Sunday, September 18, 2011

Imagine Nation

So I asked myself, am I an Exodus woman? Exodus 35: The artists of Israel came together to build a dwelling place for God. They carved poles, fashioned gold, and constructed curtains with cherubim woven into them by expert hands. Their job was to envision the kingdom of God and use their gifts to heighten people's spiritual imaginations.

Has God planted, in my heart, any spiritual truth that I can pour out onto the written page? Is my imagination, in fact, His imagination? I was hoping for some answers in Chicago, and I was not disappointed.

Ben Arment, creator of Story, pulled together a creative team, which pulled together a creative team, to help the creative team learn about the creative arts. Film, music, worship, short film, social media, dramatic arts, writing, authorship, and environmental staging were showcased and explored. I wondered, can I, should I, would I, sign up for this creative compendium of sorts? I asked God for direction, and heard that I can, I shall, and I will go...I was like a sponge.

Through song and story, a block or two from one of the meanest ghettos in the second city, country folks and town folks and folks from all over the world shared their journeys. I felt a little out of place, but quickly decided to let go of my inhibitions and let God. Who knew this 56 year old librarian would really fall for the drummer in Daniel Bashta's band...his immediate and passionate song on the drums hammered a mantra into my urgent, be real, be present. And a very intense guy named Dan Smith told his story with more drama than I thought possible. I winced when he minced no words, an unusual storyteller with a head cold and a higher calling.

The first guy to bring me to tears was Ed Dobson. He just finished a series of short films called Ed's Story. As a master storyteller he had us all in the palm of his hand. Ed pastored a church for many years, and was named Pastor of the Year by Moody Bible Institute. He also wrote a beautiful journal of sorts--The Year of Living Like Jesus. But ten years ago, he was given a life sentence. ALS. And the prognosis was not good--doctors gave him 2-5 years left on this earth. Ed told us "it began with twitches...twitches in my muscles..." and compared his diagnosis to being in Lazarus's tomb. He was cold, isolated, and lonely. But this rare man heard from Moses, who told him, "Choose life that you may live." Ed showed up. In his short film, Consider the Birds, he brought me to tears with the story of his farewell to his son when he departed for the Iraq war. The unsung hero in Ed's story is his wife-- devoted, silent, beloved. Between battling ALS and sending his son into battle, Ed shared this lesson: We don't control squat. I loved Ed. And I will pray for him. If you want to fall in love with Hope, go to

Next we heard a very different kind of story from Tom Ryan, who founded a community-based web crowd-sourcing business called Threadless. Using the internet to rally public opinion, he doesn't conjure up a wireless crowd but rather has built and maintained an online community of 1.5 million artisans through an ongoing t-shirt design strategy/company. He has a BA from Dartmouth and an MBA from INSEAD in France, and he has mastered the art of harvesting creatives.

A beautiful young lady named Esther Havens, humanitarian/photographer, shared her story and it was not unlike the Esther we already know. She says her journey was a selfish one as it began...she had interior ambitions, desires, goals that prevented her from seeing and understanding her calling. Through her photographs, we see the ancient calling of Esther, and the cry of our Old Testament Esther's heart when she asked, "For how could I bear to see the evil that would come on my people? How could I bear to see the destruction of my relatives?" For Esther Havens, the camera lens bears witness to the joy of Jesus in the midst of poverty. She's pretty amazing.

Sean Astin showed up; he has appeared in over 70 films including one I love- Rudy. His portrayal of this walk-on football player was a moving testament to the power of the human spirit, and how a family impacts the choices we make. He also starred in Goonies, and Lord of the Rings...he's made his mark in film-making as well, but I was most excited to learn he's going to produce a new film called Number the Stars. One person clapped when he announced it (me) as most of the audience was too young to remember the book. He's promised to do a great job telling the story first brought to us by Lois Lowry, so I'm really looking forward to this story of friendship and courage.

For artists like Bethany Hoang, she uses the gift of her intellect to reach victims of slavery and sexual exploitation. She took us to the ragged back alleys of darkness to demonstrate that Light is a weapon and a tool against oppression. By understanding sexual deviation, human deprivation, and cruelty against women in our world, she directs and delivers for International Justice Mission. For more on this redemptive, restorative, legal ministry go to

I guess one of the weirdest guys I heard during Story 2011 was Kyle Cooper. He's a Yale graduate with a long, distinguished resume in film-making and storytelling--from Final Destination to the Walking Dead, Iron Man to Flubber, Godzilla to Seven. Perhaps the message I understood first and foremost in listening to him is the idea that people who are creative must guard their hearts from the weights, whims, and restlessness of the world we live in. Here was a man who has everything to lose and everything to gain. His life's work reminds me that discernment is a gift, but we have to ask for it.

Day one was quirky, whimsical, riveting, and fascinating to me. Sitting in that smokey room all day, peeking my head out only occasionally for fresh air or fresh insight, I felt hit from all sides, and just wanted so badly for time to process and understand all I'd experienced. What did all this mean to me as a writer? What did all this mean to me as a woman of faith? What did all this mean to me as a part of the creative collective?

