Me (second from left) with most of the Booksneeze Bloggers
I had never attended a Women of Faith event before, so this weekend’s “Over the Top” program in Omaha, Nebraska was all new to me. In many ways, it was just what I expected; in other ways, I was surprised and challenged. It was, of course, a perfect excuse for a short road trip with my husband. He was able to spend time with his family in the area while his mom and I took in the conference in the Qwest Center downtown.
I loved the stage – feminine, professional, modern. I wasn’t sure I’d like the round style, open to all sides, but it grew on me.
I was still assessing the atmosphere during the opening prayer. I glanced over toward two women we had met briefly when we first took our seats. The older of them had grabbed her friend’s hand, grasping it tightly in both of her own and bowing her head with tightly closed eyes. I saw fervency and sincerity in that action. I realized this event meant a lot to some people. It wasn’t just a chance to escape for the weekend or hear some good music; it was a chance for God to move on her friend, to do something new and real. My own expectation level went up after seeing that.
If you have to use a worship team of pre-recorded music, this was a successful model. The four leaders were dressed in coordinating clothes and their intentional movements criss-crossing and circling the stage worked well to keep our attention. I knew all of the songs and enjoyed the women-only arrangements. Each of the four leaders was engaging in her own way. Again, I’m a live band kind of girl, but this was the next best option and it was executed well.
OPENING DAY SPEAKERS
Patsy Clairmont was the perfect choice for the first session and my general favorite all weekend. She came onto the stage carrying a simple journal and somehow that made her appear prepared but not canned. Her age, humor, and humilty all worked together to engage us, challenge us, and still make us smile. I loved her. By the end of the second day I had tweeted: “New plan: BE @PatsyClairmont when I grow up. : ) Actually, she makes me want to be my best me. Well deserved standing O.”
The biggest surprise for me in the speakers department was Andy Andrews. He bounced onto the stage and then over and across it several times before he settled down and said some really direct and poignant things to the crowd of thousands of women. I realized then that he had us in the palm of his hand. He had acted silly and told jokes and introduced himself to the security team and all the while he was winning us over, story by story, smile by smile.
His closing message on Friday night was masterful. Telling us that every decision in our life was a chance to change the world, he proved it through his storytelling. The material is from his new book The Final Summit but in person he mesmerized us with his theatrical reenactment of individual stories from American history that had impact on the entire world. Again, we were putty in his hands and he was faithful with that power.
This might have also been my biggest surprise. I have listened to hundreds of Compassion and World Vision style child sponsorship presentations before. Because I have friends who are missionaries and plenty of opportunities to give, I can usually resist the sales pitch and move on. (Not to mention that those missionaries often remind me of the money wasted by big organizations on salaries and marketing.)
But I couldn’t resist anymore. This weekend I was sick of my excuse that if I’m going to give, I should give in this or that other particular way. The fact was, I wasn’t doing that giving either and this opportunity was at my fingertips. I was gripped with a pull toward that orange World Vision sponsorship table. Once there, I couldn’t help but notice how small the line was in front of the table with all the photos of children in need while the product tables nearby were backed up and blending together with the other long lines at the concession stands – in fact, it looked like one line where you got Parmesan fries at one end and patterned tote bags at the other. I walked right up to the World Vision table, no line and no waiting.
During that first break one picture caught my eye immediately: A five year-old boy with chubby cheeks and a smart red and white jacket. He wasn’t smiling or frowning, just sort of looking out of his photo with low expectations. I noticed he was from South Africa and I thought I’d keep looking to see if they had any countries that were a little more hip – you know, Uganda or Malawi kind of countries. Looked over more faces. Decided to talk to Dan and ask before making the jump. I went back to my seat.
Dan approved immediately. We could choose to sponsor a child instead of coming home with sugary treats or stickers. I thought the kids would love the chance to exchange letters and photos with a “brother” through the years. I tried to decide where I wanted him to be from or what age he should be . . . I started constructing the perfect sponsored child in my imagination.
But when I went back to the table, the first thing I did was check for that first boy. He was still there, so I rifled through some more profiles. Surely I shouldn’t pick the first photo that caught my eye; I have to make sure this is the one I want. The volunteers offered to find me a child with a particular birth date or country of origin. They had a special pack of babies, maybe I would prefer that? In the meantime, I saw a small group of women looking over the profiles near my boy. I hope they don’t take him, I thought. And then I knew he was mine. I told the volunteer I didn’t need to keep looking. I had found my match.
I was so satisfied with this move that I felt Friday night could have been the end of the conference. I couldn’t wait to show Dan and the kids.
But there was more to come . . . And Saturday was full of its own joys.
To be continued . . . .
UPDATE: Serenity says I should mention Claire’s question to me in the bathroom this morning (found in the comments section), “Mom, when are you going to bring that boy home?” What a brave and loving girl she is – no thought of how a new member of our family might need to be planned for or arranged for in anyway, no worries about how it would affect her, just an open heart.