There and Back Again: Truth

From the minute I heard about the Cody Center art studios, I knew I would be spending at least some of my free time at the Laity Lodge Writer’s Retreat drawing or painting. With my surgery just five weeks behind me, hiking and biking and swimming would be out. Even walking around the grounds from one place to another could be a challenge.
But sitting on a stool surrounded by art supplies, I had all the energy I needed for that.
I showed up at the Cody Center on the first day of the retreat and found Kathy, the retreat artist-in-residence, setting up the studio for projects the next day. She had pieces of water color paper, Japanese water brushes, bottles of ink, and jars of glue organized by technique so that the artistic novice could find her way next to the seasoned painter.
With some brief introductions, I promised to come back the next day for the class.
Months ago, when I first found out about the Writer’s Retreat and the opportunity to meet the rest of the High Calling editorial team, I was ecstatic. I imagined spending the weekend talking about writing, listening to writing, and writing writing. I pictured moments of inspiration when we would read words aloud to each other, and I envisioned leaving Laity Lodge, poised for giant waves of creative mania.
Since I was going to be in Texas anyway, I decided to tack on a trip to visit my friends the Bergerons, and as the schedule worked out, I would go to their house first, then the retreat. How far apart could College Station and San Antonio be, anyway?
With airline tickets to Texas purchased, I found out that I was invited to speak at a conference in Vermont the week before the retreat. A great opportunity for me and my company, we all agreed I should go, even though I would be out of the office the following week as well. The travel would be intense, but I was young. And healthy.
And then I wasn’t healthy and my surgery was planned for just four weeks prior, and my radiation would begin the day or two after I would get home.
This is an old story by now. In fact, it’s all over. But I rehearse it again here just to say, by the time I got to Laity Lodge for the writing retreat, the last thing I wanted to have happen to me was a giant wave of creative mania.
When I got to Laity Lodge, I was tired.
During the first morning of workshops, 15 or so of us gathered around the room and began introductions. Author David Dark was our leader, and his instructions to us as we began was to tell the group our name, where we are from, what our experiences with words have been, and where we want words to take us.
As each writer took her turn, I jotted down names and began to take notes about the things being said. After just a few participants had gone, however, I realized that just these introductions might take up the entire workshop time; we hadn’t even made it half way through to the place I was sitting when we took a break.
For a moment or two, I was disappointed. When would we get to the life-changing, earth-shattering, career-altering lessons on writing if all these people just kept talking? Then, I was confused. Does David Dark mean to let all of us keep talking and talking?
 Then, I was curious.
What if in the middle of all this talking, could be found the life-changing, earth-shattering, career-altering lessons on writing, if only I were paying attention?
What if those random words I had been jotting down as I heard people talking — candor, witness, story-teller, gospel — what if these words being culled through listening were the actual words I came here to hear?
Walking into the art studio on day two of the retreat, I saw Kathy surrounded by a group of familiar faces, many of whom had been in my writing workshop that morning. They were just getting started, so I quickly found my place among the budding artists and got to work.
For the first 30 minutes, Kathy showed us various techniques of water color painting: dry brush, wet in wet, graded wash, wax resist, splattering textures. With each mini-lesson, Kathy gave us the tools we needed to experiment on our own and experience how the brush felt, how the paint worked, what the result was.
The hand-lettered sign on the wall said it all: “Give yourself permission to play.”
Having painted in watercolor off and on for years, part of me was anxious to get on with it. If I could just be free to paint, maybe there was a masterpiece waiting to emerge. But as I was mixing colors and experimenting with the water brush and rocking the paper up so the paint could swirl around, I realized all the things I thought I knew about painting didn’t really matter in that moment.
As I mixed and rocked and swirled, something important was happening in my soul.
After I had nearly finished the mixed media project that emerged from time in the studio, I decided to add a few more flourishes by trying my hand at stick writing.
As a tribute to our wooded surroundings, Kathy had collected fallen twigs and sharpened their ends to a point. Dipped in bottles of ink, they became pens.
I practiced writing with the wooden stylus on some scraps of paper first so my project wouldn’t be ruined in the last few minutes. I carefully dipped and wrote, dipped and wrote, trying to keep the right amount of ink for each jot and tiddle.
When I was satisfied with my prototypes, I took a deep breath and began to write on my nearly finished project.
As things usually go, all was well for the first few strokes until I found myself writing on an area of the paper that wasn’t quite dry. Instantly, the ink spread like cracked glass, the blemish growing as I watched, helpless.
“Oh no!” I said.
Kathy rushed over.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said, pointing to the error.
“Well, you can either try to cover it with paper or wait til it dries and paint over it,” she offered, helpfully.
But those didn’t seem right.
“I think I’m just going to sit with a minute,” I said. “And see what happens.”
When the initial ink stopped running, I started writing again. Once more, the wet paper absorbed the ink and it began to spread.
This time, I kept breathing. And kept writing.
As I watched what emerged, tears filled my eyes. What I thought had ruined my painting was actually making it more honest. This art I was creating, it wasn’t beautiful, but it was true.
And what my tired soul needed in that moment, was truth.
I can’t help but link up with lots of High Calling friends this week for There and Back Again as we all try to make sense out of our time at Laity Lodge. So, go THERE . . .
and then come back HERE again!
Join me for regular jaunts around The High Calling network, randomly visiting fellow bloggers, soaking up their words and ideas, and then coming back here to write about them from my perspective.

