Strangers To Love

I’ve just returned home after a month of wild and exciting activities. The plan was to visit our grown-up kids and all the grandbabies (which we did) but God had a little more in mind for me during this trip. He had a divine appointment customized just for me. I cannot thank my sweet son enough for praying his heart out for me and persuading me to step out and try what he was selling. I admit, I was skeptical and I was torn in a million pieces trying to decide if going to some “banquet” for 4 days could fit into my very busy family agenda. It did. I am so glad I went and here is just a tidbit of how it changed my life.

Have you ever walked into a situation that was completely unknowing? Weird even? Okay, maybe not weird…but strange & awkward? Another way to describe it, when you’re taking a picture and you don’t know what to do with your hands! Do I put them down by my side? Do I clasp my fingers? Or should I put them on my neighbor’s shoulder? That’s a bit how I felt walking into the Great Banquet. No one purposefully made it awkward or strange. It was, perhaps a combination of things that made me feel hesitant.

I didn’t want to be there (necessarily). I had such big plans to play with all my grandbabies. I had longed for time to just sit with them and their mama’s & daddies. I dreamt of hanging out as if it were all we had to do (which it was) and having fun making memories that would last me until my next visit to Indiana. Montana is a long, long 2 day drive from Indiana! It’s also something that we are honored to do and thankful for the relationships with each of our children and the love & warmth they show us every time we visit. I understand what a sacrifice it is for them to have us barrel in and disrupt their lives too. Trips like this are costly to everyone. They each do a great job of spending time with us and ignoring their normal busy lives. What a gift. Thank you, favorite humans.

So, there I stood in the big foyer of a strange church with a hundred strangers. Some were chatting, some standing in lines and most of them were holding all their belongings like we were all being dropped off at summer camp. Imagine that, women of all ages and types holding their bedding & clothes preparing their hearts for a Holy experience with God. Strangers, most of us. It was scary! Especially when you think of what I was really doing in Indiana. Grandbabies. Five of them, all 2 years old and under. I had a lot of baby holding to do and playing on the floor of toddler playrooms. What was I doing in this strange church with all these strangers? God, tell me I’m where YOU want me!

There’s a lot I won’t say about the whole long weekend (at least for now) because that’s not the story I want to share. I want to tell you about the strangers God used to love me and fill my tank in a way that I didn’t know I needed. These women were instrumental in how God would reveal to me my own needs and struggles and even some deep vulnerabilities that I had spent a lot of time tamping down. I needed to be at the Great Banquet and God divinely set up the appointment.

My name was called as the last person to join the table of Deborah. When I reached the table of strangers there were no more chairs. It felt like a mistake! Like maybe, they threw my name in at the last minute and someone didn’t catch it and now they had to figure out a spot to stick me. I can still feel everyone’s stare looking at me. By nature, I am a confident and outgoing person. This moment sticks out for me because I know my face showed anything but confidence. A few leaders quickly started looking for an extra chair, someone grabbed one out of a back room and discovered it was broken. I was left standing beside this table of women and the embarrassment was building inside my mind. I couldn’t tell if this was a test or if satan was trying to distract me and make me feel like an oddball among the group. Finally, someone found a real chair and I joined the table.

The sweetest lady jumped up and came around to me and welcomed me to the table and looked into my eyes…and said, “I was praying that you would be at my table!”. She probably has no idea what that meant to me or that my heart was just doing flip-flops moments ago by the whole no chair debacle. This turned out to be our loving and kind leader, Laura. This act of kindness and acceptance opened a door for my heart to safely step in and from that instance on…I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be.

I needed Laura. God used her to lead our little ragtag group of ladies. She was soft in all the right places and open with her own issues. She made us all feel like we belonged. I want to always make others feel that way too.

As I scanned the faces of each woman at my table, I wondered in my heart what they knew about the weekend’s events. I felt completely inadequate and out of the loop. Now, I know that each of us probably felt similar in that big things were in store for us but how would God use the events to really impact us inside this group.

