I've recently reconnected with a writer/speaker I greatly admire named Carol Kent. And I just returned yesterday from attending the conference she puts on annually called Speak Up. (More on that later.)
Today, I want to write about why I've always thought Carol was such an awesome lady.
In January of 1996, Frank and I started meeting with our NC state women's director, Sandra Bass, to help polish the upcoming fall conference. This one was going to blow the roof off!
We took the theme developed by her committee and started dreaming outside every box that had ever contained the event. Together, we set a bold goal of recruiting 1000 women to attend. Average attendance had been growing each year but this was 25% more than ever before.
(Frank has always had a knack for seeing the vision of another and cheering them forward to even greater things. It's a gift.)
We visited the conference location together. We helped think through decorations, surprises for the ladies, menus, room assignments for the break out sessions, vendor booth locations. Every detail down to the number of balloons needed for a maximum impact balloon drop on the last night.
Sandra had even received permission to bring in a popular speaker who wasn't part of our denomination. This lady had written several books and was appearing regularly on Christian television and radio. Her name - Carol Kent. This was going to be BIG!
Everything fell into place beautifully!
On the Monday before the retreat was to begin on Thursday, we drove to Raleigh. My sister and her husband were taking care of our girls while we worked the event.
That's when we first got news of a major storm developing off the coast of FL.
We prayed for those people because we knew well the devastation a hurricane can cause. This one was huge and we even started getting some rain from it all the way up in the Carolinas.
Within hours it became apparent that this hurricane, gaining in strength, would bypass FL. It was moving directly toward the coast of NC.
Sandra started getting calls from our coastal churches. Their ladies wouldn't be able to leave home with the storm coming toward them.
We met her at the retreat center early Wednesday morning to start setting up. Should we cancel? Could we cancel? The financial repercussions for pulling the plug would be extreme; but safety was most important.
NC is a big state and at last (with the help of her team) she decided we should carry on in spite of losing our coastal ladies. But we faced yet another problem. Many of the women had signed up for the conference just because Carol Kent was our promised speaker.
Was this lady from Michigan, where they never have hurricanes, going to fly into Charlotte with the storm threatening? Sandra placed the call to find out if she was still willing to come and serve as our keynote speaker.
That's when we found out just how intrepid and committed Carol Kent is. Her response was, "Absolutely! Let's do this!"
The rest is history.
Hurricane Fran did make landfall on the NC coast. But the winds continued with tropical force traveling almost 150 miles inland.
We were getting rain in Charlotte but our girls were experiencing the brunt of the storm in Raleigh! My sister did a great job keeping them all calm even when the power went out.
Thankfully, we never lost power at our conference venue in Charlotte. The storm was so massive however, that only about half the registered number of ladies were able to travel to us.
But we carried on. Carol used some humor to calm skittish nerves then challenged the women during each message she was set to deliver. And by the time we left on Saturday, the skies had returned to their famous Carolina blue.
I was just starting out as a teacher/speaker at that time. Carol told us about a conference she had launched to train speakers for ministry called "Speak Up." I remember wishing I could attend such a conference.
Carol's fearlessness and servant heart impacted me in a big way during our 1996 fall retreat. She may have been shaking in her cute, black leather boots, but we never saw it. She encouraged Sandra (her hostess) and spoke life to the ladies who did come.
Who knew we would end up living within 30 miles of one another? Who knew I'd have the chance to attend her conference in Michigan, 21 years later? And who knew she would once again be speaking into my life?
Well, I guess the answer is obvious - the Father knew! He hears all our whispered prayers and His memory is much better than ours.
I'm thankful for the opportunity He gave me to observe Carol during that potentially frightening experience. Bravery shows up in some of the most unexpected places but it will always challenge others to stand tall too.
Be that Brave Leader today, dear friend. I can promise, someone is watching YOU and only the Father knows how your bravery will impact their life!