According to the Storybrooke Lodge website, the property is “a hidden treasure nestled in the rolling hills just outside of Franklin and Leipers Fork, Tennessee.”
That’s marketing copy.
The site continues, “The Lodge at Storybrooke will take your breath away, but it pales in comparison to the natural beauty surrounding you the moment you step outdoors.”
That’s more marketing copy, but I’m starting to become a bit more intrigued now: “take your breath away”? Nice. “…pales in comparison to the natural beauty”? Very nice.
Let’s keep reading:
“The sound of the peaceful creek is the heartbeat of Storybrooke as it meanders through the middle of the property and flows just next to the lodge.”
Aaahhh. “Meanders.” That’s a cool word, isn’t it? Meanders. It’s fun to say, too. Say it with me: “Meanders.” Say it again. Out loud this time. “Meanders. Meanders. Meanders.”
The dictionary defines “meanders” (of a river or road) as “following a winding course.” That makes sense. And it fits with Storybrooke’s website a lot better than the assemblage of more words that say the same thing. Sure, the writer of Storybrooke’s website could have just as easily written, “The sound of the peaceful creek is the heartbeat of Storybrooke as it follows a winding course through the middle of the property,” but a decision was made, and that decision was an appropriate one.
The heartbeat of Storybrooke meanders, and that is that.
Bravo, website writer.
The definition of that word, for the record, continues (of a speaker or text) as “proceeding aimlessly or with little purpose.” That word speaks to me. That word is me. That word is awesome.
But I digress.
When I was invited to join InSpero for its 2023 Vision Retreat at Storybrooke Lodge, I was a bit taken aback. I’ve been closely on the outside looking in at InSpero for a bunch of years, but I’ve never allowed myself to step into the conversation. I don’t know why, really. It probably has something to do with the fact that I don’t consider myself an artist.
Those people are artists. Me? I just write stuff.
“You are invited to our vision retreat,” I kept reading. “Our heart behind this is to offer you (and us) a time to refresh and gain new perspectives/vision in a beautiful setting. All of you pour out into so many people and for the Kingdom. We want this to be a time you can be refreshed and poured back into.”
I started reading the email out loud to my wife: “It will be a gentle schedule to allow you time away from demands. Friends from Nashville will drop by to pour into us and offer some music!”
“You should do that,” she said. “There’s no reason for you to not do that,” she continued. “You’re trying to think of reasons to not do that, but there aren’t any,” she was speaking with a bit more — how do I say this — enthusiasm, now. “Put it on your calendar and go,” she said.
That last statement was not a suggestion.
My wife of 23 years says things, sometimes, that can go either way, to be honest, and I feel like I have to blindly complete the intricate maze that is her brain. But this was not one of those times. “Put it on your calendar and go.”
I was born and raised in Franklin, Tennessee. I grew up just a handful of miles as the crow flies from Storybrooke Lodge, but I had never heard of it. I have probably searched for salamanders and crawdaddies in the same waters that now meander through the middle of the property, but when I drove up the gravel drive to the lodge that Thursday afternoon, I was suddenly a world away. The familiarity of Poplar, Maple, Oak, and Ash trees along the way made me feel comfortably at home, but also comfortably… away.
Within fifteen minutes of my arrival, I was already 10 minutes into one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in roughly two years. I would learn, later, that Allen Levi leaves just about everyone he ever engages — with that big, toothy grin and those crowfoot sparkling eyes — feeling the same way. He just has a way about him. He listens with those eyes.
New and familiar faces all beamed as they entered this creekside cottage in the middle of nowhere, and were greeted by the welcoming arms of Gina Hurry and gracious others who quickly told us to grab a snack, a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or whatever, and to relax.
And that’s what we did.
At least that’s what I did. I relaxed.
Coffee in one hand; various crackers, cheeses, berries, and possibly the best dark chocolate peanut butter cups ever created by God or man, in the other. Seriously. If I ate one of those things that day, I ate 37 of them. And I am not ashamed of this. Not at all. I was there because I was invited and because my wife demanded it, right? I was going to make the most of it.
Yes, I believe I will have another, thank-you-very-much.
Also, I saw Mandi Mapes eat a couple of them after she sang one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and I secretly thought that maybe that’s why she is so awesome. So, I filled my pockets and my cheeks and settled in for what would turn into an unexpected soul punch… in the very best way.
Not only were the rooms full of remarkable creativity, insight, wisdom, and joy in the forms of singers, writers, visual artists, photographers, and visionaries; God was there, too. He showed up in our laughter. He was present through tears. He was wrapped around every word spoken, and in every song sung. He was in every sip of wine; every delightful bite of food; and most definitely in those peanut butter cups.
For two-and-a-half days, I heard Him in the crackle of the fireplace. I saw Him in the leaves, being carried by the wind, whimsically spinning above our heads.
And I felt Him gently leading me to the place He wanted me to rest.
Stephen and Sarah Roach — Google The Breath & The Clay, and then look up Stephen’s Makers & Mystics podcast, then thank me later — poured into us for three days. The notebook I brought with me because I didn’t want to seem like I was only there for the snacks, is now filled with their wisdom and with whispers from the Holy Spirit. Unfinished, but perfect statements and questions like:
Quotes and poems from Mary Oliver, GK Chesterton, and Abraham Joshua Heschel were used as exclamation points to what God was sharing through His creations, and it didn’t take long before I. Was. There. For. It.
The highlight of my experience at Storybrooke, though, was on the last night during a perfectly orchestrated, yet curiously impromptu worship gathering where Andy Gullahorn and a handful of others shared their gifts, and every woman and man in the house reveled in what God was doing in and amongst us in that beautiful, small place:
If beauty’s what you’re after
It’s here in spades to see.
Knowing small things matter
If beauty’s what you’re after
Just look close to see.
Knowing small things matter
Is really no small thing.
(From Small Things, Andy Gullahorn)
And now, a couple of weeks removed from that time in that place where the meandering creek serves as the heartbeat of Storybrooke, I remain refreshed, and even more ready to engage in the people and places God has called my art to love.
I am so thankful for InSpero. I’m so very thankful to have met those remarkable people in that remarkable place. I am thankful for MY art.
And I’m so thankful that I’ve learned to listen to my wife.
Billy Ivey is an author, copywriter, and brand strategist with more than 25 years experience working on accounts like Chick-fil-A, The Home Depot, Major League Baseball, and hundreds of other local, regional, and national brands. He recently released his first book, A Sea Between Us, and it is available wherever you buy books.
In addition, Billy launched Small Stories Studio in January, 2023, where he will “tell stories of hope and redemption through books and film.” His second full-length novel will release this summer.
Billy lives in Birmingham with his super-hot wife, Bethany, and their five better-than-average children. He wrote this bio, by the way. If you could make sure Bethany sees it somehow, he’d sure appreciate the help.
www.smallstoriesstudio.com | www.aseabetween.com | www.napkinisms.com