Just beyond the large, floor-to-ceiling windows stood several willow trees, beautiful and graceful. Their branches billowed in the wind, gently tickling the waters of the bubbling creek below. Inside those windows was the Lakeside Auditorium, its 2,000 seats filled with people of all ages, eagerly anticipating all that the next few days might hold. Gigantic blue cubes hung at all different heights decorating the backdrop of the stage, and screens on either side proclaimed the conference tagline, “It’s not crazy to chase your dreams.” Soon, those words transformed into numbers—a countdown—and an excited energy began to pulse throughout the room as everyone watched the minutes drop from five to zero.
I felt immensely grateful to be there.
Shauna Niequist took the stage first to welcome everyone, as the conference was being hosted at her home church, Willow Creek Community Church. After encouraging us to make the most of the next few days, she introduced Storyline’s founder, Donald Miller. Donald Miller is a New York Times Bestselling author, speaker, CEO of Storybrand, and one of his books was even made into a movie. The guy has made a pretty meaningful impact in his life so far. Shauna contended, however, that creating great things, even things that inspire and encourage others, isn’t alone what makes him great. She said that great artists don’t just create great things, they create opportunities to help others do the same. They refuse to believe the lies of scarcity and competition, and they make other artists around them better by the way they live.
I absolutely love that thought. That the exercising of one’s gifts hasn’t really been brought to completion until it translates into helping others develop and exercise their own gifts as well.
Donald Miller is a truly great artist. And that’s exactly what the Storyline Conference was all about—creating a space to inspire and help cultivate people’s passions and talents.
It was about authors and photographers and speakers and stay-at-home-moms and entrepreneurs, people who have positively influenced the world around them, coming together to share with others what they’ve learned along the way. It was about intentionally deciding what we want our short time on this earth to be all about, and living clear, meaningful lives motivated by that conviction. It was about believing that it’s not crazy to chase the dreams God has given you, because they fulfill a purpose far greater than yourself.
I wish it were possible to somehow encapsulate all that my time at Storyline held but because it’s not, I’ll at least give a (kind of) quick overview.
Donald Miller talked a great deal about the power of story and about living better stories with our lives. We live a better story when we are consumed with a purpose greater than ourselves. He told us that God did not create us to live life in reaction, but to be co-creators of a meaningful life. Intentionality.
Next, Jeremy Cowart, a humanitarian, entrepreneur, and photographer named “the most influential photographer on the internet,” took us through his powerful story of moving from “I can’t do this,” to “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Once a kid with failing grades in school, believing he was stupid, he is now using art to change the world. In 2010 after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, he used his photography to give a voice to the Haitian people, photography that was eventually used to persuade the United Nations to pledge 10 BILLION dollars to relief and rebuilding. And that’s just one of the many things he’s done. He reminded us that the enemy would love to make us believe that we can’t make a difference, but that’s just simply a lie. Check out his page, you won’t regret it.
Donald Miller talked about what makes a character great: 1. They have found something they love more than themselves, 2. Are single focused, 3. Are willing to engage conflict, 4. Are taking others with them. God wants to use us to impact this world in incredible ways, stretching us to do things that make us feel incapable and a little bit afraid, so that we’ll have to rely on Him. He’s after that relational bonding in the process.
Best friends Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray shared their story of trekking the famous Camino de Santiago, “a 500-mile epic pilgrimage across the vast terrain of northern Spain,” with Patrick pushing Justin in a wheelchair the entire way due to a debilitating disease. They shared, “When you deny someone the opportunity to help you, you deny them the joy in life. Perhaps this is a good indication that we were meant to be a part of each other’s stories.” Learn more about their story here.
There were SO many great options and the one I least expected myself to pick was the one I ended up going to. When Tripp Crosby introduced his seminar on Improv and the deeper things he’s learned through it, I immediately felt fear. I pictured him calling up members of the audience on stage to practice improv techniques and me embarrassing myself. But I’ve learned that I need to move towards things that scare me, so I found myself in his session and I learned so much! Improv can teach you several things:
To listen well and be present. We did an activity where the first person had to say a sentence, and you had to respond using a sentence that started with the last letter of your partner’s sentence. You can’t be planning out your response while they’re talking because you don’t know what you can say until they finish.
To withhold judgement. Nothing anyone says can be considered “stupid” in improv; it’s a safe space. It became clear that the person we often judge most is our own self.
To make bold choices. In improv you just have to go for it, you can’t wait to look around and see what others are doing first. I found that to be more difficult than I’d like to admit!
Donald Miller reminded us that pain is a part of every story, and that conflict is not necessarily bad. Our seasons of pain often equip us with the tools that we’ll eventually use to bring about our greatest contribution to the world. In stories, the hero, villain, and victim all have backstories of pain. What matters is our response to the pain.
Korie Robertson (from Duck Dynasty!) reminded us to be confident not just in who we are, but in WHOSE we in, and in WHO is living inside of us. By that power we will impact the world around us.
Shauna Niequest reminded us that the grass is greener where you water it, and she encouraged us to invest deeply in our character, community, and craft.
Miles Adcox talked about the art of connection and leadership. He shared, “Our job as leaders is not to push or pull people where they need to go, but to walk beside them and shine the flashlight on what’s ahead.”
The always inspirational Bob Goff covered so many points but I’ll just share these three quotes:
“If you’re not calling yourself beloved, it’s not Jesus talking.”
“Jesus didn’t just hold people accountable, He held them close. People who go around holding people accountable often don’t know what if feels like to be held close. Love everyone always.”
“We’re waiting for the green light to go do stuff but our life is the only green light we need. Fill your life with things you get to spend eternity talking to Jesus about.”
Thanks for reading! If you ever have the opportunity to attend the Storyline Conference or one similar to it, I highly recommend it. Below are some photos from an inspiration-filled few days.
The beautiful Lakeside Auditorium.
Krista from Ohio, Kim from New York, and Kaci from California. All three of us came to the conference alone and ended up meeting each other. By the end of the conference we were praying with each other and believing in each other’s dreams. So thankful to have met these inspirational friends!
Brady Toops performed at dinner one night (below) and I may or may not have tracked him down for this photo.
Like Donald Miller said in his introduction, “I want to be like Bob when I grow up.” This guy is such an incredible example of what it means to love people well and live a meaningful life.
Sweet Maria Goff!
“Savored” my few minutes getting to talk to Shauna Niequist and ask her questions.
Pam and Steve Johnson, my friend Maddie’s parents. They opened up their beautiful home for me to stay at during the conference. Honestly, getting to meet and spend time with them would have made the trip worth it in itself. Such warm, inviting, FUN, and genuinely caring people.
Hello I’m Kaci!
I love encouraging and discipling others in the Word of God, and I really love the One it all points to: Jesus.
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I LOVED reading your blog! I felt like I got to attend the conference just by reading about it here. Can’t wait to see your story unfold. And I think this is my first time making an appearance on a blog – whoo hoo!
Thanks Pam! I couldn’t write about my time in Chicago and NOT include you and Steve. 🙂 definitely hope to get to visit with you two again!!
So happy you were able to attend this conference! Sounds like you really enjoyed it…keep reaching for your happiness! Love you!
Thanks Liz!! Me too, especially because they announced at the conference that it might be the last year they do it. So that made me really glad I went for it and I so enjoyed it! Love you 🙂