This past Friday evening and all day Saturday, I attended the Passion 2015 Women’s Conference at Green Pastures Church in Ballymena, along with two very dear friends.
I had never attended anything at Green Pastures before.
Leah and I had talked in the Spring of 2013 about visiting Green Pastures and agreed that we would go there some Sunday during the Summer, but a few weeks after this conversation took place she received the diagnosis that changed everything, so our visit never took place.
Well, my two friends and I loved the ladies conference and felt that we were ministered to in mind, body and soul.
An army of men, aged from teenagers to retirement, were our hosts for the weekend and they looked after us ladies impeccably. From the moment we drove through the gates, the stewards were in evidence, smiling, waving, being helpful. At any stage during the conference, one only had to stand still, looking lost or confused, for more than a few minutes and a man was at one’s elbow offering assistance.
As soon as we arrived on Friday evening we were offered glasses of bubbly – non-alcoholic of course.
As we queued to get in to the main auditorium, a man who we later discovered was the lead pastor Jeff Wright, welcomed us, asked if we’d been to Green Pastures before and if we knew what to expect. Later on when we were leaving, he spoke to us again, clearly remembering where we’d come from and wishing us a safe journey home.
During the first session on Saturday morning we were each given a stick of rock to keep up our sugar levels – I took mine home to my youngest who was delighted with it.
Complimentary tea, coffee and scones was served at 10.45am. They had several serving points so nobody had to queue for too long. Lunch could be purchased for £4 and a buffet dinner for £6, both had to be pre-booked in the morning.
I loved the idea of arriving in the morning, parking and then being able to relax for the entire day without meal planning or clock watching.
On the subject of clock watching – they have a huge countdown timer at the back of the church facing the stage, so that the speaker can see exactly how much time they have left and see when their time is up – a brilliant idea.
They had a ‘boy band’ so talented that my friends and I reckoned we would willingly pay to go hear them in concert.
The worship team was excellent. They sang several songs that I didn’t know but the words were absolutely beautiful. The church has free wifi so I looked up all the new songs online during some of our free time.
We also had a talk from someone from Women’s Aid, watched a video on Domestic Violence and they took up a collection for Women’s Aid.
During some of our free time I enjoyed shopping in the onsite “Market Place”. I bought two BFF bracelet kits for my youngest and her friend – £1.50 each. I bought some beautiful handmade cards, also £1.50 each.
I knew very few people out of the hundred’s who were there, but everyone was so friendly. We made friends with some strangers and each time I got chatting to somebody, I had a strong sense that this was a divinely appointed conversation – like I had been just meant to meet that person.
Of the new songs that I learned, the one that blessed me the most was called Dance Again by Life Worship. I downloaded it from iTunes this morning and couldn’t wait to play it through my new Waterproof Bluetooth Wireless Shower Speaker that arrived from Amazon on Friday.
In 2012 I shared an office with a Social Worker who had previously worked in a Children’s Cancer Unit in England. Sometimes she used to tell us about her work and I used to be very interested, although I found it very emotional too.
I clearly remember her saying that she always told her oncology parents to have a good cry in the shower in the mornings, because nobody would notice and it would give them some emotional release.
I left that job in November 2012 to move to a post closer to home, but within months I had become that parent who was crying in the shower. Many days I still am that parent.
Another strategy that I have found very helpful once Leah became ill, has been listening to praise and worship music.
In the nine months from Leah’s diagnosis to her death there were many times when I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts.
I remember leaving the transplant unit in Bristol Children’s Hospital one day to get something to eat. I felt weak from lack of food.
However, as soon as I had bought food and sat down to eat, thoughts of how ill Leah had become, just crowded my mind and upset me so much, that I quickly became too distressed to eat.
I went to the 99p store and stocked up on cheap earphones. From then on I always carried earphones with me so that I would never have to be alone with my thoughts.
I found that playing my favourite praise and worship music softly in the background helped to keep me calm enough to do essential things like eating and sleeping.
My playlist played softly in my ears all through the night during the times that Leah was really ill. I always heard her when she called me though. I could leap out of bed and grab a vomit bowl and have it in place within seconds – that’s what parents do.
Our shower head here at home is terribly noisy and drowns out the sound from my iPad, but this waterproof wireless speaker is brilliant. I can even leave my iPad or iPhone charging in the other room and it will still pick up the music and play it while I’m in the shower.
Yes I feel terribly sad, yes I need to release my emotions, but I don’t want to get lost in my sorrow. I want to hear these beautiful encouraging words – even, or maybe especially, in the shower.
Praise Him, when your heart is breaking
When your strength is almost gone
Sing out your song and praise Him, in the fire and fury
In the dark night of your soul, your God is in control
Your tears will dry, your heart will mend,
Your scars will heal and you will dance again
Praise Him, tell your neighbours all about Him
Let the whole earth sing and shout it, our God is faithful
Praise Him, for His love and mercy
Praise Him, for His grace and favour
Praise Him, our God is faithful
Praise Him, He is strong and mighty
Praise Him, He is holy, holy
Praise Him, He is always in control
His love has conquered all, His love has conquered all
Your tears will dry, your heart will mend
Your scars will heal and you will dance again
And of His kingdom there will be no end, for Christ our King is coming back again