I was packing for a conference last Thursday. The name of the conference was, “Living Loved”. A friend I respect very much invited me to the conference and I was going to be meeting many of her friends and a lot of other people for the first time. There was not a dress code but I didn’t want to embarrass her by dressing inappropriately for the occasion.
She had emailed me and told me she had a feeling I was being reserved. She assured me she wasn’t going to judge me. She told me she was proud of me.
So I took a risk and instead of packing my “fake-a-good-impression” fancy lady clothes, I decided to just be myself and plan on wearing my jeans and my Never Give Up shirts.
Well, on the way to the conference I had too much time to think. My insecurities and fears were holding front and center in my brain. I felt like being myself was not enough. Plenty of people remind me of that on a daily basis. I thought about turning around and not going to the conference. I was worried I would embarrass my friend by who I am. To be absolutely clear: a reflection only of my fears and insecurities and not related to any truth or reality expressed in any way by my friend.
But it was a sold-out conference with a waiting list and I had generously been given a ticket because someone else could not attend. Also, I was scheduled to serve during a part of the conference. I felt like it would be really selfish and wrong for me to cancel at the last minute. So I kept on driving.
I comforted myself by deciding that I would go shopping for better more acceptable clothes in the few hours of free time I had before the conference began. To fit in with everyone else and not stand out.
Well, due to a series of uncontrollable events, I was delayed and hardly had any time to shop. I tried. I went to the shopping center. But I kept feeling this nudge in my spirit: “Just trust Me.” So, scared out of my mind, I decided to stop looking for “better” clothes and just wear what I brought.
When I met up with my friend and all of her friends I wore my new Never Give Up shirt with the obnoxiously large font. They couldn’t have been nicer! Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. I was overwhelmed with their kindness. I felt a nudge in my spirit: “Seeeee! I told you. Chill out. Just trust Me.”
As the conference began, I met so many women and several people told me, “I like your shirt.” I lost count of how many people told me that. In my spirit I felt the nudge again: “Seeeee. I told you. Just trust Me.”
During the conference there was a practical joke that my friend invited me to be a part of. It was not mean-spirited. It was a funny practical joke but it involved standing up with her and several of her friends in front of over a hundred other people. When it came time to play the practical joke, I just couldn’t bring myself to stand up in front of everyone. My friend said, “You didn’t stand up?” I said, “I am so shy.” She said, “Oh you’ll get over that by the time you leave here.”
Something the main speaker at the conference said really stood out to me: if we are unashamed then no one will be able to define us or have power over us. But as I dressed for the second day of the conference with another “Never Give Up” shirt, I had to fight the fears all over again. I told myself: “Well at least the font size on this shirt is smaller.” In my mind I was afraid people would be thinking, “Ok lady, one day of your cutesy little t-shirt was fine but c’mon, grow up!” I was avoiding interacting with people because I didn’t want to call attention to myself.
But nearly every moment of the day there was someone initiating conversation with me. Ladies I had only met the day before were inviting me to dinner and pursuing conversations with me. After going through some significant rejection in the months and weeks prior to the conference, the kindness of these new friends was a giant hug from God that was frying the circuits of my brain. I was truly overwhelmed in the best way.
So the last day of the conference arrives. I’m looking at my clothes to wear. The choices are yet another “Never Give Up” shirt with the obnoxiously large font or a plain t-shirt. The thoughts in my head were: “Ok, yes people were understanding with your little Never Give Up shirt two days in a row but three days is overkill. C’mon, grow up. Quit being weird.”
My heart really just wants to encourage. My heart doesn’t care so much about looking like a fool as long as even one person is given hope. But my mind was worried about embarrassing my friend, so I played it safe and put on the plain t-shirt and finished packing.
As I was about to zip up my last bag, I felt the nudge in my spirit: “Sarah, you are only going to see these people for two more hours. You may never see them again. Then you will be driving for several hours and stopping at several stores along the way and maybe your Never Give Up shirt will help give someone hope along the way. Just trust Me.” Uggggggh. Ok. Fine. I’ll be “weird”.
So I changed shirts and put on the Never Give Up shirt with the big obnoxious font. I brought a jacket with me just in case I became overwhelmed with self-consciousness. I was trying to hide. I was worried my friend would be embarrassed of me. I was worried people would think I only had one change of clothes. I was counting down the minutes until I could be free of my anxiety.
Well the last session of the conference begins and an unplanned moment happens where a woman shares about how she was forced to sign divorce papers a few days prior for a divorce she did not want. She talked about how it was the biggest “you are not enough” of her life. She barely was able to speak because she was crying and in so much pain. So many people in the audience started crying along with her.
Then another unplanned moment happens and another lady is invited to share her experience that involved the pain of being sexually abused. Again, so many people in the audience were crying along with her.
Finally the second to last planned speaker of the conference starts sharing her story. Again, more pain and suffering at the hands of others. Again, her words are resonating and so many people in the audience are crying as she shares her experiences.
I am completely overwhelmed at this point. I already had so much of my own rejection prior to the conference, it was a fight to even get to the conference, I rode the rollercoaster of anxiety and being saturated with kindness over the past three days, and then the added intensity of the past hour or so with the speakers just made me want to jump up out of there and get on the road by myself with some music and zone out.
I kept checking the time my phone and counting down the minutes until I could breathe again. At one point the speaker says something like, “I already ran over my time.” And then the speaker schedule to follow her says something like, “It’s ok, keep going.” And although everything being shared was good, it was so intense that my whole being was just screaming, “Noooo, get me out of here!” I was wrestling with whether to get up and leave the room just to get a break from the intensity. If I had been in the back I probably would have excused myself but I was on the second row up front.
Well as I am trying to keep from jumping out of my skin, I hear the speaker say, “Where is that lady with the “give up” shirt?” Oh no. I raise my hand. She says, “Stand up!” Oh no. Yep, this is happening. So I stand up and she says, “Turn around!” I’m facing the entire audience. They are all a blur. All I hear is her say something like, “NEVER GIVE UP, ladies!!!” And then everyone starts clapping and I sit down. So much for being shy. Then the nudge from The Holy Spirit with a big smile, “Seeeee!!!!! I told you. Just trust Me.” The speaker talks for a few more minutes and then ends her speech by saying something like, “And remember ladies, DO NOT GIVE UP!”
I attended the conference expecting to learn a bunch of head knowledge but I think God had other plans as to how He wanted to teach me about Living Loved.