Earlier this week I wrote this post about my experience at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference 2014. In that post I said that, for the most part, the conference was not disappointing. Some might have wondered in what way, then, was the conference disappointing? Well, here’s what happened.
The weekend started off great when I picked up my friend Ginger in my new red Honda Accord Sport and we took the back way out to Newberg to avoid rush-hour traffic. The weather was sunny and warm, and we made great time and so we had plenty of time to stop and get dinner. Unfortunately, Siri was not much help in locating a suitable restaurant for dinner and we resorted to just looking for a place that might work. We ended up at Finnegan’s and sat down in a bright, sunny corner booth by the window. I had a Chinese chicken salad and she had a BLAT.
We both had been up since 4:00 a.m. and so knew that coffee was essential if we were to make it until 9:30 p.m. and then the drive home. But again, Siri was no help. So we headed straight (okay, maybe we took a few twists and turn) to the Friends Church in Newberg. We got a great close parking spot and went in to register.
That’s when the disappointment started. At the registration table they did not have a name tag for me. Apparently I wasn’t the only one, but still it left me feeling like I didn’t belong, like I was sneaking in, even though I had registered the very first day that online registration was open. I was told they would have a name tag for me in the morning.
Ginger and I (at least I was with someone who had a name tag) went in and found seats in the balcony and then went in search of coffee. Disappointment number two—there wasn’t any. Thankfully the nice women at the registration table point us in the direction of a local coffee shop that sold Stumptown coffee and we had time to walk there and back before the conference started.
The speakers and worship were awesome and we had a great evening. (See my previous posts on speaker topics here and here.) The drive home was a great time to debrief on what we had heard and talk about what break-out sessions we wanted to attend in the morning. I climbed into bed, set aside the little disappointments, and tried to get some sleep so I’d be ready for the early wake-up on Saturday.
We arrived at George Fox University on Saturday morning and went to the registration table to get my name tag and to find out if my essay contest results were available. Disappointment again—still no name tag, not even an extra lanyard to put a handwritten name tag in, and the essay results were not yet available. There were some lanyards still there, but they wouldn’t give me one in case those whose name tags were in them showed up later. They gave me a sticky name tag and in we went to the meeting hall for the morning kick-off session. Thankfully, I sat next to a very nice young woman named Kara who was going to have to leave right after the opening and she gave me her lanyard. Finally, I didn’t feel like an interloper.
Once again, the speakers and worship were awesome. At the first break-out session I attended with poet Phil Long almost made all the disappointments fade away. He was so inspiring and encouraging. Sadly, there were still two disappointments to come that made me feel as though I did not belong, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.
Just before lunch I noticed a bunch of manila envelopes on the registration table. They were the essay contest results. I walked over and began to scan the names on the envelopes. Mine was not there. Perhaps I had just missed it because some had name then essay title, and others had essay title then name, so maybe I just missed it. I scanned them all again. Nope, no Linda Kruschke. Then I noticed that two essays had the same name but different essay titles, and one of the titles was two words from my essay title. The woman behind the registration table looked at the contents of that envelope and confirmed that it was mine and handed it over.
Now, I’d been looking forward to getting feedback on my essay for weeks. I’d prepared myself for some negative feedback and had prayed the Lord would help me take any criticism to heart and learn from it. But I was not prepared for what I pulled from that envelope. Standing in the middle of a sea of conference attendees, I stared at my score from the first judge: 29/100. I couldn’t believe it—I have never gotten 29/100 on anything I’ve ever written in my entire life. That’s an F by most grading scales, and I’ve never gotten an F. I did get a D once, but it was in P.E., not writing. You might think that the 68.5/100 I got from the other judge would have softened the blow, but it didn’t.
I felt like a fraud. What was I doing at a writers conference? Clearly I didn’t belong and someone wanted to erase my name from the books. Even singing “We Belong” during the closing worship time didn’t help.
Now I could end this little pity party of disappointment right here and conclude that I don’t belong among the ranks of Christian writers and poets. I could discount the fact that I gained 4 or 5 new Twitter followers during the conference, won a book, and learned a lot. But then the whole experience would be wasted. Instead, as I pondered, I thought about what I learned about the nature of disappointment and about myself. Here is what I’ve concluded:
First, it is ridiculous to think that the organizers of this conference were intentionally trying to disappoint and reject me. Putting on a conference is hard work—very hard work—with a great many details to be worked out. Missing nametags and lanyards, a mislabeled envelope, and anonymously graded essay scores are not a reflection of whether and how I am valued as a writer and fellow believer. They are just details that fell through the cracks.
Second, it is important for me to examine my own actions in dealing with others at church, work, or other settings. What am I doing or failing to do that might cause others to feel disappointed and left out? What can I do to make sure others feel valued and included?
Third, I must remember that my value is not in how well I write or whether others recognize me. My value is in Christ alone. He has redeemed me and I belong to Him, always and forever. And in the end that is all that really matters.
By the way, I’m looking forward to Faith and Culture Writers Conference 2015!