Friday, December 31, 2010
Becky and Dale's New Year's Day Wedding!
Anna and Alyse at the Melting Pot in Greenville, SC - Anna's 13th birthday dinner!
With Kandi, Suzanne, and Becky at Scrap Camp!
A quick Myrtle Beach getaway weekend for Chris and me!
Lunch in Savannah on our way to Florida with my LLMI co-workers!
Strawberry picking with the Hampson family!
Mission Trip to Liberia, Africa!
Another new friend in Liberia.
Speaking in Africa.
The rest of our Liberian mission team: Frankie and Ginger!
She Speaks Conference with Lorie Newman!
Tubing fun on Lake James!
Goofing off with Anna at Hungry Mother State Park!
Mary Kay Fall Blast Off Retreat!
My husband, Chris, excited to be apple picking!
A spontaneous weekend trip to Pittsburgh for dinner with my hubby! This is our view from Monterey Bay Fish Grotto!
Reuniting with Liberian Baby Grace the night before her surgery at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN!
Surgery Day - Vanderbilt Hospital! Posing with Baby Grace's parents, aunt & uncle.
Baby Grace, with Anna, post surgery.
Anna getting ready for the semi-formal dinner at the girl's Wisdom Conference at our church (and goofing off a little too!).
We love volunteering for our church's Hoopla! each Halloween.
(Anna really is happy. The sun's just in her eyes. Hee hee!)
We were happy to celebrate with the Toth family as they brought home their newly adopted China doll - Collins! (This is Collins and her new mommy, Jill.)
Kelly and I celebrating Lorie's miracle conception at her baby shower!
Baby Grace and her parents visit our church in Western NC before returning to Africa a few short weeks later.
Thanksgiving with the Newman family during our moving weekend!
Christmas with the Hampson's! Loads of fun and picture taking as always!
Thursday, December 30, 2010
2010 was one of the most joyful and one of the hardest on record for me!
The year brought:
1. My first ever mission trip - to Liberia, Africa in June!
2. A trip to Florida in April with a fun group of gals from work! (Side trip to Savannah included as well.)
3. My daughter's 13th birthday! I can't believe I parent a teenager now!
4. My first She Speaks Conference in July!
5. The start of my Mary Kay business - a way for me to earn some money to support mission trips & the orphan crisis!
6. A new job with a great Christian organization practically in my back yard!
7. Moving to a new house!
8. Joining the Speaking Thru Me Ministries speaking team!
9. The US visit of friends from Liberia I met on my mission trip in June!
10. The miraculous surgery of Baby Grace (read previous blog posts to learn more about this)!
The year also brought:
1. Deep conviction over my sinful self.
2. Sorrow over unmet expectations and wasted opportunities.
3. Godly discipline.
4. Extreme disappointment.
5. No changes in weight (good in one way, pitiful in another).
6. Health challenges - other than gallbladder.
7. Deeper bondage in some areas of my life.
10. Spiritual "quietness" that was not wanted or expected.
There you have it. An amazing journey through a year! I wouldn't trade any of it for anything - even the not-so-fun things. Because, God disciplines those He loves. I know He loves me. I know He has some exciting things in store for me, and He refuses to let me stay where I've been. Praise Him for that!
As a friend shared with me from her devotional yesterday, I was sweetly reminded and deeply convicted of my sinful nature and God's ability to do amazing things in spite of it. The devotion says it better than I can, so I'll Just share the brief excerpt that she shared with me:
"And being absolutely certain that whatever promise He is bound by, He is able to make good" (Rom. 4:20).
We are told that Abraham could look at his own body and consider it as good as dead without being discouraged, because he was not looking at himself but at the Almighty One.
He did not stagger at the promise, but stood straight up unbending beneath his mighty load of blessing; and instead of growing weak he waxed strong in the faith, grew more robust, the more difficulties became apparent, glorifying God through His very sufficiency and being 'fully persuaded' (as the Greek expresses it) 'that he who had promised was,' not merely able, but as it literally means 'abundantly able,' munificently able, able with an infinite surplus of resources, infinitely able 'to perform.'"
How did God "perform" in your life in 2010? Are you ready to watch Him magnificently do so in 2011?
