IF: a story of listening, hoping, and watching

i’ve been trying to write about IF:Gathering for a week… part of my problem could be the ‘brain fog’ effects of chemo (seriously- i think part of my brain dissolves each week), and part is probably the scope of this topic.  i have not yet explained it well out loud, and this is my 9th attempt at writing about it.  i’m resigned to the fact that this will be 2 posts, and neither may be clear or worth reading… but sometimes you’ve just got to get the words out of your head before you explode.
at its core, the IF:Gathering is simple:  IF God is real, then what?  
should our lives look different based on what we believe?  
yes- IF God is real, then we want more than anything to live like it. 
is this radical? new, innovative, and provocative?
nope.  not new at all, really- every generation gets a fresh wind, an opportunity to revisit their faith and examine their lives.  do my every day actions match up with what i believe God is asking of me? how am i supposed to live out God’s purpose for me in my place?
and the answers are not new, either.  
Gather together to build relationships and seek God together.  
Equip each other with prayer and scripture.  
Unleash our God-given potential by partnering with others who are already helping, uplifting, feeding, educating, and healing people in our nation and around the world.
these are not new concepts.  this isn’t a fad that will look dated in a few years, unable to adapt to the next generations of spiritual seekers- it’s actually a continuation of what has been true in the church all along, though we sometimes forget.  the details of how we gather will change and adapt, but the heart of gathering, praying, reading, and helping is timeless.
the best part about IF is that it isn’t about gathering under their banner and uniting women to follow these leaders as they create a new way.  it’s the same Banner… the same Way. 
even the brand is a reminder of the purpose: IF i believe God exists, how can i live like it?  here. today. in my place, with my people, my resources, my limitations- i have a God-given purpose here, and i want to live it faithfully.
i had a ticket to the first IF:Gathering in Austin, but our cross-country move and the timing of Matt’s examination by our new presbytery made it unwise for me to attend in 2014. i watched the digital downloads while unpacking boxes and re-arranging furniture, occasionally dashing over to my notebook to write something down.  i wanted to share it with my new friends here, but i also hesitated to add another ‘good thing’ to an already strong women’s ministry.  women are gathering together for prayer and Bible study, they are caring for each other and their neighbors, they are seeking to live the Gospel in every day ways… would another ‘thing’ be just an added stress?  i put it in my calendar to talk to our women’s ministry director in September, just to offer the resource, but i knew it might not be the right time. September came, and i was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I didn’t make any plans for February.  i didn’t make anymore plans at all… i tend to curl up and hide when i’m hurt, preferring to deal with pain privately (which is a whole other topic), so IF was not at all on my radar.
i kept up with the IF:Equip Bible studies on my own, continued getting the emails about IF:Table, saw the excitement build for IF:Pray and IF:Local gatherings…  and i was a little sad that i was on the outside.  here is this resource to uplift and encourage and create community for women, and it’s passing us by.  
but God… right? isn’t that always His way?  sometime around Thanksgiving,  halfway through chemo and unable to get out of bed, i knew i wasn’t supposed to hide from this opportunity.  why watch the IF:Gathering alone when my couch could hold 4? and isn’t there room for a few chairs across the room- could 8 people fit in that space?  i felt that desire to gather women, to grow in unity, to pursue healing and freedom together.  there was a corner of fear in my heart to even ask… i’ve been hiding away from them, why would they want to come here?  especially now, knowing how little i have to offer?
they said yes.  and i began dreaming that i would be well enough to create an environment of welcome, a beautiful space for connection to each other and to God. i had days when i felt energetic and creative, and i used those times to pull out the hot glue and dig through recipes i longed to eat.  even that week, the first of february, i had a little window of improvement- off to the grocery for ingredients!  i was thrilled to hang curtains in our family room, place some candles, prepare some little surprises for my friends…
then february 6 arrived… bitterly cold (-7 degrees at sunrise) and spitting snow on top of the 16+ inches already accumulated.
from my kitchen sink, i could see the snow half swallowing the tree trunks… deep footprints in the snow where Spike, our neighbors’ awesome black horse  dog took his morning walk. 
i tried to think of their names- the 8 women who would be coming over that evening expecting… what? i’m not sure i ever adequately explained what we were doing, so maybe they didn’t even know what they had said yes to!
i tried to drag my mind back to their names- their faces- their stories.  i know these little pieces of their lives, fragments of pain and fear and questions. i have glimpses of their joys and what makes them come alive, but there is so much more that makes them whole. so much more story inside each of them.
i wanted to pray hopefully and expectantly for our time together, but my mind was cloudy.  my heart was racing too fast, skipping beats, making me dizzy.  this last round of chemo dealt a late, low blow… i couldn’t get my body under control no matter how much medication i took.  i was unable to hydrate, unable to hold nutrients in my already weak body.  i couldn’t even stand long enough to cook the meals i had planned.  and while the food would be prepared by loving hands and the messes whisked away from my sight (thank you matt, bailey, jessie, ty, and brian), i felt defeated. would i be able to share in this gathering with my friends, or would i be too sick to even be in the room?  
instead of praying for my friends, i just cried: 
i thought i was supposed to do this, Lord. You asked me to do this.  
why am i falling apart now?
then the assurance came: no matter what, this weekend is not about what you do.  it is about what I am doing in each of their hearts- for them, for their gain, for My glory.  you are already done.  you invited them, you set the stage for Me to speak, and now you get to watch Me… just watch.
 (Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His Promises to her. Luke 1:45)
so that is what i did.  
i couldn’t stand at the stove to cook, so i sat in the chair and pointed to where my utensils are found and i listened and laughed while they did the work.
i couldn’t sing loud to overcome the potential awkwardness of small group worship, so i whispered the words, worshipped in my heart, and smiled at the beauty of the voices around me- beautiful hearts singing to their Creator.
i couldn’t eat the food i had been craving and planning, but i watched the women i love enjoying fellowship around the table and was thankful for applesauce and bone broth and the healing of my body.
i couldn’t know ahead of time all that God was planning to do in our hearts- 9 women, 1 small room, 1000 little ways of changing us and moving us forward in faith- but i watched their faces. i saw the tears. i saw the words written and underlined. i listened to them question aloud and heard unspoken fear and conviction…  

