Preparing for The Justice Conference

I started shopping yesterday for our cross-country trip to Philly for The Justice Conference 2013. I was picking out little miniature shampoos and such (all TSA approved because I’m determined to carry on my bag!) and it made me think back to our experience last year and what I learned for this year.

I compiled a list of tidbits, pointers and suggestions I took away from last year’s conference, in both traveling as well as attending the conference. Please let me know if you have other suggestions to share!

1. Pack Kleenex. We were all a blubbering mess at the conference hearing sad stories, happy stories, stories of hope and redemption and we cried through it all. I think we were always stuffing napkins in our pockets. This time I bought several mini packages of Kleenex to fit easily in the suitcase.

2. Don’t wear eye makeup. See post No. 1. I normally wear contacts but am thinking I might wear my glasses so my eyeballs aren’t dry, red and irritated by the end of the day.

3. Don’t assume your travel companions are going to pack toothpaste. Three of us traveled together to Portland last year and we all assumed one of us would bring toothpaste, which none of us did. It also  happened to be the state wrestling tournament that weekend and the high school wrestlers staying at our hotel also forgot to pack toothpaste because the hotel front desk didn’t have a tube to spare. I think someone on our hotel floor ended up giving us some toothpaste. I am definitely packing toothpaste this time.

4. Pay attention to interstate signs. Luckily this year we are flying and using public transportation, but last year we drove the 2 1/2 hour drive south to Portland (key word SOUTH). We left the conference late Saturday night and were so jazzed about the weekend and our new goals and ambitions we hopped right back on I-5 south when home was definitely north. Before any of us realized we had added about 30 minutes to our travel time.

5. You’re going to want to write stuff down. I bought a small notebook I could feverishly record notes during the pre-conference sessions as well as the main conference sessions. After the conference I re-wrote my notes so when I looked back on what was said I could actually read my own handwriting.

6. Don’t be shy. There are going to be A LOT of people crammed into one location. They all have different stories but they all share a passion in the pursuit of justice. When you’re sitting a table eating lunch strike up a conversation with the people at your table. Find out where they’re from, what they do, what they’re passionate about. You will find connections and you will also learn about things you didn’t know about.

7. Bring business cards. You’re going to want to stay connected with some of the people/organizations you come across. Start ordering now and they should arrive in time for the conference. There are some really good online deals to order a box for about $10.

What did I leave out? What would you suggest to someone who is attending their first Justice Conference?


What I’m Reading Wednesday


I admit it. Sometimes I choose books based on the cover. Being a pug mom picking up “City Girl, Country Vet” was an obvious choice for me. And it just so happens the author resides in the U.K., where this story also takes place.

Author Cathy Woodman has written several novels, but “City Girl, Country Vet” is her debut in the U.S. The novel was first released in 2010 as “Trust Me I’m a Vet.” Cathy started her professional career as a small-animal vet before she pursued her passion to write. In “City Girl, Country Vet” she weaves her knowledge as a vet into a romantic dramedy.

The story takes place in the fictional market town of Talyton St. George. Cathy’s blog offers a map of the picturesque scene.

Here is my Q and A with Cathy:

Q: What sparked the idea of City Girl, Country Vet?

A: I’ve always wanted to create a fictional world and I took inspiration from Devon, a beautiful part of the UK with rolling hill and coastline, where I grew up as a child. With my background, I decided to write about a vet, someone who had struggled to succeed yet was completely devoted to her career, caring for animals. That character became Maz Harwood and I imagined her working in a country practice with her friend, Emma.

Q: Of the small-animal vet experiences you write about, are any of them based on personal experiences as a vet?

A: The incidents I write about are very loosely based on my personal experiences as a vet. I think what is more important is that I can use my experiences of how a practice is run, the sounds and the smells, and the interactions between the vets, nurses and receptionists to convey a sense of realism to the writing.

Q: How long did you work as a vet before pursuing a writing career?

A: I worked as a vet for many years and still keep abreast with the veterinary world, going on courses, reading journals and teaching vet nurses at a local college. I started writing when I became a part-time vet so I could spend time looking after my children. It took me 10 years of submitting material to agents and publishers before I had a lucky break, winning the Harry Bowling Prize for a first novel set in London.

