Why It’s OK To Cry at Writing Retreats (or, At Least Ours): A Guest Post by Melanie Springer Mock

Dear Friends,

Today I’m delighted to share this space with my friend, Melanie, who is one of my major writing inspirations.

Although I was initially intimidated by her — she’s a real writer, after all, has authored several books, and is an award-winning professor of writing at a university —  I soon learned that Melanie is also an encourager, a kindness monger, a humble advocate and mentor, and a loyal friend. Now Melanie has released her latest book, my favorite so far, and I think you’ll see immediately why I’m sharing it (and her) with you. It’s titled Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else. For those of us who grew up in conservative Evangelical Christian culture and have felt enormous pressure to conform in order to fit in — for those of us who have desperately longed to be wildly and truly ourselves with all our magic and mess, as though that is who we were created to be all along — this book is a life-giver and a game changer. Vulnerable, funny, heart-wrenching, and deeply true, Melanie shows us the way to discover that we’re already worthy of love exactly as we are. Which is what I hope we do here every day.

I asked Melanie to write a guest post, which I offer below, AND we’re also doing a giveaway of Worthy. Leave a comment here on the blog post, and you’ll be entered to win. (But also go buy it… you’ll be glad you did… and you can always give it to a friend if you win.) I wrote a post not long ago about my own sense of vulnerability at the retreats we offer at the Oregon Coast, and Melanie picks up the theme for us below…

With much love,

 

 

…..

Last week, when I took my dog Nellie to a new-to-us veterinarian, I noticed an unlit candle at the front desk, with a sign that said something like “If this candle is lit, please be quiet and respectful, as someone is saying good-bye to a beloved companion.” The candle and sign slayed me, and I cried right there in the vet office. And then at home. And several times since, telling people about the candle, the sign, the thoughtfulness of it all.

Something about middle age has made me weepy as hell. Part of this may well be genetic, and part might be because a lot of people I love are going through really hard things. And part of it is totally inexplicable—like, when my dad texts me cute videos of dogs doing cute things, or when my own cute dog needs to see her doctor, and I find myself weeping in the vet lobby.

What else can I do, but admit that I’m a middle-aged woman who cries in vet offices whilst holding the leash of a healthy dog? And cries at movie trailers, home renovation shows on TV, and the overnight (and sometimes short-lived) maturity of her two teen sons?

Then there was that time at the Magic in the Mess writing retreat, two years ago, when I was leading a session and started crying, so much so that no one could probably understand what I was saying. We were talking about something—vulnerability in writing, maybe—and I shared about an article I’d recently published in Christianity Today, one that had gone viral(ish), but that had narrated a childhood experience that was deeply painful for me. And, given my tears, apparently still was.

The cool thing about the Magic in the Mess writing retreat is that it’s okay to cry. Heck, if the facilitator can cry at the retreat, then anyone can, right?

The other cool thing is that the article in Christianity Today, alongside some of my other published work, opened the doors for a book contract, which opened more doors for my most-recent book to be published last week. Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else is part personal narrative, part cultural critique, and all vulnerability, as it discusses what it means to hear, over and over again, that you are not worthy: of acceptance, of community, of inclusion, of love.

In one way or another, we all hear and internalize those messages of unworthiness, and we spend our lifetimes seeking validation for who we are, not always recognizing that we are inherently worthy, and that nothing we do changes that inherent worthiness. Also, because I am a believer, I write about how God’s love for all of us is unconditional, despite what the church says about who deserves inclusion and who does not.

So I spent about nine months writing that book, in bits and pieces, as I continued teaching university writing classes and trying to survive my sons’ teen years. And then, I spent another year revising what I’d written, working with the publisher to create a marketing plan, and checking and rechecking the minutia of my manuscript.

I cried a bunch then, too, because deadlines seemed overwhelming, and my stories a little too raw to relive, and (okay, I’ll admit it) once or twice because I wrote a cool sentence. The writing process can be all that and more sometimes.

Last week, the book was published, and my community came out to celebrate my accomplishment. One of my closest friends threw an awesome launch party, because she has mad skills for that kind of thing, and the loving willingness to share her gifts with me. While I’ve panicked about whether people would come to my party, and whether I’m even worthy of celebration or attention (oh, the irony in wondering if I’m worthy to have a Worthy book launch party!), I’ve mostly been grateful for all the people who have been in my life, helping me become the person God created me to be. I’ve cried tears of gratitude then, too.

The Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat is one place I’ve found supportive community in the last few years. The other people on the retreat staff are part of my community already, and they work hard to make sure that everyone at the retreat feels welcomed, supported, and encouraged: in writing, and in life. We’ve been holding these retreats for three years now, and at each one, people have found the loving community that lets them know they are worthy, just as they are. The relationships I’ve made there, and will continue to make, will last a lifetime, I’m sure.

So tell me, what has made you inexplicably cry lately? Post in the comments below, and you will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else.

(We still have two spots left for the next retreat, May 3-6, where we will explore together the power of story to express our amazingly unique, wonderful selves. Consider joining us! I imagine there will be crying, maybe even by me. Because I am a weepy middle-aged woman, yes, but I’m also so grateful to be retreating in a beautiful setting, with beautiful people, writing beautiful things.)

……….

Melanie Springer Mock is Professor of English at George Fox University, Newberg. She is the author or co-author of five books, including most recently Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else (Herald Press, April 2018). Her essays and reviews have appeared in The Nation, Christian Feminism Today, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Christianity Today, and Mennonite World Review, among other places. She lives in Dundee, Ore., with her husband and two sons. In her free time, she likes to run, take naps, and watch reality television. Feel free to join her author’s Facebook page here

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
34 comments
  1. I cried a few days ago when my terminally ill father who lives in another country got wind of the fact that I was planning on coming to visit with my brother on Monday and he uninvited me because his “life is too complicated right now.” I was just there a few weeks ago, and the visit would be more complicated because he has a friend coming at the same time but still… I’m not sure what was worse, that sucker punch in the gut when I got the email or the realization when I started reading between the lines that it was really about money because he was afraid he’d have to pay for my trip even though I’d already nearly had the arrangements made to use vacation time etc.

    Middle age tears are rough. I also cried when Mike and Rachel got married on Suits when I watched that episode this week. I cried at a video I saw on Facebook. I’d cried at the police officer funeral video mentioned in a comment above. I’ve cried at some of the stories I’ve read about the teachers walking out here in Arizona. I’ve cried at how grossly the issues those teachers face are misunderstood and misrepresented by some. And I leaked a tear or two at my physical therapy appointment yesterday, but that was physical pain…

  2. I’m a teacher & a student’s parent went on & on how grateful he was for everything I did.

  3. Not completely unexpected, because I am a weepy middle aged woman, too, but last night I cried at the ending of Coco.

  4. I cry less at this point in my life than any other, which I suspect has to do with my anti-depressant. That being said, the YA book “Saints and Misfits” made me cry last week, as did a phone call from my oldest friend offering to send my daughter to horse camp this summer.

    I might just cry at the writing retreat next weekend. We shall see.

  5. I struggle with feeling like I’m not enough, even though I’m not really sure what “enough” is? It feels very hopeless to try and be something that I can’t define. And then to teach my kids that they are who they’re meant to be, that they’re wonderful and can do anything(!) but feel like a hypocrite at the same time? Ugh.

    1. Waving!

  6. I learned VERY early on that it was dangerous to cry. So I didn’t. At least in front of other people. Now, in my 60’s, I find myself crying in all kinds of places: at the gym (I read on the elliptical); in the car (listening to the radio); watching TV with my husband; talking to friends. I’m not like Shawniece on *Married at First Sight*, unfortunately. I haven’t been able to full-blown cry in front of people yet, but I think I’m getting there. I have a feeling this is important.

  7. A few thoughts, if you would? First, Beth, you ARE a real writer. You write, no? Second, oh God yes something about being this wonderful/messy/perplexing MIDDLE of life has me crying all the darn time. I already cried frequently but my mom passed last year and so now ~anydamnthingatall~ will just come along and whoosh here comes the rain again. There’s just so much at this stage!!

  8. I cried big sobby tears at a video on Facebook. It was of an elderly man who had suffered some sort of mostly-paralyzing event. He was being moved by a lot of nursing home caregivers into an inflatable pool to be baptized. By his son. It was so beautiful and the work of the spirit was so evident.

