What Does a Writer’s Retreat Teach? Or, Hobnobbing with Madeleine and Eugene

We were sitting around a table overlooking the Frio River, listening to Jeffrey Overstreet talk about how artful story invites the reader inside—invites the reader to discover what the story has to say to them—when he paused and had us go around the table and introduce ourselves.

My friend Marcus was seated to my right, Claire to my left, but the others were new faces. There was a retired photographer, two persons of the cloth, a young college student, an elderly woman, and Jeannie.

When it was Jeannie’s turn, she spoke about the nonfiction books she had written over the years, about coming to Laity Lodge to write, and about her dear, dear friend Madeline L’Engle. Immediately, my shoes felt too big.

We all tried to pretend like it was nothing but all the while, I’m thinking…Madeleine L’Engle! When I was a girl, this dear woman’s books opened up a whole new world to me. A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet … Jeannie’s casual namedropping sent me into a reverie of wistfulness, remembering the joy of discovering a series of books that aroused a deep awakening in my young self. How I loved Charles Wallace and Meg. They taught me through their story that anything is possible. And who wrapped science around fantasy in such a way? I’d never read science fiction before. I didn’t know people wrote like that.

We took a break and I went to the restroom and was startled to find Lauren Winner washing her hands and Ashley Cleveland exiting the stall. What’s more, they greeted me casually, engaged in a bit of small talk before going on their way. Back at our open-air table, I tell Marcus.

“I can’t believe she referred to Madeleine L’Engle as her dear, dear friend!”

He shrugs his shoulders.

“And Eugene Peterson writes here all the time.”

“Eugene Peterson? Really?” I am a bit star-struck. “But that makes me feel so … small.”

Marcus laughs.

Why? I don’t understand that. That should make you feel special not small. You’re here too. Laity Lodge is for everyone.”

I tell him about running into Ashley and Lauren in the restroom.

Right,” he says. “Because they use the bathroom too.”

We laugh but I am quieted a bit inside. Later, I walk down the road with my friends Verbieann and Ann (who has since become a New York Times bestselling author) and tell them the story. I turn Marcus’ words around in my mind.

Am I special? I mean, just because I haven’t held court with writers like Madeleine L’Engle or Eugene Peterson…does that mean there is no value in the words I share? My friend Elaine was recently at a conference in which the speaker posed the question, How do your words help solve the problem of pain? I’ve been thinking about that. Wondering. And I remember the young girl I was—wrapped in the pain of a broken family, uncertainty of self—and I know the question goes deeper than it appears at first glance.

Though Madeleine L’Engle’s story about a young misfit girl and her brilliant little brother and how they rescue their father using a tesseract and all the amazing things they encounter in the process…though these words may not appear to address the problem of pain directly, they surely helped to save a young girl who was drowning in it when she first encountered them.

I think about these things all these months after my conversation with my wise friend Marcus. I am learning to embrace myself as word-giver. It still feels fragile—I’m still self-conscious and clumsy. But when I look back, I see that time at Laity Lodge as a pivotal step in this acquiescence. Because Laity Lodge is for everyone. My time there was like a warm embrace; I was cradled in that canyon. Everyone there was someone special. This is because that riverbed and those canyon walls are saturated with the presence of God. Dan Roloff told us that the place was built to provide a place where people can encounter God. While there, I felt the breath of my Creator, I felt loved as a favorite child.

The truth is, we should feel this way no matter where we are, no matter what we do. But sometimes, gravity gets in the way and our earthbound nature blinds us to who we truly are. Laity Lodge is a place of transcendence for me.

We are gearing up for the retreat again this year. I’ll be there. Won’t you consider it too? There is a chance you could go for free. I’d love to meet you there. Would even share that table overlooking the Frio with you.


  1. says

    I had the great privilege of attending a Laity Lodge retreat with Madeleine L’Engle in 1996, when I was in a lot of emotional pain. She made everyone write a sonnet. I’m still enjoying the healing from that one.

    Beautiful post encouraging others to attend!

  2. says

    Excellent post.

    It’s safe to say that in God’s eyes, a L’Engle or a Peterson is no more special than a Boggess or a Goodyear or a Doallas. How could it be otherwise if we believe we are each born in His image? The cloak of “specialness”, of needing to set ourselves apart, is something we humans bestow on each other according to some arbitrary standard, such as number of books written or sold. What we find when we get to know the people we once held apart from ourselves is how much like us they are, how they’ve struggled, too, and been in pain (at least some of them). Marcus’s comment about the bathroom may be the best illustration of that. Your word “hobnobing” illustrates that notion, too, because it says you found out on that retreat that the Light, when given, doesn’t shine on one or the other but on us all.