Q: What inspired the fictional market town of Talyton St. George?

A: There are many small market towns in southwest England each filled with character and history, and I thought it would be perfect to set a series of novels in a similar town. Talyton St. George has everything — shops, a church, a vet practice and doctor’s surgery, pubs and the Green where people can meet and walk their dogs — yet it is small enough for everyone to know each other.

Q: What kind of animals are part of your household?

A: The animals are part of my family. In fact, they do rather take over, but I wouldn’t be without them. There are three dogs, Border terriers. They are more often known as the border terrorists because they are always on the alert, barking whenever a car goes past the house. There is one cat, Figaro, a blue Persian with orange eyes. He gets on well with the dogs, although they do confuse each other because they don’t communicate in quite the same way. We have three rescue cats which are very cute and clever, and finally, there is a pony, Beauty. I have made Beauty a character in one of my books. She is a very naughty creature with a mind of her own — she doesn’t like leaving her stable-mates and she hates my daughter’s boyfriend. I think she is strong-willed because of her previous history. All we know is that she was seized by the police three months before we got her, possibly because she had been abandoned.

Q: What are you working on next?

A: I have just finished the copy edits for a novel set in Talyton St. George again, about a lady farmer who keeps dairy cows. In the UK, it will be published in April with the title, Country Living. I’m really excited about it because I think it’s my favorite so far.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I haven’t had much time to read recently because I’ve been writing and looking after the animals, but I’m currently reading the Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola. I have an eclectic taste in literature, enjoying a variety from factual books, the classics and, of course, contemporary fiction.

Inspiring Justice: In Allie’s Words

Allie working with the Global Aid Network in Zimbabwe in 2009.

Inspiring Justice is a blog series that features people who are headed to The Justice Conference 2013 in Philly. The goal is to continue to inspire, educate and connect in a community that shares a concern for the vulnerable and oppressed. Please contact me at if you would like to participate.

Meet Allie. She is traveling to The Justice Conference from New York.

Q: How did you first hear about The Justice Conference?

A: I first heard about The Justice Conference through a close friend who wanted to attend, and knew that I would be interested as well.

Q: Why is the conference important to you?

A: I went to this conference with the intention of learning more about what I can do to make an impact on the injustices of this world. The Justice Conference is so important to me because I learned so much in the two days that I was there last year, about both social justice and how it correlates with what Jesus has called us to do. It is so crucial for everyone to know what is going on in this world, and that they can make a difference! It’s too easy for us to simply say “that is terrible” and continue to go on with our daily lives.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at the conference?

A: I am looking forward to learning more about modern day slavery and what I can do in my everyday life to not spend my money on products that support or use slavery in their production (i.e. coffee, clothes and chocolate to name just a few). I also look forward to the exhibition hall. It will be filled with organizations that are working hard to make an impact on this world, which provides attendees with opportunities to join what they are doing!

Q: What do you do or want to do to aid in the justice movement?

A: I am currently a full-time student at The University at Buffalo, but in my spare time I do what I can to impact my global and local community. Right now I am spending some of my afternoons in one of the more impoverished areas of Buffalo, doing homework help with kids, which also provides me with a great opportunity to invest in their lives. I also have plans in the works to return to Africa and spend three months in Uganda with the organization Childvoice International. I will be holding art therapy sessions for girls who have been victims of war violence and sexual abuse. I hope to one day work for a non-profit organization and use these passions that God has placed on my heart to impact this world in anyway that I can.

Thank you, Allie! See you in Philly!

Do Justice.


I met Shawn Manley, president and CEO of Rooftop 519, at The Justice Conference last year. Named after Luke chapter 5, verse 19, Rooftop’s mission is “healing the sickest kids in the world in the name of Christ.”

Rooftop was founded in October 2010 and aggressively pursues solutions for children who desperately need medical attention.

Artists Inspiring Action partnered with The Justice Conference and Rooftop 519 for something truly special at the conference Feb. 22 and 23 in Philly. They are curating an interactive art installation in conjunction with the conference with the intention to encourage people to “do justice.”

The art piece will represent eight justice themes: war, slavery, homelessness, hunger, health, sanitation, education and family.