  9. I’d love to win the book for my fiancee. She was raised in a super religious conservative family (by parents who are refusing to come to our wedding) and doesn’t identify with those beliefs anymore. I think it’d help her.

  10. I cried yesterday as I told a friend how incredibly hard it is to be a single mom to a 13yo boy, because all I hear from him is how stupid I am, how wrong is everything I do, how he doesn’t like the food I cook…Some days I really long for a friendly voice that tells me I’m doing OK. Today this friend sent me a lovely postcard telling me that I’m worthy. I cried again.

    1. My son was the sweetest, most loving child in the world. And then he turned 13. Hang in there; it gets better!

  11. Today it has been bittersweet moments making me cry. This morning, I was remembering my mother passing away and the week or so leading up to it. Even though it’s been 11 years, it still makes me tear up. Then a friend was telling me about finding a school paper her husband had written about his mother in the mother’s room (as she was cleaning just after moving the mom to hospice). What a testament to a mother’s sentimentality that at 94, that sheet of notebook paper with that precious writing was one of the few items she had kept.

  12. I cry at dog food commercials, or when my Dad cries (I get it honest), or when my toddler does something incredibly sweet or kind or funny, or when I see something beautiful, or when I’m too exhausted to do anything else, or when my 6 month old smiles at me. So many reasons!

    So grateful for this post and all the posts, and the community here <3 (Sometimes I cry just reading posts and comments here, too!)

  13. I cry because I don’t feel it would be safe for my children to have a relationship with either of my parents. I cry because I tried so hard for 10 years to facilitate a relationship between my children and my husband’s mother, only to discover it’s somewhat of a burden to her and she’d rather loose the relationship than make any effort towards keeping it. I cry a lot lately because I found a job I really liked. REALLY liked. Not a career. Nothing that would make any real difference in the world to any one but me because I was meeting people and my social isolation was starting to break… and then my 10 year old son was diagnosed with diabetes and I had to quit that job. I cry because I feel so resentful and that makes me feel guilty and that makes me angry and around and around and around we go.
    Once someone told me that they wish they could cry in front of strangers like I could. Like I was choosing it. I know she meant well. But really?
    And then today I remembered to take my magnesium supplement. And I stopped crying. Turns out I was really just tired. Go figure. ReMag saved the day.

    1. Oh my, I feel like so much! A few years ago my Vitamin D and B12 were extremely low, I had to have shots. Before I knew this I thought I was going crazy, I was so tired and weepy all the time. Now I’m just “normal” tired and weepy.

  14. Not inexplicable, but the last time I cried was watching a video of the funeral procession for a Maine police officer who was shot in his cruiser while on duty. Not too far away from where my brother lives and works, as a police officer. And today I nearly cried in front of my high school students when explaining to them that they should run in a serpentine pattern away from a violent intruder, and that if they ever do choose to “counter” (i.e. attack) the intruder, they should aim for the weapon first, and that I would do my best to protect them.

  15. Crying and waving!

  16. I cry when my family is all together and I’m trying to be serious and tell them how much I love them. I cry when I happen upon the most glorious sunset because I went home a different way that night and got to see the sun set. I cry now thinking of how and why I cry. I tear up big time when I use one of Beth’s postings as an opening or closing prayer (which makes it difficult to finish reading sometimes). I cry because my oldest daughter and I somehow lost the connection we had and she won’t tell me what happened so I can attempt to repair (and she’s a psychiatrist). I cry because I have a home I can afford and I see others every day who cannot say that. I cry because I have family who support Trump. I cry because I want to come to a writing retreat because I’m a darned good wordsmith but fear of failing (at 73) and having to choose a writing retreat or the Mindfulness one because I can’t afford both. I chose the Mindfulness.

  17. I’m trying to stop dreaming of someday being a person who doesn’t cry
    Most recently I cried because my newly teenage daughter needed to talk to me about how she feels guilty that she is forgetting the bad times in my first marriage to her father which was awful and abusive. And I cried for her healing as I told her that was actually wonderful
    And forgetting does not make it ok what happened to us it just means she’s healing
    And I cried because my own healing is mich slower going I can Remember like it was yesterday and not nearly 4 years ago.
    We both need this book.