I write, so I was especially expectant about Day Two's key storyteller, Ann Voskamp. Ann writes lyrically, sparsely, and speaks likewise. She is a woman of conviction and a spokesperson for Compassion International. I felt so strongly that here was a woman I could hear out loud or on the page with equal peace. She lives on a farm in Canada, and is first and foremost a wife and mother. It just so happens that she can't keep from sharing the delights, dilemmas, and difficulties of life on this earth. She shared that during a writer's workshop in Texas, the group leader told her that her writing was too lyrical, too lovely to publish, and that it resembled poetry. He quantified that poetry was a bad thing. But she used that criticism as fuel, and her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Life Fully Right Where You Are, has been on the NY Times Bestseller List for over a dozen weeks. I really can't share her heart without having you look at her video.

Please don't skip this's the best I have to share with you today:

Figuring Life Out - One Thousand Gifts (720) from Jacob Forrest on Vimeo.

Then I did something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I decided to change someone else's story. Through Compassion International, you can sponsor a child. I chose a little farmer boy in Kenya named Martin. He's only 11, so I hope this support will enable him to dream a little bigger, figure this thing called life out before he decides not to do that...and then I chose a little girl named Karen from Peru. I wanted my daughter Michelle, who is fluent in Spanish, to share a relationship with Karen and my granddaughter, Avery, because these two precious little girls are the same age. I think a little girl in Pearland can learn a lot from a little girl in Peru, and I'm praying for both of their futures.

Featured preacher teacher Skye Jethani approached us next. Who knew that such wisdom could come from a kid named Skye Jethani...sounds more like a flower child than a leader, but he has a gift for teaching and I listened well to all he had to share. His ideas are not radical or new, but his message is relevant and necessary--we are called to life with God. He challenged us to check our posture...check yourself before you wreck yourself, if you will. He said God's not a vendor; we're not consumers. He said we're called to a relationship with God, not just God's word. He says we have to figure out free will versus divine will, activism versus servanthood. I was really compelled to examine my own posture...and that's a good thing, not in a ponder-your-navel kind of way but in a ponder-your-eternity kind of way.

Just when I thought I could relax a bit and quit feeling so pressed and perplexed, along came Matthew West and Angela Thomas. Matt has been on the Billboard charts more often than not, and Angela has walked the walk of a good girl who was broken by divorce and life as a single mother before God healed her under the shelter of His wings. Together, they collected 10,000 hard stories that became 10,000 tales of hope, courage, and grace. Their music was just off the charts.

Imagination brings out such strange and vexing images and ideas. It's hard to understand how a Christian can go to the dark side and return unscathed. But Ed Saxon, producer of Silence of the Lambs, talked about his journey. It seems he detaches himself from the content by going into a Hollywood state of mind. Some of his work has been very provocative--Philadelphia, Adaptation--but at the end of the day, he goes home a devoted husband and father to a family he cherishes. He did share that he puts his own image into his films, and this was rather off-putting when he described that one of the heads in the jars in Silence of the Lambs was his own. Hope that doesn't keep his kids up at night...the movie is an amplification of the evil in the world.

If you're reading this blog, you might be following another one, The MChandlers, who have experienced the lamentgracepeace of Christ as they've battled against brain cancer. Lauren shared her very private story in this public forum, trusting in the ability of their tragedy to offer hope to others. Who knew that the ladies restroom would be the place I'd end up discussing the meaning of Lauren's story with a woman who'd just lost her mother and was trying to find a way through her own grief? It was a precious moment, to look eye to eye with another person who'd gone through the same kind of sorrow as me. And I think that was a big part of the Story message for me...we are each on this earth for a time, for a string of seasons, and if we cannot turn to each other for hope, solace, wisdom, then what good are we really? Do we do anything that pleases our God, if we turn away from each other? He is calling us to turn in, to turn to Him, to be His hands and His feet as we share His heart. Sharing my heart saves no one. But sharing His heart means the difference between life and death.

It's kind of funny that the most meaningful thing I heard, and perhaps the thing I needed to hear the most, came at the end of the day. I'm not really ready to share it yet. I'm still meditating on this piece of news, perhaps what you'd call a brilliant glimpse of the obvious. But Ian Cron, author of a beautiful book about St. Francis of Assisi and a rather cool memoir called Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me, shared his life with us. It's been a cool life, but a selfish one. It's been a cruel life, but a redemptive one. Ian challenged my intellect, and I love when that happens. Ian's story was like a chisel to that God can use to get me where He wants me to be. He convinced me that I have a story to tell...that I have a gift that is not mine...that I've been entrusted with something--a message, a tale, a vision...and that if I play my cards right, I will end up doing exactly what I've been called to do.

So Story 2011 was about Imagine Nation, and imagination, but so much more. It was about 'a closer walk with Thee...and thee and thee...' It was about using the handful of flour and oil I've been given to go beyond words...I hope I can do that...and I hope you'll be with me on the journey. I don't want to leave without you!

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