dune buggies and four wheelers crawling up The Widow-Maker is now covered with subdivisions of homes. I still don’t understand how those houses got there. The mountain face is changed forever and, even though I’ve watched it slowly recede, it still surprises me sometimes that it is now so different from what it used to be.
Yesterday, coming home from work, I looked at the mountain again and thought about the Church as a sort of mountain–a gigantic structure comprised of age-old traditions. I couldn’t help feeling that both the organization and the community of saints are being changed before our eyes. Slowly, but consistently changed for the better. As a feminist, I look forward to the time when alterations in structure are significant enough to bring a true balance of power within the Church. Until that time, I’ve been looking for ways to answer what feels like a call to minister in my own way.
During the past several years I have shifted out of my role as a single mom into the role of empty-nester mom. This feels like a new identity with freedom from demands of motherhood and with an energy surplus available to respond to this inner call. It took a while to clarify what I was being called to do and I’m not convinced I’ve found the final answer yet, but I’ve made a start.
For me, the initial answer came while I was visiting with a couple of friends. I suggested the idea of a writing retreat for women. Whether we write fiction, poetry, or memoir, we can write our lives and we all have important stories to share.
The purpose of the retreat was instantly clear: give women a place to actually “retreat” from the demands of life – whether those demands were about motherhood, grandmother-hood, professional life or anything else. And to provide workshop leaders who could help women express themselves in writing. In the space of a few weeks I landed on a format that seemed ideal: a two-day retreat with two formal workshops (one each day), an art activity and a “sacred space” reading exercise in the evening, and lots of free time during the day to write, go for walks, nap, or just be alone.
By the grace of God (actually it was via crowd-sourcing on facebook) I found a lovely woman who owns a cabin in the mountains not far from my home. We became friends the moment we met and she agreed to rent the cabin for a reduced rate, given that she shares a desire to provide space for women to create beauty and art. I contacted several friends and acquaintances in the writing community and invited them to lead workshops and they graciously agreed. The first retreat was held in the spring of 2014. Ann Cannon, of the Salt Lake Tribune, and Louise Plummer, retired university writing faculty were our main workshop leaders. I facilitated the second day workshop with a read-around of a wonderful book I recommend to anyone who is trying to push through resistance in her life. Whether you are trying to start a new business, work on your academic degree, create structure for your home life with little children, write for yourself or for others, (or create a women’s retreat!) this book will help you. And it is short. You can get through it in an hour or two.
There is more to this story–like working out registration fees and payment options, paying workshop leaders, managing food and sleeping space for twenty people, and so forth, but for the purpose of this post I’ll skip to the end. The retreat was wildly successful. It was an experiment that worked. I watched this invisible inner call become real and tangible. We established new friendships, renewed our emotional energy stores, found inspiration and concrete tools for writing. I felt like I was contributing in real and meaningful ways by helping women make time and space to nurture themselves, to connect with their truest selves. We found ourselves gathering strength and encouragement from each other and we returned with greater hope and happiness to the demands of daily life.
Our attendees ranged in age from 20s to 70s. We had non-writers who wanted to learn to write, poets (published and not), women with varying academic backgrounds – some who never finished college, but have successful lives, and some who held masters degrees in creative writing. Seventeen women attended the spring retreat and twenty-two women attended the second retreat in autumn.
I worked to keep costs low, so financially strapped single moms, poor college students, or retired women living on fixed income could come and enjoy the gathering. The second retreat was also amazingly successful, with Phyllis Barber leading a workshop on memoir and spirituality the first day.
Amy Oaks Long, a professional biographer and family historian, presented the second day with astounding ideas and details about sharing and preserving our own stories and our family histories. My hope is to continue these semi-annual retreats for a long time to come.
This personal ministry in my little corner of the world may seem silly to some people. It may seem like a helluva lot of work to other people. What it is to me is a way to use the gifts God gave me to glorify Her/Him and to help my sisters.
Additionally, because I live in Utah, the majority of women who attend are LDS. A good share of these women consider themselves feminists. Clearly, the purpose for this retreat is not to alter the power structure in the Church or to have a direct or immediate impact on the problems encountered by Mormon women as a whole. However, I feel this project can have far-reaching effects as women become clearer about who we are and what we have to offer the world. This small gathering is my contribution to the kingdom for the time being. And it feels really, really good.
Have you felt a call to minister? How has it expressed itself in your life?