I sit in the third row of the shuttle bus, my head against the cool window, stuffed carry-on perched heavily on my lap. One row behind me two women process their conference experience together as the bus lurches toward the airport. They’re giddy, their conversation punctuated with bursts of laughter, their voices ringing with passion. I close my eyes and press my temple to the glass.
Let’s be clear: the conference I attended this past weekend was in many ways a rich, productive, valuable experience. I connected with online friends in real life – people I love and cherish; people who know me and make me laugh until I’m out of breath. I also met several movers and shakers in the publishing industry – editors, writers and speakers – and I learned so much from them in our short time together, it will take weeks to download it all from my brain.
But I also learned something else this weekend, something I’d suspected but never fully admitted to myself. I learned that Christian conferences don’t necessarily fill my soul, even when I expect them to.
Over and over I heard we would leave the conference changed, moved, responsive, renewed, called. Yet all weekend long, all I felt was unchanged, unmoved, unresponsive, uncalled.
People prayed from the stage and my mind wandered. Worshippers praised God with arms raised and bodies swaying to the music, and I slipped out the back door. Speakers preached fervently, passionately, on fire for God, their voices choked with emotion, and my heart beat hollow in my chest. Conference attendees talked about how they heard from the Lord, or were being called by the Lord, or were following the lead of the Lord, and I heard nothing, felt nothing, was led nowhere.
I felt very badly about this. I felt like a failure. What kind of believer leaves a Christian conference feeling emptier and lonelier and more confused than when she’d arrived? What kind of believer spends a weekend surrounded by preachers, praisers and Spirit-filled sisters and departs an empty husk, a pile of dry bones? What in the world was wrong with me?
Last night as I pulled the mini-van to the curb, I saw my three boys lined up on the front stoop, waiting for me. The house glowed in the dusk, every window lit, the illuminated skull hanging lopsided behind the front panes. Later, trinkets from the trip dispensed, my suitcase half-unpacked, I nestled under the threadbare comforter with Noah, Brad on the other end the couch, the Vikings vs. the Packers on the television, a plate of homemade apple pie in my hands.
This morning the runner in the blue fleece passed me on the path, just like he does every day, his nylon pants swishing, his German shepherd’s leash jangling a rhythmic tune. Two chickadees traded calls as the rising sun painted a mosaic on a palette of autumn leaves. My breath frosted the morning air, sneakers tapping a soothing beat on the concrete.
This where I find God, in my everyday place, with my everyday people. This is where I see him and hear him best – right here, in the ordinary, in the routine, in the familiar. The call of the chickadees is my hymn. The chipped coffee table is my altar. The three boys who wait for me on the front stoop as darkness falls are my church.
Turns out, there was nothing wrong with me at all. I simply hadn’t been able to hear God through all the noise.
Have you ever been disappointed to find that you couldn’t hear or see or experience God when you expected to?