In The Meantime: Finding A Personal Ministry

every member a minister. 1395453_10151773808308717_127812155_nThis 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.

*        *        *

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.

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The night before: Friends help prepare the cabin for the retreat.

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.

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Friday morning workshop.

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. autumn retreat 2014.spiritual memior.IMG_9379We 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.

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Gift bags made by my daughter and me, filled with writing supplies.

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.

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Workshop leader Phyllis Barber.

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.

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Have you felt a call to minister? How has it expressed itself in your life?

Melody

Melody earns a living as a registered nurse, grows a respectable garden, and writes when she’s not building sheet forts with her grandkids. Her poetry has appeared in on-line journals, Segullah, Irreantum and small press along the Wasatch Front.

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32 Responses

  1. Megan says:

    Meeting you at Solstice, reading your tiny poems on Tuesdays, and participating in the spring workshop have been tremendous gifts in my life, Melody. You are a darling person and an inspiration to me.

  2. Twila Warner says:

    I will miss your voice here, but what you create at those workshops feels like a full expression of you and all your varied gifts. Love you, sister.

  3. Caroline says:

    Melody, I can’t tell you how much we will miss you at The Exponent. Yours has been such a voice of grace, spirituality, and poetry, and this blog will not be the same without it. However, I am so excited that you are following your call to organize and lead women’s writing retreats! I love your description of it here. So inspiring — makes me determined to someday come if I can and participate. It also inspires me to find and follow my call. For a long time, that call has been to organize and participate in this blog. I’ve been doing it for ten years now, and I hope to continue to do so for a while, but I anticipate other calls. Best wishes to you as you pursue this avenue and provide such a wonderful space for women writers.

  4. Jenny says:

    Melody, your voice will definitely be missed here, but I think your new calling in life is beautiful and perfect. Helping women to tell their stories is the best way to transform this mountain. If we’re all empowered to express our inner selves, we will find more unity which will give us a collective strength as women. That’s what I love about the Exponent and that’s what I love about your writers retreats. I can’t wait until I can go to one myself.

    • Melody says:

      I’ll look forward to seeing you again, Jenny, whenever that happens! You’re voice is powerful and needed. So glad you’re here. I love everything you write. God bless you, dear friend.

  5. Em says:

    I am so glad that you joined our community. You have been a strength to me and I admire how you speak up in a way that is both strong and filled with the Spirit. 🙂 Because emoticons can convey the feelings of the heart so well…

  6. Liz says:

    I am so sad to see you leave, but I’m so excited for your writers’ retreats. I hope I get to attend some day! Best wishes, and I hope you’ll stick around to comment and post whenever the urge strikes!

    • Melody says:

      Thanks, Liz. I have a feeling Exponent is like the Hotel California (or Mormonism?): you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave! Haha! I’ll be lurking, no doubt. And I really hope you can come some time. I’d love to have your voice and energy at a retreat.

  7. spunky says:

    Thank you so much for being a part of the Exponent, and for inviting us into your world— through your poetry and blog posts, as well also your invitation to retreat and write! Your voice will be missed, especially by those of us too far to retreat, but I look forward to reading the words you create at these writing retreats. Perhaps send us updates on the retreats? That would be a great way to stay in touch.

    Good luck in your new adventures!!!

  8. Rachel says:

    I saved this post for today, because I really wanted to take it in. I am so glad I did.

    I feel so much gratitude that you have shared your voice in this space in the past, because now I know your voice, and you as a person, and both have been changing for me. Thank you now for listening to the call within you, to nurture other voices, and create other spaces for those voices to shine and grow louder.

    My hope among hopes is that I’ll be able to join you for a retreat one day. There are so many projects bursting inside me. xo forever.

  9. Rachel says:

    (Also I keep having Mary Oliver’s line run through my head: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”)

  10. EmilyCC says:

    Thank you, Melody, for joining our community and blessing us with your writing and presence. I feel like this group has changed overall and I as an individual have been gained so much because of you.

    I didn’t know the specifics of your writing retreats but they sound amazing and I love (LOVE) that you see them as your call to ministry.

    • Melody says:

      Emily, thank you. Sometime I’d love to hear about your experience with chaplainship. . . maybe I should look around the blog in case you’ve already written about it. But I’ve thought of you several times in context of ministry. You’re a natural.

  11. Melody says:

    Thanks to each of you for your kind and gracious words. The energy here at Exponent blog is unlike anywhere else. It is an Eden for me and I’m sure for many others.

    And if ANY Exponent readers ever want to attend a retreat, I would be so thrilled and honored. Beautiful, beautiful people. Every one.

  12. Corrina says:

    Melody, I always have enjoyed your posts, and I appreciate your comments on other blogs–you always offer a balanced, thoughtful, and well-reasoned voice. Thank you!

  13. Cherie Pedersen says:

    Love what you are doing. I would love to be on your mailing list about retreat dates.

  14. Emily U says:

    My best wishes to you, Melody. I love stories of people following their dreams, and yours is a wonderful one. I really like the idea of following the ministry you feel called to. Scripture encourages us to do it, but Mormon culture also relies on being called by our leaders. This is a good reminder that church callings are only one form of ministry, and probably a small one at that.

    • Melody says:

      Emily – this is so true! I agree with you – the strong model of “callings” from church leaders sometimes interferes with more personal callings. Thanks for your kind words too!

  15. Ziff says:

    I’ll miss your blogging here, Melody, but I’m so happy to hear you’re moving on to something you feel so called to do, and that is also such a wonderful project! Best wishes on a smooth transition!

  16. Aimee says:

    Thank you for being a part of this wonderful sisterhood, Melody! Your sense of purpose and vision has been gift to all of us. I am eager to see how your retreats continue to develop and grow but am already certain they will be a source of much goodness in the world. Thank you for all you’ve done and will continue to do.

  17. Cruelest Month says:

    Thank you Melody for your lovely words, truth, and vulnerability. You will be missed and I hope to one day attend one of your retreats.

  18. Alisa says:

    Oh, I am going to miss your voice here so much, Melody! I was honored to attend the spring workshop and be with so many great and emerging writers. I love you.

  19. Andi Davis says:

    Thank you for this post, Melody! Could we one day organize an Exponent retreat at my cabin?? Let’s discuss the possibility further.

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