Communication and accessibility are basic human rights.
Will you join me in the fight for equality?
Will you join me in the fight for equality?
This past week, on Thursday November 2nd, I was incredibly blessed to be able to hear Sheila Walsh speak AND to meet her after the event! My best friend attended this event with me. My best friend's dad was kind enough to drive us all the way to Fredricksburg, Virginia so that we could attend. It took us about 7 hours to get there from here in Upstate New York.
This particular event was called "The Beautiful Broken Life Tour". Sheila Walsh just released a new book called "In the Middle of the Mess", which is what prompted this tour. Sheila Walsh has written several exceptional books, but this book is different from the others she has written. In this book, Sheila shares some very personal details about her life that she has not shared in the past.
Sheila Walsh has been open about her struggle with clinical depression for years. However, she had not, until writing this book, addressed her struggle with chronic suicidal thoughts. She has taken one of the most taboo topics in our society and tackled it head on. The need for this type of honest, raw discussion about mental illness within the Church is so desperately needed. As a person who also struggles with depression, I am profoundly grateful to Sheila for being brave enough to tell her story both in her books as well as over and over in person.
Here is a video of Sheila discussing her battle with depression for those who have never heard her story. It's extremely powerful and I highly recommend it!
As if hearing Sheila speak (and being super close to the stage) wasn't already amazing, I was able to meet her after the event! She signed my brand new copy of her new book, took a picture with me and my best friend, and even talked to me for a few minutes. When I told her that I was a fellow sufferer of depression, she wrote in my book "Don't give up." It meant so much to me that I cried (it wasn't the first time I cried during the event but, small detail.)
This event was accessible for me. In fact, it was perfect for me because the setting was fairly small and intimate, which lessened my anxiety. For those with more prominent physical disabilities, I didn't see any reason that the event wouldn't be accessible. However, there was no ASL interpreter, which was unfortunate. My cousin was considering attending the event as well, but she is Deaf and, understandably, did not want to attend without an interpreter. Hopefully this is something that can be arranged for future events. I hate for anyone to miss out on the awesomeness that is Sheila Walsh because of a language barrier!
Every fall, I attend a local women's retreat. It's a fantastic event where women of all ages, from different backgrounds, and from different churches all come together for a weekend of growing in our relationships with each other and our relationships with Jesus. The event starts on Friday evening and ends in the late morning on Sunday. This is my third year attending this retreat. The first year I attended, in 2015, I made the decision to surrender my life to Christ sitting on the couch in the cozy fellowship hall directly across from a beautiful fireplace. I had about five women surrounding me and praying for me. We ended up praying and talking until about 1:00 in the morning! I had gone to church and considered myself a Christian for as long as I could remember, but I knew that I was forever changed that night. This annual retreat has become very special to me and I consider it my favorite event of the year!
The venue is a beautiful Christian retreat center located right in the middle of the beautiful mountains here in upstate NY. It has an incredible view--especially in the fall!
See? Wouldn't you love to wake up to that in the morning?
The event is structured roughly like this:
Friday night, between 5:30-6:30 PM, everyone arrives. You are given your room assignment and then you have time to unpack and settle in. Then, you can go back down from the dorms to the fellowship hall for some fellowship time before our service starts at 7:00.
Our opening service is usually about 2 hours. We start off with praise and worship, and then we listen to a speaker. After our opening service, we have an ice cream social and hang out for a bit before going back to our rooms.
On Saturday we have a morning session that is similar to the Friday night session, except there are two speakers. Then, after lunch, we participate in workshops that we chose ahead of time. There are two workshop sessions and we get to pick which workshops we want to attend. After dinner, we have an evening service. Then, like Friday night, we have snacks and hang out until we go back to our rooms (there are breaks in the schedule but, for the sake of brevity, I'm just giving you the highlights).
Sunday morning, after breakfast, we have a wrap up session. Then, there is a typically a prayer session and people can choose to stay to pray for people, ask for prayer, or both.
This event does very well with accessibility, considering its size and its attendees.I feel very accommodated in terms of my personal disabilities. The event is structured in such a way that I can rest if needed. There is also a pervasive non-judgmental attitude that makes me feel that I can take a break if I need to, which may not seem like a big deal, but it really helps me a lot!
