You Are Beautiful: A Conference to Serve Women

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL: A Conference to Serve Women

‘Think about when you go to events at church, on camps, to parties, to weddings…’ I said to my hesitant son.

 “Have you ever stopped to think about the women who are unseen, working in the background—and yes, some are very happy to be there—who make sure there is enough food, and clean plates, and clean toilets for you and your friends to have a good time? Do you see that this is an opportunity for you to serve them for a change, to say thank you and let them know they are appreciated? Please pray about it.’

That’s how several conversations went in our house a few months ago. But in our congregation the conversation went slightly differently.

What we’re looking for is an invisible army.

‘What we’re looking for is an invisible army. We want to give our faithful servants a day off – a day for each of our women to be able to sit and hear the message ‘You Are Beautiful’.

So, on July 1st, 2017, an ‘almost-invisible’ army of twenty blokes aged 8 to 80 served 140 women aged 12 to at least 88 (but who’s asking) at our ‘You Are Beautiful’ Conference for Women. Women came from all over South Australia, from Lutheran churches, local non-Lutheran churches, and some from no church at all.

Initiated by a group of women who attended the SA/NT Lutheran Women’s Retreat in Alice Springs in June 2016, the conference featured author, life-coach and speaker Peta Soorkia, of ‘Empowering You.’ Her engaging and entertaining talks inspired each of us to see the beauty that God has placed inside each of us. She coached us through God-moments – that is, taking moments during the day to meditate on God’s word. And she reminded us of God’s vision of us. 

In the evening, she called on her fashion design background to help us look at enhancing our own attributes to help us let our inner beauty from the inside shine on the outside. Our ‘models’ made the evening memorable – and convinced us that not everyone who appears shy is always shy.

It was anything but a ‘Guild Convention

But the day wasn’t just about the speaker. And it was anything but a ‘Guild Convention’. It was a very special event to be part of, from concept through planning, production and participation. 

When the women arrived in the morning, they were greeted with a foyer full of barista-made coffee, tea or hot chocolate alongside tables of home-made biscuits, or fruit for the health-conscious. Seminars by Peta during the day were followed by lunch from the Two Wells Bakery  and an afternoon of relaxation, socialising, being pampered with manicures or facials or hand-massages, doing handicrafts or sitting outside soaking up the rare Salisbury-winter sun.

A light but delicious meal in the evening provided by a local food-cart ‘Bohemian Barbecue’ took our day event through to our fun-filled evening event.

And what made it so special? 

It grew out of prayer. Prayer – when the women from our church were asked about having a speaker. Prayer – when the people who usually run things all booked to be away, so we needed a new team. Prayer – when we needed skills that none of us had ever had the opportunity to use in this context before. Prayer – when we needed a particular skill-set and had no idea where to look. Prayer – when we recognised that our retired caterers would be sitting in the pews and we’d promised them the day off. Prayer – when the invisible army of volunteers were slow to put their arms up. Prayer – that we would cover costs. 

And what did we learn?

We learnt that women need to be with women: But the way we’ve been doing it in the church over the past one-hundred and seventy-five years may not be relevant to the women of 2017. 

Women who faithfully attend worship for years have gifts to share – but we need to give them opportunities to find them.

Women LOVE the opportunity to simply sit and be with others. Our days together do not need to be planned to the minute – though we also learnt that something for the idle fingers to do, such as colouring, would have been appreciated.

Some women have NEVER had someone (i.e. a male) serve them. 

The older women who have been associated with ‘guild’ enjoyed not-having a business meeting. 

The younger women would have liked to have a deeper spiritual input.

That hiring caterers was a huge blessing. Resoundingly they said they were as blessed to be part of our day as we were by eating their delicious food. One of the caterer’s workers collected any left-over food to be distributed through a service to the homeless. 

That God provides what we need always on time – and never too early.

That getting advertising to congregations is really, really tricky.

That we’ve neglected Paul’s admonishment to Titus to ‘teach the older women to train the younger women’ and we need to find ways to do that better. 

That serving in a different capacity was great for our blokes, enabling them to use their untapped skills – and yes, they can serve salads at a barbecue. 

And even our once-hesitant son discovered that blessings can come from being the server instead of the served.

But most importantly…

But most importantly, we learnt that when we follow God’s direction, and we join in willingly, and even not-so-willingly, God is glorified in achieving much more than the total of our contribution. It was way beyond what any of us could have imagined, and is an occasion that participants will look back on as significant in their life.  

There have been plenty of questions about when we will do the next one, and many times we’ve been asked ‘When will you do one for the blokes?’ 

Our answer is that we are convinced that this came about because we listened to God. We followed God’s lead. Perhaps God has more where this came from. Perhaps not. Our job is to pray, listen, discern (use wisdom and scripture to tell whether it’s God’s will or our own) and to join in God’s work wherever the opportunity arises. 

Dunny Destinations

During our recent travels, I noticed that the central theme of travel for middle-aged to older women seems to be ‘Where is the next loo?’ aka toilet, dunny, bathroom, wc, wash-room, rest-room…

At one rest-stop in Northern Territory, between 18 and 20 caravans were camped around one of these ‘dunny destinations’.

