Before I even get started, I wanted to send out a little warning that this could possibly be the longest review I have ever written. I completely understand if you don’t want to read this, that’s fine with me. I needed to get all of this out for me :)
A week ago, I was a confused, lonely, overwhelmed young woman who was concerned and frustrated about her future. I even wrote a poem about it, spent a week alone at my sister’s house for some quiet time, and prayed for guidance.
I sit here today completely fulfilled. I may still have questions, I may still be scared, but now I know I do not walk alone. I know that I have complete trust and faith in God, and that he is planning something so much bigger for me than I ever thought possible.
I know this because of my participation in the Women of Faith conference in Cleveland, OH this past weekend. This opportunity landed in my lap as quite a blessing- so I know that I was supposed to be there. I was originally signed up to volunteer at the Indianapolis conference, but when I was placed with Mercy Volunteer Corps, I could no longer participate. I was crushed, but soon relieved to find out that I could volunteer at the Cleveland show. Best part was that my dear friend Holly would join me! She is someone I look up to, so I was excited to share the experience with her.
So, Thursday afternoon after I got my hair chopped off I jumped in the car and headed down to Cleveland. Thankfully, it’s only a three hour drive. I got there pretty early so went exploring…made sure I found the arena and airport! I had myself a salad from Quizno’s and then relaxed before picking Holly up at the airport. I greeted her and gave her a big hug, haven’t seen her in months! Poor thing had a rough flight and was starving and exhausted, so we picked up some food for her and then collapsed at the hotel.
We had an early morning wake up call on Friday, enjoyed conversation over breakfast and headed to the arena. We waited with the other volunteers and discovered that their were only six ushers. Our coordinator told us our main job was to take shifts sitting in front of the one men’s bathroom that was open to make sure no women went in and to work the autograph signing lines. We divided up into two teams- Holly and I were paired with a wonderful woman named Peggy. She is such a sweetheart, and I feel lucky to have met her! The three of us walked around and decided to take the morning shift of bathroom duty.
The speakers I heard on Friday that really inspired me were Sandi Patty and Marilyn Meberg. Sandi talked about her struggle with weight and difficulties expressing her feelings, always felt as though she was hiding stuff about her and wanted to peel off the layers of herself and live freely. I related to her story and she inspired me to live free. I wish I could remember more of her talk but I feel like Friday morning was forever ago!
Marilyn Meberg is such an intelligent woman. She is a counselor and has two master’s degrees. She talked about how all of us have “stuff” that we put in a box and hide away, because we don’t want others to know how we are feeling or we don’t even want ourselves to remember it. I just kept nodding my head during this talk because there’s so much “stuff” being held up inside each of us, we are making it harder on ourselves by packing it all away and forgetting about it. I was able to work Marilyn’s autograph signing and couldn’t help but notice how sweet and personable she was to everyone. She addressed each person in line by saying “hi sweetheart” or “hey babygirl!” it was very cute.
After lunch their was a Q&A with the speakers, the thing that struck me the most was a question addressed to Marilyn- it was “when is the right time to take all the stuff out of your box?” Marilyn’s answer was “why not now?”. That sat in my mind for a while, she could not be more correct. When it’s time, and the time is now. If there’s something you are holding back from speaking up about, or getting help with, do it now.
Soon, the day part of the conference was over, and all of the attendees cleared out of the arena, which was locked until doors opened up again for the evening session. During this time, the Women of Faith staff and volunteers were given the task of distributing goodie bags to each chair in the arena. As we were getting instructions, I had a thought….I tapped Holly on the shoulder and said
"Hey...if Mandisa is singing tonight, she'll probably have to do a soundcheck..and we're in here..."
Peggy told us that probably wouldn't happen, and we were a little discouraged...until...in the middle of distributing bags, one of the other singers for the night did a sound check. hmmm... After we climbed up and down the steps of the arena distributing chairs, the volunteers were released for dinner. We sat down with Peggy who said "If you guys start to hear Mandisa, I'll totally understand if you run away"
We both giggled and laughed it off until I heard... “IMMM EVERY WOMMAAAN.” I dropped my fork and said "Holly, you better start running!"
