My Ordinary Experience In Australia
Almost 10 months ago, God put the craziest invitation in my life, an invitation that made it abundantly clear to me that I needed to share a message that had been on my heart for almost a year prior. The events leading up to that invitation were no coincidence: I happened to follow up on an email that my colleague couldn't get to, which led me to interact with Jonathan Doyle, an Australian Catholic writer and speaker, which led to many conversations with Karen Doyle, his wife and business manager. Karen and I felt an immediate connection and the more we shared- she about her ministry with Sisterhood, me about my work in Catholic education and both about our faith - the more God put that crazy invitation on both our hearts.
When I accepted the offer to speak at the Sisterhood Arise National Women's Conference in Australia, I had no idea what to expect. Putting the message that had long been on my heart into words was daunting enough; but creating a meaningful workshop experience for the women attending the conference was overwhelming. What right did I, an ordinary woman with only a few writing/speaking experiences, have to present to a roomful of women on this or any topic? I knew I had to put my trust in the very message I was going to deliver: it is the ordinary people of this world that God uses to accomplish the most extraordinary things.
The morning of the event, I did a run-through of the presentation. I said a quick prayer, asking God to help guide my words, calm my heart and give me what I needed to deliver this message. Looking out at the empty room, I chose 6 chairs at random. The women sitting in those chairs would be the women on whom I would focus when I needed to make a point. Certain I had it all figured out, I left the stage, had a light breakfast, changed into my outfit and put on my confidence-building red lipstick. After a beautiful introduction by Karen, I took my place at the podium.
Taking that stage was one of the boldest things I have ever done in my life. Months of self-doubt, endless rewrites, countless prayers asking God to ask someone else, it all melted away as I spoke the first few lines of my presentation. The next 25 minutes flew by. At each key point, I looked at one of the 6 randomly selected women and spoke directly to her. It helped me feel like I was making a real connection between the message, the women and me. From the smiles and tears on their faces, I knew something pretty amazing was happening.
And then I saw her. Not one of the 6, but a woman sitting 6 rows back, 3 chairs in from the left. A woman sitting with her arms crossed in front of her, upright in her chair, with no expression on her face at all. I smiled directly at her and received no response. For a moment, I panicked, thinking everything up to that point had been a disaster. It didn't matter that everyone else was reacting to the presentation. This one woman was not reacting in a way I imagined/hoped. It was obvious. I had failed. Catching my breath, I offered a silent, "Jesus, I'm giving her to you. She's yours to fix." By the grace of God, I finished the keynote. As I left the stage to the sound of applause, my heart, or maybe it was my ego, felt a bit bruised.
The rest of the weekend was incredible. Putting the woman with the crossed arms out of my mind, I made the most of the time I had left at the conference being a participant. During our breaks, I had the privilege of speaking with so many women about their lives and just how deeply my message of The Power of Ordinary resonated with them. We had much to share about our joys, our struggles, our hopes and our dreams. The common factor of course being our faith, they spoke about how they felt God was calling them to do something, but they never thought they could because they weren't "______ enough". Hearing me speak about my own struggles and then realizing that there is power in being ordinary, they felt a burden lift and a shift in their thinking about how they could say yes to His invitation after all.
Repeatedly, I found my heart lifted as these women shared their new found acceptance of themselves and how they intended to work on saying yes. Yet, that one woman with the crossed arms was still on my mind. Although I looked for her throughout the rest of the conference, I didn't run into her. During our praise and worship event that evening, I offered up my need for closure and once again, gave her back to Jesus. She obviously wasn't mine to fix and if I hadn't learned anything else from praying The Litany of Humility all these years, it was that to desire the need to be noticed or esteemed, which is what this was, is truly the sin of pride. This sin of pride is a sin I have confessed and been forgiven for on many occasions. It's a dangerous place for me to linger and I knew I had to let it go.
Preparing to leave the following day, I was waiting in the back of the auditorium for one final interview. My mind was racing with travel details and I was busy texting my husband about our departure. When I glanced up to check the time, I saw her- the woman with the crossed arms - standing there, hesitating to approach me. For a long second I could only smile. She finally came over to me and said, "My name is Anna*. I just wanted you to know I really appreciated your talk. No one has ever spoken about my life the way you did. No one has ever told me that being ordinary is a good thing. I thought I was the only one whom God hasn't called to do anything special. I have never thought about what I do everyday as a Mum was all that important. I mean, that part about cobbling together lunches for your kids when you've only got a few slices of bread left until payday? That's me. That's my story. You made is sound so important. How did you know?"
Choking back my tears, I replied, "Because that was part of my story too. That's part of the story for more people than you can imagine." She looked at me for a moment and said, "I know you're leaving and probably won't ever have the chance to come back to Australia, so I wanted to give you something. Have you had any Vegemite since you've been here? " I told her I hadn't yet, but planned on trying some before I left. She gave me a half-smile and handed me a small packet of the Aussie staple. "Here you go. From one ordinary Mum to another. Thank you for saying yes and being here. I just want you to know that I will never look at being ordinary in the same way again." With arms opened wide, she gave me a hug and walked away.
As long as I live, I will never forget that moment.
Because that was the moment I knew why God put that topic on my heart to be delivered in that place on that day.
It was for Anna.
On the drive to the airport, I couldn't help but replay the conversation over and over in my mind. And I was amazed once again at how everything I learned on this journey, which brought me to that conversation, had indeed come full circle:
You don't have to be broken for God to use you to make a difference in this world. You have just as many stories of joy and happiness, of love and fulfillment as you do of heartache and pain, of sadness and anger. Share them all.
You don't have to be an expert of the faith, you just need to share the story of your life in the faith.
Change happens when we make the time to witness and share with one another in community. That takes time and the habit of being present in the moment.
You can't outrun God's invitation. He is persistent and loves you enough to not give up.
God will give you exactly who and what you need to accomplish what He invites you to do.
Someone needs to hear what you have to share but it's not for you to know - not in the moment nor sometimes ever - who that is and why they need it. You have to be willing to let that part go.
So here is my Sisterhood Arise National Women's Conference takeaway: I used to think that the message of my keynote was true, but now I know, from first- hand experience, that it is true.
It really is the ordinary people of this world that God uses to accomplish the most extraordinary things.
My encounter with Anna is proof of that remarkable fact.