Ok, finally. A chance to sit down and collect my thoughts on the Deeper Still Conference with Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer and Kay Arthur. I had hoped I'd be able to get everything down in one post but there's just too much to cover. So let me apologize in advance for the very long post but the conference was so fabulous. I have honestly never experienced anything quite like it in my life. (Oh, and in case you didn't know this, if you click on any picture, it will enlarge).
Anyway, I could not wait for the day to come so when it finally did, I was more than a little excited. My family and I headed out from our vacation in SC about 8:30am that morning and arrived in Atlanta at about 2:30. My sister arrived from TN just minutes before we did. Mind you, I haven't see her in about 2 years and, as she said, we probably haven't had an uninterruped conversation with each other in far longer than that (that's often how it is once you have kids). For us, this wasn't just about the conference it was also about reconnecting as sisters.
On Friday night, the doors to the conference at the Philips Arena were to open at 5pm and we knew there would be literally thousands of women attending, many of whom would likely have begun to get in line hours before that. Little did we know there would turn out to be 19,000 women. By the time we got checked in to the hotel, freshened up and drove over, it was 4:45 when we arrived at the arena. I think about 17,000 women were already there. Didn't matter, though. Nothing could dampen my excitement. I was stoked.
Then we actually got in the doors to find seats and realized we had a challenge on our hands. It looked like at least 18,000 women had already found their seats and even though you weren't supposed to save seats, seats were saved all over the place. Everywhere we turned to ask "Is this seat taken?" came the reply, "Yes". Over and over. We weren't in the nose-bleed seats yet but maybe a section or two below. Karen and I just kind of wandered aimlessly thinking it shouldn't be this hard to find two seats together in an arena this size.
All of a sudden she got this air of authority come over her and she starts making her way through rows, over people, down aisles and down stairs toward the main floor. I thought she was crazy. If we couldn't find seats up here, she was dreamin' if she thought we'd find 'em on anywhere near the stage. Until she led us to the remaining two seats on the end of the first row directly behind the production team! I thought surely they were saved - but they weren't! And not only that, but we were sitting next to the aisle that Beth, Kay, Priscilla and the whole worship team would come out through. I could have shook their hands if I'd had the nerve (I didn't but the lady directly behind me did and she got a hug from Beth - too funny). I did, however, hug my sister and thank Jesus. God knew how thrilled and blessed I felt just to be at this conference and it was like He thought "You know what? Melanie's so excited about this whole thing - why don't We just give her a little tickle to top it off." And let me tell ya, I was tickled over these seats. By the way, the red sticker on the chair in the picture says "Red's Throne". I don't know what exactly Red does but I'm guessing it's pretty important.
Travis Cottrell and his praise team (which happened to include his lovely wife) came out followed by our three ladies. I'm telling you, the worship was phenomenal. The power in their voices especially when they'd hit those high notes and sustain them just made you feel like you were experiencing the tiniest piece of heaven. Oh my word. The entire arena would just explode in praise, cheers and applause. I was back and forth between tears and laughter. Then Mandisa came out and she too was just awesome. I don't really watch American Idol so I wasn't terribly familiar with her but after Friday night I'll never forget her and her annointed singing. I was so blessed.
Priscilla preached that night and she looked beautiful and if you haven't heard by now, she is six months pregnant. She was so hilarious. I took her Discerning the Voice of God study and knew she was a good teacher so I already expected she would have a good message and I wasn't disappointed. She spoke on finding God in the wilderness and read from Exodus 19:9-11. She said that God will oftentimes lead us into wilderness seasons in order to invite us to a personal encounter with Him just as He did with the Israelites. She brought up a map showing the route God led them which happened to be the furthest away from the land of promise. She said that it's often the place that's furthest away externally that turns out to be the greatest internal blessing.
A story she told that really convicted me was when she was outside one day, there was a cloud that looked like it was about to burst forth rain any minute. She had been going through some difficulty and began to pray "Lord, just like this cloud is going to open up any minute, please rain down on me." Well shortly after that it began to pour out so she took off for the house as fast as she could so she wouldn't get soaked through. As she did, the Lord said to her that's so much like My people. We ask Him to rain down but as soon as it becomes a little uncomfortable, we want to take off back to where we came from. Ouch.
Three years ago, I had begun to pray to break out of my mode of mediocrity with Him. I wanted to...well, I guess you could say, go deeper still. I didn't use those words but that's essentially what I was saying. Then God started opening doors for me to sing. When that started getting uncomfortable - and trust me, it's been uncomfortable - I began to say no. If you're unfamiliar with my anxiety issues, just peruse some of my past posts to understand what I mean.
She then said that if we choose not to fight God in our wilderness season, there are three things we can do to prepare to see Him in the midst of it (Ex 19:3-4):
1. We have a call to remember what He's done. We will be thankful and our faith lifted.
2. We are to remember our spiritual identity. God is the only one with the right to label us. (1 Pet 2:9) I really appreciate that especially in light of what I'm learning in my NOG study regarding my apparent need for people's approval and my fear of not having it.
3. We are called to new levels of surrender. If there's something you're holding back from Him, surrender it. It will bring you far greater blessing.
Well that's it for now. The conference ended Friday night with Travis inviting everyone to come a bit early in the morning for a special pre-worship treat. He said we wouldn't want to miss it. And he was so right...
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