In an ordinary moment between two ordinary women, Laura K. Roland learned an important lesson about making a difference.
Two years ago, I accepted the offer to speak at the Sisterhood Arise National Women's Conference in Australia. It was my first professional speaking job, one I felt woefully unprepared for. What right did I, an ordinary woman with no real speaking experience, whom life hadn’t broken, who wasn’t a Biblical scholar or canon lawyer, have to present a keynote about living a life faithful to the Gospel? I knew I had to put my trust in the very message I was going to deliver: it is the ordinary people of this world that God uses to accomplish the most extraordinary things.
The morning of the event, I did a run-through of the presentation. I said a quick prayer, asking God to give me what I needed to deliver the message He had put on my heart several years ago. Looking out at the empty room, I chose 6 chairs at random. Employing a speaker’s trick of the trade, I would focus on the women in those chairs when I needed to make a point during the keynote.
Taking that stage was one of the boldest things I have ever done in my life. Months of self-doubt, endless rewrites, countless prayers asking God to ask someone else, melted away as I began my presentation. The next 25 minutes flew by. At each key point, I looked at one of the 6 randomly selected women, speaking directly to her. I felt that I was making a real connection between God’s message, the women and me.
And then I saw her. Not one of the 6, but a woman sitting 7 rows back, 3 chairs in from the left. Sitting upright, with her arms crossed in front of her, she was expressionless. I smiled directly at her and received no response. For a moment, I panicked. It didn't matter that everyone else was reacting positively to the presentation, this one woman was not reacting in a way I needed. It was obvious to me in that moment that I had failed. As I left the stage to the sound of applause, my heart, or maybe it was my ego, was crushed.
Putting the woman with the crossed arms out of my mind, I made the most of the time I had left at the conference being a participant. During our breaks, I had the privilege of speaking with so many women about their lives and just how deeply the message of The Power of Ordinary resonated with them. Hearing me speak about my own struggles and faith journey, they felt a burden lift and experienced a shift in their thinking about saying yes to what God had placed on their hearts.
The next morning, I had one final interview to do before leaving for home. My mind racing with travel details, I saw the woman with the crossed arms standing there, hesitating to approach me. For a long second, I could only smile. She finally came over to me and said, "My name is Anna*. I wanted you to know that no one has ever spoken about my life the way you did. No one has ever told me that being ordinary is a good thing. I have never thought that what I do every day as a Mum is important. I mean, that part about cobbling together lunches for your kids when you've only got a few slices of bread left until payday? That's me. That's my story. You made it sound so important. How did you know?"
Trying not to cry, I replied, "Because that was part of my story too. That's part of the story for more people than you can imagine."
She looked at me for an awfully long moment. Then she asked, "Have you tried Vegemite yet?" Not the question I was expecting, I shook my head in what could only have been a very odd-looking reply. Smiling, she handed me a small packet of the Aussie staple, and whispered, "This is for you, from one ordinary mum to another. Thank you for your yes. I will never look at being ordinary in the same way again."
With arms now opened wide, she gave me a hug and walked away.
As long as I live, I will never forget that moment. It was an ordinary moment shared by two ordinary women that reminded me:
- You don't have to be broken for God to use you to make a difference in this world. The world needs your stories of hope, of joy, of happiness too.
- You don't have to be an expert about the faith, you only need to be an expert about your life in the faith, reflected in how you treat others.
- You can't outrun God's invitation. He is persistent and loves you enough to not give up. He will give you exactly who and what you need to accomplish what He invites you to do. Tell your story of God has done this in your own life.
- Someone needs to hear you story, but it's not for you to know who -- not in the moment nor sometimes ever. You must be willing to let that part go.
- It is the ordinary people of this world that God uses to accomplish the most extraordinary things.
To all the Annas of this world, thank you for your yes, too.
About the Author
Laura K. Roland is a cradle Catholic. An educator by trade for 22 years, 14 of which were in Catholic education, she is now a blogger and speaker. Laura owns Encounter Grace, a women’s events ministry and is a virtual assistant for women in ministry. She and Matt, her husband of 30+ years, live in DC and have three adult children and one amazing son-in-law.