I need to be honest with you, I wrote this blog back in March. However, I just couldn't publish it. I have no clue why. Maybe I wasn't ready to be this vulnerable with everyone. I'm usually a pretty private person and only share things like this with a close circle of friends. Recently though, I've ran into Jenna Jones on more than one occasion, (the lady that puts on an event called Billings Night of Worship with her husband Josh) and I felt convicted that I've never given her feedback on how powerful this night was for me and how it brought me a closeness with God like I've never experienced before so here it is... my experience speaking at The Billings Night of Worship last March.
Click here to find out more about these worship nights in Billings http://billingsunited.com/
"WHY? I have nothing to say! This is ridiculous. I can't do this. Provide a way out for me". These are the words coming from my mouth at about 4:00pm on March 13th, 2016. The day had come where I would stand up on a stage and communicate to hundreds of people, AKA Public Speaking.
To give you a little back story to how I ended up in this panic on March 13th I have to go back to January 29th, 2016. On January 29th, I was with my friend Lindsey French at Fred & Joan Nelson's home. Lindsey wanted to practice sharing her testimony in front of us before she gave it publicly to a large crowd at Faith Chapel. She did an awesome job that day and I remember Fred asking if I would ever do the same and I immediately responded "YES, if God wanted me to!" That's what I was supposed to say, right? After getting in my Jeep and pulling away from Fred's house I thought to myself, "I just lied to Fred, there is no way I would or could speak in front of 3 people like my friend had just done, let alone a large crowd."
Fast forward to two weeks later... I'm in the middle of photographing a sweet little newborn and I get this Facebook message that sends me into a panic:
Let me know your thoughts?!?!?! Okay... No! Never! You've got the wrong girl! Let me think of someone else for you! Public speaking is not my jam! Thanks for thinking of me though! Honestly, those weren't my words back to her, but those were definitely my thoughts. If I truly shared my thoughts she probably would have moved onto someone else. haha. Instead, I told her I needed time to pray with my husband about it. I was upfront and told her I had never spoke in front of a large crowd.. .or any type of crowd actually. Jenna respected my wish for time and prayer and so that's what happened.
In the next couple days my husband and I were praying, fasting, and seeking God's word over my decision. During those days, one thought that came to mind was about the heart behind why Jenna had asked me to speak. She was asking me to speak to help motivate other believers to get out of their comfort zones even if they weren't qualified, and do what God has called His people to do. I was faced with that exact situation so how could I say no? I was asked to stand up and speak in front of a large crowd, get out of my comfort zone, and do what I didn't feel qualified to do. Another thought came to my mind about my conversation with Fred just a couple weeks before when I told him I would absolutely share my testimony in front of hundreds of people if God wanted me to. I battled with the thought process of, "God doesn't want me to, Jenna wants me to." However, that just didn't cut it. Jenna and Josh Jones are building up the Kingdom by uniting the city of Billings to go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus - so if they were asking me, I had to consider that they didn't ask me to speak without seeking the Lord on their decision.
I couldn't say no. I messaged Jenna and told her I was in. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but my answer was yes. Shortly after responding, I emailed my Mind of Christ group, led by Bonnie and Tony George and told them I needed prayer for the upcoming speaking event. Outside of that group I didn't tell too many people. I know for me personally, pride is a frightening thing, and so I didn't want to announce it to too many people that I'd be speaking. I had people inviting me to the Night of Worship and I never mentioned that I was going to be part of it, so my apologies here and now for anyone that may have been upset that they didn't know. I love you all dearly and didn't exclude you for any personal reasons, but it was the best decision for me.
My friend Lindsey is part of my MOC group and she encouraged me a few days later with the below song. Take a listen, but if you don't have time, I'll share the Lyrics below.
I’d like to look in the mirror, without hiding my eyes
I’d like to see what You see, why You think I’m qualified
To speak for You, O God, Most High
Who hides a baby in the reeds of a river, until he’s grown?
Gives him a stage and the strength to deliver his people home?
‘Cause I’m tongue tied, weak in the knees
Must be something You only see
If there’s anything good, anything that’s good in me
Well, it must be You, must be You
And if there’s any part of my shaking heart to see this journey through
It must be You; it must be You
Must be You; it must be You
Not gonna argue with fiery branches that speak my name
Not gonna start taking backward glances from where we came
‘Cause tomorrow’s holding our dreams, but today I’m here on my knees
O God of parting water; God of falling bread
If my words should falter, will You speak instead?
You must see something good, You must see something true
It must be You -Bart Millard
Could that song be anymore perfect? Thank you Lindsey!! I was so encouraged. I was on my knees telling the Lord that I knew I couldn't do this...without HIM. With Him, though, I knew it was possible and that I was going to be ok. All along, in my head, I knew the scriptures John 15:5 and Phil 4:13, but it was a process of letting those things sink into my heart from my head.
A couple weeks later Eric and I got word that his grandma had cancer and the doctors weren't sure how much longer she had to live. On March 10th, 3 days before the Night of Worship, we got word that his grandma had passed away. I didn't know when the funeral would be, but I was planning in my head how I'd let Jenna know that I wouldn't be able to speak. I had prepared myself to cancel, and honestly, I was relieved. Eric later told me that the funeral would be Saturday and we could drive 3 hours up to Glendive on Friday, and come home Sunday before I had to speak. With those few words it was like starting all over again. I went from cancelling and saying no to trying to talk myself back into it again.