The Great Banquet leaders must know that there’s an awkwardness to gathering up with a bunch of strangers because they team you up with a leader who becomes your NEW BEST FRIEND and that’s how the icebreaking begins into feeling you belong and are a part of the group. My BFF, Bridget pushed her way right into my heart immediately. She made sure I felt comfortable and helped me focus on introducing myself to the whole large group. This is all a very important step to connecting with the others throughout the weekend. As I discovered, outside of my table of friends….I would have many encounters with other attendees. God used those moments in such a creative way to share with one another outside of being mostly with your table ladies. Turns out, we were all among friends there.

The weekend is designed around several talks or testimonies from various leaders. You never know who will be speaking, it’s a sort of surprise and by the last speaker….you begin to try guessing WHO’S GOING TO POP OUT next. Each speaker has something huge and life-changing to share and to be honest, I felt challenged by every leader who shared her heart. I had been warned that maybe none of the talks would touch me and then, BOOM! One would blow me away! I waited with anticipation for the ONE! Turns out, they all had a little something JUST FOR ME. God was going to blast me in a completely unexpected way.

Through the ladies at the table of Deborah.

Opening up to strangers can be daunting. Especially for someone whose been deeply wounded by the church. During one of our reflection times after a speaker, Amanda very quietly admitted her reluctance to fully trust the leadership of the church as a whole. She couldn’t share much because her heart was in such disarray from the experiences she’d had growing up in a very toxic church environment. She and her family had suffered terrible consequences from a sick leader and she was not sure she was capable of ever feeling differently. She had a wall up, she was doing exactly what she felt she needed to do and that was to protect herself.

I listened to her share the hurt, confusion and the betrayal. As the weekend progressed, so did Amanda’s trust. She opened up to us about the events that had unfolded through her teen years and the depths of sin that had wrecked her love for the church. This knowledge given to us by Amanda became a gift for us at our table. She was entrusting us with her most vulnerable of hurts. God was using us to love on her and I cannot describe the responsibility I felt as her new friend to point her right back to trusting God with those who misrepresent HIM in the church. He always handles the sinner. We can feel the ache and brokenness but He is the ultimate judge and decider of what happens to those who hurt other believers. We can trust him.

I needed Amanda. She reminded me how fragile the love of other Christians can be in our own walk with Christ. We must live above reproach and honor God with our lifestyles & behaviors. It affects those around us either for good or for evil. I want to lead others to Christ, not away.

Every group has a wild one! Sheila was ours. She was fun, happy and beautiful. Her outgoing personality was a perfect match for me. I’m always looking for a fun buddy and Sheila was just the one. She shared a little about being single. While she didn’t feel angry or forgotten necessarily, she did admit a longing for a loving companion to share her life with. I felt it too. I wanted her to have what her heart desired as well. I mean, this lady is the total package. Where is her hunka man? She has so much love to give and some guy’s going to hit the jackpot with this woman! She is all the things — beautiful, God-loving, horse crazy, funny (so dang funny), happy, unafraid, tender to others, willing to try anything and content with what God hands to her.

I needed Sheila. She reminded me that happiness is a choice. I can be bitter or I can be better. Go on and get what it is that fills me up with joy! If it’s kissing horses or loving on my dog, do it. Don’t wait around for happy to just happen to me. Life is too good to waste waiting for something great to happen. It already is.

I was immediately drawn to Betsy, after all she shared the same name with one of my very favorite best friends in the whole world. I wanted to get close to her and I could sense her sweet private personality. So, I stayed in my lane and let her open up on her terms. Turns out, it was me who shared a deeply painful part of my life that touched Betsy and broke her heart for me. She was so moved by my testimony regarding my relationship with my toxic mom, I wasn’t expecting the response I got from telling such an ugly part of my life to these new friends. It was as if they were mourning all that I had endured for me. But especially, Betsy. I had no idea that seeing someone else pick up my pain could feel so relieving for me. She probably never knew the effect her sorrow for my story had on me. I have complete peace with my mother today and I shared that part of the healing with my Debo gals. Each of them took on all those emotions and packaged them back up for me with love and care as if God had ordained them to before time.

