After the six girls who shared my home for the weekend had left, I sent out an email asking a few follow up questions from the workshop. How did they hear about it? What was their favorite meal? What did they want “more” of? And, most importantly, what was the best part of those three days?
The answers I got back were varied. Some loved the pasta, others liked the waffles. A few were long time blog readers and others had stumbled across my site after finding my book at their local library. They loved the adventures, the food, and the things they learned. But the answer that surprised me the most, that absolutely every girl gave, was that their hands-down favorite part of the workshop was being surrounded by like-minded young women for a long, wonderful weekend.
I remember being in high school and feeling like I was the only one of my kind I’d ever meet. I had few if any writer friends. I didn’t play sports or act in theater or study calculus like all my friends. I took pictures all the time and wrote constantly, and always felt alone doing it. It was a side of me that everyone knew about, but that rarely came up in conversations. I remember feeling like the oddball out a lot of the time, and telling myself that I’d just have to live with not having many shared interests with the people around me.
TURNS OUT, THAT’S HOW A LOT OF THESE GIRLS FELT TOO. They came from small towns or suburbs or rural farms or military bases, and they also often felt alone. It’s hard to find someone to gush over books and share ideas for stories and take photos with. Oftentimes, you’re off on your own living in your separate little world while your friends worry about work and college and sports.
Maybe that’s why this weekend was so special. Because, for the first time in many of their lives, these girls found a family of people just like them. Young women with hungry hearts and powerful voices. They never. stopped. talking. Their voices clashed and interwove and dissolved into each other. In car rides. Around the kitchen table. At twelve thirty in the morning on air mattresses in the spare room above my garage.
IT WAS THE SWEETEST TANGLE OF SOUND.
Each day I gave the girls a new writing assignment and we would gather in the evenings cross-legged in my living room to share and listen with each other. And on Saturday night, I had them all write their names on slips of torn notebook paper and drop it in a basket. Then they went around and each pulled out the name of another girl they had spent the weekend living with. Keeping the secret to themselves, they woke up early Sunday morning and scribbled in their notebooks or clicked away on their laptops. Writing. Telling the story of a life that intersected theirs so briefly, but so deeply. They’d only spent three days with these other young women, but it was amazing what they noticed and learned. Things that even I didn’t pick up on.
Sunday afternoon before leaving for the airport, we gathered together one last time over chili and cornbread and shared our stories with each other. I can’t describe it without the overly cliched words that come with something sentimental. Tears. Hugs. Blurry eyes and dimpled cheeks. The odd blending of smiles and gasps and wet drops from sleepy eyes that comes with a heartfelt goodbye after a cup runneth over kind of weekend.
I thought I’d introduce these storytellers to you, in their own words. See them the way we learned to see them. MY PHOTOS. THEIR WORDS.
ABBEY // as told by Mary
Rachel told us to be able to describe someone in three words. That made me bite my lip with nervousness. What if I didn’t pick the right three?! To my delight three words, quickly popped into my head about Abbey; and I know that even if they weren’t “perfect”, these three words are my chosen description of her.
2) a sunshine, and
As I was listening to Abbey on the way to Carter Mountain, I thought, “Woah! This girl has been through more external hardships than I (concerning houses and bedrooms – or lack thereof). And she hasn’t let it make her bitter. No, I can see what has happened in her life has made her a better person.” She and her family have stuck together, trusted the Lord, and seen God provide in some really amazing ways! Whatever trials come along… she doesn’t let them keep her down. She always bounces back. She is a beautiful female human slinky. I can’t wait to tell her story to my children.
It’s moving to see and honestly rare these days to see someone, especially at the age of 14, NOT complaining even over the “BIG” stuff. She merely related her life through words. Abbey is mature and caring; her actions speak louder than words. She lives and says “let God”. She may be the youngest of our group, but we can all learn from her.
SAMANTHA // as told by Abbey
Samantha is beautiful, inside and out.
