It was my second time to speak in public. My home church in Texas had asked me to lead their ladies' Bible studies. The first talk had gone well, and with that boost of confidence, I decided to be a little bolder in my next talk ... possibly even use a visual or two.
My good friend Cathy had told me of a lesson she had created to demonstrate the hierarchy of godly authority and protection by drawing umbrellas on the chalkboard, each one increasing in its diameter as it got closer to the top.
She labeled the bottom, smallest umbrella, as "children." Directly over that was "mother," her umbrella slightly larger than the "children" one. Father's umbrella was even larger, Jesus' came next and God's was the widest -- everyone fit under God's umbrella.
But couldn't I do it even better? What if I had women hold actual umbrellas? Yes, that was it ... a brilliant plan! I immediately went shopping, scouring for five umbrellas in various sizes.
Upon arrival at the Bible study, I was told that some furloughed missionaries would be there that day to hear me speak. This was not good news. Missionaries knew everything -- what could I possibly share with them that they didn't already know? My lesson was good, but it wasn't that good. Hopefully my umbrella analogy would save me. Yes, surely they had never seen that illustration ... After all, I made it up. Sort of.
Sweat beads dripped into my eyebrows. I began by assigning umbrella parts: Jana was the child; Linda, the mother; Vivien, the father; Jean was Jesus and Pam was God.
Pam thought that was cool; she said it was the first time everyone would have to listen to her. I reminded her that she was not to talk, even if she was God. She was just to follow directions and not screw things up; after all, the holy missionaries were there and I had to make a good impression.
Jana was up first, holding her umbrella high, directly above her head. I explained to the ladies that this was the child, and the child's first line of authority was the woman.
And that's where the trouble started. Linda's umbrella had a handle (duh!) which, of course, prevented it from just sitting atop Jana's umbrella. Linda had to stand on a chair so that her umbrella would "fit" over the smaller, child's umbrella.
By now you've probably got the picture. How in tarnation was I supposed to put the dad's umbrella over the mom's -- suspend Vivien from the ceiling? And who knows where Jesus and God were supposed to go -- on the roof?
It was a disaster. Cathy's umbrella's had been drawings absent the handles -- a minor detail I had failed to notice when I came up with my pathetically flawed lesson plan. By the time Vivien was trying to stretch high above Linda, my life was passing before my eyes.
The women in the audience were hysterical, and I couldn't even look at the missionaries -- they had to be glaring at me like I was a blooming idiot. Actually, they weren't far off.
The rest of the Bible study was a blur. I wanted to dig a hole and tunnel my way home, but what happened at the end was the real shocker. While I was packing up my umbrellas and looking for a way to escape, the "senior" missionary, the one who had been on foreign land the longest, came up to me and asked if we could talk.
I figured I was in for a spiritual lesson on preparedness ... or stupidity ... or perhaps, both. What she said was anything but.
"I want you to know that was the best Bible study I've ever attended," she began.
Surely she was kidding. "Well then, you've attended some pretty lousy Bible studies," I laughed.
She dismissed my cavalier remark and continued. "Do you have any idea how many tea-and-doily Bible studies I attend? I get so tired of every speaker being so perfect, having it all together, and I can never relate to anything they say. The life of the missionary is extremely difficult, and we mess up all the time. I can't tell you what a blessing it was to see you mess up this teaching and be real."
Not surprisingly, that day I learned far more than the missionaries did. Being perfect wasn't a requirement to be used by God. In reality, the opposite was true, and if that were the case, I knew I had plenty to offer.