Women of Faith speakers and celebrities offer uplifting stories of changed lives

| Monday, Sept. 24, 2012, 9:50 p.m.

To Patsy Clairmont, “Normal is just a setting on your dryer.”

The best-selling Christian author — with a book titled by that phrase — knows from experience. She suffered from agoraphobia for years and had great difficulty just leaving the house. “My prayer, when I was housebound, was that I could get to the grocery store and buy food for my family,” she says. “That was my biggest vision for my life.”

And now, the Franklin, Tenn., resident travels from conference to conference, standing on a lighted platform in front of thousands of people. They hear Clairmont speak and feel moved and inspired by her story of how her faith in Jesus Christ led her on a process that freed her from the debilitating fears.

“Life is full of little ‘stuck' places,” says Clairmont, 67. Her books include “God Uses Cracked Pots,” “The Hat Box” and “Sportin' a 'Tude.” “We need each other to kind of prod and coach and cheer-lead so that we can take the next step, whatever that might be.”

Clairmont, who will share her recovery story and talk about how God speaks in unexpected places and through unexpected people, is one of several headlining speakers and musicians at Women of Faith's “Celebrate What Matters” event, which is on a 23-city North American tour and has sold nearly 10,000 tickets for Pittsburgh.

The two-day event comes Friday evening and all day Saturday to the Petersen Events Center in Oakland. It will include inspirational speakers and musical performances including a live worship band and a live ballet.

The celebrity lineup includes Grammy-winning singer Amy Grant, Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee Sandi Patty, best-selling author Andy Andrews, and “American Idol” finalist Mandisa.

Attendees, who range in age from teens to great-grandmothers, along with a few men, will hear live readings of scripture from the new narrative-style Bible translation called “The Voice.”

Perhaps the most-rewarding part of a Women of Faith event is the stories attendees hear about changed lives, says Amy Richissin, Women of Faith's regional manager. Even on Women of Faith's Facebook page, Richissin reads so many testimonials about how God is changing people's lives, and how the event helped facilitate that.

“You will be amazed at the stories you hear over and over,” Richissin says.

The event provides an immersive, inspiring experience for the ears, the eyes and the heart, she says.

“Speakers are reading scriptures aloud while live worship is taking place around us,” Richissin says. “It is phenomenal. It is so moving.

“The exciting thing is, we focus on a message of hope and truth and love — no matter who you are, no matter what season of life you're in, no matter what you've done in life. ... We focus on that message that God loves you, regardless of any of your circumstances.”

Though some people may assume otherwise, “Celebrate What Matters” is non-denominational and non-political, and welcomes people from any background, she says. And more than 40 percent of attendees travel more than 200 miles to come to the event.

“This is an event for girls, churched and unchurched,” Richissin says. “No matter who you are, you will find something in this two-day event that will move you and touch you and change you, and something that you can relate to. ... The event is filled with Republicans, Democrats and independents.”

Some women, like Carol DeUsanio of South Park, are determined to get to “Celebrate What Matters” despite major obstacles. DeUsanio, 58, was just diagnosed with bladder cancer while enduring treatment for kidney stones. Her doctor said, “We need to get this out right away.” DeUsanio replied: “Well, I can't until the 28th and 29th (the event dates).”

Although the wait may be risky, she is having the procedure done Oct. 2. After all, DeUsanio, a group leader for 25 Women of Faith participants, couldn't let down her “monkey friends,” as they call each other after hearing a previous event speaker talk about how a lonely monkey in a cage benefits from another monkey. And DeUsanio says she needs the spiritual and emotional medicine as much as she needs the medical treatment to get through her crisis. She will trust God for the results.

The event “is one of the most beautiful worship experiences you can imagine,” says DeUsanio, a member of South Hills Church of the Nazarene in Bethel Park. She hears about “women who have gone through horrible things in their lives ... and how God gets them through it.

“I am in His hands. Period,” she says.

Rachel Spirer, 35, of Gibsonia, plans to attend the event in a cast because she just had surgery on her hand for carpal-tunnel syndrome. She describes the Women of Faith events as life-changing: After a previous conference, her kids said she was “like a new mommy” because of her transformation and happiness.

“For me, it was part of my faith walk, and it allowed me to be with girlfriends,” Spirer says. “I've laughed with them, and I've cried with them. We have just enjoyed hearing other women's stories, and how God has worked in their life, in the good and the bad.

The inspiration and motivation about God's love “just comes out so strong in that weekend. It is just rejuvenating,” says Spirer, a member of Orchard Hill Church in Franklin Park.

The event is full of “Wow!” moments, she says. And at the Women of Faith event in Philadelphia two years ago, Spirer went by herself — and left with more than a dozen new friends.

“It's not a Bible study. It's just about women getting together, and thanking God for those moments,” she says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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