here is a taste of what God gave us…
“it is not about us- not the measure of our faith. God has already measured up on our behalf.”  -jennie allen
“do not stop valuing the gifts God gave you because they don’t look like the gifts you value.”  (paraphrase) -angie smith
“revival resuscitates believers first- it begins in us.”
“the fullness of you gives back, extends grace, gives a lift because Jesus’ fullness is the brightest part of you.”  -rebekah lyons
“when you believe someone, eventually you start believing what they say about you.”
“don’t wait until you have full knowledge of God to take full possession of Him.”
“faith doesn’t erase doubt and insecurity, it just overcomes them.” 
– jen hatmaker
“our repentance is the scent of our love.” – ann voskamp
“you cannot live in the past and lay hold of the future- let go of what is dead and move on.”  – christine caine
“pay attention to the depression, the sadness, the numbness.  these are signs that something is seriously wrong.”
“women are the greatest untapped resource in the world.” – lynne hybels
“God is who He says He is, so let’s take steps of faith.”  – esther havens
and so much more… i’m still grasping for the confidence to believe what God told me, how to take my faith step.
i am just thankful to have been in the room.
my biggest regret is that my couch only holds this many… there are honestly 100+ women i wanted to gather with this weekend.  if not for the chemo, i would have tried!  
but know this: February 5-6  2016, IF:Simsbury… you’re invited.  i’ll get a bigger couch.  
you can purchase the digital download of the IF:Gathering HERE.  
it’s worth it, i promise!


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