As far as Tara...well, nothing would feel better unless she came to my house for a week or I went to hers and even then although we'd terribly miss our husbands and kids, we'd still feel like, "this is all the time we have?"
The blessing of that is...I am blessed to have those in my life that I so treasure and love deeply.
There's something special about sitting around a table together for a meal and talking for hours. (I did a sermon about that very thing once! Several have asked me to do it again...) Anyway, on Friday night of Unstoppable we stayed in the restaurant until about 1:00 am. (It was supposed to close at 10 pm. They stayed open til after 11 pm serving us and then they just let us stay in the dining room as long as we wanted.) We were there for three hours, eating, talking and laughing our heads off. I mean laughing long and hard until some of us had tears in our eyes. It was so good...so "healing." Laughter is such good medicine. I needed it so much. I am sitting here crying right now as I write this just thinking about it, and there's an oxymoron for you - crying while writing about laughter, but here I sit doing it...taking my glasses off...dabbing my eyes...and typing more.
I skipped ahead to Friday night so let me back track.
I spent the night at Hilton Wednesday night after working with Pastor T and Larry on setting up the media and the displays. One of the best decisions I've ever made to accept Joyce's (sales reps) offer for the complimentary suite. I was able to really be rested for the next morning. Cathy (my assistant), Lisa (Armor Bearer/friend) and Bonnie (awesome church member!) met me at the hotel and helped set up registration and we did lunch there. Soon all the wonderful ladies descended upon the place. Two of the first to arrive were Jessica Smith from Oklahoma City and my dear friend Tara Sloan from Chicago. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. My ladies took care of registration while Tara and I went to the suite and caught up and prepped for Friday night. So good just to sit and talk face to face over a cup of tea and pray together for a powerful service that night.
Thursday night was the opening banquet and WOW, it was awesome. The Hilton always does such a great job with the banquet. Exquisite! After sharing a delicious meal, Jenn Lee led us in worship and as usual it was so powerful. We could have just done nothing but worship all weekend it was so amazing! Thursday night I brought the opening message and I titled it after a Jim Carrey movie, "A Series of Unfortunate Events." I spoke about the life of Ezekiel. We had a powerful altar time and I was able to pray with women who are so dear to me...and there is something so special about praying with a friend, isn't there? What a connection.
Thursday night we just went back to the room and again Tara and I had so much to talk about and we stayed up late. We can't help it. Even when we have ministry to do, or an early morning meeting, we stay up and talk. I remember when we went to another conference together (where neither of us ministered) I still came back hoarse from the many hours of straight talking and lack of sleep. I talked until I just couldn't keep my eyes open anymore and realized, only one and a half more days until my friend would be far away again...
The next day was the workshops and as usual they were amazing! Many say the workshops are worth the entire price of the conference if you just came for that. We do topics that you really can't find anywhere else, at least not yet! Pastoring Partners Network still has the corner on it.
Friday I had lunch with the speakers and we talked until about 3 pm and it was so refreshing. I had intended to go up to the room and rest a few hours but as I was walking through the lobby I saw Pastor Judi Cotignola and her staffers and couldn't help but stop and talk to them (love that group of gals!) and we talked until 5:30 pm, after which I rushed up to the room to get ready for the evening service. I quickly called the manager of the Hilton and asked for a huge favor of extended hours for the restaurant after service. I didn't know if we'd get out by 10 pm, due to the moving of the Holy Spirit and didn't want to take a chance. Hilton has bent over backwards with anything I've asked of them, and this was no exception. He said sure, he'd keep the chef and a few servers there.
Finally at 7 pm it was time for Pastor Tara Sloan to come off of her chain into the prophetic. I'm tellin you, that girl knows how to flow...
Midstream through the altar time I was sensing maybe she thought I was wanting to wind the service down and I went over and whispered in her ear, "just keep flowing...go as long as you want...you're off the chain now, baby..." Man oh man, it was good. We had testimonies at the end and it was so good to hear from a few people who were especially touched that night. The presence of the Lord is amazing...so healing...not just for our attenders, but for me this year! (Rarely do I receive anything seriously for me when I'm in charge of something - I'm so busy with details and I don't expect something personal - I just go with the goal of doing my job and ministering to others. But this was different. I received so much from being in God's presence and the encouragement of my friends.)
