This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Women of Faith conference here in Philadelphia because of Thomas Nelson’s great generosity*.
Perhaps it would sound cliche for me to say “I laughed, I cried, I experienced God.” But…. I did. I probably shed tears during one point in every woman’s talk both because I felt deep compassion for them as they shared a difficult part of their story, but also because I found myself identifying with them in that struggle.
On Friday (the first day of the event), we were blessed to hear from Sheila Walsh and Henry Cloud (yes, folks, they did allow a man to be there! :)). Henry and Sheila have been friends for a loooooong time, and it certainly showed. You could tell how much they cared for and respected one another during the time of question and answer. I enjoyed how comfortable they were to display such close relationship between 2 people of the opposite sex who were married to other people. It just doesn’t happen all that often in christian circles.
I must admit that I went home on Friday night feeling happy that I was able to attend the conference, but feeling like I was definitely not in their target audience. The speakers were older and talked about issues that I was dealing with in some ways, but not at the moment.
But then Saturday happened. I felt like God met me in each and every session, pressing gently on different parts of my life through what the speakers shared about how God has, and is, teaching them more about Him. One woman shared of her struggle with anger, and how just as her book came out about it, her marriage ended. Another shared, through tears, her experience of grief and confusion as she carried, and then delivered, a child whom had no chance to live, outside of a miracle. Another shared how she had been put into a “loony bin” while in seminary, and how that was the place she had been running from all her life. These stories were real, powerful, and not pretty. The speakers put no glossy veneer on their stories– they shared as if they were sharing with a friend.
The content of the weekend was just really really good, and totally not a “girly” conference. The issues were not about mommy wars, modesty, singleness, marriage, parenthood (much of what I think of when I think of “woman issues”). Instead, they were about those deeper things that lurk inside of all humans- anger, selfishness, fear, depression, codependency. I only wish I could host each of these speakers to my house for dinner each week to talk more in depth about their stories.
There were a few things that kinda irked me about the conference though, and while I don’t want to nitpick, these are things that actually mean something to me. First, is that the delicious boxed lunches were given to us in styrofoam boxes (those things will never biodegrade!), and although we had bottles of water included, there were no recycling bins set up. Environmental stewardship is a theological issue to me, and when a group neglects this area, it says something about their theology too. Anyway, that was kinda disappointing. Another thing I was disappointed in was that, as we were waiting to come into the conference on Friday, some women were giving out Harlequin romance novels, Christian version. Now, I don’t know if they were supposed to be doing that or not, but it kinda set me off on the wrong foot, thinking Women of Faith was endorsing such trash. If I had to guess, I would say they didn’t know about it because it didn’t line up with the kind of message they were sending from the stage.
Finally, one thing I would have LOVED is more resource booths set up around the arena with information on various women’s issues (i.e. eating disorders, cutting, parenting, mercy ministries, etc.). I suggested it on the evaluation card because I think it would be such a great ministry to many of the women attending.
*Booksneeze.com gave me 2 tickets to attend Women of Faith in exchange for a post about my experience. How kind are they?!