Author Patsy Clairmont makes women laugh.
She also causes them to think about deep issues. Clairmont, a longtime Women of Faith speaker, did both on Friday morning as the first speaker at the two-day Billings conference.
Women of Faith has two teams putting on conferences this year.
"Over the Top," the West Coast tour, kicked off the first of 14 events in Billings, while "Imagine," which came to Billings in 2010, will tour the East Coast.
Thousands of women have attended each of the faith-based conferences in Billings since 2001. More than 4.4 million women have attended conferences in the United States and Canada since Women of Faith started in 1996.
Clairmont, the first speaker on the Billings stop, elicited whoops and hollers when she pointed out her footwear.
"Good morning girlfriends," the petite, spunky, white-haired woman said. "It's wonderful to be here in a land that understands what it means to put your cowboy boots on."
Clairmont has made no secret of the fact that she suffered from agoraphobia, which kept her house-bound until she overcame it. Looking back, Clairmont told the women that she sees God's compassionate hand working in her life.
It didn't always feel that way when she was going through it, Clairmont said, walking around on the circular stage to speak to all of the women.
"But as I look back, I put all the picture together, the pieces that are there, I am amazed at his grace," she said. "I am amazed at the way that he worked in an over-the-top manner to bring me to a place of greater soundness and stability, to give me a life outside of all the confines that I had placed so that I could survive."
Clairmont, who admits that she's always in a hurry, said she doesn't want to take time to grow up. She just wants it to happen.
"I have found that most things worthwhile that have been worked inside of me have been a process of time," she said. "He doesn't ask us for perfection, he understand our frailty, but it delights him to see our progress."
She told a story about her youngest son, Jason, when he was 7. He went off to school one day, only to return a few minutes later.
He told his mom that he quit school. When she asked why, he said school was too long, too hard and too boring.
Clairmont quipped back to him that he had just summed up life. And she told him to get on the bus.
Over the years, she said, as she has worked through her recovery that God has had to whisper that to her by the power of the Holy Spirit. When a problem seemed to drag on too long and was too hard and boring.
"If you want an over-the-top experience, you've got to get on the bus," Clairmont said. "You've got to come with ears to hear, with a heart that's open and receptive and give God permission to speak to you in just the way he would want to."
Clairmont made the crowd laugh when she told that when her husband decided to follow Christ, he was asked who had the biggest impact on his life.
"Oh, my wife, because when her life changed, I knew there had to be a God," she said. "So if you're a big mess, good for you, 'cause it will give all the glory to the Lord when you change."
That happened, she said, when she started working on her own problems instead of telling her husband that he needed to make changes in his life.
Clairmont told the women that she loves kaleidoscopes because they are full of broken pieces that, when placed inside of a tube and held to the light, make incredible patterns. That's what God wants to do with people's lives, she said.
"He takes the bits and pieces, the broken things, the things that we can't redeem but he is able to use in ways we couldn't have imagined," Clairmont said. "He collects that up, and when held to his light, suddenly beautiful patterns come forth from our lives."
She said that kaleidoscopes also remind her of the Old Testament book of Proverbs because "it's bits and pieces of life-giving counsel that when placed inside our heart and life makes a difference in the way we interact with others."
The book of Proverbs is filled with wisdom, including how to deal with people. Clairmont said that left on her own, she tends to say things that are unkind, or can react negatively when confronted by someone with an attitude.
But Proverbs 15:1 talks about responding with a soft answer, instead of angry words or sarcasm.
"When we speak a kind word, it helps us and it helps the other person and it builds within us additional dignity," she said. "There is dignity that comes with right choices and that dignity is that sense of feeling good about who you are and what you have to offer another person."
She closed by saying many of the women have suffered loss and pain, and that God has "brought you to this place for holy purposes."
"I would encourage you to lean in, to open your heart and let the spirit of God press into you and his truth and his comfort and his protection and his direction," she said. "He longs to meet you where you're at."