As a leader, I was ready. In my mind anyway. I had diligently studied the facilitator instructions, attended the training session, and even had a cheat sheet tucked behind my name tag dangling from my lanyard. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to happen by the night’s end.
The “letting go” ceremony was the capstone of an inspiring night of music and speakers at the recent Traders Point Women’s Conference. As a small group leader, I was instructed to lead my group, Teal 32, into the parking lot. There we would pray together, then send our Chinese lantern off into the crisp, dark sky along with our prayers, struggles, and anything else that was dragging us down. Attaching children was not an option.
We began our time together with introductions; then I opened the discussion. Looks were disconnected and answers were short as I glanced around the circle at the faces of uncomfortable strangers. The evening chill didn’t help. As I struggled to keep the discussion going, I spotted other groups’ lanterns dotting the horizon, which gave me the green light to move to the main activity. I asked if anyone wanted to pray before the launch. Surprisingly, there was a volunteer. Her name was Heather.
Prayer is a personal thing. Sometimes people don’t feel comfortable praying out loud, especially among strangers and in public places like parking lots. Heather was not one of those people. In fact, as she prayed, I peeked out of the corner of my eye. Was she reading from her evening’s notes? Had she prepared this in advance? Was she a staff member in disguise? Her words were eloquent and embodied all the elements of a perfect prayer. If there had been a prayer contest among the 1600 attendees, I would have put money on Heather. In fact, when she finished I spontaneously blurted out, “Wow! We now have a new leader!”
With the perfect prayer setting an inspiring tone and, thankfully, overshadowing our labored discussion, it was launch time. I reviewed the details of the training video in my mind, then we followed the instructions exactly. As the lantern inflated, the anticipation grew and a vision flashed before me – we would join together, once strangers, now friends, teary-eyed and inspired, as our lantern sailed away to bring light into the darkened sky. Kumbaya would somehow be playing in the background or we would be humming it – in three-part harmony, of course. It would be a life-changing moment.
As the lantern began to lift, we released it. But as we watched, it headed straight down to the ground making a beeline directly toward a group member’s purse and Bible! It could have become a living example of the “Word of God on fire” and likely the talk of the conference, but we successfully swooshed it away – without even igniting ourselves. We laughed uncontrollably as our lantern’s journey abruptly ended in a nearby tree. Not what we had planned nor what I had envisioned as the leader. I felt as ill-equipped as Moses. He had a bush, we had a tree – embarrassing but at least biblical, I thought. Also no call to the fire department was necessary as “The bush (or tree) was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2)
Determined to not let our prayers, struggles, and everything else we were determined to let go of end up in flames, we obtained lantern number two and tried again. After another close call with yet another tree, a burst of wind pushed it up and over it, and Teal 32’s lantern sailed away into the distance joining scores of other hope-filled lights.
Who says church isn’t fun? Where else can you laugh, be inspired, lead, fail, make friends with strangers, join a hip hop flash mob (story coming soon), and become a parking lot pyromaniac — all in one night and all to the glory of God?
Remnants from our first attempt.