I stayed busy during that weekend visiting with Eric's family from out of state and attending the funeral, but on the drive home Sunday, I was a mess. Saturday night I had a bad dream about passing out on stage and I didn't get any rest. I thought maybe that was another opportunity to cancel on Jenna. I had no sleep, I was exhausted, and I just couldn't do it.
"WHY? I have nothing to say! This is ridiculous. I can't do this. Provide a way out for me." So we are back at those words that I was saying at 4:00pm on March 13th. I had to be at West High School at 4:45 to meet Jenna and the two other speakers for the night and with 45 minutes left I was at my house in tears praying for a way out. That didn't happen. I nervously grabbed my stuff and left the house to head to West High School. I was light-headed and shaking the whole drive and before I got out of the car to go meet Jenna I cried out to God and asked Him once again, Why? and I heard nothing. He didn't give me a sign to get out of my jeep and I didn't hear his voice audibly, but I went anyway. I went out of obedience. This is something I already committed to doing, this is something we already prayed about, and this was something I just had to trust God to get me through.
I walked into the auditorium where we would be speaking just a couple of hours later and it seemed much, much bigger than I remembered. I have no clue how many people could fit into that auditorium, but it seemed like more than 500 to me at the time. I calmed myself with the thought that just maybe it would only be half full. When I walked up toward the front of the stage, Jenna introduced me to one of the other speakers, Maggie. If anyone knows Maggie Schieno, you know that when she graces your presence you feel warm and loved IMMEDIATELY. Her presence comforted me and I felt better just being around her so I'm pretty sure I followed her around all night like a lost puppy. However, I couldn't help comparing what she was doing and speaking about to what I was doing and speaking about. She makes frequent trips to India to help women trapped in sex slavery, and I go into the prison and do Bible studies with inmates. Comparing the two, I just didn't feel like I had anything to share. What could I offer the audience in front of me?
Again, I was reminded of the heart behind the night. The heart to motivate normal people, with normal jobs, to act on something they felt God called them to do. I thought to myself, this is what God called me to do. I can't compare it to what someone else is doing, because it's obviously important to God if He has called me to do it. As that thought crossed my mind it gave me a boost of energy and passion to share, but I was still faced with one small issue: public speaking! How could I possibly stand on stage and put together complete sentences in front of 300+ strangers all looking at ME. I didn't know the answer so I asked Maggie and the other speaker, Carter, to pray with me.
We continued to pray and worship God until it was our turn to get up and speak. My husband came and that was comforting just to have him there. I saw one of my good friends, Bonnie George, sitting toward the front of the audience and that also brought me some comfort. Backstage, though, I found out that Jenna wanted me to go first. I didn't know any better solution because if I didn't go first, then I'd have to go second or third. There was no way out so I just agreed that I'd go first. As Jenna started to announce us to come up on stage, I thought three things: 1) I'm thirsty 2) I have to pee 3) I'm going to pass out. I'm glad those things occupied my mind because the next thing I knew I was walking out on the stage. The funny thing is I don't even remember it. I literally DO NOT remember walking onto that stage and sitting on a stool. I had prayed for the Holy Spirit to flood over me and to take control. I asked Him to give me words that I did not have. I asked Him to give me courage that I did not have. I told Him that I could not, but I trust Him to do what I knew I wasn't capable of doing and guess what?
That's exactly what happened. It was the most intimate time I've ever had with Jesus. It was a high I had never experienced. I remember Jenna introducing me as someone that was shy, and I was relieved for that introduction. But when I started to talk, I didn't feel nervous or shy. My heart wasn't racing. I didn't lose my focus. I didn't get so emotional that I quit. It was natural, but it wasn't me. It was Him strengthening me, helping me, and upholding me with His righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10).
I went through my story. The story of being in South Africa working in an orphanage and meeting a man and his wife on the beach that were involved with a prison ministry in literally one of the toughest prisons in the world. This couple encouraged me and told me they thought I'd be great at serving in the prisons. I wasn't very convinced that this would be a good fit for me, but when I went back to my room later that night I opened my Bible and the first thing I read was Hebrews 13:3 that says, "Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself." I shared how it was ironic that I took an insanely long plane ride to South Africa to go do ministry, but God was calling me back to Montana to minister right where I was at before. I also shared how it was ironic that this man and his wife encouraged me to serve in the prisons and they had no clue that the most painful experience in my life was the fact that my own father has been in prison for a very long time and is still in prison to this day. I shared about coming back to Montana and doors opening for me to get involved in the prisons. I shared about women I had mentored and women from the pre-release center that I had the chance to bring to church. It seemed like I was talking for 10 minutes, but I'm sure it was only about 3 minutes total. However, I remember looking into the crowd, making eye contact, remaining calm, and feeling so much peace come over me.
The other two shared and then we were dismissed from the stage. Jenna announced that we'd be down on the floor after the Worship Night for anyone to come talk to us afterward. I had a couple people come share their stories with me and express interest in getting involved in the prisons, but as I reflect on the whole experience I really don't think that moment of me speaking had anything to do with anyone else. I honestly believe it was a moment where Jesus had the opportunity to show me how much I could trust Him. I've been let down so many times and I'll unashamedly admit that I struggle with trusting people. However, He asked me to do something scary - probably one of the scariest things I'll ever do. I said yes out of obedience, and He showed me that He'll never leave me and that I can trust Him and find FREEDOM in knowing that. Not knowing it because I read it somewhere, but knowing it because I personally experienced Him showing up when I needed Him the most. Knowing and experiencing that He'll never leave me or forsake me.