Over the summer I was asked to speak at a women's conference near my home town in Southern, Illinois. I've shared my testimony and bits and pieces of my story hundreds of times, but this time would be different. As I was praying through what to share with these ladies, I felt God encouraging me to include details of my story that I had never spoken about before in front of of a large group of women. Particularly, specifics about my past health issues and present medical complications that I deal with on a daily basis, as a result of having childhood cancer. I like to think of myself as someone who is pretty open and honest with my life, but I remember being a bit confused (and scared!) as to why He was calling me to include such personal details.
As I was preparing my talks for the conference, I thought perhaps I could just speak about my medical issues in generalities, like I had done before. I also toyed with the idea of how I could paint them in a prettier and more acceptable light. As I was sitting on my bed with my computer on my lap, and reading through 2 Corinthians 12 about Paul’s thorn in the flesh, I thought to myself, "Here I am writing a talk on Biblical womanhood and how God does not view weaknesses, scars and suffering as the world does, and yet deep in the corners of my heart there was this deep hesitation wrapped with fear of man. What would they think of me if they knew this?”
The inner turmoil that was taking place reminded me of a temptation many women, including myself, face in today's society. The societal pressure to emphasize our strengths, appearing like superwomen in every corner and crevice of our life, while simultaneously covering up our weaknesses.
Even though God had drastically grown my understanding of my own medical issues, and I no longer was at a place where I felt defined by them or less than in spite of them, I was a bit shocked that my knee reaction was to keep them hidden in the shadows. God gave me another glimpse into how society's view of weaknesses and even the expectations for women, were in some ways still affecting the way I viewed myself. (More on this in a post next week)
But I knew in my spirit that God wanted me to portray things as they were. He didn't need me to clean them up. He didn't need me to paint them in a prettier light. He wanted me to share them as I experience them-from the very raw, messy and painful places of their existence. And so even though I had no idea why He wanted me to share such personal things with a group of mostly strangers, I made the decision to trust Him despite my uncertainty and fears.
When I arrived at the conference, I was greeted with smiles by some familiar faces and shook hands with some ladies I had never met before. But I was very nervous. I have spoken at many conferences throughout the years, but sometimes my nerves still get the best of me. Through the years I've learned to embrace these uncomfortable feelings as a gift because they keep me reliant on God. As my hands got sweaty and my heart raced it became a very real and physical reminder that I can do nothing without Him. When the ladies were singing a hymn together, I stepped out of the conference hall and found a quiet place to pray. Just me and God. I told Him I was scared. I asked Him to help me be brave in sharing what He had laid on my heart specifically for this group of women. As I was praying that God would use my imperfect and broken words to minster and encourage their hearts, I felt His peace come over my entire body from head to toe. And in that moment He reminded me that I was not alone and He was with me.
As I stepped up to the podium and look into the eyes of the women staring back at me, I said a quick and silent prayer under my breath. It was very emotional working through the intricacies of my life story and God's faithfulness through multiple bouts of cancer, depression, infertility, loss and other health issues. But God sustained me through every word, every tear and every breath. He was working through my weaknesses even as I was standing in front of a group of women talking about that very thing. 2 Corinthians 12:9, “ But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
After the conference was over God gifted me with the blessing of learning why He wanted me to share those specific details. The very things I was afraid of sharing, (I'm talking about down to the T) were the the very things He used to minister to the hearts of the ladies in that room. How do I know that? Because they came up and told me so. I’m not telling you this so you can think I'm great or super holy or something, but I'm telling you this so you can see how great our God is. Only He could know exactly what their hearts needed. I teared up on the drive home thinking, “What if fear had won that day? What if I had let fear of what others thought of my struggles and my weaknesses, prevent from sharing what I knew God was calling me to do?”
The ladies who approached me after the conference shared bravely and vulnerably with me about their weaknesses and struggles and how God met them where they were at. After they walked away a quote from C.S. Lewis popped in my head, " What?! You too? I thought I was the only one." We didn't lament in self-pity for one another. But rather, we rejoiced and our hearts were moved to hope in Christ, in hearing about God's faithfulness through one another's trials. Those sweet ladies ministered to my heart in a way that words can not adequately express. And God used their words to remind me, yet again, that there is purpose in the pain. God wastes nothing. He works through our weaknesses (not a part from them) and in doing so, He gets the glory!
Sisters, God will call you to do scary and uncomfortable things for His Kingdom purposes. He will call you to do things that may not make sense to you (or anyone for that matter). He will call you to do things that will seem out of sync with the world. Do it anyway. For His glory and His kingdom do it anyway.