“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”
I had the privilege of attending PURE Escape – A Women’s Conference, in Tarrytown, NY this past weekend. The focus of the event was on the theme of “Story” – women telling their stories. PURE, was founded by Melissa Harrison, a broadcast journalist with a passion for connecting people to one another to help them reach their greatest potential for personal growth and social change. Held at the beautiful Tarrytown Estates and Conference Center, this conference surpassed all my wildest expectations with the caliber of the speakers, attendees and conversations.
To jumpstart the morning, worship was led by the very talented Susan Pettrey of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Then a panel of previous conference attendees spoke about the impact of attending PURE and why they keep coming back year after year.
This was followed by a brief testimony by Elizabeth Sanders, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, on the heartbreaking loss of her young child after being diagnosed with severe brain deformities. The pain of the loss was evident through her tears but Elizabeth still managed to smile as she recounted the peace that she felt in trusting the Lord in spite of her circumstances.
Alexandra Kuykendall was the first featured speaker of the day. Alex works with MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers) and is the author of “The Artist’s Daughter – A Memoir.” Alex, a tiny woman with shoulder length black hair stepped up to the podium and began reading from a book of prayers. She then uttered these words: “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.”
These words echoed throughout the room. “What is a story”, she asked? “A story is about a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” A excellent communicator, Alex’s salient points were:
- Most stories are about people searching for or finding something that was lost.
- The greatest story ever told was about a man named Jesus who said I am God and I have come to find you.
- Themes are the threads that are coming through the story of your life.
- What are you searching for?
Alex’s own story concerned the theme of Am I lovable? Am I loved? Am I loving? Raised by a single world traveling mother and an absentee artist father, Alex grew up believing she was not loved or worthy of love. If she was, then why did her father always leave her? She became a perfectionist who strived to prove her worth by getting good grades, winning awards and being the good girl. She also looked for affirmation and affection from the men in her life, leading to unhealthy relationships. The pattern was always the same: Men leave.
Even after marrying the man of her dreams and giving birth to her first child, the question still haunted her, “Am I lovable?” She was looking for validation everywhere but it wasn’t until the death of her father and the questions that arose about his will and her inheritance, that it hit her; the burden of proof was no longer hers. She had already been validated and assured of her worth and value by her Heavenly Father.
Ephesians 1:11 says “Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.”
“We have been given an inheritance of forgiveness, love and grace,” said Alex. “Yes, you were found before you knew how lost you were. Embrace your story, pain is pain and joy is joy. Follow the threads that God is placing on your heart because no one else has walked your walk. Recognize that you are in the middle of your story and it is open-ended.”
After Alex spoke, we took a break for lunch. I was sitting at the lunch table talking to the group that I came with when suddenly someone grabbed at the empty seat next to me. When I looked up, I saw that it was Michelle Burford. I was ecstatic because I had been looking forward to meeting and speaking with Michelle at the conference.
Michelle is a seasoned writer and storyteller. She calls herself the ‘”story surgeon” based on her ability to craft page-turners and compelling narratives that sell. As we began to chat, parts of Michelle’s story began to unfold. She had signed up for the Peace Corps following her college graduation, but then got hired as an editor for Single-Parent Family Magazine. Michelle then worked out an arrangement with her boss to take the Columbia Publishing Course, a crash course in book and magazine publishing by Columbia University. She was then hired by Essence Magazine and after working there for two years; she spotted an ad for a new magazine by Oprah Winfrey. Michelle with God’s guidance and her own self-professed “doggedness” secured an interview with Oprah and went on to serve as a Founding Editor for the new magazine.
Doggedness is defined as “a steadfast adherence to an opinion, purpose, or course of action in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion.” It’s a stubborn and obstinate tenacity that refuses to give up despite the circumstances or the opinions of others. As I listened to her speak, I was inspired by her doggedness and her confidence not only in her work but also in God’s plan for her life. It was this same doggedness that helped Michelle to land many ghostwriting jobs and then co-author Olympic Gold Medal winner Gabrielle Douglas’ story, “Grace, Gold and Glory”, Toni Braxton’s memoir, “Unbreak My Heart” and Michelle Knight, one of the Cleveland kidnapping victims’ story, “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, A Life Reclaimed.”
Following lunch, I sat in two breakout sessions, “Writing Your Story” was led by Michelle and the following session, “Divine Delays” was led by Courtney Garrett, a bible teacher and Director of Women’s Discipleship at Grace Bible Church in Houston, Texas. Courtney spoke about trusting God’s timetable after waiting years for a mate then battling with infertility and her son’s subsequent medical problems. Here are the most salient points from both sessions.
- When writing a book, try to narrow down the theme of your story to eight words. Ex: Gabby Douglas: Triumph over tragedy, poverty to Olympic gold.
- Books have an enduring quality that magazine articles and blogs do not have, there’s a hunger to have one’s life story in hardcover format.
- When crafting good content, think about a scene, does it move the narrative forward in some way. Ask yourself, if I knew nothing about my story, would I want to read this blog, scene etc.
- Be willing to have someone else markup your story, give up your insecurities about your writing
- It’s important to really master your craft. Recommended reading: How To Tell A Story – The Secret To Writing Captivating Tales by Peter Rubie and Gary Provost
- Do things that no one else will do.
- Doggedness. I may not be the best writer but I can be better than I was yesterday
- Confidence comes from doing. Don’t wait to feel confident. In order to get a series of successes, you have to have a few failures.
- If you are a Christian, God is writing your story and you are not living Plan B.
- Psalm 62:5 – My soul, wait only upon God and silently submit to Him; for my hope and expectation are from Him. (AMP)
- When you wait, you have to wait with confident expectancy and continue steadfastly
- God does His best work in our hearts in these seasons of waiting
- When questions begin to surface like “Is God good?” “What if this is not a part of God’s will for my life?” “Do you love me Lord?” – learn to say, “God you are good and everything you do is good. No good thing will you withhold from those who walk uprightly. He loves us with an everlasting love”
- Lazarus was Jesus’ friend and he still waited four days to raise him from the dead
- John 11:4 – “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Many people believed in Jesus as a result of seeing Lazarus raised from the dead. God was glorified through this.
- Jesus wept. When we are going through valleys, we desensitize Jesus, we don’t believe that He enters into our pain but He weeps with us.
- What do we do when we wait? We cry out to God and ask Him to reveal Himself to us. We flood our minds with God’s promises. Recognize when the lies come. Worship and serve others while waiting.
- We have to learn to cooperate with where the Lord has us. Choose not to be bitter. Surrender our hopes, dreams, and plans. Live with confident hope.
Following dinner that night, we closed out the evening with a testimony by PURE founder, Melissa and a time of prayer. Melissa’s story is so compelling and captivating that you have to read it for yourself. Marie Claire published the shocking story of Melissa’s mother’s murder at the hands of her brother and his friend. Her journey from grief and loss to reconciliation and forgiveness can be found here: A Family Affair – Marie Claire Magazine.
Overall, the PURE Escape Women’s conference was a truly unforgettable experience. Women from all over the country converged at the Tarrytown Estates to share their stories of pain, loss, redemption, hope, joy and God’s enduring love for them.
Do you have a story that you would like to share? Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.
Check out I Am Second to hear more stories.