Those attending the conference will have the opportunity to participate in completing the art piece by hand painting a pre-printed canvas and filling free-form areas with their own contributions.

The second part of the project involves producing a book which highlights the stories of people pursuing justice.

To learn all about this project and how you can contribute please visit the project’s site.

Countdown Begins: Philly Bound!

One month from today my friend Blaire and I will be immersed at The Justice Conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I just read a story today that about 6,000 people will be gathered for the conference!

We are beyond excited for the conference speakers, artists, the film festival and to meet people and organizations from all the over the world pursuing justice. But we are also excited to explore Philly, the City of Brotherly Love, the city we all sang about at the beginning of each Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode and the city where Rocky conquered the steps of the Museum of Art (which I hope to recreate).

We have two days post-conference to explore Philly and aren’t entirely sure what we should be sure to see, eat and do! Anyone have suggestions?

We’re into history and are looking forward to all the museums we get to explore. We were instructed from more than one person to eat a Philly Cheesesteak, but just any Philly Cheesesteak or should it be from a specific place??

I have placed holds on Philadelphia guide books at the library I need to pick up and study. Blaire has compiled a list of places to see. I have reached out to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau who said they too would put together suggestions. But we want to hear from the locals!

Please share your tips, suggestions, warnings, stories, etc. of Philly with us!

What I’m Reading Wednesday


The Justice Conference founder Ken Wytsma was the opening speaker at last year’s conference in Portland. He told the crowd they were at a “conference to die to yourself” and were “among 4,000 people who believe it’s better to give than to receive.”

Ken spoke about giving our lives away for the betterment of others. As the conference kicked off he said, “I hope you get crushed this weekend.” Boy, did I. My friends and I left the conference different than when we arrived. And there was one sentence he spoke that has stuck with me since and is what this blog is named after:

“We may not be able to fix the world, but we can change it.”

As soon as I started to read Ken’s first book, “Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things,” I was back at the Portland Convention Center listening to empowering and encouraging stories about justice, faith and finding true joy in giving ones life away.

In “Pursuing Justice” Ken uses the gospel, life experiences, history and various works of art to explain what justice really looks like, and how it’s knowing God as much as it’s serving God.

Here is my Q and A with Ken:

Q: You’re a pastor, a husband, a father to four daughters, the founder of The Justice Conference, President of Kilns College and a consultant and creative advisor to non-profits (did I leave anything out?!). How did you find the time to write “Pursuing Justice?”

A: Much of the book is what I have been living, learning and teaching for over the past decade…the rest of the writing was motivated by deadlines!

Q: How did the idea come to you to write this book?

A: I’ve felt called for sometime to try and get something out that would redeem the word justice and also show it’s relevance to the rest of the big questions: God, life and happiness. Much of what is out there either leaves people feeling guilty, over idealistic that we can “fix” the world or thinking that justice is about certain causes like Human Trafficking. In the end, justice is bigger, deeper and more central than all of that. It leads to joy (it truly is better to give than receive) and surfaces the need for grace both to cover us and sustain us.

Q: Why did you feel it was important to share your story with this book?

A: We all have a story. Mine is inextricable from what I’ve learned. Insights and lessons have come from both people and experience. Showing where that comes from will hopefully make the book more real and also help people to look at the voices and experiences in their lives that will teach them to see the world through bigger and more sensitive eyes.

Q: I enjoyed the format of the book with your words as well as inserting poems and other written works titled “Interludes.” What was the idea behind the format?

A: I’m a big fan of the arts and part of the lesson about justice is that it needs many voices to flesh out. I decided to include what we called “interludes” as a way of working in art and a greater larger cast of people into the conversation.

Q: While dialoguing, researching and writing this book, did you learn anything you hadn’t already heard or known before?

A: I think humility is the big lesson I’ve been stewing on. Justice is about standing up (which is so very necessary), but humility (which is about sitting down) is also so very necessary for us to see what we don’t see, recognize our flaws and be willing to celebrate others rather than trying to be the hero ourselves. The role of humility in justice is one that I continue to chew on and think about even now. It is an under explored facet of justice.

Q: What advice do you have for people who feel pursuing justice feels like a chore?

