Mr. Gore and I made a departure from our usual this week…
we WENT somewhere.
Just the two of us.
It was actually one of those situations that sounded like a great idea when we accepted the invitation six months earlier, but as the day loomed closer, the pits in our stomachs grew heavier.
You know this already, but we sort of like it here, in this house of ours on the hill. We like our living room and our comfy chairs. We like our life. More specifically, we like our KIDS.
But we had committed ourselves to this “Pastors Encouragers Conference” hosted by Dr. Ted Kersh’s Equipped by His Word, and we felt it important to honor that commitment.
Thus, early Monday morning, we loaded up the kids, dropped them off at my parent’s house, and began the long trek to Branson, Missouri.
As we neared Tulsa, the temptation to turn around grew pretty strong, but we powered through and, before long, we were pulling into the parking lot of the Thousand Hills Golf Resort in Branson.
It was a beautiful location, but I have to admit that it did little to chase away my unease. Condos and rolling hills are great and all, but have you seen my 2-year old Shepherd? He’s the berries.
Why are we here? I thought. How did we get ourselves into this??
But then I shook hands with Dr. Ted Kersh in the lobby of the conference center, and the anxiety that had chilled my heart for days began to thaw on the spot.
As I told Dr. Kersh and his lovely wife, Jerri, on the last day of our meeting, the two of them and their team could have invited us to a concrete slab in the middle of nowhere and it would still have been the “Pastors Encouragers Conference”. In other words, THEY are the Pastors Encouragers Conference, with skin on, and I don’t know how I could have traveled so many miles on this earth without having met them before.
All that to say, what felt so foreign as we were pulling in to Branson immediately morphed into a homecoming, and that feeling of warmth and reunion only deepened as the conference went on.
Over the course of the next two days, the Lord did incredible things in my heart, things I never, ever saw coming.
And at the top of the list is that my husband and I met so many amazing people, forging deep connections with brothers and sisters from all over our home state.
Thus, as we drove back home on Wednesday, I just could not stop talking about the new friends we had gained, recounting the funny conversations we’d had, the sweet prayers we prayed together, the experiences we’d shared, and the specific struggles that we’d found we have in common.
There is no doubt that something special happens when you come into contact with folks who are like you and who share a line of work that is nearly identical to your own; in that room full of men and women who well know the joys and difficulties of life in the ministry, we could walk up to near about anyone and strike up a deep conversation about all the feelings about all the stuff.
Obviously, I was on cloud nine about ALL of it.
But it’s funny how the Lord works, isn’t it?
He is in no way a one-dimensional God, and can somehow encourage AND convict us at the exact same time.
And just on the other side of my bubbling-over joy, there was something at work within me, a conviction, a line of questioning, and it wasn’t until we were about halfway home that I was finally able to identify what was bugging me…
why am I not this excited about the people in my own life?
Because this is a true story: you could take just about any person or couple from my church, set them across the table from me at a conference like this, and I would fall head-over-heels in love with them like I did with all the new friends we made this week.
I would be drawn to them, like a magnet. I’d want to know all their stories and their struggles. I’d want to see pictures of their kids or grandkids. I’d have the best manners and listen intently to every word they said. I’d even spontaneously want to buy them stuff and invite them to our house!
And I’d most certainly talk about how much I love them ALLLLLLL the way home.
In other words, I’d be EXCITED to have met such an amazing brother and sister, and I would count the experience as sovereign and divine.
This shames me, a little.
And I wanted to write about this shame today because I know that I’m not alone. We all do it all the time, don’t we? Aloof, at times — or, at the very least, comfortably lazy — with one group of people, we come alive in other settings with people who are really not that different than the folks we’ve cooled towards.
And I don’t necessarily mean “cooled” in a purposeful and malicious way but simply that, well…we just haven’t taken the time to SEE them awhile. We’ve gotten into the habit of skimming right over them.
So what’s the deal? What’s keeping us from having an excited conference-sort-of-love for the people in our day-to-day life?
I think I have the answer to that question.
It’s easy to love people for three days at a conference. At a retreat. On vacation. On Facebook. In another state.