Each Thursday, consider going “There and Back Again” yourself. It’s simple.



Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.

  • Carolyn Counterman ,

    Lyla, Blogger seems very finicky about letting people – even other Blogger people – comment using Internet Explorer. Not sure about other browsers. I started using Google Chrome, and I haven’t had a problem. And there are some things I really like about it as a browser besides solving the Blogger problem, so it is all good.

    I, too, was expecting something different from David’s workshop. More “instruction”, maybe? But what I ended up with – validation for my voice, for OUR voices really – was exactly what I needed at this point in my writing. Maybe it was not so for others. But I realize that he cannot instruct us on how to be ourselves. He can only support us in that. And he definitely wants us to be our authentic selves – in our writing and every other endeavor. Having an intelligent, published author as our cheerleader was a nice surprise.

    • Lyla Lindquist ,

      Oh yay… I’ve been trying to comment here for days and finally Blogger will let me in! 😀

      Charity, I had some of the same thoughts re: David’s workshop. I wanted to take notes. Important notes. Things to apply.

      When his approach became clear somewhere around the first break, by some miracle of grace I settled back into the chair and stopped taking notes.

      And just listened.

      And stopped trying to force something to happen that wasn’t going to.

      I got something much, much better.

      Would love to have my Saturday morning coffee with you today. I hope you are well.

      • Sheila ,

        Ah, Charity…

        I am just loving how this story unfolds to show me more of beautiful you.

        Thank you.

        • Megan Willome ,

          Your story really conveys what Laity Lodge is all about. It’s about the mystery–finding what we’re looking for in unexpected places. For you, the introductions and the art studio. For me, other places.

          • Carolyn Counterman ,

            Charity! I remember when you cried out, “oh no!”. And I loved it when you didn’t try to “fix” the ink blot. It reminds me of my friends Amber and Seth writing last week about “blemish is beauty”.

            I am completely honored that you linked me into your There and Back list. Honored.

            Let’s get together again sometime and play with art stuff. That was almost better than writing!

            • Marcus Goodyear ,

              I’m with Bradley. The blotches on the word Mystery make it more visually engaging, like when magazine designers layer part of a photo over the title of the magazine. We know what it says and the visual overlap draws our attention to the piece that is missing.

              Like LL has been talking about on her site.

              And I appreciate your thoughts about the workshop. Beautiful.

              • L.L. Barkat ,

                I love your description of your confusions in this post. How you couldn’t quite “get” what you came for, and in that very slipping-away you got what you needed.

                Love you 🙂

                • Patricia ,

                  I knew when I met you, I would be coming home to read more of your story in order to ‘catch up’ with what I was missing. Thank you for your gracious reception at my “pre-breakfast” (I knew we could be friends when you casually mentioned I might want to slow down a bit… almost snorted the scone right out my nose!)
                  Looking at your art piece, I see the word “Mystery” … but I also see the words “MyStory by God.”

                  I will be one more prayer warrior on your side Charity… that His pen will write tender strokes of healing in your story.

                  • Nancy ,

                    I don’t think anyone walked away from that place with what they expected. And yet. I can’t believe the word was mystery. After reading so many posts about the retreat, I think it’s continuing to spread in truly unexpected ways.

                    • ,

                      It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? I actually like in the photo that the “mystery” word bleeds into the paper. To me, that adds another layer of “mystery” to the artwork.

                      You know, I never saw you act or look tired – in fact you seemed to have more energy than I did! You are obviously strong, in spirit and in body. It was such a pleasure getting to know you.

                      • Sandra Heska King ,

                        Oh, Charity.

                        There is so much mystery in this life with Him, in this life with each other.

                        This post fills me overflowing. And especially these: paying attention, sitting with (our perceived flaws), soul changing in the swirling, and truth.

                        This is beautiful, oh so beautiful. I see Jesus. What a joy to share this time with you.

                        • Laura ,

                          You give me so much in this post, Charity. Beautiful and true.

                          • Ann Kroeker ,


                            This is good and true.

                            And mystery.

                            • Linda ,

                              I was drawn to you the moment I first hugged your neck sweet girl. I could hardly hold back the tears as I read this. You have a true, loving heart, and you are a gifted writer.
                              As I read through the posts I am amazed at the ways hearts were touched. It seems the Father met each of us right where we were and right where we needed to find Him.