And I wondered, if the dunny appears to be the destination, why is there not a bigger attempt at making them more accessible, more user-friendly, more appealing and, dare I ask, more attractive.

Our next ‘dunny destination’ proved that I was not the first to ask this question. I wasn’t quite equipped to take a photo of the actual dunny in question, but found myself taking a photo of its hand-basin, and laughed when another patron pulled out her camera to do the same thing.

So, I invite you to send me photos of your ‘dunny destinations’ – so we can choose the most attractive, appealing and even entertaining dunnies in Australia.

I’m beginning with this one at The Lazy Lizard in Pine Creek, NT.  (Yes, sorry! This is just the hand-basin. But impressive – don’t you think?)IMG_4131

Honorary mention also to Timber Creek caravan park, Northern Territory, and to Bark Hut pub, NT. (Please don’t hesitate to send me photos of these).

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day

On one particularly frightful worst-mother morning, I threw a particularly frightful tantrum because the family had seemingly forgotten my birthday. Though there had been some efforts to help me to celebrate—one out of the four of the kids had made me a home-made card, and my husband had gone shopping at 10-minutes-before-closing time the night before—I remember feeling particularly unimpressed by the lack of thought.

It seemed I was being taken for granted.

I also remember my performance – to my shame.

But on the following Mother’s Day, the family made up for the previous              un-celebration. I was smothered in flowers, gifts, cards and hugs, and the obligatory, celebratory ‘Stacks On!’ where all five of the other members of the family piled on top of me.

I was required to stay in bed where I received a cooked breakfast followed by coffee, the paper and a puzzle book. Bliss! Lunch was served eventually, complete with Oysters Kilpatrick and Prawns. I don’t remember the rest of the menu, but I do remember how I felt…like I was the most important mother in the world.

I wanted to write something wonderful and inspiring about mothers in preparation for Mother’s Day – a definitive article on mothers. But the story of my tantrum reminded me that I am probably the least qualified of all to write such an article.

So I looked for help.

I asked my friends what I should write about mothers, but they raised more questions than answers:

How do we define ‘mother’? Who is a mother? Is ‘mother’ a job description? Are all mothers female? Why are mothers from different generations so tough on each other? Does becoming a mother make one weaker or stronger?

I wanted to make it a light-hearted article so people might want to read it, but realised I needed to be sensitive to the grief that surrounds motherhood.

I wanted to remind people not to take their mothers for granted, but remembered that many who will read this have lost their mother.

I wanted to remember those who have yearned to be a mother but will never hold their child in their arms. And those mothers who have said their final good-bye to their children.

The harder I tried, the more I was reminded that motherhood cannot be restricted to a thousand words.

I looked to the bible for what it said about mothers. Though there are plenty of examples of godly mothers, there are no specific instructions.

Mothers such as Hannah and Moses’s mother are upheld as examples of women who nurtured future leaders in their homes. The bible gives specific instructions to fathers, but talks only of the mother’s role as nurturer and carer, and that she needs to be respected, honoured and protected in that role.

 

Mothers have a tough gig. Always have had, always will have, I suppose. Perhaps that is the pain to which God was referring when Eve sinned – not the pain of child-birth which everyone is terrified of but soon passes from memory. But the pain that Simeon prophesied to Mary: ‘the sword that will pierce your soul’  (Luke 2:35); the solitude of becoming a mother – giving everything she has, to bring her child into life; having to stand up for what she believes is the best thing for her child, despite the pressures of outside observers and her own heart breaking.

 

I read a book in which an author called his mother ‘a quitter’. She was an accomplished pianist, he said, but she had a whole house full of unfinished projects. I wondered how he became ‘successful’. His mother’s work was obviously invisible to him. If he had looked at her through eyes of love instead of criticism, he would have understood that a mother’s life happens in seasons rather than schedules. He would have seen her as ‘the one who dropped whatever she was doing for herself, for the good of those she loved’.

 

A few weeks ago, I was wandering in our local shopping mall and saw a family struggle.

‘What are you looking at?’ the mother snarled at me.  I concentrated on the blank, non-judgmental look on my face.  Two of her three children were screaming: one because she’d been hit by her big brother, the other because his mother had hit him.

One day I’m going to get in big trouble for doing this, I thought as I made the decision to walk toward this screaming family, instead of away from them. She watched me come close to her and we both stared at each other in an uncomfortable space.

God. Words, please? I prayed.

At last, I broke the silence between us.

‘This mother-thing is tricky isn’t it?’

That’s all I said. But a dam full of what she had been holding inside just burst out in a tidal wave of words. She told me about what had been happening in her home: why the kids had been fighting, why they were crying now, how she felt about it, that she didn’t know what she was going to do about it, could I hold something while she picked up the stuff that she’d dropped, how life was so tough at the moment, how she loved her kids but was struggling especially with her son’s behaviour…

While she talked and I listened, she packed up all the bags around her, organised herself, placed the older kids either side of the stroller and began to push. We walked together for 100 metres until she stopped.

She looked at me and she smiled.

‘It’s just a stage. It’ll pass. Thanks.’ she said and we headed off in different directions.

I smiled back, knowing that though I could not walk in her feet, for a few short moments I had walked beside her.

 

 

 

Originally published in The Lutheran magazine, 2014, May edition.