A: If pursuing justice feels like a chore then someone probably hasn’t connected it to proper motivation (delight and joy rather duty and guilt) or hasn’t found the outlet that fits their gifts or calling. When we connect justice to proper motivation and proper calling it will wear us out, but not burn us out. As Paul said, “I am being poured out like a drink offering.” In other words, I’m being emptied out with labor, but it is my spiritual act of worship. A phrase I often use to describe Paul’s statement is that the sweet spot is to fall in bed exhausted and empty, but with a smile on your face.

Q: This year marks the third year of The Justice Conference. What was your original vision for the conference when you founded it, and has that changed over the years?

A: The vision has always been to explore theology of justice in addition to talking about specific issues of justice. The hope is that in connecting justice as a necessary component to our knowing and being known by God that it will lead to deeper, more lasting and more satisfying engagement than if we just whip up group excitement about flashy causes. With the conference we are looking for lasting change and a unity between justice and Christian belief and practice.

In addition, we hope conference goers will be able to network and be exposed to hundreds of organizations, schools or movements leading to collaborative endeavors and engagement that, without the conference, might not have been possible.

Q: For those who are headed to Philadelphia in February for the conference, what can they expect?

A: I think Philly will be a lot of excitement as well as deep and meaningful talks sure to spark reflection, heart change and motivation to continue forward in pursuing God’s call to justice in our individual lives. The amount of pre-conference sessions and main conference speakers is far greater than any previous conference and is sure to be worth its weight in gold.

Lastly, there is something about the solidarity of thousands of people coming together for a weekend who share the paradoxical vision giving our lives away on behalf of others is where we’ll actually find true life.

Ken Wytsma Headshot (3)

Pursuing Justice Quote Board

“When we act justly — when we give our lives away — we have the best chance of glimpsing what grace truly is and experiencing along the way, what Jesus calls ‘complete joy.'”

“If it is impossible to change the world, God wouldn’t have told us to try.”

“Justice is a thread running throughout the gospel.”

“Just as Jesus entered the world to give his life away, so too can we.”

“Every blessing is an opportunity to be grateful. Every blessing is an opportunity to give.”

“What will we decide to do with the time and opportunities we’ve been given? It isn’t enough to say we want to change the world — part of changing it is learning how.”

“Not only will the world not flourish if we aren’t giving our lives to it, but neither will we.”

“Justice is a necessary part of God’s call in the Christian life.”

“We don’t always need to see where the road leads — we simply need the faithfulness and commitment to take the next few steps in front of us.”

What I’m Reading Wednesday

pt notes gray fade2500 (3)

Psychiatric nurse Stuart Townsend recounts his days training as a student mental health nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital in the UK in the late 1970s. His memoir “Asylum Bound” describes his experiences as a naive young adult straight out of university entering a profession he knew very little about.

His stories are intriguing and often times sad. From shaving a dead corpse to coming face-to-face with suicide, his experiences are fascinating. Among the pain and heartache, Stuart also weaves humor into his storytelling.

Released in May 2012, “Asylum Bound” offers a personal and emotional glimpse into an asylum.

Here is my Q and A with Stuart:

Q: What made you decide to write a memoir about your experience training as a student mental health nurse?

A: I meet up with the old crowd who I worked with about twice a year, and the old stories are swapped over a pint of beer in the pub. I seem to remember vividly so much of those frightening early years — the training years — and a number of these friends had kept saying “there should be a book about it.” On holiday with my wife I started to jot down some themes and, on my return, decided how to shape the book. I thought through in my mind about a combination of the James Herriot books (All Creatures Great and Small) — which would enable individual stories to be told, along with a Bill Bryson factual flavor — I wanted to give the reader a chance to understand the terrible history, but in a simple way. As I wrote I shared the chapters with friends of mine in New Zealand (who are psychiatrists) which kept the accuracy correct, and my friends at the old hospital (who sometimes had bits of knowledge which fleshed out the story).

Q: Did you journal during your years of training? Did you find it easy or difficult to reflect back on the memories during that time?

A: I didn’t journal, but we have recounted these stories for so long that they have developed an oral tradition! My memories are very sharp from that time as the events were SO new/frightening/exciting that they are strong brain traces.

