We were scheduled to serve the LORD at a family camp. It was to be a week-long experience shared with 30-40 families. First we were asked to address the youth. That was a new assignment so, a few months ahead, we sought the LORD for what He would have us present. Once we felt we had a good lead on the topics, we set our notes aside as we continued to ponder the subjects. A few weeks later things changed. We were told that someone else had been invited to address the youth and that Curt would be presenting the evening sessions.
I have to admit that we were thrown back on our heels. There was enough time to pull together a new focus, but the problem was that the new assignment was just for Curt. We've always felt and been confirmed in the understanding that our effectiveness is heightened by our ministry as a couple. We stopped and prayed, asking God to help us sort out what He was putting in our path.
Curt chose the topic for his six messages and began the organizing process. (We're planning to post these 'one another' talks at our website, LifeworkForum.org.) Then we turned our attention to what the LORD might have in mind for our overall outreach. What part did He intend for us to play together or for me to play on my own. Was I just meant to fulfill the role of faithful wife throughout the week? Curt came to the conclusion that he needed to contact the organizer of the event to ask what their idea was in this regard.
As it turned out I was given two time slots to speak to the ladies. I was asked to be prepared to address the topics that concerned them by answering their questions. Hmmmm, now that was an easy yet difficult assignment. I didn't need to worry about coordinating a series of talks built around a theme as I've done in the past. There were no short- and long-term deadlines to rumple up my daily life. I just needed to support and encourage Curt in his timeline as we looked ahead to the adventure. BUT, as our departure approached, I began to realize that I also needed to be fully prepared to address whatever topics might be brought to me - right there in front of a gathering of sisters in Christ. Whenever I thought about it, my knees would knock together.
You see, Curt's my head and he usually leads the way into the subjects we're asked to address by laying a solid, biblical foundation. My part is to share ideas and suggestions for the application of the principles He presents into daily life. Then Curt brings a valuable summary and invites me to join him for a period of questions and answers. We feel most comfortable and useful serving side by side in this way. To tell the truth, I was wondering how useful I was going to be in the new format.
We arrived at the event and were welcomed heartily and warmly. People greeted us kindly during the registration and settling in phase. They were very responsive to the talk we gave to introduce ourselves during the first evening gathering. Actually, we felt right at home. It was as if we were attending a family reunion with a whole bunch of cousins we simply hadn't met before. The friendliness continued throughout the week. We were invited to lunch and dinner by different families and every meal was a delightful time of fellowship.
Of course Curt's talks were quite well-received. The group as a whole was dedicated to godly living and therefore exhibited maturity in their faith and practice. There was serious and often deep conversation to be had at various points. The young people reflected these standards even in their times of recreation and fun. Sunday morning provided an opportunity for both of us to truly worship our God and King. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly.
So, you ask, what about my time with the ladies? That's what I really want to share. Now that I've set the scene I'll get to it.
My first time slot was for about two hours in the corner of the barn. The ladies gathered around me, having to pull in close to minimize the distraction of activities at the other end of the space. We opened with prayer and singing the Doxology together, dedication and inspiration for our time together before the LORD. The opening question was to tell the ladies about what happens when homeschooling doesn't turn out as planned. BAM!! Right into the soup. My heart cried out to the Spirit for the right words and I began. The details were not the primary message I wanted to communicate. It was the love, the sovereignty, the faithfulness, the mercy, the power, the kindness, . . . of God that was paramount.
The ladies were quiet and attentive. I could tell they were very interested in what this more experienced pilgrim had to say. I felt honored and privileged, nervous and stretched all at the same time. There were a few questions and after about an hour and a half I think we went on to a couple of other topics. By the time we were done I was drained. We closed in prayer and several of the ladies thanked me as they drifted off to start preparing dinner. Two or three stayed to share more deeply.
Okay, I was useful in the Father's service. I let Him know I was finally feeling as if I could handle the opportunity. Curt and I met up again and we trudged up the hill to our room. We spent some more time sharing with each other and before the LORD. We were thankful and marveled at the Ephesians 2:10 work He gives us to do. Things seemed to be unfolding smoothly and the week continued.
The next session I was given was for 45 minutes three days later. It was to be after lunch and before a beading session for the ladies. I had no idea how that would work because we all know that all sessions at events such as this tend to start a bit late for logistical reasons and the meeting place hadn't really been arranged, as far as we knew. The lady who was to lead the beading session came to me and explained that she wanted to hear me again, but that she would need that time for set up. She graciously suggested that there might be a way for us to combine our offerings. It sounded like a wonderful idea that would solve both of our dilemmas and I heartily agreed.
