Over the weekend I attended the CWBN (Catholic Women Blogging Network) conference and it may seem like an exaggeration but it was a pivotal moment for me. God wanted to use it to teach me far more than blogging tips but to dig deeper and work on some areas that have been bothering me lately. As my mom would say, it was an opportunity for healing. 🙂 Part of me thinks, do I really want to put all this down in black and white and send it out there for all to see? Another part of me says, it’s good to show not just the pretty and fun but the tears and struggle so someones else will know that they are not alone. I think the easiest way to do that is to just do it journal style. So here we go.
The Months Leading up to CWBNCA.
When I first heard about the upcoming conference in California, I was ecstatic because it was close enough for me to drive and the dates fit into our family schedule. However, as the dates got closer I seriously thought I would not be able to do it since my FIL was not doing well and doubts were filling my mind about meeting friends that have only known me through the screen. What if they meet me and think I’m weird or too old or too fat or too loud or too quiet or too whatever… Normally I am happy and ready to give someone a smile and a hug but sometimes feelings of inadequacy creep in and instead of participating in a group conversation I’ll just smile and nod. My mind will want to respond with a story or something that happened to me and instead I’ll hear a voice that says, “That’s so dumb. No one wants to hear that story. It’s best you just keep quiet.” It doesn’t happen all the time but when it does I feel like an introverted extrovert. So I worried that those negative thoughts would make me spend the weekend sitting quietly in the corner. But recalling, sweet Hallie’s battle cry to love fearlessly, I pushed the doubts aside. My enthusiasm returned and I was counting down the days.
I started packing for the weekend in typical Bobbi fashion, the day before I had to leave. In the morning I pulled out outfits from my closet and tried things on. Everything was blah, blah, blah. For those of you who have been reading about my health goals, I wanted to lose another 10 by the conference and I was well on my way until Easter came. Darn you, Reeses’ s peanut butter eggs! My total weight loss is small in comparison to my goal but there was enough if it to need a size down in some of my favorites. Since it was a Thursday, the kids were all in school (at least until noon when the younger ones were out) so I jumped in the car and went to the local shopping center to see if I could find something to wear on Saturday. Since we were getting head shots taken, I needed to look a little put together. I debated about dressing up but I’m just a jeans kinda girl so I went with it. I found cute jeans at Macy’s, a orange tank at Old Navy and a short white sweater (YES! WHITE, anathema to moms with young children!) at Khol’s. I tried them on and everything clicked. I felt like me, not me dressing up pretending to be someone else or me stuck in clothes I hate because I couldn’t find anything else that fit me right. Score.
I dug into my closet and found some cute shoes I hardly wore. They were open toed flats and begged for painted toe nails. I know this is going to sound weird but I don’t paint my nails and have never painted my toe nails. But this was a going to be a historic weekend so that evening I raided Bella’s polish collection and sat down to pretty up. Brian gave me a dumbfounded look that said, “WHAT the heck are you doing?” I told him this weekend I just want to feel like a girl! As opposed to?? Am exhausted mom with peanut butter on her shirt, broken fishy crackers in her purse and sore feet from stepping on Legos all day. This was my mini-vacay!
By Friday morning I was so excited. Self-doubt be damned, I was going to have a good time! But saying goodbye to the kids left me a little teary. Matthew clung to my leg and John-Paul shed tears as he said he’d miss me. Andrew kept blinking back his tears but was putting on a brave face. Bella and Brian didn’t want to see me go but I think they understood that I needed this little get away.
I decided to take Highway 101 South for the journey. It landed out adding an extra 1/2 an hour but driving along the ocean made every minute worth it! Everything went smoothly and I arrived at my hotel without a problem.
A few of us had made plans to meet up for dinner and a movie later that evening so I took the time to just relax until it was time to go.
Meagan, Kendra, Emmy, Micaela, and me. I love this photo but I have to laugh because, first, I am so short compared to the others and, second, I look like a tag-along Mertz who photobombs the shot. 😉 (Photo courtesy of Emmy’s bestie.)
I headed down to Poquito Mas for dinner and was the first to arrive. I sat their nervously until Meagan came. Her warm smile and friendliness put me at ease and we chatted and laughed until the door blew open and in walked the queen of Catholic blogging mamas, Kendra from Catholic All Year. At her side was the incredible Micaela from California to Korea. My mind was officially blown! I mean deep down I knew they are just moms and bloggers and awesome women and not “famous” BUT they were famous in my world and it took a few minutes to snap me out of it and not be tongue tied. We had fun sharing stories over tacos and salsa.