Physical disabilities can be accommodated as well. There are rooms available that are downstairs. Furniture in all areas can also be moved around to accommodate for equipment, if need be.
Accessibility for Deafness and blindness has not been largely addressed because there hasn't been a need thus far. There have been one or two times that someone was hard of hearing and they were offered a seat in the front and all the speakers made sure to use microphones (these HOH individuals did not sign). Because of the attitudes of the women on the planning team, I know that they would do everything in their power to meet any new accessibility needs that may arise.
I had originally planned to talk about some of the things I learned over the weekend, but this post is getting lengthy already. So, I think my next post will be a part two where I will share some of the topics that the speakers addressed and what I took away from it.
Part two is now published! You can check read it here.
About the event:
Last weekend, I was blessed to be able to attend Beth Moore's Living Proof conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. I have watched Beth speak on TV and online, so I knew that she is a powerhouse and that she's extremely passionate about speaking Truth into the lives of other women. Sadly, I have not had the chance to read any of her books yet, but I definitely will! I was so excited to see her live!
The event was incredible! It's hard for me to even explain it; but the Holy Spirit was very present and very active in that arena. There were 2,000 women attending the conference. To my surprise, Beth said this was the smallest conference that she has had on this year's tour. Seemed pretty crowded to me, so I said a quick prayer of thanks to God that this was the particular conference I found myself at!
Even though there were 2,000 women there, the event had a small-group Bible study vibe.I was not expecting that at all--and I loved it! Beth taught mainly from Colossians 4, adding in other scriptures throughout her teaching for additional support. Her theme was "Staying afloat the fellow ship." (Get it???) She talked about how important it is for us to be in constant fellowship with other believers and that, at the same time, our main goal is to reach outsiders, or non-believers.
I was seriously impressed with Beth's teaching skills! She used lots of visuals, which helped me remember her main points. She actually had a (filled) salt shaker in her hand constantly and would shake it when she was reminding us how to Biblically season our conversations with non-believers with salt! Everyone was cracking up! I plan to attend this event again next fall, and I can't wait!
Whenever I go to an event, I'm always scoping out how accessible it is to different needs. I like to continue to support events that are accessible and help events that are less accessible understand why accessibility is so important. Plus, I like reporting back to all of you! From what I could gather, Beth Moore's conference was very accessible. There was an ASL interpreter in the front of the arena. There were several areas of seats that were reserved for attendees with special needs. I saw a few people in wheelchairs that seemed to be able to get a good view of what was going on on the stage, as well as enter and exit the arena comfortably. So, Living Proof Ministries gets an A for accessibility from me!
My personal challenges:
I don't go to large events like this very often. One of the biggest reasons for that is the fact that my disabilities can make it challenging. In order for me to go, it has to be something/someone I am really interested in and I have to be able to plan a lot of things ahead of time (how long the days are going to be, when I can rest, a plan for an escape from visual and/or auditory stimulation if needed, etc.)
So, what challenges did I face at this event? First of all, crowds of any kind are difficult for me. I feel trapped and claustrophobic when there are too many people and I can't move around. Also, arena sitting is not typically my friend. My body protests those hard, squished together seats every time. By the time we left the 2 1/2 hour Friday night event, my back and my legs were SCREAMING at me! I couldn't wait to collapse into my hotel bed! And, the 2 1/2 hour car ride there did not do my body any favors either. Travel is also extremely hard on my body. And most events involve travel and those arena seats. So, yeah...
A large amount of visual and/or auditory stimulation can be challenging for me too. Of course, I mentally prepare to take in more stimulation than normal when going to an event like this, but I'm typically still exhausted and overjoyed by silence at the end! Crowds and high amounts of stimulation can make it difficult for me to focus on my surroundings. And, there were these "speed bump" like things on the floor of the arena. Yup, you guessed it. I tripped over one! Also, my hands were shaky and achy (didn't mean to rhyme that, but whatever works), so as I tried to open my iced tea, I ended up spilling a bunch of it.
Was it worth it?
Short answer: yes. This was a great event. Beth Moore is an amazing teacher. Her praise band is fantastic. I had good fellowship with family and friends. But, that being said, there's a reason I only do these types of things once a year or so! It typically takes me at least 3-4 days to get back to my "normal" energy level (which isn't normal anyway).
I highly recommend this event to all women who love Jesus: able-bodied and disabled people alike!