We ran down to the floor of the arena and stood right in front of the stage- Mandisa looked over with a big smile and waved. We were pretty much the only ones in there besides the techies, so we basically got our own private Mandisa concert. She sang "God Speaking" and just to be in that arena, with just Holly and Mandisa, two people who have helped me more than they will ever know, hearing that song...it was so special. I got chills and tears. We thought we might have been making her nervous, so we headed back up the stairs to finish eating....until... BOOM BOOM BOOM! SHACKLES! AKA Holly's FAVORITE song! I turned around to give her a look, and she was already sprinting down the steps screaming "SHACKLES!! OH MY GOSH!!! YEAAAH!!" Funniest site ever. Holly was dancing on the stairs and at the end of shackles she let out a WOO!!; and kicked her foot in the air...causing her shoe to fly down a few steps.
After dinner, it was time for the evening portion. We worked out the bathroom schedule again and Holly was able to sit on the floor right near the stage! I was so happy for her because she's never seen Mandisa live. I told Peggy that I had seen Mandisa before so I didn't care that much about being close, but that I HAD to talk to her. The other ushers made it quite clear that Holly and I would be able to work Mandisa’s autograph signing.
So, I sat down next to Peggy for the evening portion. I was able to hear all of it because I wasn’t scheduled for bathroom duty at all. They opened up the evening with a mini concert by Ayiesha Woods and then by introducing each of the speakers who were standing in various spots of the arena. I had been told earlier that Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair from Facts of Life, was a speaker. Sure enough, there she was ! Each of the speakers chatted with audience members and then were seated right next to the stage for the entire conference.
The first speaker was Patsy Clairmont, the most adorable little firecracker. She told a hilarious story to open it up and then shared a very touching story about a dear friend of hers who had passed away a few months before. She referred to this friend as her firefly, someone who was always there for her and who lit up her life. Her story was so touching, it made me cry especially when she was in tears as she said “my firefly flew away”. She encouraged us to make sure that we had fireflies in our life, and to tell those fireflies how much we love them. So, I love you fireflies. You light up my life.
After Patsy it was time for Mandisa’s concert! I was so excited to hear her live again. She opened up with an “old soul” medley, then went into “My Deliverer”. After that song, she said she had to make some shoutouts. She said “my biggest fan is here! Megan I don’t know where you are but thank you!” I was all the way at the top of the arena, in a section completely by myself. I screamed anyways, but she didn’t hear me. Then Mandisa said “and Holly/Spunky, I see you dancing, my second biggest fan!”.
Mandisa went into her American Idol story about how cruel Simon was and then went into her food addiction story. NOW. I had a revelation on the way home about what she said next. It was something I have heard a million times before, and read her book, but somehow…it hit me on the way home today. I’ll tell you about that later, first I’ll tell you what she said. She said “As a young girl I was molested and then raped when I was 16, so I started eating to fill that void. As I got bigger, men didn’t notice me and call me beautiful…they didn’t give me attention, I loved that because I didn’t trust men”.
She also sang “He Is With You”, “Voice Of A Savior”, and “Shackles” (Holly was dancing up a storm, I could see her from the top of the arena, she was way down at the floor!). When she finished Shackles she was given a standing ovation, so she went back onstage and sang “God Speaking”. So amazingly beautiful.
After her set I sprinted out of the main arena and over to where her autograph signing was taking place. I met Holly and gave her a big hug- we decided we would start a fanclub called “Mandisa’s Shoutouts” People were coming up to me, asking if I was THE Megan, one guy gave me a high five and said “Holla Mandisa’s number one fan!”. The people we had been with all day said they were so proud to hear that, Peggy was smiling ear to ear. Holly worked the front of the line and I worked the middle…it was SO ironic being on the other side of things, usually I’m the anxious fan in line waiting to meet my idol, chatting with the security. This time I WAS security, chatting with the fans in line. I met some amazing people, including three teenage girls who stuck out to me- all at different times.
After Mandisa finished with the people in line we marched up to the table. She looked at me with a huge smile on her face and said “Get back here!” I got back there and sat down, she said “I want a hug!” she asked me where I was sitting and if I enjoyed the conference. She signed my album cover, told me she wished she could talk to me tomorrow and asked what we were doing tomorrow as far as working because she really wanted to be able to talk to us.
After Holly got her hug, picture, and autograph, Mandisa was literally being pulled out of the arena to catch her shuttle back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes to the other volunteers and drove back to the hotel. We were on quite a high, so it was difficult to fall asleep. We finally did, and woke up for day two.
I’m going to give your eyes a rest and break this up into two parts. I’ll be back in a bit with part two!