Monday, December 27, 2010
As promised in a previous blog, I'm preparing for another 40 day stretch of consecutive blogging! Woohoo! The thought of it exhilarates me and nauseates me at the same time. It exhilarates me, because the only other time I've done this (the last 40 days of 2009) resulted in some of the most amazing blogging experiences I've had to date. It resulted in new followers that became new friends. It resulted in writing discipline for me. Most importantly, it resulted in sweeter fellowship with my Savior.
On the other hand, it was nauseating. It nauseated me for fear of letting you, my readers and bloggy friends, down. It nauseated me to think that I might run out of blog posts to write. It nauseated me to think you might just get plumb blored with reading my posts. Simply put, the pressure of the challenge I put upon myself was too much at times.
That said, I'm doing it again. Crazy as it sounds...the good far outweighed the bad in my last consecutive 40 day blog challenge. So, if you dare...hop along on this journey with me. The 40 days officially begin on Saturday, January 1! I would still commit to this journey even if I were the only one reading my posts, but it's oh so much more fun having you along to chat with. To make it more of a community, I invite you to plug in via any or all of the following ways:
1) Become a follower! Click the little follower tab to the right and follow the instructions.
2) Leave a comment on a post (see comments link at the bottom of each post).
3) Follow me on Facebook! Click on my Facebook badge to the right or search for me by name: Leah Slack Gillen.
4) Follow me on Twitter: @LeahSGillen
5) Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Now, there's no excuse not to find me somewhere! Ha! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE connecting with you!
To give you a little heads up about something I'm personally participating in and incorporating into my blog this year, check out Beth Moore's post HERE. This will be my first post of the 40 day blog challenge. I participated on the Siesta Scripture Memory Team in 2009 and was not only challenged but extraordinarily blessed! Friends, with everything in me, I challenge you do this with me this year. You don't have to officially participate via Beth Moore's site if you don't want to, but I'll be offering the same comment accountability via my site. It's not only important to hide God's Word in our hearts through the discipline of memorization...it's vital! If we want to live vibrant, effective, joy-filled, strengthened, authentic lives of faith, then we must know God's Word. To know God's Word means we need to read it, hear it, meditate on it, memorize it, and live it! Will you join me for this challenge? Again, check out the "instructions" via Beth's post HERE. Get ready, get set, and we'll GO on January 1!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Excitedly, I announced to my mother, "I've got it! I've got it!"
"Got what?" mom asked.
"I know exactly what I want for Christmas," I boldly proclaimed.
I proceeded to tell my mother all about the dream and the burgundy outfit that I now wanted for Christmas, which was only about a month away.
She looked at me a little perplexed and simply said, "We'll see." (By the way, that's short for more-than-likely in my mom's "Mom-ese".)
Since dreaming of my perfect outfit, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It consumed me. I was super sensitive with my appearance anyway, and I knew this outfit would be nothing short of flattering for my middle-school girl figure. If only Christmas would come quickly...
The big day finally arrived! I opened a few gifts in search of THE one. I knew it had to be there, and you can only imagine the glee that surfaced on my face when I finally unwrapped the thing of beauty...my burgundy outift...in all its glory! Here it was - the very thing that consumed my dream that night and my thoughts for days thereafter. The very thing that would turn my boring life into one of excitement. I held it in my hands. It was EXACTLY what I asked for, but...it somehow didn't look as spectacular in the box as it did in my dream. Even worse...it looked even less spectacular on me as I tried it on. I looked frumpy, blah, and simply "not me". What was I thinking?!?! I banked all emotion on this gift, and it was NOTHING like I expected.
My burgundy outfit resurfaced again last week. No - not the actual manifestation of it, but the emotional draw to it. God actually brought it back to my mind in the least expected way. In my quiet time, I was crying out to Him (okay, maybe whining a little and begging a bit too) over some things I desired of Him. I dreamed of these things. I had a perfect picture of the way it was supposed to be, if He would only grant my deepest desires.
In the stillness of my spirit, He whispered, "You want the burgundy outfit again?"
A little louder this time, "Sweet daughter, do you want me to give you another burgundy outfit of your own making or do you trust the garments I have planned for you?"
I was quickened.
