On that hot night in July, she shared a little of her personal testimony that I had not previously heard at the many Women of Faith Conferences I have attended over the years. I knew she'd struggled with depression because she had shared that before, but she told "the rest of the story" that night. It was amazing and powerful and moving. She was totally humble & transparent for all of us strangers in sharing her personal & very private journey through life and what she'd learned about God through it all. At the end of the night, she hinted that she'd be coming back to share more at a later date. Sure enough, when the emcees took the stage to release us for the night, they spilled the beans that Sheila would be back in January!
Since that night, I've been looking forward to today!
This morning, I woke up way earlier than I typically do on a Saturday and made my way across town to one of the local churches where Sheila would speak. Girls (sorry, guys, if there are any male readers out there), let me tell you something. Sheila and I may not share a nationality. We may not share the same life story. We may be 19 years apart in age. But honey, Sheila & I share the same Savior! And ladies, that is all we need. I would love to spend a day, hanging out with Sheila, laughing and crying and praying. There is something about the way she talks that makes me feel like we've been next door neighbors for years, someone who I could pop by and see wearing my sweatpants and floppy, stained T-shirt without an ounce of judgement. (Well, ok, maybe not. After all, she is always dressed SO cute. I'd have to at least throw on some heels with my sweatpants before I dropped by to chat.)
Sheila's conference today (and new book by the same title) was "God Loves Broken People". As I listened to her talks, I heard a message that I've been shouting from the hilltops & trying to beat into the heads of my blog readers for several years now, but Sheila spoke it so much more eloquently than I ever have.
The heart of her message was that God loves to take all the broken, screwed up, messed up pieces of our lives and make them something beautiful.... that in the Church, it is us broken people that He uses most. That when an addict walks into the church building, they will feel out of place & like they don't belong & can't possibly be loved by God until another addict says hello & shares his/her story. When a woman who had an abortion walks into the church building, she will feel left out & like she can't be loved by God until another woman who had an abortion says hello & shares her story. When a person struggling with this sin or that sin walks in, it takes someone who has been there/done that/still battling that same issue to make that sinner feel welcome and loved. Just like when a person loses a child, no one really understands what they're going through but another parent who's lost a child. It's the same way in the Church. God uses our messed up lives to help other people, to demonstrate how vast & wide & amazing his love for us is. If we can't be transparent in the Church, then we're lost. The Church is a place for wounded people, not a museum for perfectly put together people to come & be put on display.
Sheila told a story about her native Scotland and how things work with sheep farmers. She said that sometimes, a mama sheep would reject one of her little lambs. The farmers have tried to figure out why that is, but there is no real explanation for it. If they leave the lamb in the pasture with the mother, she will kick it & won't feed it and ultimately, it dies of a broken heart. If the farmer goes into the field & attempts to feed it, it will not accept the food. The only way to help this little bummer lamb, as they are called, is for the farmer to bring it into his house, away from the mother, and nurse it to health. It sleeps by the fireplace to keep warm & cuddles against the farmer's chest to drink from a bottle. It becomes a member of the family, so to speak, living among the farmer's family for a while. Once it is big and strong enough to go back out to the pasture, the farmer returns it to the flock. But even years later, when the farmer comes out to call the sheep to him, the bummer lamb runs to greet him faster than all the other lambs because he/she knows the farmer's voice. The other lambs recognize that this farmer will feed them, but the bummer lamb understands the farmer's love and care on a different level. He really 'gets it'.
It's the same way with God. It takes a season of brokenness for us to really "get" God's love for us. It's when we are battling addiction, depression, struggling through grief & loss, recognizing the loss of a relationship or a dying marriage (or a million other things that break us) that we understand God the most. When we cry out & beg for His mercy, we draw nearer to Him than we do at any other time in our life. It is then that we, the bummer lamb, really "get" our shepherd. We learn to hear His voice above all the other noises & voices of life because we've sat in His lap & curled up against His chest and have felt His arms around us.
I'm telling you, girls.....Sheila is good. I'm so glad that God gave her a story to tell, a testimony of hurt and pain and brokenness all throughout her life. Because it's with those stories of heartache and pain that He gets so much glory. He is gracious, friends. And He is faithful!
On a lighter note, at one point in the day, Sheila stepped away from the stage & the emcees asked that we all write a question for Sheila on the 3x5 cards they had left in our chairs at the start of the day. I didn't really have a question, but was feeling a little silly. After years of Women of Faith conferences and now twice hearing Sheila talk in our town and consuming scores of her books, I've heard many stories about her sweet son, Christian, who is the same age as my Savannah. Today was no different. She shared a story about her son leading a gas station cashier to Christ. What a great kid! So on my card I wrote "I have an amazing 15 year old daughter. How do you feel about arranged marriages?" I included a big smiley face & "ha ha" at the bottom of the card so she would know I was just teasing and that I was not some crazy stalker fan who legitimately wanted to set up her daughter with Christian. (well, ya know....unless she was on board, then maybe you could classify me as such.
Friends, seriously though, go out & get Sheila's new book. I promise it will be worth it. Here's the LINK to find it on amazon.
And Sheila, THANK YOU AGAIN FOR COMING TO TOWN! We love you here. Come back soon!