After service we walked into the restaurant at the Hilton and sure enough the staff was waiting to serve us all the late night meals we wanted. (Few of us ate dinner earlier as we just talked ourselves to oblivion all afternoon and early evening!) We transformed the dining room ourselves by pushing tables together into a huge long table (I told the servers we'd put the whole thing back the way we found it...their eyes got kinda big when we started rearranging...) and we settled in for an incredibly fun time. Like I said, one of the best times ever. When we were finally done telling endless "church stories", it was 1:00 am and we looked over and noticed the staff of the Hilton had just quietly left us there and they had gone home for the night. We got up and took all our remaining dishes and glasses into the kitchen and put them on the counter, wiped down the tables, and put them all back the way we found them. (We wanted to be a good testimony, of course.) I am sure they were probably shocked to find people who actually kept their word. I believe it's so important that we as Christians and especially as ministers, to keep our word in all situations.
That night Tara and I stayed up until about 4 am, finalizing things about our tag team message for the next day. We already had the whole thing totally mapped out well in advance, but we were still up late, tweaking, strategizing, yada yada yada. She laughs at my nature to have everything "exact" and I laugh at her tendency to just "flow." Right up til 3 am we had no idea what we were going to do about one small aspect of the ending. She kept saying we needed to just wait and see how things went. I said, "okay my friend, what if we get to that point and we sense absolutely no leading?" She said, "well then, we're going to just stand there and pray in the Holy Ghost for a few minutes until we know...that always works in a pinch..." OMG, I almost fell off my bed laughing! She did too. We were finally happy with our direction by 4 am, and said goodnight, and got about 3 hours sleep.
For the lack of sleep, I still think we were "in the pocket" on Saturday morning. It was our first tag team message together but we flowed great. We were so thrilled with this project that we've decided to write a book on it. The Lord had already spoken that to Tara's heart and she thought she'd wait to tell me to see if I felt the same without her saying anything. Upon reading the final draft of our message, I said to myself, "this should be a book" and immediately emailed her and told her that and and she said, "I was just waiting for you to tell me that."
Our message flowed well and then we ended it with Martina McBride's music video of "Anyway" and took communion together. Very powerful!
Tara made the observation that the networking at this year's conference was awesome. It was so much more than last year. This is what it's all about! This is the vision...the dream I've had from the very beginning for the PPN.
It was hard saying goodbye to everyone. Tara's parents wanted to take her to the airport but I talked to her at the hotel as long as possible and didn't start the waterworks until the last few minutes. :-)
Everything was packed up and Nadal (banquets manager) came down the hall and we hugged and I said, "I love you, Nadal..." and he (to my surprise!) said, "I love you too!" This from a man that two years ago sort of bristled against the fact that we'd be working together on the conference. (He's from the middle east...not too keen at all on women in leadership and the staff at the time warned me of that). But, he and I have gotten along just fine and in fact have developed a great rapport. It's that way with the whole staff there, I just love them and I think it's mutual! I don't think the sales rep from last year would have EVER thought she'd hear a client say, "I love you" to Nadal and hear "I love you" back. (lol) What can we say??...God does miracles!!! He can make hardened hearts soft and open. I love it when God breaks down the walls of prejudice and shows people what is possible.
We said goodbye to Nadal and Larry took me to dinner. I was starving! We also wanted a few minutes of peace and quiet before walking back into the house with three kids and a little craziness! (I knew I would be cleaning, cooking, unpacking, ironing, having the three of them talking to me non-stop about everything that's happened over three days time...) So he took me to a nice quiet dinner at Liang's where he asked for the corner round booth (they were almost empty in there at the time we went) and we snuggled up close together in that huge round booth and shared an orange chicken dinner while we caught up on everything with us. It was so good. But quite honestly, I couldn't wait to get him home. (lol)
I came home and sure enough I was immediately thrust into the wonderful chaos that is the Shrodes family. Simultaneously I was unpacking, going through mail, making a double batch of chicken and dumplings for a choir dinner the next day, getting all our clothes ready for Sunday, listening to Jordan talk incessently about his weekend, listening to Savanna trying to interrupt him repeatedly (I told her to be quiet and let him talk as she was with me @ Unstoppable for two of the evening services and I hadn't seen Jordan at all.) Dustin gave me a hug but then did his usual retreating to write and talk to Casey. :-)
It's back to everyday routine in our house, and that's good. But I sorely miss everyone from Unstoppable, and still have a little "lump" in my throat with emotion when I think about it. I know in a few days that will fade and I'll just be left with sweet memories.
But truly, I can't wait until Tara gets settled in with her gang and we can trade a monster e-mail again and catch up.
For anyone from Unstoppable who is reading this, just one question...how do you spell ruckus? lol (If you don't know what that means, come next time and find out!)