A few weeks ago I got to go to a brand new women’s conference, called the IF:Gathering. It was put together by one of my favorite writers, Jennie Allen. Basically, the theme of the gathering was “If God is real, then what?” The teaching cohesively centered around Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
You can read more about the phenomenon side of the conference in this excellent article from Christianity Today.
I just want to share how it felt to be there, just sitting and soaking. First of all, I rarely ever get to sit and soak. Just to be somewhere not in charge of anything was enough of a gift in itself! I love coordinating, but we all need a little “sit & soak” time in our lives.((photo credit))
The conference was in the Austin Music Hall downtown, and the venue tightly squeezed in all 1200 of us. As I walked in, I could feel the insecurity in the room. People (including me) glanced “purposefully” toward their phones as we all filed in, sitting across from complete strangers at trendy wooden tables set with whimsical centerpieces.
I knew we were all in this together. I knew we were all practically bursting to be there at last, but before those first lights went down, I made zero smalltalk effort, and only talked to the friend I came with.
The lights went down eventually, and I sat back in my chair waiting for what they said would make this conference “different.” So far, the difference was in the tables. Typically, conference-goers sit in impersonal rows at conferences like this one, heightening the volume of people admitted inside, but diminishing the make-new-friends factor.
But then, within the first session, before we even had an official bathroom break, we had a discussion break. With the people sitting at our tables. So me, one who has planned out conferences and events before, immediately thought: AWKWARD. I read those questions; they were not silly icebreakers about your favorite vacation spot or childhood memory. These were questions that dug deep down in the soul. Ones that made me squirm even to answer to Ashley, one of my dearest friends.
What’s between you and peace with God right now?
What do you need to throw off?
What are you afraid of?
What could happen if you were free?
To avoid the inevitable awkward to come, I stepped into facilitator role. [At least then I could have some control on the amount of awkward, right?] But then, whoosh. It was like we opened the floodgates of emotion and vulnerability, ones that had been locked up tightly.
These women- we had to introduce ourselves by name at least before diving in- were desperate to share. I’ll admit it is sometimes easier to tell strangers secrets from the depths than it is to tell friends seen every week, but it was still surprising. One lady told her heartbreaking adoption story- of a child she will never get to call her own. I cried with her as she re-lived the gut-wrenching details, and as she voiced how distant she felt from God now, because she didn’t understand it. Neither did I, but I know that He does.
Others shared throughout the weekend of their frustration at home with the lack of true community they had. I was saddened to sit and listen to these women, because at some point it hit me- we are all having these same thoughts. We are all screaming inside to share, to be open and honest and rebuked and loved and rejoiced over and mourned with and this loneliness that is driving women into isolation? It is affecting more than we could possibly guess.
Isn’t that surprising? We’re all walking around with perfect hair and jealous hearts and Jesus said Come.
Thankfully, I do have community and girls around me I do feel able to share openly with, and they feel like they can share openly with me too. It is so not perfect, but oh-so-liberating. ((photo credit))
I loved the conference for so many reasons; I loved the way it brought together so many women and gave us all the chance to practice sharing together. I loved how unified everyone was around the gospel of Jesus Christ, even though there were millions of theological differences in the room. The Bible was given ultimate authority, and we sat under it in grace and truth. Doctrine is so important but the shouting gets exhausting.
Um… yeah. That simple.
Also the conference was well-organized, decorated beautifully, the worship was incredible, I got to enjoy a weekend away with Ashley, got to eat good food in foodie-city, and left challenged, refreshed, and energized. It left me asking the question, yes… What IF?