There is no other word for this moment other than ‘MERCY!’ Mercy seems to be such an appropriate word during so many of my blog posts lol. Could it have taken me any longer to get this post done? I mean, it probably could have, but I’ve put it off for looooooooong enough.
I’ve struggled with the words for this one again and again. The experience for me was great, difficult, amazing, challenging and so much more. So it’s a little hard to put all of that into a post.
Here’s a little excerpt from my blog the day after IF ended and I had time by myself on Sunday morning:
(click on the picture if you need it larger)
So here’s to trying to summarize my experience at the IF Gathering!
First, let me just say that they pulled off one amazing experience for the attendees. It was incredibly thought through and intentional at every turn.
Venue: Austin Music Hall
My first surprise was SO MANY of the women there were from Austin. I had been a part of a Facebook group and from that exposure it seemed that there were really a lot of people in the same boat as I was: intended to go with friends but tickets sold out too quickly, so going alone. I was expecting to get there and be surrounded by people who could relate. Not so much! A LOT of groups…. a lot of big groups from Austin. In fact one girl even mentioned to me that until she got there she had not realized that it wasn’t an event exclusive to Austinites! My friend from college, Brittany, was my saving grace. Truly. She was there as a volunteer so we didn’t get to experience the sessions together but she saved me a SWEET seat near the front right from the beginning. I would have been on the last row had it not been for this girl! We haven’t seen each other since college but she was exactly what I needed over the weekend and she was a breath of fresh air. I ended up staying with her at her friend’s house in a delightfully large queen bed with plenty of space for two! We had SO MUCH great conversation and she was the highlight of my trip.
Brittany and me!
The table setups were beautiful:
View from upstairs (where it was just chairs), looking down:
So here’s the deal about me. I am not without my insecurities. By the grace of God, I have come into so much healing from the Lord but like so many of you – I have my vulnerable buttons that are still works in progress. Well, the seat that Brittany saved for me was amazing. It was up close and personal. It was also smack dab in the middle of a group of very sweet girls. Very sweet girls who had been friends since college – which went back more than ten years. They were so kind to me and made a point to pull me in as much as possible. Truly. But, sista, there is just no way around the awkwardness that is jumping right into the middle of a group of girls that has been friends for more than ten years. Do you laugh at the jokes you clearly don’t get the punch line to? Do you ask for the back story to each story you can only halfway follow because – hello – you just weren’t there. Do you try to really establish relationships with these new friends or do you act aloof because again – hello – we are parting ways in a mere 16 hours. I would say that I muddled through the dynamic fairly well but must be honest in saying that it was a distraction for me. My emotions were frustrated to be dealing with what seemed to be old feelings of insecurity. Until at one point on Saturday, it was like the Holy Spirit gave me a little shake and said ‘ABI! It’s not you! It’s not your problem! It’s a weird situation and most anyone in your shoes would find it to be.’ Well thank you Lord for truth! So it wasn’t the social dynamic I imagined walking into for the weekend, but I think it was exactly what the Lord used to prod me to the points He wanted to make.
Me (pink sleeve) and the group of girls….see? Very nice!
I could pull out my notes and try to recap each speaker but I’m not kidding when I say – there were so many speakers that this post would never ever see the light of day if I did that. So I’ll just rattle off my highlights:
And I will tell you why each of them were highlights for me.
Jennie Allen – I barely knew who Jennie Allen was but she is someone the Lord is definitely using to call up the next generation of women in the Body of Christ. That sounds pretty Christianese but I don’t know how else to say it. She’s the visionary behind IF and the thing that stirred me so deeply about Jennie was her normalcy. She was no superstar. She was you. She was me. She was just 100% committed to what she felt the Lord was asking her to do. She’s a mom of a handful and a wife and a writer and a visionary. If you’re not familiar with her, become familiar with her.
Rebekah Lyons – I really want to be her friend someday. Rebekah is one of those people who gets up to speak in front of 1,200 and somehow makes you feel that it’s just she and you sharing a story together. She told a transparent story of the journey the Lord has taken her on over the past years. She and her husband moved their family and organization from Atlanta to New York City a few years ago. She told the humbling story of the anxiety attacks she began to deal with as a New Yorker and the 18 month struggle she endured with the Lord through it until healing came. What a normal, transparent woman. She said this: “Calling is where your talents and your burdens collide.” Let that roll around a bit! She also encouraged each person to think back to themselves as a child….what purely thrilled your heart as an 8 year old? Sometimes those are the things we should remember when pursuing what God has for our lives. Like I said, I really want to be her friend someday.
