About a month ago, I was back home after attending the Christian Communicator's Conference at The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, in Asheville, North Carolina. I was still basking in the glow of that amazing experience!
I remember feeling so blessed to be there surrounded by like-minded women who were seeking how to best serve God. Women who, like me, felt God leading them to speak out and share their stories.
I originally heard about the conference back in April through a friend's website. She had attended and graduated the year before and had a button on her page. Curious, I clicked and discovered a unique speaking conference limited to 30 women. I was attracted to the inevitable intimacy of a group that small. Five days and four nights immersed in training at "a retreat center in Asheville, NC, designed to encourage, refresh and empower beliers who want to grow and deepen their faith." I wanted some of that! Lol Unfortunately, the registration was closed - all 30 spots were filled. They were, however, accepting email requests to be put on the waiting list.
On a wing and with much prayer, I sent an email to the conference organizer asking to be put on the waiting list. If God wanted me to attend, then He would open a spot. It was a long shot - with just 30 spots - but in early August, I received an email saying a spot just opened! God opened the door for me to attend, but it was through the prayers and generosity of family and friends that I was actually able to go.
I asked for specific prayers that God would make it clear that this is where he wanted me. But He already did. He made it crystal clear when I opened my email that day! God is always working and invites each of us to join Him. It's up to us to keep our ears and eyes open for the opportunities. Now I had to trust Him to provide the funds – and He did! I was, and still am, so humbled with how this worked out. A super special thank you to all the friends and family who supported me with prayer and financial gifts.
So on Wednesday August 28th, Annie (my new best friend! Lol) arrived at my house and picked me up. Out of the 30 women attending the conference, 2 of us were from Jacksonville, FL. Only God! A big thanks to Annie for listening to the Holy Spirit and inviting me to ride with her.
The 7 hour drive to Asheville, NC seemed to fly by. Annie and I shared our stories and how God had been working in each of our lives. We were both beyond excited to be attending the conference and looking forward to what was planned. (Loved this reminder on the gas price sign! Not only John 3:16, but a new favorite: Ephesians 3:16. "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.")
A sense of anticipation enveloped me when we exited the interstate and entered winding road leading to The Cove. There is nothing more peaceful and serene than being surrounded by the mountains, trees and nature of North Carolina. We were truly in God's country!
As I sit here reflecting on an experience that was beyond what words could convey, I am awed by God's wisdom. This conference was truly a life-changing 5 days. In addition to the teaching and practical side of the speaking business (paperwork, ugh! hehe), I was blessed to be surrounded by women who are now lifelong sisters. Whether or not I am ever invited to speak at a women's event, I have a family of new friends who will encourage me on my walk with the Lord :)
So what I've decided to do is let my photos do the talking, A picture truly can say a thousand words! I hope you enjoy my photo compilation and a brief summary of what I learned each day.
The conference began at 4:30pm on Wednesday, August 28th with the gathering of 30 different women in the classroom that would be our home base through Sunday. Each of us shared our "30 second commercial" introducing ourselves to the group. We then participated in a fun trivia game, trying to guess whose fun fact matched which lady. One of the women never made it down the bunny slope. Her family says the only thing about her that is coordinated is her outfits! Someone else was crowned Miss Sweet Potato. Another conference attendee survived a plane crash and travelled around the world.
What I learned after Day One is that no matter our size, shape, age, experience, mistakes, successes, failures - God can turn our mess into His message. Our tests become our testimony. God wants to use each of us for His glory.
Day two started with Praise and Worship led by Janet Roller. I was moved to tears through the beautiful singing of "As the Deer Pants for the Water" – a hymn sung at my wedding in Mexico by my dear friend Delaina. It happens to be my husband, Buddy's favorite song! The atmosphere at The Training Center was alive with God's presence. The day progressed with training sessions led by Vonda Skelton and Carolyn Knefely. Steps to a Powerful Ministry Presentation and Create an Empowering Purpose Statement were particularly helpful. I also attended a break out session designed to help us organize our business. The creative girl in me especially enjoyed making a Purpose Board (see photo below) by cutting out words and images from magazines and glueing to foam core. Afterwards, we were invited to share what our Purpose Board meant to us.
What I learned after Day Two is that God has given each of us a Purpose. That purpose is universal: to bring Him glory. How our Purpose is manifested is unique to each of us.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
We were in for a treat on Day three! The day was packed with learning how to share our message with the world, taking care of the details of our speaking ministry, an etiquette class taught by Carolyn followed by a fabulous High Tea and a professional photo shoot courtesy of Cheryl Kaiser! In addition to that, Annie, Mary and I hit the trail (literally!) and hiked to The Chatlos Memorial Chapel after dinner.