Q: At one point in your book, a district nurse says to you, “I don’t know how you can keep sane with all those people you visit.” In reading of your experiences, how DID you keep sane?

A: I think that for the first few years I separated out mental illness from “normality,” seeing the “patients” as “patients” — different from “us.” It perhaps took me longer than most to understand that there is a continuum in the spectrum — not a separation. In many ways Percy, the gentleman who runs through the book, was my road to Damascus in my thinking around mental illness. He taught me so much, and paid so high a price. Those first few years — my training years — were focused mainly on the severely mentally ill. Much of the visible presentation was a combination of the illness and the iatrogenic (i.e. that caused by the treatments, the side effects). Their presentation was SO chronic, so damaged, so “other world” that I failed to see then the whole picture.

Q: As a student nurse you were exposed to very difficult situations. Was there ever a time that you doubted continuing on in the field?

A: I don’t think I ever considered for a moment giving up. I absolutely LOVED it — it was the most thrilling part of my life — it was a flooding of emotional stimuli that could never be repeated. I was nervous and fearful, but the people around me were so supportive of my childish enthusiasm that they guided me and cared for me — turning me, gradually, into an adequate nurse. It took another ten years before I could say I was a damned good  nurse. From 1990 to 2000 were the years when I can honestly say “I made a difference.”

“Psychiatric nursing seemed centered around the devastating emotional pain of other people’s lives.” — Asylum Bound

Q: What is your favorite memory from your student nurse days?

A: That first shift on the sick ward when I fed patients and shaved a dead body. The practicality and new experiences were so strong I could have stayed all day and night. It was a different world.

Q: During your training did you ever want to throw in the towel and quit?

A: Never.

Q: You often encountered violence, death and suicide attempts; how did you handle burnout from the job?

A: I was never good with violence and still find violence is something alien to my mind. My wife is really good with it — get a violent psychopath breaking into our house and I’d make sure she was in front of me. I could cope well if the violence was part of illness, but not if it was someone who thrived on violence and threat. The suicide issue is different. This was the one that really got me. I could never push away the sense of responsibility for completed suicides. Suicides cause so much pain to so many people — it might release the person who does it but it’s impact on family/friends/carers is massive. Percy was one that, even now, I well up with tears when I think of him. He set the tone for others. I can reflect that, due to my efforts, many more would have suicided had it not been for me. But this doesn’t lessen the impact of those that, despite my help, suicided. It cut me up very badly each time. It is the part of the job that I don’t think I could cope with again.

Q: Your student training ends tragically with a suicide. How did you work through this loss and continue on with a career in mental health nursing?

A: I continued because a) I loved the work, b) If I didn’t then Percy’s death would have been for nought, c) I felt that I could stop this happening again — which took me time to realize that I could impact positively on other peoples’ lives but not irradicate suicides. As said, this area is the real toughie.

Q: Are you planning to write another book?

A: I may, but I’m not sure the memories are as vivid. I think about it but don’t want to do a book just for the sake of it. I have to have a purpose.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: I have a number of books on the go. I have just completed “Team of Rivals” (which the movie Lincoln is based on). I’ve just started on “The Influencing Machine” by Mike Jay which is a retelling of the James Tilly Matthews delusion from the 1800s (mentioned in my book). My bath book (I always read in the bath!) is “Besieged” by Barbara Demick, a journalist who lived in Sarajevo during the siege. My conservatory book is Theodore H Whites book on Nixon (perhaps my favorite character from history — he is so complex/multi-faceted/intellectual and yet damaged that I find his story (and White is such a brilliant writer) addictive). I read and re-read this.

Asylum Bound can be purchased at Amazon. For more information visit Stuart’s website.

What I’m Reading Wednesday


I am a fan of everything British and that includes royalty. When I watched the film “The King’s Speech” last year I caught a glimpse of the love story of Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson. Soon after I watched a documentary about the epic story of the King who gave up the throne to marry for love, and I still wanted to learn more.

When I came across Rebecca Dean’s “The Shadow Queen,” a historical fiction novel that tells a fascinating story of Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, it was a must read.

I contacted Rebecca Dean to ask her questions about how the novel came to be, her fascination with recent royal history, and her experience meeting a royal.

Q: Why did you choose to write about the Duchess of Windsor?

