A number of my fellow bloggers are currently and furiously typing up their notes about what they learned at Catalyst, what speakers rocked their socks off, who they (and you) should be flowing on Twitter now, and how Francis Chan is clearly a perpetual motion machine disguised in human form. Me? My observations are a tad more introspective. I’m more concerned with what was being said TO me than what could and should be said THROUGH me.
While I lived in Athens, I attended Catalyst as a volunteer. This meant that, yes, while I was able to attend the conference for free, it also meant about a billion hours of labor going into, during, and after the event. It meant that I was unable to actually walk outside of the arena during the daylight hours (people TAILGATE here? Genius!), I was unable to see what went on between sessions, and I was just kind of this nameless face in the background, serving but not being served. Yes, I got to hear the speakers (most of them, at any rate), but I missed a great deal of the conference.
I totally missed out on the community aspect.
This, to me, is far more important than the number of free T-shirts, CDs, or books I walked away with. Cool tchotchkes they may be, but they can’t share a cup of coffee (from Project 7) with me.
This year was the first year I was able to commune with my fellow attendees. And the difference between being poured into and pouring out at Catalyst is almost indescribable. Granted, I fell asleep Saturday night around 8:30 pm because I was so remarkably tired from the drive, from getting way too little sleep, and from being on an emotional high all day Friday; however, for the first time, I truly understood why people wanted to come to Atlanta and destroy parts of the ozone layer by sitting in traffic on Sugarloaf Parkway.
Also, I was in a bit of a different place emotionally at Catalyst compared to years past. Yes, yes, yes – the life changes of getting married and having a kid have clearly made me more mature n’ junk. But there was something more this year that made ME a little different at the event.
I’ve written before about my strive to find my identity, so I won’t bore you with the details (but, if you’re interested, feel free to click on the links to the right to read a bit more). However, I learned something new about myself fairly quickly this year that made my head and heart spin a little bit:
I have my own definition and identity. And it is good.
While for many people, this might not be an amazing revelation. This might be a no-brainer. Therefore, I invite you into my mindset circa 2004-2007:
I was attending Catalyst as a volunteer from my church, surrounded by leaders from other churches. They all shared a common bond: they were what I wanted to be when I grew up. Teaching pastor? Youth pastor? College ministry? The variations and possibilities were endless. All I knew – in fact, all I ever saw – was Path A. And Path A was heavy with people who could get me to where I wanted to be. I was, as a friend has continually referred to me as, an uber-volunteer in my church, and I thought that if I prayed, hoped and believed, that if I stuck at it long enough (because this was a true, heart-deep passion of mine, and not just me using an opportunity to advance myself) that I’d get hired by someone. Soon. Because, let’s face it, if I was willing to do all sorts of work for free, imagine what I would do with a paycheck supporting me. That coming to Catalyst, by aligning and defining myself with the people around me, that some connection somewhere would come to fruition.
Fast-forward to 2010. While walking around the convention with some of these same people who I looked up to as heroes, mentors, and friends, I noticed something that had shifted oh-so-subtly. As I was being introduced to people, as I was making new connections, I was introduced as a writer. A stay at home dad who is a writer.
Thus did the playground shift a little.
I was no longer “just” a volunteer on the outside looking in, hoping to BREAK in to this close-knit circle of professionals. I was something new.
I was me.
I was my own person.
I was unique.
Talk about liberation theology.
To be fair: I wouldn’t trade that time trying to go down Path A for anything in the world. If nothing else, it was God’s way of showing me that I was defining myself and my potential in too narrow of a manner. Path A might be the best path for others to walk on, but like Robert Frost penned, I have another destiny. I needed to stop defining myself by the shadows of those I stood in. I was more than welcome to stand on the shoulders of the giants who had come before me; however, I needed to broaden my horizon by not just looking where they had walked and trying to replicate their steps.
For the first time at Catalyst, I didn’t feel intimidated. I didn’t feel slightly unworthy of being there. I didn’t feel like the junior high kid trying to fit in and seem cool too to all the high schoolers.
I found myself comfortable in my own skin.
And it was good.
And what better phrase to use when celebrating and recognizing something new that has been created?