I’m what’s affectionately known as a compensated introvert. At times I compensate well and at other times I do so poorly but I am almost always compensating unless I am alone or among a small group of familiar people. My chosen profession and life experiences have taught me how to engage well one-on-one, speak to a crowd, ask questions in a room full of people, and make witty comments when I first meet people to give the impression that I’m at ease. Conferences are one of the venues that put my introverted personality to the test. A massive group of strangers is significantly anxiety-provoking for me. It’s nice when you can attend with a group of friends or colleagues, but my homegirl and fellow physician, Teresa, was unable to make it. Ironically, she was the one who encouraged me to attend in the first place (no shade). I really wanted the information though so I was determined to make the best of it.
The venue was a pristine, corporate-looking Elevation church campus in Charlotte, NC. The place was nothing short of immaculate; practically ‘eat off the bathroom floor’ immaculate. The greeters were pink champagne bubbly. The foyer was spacious with a few vendors in the back of the room selling merchandise. Our nametags looked like backstage passes complete with pastel-colored, bejeweled lanyards (which was honestly a nice touch). I nervously made my way into the auditorium which looked more like a performing arts center preparing to stage a Broadway musical than a church sanctuary. It was wall-to-wall estrogen with the exception of a security guard and a few on the audio-visual team. I could feel my agoraphobia kicking into full gear. No way was this only 250 people. It looked more like thousands!
Hands down the worst part of this whole deal was the shocking absence of food. Not even snacks. Nothing for purchase. Not kidding. What kind of conference doesn’t have food guys??? I have since forgiven but will never forget. Moving on.
The usher directed me to a chair near the middle section. I felt that familiar sharp stab in the center of my chest which is my warning sign that asthma is rearing its ugly head. Anxiety plus an asthma attack equals a disaster every time. I had also neglected to bring my inhaler with me. I tried my best not to panic about that. I would be surrounded by the hair, knees, and elbows of complete strangers on all sides. I thought about what a hassle it would be every time I needed to go to the bathroom and the fact that I would likely be obligated to repeatedly ‘tell my neighbor’ stuff for the speakers’ own personal amusement. It was more than I could bear. Rather than argue with the usher I simply left and re-entered another way. I found a seat in the first row of the back section that didn’t feel so claustrophobic. At least I could stretch my legs out and one of the chairs next to me was empty so I plopped my stuff onto the seat. I took a cursory glance around. Everyone there appeared to be far more comfortable than I was. It was so tempting to get back into my car and stream the sessions from the comfort of my home but I resisted the urge.
A perky face with a slightly heavy-handed make-up job invaded my line of vision. I don’t recall her name but she was beaming like Ms. America on tour. She told me she was from Texas and fully expected me to shake her hand. And good Lord if there wasn’t a line of equally perky, melanin-deprived ladies waiting to do the same! I plastered on the least awkward smile I could muster and greeted the line of eager Heathers. Just then, the first chords of the praise and worship set filled the air and the remaining ladies quickly dispersed from whatever jubilant planet they had come from. I plopped down into my chair with a tremendous sigh of relief. I was already exhausted at 10:15 in the morning. Hours later on the way to girls’ night with my favorite neighbor in the history of neighbors, I admitted how anxious I had been. She reassured me that she hated conferences for the exact reasons I did. Sometimes all you need is a fellow introverted friend to reassure you that you are not clinically insane for having a phobia that you can’t control.
So, I have been neo-Anglican for over a year now. Prior to that, we went to a non-denominational church that met in a Catholic building. It has been well over four years since I have set foot in a CCM-style immersive worship service. I was not at all prepared for the sensory overload I was about to experience. It was loud and quite foggy. But I used to love it. At some point, this form of worship ceased being authentic for me and I wasn’t about to start faking it. The women around me were into it and I appreciated that. But I knew if I raised my hands and did as they did, all the LORD would hear from me is a clanging cymbal. I walked out of the auditorium and sat on one of the swanky orange couches in the foyer.
More had changed for me in the past several years than I realized. I have had so many different church culture experiences since I graduated college. I had stopped searching for the mountaintop experience on Sunday mornings or at church venues in general. I now seek it in my small groups, times of prayer, times of personal study, and even in my interactions with patients. I guess I just stopped wanting to be led exclusively by emotional experiences because they almost never resulted in lasting change in my life. When you become accustomed to GOD's presence in your life, then you become more aware of the ways in which certain things that are intended to draw you closer to Him can actually crowd Him out. If the LORD had a word for me, I would know it. It didn’t matter that there were some things that were not to my specific liking or that I was out of my comfort zone. In the end, the LORD ministered powerfully to me and to many others through some of the speakers. I was very glad that I chose to stay.
From Phylicia Masonheimer, I learned that my motives for speaking truth must always be guided by love and unity. When GOD filters through us a sliver of divine revelation, it can’t help but pour out of us as we interact with the people in our lives. We are but imperfect vessels and must be careful to filter those things back through his holy sieve.
From Mary Snyder, I learned that I am called to serve Jesus through one person. Whoever he/she is needs to be served well and in serving him/her, I will ultimately serve many. If I keep my eyes on the faceless unknowable people ‘out there’ then I will miss the person who is right in front of me in need of what I have to give.
From Jess Connelly, I learned that I am already an unqualified failure who will make many mistakes and offend people along the way. The temptation to seek fame and human approval will never go away and the moment I think I’m immune to it then I’m probably already in trouble. What’s exceptional about me has nothing to do with me but everything to do with what the LORD has done to me and through me. What will keep me from losing my way is what I will allow Him to further accomplish through me to reach those whom He loves and is drawing through my work. How do I know that I’m called? Because I know His voice and I hear Him calling my name. It’s that simple. Whatever I screw up, misjudge, or miscalculate, He will send people and circumstances into my path to realign. Show up. Fear not. Don’t walk away when it gets hard. That’s what I’m charged with.
Thank you, Phylicia, Mary, and Jess. I am already a better writer and human for having sat under your wisdom and teaching.