It's been a week since I came home from the Women of Faith conference in Dallas. I originally intended to blog about it during and then right after the event. But I decided to wait — to give myself some time to absorb the experience and think about what I'd seen and heard there.
I'm not a fan of big crowds, and this type of event usually involves too much hype for me, and not enough “meat.” So after signing up to attend, I had second thoughts, and might have bailed if not for the fact that my oldest daughter also registered to go. Once I got there, though, I found myself enjoying it, and I'm glad I went. I came away with some inspiration and motivation to take some steps in my own life that I'd been thinking about for awhile.
The Women of Faith conference took place at the American Airlines Center, the big arena where the champion Dallas Mavericks play, and where I've attended concerts by big acts like Celine Dion, Rascal Flatts, Rihanna, and Keith Urban. I appreciated how well orchestrated the event was. The big crowd of women attending moved quickly through security. Every session began precisely on time, and ended when scheduled, without feeling rushed. Even the delivery of the box lunches went smoothly and quickly — with some 25,000 (? blind guess) women to feed, I expected long waits in line to get my sandwich and apple, but they moved everyone through the lunch line posthaste. These may seem like minor details, but to me, the timeliness and precision with which the event was run evidenced a respect for the attendees' time, and I appreciated it.
I wish that this respect for others had been shared by all of the attendees, but unfortunately that was not the case. I was unpleasantly surprised by how rude the women were — walking down the aisles or around the back of the room while the speakers' were talking, carrying on full-voice conversations, completely oblivious to (or uncaring about) the fact that their voices were disturbing and distracting the other participants who were trying to hear the speakers. Similarly, a woman sitting next to me took a phone call during one of Andy Andrews' segments and proceeded to carry on a phone conversation right there in her seat, without so much as an “I'm sorry” to me and without an effort to lower her voice. Unbelievable. If this had happened once or twice I could have understood it in a room that size, but this was a pattern throughout the event. Apparently Christians are not immune to the rampant bad manners infecting our society. It's shocking to me how perfectly willing people are to interrupt others and/or disrupt events like this as if theirs are the only purposes or rights that matter.
Despite those distractions, the Women of Faith “Over the Top” conference was well worth attending. Each session began with a brief time of “praise & worship” music led by the Women of Faith worship team — four attractive women with beautiful voices and gorgeous harmonies that caught the crowd's attention and got them focused and ready for the speakers. The music was well done — God-centered lyrics well sung. The program was engaging and nicely paced. Patsy Clairmont and Andy Andrews in particular were great speakers — both are very funny but also managed to convey profound messages through their humor. Their multiple presentations were supplemented by inspirational talks by the other guests, including Lisa Welchel, Brenda Warner, and Sandy Patty, and musical performances by Mandisa, Sandy Patty, and Amy Grant.
I took notes throughout the event so that I would remember, and could later ponder, some of the speakers' comments that most caught my attention. The thoughts that lingered for me? Patsy Clairmont insisting that “Your will is stronger than your emotions.” So often we (especially we women) feel that we're at the mercy of our emotions, but Patsy told us that that's not true — we can choose to control our emotions. She encouraged us to put boundaries on our emotions, reminding us that the Bible tells us that “a fool vents all her feelings.” The starting point, she said, is to harness our thoughts. Some thoughts are not worth our time, so we should refuse them (“casting down imaginations”), replace them with better thoughts (“think on things that are true, good, lovely . . . “), and repeat that process as many times as it takes until we have our minds and emotions under control.
Andy Andrews addressed a similar theme from different angles. He is hilariously funny, but shares a profound message through his humor. I have a lot of notes from his various talks, but one of his statements that struck me the most deeply was that in this society that is so obsessed with “feelings,” the cold, hard truth is that nobody really cares how you feel; they only care how you act. He went on to point out that nothing ever happens to you because of how you feel, only because of how you act / what you do.
As a woman who has often struggled with how and when to act on my feelings, I'll be meditating on those statements' truth for a long time.
This was a well planned, well executed event. The speakers all were engaging and inspiring. Although I was to some extent reluctant to go, I'm now very glad I went. Perhaps the best thing that happened to me at the event was something Andy said near the end of his first session. I should preface this by saying that one of the reasons I first considered going to this event was a bit of restlessness I've felt during recent months, a feeling of sadness that, as a woman in her early fifties, all the great experiences of my life are behind me, and a wondering about what's left for me in the years I have left. Andy made a statement that went straight to my heart. Basically, it's this (and of course I'm paraphrasing):
If you're still alive, then your purpose for being on the planet hasn't yet been fulfilled. That means that your best days are still ahead of you, because the fulfillment of your life's purpose is still in your future.
That's what I needed to hear — a “word in due season” that brought encouragement at just the right time. And that's why, when the Women of Faith conference comes back to Dallas in 2012, I plan to be in the room.