As God willed it, it was announced that the ladies would take over the dining room up at the house for the afternoon. We opened our time together in prayer and by singing the first verse of Amazing Grace. The Beading Lady had everything laid out and explained the directions to the ladies for what she would help them accomplish. Once they understood what to do she asked them to work silently. When they got started I stood up and offered a few remarks before taking their questions. We enjoyed the cozier, lady-pleasing setting for almost three hours.
It was a blessing to be part of God's unfolding plan - to be in an unexpected place, facing an unknown agenda with ladies whom He brought together at this specific time and place for His purposes. Several ladies brought up deep issues they were facing in their own lives - how to apply 'admonish one another' in the marriage relationship, view the role of women in leadership in the Church, deal with "constructive criticism" aimed at parenting, and others.
To say I was praying like mad the whole time would be an understatement. In a way though, the sharing felt natural, almost as if I were merely fulfilling the role of an older sister. Yes, the LORD has schooled me through the Genesis, Ephesians, and Titus passages about His work in me as a woman. I've offered retreats on the topic. Yet it's one thing to understand it in my mind and quite another to experience in my entire person. When the session ended I felt poured out but not empty - full in the grace and peace of the LORD to whom belongs all glory, honor, and praise. AMEN
So those were my personal offerings. Of course throughout the event Curt mentioned our new book and we both spoke with folks about it. (Go to Children in Church to find out more for yourself.) It wasn't as if I were a jack-in-the-box who only popped out twice in one week. Perish the thought. As a matter of fact, Curt invited me up at the end of his final session and gave folks the opportunity to ask us any questions on any topic. Now that was a treat. It felt like we were some how back in harness together and I was grateful for the blessing.
As Curt would say, "The point is . . .
My expectations for the week were uncertain. Knowing this, I did my best to rest in the Matthew 11:30 yoke Jesus has for me, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the end, the outflow of all the 'stuff' I've enumerated above was astonishing.
I went to thank one lady who'd given me some floss when our supply ran out. She turned to me and said, "No, thank you. One thing I'm taking away is your comment about 'yield' v. 'submit'. You're right that it's just a modern semantic issue. It's too hard for me to think of myself as a doormat, but I KNOW I CAN YIELD to my husband and that is now my mission."
Another lady took me aside to thank me quietly. Her eyes were teary as she almost whispered, "Thank you for making me feel normal. When you said how you really feel sometimes other ladies in the room shook their heads so I knew they felt that way too sometimes. I guess these overwhelming feelings aren't really so crazy after all. Thank you for making me feel normal."
At one point I was heading toward the door and a husband's path converged with mine. He turned his head and seemed surprised to see me there. He joyously said, "Thank you for encouraging my wife." I confess that I took his words to be a bit of a passing remark and responded in that tone. He stopped walking and faced me, "No, I really mean it. Thank you. You really encouraged my wife!" I understood more of the depth he was sharing and said, "That's the work of the Holy Spirit. Let's both be thankful to Him."
This man's wife later shared with me by email that her life had been impacted through what I'd said in response to someone else's question about leadership in the church. The Holy Spirit had convicted her about some ungodly attitudes and actions that had crept into her life by her involvement and were invading her marriage. She'd been led to confess it to her husband and ask His forgiveness. Hallelujah!
The crowning point of this post is a remark that was delivered to me more than once. "Thank you for sharing your heart." I admit that I didn't know how to respond to that one. I wasn't sure exactly what these ladies meant. As I sought to work it out I thought they must mean for letting them see what was really going on inside me. Ugh! There's a lot of not so pretty stuff in there. Why would they thank me for that? I couldn't really sort it out. I'm beginning to get an inkling of what they meant.
By God's design I'm at a place in my life where His reconciling and redeeming work is gaining ground. As He sorts out my experiences for me He makes Himself known more and more powerfully and intimately. For that reason His presence, His character, His Truth become more of my abiding place. I still remember the past and hurt in the present, but He is my Shepherd in increasing measure. I pray that this is what touches others, that this is what they see in my heart.
My response today to these gracious, meaningfully spoken words is, "My heart is all I have to share. It's the result of God's grace and mercy in my life and there's really nothing else worth sharing. Let's praise Him together."
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20