  3. says

    Such a wonderful post. Yes, as Maureen says, no one is more special in God’s eyes. But I have thought of this often: how I would love to meet Lauren Winner or Ann Voskamp. And lucky Megan for being at retreat with Madeleine L’Engle. It’s their hearts after God’s that make our own seek harder, I think.

  4. says

    Someday… if I can believe in the process I will try to go to a few of these things, this one as well as the relevent conference. My confidence is not up there yet, I feel unsure and very small in the field of writing.
    Your story within your blog is beautiful, by the way.

  5. says

    I met Garrison Keillor at a writing conference but was more impressed when I rubbed shoulders in Pittsburgh with a fabulous, Jesus-loving writer named Laura! Meg and Charles Wallace–Sigh. Working on my entry. Would love to sit at a table with you once again.

  6. says

    I have been to a number of writer’s conferences over the year, but none better than laity.

    I love how you frame how much a good conference can change your focus

  7. says

    I always sort of softly dreamed of going to one of Madeleine’s writer’s workshops but never did it. I did take my middle daughter (as a college graduation gift) to Oxford to a CS Lewis conference where she and Luci Shaw were by FAR the best speakers and the most accessible. That’s as far as I got.

    This is a lovely testimony to what can sometimes happen when you are blessed to go to a good workshop – this sounds like one. Maybe someday…

  8. says

    How I loved A Wrinkle in Time; it was my favorite book in 5th/6th grade. Lovely post, Laura. I’d so love to attend the Laity Lodge retreat– and I’d love to sit at a table with you. Working on my entry. My heart and head are turning cartwheels with the chance of it!

  9. says

    Your post is love and a wonderful testimonial for anyone to attend the Laity Lodge retreat. I am certain there will be many glowing reports of those who are able to attend. Can’t wait to hear them.

  10. says

    oh friend. this made me cry. i’ve been longing to know where i fit in it all, too. such divine discontent in this writer’s soul, and begging God for a sign. i would love to share tea with you. i’m going to write an essay in the attempts to join you at this retreat. (and madeleine l’engle???? my mouth would have dropped, too!!) all my love, e.

  11. says

    Laura – your words bless. They have helped me in so many ways. You are a truly gifted writer.
    I’m going to write my essay and see what happens. So many others will be doing the same – ones I love and admire.
    If not this year, then perhaps next fall.

  12. says

    have a wonderful time! that marcus is so good at making everyone feel comfortable.

    you just can’t be with a group of creative people and not teach one another something, or get up to a lot of fun. or both.

  13. says

    Laura, WOW! I just love your words and your heart. I read and am mesmerized, drawn, inspired, and leave changed, pondering something new, wanting to weave words more beautifully. Thank you! You are indeed a word-giver, special, priceless, precious, beloved child of the King.

  14. says

    Miss Laura, I am not quite sure if it’s funny or sad, but I wouldn’t know any of those authors if they struck me upside the head with the bathroom door. I read and read and read… but it’s the taste of the story that I keep, not the names of authors.

    Someday when you make the best seller’s list, I’ll name drop you. I already see you on the shelf at the library.


  15. says

    “How do your words help solve the problem of pain?” What a challenging, beautiful question!

    How I understand your feeling small and perhaps a bit intimidated. My rational self completely agrees with Maureen’s well-articulated comment, but my emotional self is not there yet. You are brave in my eyes just to go and take part.

    Blessings to you all whom God will bring together at this year’s retreat! I’m not up to a road trip, so it’s no sense even applying this year, but perhaps another time I can go and be amazed at hobnobbing with you in the ladies’.

  16. says

    And what did I recently learn that gave me the same kind of goosebumps as you? Terrence Malick, director of “The Tree of Life” and “The New World”, comes to Laity Lodge and stays in the “Quiet House.” It truly is a place where legends walk, and where new legends are inspired. But more importantly, it’s a place where someone bigger than all of them whispers to everyone without discrimination.

  17. says

    Ahhhhh!!! Madeleine is my favorite too. I was feeling with you. One of my biggest regrets is that I put off going to an annual writer’s conference at Wheaton college that had a special speaker of none other than Madeleine L’Engle.

    I’m glad you were encouraged. It is good to know you are in the path God has directed you to travel on.

  18. says

    I’m currently reading L’Engles journals at Crosswick. I never really got into her books in my younger years, but my friend, Sassy Granny, sent this one to me.

    Just what I needed! She’s helping me in this season.

    So glad you’ll be able to visit the Laity Lodge again! Undoubtedly, God has some further work to do in your heart. I pray you find him there in all you do. You are precious and important to me.


  19. says

    Laura, you are such a treasure to me. It seems you have no idea how profound and soul-searching your beautiful words can be. And your humbleness is such an encouragement for those of us out there just trying to open our minds up to how God might use us. Thank you. ~Jessica

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