When my husband, Dave, first had the idea of inviting ourselves to the Tulsa International Soul Winning Workshop, I thought he might be just a little over-zealous. He wanted to see if God would open the door to getting Secure in Heart to a larger audience. In years past, over 10,000 people have attended this large workshop. My initial thought was that perhaps 20 women would come to a restaurant somewhere near the conference to hear about the book.
Through Dave's faith and God opening many doors, this eventually spun into a full women's luncheon at the actual event. Paula Wilkens, a sister from the Nashville church (who won CMT's Karaoke Dokey and who just recently opened for Jo Dee Messina) volunteered to come sing her song inspired by Secure in Heart. We asked my assistant in the Secure in Heart ministry, Shannon Kekhaev, to come with us to help.
From Faith to Insecurity
With little more than 30 women signed up, we committed to the caterer for 200 women. Since the lunch was going to be on Friday, and the workshop started on Thursday, we would have a little over 24 hours to find and sign-up those additional 170 women.
At first, I was excited about stepping out on faith. And then insecurity began to set in. One night I had a dream where I was sitting at a booth and absolutely no one was stopping. I woke up the next morning with a sick stomach--completely overcome with stress and anxiety. Would the financial risk be worth it?
And those financial risks kept increasing. Flights for Dave, Shannon and I. Signage for our booth and luncheon. 500 copies of Secure in Heart to have on hand. A rental car big enough to haul books. Flyers about our ministries. Tickets for the luncheon. Numerous hours of work by two graphic designers. A catered lunch for 200 women.
So I kept praying to God, surrendering Tulsa to him. And in his goodness, he sent me a message telling me where my heart should be. God had two simple words for me. Welcome me.
The message came through a good friend--Marcia Lamb. Her husband Roger had a sister, Gail, with Down's Syndrome whose health was declining rapidly. On one particularly challenging and busy day, Marcia went to sit with her. Since Gail was completely unresponsive, Marcia began reading the Bible to her out loud.
Marcia read… "Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself." Galatians 4:14
As soon as the words came out of Marcia's mouth, Gail suddenly roused and blurted out, "Welcome me!" Marcia was deeply moved as God spoke directly to her through Gail, tenderly directing her thoughts.
After hearing Marcia's story, I knew with certainty what God wanted from me in Tulsa. He simply wanted me to welcome each person I met as if they were an angel, or Jesus Christ himself. These words were the exact preparation I needed for three days of welcome.
Rolling Out the Welcome
Every morning as the four of us drove over to the Tulsa workshop -- Dave, Shannon, Paula and myself -- we all prayed together with tears that we could have the heart of welcome. Between the luncheon, the booth we had in the exhibit hall, and our work signing up women, the opportunities to extend God's welcome were numerous.
We welcomed around 160 to our luncheon. Afterwards, one woman mentioned how impressed she was with Shannon's cheerful, tireless and joyful service at the luncheon. She observed as Dave, Paula and Roderick (a brother from Tulsa) each did whatever was needed. Her pressing question was, "Where did you find that kind of support?" (And she didn't even know about Jim, who sat in our booth for 3 hours, or Maurice and Lauren Hooks who housed the four of us even though they were in the middle of real estate showings.) What I too often take for granted was faith building to this sister. She saw God's welcome.
Entirely out of her own initiative, Paula purchased materials to make our area -- a curtained off section of the exhibit hall with an unadorned wooden stage -- look gorgeous. By decorating tables and the stage from early in the morning until minutes before she would sing, Paula modeled God's welcome. In response, woman after woman mentioned how beautiful our area was and how they felt like they were at a real, live women's day.
Maurice and Lauren's congregation helped us welcome these women. Wednesday night we came by after their midweek service, introduced ourselves and then plundered their church building. With the help of the brothers and sisters there, we loaded almost every silk tree, silk plant, flower arrangement, vase and tablecloth they had into our SUV and Richard's truck to decorate the stage and our booth. As we rummaged through their kitchen cabinets looking for anything that might prove useful, I felt a little like the Grinch who stole Christmas!
At our booth, we extended God's welcome to many, including a woman who just lost a son. Sitting in a wheelchair due to numerous physical ailments, tears kept running down her face as her husband explained their story and why he wanted to buy her a copy of Secure in Heart. I was honored to extend God's welcome to her through a warm embrace, gifting her with a CD with Paula’s song and then running to the bathroom for a fistful of tissues to help her dry her tears. Undoubtedly, she was an angel.
Another luncheon attendee stopped by to let me to know how amazed she was about the way I talked openly about my intimate struggles at the women’s luncheon--things many would be ashamed to share. As she talked about the reproach she often felt from others because of her struggles with anxiety and depression, I reaffirmed to her God's unconditional love -- his welcome. As we made a heart-to-heart connection, I saw Jesus.
At our booth I wrapped my arms around a kindred soul who had experienced years of sexual abuse. She was eager to begin reading Secure in Heart--hopeful she would find encouragement there. As she left, she thanked me for writing something that could help others who had been abused in their past, reminding me that the welcome goes on and on.
In fact, by God's grace, 278 copies of Secure in Heart found new homes in Tulsa, spreading to cities across the country and even as far away as South Africa. And even though some of the other vendors reported that it was a quiet year and the bulk of our registration took place on the slowest day of the event, God did a miracle. All glory to him!
Even more so, what I'm coming to understand is that "welcome me" is really all about the cross. Jesus, even from a cross, demonstrated God's welcome.
He welcomed a thief, a man who to that point had lived a totally self-centered life--grabbing what he wanted while he used others for his own selfish gain. Seeing his repentance, Jesus welcomed him into his kingdom.
From the cross, Jesus taught the art of welcome. He instructed John to welcome his mother Mary into his heart and his home. And then in the most generous act of history, Jesus asked God to welcome each of us in spite of our sin, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
Now I also understand, "Welcome me," is not just something I do for others. Jesus is also saying to me... "Welcome me, Robin."
"Welcome my body and blood, and trust it to cleanse your heart, cleanse your motives, your faithlessness, even cleanse your insecurities."
As I welcome Jesus, the cross welcomes me to a life where insecurity no longer rules. In this crucified life, I learn from Jesus himself to wrap my heart around others. And then I'm empowered to walk past my insecurities to welcome others as if they were... "an angel of God" or "Christ Jesus himself."
Romans 5:17, Romans 8:15, Hebrews 9:14
What fears or insecurities keep me from welcoming Jesus' grace? In what areas of my life do I need to welcome his cleansing power?
Listen to God’s voice:
There is nothing we've done, thought or believed that is too great for Jesus' redemptive work on the cross. He is able to carry whatever burdens we have in our lives!
What does it mean to you that Jesus is able to cleanse you from all sin, fear, and insecurity? How does that inspire you to love and serve him in a deeper way?