The un-Jesus-ed Hannah – oh man – she’s a mess. If you’ve ever seen Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (and if you haven’t, go now, and fill your pop-culture deprived void) she’s Janeane Garofalo’s character, Heather Mooney; She’s mean, self-centered, judgmental, thinks everyone is out to get her, holds a grudge against past hurts, chain smokes, tells nice people to eff off, and wears entirely too much black.
Sometimes – ashamedly – this un-Jesus-ed, Romy-and-Michele-Heather-Mooney-Hannah girl sneaks in when it comes to the church. More specifically, womens’ gatherings.
Is that too real? Don’t boo me off the stage yet.
I’ve been around church for a long time. I’ve been to gatherings where emotions were like waves, sweeping people away. I’ve built levees to protect me from the emotional waves of church because emotional waves are temporary. Drop me into the deepest part of the ocean, unaffected by the waves of emotionality, able to discern the Holy Spirt’s direct voice in my soul beyond my surroundings.
These waves have people lifting their voices to praise God on Sunday only to use the same voice to cause dissension on Monday. It’s fakery. I loathe fakery. It’s the “camp high” – the euphoric feeling you have during Jesus camp that has you promising and declaring gospel much like a New Years resolution – to be forgotten by February. The lie about Camp High is that anything less than this euphoric feeling makes me a failure as a Jesus follower.
And you know why camp highs wear off? Because the gospel isn’t pristine. The Gospel is messy, meant to be lived out in the messiness of life, not the confines of a weekend Bible getaway. And if we leave events with the impression that arriving at faith is the culmination of one weekend at church camp, we’re going to live a life of deep disappointment. Because faith is a life-long journey.
Wow, I sound like a terribly cynical person, don’t I? I’m not, just…guarded. It’s a strength and a weakness at times. But that’s another blog post. I started this post on a negative but now let’s transition into the positive; I’ve experienced a few really good Jesus girls conferences.
See? I’m not entirely cynical.
I’ve been trying to put together all of my thoughts and feelings since I returned from the IF Gathering this past weekend in Austin. I feel nothing short of bumbling. This gathering was more than good. It was real. It wasn’t a conference. A conference is full of business cards and networking and one-upping and panic attacks for us introverts. No, this was a gathering that truly lived up to its name – a gathering that facilitated an encounter with Jesus.
I heard about IF Gathering last year. Truthfully, I had no idea what it meant or what they were doing. I had no idea what to expect. I paid no attention to the event last year. Mainly because of the sentiments you’ve read up to this point (you know, all the cynical ones?). I follow several respectable Jesus girls that were involved and I just noticed that after it happened, everyone said it was special. I didn’t give a thought about attending this year until my friend Alison messaged me a few days before registration opened to ask me if I wanted to go.
She planted a seed. Thank you, Alison.
Every step leading me to IF, I was not leading. I was being carried. There were issues with registration and for a week I didn’t know if I was registered or not. Then my confirmation showed up in my inbox.
And I forgot about it until December. I saw the reminder on my calendar as I was planning our month. “Oh yeah, IF Gathering is happening.” At that time I was surrounded by a season of depression and I contemplated giving my ticket away because going meant I would be around people and people were really the last thing I wanted to deal with at that point.
But I held on. I wasn’t ready to let go of it yet. “I was able to get a ticket, so maybe I’m supposed to be there?” was the tiny bit of faith that was mustering in my spirit.
And I was. I was supposed to be there. Undoubtedly. Jesus met me. Instead of loathing the previous three dark months I went through, I began to embraced them. I became thankful for them. Because those months led me to a place where I had no choice but to be still and allow myself to be spoken to. My heart was penetrable. Exhaustion had overtaken my body, my heart, my spirit. Like running a marathon and collapsing because I can’t run any more.
Then Jesus says, “Are you good now? You’ve run what you can on your own. Want me to take over? Yes? Okay. Here we go.” Sitting in my seat at Austin City Limits as the Gathering began I whispered in my heart, “Whatever you have Jesus. I’m tired of the walls. I don’t want fake church-y fads. I don’t want fake feel-good gospel. I want you.” And he scoops me up and leads me down a quiet path for me to hear his whispers in my ear as he carries me to where I need to go.
And he was there. He met me. IF Gathering facilitated our rendezvous. He reminded me that my life has value. That my (our) story is important for people to hear. That instead of desiring the results of my work, I should desire doing the actual work. Conviction much? Oh yeah. But the kind that settles in like a good burn. One you’re grateful for.
There were no super-star speakers lining up to sign autographs. It was a humble gathering. IF reminded us that life takes faith and that faith is a journey, not a destination. That questioning our faith doesn’t make us less faithful. It reminded us that God is good even when this life isn’t easy. It didn’t leave you with a camp high. It gave you practical wisdom for every day gospel living – whether you’re raiding brothels to intervene in sex trafficking or staying home changing poop diapers. It reminded us to embraced the messy because that’s where Jesus meets you. And my favorite part – they talked about the dirty meat of life – depression, racial reconciliation, loss. It didn’t tip-toe past the hard parts in order to get to the feel-good parts. It encouraged us to seek Jesus in all things, even the things that are hard to talk about, and encouraged us to talk about them cozied up with a cup of Grace.
IF Gathering was what my soul needed in this season. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to go. Thank you Jesus for meeting me there. Let’s keep gathering.