I have a history with the Proverbs 31 She Speaks Conference, a history that began long before attending the annual conference for the first time in 2009, and one that continues to be scripted by God even in the disappointment I feel in deciding not to attend the 2011 Conference this July. The disappointment lies in the mad desire to go, in the childlike tantrum of my heart that says “I wanna go!” and even in the Spirit-filled knowing that the new Become a Better Story Teller Track for Speakers and Writers would equip me in deeper ways to be a voice for God in my writing, blogging, speaking, and life coaching.
My desire to encourage and challenge others for the Kingdom has never been called into question. My follow-through … well that’s another issue entirely – even when the One I profess to love and serve has been eminently clear in what He is asking of me, and despite the training and people He has used to invest in His plan for me to make Christ known to a broken and hurting world. He has spoken to me boldly and repeatedly – why can’t I respond in like fashion? I sometimes wonder what is the matter with me … what will it take for me to do ALL of what God has asked me to do for Him? Not just to step out – oh, I am so good at that, seriously – I’m off with the starting gun, but whoa there, if something distracts me coming around that turn in the second lap, I just never cross the finish line. I’m wondering if Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 apply to me.
And I am certain that God who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
So, Paul, you’re sure about that? You’re certain? Really? Well, one of us has dropped the ball apparently … unless you’re telling me that I won’t finish the work God has assigned me until Christ Jesus returns! Not a fan of that 411 – this race horse is 57 years old, running with spiritual shin splints I think! Well, if any of you have ever had shin splints, you know the treatment called for is rest, ice, stretching, and strengthening. Having heard clearly from God during my Daniel Fast, and again during my Give God 5 AM for 30 Days adventure, that He will not bless me with additional income from life coaching, speaking, or writing until I learn to manage what He has already given me financially, I have decided for now to rest in Him for a time, to ice my plans to attend She Speaks 2011, to stretch my self-judgment and self-disappointment in all of my unfinished ministry business to understand – as my sister says – who God has designed me to be, instead of what I think God made me to do.
A few years back, I felt God pressing down on me to enlarge my Christian Life Coaching practice to include a speaking and writing ministry, so when I learned that I would be laid off from my daytime corporate job sometime in the following six months, I thought God had orchestrated the layoff to push me into speaking and writing for Him, and I was quick to register for She Speaks in 2009. I only knew about the conference because the year before a friend of mine dropped an issue of Proverbs 31 magazine in my mailbox after hearing Lysa TerKeurst speak at a local women’s spring conference. That issue contained an article written by a Christian Life Coach, and my friend thought it might interest me.
That first year I registered for the Speakers Track and signed up to take part in a Speaker Evaluation Group. I was feeling so encouraged after giving my 3-minute testimony on Friday evening, like I may actually have what it takes to be a Christian speaker. But it was the Saturday night peer evaluation that had me flying high, feeling anointed and affirmed in His gifting to speak. As I read the evaluations from my group, I was like “yes, Lord, I hear you now Lord, I will speak for you!” But here’s the thing … I had spent hours preparing a 5-minute teaching on The Prodigal Son from Luke 15 to present Saturday night, but that wasn’t the message I gave. The night before, Marybeth Whalen – our P31 evaluation group leader, told us to be open to getting our message from God, as she had, as late as Saturday afternoon. That was my story, unscripted, unplanned, but a graced life lesson to be sure.
I went to the Prayer Room 2 hours before I was to speak, with the intent of getting a message from God. Among the many distractions was the sound of a sobbing woman rushing in and throwing herself onto a couch in tears – I mean, seriously, I’m trying to get a message here, I was thinking. I immediately thought of the Galatians passage “Share each other’s burdens …” but mentally waved that off like a pitcher that doesn’t like the sign the catcher is giving. She wouldn’t stop wailing, so I finally opened my Bible to see exactly what Paul says in that verse. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ (6:2) Oh great, it would have to be the law of Christ … in my frustration and anxious spirit about not having a message, I reluctantly went over to comfort – well okay, to obey the law of Christ, and check on the crying woman. Thankfully, she wanted to be alone with her God …. until I was ready to leave, empty-handed, without a message, to retreat to my hotel room to figure out what in the world I would say standing in front of my group in 30 minutes. Now she wants me to pray with her – she didn’t want prayer when I wanted to pray for her … and then, the bomb – she didn’t even have a burden! She was sobbing in amazement of God’s goodness (could use a little bit of that myself, I’m thinking) that a publisher would be interested in her story of brokenness and redemption … oh, Lord have mercy!