Scripture teaches that God's plans are so much higher than our plans. His ways are P.E.R.F.E.C.T. Sure, sometimes He'll give us exactly what we ask for, but sometimes what we ask for isn't all it's cracked up to be. Then again, sometimes he says "no", because he knows the "outfit" won't flatter us, and we're asked to wait as He creates the perfect garment to adorn us with in His perfect timing.
In these days of sheer disappointment and utter frustration over hopes and dreams not yet realized, I have to trust Him. Not MY plans, not MY things, and not even MY dreams. I know that I know that I know that His love for me is complete, and because of that I know that regardless of disappointing dreams, unrealized expectations, or less-than-ideal results, I want only His plans for me. That's a tough, but true, statement to make. How about you?
Monday, December 13, 2010
I pray you didn't think I'd abandoned my "blogship"! Honestly, I've gone through a season of B.U.S.Y. like I've not experienced in awhile. Within the past 6 months, I've experienced a mission trip to Africa that continued beyond Africa (see previous blog posts about Baby Grace), a job change, a move, and several health challenges. Whew! But, I'm back and will start posting more regularly again. As a matter of fact, I'll be doing another 40-day consecutive stretch of blogging beginning January 1. So, stay tuned and encourage others to follow along. I love interacting with all of you!
Just a couple of updates about Baby Grace and her family:
1. The surgery was a complete success! She's doing amazingly well! God gets ALL the glory for healing this sweet angel!
2. Her family came to visit my hometown a few weeks ago, and her dad (Pastor David) spoke to our Sunday School class at church. My words cannot even begin to convey the depth of his message. I am forever changed.
3. We celebrated Grace's 1-year birthday while she was visiting. This was the birthday she wasn't "supposed" to live and see. But God.
4. This precious family returned to Liberia this past Saturday! Please pray that their acclimation back into the harsh Liberian life goes smoothly! Please pray that God continues to pour out blessing upon blessing upon this amazing family and the churches they serve! It was so hard to see them return home, but they are eager to continue the work God has given them to do in the location He has chosen to place them.
This family has now become an extension of my own, and I love them with a love that comes from above and is bigger than my heart can conceive. Thank you to so many of you (some I have never even met in the flesh) that have supported Baby Grace and her family financially and/or through prayer! I pray God's blessings rain down upon you for the part you played in this amazing story! To Him be all the glory!
Monday, October 25, 2010
Here's a brief synopsis of this week's journey:
1. Wednesday evening - arrived in Nashville around 9:30 CT. I traveled with my 13-year-old daughter who met Baby Grace for the first time and got to hold her first when we arrived! The first thing I noticed was that she had more hair than the first time I met her in Liberia only 4 months ago.
Baby Grace stayed at the house where we stayed that night (rather than staying with her parents), as her mother was afraid she would "cheat" and nurse her after the last time was she supposed to eat. Bless her heart. But, I was grateful for the extra time with Grace.
The speaking ministry I've just recently become part of, Speaking Thru Me Ministries (STMM), coordinated a 48 hour prayer marathon for Baby Grace beginning just a few hours after we arrived in Nashville. I had the midnight - 1:00am shift and was able to hold Grace as she slept during the entire hour I prayed for her. Melted my heart.
2. After sleeping for a brief 2.5 hours, we started the day at 4:30 in an effort to pick up Grace's parents at the Ronald McDonald house. This was another reunion for me. I met Grace's father for the first time and got to hug Grace's mother, Cecelia, as we were reunited since our first meeting in her home country. Precious, precious people. We all then traveled to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital where we would make our "home" for the day.
3. We were joined by Cecelia's sister (Marie) and her husband (Robert). I need to interject a quick aside here. Marie and her husband currently live in Chicago. Cecelia and Marie hadn't seen each other in 11 years until just a few days prior. Another precious reunion! Anyway, we were also joined by Beverly, Becky, Bob, and several other friends/members of Parkway Baptist Church. Additionally, Francis Nyepon traveled with the family from Liberia to help with the culture shock of traveling on a plane to a Western nation (all for the first time). Francis was one of our guides while I was in Liberia in June. He's a precious servant of the Lord!