When I think of her, the first thing that comes to my mind, is her hair. The beautiful way her curls fall against her soft skin and compliment her eyes.
The next thing that comes to mind, is how quiet she is. She has such a calm and sweet spirit that I absolutely admire. She sees the world through the lens of her camera. She finds beauty in the great things as well as the small.
Samantha is an easy person to be around. Someone whose inner and outer beauty, everyone admires. Someone whose giggle makes you happy. Someone whose smile is contagious.
Someone who makes you hurt when you don’t get to be around them.
ZIPPORAH // as told by Sydney
I’ve always had an obsession with names–I love when they are unique and meaningful. A girl I met only a few short days ago possesses a name similar to many of the names I create for my characters, but I soon learned that there was something much more special about this girl than her name. Her smile and freckles brighten anyone’s day. She loves God and the beautiful details in his creation. She goes great lengths to snap a picture of the most infinitesimal detail, the things few others take time to notice; the dew on a a mountain apple, the pasty orange of an autumn pumpkin. People like Zipporah are the people we need most in the world, the ones who slowly bring back what matters most.
ABBY // as told by Samantha
The one thing that I first noticed about you was your extreme enthusiasm. A light in your eye as you talked about your stories, rushing over to someone to give a word of encouragement, and providing a listening ear when someone needed it seems to be your specialties. But what I couldn’t stop thinking about was how you see the world. You see the stories behind people, and you take special time to let people know that you care.
You see the weathered hands, and the dirty nails and you know they’ve had to work during their life. You see soft ringlets and smooth skin and think of life. You see watery eyes and shaking shoulders and you know when to speak and when to listen because you know that person has had a difficult time. I honestly can’t even describe and put into words how amazing it is to listen to you and see the world through your eyes. All I can say is words that you’ve said all week: “And I love that.” It has been such a crazy and inspiring weekend, and I’ve loved getting to know you.
SYDNEY // as told by Zipporah
Sydney is a young woman brimming with laughter, observant and lovely. All week long I have been around her, marveling at the way the sunlight streaks her flaxen hair with light, watching her describe hilarious incidents, shaking in uncontrollable giggles until my sides are just about to split apart. I’ve come to smile at her pink curlers, at her love for guinea pigs and soft bread.
This girls is beautiful. Her hands are elegant; the type that I could photograph all day. Blue, blue eyes, especially when she glances shyly up at the camera. Yet it’s not just what she looks like that makes me know that God created her a masterpiece.
It’s listening to her describe story ideas and struggles. It’s watching her stand on a wall in the middle of a Scotch fog, smiling sleepily at a tangle of eager girls. Or listening to her announce that she’s just memorized her new zip-code, seeing the bravery of moving half-way across the country.
Sydney is the only Sydney of her type. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.
So if you ever run across a girl with rippling, blonde hair who catches her face in her hands when she’s telling stories, tell her that you’re already glad to meet her. Because there is no way you could ever regret saying that.
She’s worth knowing.
MARY // as told by Abby
When I first met Mary; it was a smile that met me. I think I shall always think of soft piano music and early morning walks in polka-dot pajamas when I hear the name Mary. The girl who laughs with her heart and smiles from deep within her soul.
Her dark hair is often flipped over her shoulder or pulled back with a hair tie out of the way. It brought me such pleasure to see it floating in the wind as she lagged behind us noticing a flower not the size of a half dollar. It’s the little things Mary notices that I just walk past.
I will exit that front door today and I’ll probably look back frantically asking where is Mary? It will make me laugh, smile, and weep a little too. I will miss the woman with a heart for God and for life. As she faces the world may she always remember even on the hardest of paths to stop and smell the flowers.
I’M GRATEFUL FOR THESE STORYTELLERS. Seeing the friendships that formed this past weekend was such a testimony to God’s divine arrangement of hearts and bodies and voices. So glad I could meet them and I pray these relationships continue to grow as the days and years go by.