Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Sense of Belonging

Yesterday I received a phone call from Jon Talbert, comedian, pastor and founder of Beautiful Day. He knows I like conferences and had some extra spots available for Willow Creek Leadership Summit and asked f I wanted to go. I think I squealed and got off the phone, vowing to make it work out so I could go.

I managed to find friends to care for my children for half the day. I was so excited this morning as I tried to get my kids ready. The Summit was at a church that I hadn't been to in over 20 years. As I neared the front doors memories came back of my Jr. high science fair experiment that earned 2nd place at the Regional level and the time in high school where my youth group piled in a van to go see a concert/performance at this church. I think it was David Meece. It was pretty funny thinking of the times I'd visited this church.

As mentioned before, usually I feel I have no purpose for attending a conference. I feel like I don't belong. Since I've been to two Unleashed conferences, I'm getting a bit more confident. No one can tell that I don't belong. Besides, today, I felt invited. I felt like I belonged.

Belonging changes everything.

I arrived excitedly, confidently. I parked, walked up to registration, got my name tag and went in, looking at the books. I had a smile on my face. Jon Talbert, the person who invited me was there and I said hello. He was quite welcoming and came across as excited for me. Excited that I'd enjoy this conference, and that made me even more happy. I then looked around a bit more before deciding to go inside and get a good seat.

Now, usually at these things I'm afraid. Afraid of getting in the way of the "real" attenders.... the people that are "important." But today, feeling like I actually belonged, I went up and sat in the second row, a perfect seat to watch the large video screen. I even met my "neighbors" . Now, usually at church, the greeting time is the most difficult for me, but today, I was excited to greet those around me. The folks near me hailed from San Mateo and Redwood City, both places familiar with me, churches I was familiar with. We were all on equal ground, just people excited to hear and learn from the speakers.

Again, I felt I belonged.

The event started with a creative video of declarations. "I will......." I was so well done in its simplicity and message. Then a few worship songs, starting with a beautiful solo rendition of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing into a praise song we all participated in. (even me!) Soon Bill Hybels got up to speak. I had never listened to BIll Hybels and the last time I read any of his books I was in college when we did a study of his called Who You Are When No One's Looking. I have to say, I am biased against mega church leaders, but that bias was quickly melted away as I listened to what Pastor Hybels had to say. He was warm and genuine. His passion for the church and helping others was easy to see. I liked his message and will probably blog about that more later.

We took a break and normally I don't like breaks. They are awkward and I don't know what to do, even if I know folks from my church at a conference I don't know what to do! Do I talk to them or would they rather talk to others since they see me all the time? Do I just do my own thing independent from them? Remember, at other conferences I feel that I don't belong and am unimportant since I'm not a church leader and that I have no business being there, whereas the other people attending from my church had a Purpose and were invited to attend. Truly, I just crash these things and hope no one questions or says I really shouldn't go. So I always feel like an outsider during the breaks.

I even brought a book to read during the break times, but I did not need them. Since I was invited, it meant I belonged and was welcomed. So I once again said hello to Jon Talbert. (hard to know what to call him.... Pastor Jon? Mr. Talbert? Pastor Talbert? )
Again, he was kind and introduced me o the person he was talking to, a women who lives in Palo Alto who moved here from New York with a ministry called 1-800-Jesus-Christ. I really enjoyed chatting with her and then it was time for another session. This time with Jim Collins, author of several books that I'd heard of but never read. I was very impressed with him, which really surprised me because he spoke a great deal on leadership and that doesn't apply to me; I'm not a leader. He spoke on his newest book, Too Big To Fail and I was entranced. He's an amazing speaker and said so much that made sense. I took a lot of notes and knew I'd have to buy his book(s).

The final speaker was a women, and she wasn't a speaker, she as a preacher! Her name is Christine Caine. Her message was inspiring but quite different from the more easily outline-able speakers prior to her. At one point I just stopped trying to take notes and simply enjoyed her. She was quite passionate and spoke on human trafficking and a myriad of other things which I'll discuss in a different blog. Did I mention she is passionate? She came across as more emotional, which personally annoyed me a bit, but she was an excellent speaker with an inspiring testimony and a great many insightful things to say.

After Christine, we broke for lunch. Panera was catering and I've never been to Panera bread. (hard to admit) I did not know what was in the boxes and asked Jon Talbert what was in the box. He said a sandwich and mentioned that his church, Westgate had a room that they meet and discus stuff and invited me to join in if I was inclined. I bought my box lunch and boldly went into the room and sat down at a table. Now, this is so unlike me! This is not my church; no one from my church seemed to be a part of the conference. Here I was, sitting in Westgate's lunch room, talking to Westgate people and actually ENJOYING it. The person I was talking to was kind and sweet. Everyone at my table was really nice to me. A bit later, the lead pastor shut the door and started to talk, asking us what stood out to us, what God was saying to us..... our "ah-ha" moment, and reminding us that we'd all have different things that resonated with us. Pastor Steve Clifford was warm, humorous and had a way of setting the tone to be easy to speak up. Several people jumped up to tell what resonated with them. I was really surprised because nearly everyone brought up things from the final speaker, Christine Caine. She was definitely emotionally engaging and there was much to like, but I was sill surprised because I found that I took more notes on what Bill Hybels and Jim Collins had to say. Everyone loved her, and I did too. I guess I enjoyed Hybels and Collins' style a bit more. Still, she was excellent and there were a lot of "takeaway" that I gleaned from her.

I was very impressed with Westgate church. They had a large group of folks attending this conference who were enthusiastic to be present. I was warmly welcomed in "their room" and felt like I belonged there. In turn, it made me happy and even bold. I loved that the pastor addressed his group, asking them for their personal observations and experience, as well as giving some helpful hints to the newbies that were at the conference for the first time, warning us that it will be easy to forge what Billy Hybels and the earlier speakers said and challenged us to write down the things that we thought of, that grabbed us, what God was telling us during the conference. With his relaxed style and words, he seemed to convey that they (us?) were important and they were willing to invest in its people. He seemed to really want his people to learn and grow and be challenged, and reminded people that they have the DVDs of past conferences and would be happy to loan them out to the Westgate people. (provided they return it)

I rarely feel like I truly belong. My penchant for conferences I usually regard as an oddity. "Normal" folks don't love this stuff like I do. I'm not an actual leader and don't feel like I fit in around other leaders at my church, and yet, here in this conference, in this Westgate room I felt like I belonged. It almost made me wish I was a leader. It made me smile more, talk more, be more bold and assertive. Instead of being self conscious, I had a great time every second today. I enjoyed meeting new folks. I enjoyed this send of belonging.

The funny thing? What really changed? The big change was simply my attitude. I went in feeling that I had a right to attend; that I belonged and because I felt I belonged, I think I actually did belong.

Perhaps I've always belonged. Perhaps I have always had a "right" to be and talk to others and enjoy myself. Nothing really had changed except that I felt welcomed and felt I belonged.

It made me really excited to do more, be more involved in some type of ministry or leadership. To serve others. I felt I had something to offer. Not sure what, but it sure was a great feeling being a part of this group. Feeling like I belonged and yet that feeling was contingent not on others but on myself.

It did, of course, take someone to invite me and help me feel that I was welcome to attend this conference. And now I feel I have the "right" to go to other conferences, sit wherever I want and enjoy myself and enjoy others.

I belong.

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