4. The surgery lasted for several hours. During the course of the surgery, we were able to have prayer via conference call with other STMM sisters as well as with Baby Grace's parents - all from the hospital waiting room. One of the biggest prayer requests for the surgeon to not have to insert a plastic plate into Grace's abdomen. This was highly likely and would have meant *another* surgery down the road. But, God knows ALL and saw fit to allow that to NOT be needed. Praise Him! Once the phone call came through to the waiting room announcing completion of a SUCCESSFUL surgery - we all erupted into praise and thanksgiving for the amazing miracle that had just taken place. We literally circled up and had a "prayer meetin'" of sorts - right there in the waiting room! God was glorified indeed!
5. Grace did very well during the surgery and was such a doll baby afterwards. A couple of us were able to see her while in recovery and then the rest of the group joined us in her room upstairs later.
6. Last, but not least, Ginger and I were reunited again for the first time since we traveled to Liberia together! What a joyous and miraculous occasion to get to celebrate together!
We hope to host Baby Grace and her family in my hometown sometime next month when she's able to travel more (and before she returns to Africa). So, I know I'll have more to share then! There is still a great financial need for the support of the family while in the states. If you feel the Lord leading you to support the family, feel free to contact me, and I'll be happy to give you specifics about where to send donations, etc. (email@example.com).
Thanks for your prayers, support, love, and continued readership! More to come in the days ahead!
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I can't believe the time has come. You couldn't have convinced me 4 months ago that this would have even been possible. I guess that shows my faith level...shameful! Just a little over 4 months ago, I was attending a "sending" church service in the country of Liberia in West Africa on my last day in that country. I was finishing up a mission trip in which I traveled with 2 other women from the US to lead women's conferences and share the love of Jesus with Liberian women. It was an amazing trip!
During the course of the trip, I had the privilege of meeting a precious Liberian family with a beautiful daughter, Dolly Grace. Grace is absolutely precious and looks perfectly "normal" from all external aspects. However, Grace was born in November, 2009 with an omphalocele, which is basically a birth defect in which some of her abdominal organs were born on the outside of her body. In America, this is a pretty major surgery, but it's not completely uncommon, and children overcome this condition all the time. However, in Liberia, it's an entirely different situation.
Grace wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for a Chinese surgeon that "happened to be" in Monrovia last spring and had the skills to be able to perform an initial surgery. However, this surgeon informed Grace's family then that he had to return to China, but they would need to search for someone else to perform a second surgery for her by her 1st birthday, or she wouldn't live. Receiving that type of news in America would certainly prompt any of us into immediate action...especially those of us privileged to be parents. We would do whatever it takes to get help for our children.
Well, Liberians love just as hard, but "help" is just not as readily at their disposal. Poverty is a way of life, and simply trying to figure out where they are going to get their one meal for the day is about all they can muster most of the time. Finding medical care for a child with a rare condition seems like an impossibility. But, again, Dolly's parents know the same God that I know, and their faith brought them to our conferences and brought them to that Sunday morning service. They knew the 3 American ladies could help their baby. Ouch! Looking back...their faith was so much larger than ours, and they put feet to it!
So...fast forward a few months...through the work of several, Grace and her parents are in Nashville, TN awaiting her life-saving surgery set to happen tomorrow morning at 7:30 CT. This entire process has been nothing short of a miracle. Some of you have followed this story as I've blogged about it previously. Thank you for praying for Grace! Don't stop now! Please pray tomorrow for calm parents, skilled surgeons and staff, and a successful operation. I have the opportunity to travel to Nashville to be with the family and baby for the surgery, so I'll update you again later. Thanks for yoru prayers blog friends!
I KNOW God is still in the miracle working business!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I find that I'm always quick to request prayer when I'm desperate for help, but I often forget to say "thank you" and to follow up when the prayers have been answered. So, please know how much I thank you! Your prayers were felt and were needed immensely! God has been most merciful, abundantly gracious, and divinely loving. He let me sulk, but not for long. He has too much work for me to do to be down for long. So, I just say thank you! You are very precious and most loved!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I shared in my last post that things were rolling along in trying to get the Liberian infant I met in June to the United States for life-saving surgery. While things weren't finished, we knew God didn't allow things to progress as they had without having a plan for completion. Guess what? Yesterday morning, baby "Dolly" arrived in Nashville, TN! She and her parents and a translator traveling with them are HERE!!!! God has been so good to this little girl, and it's only just begun. And, I'm so grateful that He's allowed me to "travel this journey" with them, in part. And to think...I questioned how this could even happen to begin with. Never question the Sovereign Lord!