I needed Betsy. She showed me a loving compassion that I didn’t know I was missing. God used her to remind me that what happened to me was not how mother’s treat daughters. Her tears meant so much. I felt seen and I felt loved. She didn’t have to entangle her heart with mine but she did and she did it with the purest of love. What a gift to my heart.

Do you know any SuperMoms? I do. My friend Rebekah is a total bomb of a mom! She impressed me very early on during one of our chats with her momtalk. I felt her love for her kids so easily. She mentioned to someone a few fun summer crafts they were doing at her house and I knew she was one of those mama’s who jumped in with both feet to make great memories for her kids. I love that! She has the wisdom to know that her kids are going to grow up pretty quickly and if she wants to impact them, she better get on it! It was a shocker to hear her admit that she often felt like she wasn’t the best mom. What? No way, sister! God created Rebekah to be a mom! I’ve never even met her kids and I know she is the greatest mom her kids could ever have.

I needed Rebekah. She reminded me that we all feel inadequate in our roles. Even when we are doing our best, satan will try to rob us and smear us by telling us we are falling short. We all need friends who speak truth to us and shut down the enemy on our behalf. I pray for Rebekah right now that she is bathing in all the mom glory God can lather on her! She deserves it.

My mouth dropped open with shock when Audrey walked out onto the stage as speaker #3! What in the world, Lord? This was my new friend and she was about to blow us away with her amazing story of Why am I here! I hung on every word she spoke. Moments earlier I was just sitting beside her at my table and now she was opening up about her experiences in the Army. God had blessed her and he had protected her, but I knew in my heart that her story was important for me. I have a tiny connection to the Army through my precious son Gavin. He has dedicated much of his life the last 5 + years to this service and while he’s never had to go or do what Audrey has…I know it has been a calling on his life and God has used it to grow him into the man he is today. This Army connection was special, but Audrey is full of wisdom outside that life. She has a God knowledge that was smeared all over the ladies at our table all weekend. Audrey had a great way of pulling us all back onto the bus when we wandered off and got a little lost.

I needed Audrey. She reminded me to stay the course and not get bogged down in my perception of what’s going on around me. God has a plan, he is working and I need to be OBEDIENT to him. It’s up to me to stand in the gap for others who are wandering too.

Always give room for the quiet ones to be your token encourager! Stacy was a listener and didn’t get crazy dumping out her heart all over everyone. She was thoughtful and warm and she had something about her that drew every one to her. She wasn’t pushy but when she spoke up we all listened and felt her fun personality and goodness to others. I couldn’t believe it when she told me that she was at the Stevie Nicks concert just days before (the same one I was at with my sweet daughters). We clicked like a couple of gypsy girls right away! She shared a little about being divorced and raising up 2 young men on her own and her involvement in church. All of which keeps her busy. Stacy touched me with her love for others. She was the spearhead for keeping us all connected after leaving the Great Banquet.

I needed Stacy. She reminded me that while we are all busy, far apart and doing what God has for us in our own circles…we must stay close and connected. She is a friend that encourages, giggles with you over funny stuff and tries with all her heart to see the good in every situation.

I had no idea what was in store for me by attending the Great Banquet this summer. However, I have a clue that it had a lot to do with connecting with women from different perspectives and life stages. Through God these women have changed me. They’ve impacted my life forever. I cannot be the same because of what God has placed between us. Words, emotions and struggles that beyond what the world offers…I know these ladies care and will bang down the doors of heaven on my behalf. All I have to do is send out the signal for help.

These strangers were meant for me. God sent them to me to love and trust with my good and my bad. They won’t sugarcoat things. They know better. I am so thankful for each one of them. I will never be without them, even living far away. They are a text or call away.

What a gift.

Leave a Reply