One of the things that I find so difficult after experiencing the IF:Gathering is knowing how to adequately answer the inevitable question, "How did it go?" For me, this question is even more difficult than explaining what IF:Gathering is.
For those of you who don't know, IF:Gathering is an organization that creates tools and experiences to be used by leaders in the local church to make disciples that make disciples. These tools include the annual IF:Gathering conference that takes place in Austin, TX and is simulcast to viewing groups around the world, IF:Equip a daily online Bible study, IF:Table a plan for monthly dinners with a group of friends where you make time for real conversation about things that matter, among others.
Last weekend was the annual conference, and I had the privilege of helping organize one of the local gatherings in Boston. My life, both on the internet and off, was saturated with this event, so it's only right that I would be asked about how the weekend was. I find myself struggling to put into words my experience. I want to do it justice and do justice to the God who was so evident throughout the weekend. I want people to see how truly amazing it was. I want them to be as enthusiastic as I feel.
This place of not knowing how to share your experience can feel a little lonely. And even lonelier still is when it is met with a lackluster response from those that you hoped would be the most enthusiastic. Maybe you've struggled with this too.
While it is easy to answer with some of the simple descriptions.
"It was great!"
"I got a lot out of the speakers. Here's who they were..."
"The venue was really beautiful. I especially loved the..."
"This is the part that I wish was different... I really didn't like that."
I don't think that any of these really sum up what the weekend was like. They are the safe answers. They are the bullet points. They won't overwhelm the person who asked, or make me seem hyper religious or crazy. Of course the bullet points are all true but they don't really capture all of what really happened and help me share my experience. It also doesn't really help me communicate why others should be involved and why it was worth all the effort.
If I have more time, and I knew you really wanted to hear more I might share a few of the many points that stuck with me.
My second approach to answer is a little deeper. The problem is, with twelve hours of content, I don't think there is anyway to really sum it all up. I leave every year feeling like I drank from a firehose. Good things are coming so fast and so hard only a fraction of what is said actually gets into me, the task of making that into a quick response is so far beyond my ability.
When I try to chose only one or two things, how do you even start to pick which?
Do I chose between Jo Saxton sharing about how what you see in your own life is so vastly different from how God sees it, or Eugene Cho talking about how God knows everything about us and still loves us deeply?
Do I tell about an IJM staff person sharing their own story of despair and how God has transformed it into joy as she is able to reach others in despair as she works to free slaves in India?
How about Bianca Olthoff's hilarious description of the raising of Lazarus from Mary's perspective?
Or Jen Hatmaker's teaching on loving recklessly because that is how Jesus loved, and the true expectation that it will be hard and others won't understand it or like it?
Do I share about how David Platt urged the church to wake up to the fact that people are dying every day not knowing Jesus?
How about the panel discussions on suffering with Rebekah Lyons, Katherine Wolf and Larissa Murphy, or the panel about racial reconciliation, or the importance of our community being made of up people in different places in life.
I might chose to tell about when Jennie Allen started off the time of confession by going first, being a humble leader and doing the hard things in example or when Angie Smith spoke at the end teaching from the story of Abraham and Isaac and confessing how her insecurity almost kept her from being obedient to God.
The list just goes on and on. There is just too much, and one thing alone isn't enough.
When I peel the answer to the question back another layer, there is the yet deeper answer that shares the way that lives were changed through the weekend.
I know this sounds dramatic, but it is true. Throughout the weekend women heard from God in real and vibrant ways. They were given healing from long festering wounds that brought them so much shame. They found new direction and left with marching orders for their next step in faith. They were convicted of places in their lives where they were disobedient to God, and they were reminded that they were enough because they had Jesus and he was more than enough. Even more miraculous are the stories that I will never know. The careers that were vastly changed because of the way that women met God; the abuse women were able to walk away from, the relationships that were built that will stand the test of time, the way children will grow knowing a family that is rooted in their faith of Jesus, slaves who will literally be freed and the people who will come to know how much God loves them because of the lives that these women go out and live in freedom. It is staggering and humbling to play a role in this.
These aren't my stories to tell, but I can assure you that they are happening all our Boston, and around the world.
If we had a lot of time, and I really knew I could trust you, I might even share how my own life was changed this past weekend. How in the little things, I heard from a God who reassured me that He was more than enough to make my big dream, no maybe it is really my calling a reality. That He tenderly reassured me that while Boston as been the right place for us for a season, He is beginning a new season. He has good things planned for me in Minnesota. In some way that I can't see now, it is vital not only for me and my family but also for His Kingdom that we move. I was reassured that when I am in times of testing, and am asked to lay down the things that are so dear to me, the ones that seem vital to my identity and calling it is not only okay but it is right. There is no other place to put them than on the alter before God. And the most powerful of all was the reassurance that the audacious whisper of a calling years ago was from Him and in His time it could-no will become a reality.
This year instead of sitting in the loneliness and not knowing what to say, I'm trying something new. When someone asks how the IF:Gathering was, I'm going to respond with an invitation and a little courage. Don't we all really want to know a God who is alive, changes the most difficult circumstances, and offers us love and freedom?
"It was really great, but it is so hard to put in words. I would love to share it with you. Bowie about coffee? Maybe dinner? Would you be interested in watching with me sometime, or joining me next year?"
If you would like to watch the IF:Gathering 2016, it is available here for digital download. The SD version is all you need if you are watching on a television or computer. The HD is available for those that would like to show it on a large screen.