A year ago, as I prayed about starting this blog - as I scribbled down name ideas and possible topics on a sheet of ripped paper, I had no idea how significant blogging would soon become in my life. And at the start of 2012, when I slowly began connecting with real women through blogs who shared many of my heart's convictions, I could not imagine how special they would become to me. I simply ran with the "kite tail" the Lord gave me, and began chasing a crazy dream - a dream that writing and sharing my heart on the Internet would mean something. Would maybe touch somebody. I obeyed God's pressing on my heart early this year and I poured out my story and heart and life on this little space. Little did I know the fruit that would come of that step of faith. Oh, no - not because of how great I am, not because of my writing or photography skills, not because of my fashion sense or great theological insight. No, not because of me at all. Jesus has taken my face in His hands and has healed, restored, and loved on me through blogging. Through being honest and real. But mostly, through your stories. Through the other blogs I have found and read and resonated with. Through e-mails I've received. Through realizing, "I'm not the only one who feels this way" or "I'm not the only one who struggles with this..." or "I'm not the only one who has this dream." And oh, has it be healing. I never expected to attend The Influence Conference. Where I've been this year in my life, there was no way I could financially work it out. But thanks to God opening a door through some of His generous and obedient daughters, I was able to go. And it was really, really special.
I am still processing all I learned, saw, experienced, and felt at the conference. But I would like to share some gems I took away from my time in Indianapolis.
one // Blogging friends can truly become real friends.
I realized, afresh, how special this little world we call blogging is. How amazing it is that through a space on this thing called "the Internet" we can connect with like-minded people we would have never otherwise had the chance to meet. From the moment I landed in Chicago all through Influence Conference, I was blown away by how God's hand was on the weekend. On the friendships forming. And how He planned it all out so perfectly in ways we could not have imagined! I've gotta tell you, hugging a sister in Christ whose face you've seen only on a computer screen and whose heart you've known only through emails, Skype chat, and blog posts - it's one of the most special experiences! Months ago, when I first dove head-first into blogging, I got some criticism about this blog world. People who didn't understand why anyone would desire to take the time to write posts when information overload surrounds us in this culture. Why anyone would desire to take time away from their "real friends" to connect with people through a computer screen. Well, I realized afresh how beautiful blogging is as I experienced Influence - time and time again I heard women reiterate, "This is real life!" How joyful it was to see how using a platform on the Internet for good can be such a ministry, such a positive element of life. Blog friends can be real friends. And these posts, connections, comments and emails? That's as real as it gets. Last weekend seared that in my heart and I won't soon forget it.
From the moment I stepped into the beautiful hotel, my heart was full. And honestly, going into the conference, I didn't realize how emotionally stirring it would be. From being warmly welcomed by the community leaders to running into ladies I recognized who embraced me with open arms. The sessions proved to be incredibly informative and helpful. The speakers were all wise in their own unique ways, and I came home with a full Moleskin book of notes. Yet, it went deeper than just learning facts or tips from experts. It was life. And it was moving. I am a very emotional person, I always have been. That's how God made me. But I found my emotions were more raw than usual during Influence. I found myself wiping away tears in more than one session, in more than one meaningful conversation, at more than one dinner date with friends. It was good and needed, but unexpected. And in all honesty, among all the good and beautiful - it was also overwhelming. And exhausting. Meeting new people, the weariness that comes from relating and traveling and shifting time zones and weather climates. It was real life, which is painful and messy and beautiful. And so be prepared, you 2013 conference-goers. :) Be prepared that you might feel a bit more tender and emotional than usual. If the Lord opens the door for me to attend next year, I am most definitely bringing Kleenex!
three // "Your mess can be your ministry." - Casey Wiegand.
Casey Wiegand is one of my favorite bloggers, ever. And so I was especially excited to meet and hear from her. And her session and presence at the conference proved to be such a joy to us all. I was struck by her humble, unassuming attitude. She is such an example to me in how she handles her blog, her faith, her family, and purpose. I learned so much from her. As she stood at the front of a packed room, fighting back tears, she told us - "Your mess can be your ministry." BAM. Straight to my heart.... tears in my eyes. I was empowered and encouraged to take the broken pieces of my life and story and my plan that has gone all wrong, and to let God make something beautiful out of brokenness.
five // There is healing in coming together as sisters in Christ.
The last night of the conference ended with an extended time of worship. The lights low, some women raising hands high, some bowing down quietly. As I stood in a big room among that group of precious souls, the first chords of a guitar played softly and sweet voices began to join together in harmony and sing out boldly - my tears began to fall. Slowly, softly. Song after song, truth upon truth. And when the lyrics of my beloved life-anthem rang out, "In Christ alone, my hope is found..." it started. The ugly cry, as Haley later called it (thankfully I wasn't the only one ;) I cried all my mascara off. I cried and cried and cried. And in the tears, in the hugs of friends, in the raising of hands and the bowing of our heads... there was healing.
Honestly, healing is something I didn't expect to happen at Influence. I expected networking and relationship building, learning and growing, laughing and eating. But healing came unexpectedly... like a soft rain: through the sessions, heart to heart conversations, smiles, hugs. I am sure I'm not the only one who felt this way... It really was precious. Because, God knew just what we needed. And how sweet is that?
six // Growing can look alot like being lost. And that's okay. - Anne Bogel.
The lovely Anne Bogel spoke to us about navigating life through our 20's and 30's. And how messy this season can be. I was incredibly encouraged by her wisdom. She reminded us that our lives will look different than people who are not following Jesus, and that "the plan" we may have for our life may not be God's. She encouraged us women to get to know ourselves, to find wise and older mentors, and to deal with baggage honestly. I love a few words she shared:
seven // Be intentional with blogging.
Influencing people in big and positive ways on the Internet doesn't happen by accident. It takes work, planning, preparation and lots of time. I realized this afresh as I took nuggets of wisdom from each speaker and woman I interacted with - being purposeful with our blogs and our influence was emphasized all weekend. As many of you, my dear readers, are bloggers - here are a few gems I heard and scribbled in my notebook:
Seeing this girl again was one of the highlights of the trip -
we met online 8 years ago (long story there!)
and met for the first time 3 years ago.
It was wonderful to be reunited again!
Don't throw it away."
I have many more fun photos and stories to share with you
from the following days after the conference as I explored
Chicago and took a roadtrip up to Michigan with sweet friends.
And I will share that in a few upcoming posts!
to you and you and you.