That said, I am struggling to heed my own advice. Never question the Sovereign Lord...hmmm...what a novel idea. These days I'm finding that's very easy to do on behalf of others, but when it comes to me - it's simply a foreign concept. You see - it all boils down to the fact that what I thought were God's plans for me seem to be unraveling and simply disintegrating. I simply don't understand it! I have gone from one disappointment to another over the past month and a half, and it seems to be mounting with intensity. While I don't understand what's happening...while I'm an emotional wreck these days...while I'm struggling to discern God's plan for me...I STILL KNOW HE'S GOD! I still believe He loves me completely. I still know that His plans for me are the only ones I truly want. I still know that He will NEVER leave or forsake me. I still trust Him with all that I am. While I know these things to be true, I still hurt...I'm still void of words at times (a lot these days, actually)...I still need forgiveness...I still need to feel loved...I still your prayers!
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
I was blessed to be able to travel to Liberia in West Africa with two other women in June to help lead 5 women's conferences. It was one of the most difficult and yet one of the most incredible journeys I've ever made. God blessed that trip in ways that we never could even begin to describe. But, one of the highlights of this mission trip was our ability to meet Baby Darlene (or "Dolly" or Grace...she goes by all of those names depending on who's speaking about her). Dolly was born with a medical deformity - an omphalocele - that caused her abdominal and intestinal organs to be born on the outside of her body. I had never heard of this problem before, but since then I've learned that it's not as uncommon as I might have guessed. However, in the US...it's pretty easily corrected. Trouble is - Liberia doesn't have qualified surgeons that can correct this problem. Therefore, in Dolly's case...she has no chance of survival without surgery or a divine healing.
Thankfully, she was able to receive a first surgery (to enclose her organs under a thin layer of skin) in the Spring by a Chinese surgeon that happened to be in Monrovia at the time. He has since returned to China, however, and Dolly is in desperate need of this surgery by her 1st birthday (in November) to ensure a good chance of survival.
While in Liberia, we met this precious baby girl. She is absolutely beautiful as you can see from her picture above. We were asked if there was anything we could to help her. Americans are viewed by Liberians with absolute awe and respect, and they believe Americans can make anything happen. While there, we prayed over this baby and assured them that we would do everything we could, but God was in complete control, and we had to turn it over to Him!
So...fast forward a few months...my ministry partner that traveled to Liberia with me, Ginger, made a few calls and sent a few emails to some connects she had at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN. We had some other calls made and emails sent. Another hospital in Denver was considering her case as well. Finally...just a few weeks ago...we were given the incredible news...VANDERBILT accepted Dolly's case as charity. The surgery, medical expenses, and even some of the housing has been completely covered. Her pre-op appointment date is October 11 with surgery tentatively scheduled for October 21. Praise God for His faithfulness! We've also learned the speed at which this has happened is pretty unfounded for this type of request. We know that God has ordained and worked through every detail.
Which leads to the next piece...God has not brought this baby this far in the process to simply stop now. We still have a long way to go to raise funds to fly the family here and to possibly provide food and some additional lodging for them for up to 3 months. We're looking at needing as much as another $13K to meet all of the other expenses, but I'm not worried. I've prayed that God would start stirring in the hearts of His children so that when asked...they would not hesitate to help.
So, I'm asking...with everything in me. Please do not say, "somebody else will take care of it." Please do to discount this or simply move on to the next thing on your task list. Do you know that I raised every dime of support to go to Liberia in the first place, and not one penny more? So, the $10 gift was just as significant as the $500 gift (and everything in between). How much more true is that in this case? Some can maybe only give $5, but there are others that can do far more. Please, pray about this, but don't delay in obeying whatever God leads you to do. You may make all tax-deductible gifts payable to Speaking Thru Me Ministries (STMM) - a registered 501(c)3 organization, and you can check out more information through their website at http://www.speakingthrume.com/make-a-donation/. We are also in the process of setting up a bank account that can receive direct donations for Dolly's case as well. As more details unfold for that, I'll be sure to pass it along.
If money is impossible, then I ask that you please pray for this little girl. Pray that every dime is raised. Pray that Delta airlines accepts our charity application submitted today by another sister trying to help this little girl. Pray that there are no snags in getting this family's proper documentation to get them to the US, and that this little girl's life is spared due to God's direction through His faithful people!
Here's a little video Ginger put together of our trip to Liberia. You'll get to see more pics of Dolly on it as well!
Thanks friends! You are amazing!
(By the way...sorry the video is so small. I had to do that to keep the right side from chopping off, but to see it larger...simply click on the YouTube logo in the bottom right corner of the video and watch it directly from YouTube.)
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I still remember the raw emotions…hopelessness, worry, sadness, exhaustion, despair, and extreme loneliness. Each minute of the day felt like hours. All I wanted was to “survive” the day and get into my pajamas and go to bed. The problem was…when I awoke the next morning…I’d have to start all over again. It was a vicious cycle that seemed to have no end in sight. Life as a newly single mom was not only hard…it was painful.
I wish I could say something super spiritual…like I allowed God to direct my every step through those early days. But, that wouldn’t be true. As a Christian, I knew He was there, but the raw pain of the freshness of that time period would not allow me to rest in the assurances I knew to be in His Word. I have no doubt He carried me through those days, because I was too weak to “walk”. But, the only thing that literally kept me going most of the time was the fact that I had a 6-year-old little girl that needed me desperately. So, for her…I “survived” the darkness. For her…I continued going to church. For her…I continued to utter words that resembled something similar to prayers. Funny thing happened…the more I did for her, the more I needed Him. Parenting is hard, but single parenting…WOW! It’s tough, friends!
As God continued to grow me during those early days of being a single mom, I realized something. I had developed a sympathy – rather, an empathy – for other women and men journeying the path of single parenting too. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, while married, single parents were a bit “out of sight, out of mind”. Sure, whenever someone would bring somebody to my attention, I might try to help out of my “leftovers”, but my burden for single moms and dads simply wasn’t there – until I became one.
It was then that I prayed that if the day ever came that I wasn’t a single mom, that God would never let me forget what it was like to be in that place. And…He hasn’t. My single parenting days ended two years ago, but my burden for single parents has never left. I feel their pain, their struggles, their worries, and definitely their loneliness as if it were a little piece of my own. While I don’t walk in their exact pair of shoes, I can say that I have definitely shopped at the same shoe store.
Would you do something for me please? Aside from prayer (the most important gift of love you can give), would you please tangibly love on your single parent friends and neighbors today? There are so many things you can do to express love, and you have no idea what that will do for them, but trust me…it might bring the only smile they are able to display that day. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
-Send them a card with a cheerful note of encouragement
-Mow their grass, rake leaves, do general yard work
-Offer to babysit the kids (at your house) so he/she can have a little quiet time
-Give restaurant, movie theater, Starbucks, gas gift cards
-Send her flowers to say you care
-Buy them a Christmas tree
-Offer to do the grocery shopping one week – AND fund the operation, if able
-If you have a beach house or vacation home, gift it to them for a week of vacation
-Invite him/her over for the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and/or Easter (especially if the kiddos are spending the holiday with the other parent that year)
-If you’re an auto mechanic or have auto mechanic friends, help out with car repairs and tune-ups
-Buy school supplies for the kids
Lastly, pray that God would burden your heart for single parents. It matters not what brought them to that place. We are not asked to judge…just to serve.
Monday, August 16, 2010
I'm still processing the events of my first SheSpeaks Conference that I attended in Concord, NC a couple weeks ago. There simply are not enough descriptive words available to express the sheer amazement that I felt upon leaving that event. A truly wonderful experience, I can honestly say I'm forever changed - for the better.
However, anytime you attend an event that seeks to glorify God and give Him all the praise...you can bet your bottom dollar the enemy will surface as well. And...surface he did. For me, the enemy was present in words. Let me try and explain as diplomatically and succintly as I can (the succint part will be hard)...
I participated in the Speaker's Track of the conference. Additionally, I was part of a speaker evaluation group. To summarize, I prepared two short messages to present to my evaluation group and group leader (one on Friday night and one on Saturday evening). Needless to say, my stomach was tied in knots. Speaking to hundreds of women in Africa in June was much easier than speaking to a group of 11 here in America. Even so, that was my charge. Not only did I need to prepare my messages, but I had to prepare my heart...my attire...my attitude...everything! Anytime God gives me a word to speak, whether it's 5 minutes or 50 minutes, I must be prepared for Him to get the glory - not EVER me! As a result, I wanted to make sure that I chose professional clothing but nothing that would distract from the spoken message. Apparently, I failed in that area...with at least one woman in the group.
After we all finished our Friday night introductory talk, I could breathe a sigh of relief. Whew! It's over. Still standing, I made it. This was the night I was dreading. I felt so much better about my 5 minute Saturday night talk than this one, so bring it on! Friday night was over. Or so I thought. Now, before I go any further...I must stress that I simply want to state some facts and the events that followed. I, in no way shape or form, intend to bring judgment upon any person, and I genuinely love each woman in my speaker evaluation group with a Christ-like sisterly love that is unique to our little woven community. So, please hear my heart without reading anything deeper into it.
As we were finishing up on Friday evening, I gathered my belongings and was asked to wait up by one of the other ladies in my group. She wanted to share something with me in person, so we walked out into the hallway, and she began to share. To quickly summarize and paraphrase what I heard, apparently what I was wearing made me look more overweight than I was already. I. Stood. Shocked. I truly don't remember the next words out of my mouth, but I do remember thanking her for her honesty and moved on. Friends, I'm not saying she was wrong. Perhaps she was very right. I really don't know, and that's not my point anyway. The problem with this was that I am a very broken woman desiring to serve a holy God, and she nailed me in the bullseye of my brokenness. My weight is something that I've struggled with my entire life. I'm making no excuses for it...it's simply a struggle. I am a pretty tough cookie (no pun intended) and can handle just about any critical word out there, but when it comes to my weight or body image, I melt. And melt I did...
I went right back up to my hotel room and shared the events of the evening with my friend and roommate, Lorie, and simply melted into tears. At that point, I didn't want to stay at SheSpeaks anymore. This was to be the event that was to make clear for me and propel me into the next step that God has for me. Instead, I wanted to shrink back and quit this whole speaking ministry thing anyway and go home! How could God use an overweight woman like me in ministry? Would people even believe the words that come out of my mouth? I felt like a complete idiot for ever believing He could use me. I am not exaggerating friends. The enemy had me completely bound at that point.
God wasn't finished with the work He was doing in me. After a terrible night's sleep, I ventured downstairs for breakfast in the atrium. I can't even type the next sentence without crying, because I am still in awe of how God the Redeemer took the situation from Friday night and redeemed it over and over and over again on Saturday. And...it began with my elevator ride down to the atrium.
After the elevator door opened, my roommate and I made our way over to the breakfast area, and a woman walked up to me...a stranger, someone I'd never seen prior to that moment and someone I never saw again during the conference...and said, "I've been watching you come all the way down the elevator (it was glass, by the way) and just had to stop and tell you how good you look in the blouse!" Did I hear what I think I just heard? Oh my. "Thank you so much" was all I could utter. But, those words started a repair job on my heart. Again, before I left the breakfast area, another woman came up to me and complimented me on my outfit. The day progressed, and I received no less than 10-12 compliments from mostly strangers about my outfit and how pretty it looked or how pretty the color looked on me. I was gushing...not in a prideful sort of way...but gushing at how merciful and loving my precious Lord is to me! He didn't have to do that, but He loves me, and He knows that a few short words almost broke my complete confidence in the calling He's given me.
However, the compliment of all compliments came about an hour before my Saturday night talk was scheduled to begin. It had nothing to do with my outfit. But, it was about my previous night's message. A woman from my group thanked me for sharing what I shared and said that it really spoke to her heart. She even went on to say she couldn't even tell I was nervous (maybe I should go into acting instead???) and that it appeared very natural to me. God is so good! He took that whole day, building me back up, repairing my tattered heart to prepare me for the Saturday night talk I was to give. And, blog friends...I obeyed. I spoke the words He gave me to spoke, and the words written on my evaluations revealed to me that God simply used me as a vessel to reach down and swoop up the women present in that room that night and whisper to their hearts. That's what it's all about anyway. God speaks through ordinary people in extraordinary ways (thanks Angela Thomas), and ALL glory belongs to Him alone!
