In the past week, I've turned down two speaking invitations for fabulous events. I wanted to say yes - oh, how I wanted to! - but no was the clear answer for this time and stage. I even tried to convince myself I could do one, and I texted someone I trust deeply for advice. Her reply? "I think you already know the answer but you don't want to admit it to yourself."
She was right. I did. So I wrote the organizer to apologize that I couldn't come this year, and then I found myself doing the same thing again a week later. And I grieved, sad to miss these phenomenal events, disappointed that my humanity means I can't do all the things I want to do, and - to be honest - embarrassed to admit my ego was bruised of not getting to be share about traveling to Seattle and Chicago this year. (Another year, I hope, that will all be different!)
Last year, I traveled all over - Seattle. Charlotte. DC. Orlando. Durham. South Texas. DC again. Nashville. - all while holding down the fort back here in between and beginning some intense therapy work to process through past traumas I had hidden away, hoping to ignore forevermore. (It doesn't work that way. The pain demands to be felt eventually.) So why - after making all that work - am I stepping back now?
1. Writing is my first passion.
Friends, colleagues, and strangers keep asking when I’ll write my first book. I have several proposals I’ve started over the years but then set aside. I meant for this past year, with all the kids in school for the first time, to be devoted to writing. That didn’t happen. I love to travel, but it takes a lot out of me. And I generated a lot of new speaking content this year, which took time. I’ve realized to get back to writing, I need to step back from speaking so much.
2. I need to make space for the personal work I’m doing.
I’ve been open about being in therapy. Given some recent vulnerable posts, some of you can guess some of the topics. Others will never be offered for public consumption.
My therapist is a total Godsend, but there’s no way she can make this process easy for me. Trauma work is hard. I’m learning a lot, realizing a lot, healing a lot, and grieving a lot, all at the same time. I need space in my life to give myself the time needed for this important self care.
3. I’m not convinced ministry breakout sessions offer a large enough impact to justify my travel.
Consider a children’s ministry conference. I’m the special needs ministry guru, often the only one. Every goes to the main sessions, which cover the topics deemed most universal (and, to be honest, which feature the speakers whose name recognition lend credibility to the conference as a whole). Inclusive ministry isn’t a main stage session. It should be, given the stats and the need. The people who come to special needs ministry sessions? They’re mostly the people who already see the need to welcome families like mine and would seek out the resources we provide at Key Ministry, whether they ever met me or not. The people who are still explicitly turning away special needs families or implicitly making them feel unwelcome? They need to be challenged from the main stage.
Because I don’t think it’s worth my time to be the lone disability advocate preaching to the choir in a small back room, I’m starting to say no to conferences unless special needs issues will be addressed in the main sessions. I love being the one to do so, but I’m totally fine if it’s someone other than me. I’m just certain that the impact needed for the continued growth of inclusive ministry means that the topic can’t be an afterthought or sideshow.
(For other conferences, smaller settings work wonderfully, so I'm not opposed to presenting workshops ever. But I'm finding that I must evaluate the impact before I can say yes, especially for longer distance travel. And I don't want to be a token voice on disability issues just so the organizers can say they care about families like mine, when nothing in their main session content demonstrates that.)
4-9. Jocelyn, Patience, Philip, Robbie, Patricia, and Zoe.
One has recently started coming to me, little hands balls into fists against skinny legs, and whispering, “Mommy, I need help. I’m having feelings.” Another crawled into bed with me this past weekend to cry in my arms over the ending of the book Bridge to Terabithia. I want to be here in moments like those. My little people are ages 4, 5, 7, 7, 9, and 9. I already have the rule that I don’t travel on their birthdays. But I want to be around on more of the other days too.
(That said, I think it’s healthy for them to witness the work I do. It matters. But I always want them to rest assured that they matter more. In this season, staying home more does that. In another session, I might be able to travel frequently while still affirming their value as greater. It’s a balance, and this is where I land right now.)
I hope none of this sounds like I’m ungrateful for the myriad of opportunities I’ve had. One glance at my speaker page will reveal that I’ve gotten to go some amazing places with some inspiring people. I’m beyond thankful.
I’m also certain I will travel. Just not as much in this season. God designed me to need rest too, and my kids and writing deserve more of me right now.