I didn’t know it yet, but in February of 2014 I was on the cusp of a new season of my life—a wilderness season, a season of transition and spiritual transformation.
I had managed to be one of 1200 women who registered for the very first IF:Gathering in Austin. This was no small feat, as apparently the Gathering sold out within 45 minutes of registration opening. No one knew that this first-time event would draw such a demanding interest, but it did, and many of us who were able to get a ticket for ourself weren’t so lucky as to get a second ticket for the friend we were hoping to go with. Stepping out in faith and trusting that God was up to something, I made plans to attend IF:Austin alone.
For an introvert, the thought of going to a conference by one’s self was actually kind of amazing.
No one to distract me from why God has brought me here! I thought.
No one will know my name or know my story or know my struggles! I thought.
No one will judge the nameless girl in the back who worships sitting down! I thought.
No one will pay attention to the emotional wreck of a mess I will probably be! I thought.
Going by myself is going to be freaking amazing.
And then one day as the Gathering was drawing nearer, a woman of the name Cara from Spokane, Washington reached out to me on Facebook and asked if I needed a roommate in Austin to split the cost of a hotel room. It wasn’t long before I had a new friend, who rearranged her plans to fly into DFW (instead of Austin) so that we could drive to Austin together and get to know each other before the 2-day Gathering. I didn’t know much about Cara before our weekend at IF, but she was an instant friend—there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to approach this friendship and this weekend in Austin with a posture of openness, ready to receive, and perhaps even ready to make a friend or two and to be a friend.
IF came and went. I was able to see and hear the familiar voices of women whose words I read regularly, such as Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker, and Christine Caine. I was introduced to unfamiliar voices, such as Jennie Allen, Rebekah Lyons, Annie Lobert and Bianca Olthoff. I came home with a tearstained notebook full of scribbled notes and prayers. I came home with new friends and a renewed sense of sisterhood and friendship. I came home with uncovered wounds and a realization that I have an anxiety problem that I need to deal with. I came home pleasantly surprised that women’s conferences are in fact capable of taking women seriously, equipping us and empowering us to take up our crosses. I came home with a hopeful heart—hopeful for unity among women.
I also came home burdened because my new friend, Cara, a recovering evangelical and practicing Lutheran, didn’t quite feel at home in a large room full of women who seemingly looked and believed all the same. I, myself, am a recovering evangelical, but I have never left the evangelical church so it’s still familiar and homey for me (even when it is anxiety-producing). I listened to Cara as we drove back to Fort Worth from Austin and reflected on the Gathering with her as she processed and shared with me the wounds and longings from the depths of her heart and her experiences. One of the reasons we had both been so quick to jump on board with IF to begin with is because of the vision that had been cast to cross denominational and theological boundaries, to welcome in those of us who feel a bit on “the outside” of the mainstream, to build bridges instead of fences between women in the Church. Sarah Bessey, a dear sister whose words Cara and I have both deeply appreciated and held tightly to for years had penned this in her first endorsement of IF. We had read this and we wanted to be a part of it. We had both expected this. And while the programming and the line-up of speakers represented the diversity (for the most part) that women’s events so desperately need, when you gather a thousand or more people into a single venue for a short time there is bound to be someone cast in the margins, someone who seemingly doesn’t belong. Especially when the demographic of the women sitting in the chairs represented a very narrow sliver of what the divine sisterhood actually looks like.
Which is why I wanted to bring IF home. Which is why I decided to not go back to Austin, but rather create the IF experience in my own community, in my own church, and the beautiful diversity within it—the young and the old, the light skinned and the dark skinned, the married and the singles, the stay-at-home-mothers and the working mothers and the non-mothers, the progressives and the traditionalists, the egalitarians and the complimentarians. I want to step out in prayer so that we might build bridges among the women in our own faith community and make it a truly safe place for everyone, no matter what your story is and where you are at in your story now. I want to pull up a seat at the table for every woman.
I still believe in IF…and I believe in it even more in the context of local communities. IF:Local is the heart and soul of the IF:Gathering and where the original vision of IF can be fully activated and lived out. I trust and know that the IF:Gathering team is learning and growing and doing their part in making the Gathering more inclusive of the body of Christ and all of its diversity. In a recent video conference with IF:Local leaders, IF founder Jennie Allen shared her heart for providing resources and tools to help us women learn and lead out in the journey toward racial reconciliation in the church. She has brought Latasha Morrison, a bridge-builder and modern day abolitionist, on board the IF team and I am so thrilled that Latasha’s role for IF will be as an IF:Local HOST! I look forward to getting to know Latasha and learning from her in February during the IF:Local livestream.
My prayer and my hope for the women of IF:Northwood is for unity, for bridge-building, for deeper and more honest relationships, for a faith big enough that it extends into all the corners of our lives, that we can become agents of change in our homes, in our church, in our places of work, in our extended families, that we can become women who love other women well and who bring peace to other women, women who love ourselves well so that we can have the confidence in Christ and the bravery to step out in boldness, despite the uncertainty of our unique callings.
In my continued season of transition, as I lean into my calling and the waiting and spiritual transformation that goes along with it, I’m reminded of Christine Caine’s key message from IF:Austin: “God has called us to be free, not just delivered and wondering around in the wilderness. Why sit in the wilderness when we can be in the Promised Land free?”
We have been set free, y’all. And there are no dividing walls in the Promised Land. May we live our lives like we believe that.
Will you be so brave and consider joining me on February 6-7, 2015 at Northwood Church?