What I learned after Day Three is that while nobody likes the word "promotion," we must remember Paul and his mission to share the Good News. God has called each of us to "... go and make disciples of all nations..." (Matthew 28:19). God is equipping me with the tools I'll need to share His word. I must do it - the time is now.
Today was the day we were presenting our 5-minute talk! At this point, God had given me my topic (Our Words are Gifts) but I still needed to tweak my presentation. After the morning's praise, worship and devotion, I spent some quiet time with the Lord to refine my message. The presentation's were being filmed by a professional video service, Two Girls Video Production, and we all wanted to be prepared. We were asked to support our new sisters by participating as audience members. The taping of the presentations would last all day. Some women shared their unique testimony, some shared a Bible truth, a couple were recording introductions to their ministries for their website. I wanted to share a Biblical truth to represent how I would speak at a Women's Event (my video will be posted after I finish editing!). I was honored to hear several talks that were clearly inspired.
What I learned after Day Four is that we all have stories. We have all experienced life – the good, the bad and the ugly. God allows trials not only to refine us, but that through our suffering we will draw nearer to Him. The comfort He provides when we seek Him is the comfort He wants us to extend to others when we share His Word. We are blessed to be a blessing.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. ~ 1 Timothy 4:12
Our last day at The Cove was bittersweet. The conference was everything I imagined and more. There was such an intimacy to a smaller group. Close friendships were formed. God's presence was evident and powerful during each day's training. The women's presentations were inspired and humbling. There was a common thread during the week's discussions that I must mention: fear and feeling unworthy.
Who am I that God could use me?
What if I make a mistake?
I'm not good enough for this type of calling.
Lord, I know you are leading me to share your Word, but what could I really say that could make a difference?
Women throughout time have struggled with these lies. The enemy wants to deceive us and knows our weaknesses. We must be smarter. We must be stronger. God says you "... find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity." (Jer. 29:12-14). The Lord is our strength and our refuge. He has created us for a purpose. His "grace is sufficient" and his power "Is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9). Oooh, I'm so thankful for this: GOD'S GRACE IS SUFFICIENT!
What I learned after Day Five is that barriers are built by the enemy. Jesus came so that we may LIVE. Fear has no place in our heart. We ARE valued. David knew this when he wrote, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." AMEN! (Psalm 139:13-14).
Friends, in this life we will face opposition. Satan will prey on our fears and hits below the belt. Especially when we have committed to serving God. What we can do is be prepared for battle! I would love to hear from you - leave me a comment and let me know what you think of The Cove!!
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:10-12)
Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. ~ Ephesians 6:19
I lifted several items from the buggy and draped them over my arm as I entered the confined space. The dreaded fitting room. Oh, how I disliked trying on clothes. Especially with my post-pregnancy shape!
And so I began the arduous steps involved in ultimately modeling for myself.
First the pants: unclip from hard plastic hanger, tug over hips (if they make it past the thighs), button and zip (if you're lucky). Then the top: slide blouse off hanger - trying not to tangle useless strands of ribbon that end up hanging from your underarms), pull top over head or or slip arms into respective holes and button - again, if you're lucky :)
Then the fun begins. Turning this way and that to review your reflection. Front view, side view - and if you're REALLY lucky, you have a 3-way mirror and get to view your backside. Ugh! I've often wondered why department stores don't have those mirrors that make you look tall and slim. Instant 10 lb. weight loss!
Sadly, I've never encountered a dressing room mirror that stretched the truth. Pun intended :)
Mirrors are brutally honest. They reflect back to us what the world sees - the good and the bad.
We make choices every morning about what we'll wear for the day. What the world will see when they look at us. But do we remember to clothe ourselves in the armor of God? The Bible tells us to "Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes." (Ephesians 6:11)
To "put on" is a directive, telling us we need to do something. Paul says we must choose to wear the armor - it's not automatic.
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground... with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness..., and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:13-17)
Recently, I have been especially convicted about putting on the "belt of truth". God is leading me to share my story and experiences through this blog. I am committed to being authentic and real so that others will be encouraged by the battles I've faced - and won - through God's strength. It won't always be pretty - but it will be honest.
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)
Just like we put on "our face", fix our hair or select a stylish outfit to prepare for the new day, we must also be prepared for the spiritual battle that is raging - often unseen - around us. And as much as I want a mirror to tell me I'm 10 lbs. lighter, the truth is the baby weight will come off if I continue to make healthy eating choices. And exercise more :)
Temptation and sin surround all of us. I struggle daily with procrastination! But I want the world to see Jesus reflected in me. So every morning, I prepare for battle by wearing God's armor. I choose to be honest. I embrace my day knowing the peace I've found through him. I lift the shield of faith against Satan's lies. I trust that God's protection will guide me.
Are you prepared today?
"Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)