From there we headed to the theater to watch Little Boy. Micaela knew some of the people involved in making it and we wanted to support their efforts. Emmy and her best friend were saving us seats. We chatted a little more then enjoyed the show. It was a sweet movie that had a lot of tender moments. I’ll do a review later but for now, let’s just say that Emmy and I went through a heck of a lot of tissues!
I didn’t sleep very well that night and my allergies were really bothering me. My eyes were bloodshot and Visine was not working but I was still excited to start the day. I spent some time in prayer and the day’s devotion from Blessed Is She was perfect. What really hit home was the following:
So my challenge to you is to discover your gifts. Pay attention to what it is that makes you feel the most excited about your faith and keep doing it! If you feel like your spouse or a loved one has a particular gift, let them know as they might be afraid to share it with others. And as you’re reflecting on your own gifts today, think about these words from Saint Catherine of Siena as she says, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”
The quote from Catherine of Sienna is one of my favorite quotes! It was as if God was reminding me to be brave and just be myself.
I dressed and headed out to Kendra’s house, which was lovely! She removed the furniture from her family room and set up chairs for some of the talks. However, the introductions were out in the backyard. Everything was set up so pretty!
There was a directory of participants (smart!), a beautiful print from Blessed Is She and a pretty notebook to take notes. As I walked around, it was the oddest sensation to see faces I recognized and to have people come up and hug me and say they felt like they already know me. I am big on family and sisterhood and the level of sisterhood at the event was incredible. I never felt so comfortable with a group of Catholic women in all my life. Even with the ones, I did not know well, there was already an instant connection.
I was so excited to finally meet Karianna (left)! Out of all the attendees I’ve been online friends with her the longest. 🙂 Amber (middle) was someone I just met that day. She immediately won me over and by the end of the day I felt like she was my long lost bestie. The name of her blog alone guaranteed I’d love her – Laundry Is Never Done.com! 😉
Kendra (the host) and Micaela (the coordinator) started off the introductions. I cannot tell you how moved I am by all the work and preparation these ladies put together to make this such a special weekend! After we enjoyed some refreshments and introduced ourselves to each other we joined together in prayer.
Next up, we went into the house for Kendra presentation. She shared her image making skills using PicMonkey. I use PicMonkey for all my photos yet there were still a couple of tricks that were new to me.
My PicMonkey fave tip: Use the color eyedropper to match the exact colors you want and choose a color pallet that suits your blog design. You can make those your signature colors for uniformity. Next up was Kristin from This Inspired Life. TIL is in my Top 5 Podcasts so it was interesting to hear what she had to say. I can’t wait to see how many of the bloggers decided to give podcasting a try as well! (I’m looking at you, Mary Ruth!)
My fave podcast tip: The most recommended IOS app for listening to podcasts is Overcast.
Towards the end of the talk, the room started smelling really good with a Panera lunch waiting for us. I have never tried their food before but they just opened one where we live so I’ll be taking Brian for a lunch date soon!
My fave lunch tip – Try the asiago steak sandwich. It is delish!
My fave personal tip – Pay more attention to the panel and stop spending so much time posting play by play photos on Instagram. 😉
In between all the activities, the amazing photographer Jiza of Olive and Cypress took head shots of all the participants.
After lunch, Micaela shared her story about how she started blogging and her struggles with feelings of pride. She shared how God helped her to over come it and she closed her moving testimony by praying the Litany of Humility with us.
My favorite quote – “We don’t get a free pass to not use our gifts but we have to keep it in perspective.”
Afterwards, we found out about the earthquake in Nepal. We paused to say a decade of the rosary for all the victims.
My fave Facebook tip – Make a Facebook group for your blog instead of just a FB page. That way your posts will show up in the group members’ feeds more often.
My fave Pinterest tip – Make a “Best of” board for all your best blog posts AND make your blog post logos uniform so when people see them, they know right away it is a post from you. (She recommended Cristina’s board/photos as a good example.)
My fave Twitter tip – Make conversation. Don’t just be a link dropper.
My fave Instagram tip – Figure out what your favorite “look” is and keep your photos cohesive using that look. (She recommended Grace’s post about using Afterlight.)
The final presenter of the day was Andrea Boring, who made the gorgeous CWBN website. She shared that after fourteen years away from the church, her reversion back was sparked by a single social media post.
My fave quote – “We’re all called to be disciples. Our voice is important. It is up to us to use it for the glory of God.”
* * * * *
At this point my head and heart was so full I could nearly bust! Besides all the amazing info and testimonies, the friendships were hands down the best part. I no longer have to say my “online friend” but can just say my friend because we have officially met in real life! Here are some random shots of some of those new friends. 🙂
The conference was officially over for the night but the majority of us wanted to go out together for dinner. I was feeling tired and my head ached but I really wanted to go too so we headed to California Pizza. I sat next to Micaela, Amber and Kristin. We ate and chatted but I wasn’t feeling great. Maybe the previous sleepless night was catching up with me but I wasn’t super talkative and my mind started playing tricks on me. This is crazy but I swear the devil was attacking me. As I was talking to Micaela thoughts would run through my head like this: “Micaela is so intelligent and interesting, she’s going to think I’m an idiot. Was that a “look” she just gave me? She’s going to wish I sat over there instead. What am I even doing here? These women are so much better than me. I feel like a loser…” Ack!!! What the heck?? Get thee behind me, Satan! And get me to bed because I clearly need sleep.
I said my good byes and tried to get some sleep. Unfortunately, a neighboring traveler had a herd on tweens who were running up and down the stairs and at one point around 11pm one of the kids was banging on my door. His sister (I presumed) yelled at him that his mom was in another room. Meanwhile my other hotel neighbor must have had too much to drink because I could hear him getting sick. It was no bueno! Thank God I finally drifted off to sleep.
On Sunday morning I woke up feeling better. My head ache was gone and although my eyes were still red and itching (this always happens when I visit So Cal!) I felt good. As I was taking a shower I was thinking about all the things I had learned on Saturday. I also kept thinking about the movie we watched Little Boy. The premise of the whole storyline was the Scripture, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will be able to say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
God was speaking to my heart, that I may feel as small and insignificant as a tiny mustard seed in the grand scheme of things, but when I put my faith and trust in him, when I let go of fear and choose love, joy and courage, then He can do miraculous things. I may never see them but I can trust that the Holy Spirit will take care of everything. I just need to keep myself docile in His hands.
All weekend I kept hearing the message over and over in my head, “God wants to use your voice. God desires your gifts. You have a special place in God’s plan…” Tears started running down my face, even now as I am typing, they are escaping me again. As much as I mess up and despite all my shortcomings, God sees me as his beautiful daughter. He sees someone made in his image. He sees what I could accomplish if only I’d let go of the chains that bind me down. It is hard to see myself like that but God is slowly peeling back the layers. He is showing me the rotten that needs to be cut out and the good that needs to be nurtured so it can bloom. It is scary as all hell but also liberating! Blessed be God. 🙂
Well, after that enlightening 15 minute shower/retreat, I got dressed and as I was searching through my makeup bag for a barrette, I found Lego Spidey hiding in there. Aw, I missed my babies but knew I would see them by the end of the day. I finished dressing and headed to the San Fernando Mission.
I saw this and knew it was the perfect reminder.
After breakfast there was one short closing talk given by Jenny Cook. She shared how she started reading Catholic blogs when she was a Protestant. She reached out to specific bloggers to answer her questions and she was moved by how the Catholic blogoshere embraced her and accepted her her into the community. She was moved not only by the blogs that specifically shared about the faith and apologetics but was also touched by blogs about daily life as a Catholic. Ultimately Jenny joined the church and her kids were just baptized a couple weeks ago. She reminded us all that you never know who is reading your blog and that God can use your words to change lives. It was the perfect ending to the conference!
I gave my last hugs and said my good byes. Jenna, who is almost a foot taller than me, was sitting down so I took a quick selfie so we’d be at eye level. LOL. I love this girl! She is like a younger sister. She is just on fire for God and sisterhood community!
Although I don’t have a photo, my last hug was from Micaela. Her hug, her smile, her kind words to me was a healing balm to my heart. It was God’s final reminder of the weekend to let go of the crazy thoughts and embrace the love that is before me. (Thanks, Micaela. You have no idea how much your presence meant to me this weekend!)
Photo credit: Kendra
On my way out the famous red door, Kendra suggested we all pose for a WIWS (What I Wore Sunday). A few of us were in traveling clothes (like me) but we were happy to oblige.
When I got home I was greeted by these cute faces. They kissed me and clung to me not wanting to let go. It was so sweet. I am so thankful for this time. I am thankful for my sweet husband for letting me go. Even more than the book knowledge, the self -knowledge and the community I experienced was truly priceless! I can’t wait until CWBNCA 2016!! Sign me up! 😉
Oh, and I only mentioned a small handful of bloggers but I met so many incredible women! Next I’ll post a list of the participants and put links to those who have conference recaps as well. 🙂
PPS – This post contains affiliate links.