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
I don't remember the first time I discovered SheSpeaks, but I thought it sounded like just what I needed. A place to gather with other women feeling called to do the same - a place to receive peer evaluations, to hone our speaking skills - a place to learn more about what it means to serve God in this way. It was perfect, but I would never sign up. I always had an excuse why I couldn't attend.
However, this past February, as I was preparing for a trip to Africa to speak to His Liberian daughters (that I just returned from last month), God clearly said...YOU. WILL. GO. THIS. YEAR. And, so I finally obeyed and registered to attend the event. My trip to Africa actually confirmed the call for me (although, I truly have known it for years).
So, here I am...two days away from being a first year SheSpeaks attendee, and I am basket of a emotions...excited, anxious, fearful, nervous, and yet hopeful. Will you pray for me? I anticipate many Glory stories to share in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Thanks friends! Be blessed!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Time is critical. I ask you to pray and to share this request with others in your church or circle of influence. I posted a little over a week ago about Darlene ("Dolly") Grace - a precious baby I was privileged to meet while in Africa last month. I'm not going to re-type her story here, but if you haven't read it...please do so by clicking this link or scrolling down to my June 30 post.
Several of us have been pursuing any and all leads to get help for Dolly, and my friend and partner in ministry while in Africa, Ginger, has recently received what could amount to VERY GOOD NEWS for this baby. A surgeon at Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN has agreed to do the surgery as a charity case and the hospital will underwrite ALL costs. However, Dolly's case must first be reviewed and approved by the International Charity Committee. The review will take place THIS Tuesday, July 13! Friends...please pray that Dolly's case is approved. If so, she'll be a candidate for surgery this fall. If not, we'll have to go back to the drawing board. There are other pieces of this puzzle that still need to fall into place...transportation, etc., however this is the LARGEST piece to figure out first.
I have no doubt that God can and will work ALL of this out for Baby Dolly, and He WILL get the Glory for all of it! Let's simply be obedient to prayer.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
We had the privilege of meeting a family with a darling baby girl by the name of Darlene Grace...
You see...Baby Grace was born in November, 2009 with a condition by the name of omphalocele, in which she was born with her stomach and intestines on the outside of her body. When she was delivered, her parents were told to "get rid of her" that she wasn't even human. They knew she was a gift from God and refused to do so. Due to lack of knowledge of how to care for this deformity, the hospital simply wrapped up her organs in gauze, which eventually led to a very severe, life threatening infection.
I had actually never heard of this birth defect before, but in researching it, I learned that it occurs worldwide and can generally be corrected fairly easily in countries with the resources to do so. Hence...the problem. Baby Grace was blessed this past January by a Chinese surgeon that happened to be in her home country of Liberia at the time but has since returned to China. He performed a first surgery on her then to save her from the life-threatening infection that had invaded her body. He secured her organs under a thin layer of abdominal skin but said that a second surgery would be required when she turns one, or she would not survive. This doctor, however, had to return to China, and there is not another surgeon in Liberia skilled to perform this type of procedure.
To get to the point...I'm putting this out there in hopes of finding some help for Baby Grace. There is a small group of us working on this, but it's going to take many people to pull this off. In short, this is a very poor Liberian family in need of a miracle for their daughter. This will need to be considered a charity case at all levels! I have met Baby Grace's mother and have spoken with her father (a pastor) by phone. They are wonderful people!
If you have the skill, ability, or know anyone with the skill or ability to help with the following, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through a Facebook message:
1) A surgeon that can gift this type of surgery.
2) A hospital that can gift all services related to this surgery: operating room, staff, pharmacy...the works!
3) Someone to donate air travel for the baby and mother (at minimum)...frequent flyer miles might be an option here too.
4) A host family living close to the hospital where this procedure takes place.
These are just some initial thoughts. This is actually a pretty monumental project to undertake, and we're simply trying to gather as many resource possibilities as quickly as possible. We have been put in contact with a couple of people already, but we're willing to look at anything possible. Please, please pray for Baby Grace and ask God to reveal to you any possible way that you might be able to help with getting her this miracle!
Thank you friends! Be most blessed!