  18. I’m still in treatment for cancer, so crying happens a lot these days. Saturday night it was for the joy of seeing strangers come together as friends around a campfire. Yesterday, it was the pain of yet another difficult delay in my cancer journey. As Beth puts it, we’re all made of human. I love being human. it helps we recognize the human in other people.

  19. I saw baby geese with their tired Mama and proud Papa, and they were FLUFFY! So I cried.

  20. First, I love your blog and get such comfort from it, as a mom, an adoptive mom, a mom of a child with “special” needs, a human being. Thank you for the great writing and the wonderful conversation. And I love Melanie’s post! I cry all the time too – tears of joy, tears of outrage. Today’s mean-spirited politics makes me cry, refusing Syrian refugees makes me cry, my dad’s dementia makes me cry, watching my kids doing thoughtful things for each other makes me cry. I could go on and on and on and on and on. But I won’t.

  21. Today I cried. And yesterday I cried. And for many days, over many months, I’ve cried. And then I cry because I am crying. And on it goes. I live what others call a dream life. People call my husband and I “their hero”. People say “When I grow up, I want to be like you”. I laugh, I smile, I extoll the wonders of it all, for living a nomadic retirement life is exhilarating, exciting, joyful and full of mystery.. And then later, I cry. Because through the mystery and excitement of it all, after five years, I miss the anchor, the routine, the foundation of family and friendships, being surrounded and supported by the familiar. And I cry. This too shall pass, and I/we will find our way into the next chapter, and the crying will stop, at least over this topic. But for now, I will cry. And it’s Ok to cry as I understand that through the tears I will recognize what is important and it will inspire the next plan….For there IS magic in the mess.

    1. There is so much magic in the mess, thank God!!

  22. Last week would have been my dad’s 75th birthday. It is just over 10 years since he died, but for some reason his birthday last week totally side swiped me. My colleague found me in work sobbing at my desk, and I mean sobbing, not a beautiful crystal tear gliding down my cheek, but proper scrunched up face, crying make up off, sobbing. I think it really struck me how much he has missed – both my kid’s weddings, 2 beautiful great-grandchildren, so many things in all our lives. In his own life he had gradually moved away from his conservative evangelical background and the natural warmth of his personality had grown stronger until,he became this wonderful, funny, caring man who found people endlessly fascinating and adored all his family. I know we are so lucky to have had him, and to still miss him SO much after a decade is a wonderful testimony to him…but that common sense attitude didn’t stop me sobbing like a toddler last week…
    As a natural weeper – (the last scene of ‘Monsters Inc for example)- I had hoped I would cry less as I got older….this does not seem to be the case!!!

    1. I can’t even THINK of that last scene without crying….

  23. Such a loaded question… today I cried at a silly tv show, one of those shows about super heores and dramatic villains. I cried like a baby though because i find truth everywhere these days. The hero was frustrated and sat down with his friends who were doing their best to encourage him. But little seemed to help the hero perk up and then his partner looked at him and said, we can do this, we will do it one step at a time and we will do it together. Boom… thats all it took. Because isnt that the truth of it? Life is hard but we can get through, one step at a time and side by side with those we love.

  24. I, too, have cried at the Magic in the Mess writing retreat–I appear to have scared off one of the cooks, even (I was writing, and snotty-sobbing, at the counter overlooking the kitchen). Thank you for making it safe for others to weep with you, Melanie. I already have a copy of Worthy, so if you draw my name, please pick another!

  25. Thank you for this Beth & Melanie!

    One day I hope to be able to make it to one of the retreats. Crying, writing, good food, wine and friends…sounds like it’s right up my alley!!

    1. The other day, I was at a smaller grocery store, picking out cheese, and I turned around to see that the baby supplies aisle — food, formula, wipes, and the like — was right behind me. I’m 44, I have three beautiful kids — the youngest is 6 1/2 — and I cried right there with a package of sliced provolone in my hand.

      1. I’m 46, youngest is 17. Baby aisle can make me weepy, too. Not just you.

        1. I cry, period. Reading some of these responses makes me teary. Being a daughter, wife, mother and friend is hard but glorious at the same time. Thank you Beth for letting Melanie share with us. 🙂

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