Friday, January 25, 2013


I've been known to agree to things that I in no way know how to do.


As a terrified university student, I was so afraid of failing my statistics course that I studied and memorized obsessively, sometimes waking at night from reviewing formulas in lucid dreams. At the end of the course, my final grade ranked second in the course, and my professor asked me to work as his assistant the following year.

I said yes. But it mostly involved running a computer lab and I had absolutely no-zero-zilch experience on a computer. As in, I didn't know how to turn it on, I didn't know what a window was, I knew absolutely nothing aside from keyboarding. Fortunately, before the fall commenced, my husband's pursuit of education led us away from Winnipeg and away from that terrifying room full of clickety clack computers that I had pretended to know how to teach. I still feel sick at the thought of it. All those students looking at me as I mumbled into my neck.... mmmmm I dunno...... sorry......

In the eighties I signed up to join Mennonite Disaster Service, an organisation dedicated to bringing aid to people affected by natural disasters. I was terrible at swinging a hammer, I couldn't measure a door or window if my life depended on it (as it often felt that it did), I sucked at laying linoleum, and I once spent four days in the rafters of a house swinging at nails in an effort to reinforce beams affected by a house fire.

Except that I rarely made contact with the nails. Any of them.


Most recently, I have agreed to present at a women's retreat. Being one to learn from my mistakes (dwell on them, obsess over them....) I fastidiously checked for evidence of hammers, nails, rafters, window wells, computer labs, and irritated students. Then I said yes. But now I'm remembering that I have no experience in this field. I've never monologued before a group of people, except that time I went on tour with my Capernwray musical ensemble, that other time I had to "give my testimony" so I could get baptized in the Mennonite church, and that one or two times I blurted out confessions in the semi-light of camptire during youth group.

Not a solid background. Not a winning portfolio.

I've been sewing bags out of this-es and thats for so long now that its like I can't remember why. I have this vague worry that I'll find myself standing in front of a group of expectant women, gripping a handful of rags, and mumbling nervously- apologetically, and saying "duh" a great deal.

I'm pretty sure I'm not good at monologue- I tend to be more of the listener than the lecturer. And that's where you come in. Time for a little roll play- You are going to a day long retreat with 29 other strong, creative, deep thinking women from many faith backgrounds and walks of life. You are looking forward to being in this rich environment and hoping to come away from it inspired to be more fully your own self. To more willingly offer your self, your gifts, your weaknesses and sensibilities to your world. To become more authentically the person you were created to be. You imagine the smell of hot coffee, fresh bread, an old farmhouse filled with character pieces and colored bits of glass, rooms warmed by wood fire, the wisdom of women, the beauty of art.

There are four presenters:

Janet Kroeker runs a wool company, making and selling comforters, pillows and mattresses. From the cuttings of her production, she gathers up the bits of wool, shapes them into balls, then felts them into designs of texture and color. In her home, which is located along the Roseau River, on her dining room table, sits a basket of these beautiful little creations.

Val Hiebert, while working on completing her doctorate, and teaching students sociology at Providence University, has been an enthusiast for this day. For us, she will weave together a presentation that shows her passion and understanding of the social constructs that influence how we view beauty.

Bonnie Loewen keeps listening for and finding ways to weave in the habits of regular life with our spiritual journey, and the habits of our spiritual journey with regular life. She does this alongside Prairie Wind Mennonite Church, a house church that gathers in the southeast area and also together with those who don’t fit inside of institutional religion through palliative care, ceremonies of passage, and retreats. This retreat will be located at her house and farmyard.

Oh yeah... and that absent minded artist who sews bags out of her impressive excess. Her too.

(why can't I get rid of this frigging indentation??? I"m feeling this unwelcome flashback to that room full of computers at the University of Winnipeg....)

I need your help to remind me how to do this? Put on your journalistic, retreat-er-ific hats and remind me what to say? How to present? What you'd like to see me demonstrate in the real world?

And maybe- why I said "yes"?

(because its going to be AWESOME! and I know that. And I'm so honored to be included, invited, trusted, welcomed. I know I'll come away richer, more inspired, more in touch with what I love about my life, my faith, and the ways in which I get to make sense of them both. I know that these women will flood my soul with light, with hope, with a desire to pursue the extraordinary in the every day, to see the miraculous in the mundane.)

