IF:Gathering: Finding My Messy Community
In the fall of 2013, I was invited by one my closest friends Lindsey Nobles, to attend a retreat with 60 other women in Austin, Texas to hear about the vision of a new ministry called IF:GATHERING. I had no idea what to expect or who would be there and to be honest, I really didn’t want to go. I was in the midst of some major changes for me and my family and for the first time in a long time, I felt a bit lost and fragile. The last thing I needed was to be surrounded by a group of women changing the world one confident step at a time.
If you know Lindsey, you would know she’s the type of friend that refuses to let you struggle alone and is bold enough to drag you out of your insecurity right into the loving arms of community.
And so I went…
And just like I knew I would, I found myself surrounded by a bunch of world-changing women, who were as passionate about changing the world, as they were their calling. Founder Jennie Allen shared her heart for IF:Gathering to become a ministry that would gather, equip, and unleash women to live out God’s call on their lives. I tried hard not to roll my eyes as she spoke because deep down I knew the sacrifice of ministry and apparently she was too naïve to know better. I tried even harder to hide my fragile heart because I absolutely loathed feeling like I was the only one in the room who didn’t have it together, who wasn’t ready to charge the next hill all in the name of calling and because I know women.
Women are incredibly critical.
Women are extremely competitive.
Women are often insecure bullies.
I left the retreat feeling more defeated than when I came. I felt alone in my wrestling. I knew what stepping out in faith meant. I knew what it was like to answer the question “What IF” and give up everything I know and love for the cause of Christ. I’d experienced “risking it all” more than once and was burned relationally along the way. Maybe life wasn’t meant to be lived bravely, risking and trusting all in the name of Christ. Maybe guarded and cautious was truly the wiser way to live. Maybe all this talk about boldly living out our calling was a bunch of self-help jargon to make us feel better about our lives?
So when I attend the first official launch of IF:Gathering in February of 2014, I went more to support Lindsey than to support the vision. But God, in only a way he could, used IF:Gathering as a launching pad to surround me with some amazing friendships. Friendships rekindled and some brand new with women who would bravely and boldly love me in my mess of uncertainty and jaded disbelief. Who stayed true to their words by faithfully believing in me personally and professionally when I didn’t have the capacity to believe in myself.
Because of their love and belief in me, I’ve had a drastic change in how I see myself and my calling. I’ve learned it is better to be in messy community than alone in my own mess. That when we love like Jesus (who was the master of loving messy people) our natural response is to love others with the same kind of love. That there is power in seeing each other beyond our titles, age, race or seasons of life. Because at the end of day, we are all daughters of the King who makes room for ALL OF US at his table.
But it comes at a cost.
If we want to be fully known in order to be fully loved, then we have to be willing to be fully honest and vulnerable. We have to be willing to have the hard conversations most would rather avoid. Conversations like how we often make each other feel uninvited and undervalued; How marriage, raising children and relationships can be as difficult as it is beautiful when trying to live out our calling. How every day is a choice to choose to encourage, instead of criticize; speak hard truth in love, instead of gossip and invite each other in rather than compete.
I’m excited to be a part of IF:Gathering this year and I’m praying for those of you who are feeling alone in your mess and calling. I’m praying you will choose to be brave and find your own messy community. Is it risky? Yes! Are there women who will still gossip, compete and bully? Absolutely.
But what if you chose to go first by gathering a group of women in your local community in need of an invitation to messy community? What if you created a community where women could gather and wrestle with how to love a each other like Jesus loved in order to love a hurting world? What if you loved so boldly you could unleash the women around you to begin living fully alive in their callings. WHAT IF?