So, there I was the first night, sitting in my chair, thinking about how it had been 10 whole years since I had been at my last women's event, yet I still remembered what a woman said to me. She said she knew I had been held back by fear for a very long time and asked me when was I going to give all of that to God. A challenging question coming from someone who knew me well was a bit jarring, and I knew I wanted to give it all to God, but I wasn't quite sure how to do that. When you've lived with something for so long, it's often hard to shed it.
Fast forward 10 years at our first night "response time" at the conference, where we were told we could walk down the middle aisle and put in an old suitcase something we had written on a piece of paper that represented something that had been holding us back or burdening us for a long time. I found myself writing a word a few times in my journal - "fearless" - a deep desire I had, and I knew I had to make the first step and walk down the aisle.
On the 2nd day of the conference, I was listening to a session on receiving a new name from God. The speaker was talking about how God sometimes gives people new names; He did in the Bible - Jacob became Israel, and Saul became Paul, etc... Also in Revelation 2:17 the author says God gives a white stone with a new name written on it. Theologically I was taking all of this in for the first time; apparently there is a book out there about this sort of thing and sessions like this at other conferences, where many people are experiencing God giving them a new name. I was soaking it all in, and something really powerful started to resonate with me; the concept of how we were all created in God's image, but how we find ourselves being very far away from that original intention. Along our journey, we've either fed ourselves lies about who we thought we were supposed to be in this world, or we were told lies by other people about who we were to be. Either way, these lies seeped in and began to change us. And yet God yearns to draw us back to Him, and for us to see ourselves the way He does.
And at the end of her teaching she asked if any of us felt we had received a new name from God, and that it was something not to be taken lightly. But that if indeed we felt God had given us a new name, we could walk to the front, take a white stone (chosen along the coast for this moment) and write down our new names on it.
The next thing I knew, I opened my journal and saw the word I had written the first night...fearless, and that indeed was a new name God was giving me, a reality for me to know now, and to begin to walk in, and to be shaped by.
The day after I got home, I was determined to do things I had always been afraid to do. I started creating art for the first time, and eventually took a painting class. I still do not profess to being an artist, but I know I love to create, and I feel so much freer to do so! I started being more bold in my friendships, especially those I felt insecure in before. I started being bold in ministry, stepping out and doing things I would've questioned if I could do before. I was reminded that God created me to be fearless and to serve him with boldness.
This year at the conference, I went with an open heart, I felt like I was dripping with anticipation at how I might be changed by God! This year the theme was HOPE, and I needed some hope. The teaching focused on what biblical hope is, what are things that challenge our hope, what are the promises in the bible of who God is, and how can we maintain our hope! I loved the concept of biblical hope being something we can hang our lives on, it isn't the "wishy" kind of hope we use in language, "I hope it won't rain today." Yet the hope we read about in the bible is firmly grounded in our faith of what we've seen God can and will do for God's people, and built on the promises God has for us. I took away with me that in dire circumstances, we cannot always change those circumstances, but we can focus on praising God in the midst of them, and what happens is not that our circumstances change, but that God changes who we are in them. Beautiful.
Oh, and I actually went to the craft time! I sat and knitted while other women created other beautiful things with their hands. I decided to sit there and soak up the story of one particular woman, named Sue, who had just the morning before told me I reminded her of her daughter she had lost many years ago to cancer. I loved hearing Sue's story, how her mother was a dress maker, and how Sue won a contest when she was only 12 years old. Sue came on the American team to lead women in a time of creativity. As I knit she began to tell me story after story of the various dresses she'd made for various ladies. I realized in that moment, how much God wanted to teach me about the power of story, about the stories of other women, about my own story, and how God is not only in each of these stories, but weaves us together by our stories. Beautiful.
As you face the last few months of this year and the beginning of a new one, I pray that those who read this listen to God's voice. God can bring newness to the areas in your lives in vibrant and unexpected ways! Whether you struggle with fear, hopelessness, or other trying things, know that God has not given up on you, and that God can offer you a new name; a new perspective on life. God makes beautiful things out of dust, and we need to let Him do that in our own lives.
As you can imagine I'm already looking forward to next year's conference!