After I prayed for her, hand-in-hand, with tears falling (perhaps for different reasons) in His mighty presence, she announced she wanted to pray for me and asked what brought me to the Prayer Room that afternoon. When I confessed I had come seeking a message from God that would speak into the life of just one woman in my speaker evaluation group, she began to pray for me …. but it was all wrong – she was praying for the wrong things, for courage to be still? No, I needed a message, not stillness, not even courage. But in the stillness, the tears came faster, like a watershed, and I knew that God had called me not to share her burden, but to allow her to share mine. So powerful, I had fought against it so long, that it exhausted me as I leaned into her for an embrace and meekly asked if I could share our story in the Prayer Room as my message. It was not the rave reviews on my 5-minute teaching that I brought home from the conference. No, it was the lesson I learned in the Prayer Room, the teaching that I have shared with so many givers that are uncomfortable being given to, myself included – that God is not always asking me to share someone else’s burden, but sometimes He is just asking me to let someone share mine.
Last year I chose the Writers Track at She Speaks, and prepared a one-sheet for a book proposal “Hot Flashes Don’t Kill Dreams – Meet the God of Post-Menopausal Beginnings”. I had the opportunity to meet with best-selling author Cecil Murphey and his enthusiasm for my book idea was alarming. When he said “this is a book that must be written”, I was stunned, and further overwhelmed when he suggested I write two chapters and offered to personally review them with an editor’s eye. This was an incredible offer, definitely a God-thing, a total affirmation that God is serious about me writing and speaking. I guess I don’t have to tell you that I never followed through on this. In fact, when registration opened for this year’s conference and I saw that Cecil would again be there, I thought “what if I run into him and he asks me why I never sent him the two sample chapters?” You have to know this isn’t an arrogance thing – it’s not like I would expect a busy, well-known author to remember meeting with little old me for 15 minutes a year ago to talk about a book idea I have, but we’re talking about God here, and He keeps reminding me about writing and speaking for Him in the most unexpected ways – it would not surprise me a bit to find myself stuck in an elevator with Cecil, being called on the carpet in Jesus’ name.
After attending a session with Jeannie Burlowski – a nationally known speaker, consultant, and writer on the subject of effective, persuasive communication – “How to Prepare a Powerful, Effective 15-Minute Publisher Meeting”, I took advantage of her offer to consult personally with me about my one-sheet for a book idea. She loved the book idea, stressing that nobody is writing for mid-life Christian women even though there is such a need, and with lightening speed and laser sharp skill, she quickly reframed the heart of the book for me, suggesting a format built around the life coaching process so that I would actually coach readers in the book using the same principles, steps, and homework exercises I use with my coaching clients – brilliant! Jeannie sent me into a group publisher meeting ready to pitch my book idea in under one minute with full confidence of the points I had to hit on, and encouraged me to complete a full book proposal when I got home for editing and submission to a publisher. Have I done any work on the book proposal? Nope!
I continued stepping out – just not over the finish line – this past year, working with Amy Carroll on message development through Next Step Speaker Services. Our weekly calls kept me accountable to doing the work, following the steps, and I learned how to craft a message – most importantly, I learned how to get started – to get off that “paralysis by analysis” track, and I was relieved to send off my 30 minute message “No Expiration Date on Dreams” for evaluation, excited that I was almost ready to complete something from my “God things to do” list. The evaluation was glowing, encouraging, just a few tweaks to lengthen the message, teach the lesson fully, add in a success story. I had almost arrived at the point of having a message to offer to churches and women’s ministry groups, to know I had obeyed the call God had delivered a full two years ago – yep, you guessed it – failure to launch!
I don’t know why I haven’t finished my “No Expiration Date on Dreams” message so I could offer it to churches and Women’s Ministry Groups. I don’t know why I didn’t write two sample chapters of “Hot Flashes Don’t Kill Dreams” to send to Cecil Murphey for his keen editing eye. Or why I didn’t write and submit a complete book proposal at the encouragement and advice of Jeannie Burlowski. Why didn’t I script a 1-minute video testimonial for Next Step Speaker Services as Amy asked me to, trusting God to provide the video camera to record it? And when Lysa TerKeurst posted a chance to win one of the Cecil Murphey scholarships to She Speaks right after I decided to honor God with my money and not register for this year’s conference, why was I on the phone talking with my sister about it till after midnight on the March 11th submission deadline, so it was too late to submit a blog post that may have blessed me with a paid scholarship to the conference?
I don’t have answers for these questions. I can only tell God I’m trying to be obedient, that I want more than anything to be His voice, to deliver the messages I was born to tell the world in this season of life. I am thinking about Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 again I am certain that God who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished and I’m reading it differently now. I think Paul is talking about God’s work IN me – not through me; the remodeling work God is doing on the inside that allows me to let someone share my burdens where once I couldn’t, the reconstruction of impulse spending into financial choices that are intentional, God-honoring decisions, even if it means missing a conference that I think has my name written all over it to equip me for Kingdom work. That’s the work God has begun in me – His work, and that’s the work – the “inside” job He will continue until it is finally finished. I know now why I have those spiritual shin splints – I am “under construction” and the strengthening that follows rest, ice, and stretching will only be found by paying attention to the flagman in the road and waiting for my turn to pass through.
What about you? Are you seeing any detours in the road to doing God’s work?