A couple of days ago I bought Anne Lamott's latest book: "Help, Thanks, Wow- the Three Essential Prayers". And I've begun to practise them just a little. I'm pretty much stuck at the "Help" portion, but with a little help from my friends, I'm looking forward to a little "Thanks".

Since I've just agreed to do something that I'm not at all sure I know how to do.

And maybe, just maybe after that, I'll have the honour of a teensiest little bit of "Wow".


christine said...

Each of the bags that you sew has a "story" right?...and needs explaining. They are made up of remnants of different everyday serve a purpose. Wonderful. That is SO INTEReStiNg!!!I always love reading your descriptions of the bags...what was used and where it was used (hanki for pockets...buttons made into flowrs or trees). So I think it would be cool to go through snd explain why you made certain styles the wsy you did.
Make your talk simple. Simple is not bad. You are telling a story not giving a lecture.
Maybe show the group pictures of darfur (mia farrows site has great photos.. Download them and use as slide show....if there is a laptop and projector available. ). Awhile back i had to share at a prayer meeting about dafur and I found it easy to explain the genocide through the pictures more than reading my notes...just a suggestion? Don't sell yourself short joyce..Your story is amazing.

joyce said...

Great, grand advice, thanks Christine. I'm getting a bit of a grip as I stew in this and listen to good advice.

joyce said...

I really appreciate the reminder of Mia Farrow, she does such an amazing job of photos and narrative, and that's been really instrumental for me to get a sense of the human face of that conflict.
I'm also thinking a lot about redemption, about beauty in unexpected places, and about giving one another the permission and room to each live our own authenticity.

PrairiePeasant said...

The strength of your convictions will show through in your presentation. If I was in the audience, I'd like to hear the story of the beginning of bags4darfur. What moved you to make the first bag? What were you thinking? Did you have any goals at the beginning? What helped you make that step from feeling helpless (inserting my own feelings here) to help to feeling that one person could make a difference? Those are things that I'd like to hear. I'm sure they will appreciate your gentle and sensitive style.

christine said...

Love it.

Brenda said...

You need to tell them what you do, show them pictures or examples of your great bags (and make sure you bring lots to sell) and most of all, tell them your story of how you decided to make a difference, one bag at a time. that's the inspirational/motivational part of your story -- that reclaiming vintage textiles and doing something you love has made a huge difference in battling hunger. Also, that you did this from your home while running a business and raising your family and that you're taking your skills and eye for colour (playing to your strengths) and have raised many thousands of dollars. I'm very proud of what you've done -- you've made a difference both where you are and faraway from home and you believed what you were doing was important.
fyi: I scrounged some cool orange/yellow/pink fabric for you this weekend.
and if you want to talk or email more about the presentation, feel free

Brenda said...

Hi again: I don't see any photos of bags, or links to your etsy store on your blog? what's up with that?:)

joyce said...

Brenda, what if you select "web version" at the bottom of the blog? I've noticed that blogger loads differently now, but looks "normal" when I scroll down and select the old version.

Teresa said...


I love (lots of pictures) in presentations. Seems to ground and identify what we are hearing about.

I just googled 30 Top quotes of Mother Teresa. So much of your drive and energy though for many starts with just one person (you), just sewing this one bag now and waiting to see who will be blessed by the bags purchase.

I agree bring some bags, maybe have some participants pull material stogether for you to sew later into bags? (Though I am not trying to make more work for you.)

Grazina Ajana Szewczyk said...

You'll be just fine, Joyce :)

Most people are afraid of public speaking, and if you will seem nervous, your audience will relate to your feelings and will admire you for your passion and your courage.

I like your blog, you sound authentic and interesting, why should your presentation be different?

I agree with Christine - you already have a story. Simply share your story, involve people - encourage questions, they surely will have some.

Maybe this video will help (click on the next one under the video)

Public Speaking Fear - The Truth

take care

PS. Joining Toastmasters may be a good idea if you are planning more of those speaking ventures ;o)