A: I chose to write about her because she has always fascinated me, and because I thought she had been demonized for far too long. The view always taken of her was that she was an arch manipulator; a scheming, devious woman with few, if any, redeeming features. It wasn’t my perception of her and the more primary sources I read — particularly the letters she wrote almost constantly to her aunt, Bessie Merryman — the more simpatico towards her I became. It was her early years — the years before she came to world attention as the woman for whom a king gave up a throne — that I found most illuminating when it came to an understanding of her character. The Wallis who struggled with the opposites of having been born into an illustrious family and yet, because of her father’s early death, lived on an uncle’s charity, unable to take anything — even clothes and schooling — for granted. The Wallis who instantly turned down her uncle’s offer to adopt her and make her his heir when told the offer was conditional upon her never entering her mother’s home again. Loyal, not hard-hearted, scheming or opportunistic — was the word her Baltimore friends used about her. It was this quality, together with her irrepressible sassiness and her refusal to let life get the better of her, that I found deeply compelling.

Q: The Shadow Queen is your second novel that involves Prince Edward, where does that interest come from?

A: A love of England and English history. The Abdication in 1936 changed English royal history in the most cataclysmic way possible. Taken on its own it seems almost inexplicable — and in looking for some kind of explanation I wondered if the seeds of Edward’s action were sown long before he ever met Wallis. I felt that his loveless childhood had played a part — that starved of love as a child, when faced with the choice of remaining king, but living without the lifelong love he had finally found, there was, for Edward, simply no contest. I also think the unhappy outcome of his youthful romance with Lady Rosemary Leveson-Gower, the younger daughter of the Duke of Sutherland, left an incredible mark and played a part in the decision he made when, for Wallis, he abandoned the greatest throne in the world. (He had met Rosemary during WWI when he was 24 and serving in France and Rosemary was in France as a Red Cross nurse. Friends are on record as saying he wanted to marry her and this father, George V, refused his consent on the grounds that Rosemary was not royal). Two years later Lady Rosemary married Viscount Ednam, one of Edward’s friends. She died in a plane crash in 1930, just four months before Edward met Wallis.

Q: How much time was spent researching for The Shadow Queen?

A: A year.

Q: You chose to include fictional characters in Pamela, John Jasper and the Houghtons; why did you want to include them in the story?

A: The Houghtons were a link back to The Golden Prince, my book about Edward as a very young man. Pamela was introduced because I needed Wallis to have a close friend with whom she could express her hopes and aspirations. When it came to Wallis’s early, innocent romance in Baltimore there was simply not enough information on any one of the boys mentioned in her autobiography and so I amalgamated them into John Jasper.

Q: I read you are working on The Shadow Queen’s sequel, will it pick up where it left off in 1931?

A: The Lost Crown will pick up exactly where The Shadow Queen finished, but first I have to complete and deliver a completely fictional novel, The Viscount’s Daughters.

Q: What do you think of the love story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor?

A: I think it was epic — and it was enduring. He was just as much in love with her on the day he died, as he was on the day he gave up his throne for her. I think her love for him was less obsessional, but no less deep and sincere.

Q: What do you find is the biggest challenge in writing historical fiction?

A: Doing justice to the people I am writing about.

Q: I read your passion is recent royal history. Who is your favorite subject?

A: At the moment it is still Wallis and Edward. I have a lot of unfinished business where they are concerned. Edward’s mother, Queen Mary, also fascinates me. What went on behind that regally repressed exterior? I suspect a great deal, and I’d like to write about it!

Q: Have you ever met any royals? What was the experience like?

A: I met Princess Margaret, but it was before my interest in the royals was so intense and so I did not, perhaps, make the most of it.

Q: I watched Madonna’s film “W.E.” this week about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Have you seen it? What did you think of the interpretation?

A: I haven’t seen it — apart from clips on TV. (This, on purpose. I haven’t wanted anything intruding on my own concept of Wallis when I still haven’t finished writing about her).

Q: What book are you reading now?

A: “Bring Up the Bodies”, Hilary Mantel’s brilliant, brilliant follow up to Wolf Hall, her novel centering on Thomas Cromwell, a minister in Henry VIII’s court.