As I rushed around Hope Chapel in Sterling, MA on Saturday morning, I was still a little apprehensive about the day. As I spread tablecloths, set out coffee and tea service, hung fun vintage print fabric buntings and arranged materials on the registration table, I could feel a few butterflies wildly dancing within me and a twinge of panic welling up just beneath the surface. What if my workshop didn’t go well? What if registrants didn’t show up after all? What if we had sound system glitches? (Note my total lack of concern as to whether or not Sarah would be brilliant, because I already considered that to be inevitable!!)
And then a dear friend who has lived much of her life in England whooshed in through the entry doors and put a colorful gift bag into my hands. “Open it now, you’ll see why,” she said, her eyes sparkling with a secret delight. I dug through the tissue paper and drew out this darling fire-engine-red tea tin delightfully imprinted with the now-familiar expression “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Yes, this!
Then the conference team gathered for prayer together in a quiet back room, and as we lifted up the day to the One who flung the stars, who gave us words and language and beauty and books, I knew that all would be well. We walked out from that room ready to encourage and inspire those in attendance to mold and shape the souls and minds of children with grand Story, cultivating the landscape of imagination through books and Beauty.
Isn’t this a delightful scene? I commissioned this picture from an artist friend to use for our conference programs, and I just love the color and imagery and artistry.
These are the stunning flowers that graced the tables of the sanctuary, wonderfully and artfully arranged by my talented sister-friend Becky. I have a few of these arrangements now scattered through my home and their beauty is still nourishing my soul. We put out a survey for the conference attendees to fill out, and over and over the flowers were mentioned as a favorite part of the day (along with the enchanting live violin music, the quality coffee and teas, and of course the washi tape!)
You would think that for preparation’s sake, Friday afternoon would find Sarah and myself pouring over notes in a frenzy to review points and precepts. Instead, we whisked away together to Newport, RI to “play”…spending the day immersing ourselves in such delights as lunch in a small mansion set right on the sea, a hearty stroll along the water on the Cliff Walk (where we took this picture), tea and treats at a darling bakery, popping into shops run by local artisans and clothiers, and of course the very best of conversation betwixt kindred spirits. I felt that this soul-filling day of delights was the best preparation possible for pouring out into the hearts and minds of those who would join us the next day for a grand celebration of Story.
And pour out we did. Oh, friends…it was such a grand day of beauty and delight! Every detail came together to create an environment rich in color, sound, taste and fellowship. The church was transformed into a bit of a fairy land, thanks to the heroic and tireless efforts of Jane Rattray from cherished-child.blogspot.com, and as registrants began to arrive you could tell they were tickled by the fun and enchantment that we had worked so hard to provide for them. The welcome packets contained such delightful surprises as a brightly colored pen, a chalkboard-style name tag, a glassine pack of hand-stamped water bottle tickets sealed with fun washi tape, and a paper bookmark with baker’s twine tassel that served as a boxed lunch voucher.
“Sweet” Pastry and Dessert Bar in Worcester did their part, providing the guests with a delicious lunch and decadent cupcakes. Thanks to Manna Recording & Duplication we have recordings of each session and all the workshops, and soon they shall take up permanent residence at storyformed.com, Sarah’s online home for literary resources for parents and children. The book table was a huge hit, laden with Sarah’s books as well as favorite selections from Whole Heart Ministries and a few offerings from local authors. Violin music swelled in the background, filling the room with gorgeous music. The fragrant flowers, delicious coffee, tin pots brimming over with gourmet chocolates, informative workshops, and general camaraderie of like-minded souls all blended together to create this magical atmosphere of expectation and anticipation.
And then there was Sarah, incandescent in beauty, expressive and articulate, she took the stage with quiet grace. At times we strained to hear her soft and lilting voice, but make no mistake, her message rang loud and clear. Story, imagination, books and beauty are gifts of God, tools used by the Master Creator to shape the souls of His children and to create heroes and heroines that live out the stories of their lives and reflect the goodness of God, that bring light to a dark world and healing to the broken places. We sat listening, greatly heartened and encouraged to press on, to cultivate a life rich with words and wonder, to READ to the children in our lives. We wrapped up the day with a rousing question and answer session that addressed the finer points and practicalities of shaping the storyformed life. We closed the doors on the conference with confidence, assured that the message had gone forth and been received with great joy. Were there glitches and little imperfections? Did some details fall through the cracks? Sure, of course they did. But all in all, the day was a grand success.
But the day wasn’t over quite yet. My sweet husband had given up his birthday so I could host this event, and now it was time to collect him on our way in to Boston, join up with Sarah’s charming brother Joel, and head to The Beehive, a fun jazz-club-slash-art-gallery in a trendy Tremont Street neighborhood serving up decadently delicious food and amazing music in a quirky-fun environment, along with some of the best people watching opportunities to be found in the city. I am quite certain I had the best meal of my life, from the baby back ribs with sweet Asian glaze to my first encounter with poutine (fries with gravy and cheese, but really it’s just deliciousness on a plate!), the Moroccan lamb and chicken couscous and the sage frites, and capping it all off with the incomparable chocolate mousse and maple bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream…we ordered up several dishes and shared each and every one, reveling in each burst of flavor and each dance of taste experience on our tongues. Such a perfect end to this day that had been such a focus for me and my family and for Sarah for weeks if not months. Preparations, details, questions, lots of time on the computer working on websites and promoting on social media, some weariness and frustration along the way, all resulting in the success of the day and capped off with a grand feast of tastes and music and conversation and camaraderie. Will I do it all again? Hmmmm…jury is still out on that. Would I change a thing about the last few months of pulling this together (and pulling it off?). Absolutely not!