As soon as he introduced her, I began to tremble on the inside. I could feel it coming on. It was the dreaded ugly cry.
You know the one, your lips begin to quiver, your face gets hot, the tears are coming quick and your nose begins to run. Even drooling and leaning forward, your whole body begins to shake.
I was in a conference sitting between my husband and my direct leader, whom I was serving in a church with at the time, another male leader whom I had a good relationship with.
My leader glanced at me with a concerned look as if to ask if I was okay. I just looked at him and he looked at my husband who then noticed and leaned over to me and asked if I was indeed okay. I just looked at him and nodded slightly. I couldn't talk, and most of all I didn't know exactly why I was so wrecked.
Two world-renowned Christian leaders were on the stage. The man was introducing this woman with such honor, affection and humility as he handed his pulpit to her. He spoke highly of her personally and as a leader. He spoke of her ministry with such grace and emphasizing her great accomplishments. Then she began to speak. I was still shaken and crying.
"Lord, what is wrong with me? I can't control myself. I feel so sad and confused. What is this?" I prayed, feeling numb and in shock.
Suddenly I began to have flashes of a memory.
Years earlier I had been in a living room of one of the people I was involved with in ministry. Almost everyone was outside enjoying games, dessert and hanging out. I had gone into the living room to get something from my purse and I heard a conversation of two other male leaders in the church from the kitchen, which was just on the other side of a freestanding fireplace.
"I would never have a woman preacher in my pulpit. They don't have the authority to preach and teach, they are so easily deceived and controlling." One man said.
The other man in response said "Yes, I agree. Whenever I've walked into a church and seen a woman behind the pulpit, I turn around and walk out. That church is clearly out of order. Some even think women can be senior pastors. That is such nonsense and not even in the bible..."
They didn't know I was right around the other side of the fireplace. I heard every word and I wasn't really surprised by what they had said. I had heard that before from other people that I highly respected. Having not grown up in the church, I didn't have a grid for a lot of things that had been taught. I respected them and I assumed they probably knew something I didn't considering I was a fairly new believer at the time I overhead that conversation. Somehow it didn't feel right, but I got what I needed from the living room and went back outside completely forgetting about that conversation, until that moment of flashback in the conference that day.
"Dear God, why am I thinking about those men and that conversation right now?" I asked Him quietly while she was speaking on stage.
"Toni," He replied so fast I could hardly believe it. "Do you believe what those men said? Do you believe that women have no power and authority? Do you believe women are easily deceived and controlling? Do you believe women have no business in a pulpit preaching and teaching? Do you believe women cannot be senior leaders? Is that Who you think I am? Who do you say I am? The melody of three voices echoed in my mind the voice of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit asked in unison.
"No, Lord. I don't believe any of those things represent you or your ways. You can use anything you want, anyone You want, however you want to. It doesn't occur to me that You are reflected in any of those beliefs. Those are limiting boundaries, not expressing you or the freedom of your frontiers. Those things aren't true about you or me. I believe you are all-powerful, all knowing, and ever-present. At least what I can see or have known You to be so far. I have not known You to restrict me or any woman. If I am wrong, please teach me." I answered His questions.
"You are right, Toni. Those things are not me and do not represent Me or my kingdom correctly. Many believe wrong things about Me and misunderstand the passages about women in my Word. Who you say I am is important. You will need to know that inside and out and with every fiber of your being. You will need to be found in Me and find your identity in My identity. You will need this for where you are going and what will come to you and through you. Forgive those men for misrepresenting Me, turn from those declarations and beliefs. Follow Me. It is important for you to know this now and forever forward." I kept these words in my heart. They are clear and vibrant today as they were then.
What I didn't know then was that somewhere inside me, even though I was not conscious of or aware of any agreement with the things those men said, those beliefs were still stuck on me and in me somewhere and they had to be broken and disagreed with.
I also was unaware that I would be thrust into a position of leadership in our region within the next few years that I was not planning for, considering or even desiring. God knew what was around the corner for me and was preparing me ahead of time.
For the next few years, God had begun speaking to me about a variety of topics - leadership, strategy, models for ministry and business. It was as if I was in a kingdom speed-course. I had no idea what to do with all of the dreams, visions, prophetic words and downloads of information I was receiving. I wrote it all down and recorded it whenever possible. I knew that when the time came, I would know what it all was and how to apply it all.
I can say this one thing. He was faithful with His details on His end, especially when it was difficult for me. Believe me, it was impossible at times. I spent plenty of time on the floor just plain suffering and weeping. There is a cost to the calling and it was pretty expensive.
When the ugly cry comes, ask Him what it's all about and He will let you know.
Answer the call.
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