But when you’re trying to do 1 Corinthians 13 LIFE with people, day in, day out…
well, that’s another story, completely.
And it’s important to note that we’re not necessarily being fakes when we’re around a new group of people. Sure, we are probably presenting to them the very best versions of ourselves, but there’s nothing wrong with that, really. No one slumps and burps and reveals all their grisly secrets to strangers – we’re not wired that way.
No, where we go wrong is in never taking the time to offer this same sort of energy, care, and gratitude with the people we see all the time.
Let’s employ our imaginations for a bit…
If you went to another church and your pastor and his wife were serving there but you didn’t know them, would you just adore them? Would you wish you could have a pastor like that? Would you wish you could know his family better and count them as friends?
How about your godly parents? Pretend like you’ve never seen them before and you met them at a retreat. Would you sit and drink in every word they had to say? Would you go home singing their praises and wishing you could spend more time with them and glean wisdom from their life experiences?
What about the ladies in your peer group? If you were in a small group with them in a place other than your hometown and heard them talk for the first time, would you be excited to have met them? Would you think they were funny? Would you laugh your head off at their jokes? Would you sympathize with what they’re dealing with at home? Would you genuinely wish the very best for them, for the glory of God and for the good of the Kingdom?
what’s holding you back with the people whose pictures are on your refrigerator? The folks who daily fill up your Facebook newsfeed?
It could be any number of things, really.
Perhaps there is a long-held resentment bubbling below the surface of a friendship. Maybe we’ve grown tired of hearing this person talk about their blessings and/or struggles and have, without really meaning to, started to impatiently listen to what they have to say. Or to half-listen with both our ears and our hearts.
Maybe there is baggage between us and another person, keeping us from wanting to fully invest in a relationship with them. Sure, if we met them for the first time at a conference we would want to be BFFs, but there’s that weird thing between us that feels to hard to overcome.
Or maybe there are no hard feelings in our heart, whatsoever. Maybe we’ve just grown used to each other, like the proverbial “old married couple”, a familiarity that isn’t BAD, per se – that’s part of the joy of being in a family, to find someone you can be YOU and relax with! – but maybe we’ve gone too long without studying and appreciating the gift.
Or, who knows? Maybe we’re just so busy that we haven’t stopped in ages to really SEE the people we do life with. That can so easily happen, can’t it?
Regardless of the cause, I just want encourage you today. Yes, thank God that you have a family of people that you’re comfortable with – that’s a loveliness that shiny new friendships can never compete with! – but when you go to church this Sunday, or even when you walk into your kitchen today, take a moment to see your people with fresh eyes.
Whether it is your peers at church, the retired missionaries that teach Sunday School, or even your own family members…imagine them, as strangers, sitting across the table from you at a conference.
Would you not think you had just met the best person ever???
I can truly say this would be the case with about 100% of the people in our little neck of the woods.
Let’s love them with renewed zeal. Listen to them. Notice what they have to offer – their sympathetic ear, their humor, their passion for the lost, their artistic ability – and be EXCITED about that. Be the lady that you are at the conference in a room full of fresh faces. Be the cheerleader that will point out how great they are, how happy you are to have met them, how blessed you feel that God would allow you, by His great grace, to cross paths with them.
Fall in love, all over again, with the life you’ve been entrusted with and the people who fill it up.
You know what? I’m thanking God that this conviction He has laid on my heart in no way dampens the relationships I made at the Pastors Encouragers Conference. I can boldly say that I made new friends there that I love with a passion, friends that I plan to pursue and cherish forever.
But there is extra grace in these newfound friendships, as they have also revealed to me a sleepiness that I might have never identified on my own.
Who we are at the conference doesn’t say much – anyone can give their best for three short days – it’s who we are in the day-to-day trenches of life with the people we see all the time that reveals who we really are, and I KNOW that I can do better.
Thanks for reading today and listening to my heart! If you’d like to keep up with Mrs. Gore and family, find us on Facebook by clicking here.
And to discover more about Equipped by His Word, click here.