More than 2,100 women prayerfully sang “Jesus Loves Me” together at the Women of Faith conference at the Rimrock Auto Arena last Saturday. That childhood favorite, deceptively simple, stated the theme for the day: “God loves you.”
While the conference was a time to meet old friends and sing praise and worship songs, it was also a time to search the heart. Sheila Walsh, the keynote speaker, has been with the conference for 17 years.
“I think that the world has changed,” she said in an interview. “In 1996 the world felt a lot safer. Our messages were lighter and more humorous. The intensity of our message has changed. People want to know what is going to be true forever. There are over 3,000 promises in God’s word. There’s this scarlet thread (of sacrificial blood) from the beginning, even before man was created, a provision for salvation. We have an enemy. We fight not against flesh and blood but the unseen world.”
Ms. Walsh is modest when speaking of her own spiritual gifts. “Writing and singing, of course,” she said. “And I have the gift of encouragement. I really see myself as an advocate for the hearts of women. We think that just because we’re on the platform, we’re more precious to God. That’s not true.”
She may not be more precious to God, but she has been blessed with a talent for preaching and teaching, as well as a seemingly endless supply of kindness, with which she blesses both friend and stranger.
The following incident took place just a few weeks ago at a church meeting, not Women of Faith. Ms. Walsh said, “‘You would be shocked if you could see the baggage that you’re carrying around with you.’ I said. Then I asked women to come up to the altar and give their burdens to Jesus.
“An 81-year-old woman was the first to stand and come to the front. It took her a long time to get there.
“‘It’s the worst thing,’ the woman whispered to me. ‘I’ve never told anyone. I was sexually abused.’ Moments like that make me think, Lord, that’s exactly why you’ve given me the privilege of doing this.
“I actually like it when I’m put in a position where people don’t know me. I was invited to participate in a conference on depression put on by a pharmaceutical company. The audience was the press. I loved it. I actually enjoyed being unknown, the joy of just being human. There’s something compelling about telling the truth.”
One of the others on the panel was an actor from the TV series, “The Sopranos.” Ms. Walsh had to leave early, and he followed her off the stage with tears in his eyes and thanked her for what she’d said. She didn’t know what that was, but she said she was glad to be helpful.
Ms. Walsh has her own life struggles. She has been totally candid about her coming to terms with clinical depression, an inherited brain disorder that caused her own father to commit suicide when she was just 5 years old. Her latest challenge also involved a medical issue.
“I’ve written a new book, ‘The Storm Inside.’ I’d just finished filming the final DVD teaching session, ‘Moving from Despair to Faith,’ and went into surgery to remove a tumor. ‘We’ll take out the tumor, do a slice, and we’ll have the answer (as to whether it’s cancer,)’ my doctor said.
I’m glad I didn’t know the outcome. When you know the outcome, you don’t need faith. My prayer that morning was ‘whatever.’ Whatever you decide, Lord, is fine with me. I went into surgery completely peaceful. And the tumor was benign.”
Finally, Sheila Walsh explained the difference between religion and spirituality. “The greatest miracle I have is to give women an opportunity to know Christ. So many just know the building, not the Builder. I get to help them move from religion to relationship.
“Every man and woman has a part inside that makes us restless, that needs to be filled. That’s a common human need. We were made for God and nothing else will fill that place. We can try and fill it with all kinds of things, but nothing else will work but God, and it will never be totally filled until we’re home (in heaven.) But we have hope. You’ve never lived a prayerless day.
“When you can’t pray, the Holy Spirit has you covered. And Hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5).