Christine Caine – I mean she’s power packed. But the thing she said that STILL rings in my ears is ‘Why would I allow what happened for the first 18 years of my life to dictate and color how I lived the next 36 years of my life?” She’s 48 now as was referring to a lot of trauma she endured up until she was 18 years old. She wasn’t saying that it’s not important to allow the Lord time to heal but rather that there comes a point where we wake up and choose to walk in freedom. She also kept driving home the point that you can be delivered but not free of something. I think the semantics are a little confusing, but the heart of it is right on. You can allow the Lord to ‘deal’ with something in you but still allow it to color your heart. It is possible however to walk with a new heart. Again, let that roll around a bit!
Ann Voscamp. Oh Ann. She did a number on me. Her content was deep and it was rich. But more than anything, she was the one God used most for me over the course of the weekend. I have not read her book, I read only a few of her blog posts, and I had never seen or heard her in person. May I just say, Ann marches to the beat of her own drum. She fits into no mold that I can think of. Her physical voice sounds like no one else’s. She is dramatic. Words flow and swish and sway out of her. She is poetic. Her hair is different than anyone else’s. While many sported long flowing locks of femininity, she styled short angular hair. I mean, truly, she was in her own category in just about every sense. Which leads me to what the Lord was sharing with me in a snowball kind of way throughout the conference:
Somewhere along the line many years ago, I became convinced that I needed to filter myself. It had both noble and wonky origins. Noble in the sense that I wanted to filter my words and expressions in order to take in to consideration how they would impact the person I was communicating with. That’s good. Wonky in the sense that I also wanted to not stand out too much, to be able to identify the normal in any dynamic I was in and flow with that vibe, etc. I’m not even sure that makes sense to anyone but me. But it’s been a very real presence in my life. Sometimes it is GOOD to be filtered because it makes your words count more. But for me, I think the Lord pulled the covers back on how out of balance my filter has become.
Frankly, I hesitate to even share that because I’m still uncertain as to what He wants to do with that. That filter has become so entrenched in my way of processing that I don’t even know it’s there most of the time. It’s the thing that thinks through my words before I speak to make sure they make sense. It’s the thing that holds me back from saying truth because it sounds whacked out. It’s the thing that holds me back from saying something if I feel the recipient won’t agree or get it. It’s the thing that makes me hold back the free flow of who I really am from time to time.
Now, this isn’t to say that you don’t know the real me. You do! I just think there’s more. I’m not sure how the Lord will choose to deal with it because it’s really going to take a lot of work on His part to walk me through even realizing when I am filtering!
But man alive, as I was processing the next day over breakfast, He was pointing to Ann Voscamp and saying ‘Now THERE is a woman who is unfiltered, Abi! Let her example stir you to put it all out there.’ And then, as only He could…He set me up for one of the most sacred moments of the entire conference.
I got to the airport and savored my alone time in a seat at a random gate and then about ten minutes before I was supposed to board, I walked over to my gate and leaned against the windows. A few minutes later I looked up and my eyes immediately fell on a head of short angular hair bent over something in her lap. My heart began to pound out of my chest. I started to sweat. It was most definitely Ann Voscamp. Everything inside of my flesh screamed ‘noooooooo don’t even think of approaching her!’ while my spirit knew that I was at the right place at the right time and there really wasn’t much of a choice as to what was about to happen. My sweating went to a whole new level. She was sandwiched between people seated and waiting to board so I knew if I went over to her – there would be nothing private about our exchange. Felt like the Lord bolted my feet to the ground and told me to just stay where I was. Of course, they start boarding our SouthWest flight where you line up before entering the plane. And yep, she walks straight over to me and slows to a crawl just in front of my face. Voice shaking “Um, are you Ann?” She smiled so warmly and said yes. “I, um,” (start crying – not even kidding) “am not going to talk to you for more than two minutes so don’t be freaked out. But, I (through tears that only come from sensing the spirit of God so strongly you have no other choice) just wanted to say thank you (gulp gulp) for being so unfiltered this weekend. It meant so much to me. And if you needed any encouragement in the wake of the conference – let this be it. What you did mattered.” Those words sound so smooth as I type them…. let me assure you they rambled out of my mouth as I cried through them….not smooth.
I’m not going to share what Ann said in return because it was so personal to her that I just don’t feel it’s mine to share. But long and short, she started crying just about when I did. She hugged me so tightly and looked me right in the eyes and encouraged me to really go for it. That it’s worth it. It’s worth it all. We exchanged for probably two minutes and then it was over. I didn’t stop crying for five minutes straight after we parted ways though. It was holy ground we stood on and it was the Lord calling me into the unfiltered way. I still don’t even know what it means. But I want to find out. She was human and real and deeply affected by God. Lord, do your work in my heart.
What a long post right? And did I even give a very good recap of the conference? No! LOL. But I am thankful to let what has been churning in my heart, out.
The If Gathering will hold another conference next year in Austin. February 6&7. Please don’t make me go alone again next year!!!!
P.S….. This is me Saturday morning before the second day of the conference. So. Tired. Please come with me next year and share this exhaustion with me: