This last weekend, a group of us attended the Women of Faith conference Over the Top, in Anaheim, California. In addition to the regular speakers Patsy Clairmont, Marilyn Meberg, Sandi Patty and Lisa Whelchel, we were happy to hear from Brenda Warner and Andy Andrews, musicians Mandisa and Amy Grant and dramatist Katharine Everett. This year’s theme focused on how God’s love for us is more-than-we-can-imagine over the top!
Patsy Clairmont inspired us with her usual wit and wisdom. I just love Patsy. She has a way of bringing God’s word into clear focus, so that his truths can be readily understood and applied to everyday life. To illustrate the difficulty we can have when God wants to take us outside of our norm, Patsy shared a very personal struggle of her own. After her son was hospitalized in critical condition with a life-threatening illness, Patsy found herself an overwhelmed mother who was powerless to help her son. During an impossible situation and her son in a coma, prayer was her mainstay. She learned that sometimes God wants to make a change in our circumstances to help us in the long run, even if in the short term, those changes can be difficult. Although Patsy’s son survived his ordeal, he continues to suffer with debilitating pain. Patsy shared her heartbreaking uncertainty. “I don’t understand why there are times that God rescues a person out of a situation and times when he allows them to stay in it. I am not God. His ways are higher than my ways and his thoughts higher than my thoughts. But I do know this: Prayer matters, people matter and change can be good. I am committed, as a mother of a suffering son to never, ever give up. Don’t you either.” Patsy reminds us that God doesn’t always explain what he is doing, but he does hear our prayers and provides comfort when we turn to him in our pain.
Andy Andrews shared a similar message about suffering, explaining that God may rescue us from a situation in a way we might not expect. He might answer a prayer by a means we don’t immediately recognize, or he may allow us into a season of suffering so he can work out something profound in our lives. If we ask that he use us, he may do so in a way that causes us discomfort. Andy explains. “You have to change how you perceive God’s rescue, to move into hope. While we would never choose heartbreak, God has a purpose and a plan for our pain and will use it to minister to others.” And Patsy adds, “God will use the broken place in your heart, filling it with his spirit so you can pour out his comfort on someone else who is hurting.”
Sandi Patty spoke about dreams and disappointments, and how sometimes it’s not that God says No to our dreams but that he has said Yes to a dream we don’t know about yet. Sandi also led the arena in a 9/11 tribute of God Bless America.
Brenda Warner talked about the blessings of raising a special needs child, and how it has given her perspective to keep her priorities in line with God’s. She not only has an amazing testimony, but she also used to be a United States Marine! (Ooh-rah!)
Lisa Whelchel shared some light-hearted memories and clips from her days on the sitcom The Facts of Life, and even had the opportunity of introducing Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) who was attending the conference as her guest! Since Lisa grew up on a television set, and missed the experience of developing friendships when she was younger, she talked about the difficulties and joys of learning about real friendships as an adult. She described how God instilled within us a need for connection, and how he designed us to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ to one another. In essence, she said, “we need to be Jesus to our friends.”
Marilyn Meberg was escorted onto the stage by her son, after which she talked about mankind’s incessant need for more, and how we are never satisfied with what we have. We always want more, and when we get more, we want even more. She explained, “God puts a little heaven in our hearts so we will never settle for less.” God didn’t intend for us to be content without him. As such, we will never be satisfied with more of anything we can get on this earth. We will only be satisfied with Christ, who quenches our thirst for him, just as he did for the woman at the well. He offers us living water so that our souls will never have to go in search of more. Sharing a quote from Augustine, Marilyn said, “You God, have created our hearts for you and they are restless until they find rest in you.” Inviting ladies to accept Christ, Marilyn said “the God of the universe knows our secrets but does not shun us-instead he offers us the gift of eternal life through the blood of his Son.”
Katharine Everett performed the drama of Nicole Johnson. Two powerfully moving performances encouraged women and brought out the handkerchiefs! In The Invisible Woman, we were reminded that God sees all that we do, even if no one else does. A second sketch depicted a woman who carried a burdensome load of emotional baggage into adulthood which caused her a tremendous amount of pain. Like many of us, she was overwhelmed with feelings, tired and felt like giving up. When Jesus offers her rest, she can hardly believe it possible. As she falls to her knees her bags fall to the ground one-by-one. Jesus offers us rest and relief from our burdens when we lay them at the foot of his cross.
This was our ninth conference, and over the years we’ve learned that no matter the pain, suffering or disappointment God allows us to experience in life, all can be used to bring glory to his name. Each encounter can make a difference in our own life and in the lives of those around us. Instead of wallowing in misery and despair, the speakers have provided real and sometimes heart-wrenching examples from their own lives. They’ve shown us how a woman of faith exercises that faith, prayerfully and keeping her eyes on Christ in the midst of the storm. When we focus on Jesus, we will recognize his continued faithfulness. The conference was inspiring, uplifting, encouraging and a reminder of just how much we are cherished and valued by a God whose love for us is Over the Top!
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I’m linking up at SomeGirlsWebsite for Thought Provoking Thursday!
On the journey toward Home,