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Keep Being Brave

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If Sarah Bessey grips your hand and tells you to keep being brave, you better listen.

I spent last weekend at Faith & Culture Writers Conference, filling my creative tank and a brand new notebook with writerly ideas and inspiration. Some of my favorite writers and bloggers turned up to speak for the occasion, their unique voices blending together for a beautifully cohesive, resounding message:

Write the hard things.

I learned about the power of writing publicly, even when it’s scary. I was reminded to not make myself the hero of my stories. I was warned against the “Christian writer” tendency to edit, dumb down and sanitize stories to make them safer or more acceptable. I was spurred on to write my truths by others who have written theirs.

And then there was Sarah Bessey. Quietly, breathlessly, earnestly, she summoned us to pour out our lives unfinished on the page. In the mess. Amidst the chaos and confusion and brokenness.

A trained and obedient reporter, I had been diligently tweeting along through the first part of her speech, making sure to use all the appropriate hashtags.

Sarah looked to a room full of writers and artists, many of us longing to be published, recognized, validated and heard – and cut right past those surface desires into the core of our souls.

“I was an inauthentic performer on the page, because I was an inauthentic performer in my life,” Sarah said. “With fits and starts and failures, I gave up on performing. My answer became, ‘I want you, Jesus.'”

Feeling tricked by Sneaky God for sending me to this writers conference and bombarding me with all this Jesus talk – when I had planned on learning a few secrets to grow my social media platforms – I lost it.

“The decision to quit writing with an agenda gave me the freedom to write,” she continued.

Through tears, I looked down at my phone and tried to press the little feather quill icon to compose a new tweet. But my thumbs could no longer perform.

I gave up on performing.

In the evening hours after the conference, thanks to the graciousness of a few bloggers I’d connected with earlier in the day, I got to enjoy dinner and drinks with a dozen or so writers I admire. Over French fries and cheeseburgers, conversation easily flowed from our writing lives to our real lives to the tension between faith and doubt.

As I was getting ready to leave, Sarah Bessey arrived. Normally, I would have grabbed my belongings and slinked right past her, feeding into my fear of looking stupid. But that night, after drinking in all the creativity around me, tearing down walls of isolation by finding people who relate to my story, and putting away two glasses of good wine in my belly, I marched right up to Sarah and demanded a hug.

Because who knows why, she stood up and hugged me tightly before pulling away and looking deeply into my eyes. Her eyes were misty.

“Why are you teary?” I asked, stumbling over my words. “I mean, I get why I’m emotional, because I’ve read your book and you’re one of the reasons I’m still a Christian, and you’ve inspired me as a woman and writer and a person and everything. But why you? You don’t even know me.”

She paused and looked straight through the shaky, blundering package I came in.

“But I do,” she said. “I do know you.”

And I knew she was right. She may not know my history, or the specifics of my story, but she knows me.

As a woman.

As a mother. 

As a Jesus follower.

As the broken.

As a fighter.

As an overcomer.

I told her I’ve been writing through some of my hard things, and that it’s brought up so much bitterness and anger, that I wished I could be more like the “happy-clappy” Sarah Bessey.  She promised me that she too spent years working through anger and wounds, and that she still has rough days. Even the first draft of Jesus Feminist, she said, was rife with personal stories of injustices she’s witnessed in church.

Sarah Bessey had to wade through the cesspool too.

So when she gripped my hands and told me to keep being brave, I took it as my commission, which I pass on to all of you today.

Let’s keep being brave.


Photo by Tina Francis. Used with permission. 

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20 Comments

  1. Sarah Bessey on March 19, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Amen and amen. A precious gift here, Carly – so thankful to know you and to be on the journey with you, even in just a small way. xoxo

    • Kelsey Munger on March 19, 2014 at 9:38 am

      I wish so much that I could’ve gone to the conference and had the chance to meet you, Sarah. I’m still reading through Jesus Feminist — slowly, savoring it. Just the title alone gives me hope; it makes me feel less alone.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 19, 2014 at 10:41 am

      I really have no words… except “thank you.”

  2. Sarah Bessey on March 19, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Amen and amen. A precious gift here, Carly – so thankful to know you and to be on the journey with you, even in just a small way. xoxo

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 19, 2014 at 10:41 am

      I really have no words… except “thank you.”

  3. Kelsey Munger on March 19, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Carly, this is so beautiful! Thank you for writing about the conference (man, I wish I could’ve gone so that I could’ve met you!). As someone who is only just starting to write my way through some of my own painful, raw past church experiences (and often finds it pretty darn scary to push that “publish” button), I found this very encouraging.

    Keep writing. 🙂

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 19, 2014 at 10:38 am

      I have nightmares about the “publish” button. Let’s keep in touch… Maybe we’ll have the chance to meet in person someday soon.

      • Kelsey Munger on March 19, 2014 at 10:41 am

        I would LOVE to meet in person, Carly. We don’t live too far apart. 🙂

  4. Kelsey Munger on March 19, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Carly, this is so beautiful! Thank you for writing about the conference (man, I wish I could’ve gone so that I could’ve met you!). As someone who is only just starting to write my way through some of my own painful, raw past church experiences (and often finds it pretty darn scary to push that “publish” button), I found this very encouraging.

    Keep writing. 🙂

  5. Stephanie on March 19, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Love.

    (I wish I’d been there!)

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 19, 2014 at 10:38 am

      Next year perhaps?

      • Stephanie on March 19, 2014 at 10:40 am

        Yes! Maybe so.

  6. Stephanie on March 19, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Love.

    (I wish I’d been there!)

  7. lthompson513 on March 19, 2014 at 11:52 am

    What an amazing experience! As one of your very biggest fans, I loved every word.

  8. lthompson513 on March 19, 2014 at 11:52 am

    What an amazing experience! As one of your very biggest fans, I loved every word.

  9. Paula Willems on April 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I loved this post! Her words really touched me as well, as someone who she has never even met. Thank you for passing this on. Since I first read this I have been trying to be braver in my writing! <3 <3 (This is my second time reading this post!) 😉

  10. Paula Willems on April 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I loved this post! Her words really touched me as well, as someone who she has never even met. Thank you for passing this on. Since I first read this I have been trying to be braver in my writing! <3 <3 (This is my second time reading this post!) 😉

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