It's hard to talk about IF; Gathering without tears being brought to my eyes. What IF is to me is difficult to articulate into words.. IF is a Gathering. A gathering of women from different denominations, races and cultures. We gather and we seek Jesus. Together. To wrestle with belief that God is real, to wrestle with the places in our lives where we are struggling with unbelief, to wrestle with how can we overcome unbelief and then what God can do with our belief. Years ago I sat with this woman at a diner in Austin. I hardly knew her. We had mutual friends and decided to get coffee together and talked for hours about the need that we both saw. The women that we saw burdened, fearful and holding back from who they were made to be. We talked about our own journeys of stepping out to where God was leading each of us and how scary that was. I remember dreaming with this new friend, Jennie Allen, about what it would look like to gather women. I had a burning in my heart for this to happen, but also had negative thoughts about what gathering women into one place might look like because of what I had known in the past. It's honestly something I would stay far away from - In my mind I saw lots of pink flowers, balloons, cliques and surface conversations with each other. I didn't want a part of that. The thought of doing something different drew me in though. The question of 'What IF' stirred in us.. What IF God is real? How would each of us live differently? How would we face our fears if we truly believed that with every part of our souls? What if we trusted where God was leading us even when we didn't see the outcome? What If we were honest with each other? What IF we trusted God instead of ourselves with what He was doing with this gathering?
IF: Gathering is a place women are RAW and REAL with each other. I know what it feels like to be lonely. I know what if feels like to feel unseen. I know what it feels like to not have community. I know what it feels like to be afraid of stepping out. I have cried my eyes out in the seat of isolation and I have soared with joy on the other side of doing life with others. People ask me all the time what IF: Gathering is, I've thought long and hard on what I believe it is. I simply open up my hands, palms facing up in front of them and say "this" motioning to my hands being open. It's something that God is doing and we are along for the ride. Women are being gathered across the world and they are seeking God together. Not alone, but TOGETHER. They are finding healing, freedom and community by seeking God together. They are walking in faith and believing. They are being released and shining in who they are made to be. We so easily forget the battle that we are fighting. The battle that is all around that beats us to the ground. That makes us isolate ourselves and feel alone. We listen to the lies that the enemy speaks over us rather than read the truth that God has given to us in His word. It's time to change this.. It's time to equip ourselves and go to battle for each other. To find the women that are running this race alone and link arms pull them in. This doesn't just happen at a gathering in February. This happens where we live. In our neighborhoods, our work, our churches.
IF: Gathering is something that has become "cool" very quickly. I get it. Only 1500 women can come to Austin in February. But IF: Gathering is not about being 'cool" or being "in" -- That is the farthest thing from the vision -- IF is not even about an event in February. We want women all the world to gather with their friends and strangers. February 6th & 7th you can host a gathering in your home and invite women to join and watch the simulcast on the web. God is doing something huge in hearts right now and i've seen it all across the globe. Women want to be invited to the table. I recently had an IF: Table at my house where I had 5 women come (most of who didn't know each other) -- by the end of our time together tears were flowing, truth had been spoken and we each left challenged. Just one simple dinner. Now I can't wait till the next one. I know many of you don't feel like you could lead a gathering in your home.. Maybe it's because you feel scared or you think you might mess something up -- I want to challenge you to push those thoughts out of the way. If you are waiting for people to reach out to you and invite you. Stop. I did that for years and kept waiting -- instead be the one who does the inviting or just shows up.
Yesterday I came across an image below that I captured in India and I posted it on instagram. It stopped me in my tracks as I thought about the murky water this boy was jumping straight into. He didn't think twice about it. He just jumped. Sometimes that's what we've got to do instead of questioning everything all the time.. I don't know where you are at, but if you are feeling a nudge on your heart as you read this.. Read the interview below from Sara Hay and learn about how she is stepping out to gather women around her. She is just like you and me taking one step at a time trusting Jesus. You can also visit the IF: Local website and join a group that is being hosted in your area. Don't be afraid. Jump in!
Interview with IF: Local Leader - Sara Hay
Q: Who are you?
I am a Jesus-loving hot mess of a wife and mother.
Q: Where do you live?
Hendersonville, TN north of Nashville
Q: How have you used IF's tools & resources to lead in your local contexts?
Last year I gathered 5 women in my husband’s conference room to watch IF on Friday night and Saturday. I knew 2 women and 2 were strangers. After the IF weekend, I had a very different perspective on being with other women outside my typical stereotype. We had an amazing time of worship, growing, sharing and being challenged. I had become locked into a circle of like-minded friends who were exactly like me and wasn’t open to being around others who lived out the same faith in Jesus differently than I did. I had lost sight of what being a Christian meant. Through the year I did the IF:Equip Bible study and loved how it challenged me. When the IF:Local leader map came out in August, I emailed the Nashville area leaders to see if anyone wanted to do an August IF:Table. I was invited by 3 complete and total strangers to share in their groups. Until I got involved with IF, I would have never EVER considered going to a stranger’s house to eat with even more strangers. IF helped open my eyes and heart to true Biblical hospitality, non-judgmental relationships and living out the love of Christ in so many ways outside of my comfort zone.
Q: What has been the scariest, most challenging aspect of leading for you?
The scariest part of being an IF local leader is that my messiness might hinder others from seeing Christ’s love played out. I want to be effective for the right reasons. There is no reason to gather a large group of women so I can be in charge of a successful women’s event. I want people to come to know the Lord and learn to love others with no judgment or partiality. My heart is to gather a group of women who can challenge each other to grow, learn and love people for the right reasons – not because it is what we are supposed to do but because our love for Jesus is so pure and real that we just have to share it.
Q: How has God awakened you?
Ultimately God has awakened me to what a real relationship with Him looks like. God can handle my fears, my questions and my insecurities and can show me who I am in Him. God has awakened me to seeing people for their own unique worth. My heart had been locked in seeing people from the outside instead of really knowing them and knowing their heart. My perspective on living out my faith has done a complete make-over. I want to love God well, not only in my words but I want my life to be proof of a love for my Savior. To please God by living in His will is what I want most.
Q: How have your relationships with others deepened?
I have gotten to know so many wonderful women through IF:Table. As a woman who loved to live in her own little world and not bother getting to know anyone different, I have learned to love embracing our differences and loving the way God has uniquely created us. My old self would have never sat around a table with 6 strangers sharing precious discussion time for almost 5 hours on a Saturday. And with those women I will be beginning and Advent Bible study to keep us all accountable to keeping Jesus the focus of Christmas for our families. God has woven a love for others into my heart and opened my mind to all of the possibilities He has in store for my life.
Q: How have you seen God show up in your life and the life of the women you are gathering, equipping, and unleashing?
Upon returning from the IF Lab at Catalyst in Atlanta, I was fired up and ready to plan an event for 300 people. There were women I had met there that were praying with me for approval of using my children’s conservative Christian school to host IF. Initial approval was given and then…taken away by a political move that I just couldn’t imagine how an injustice that great could be God’s plan. So after prayer and counsel, I approached another “venue” about hosting IF for our area. When no response of interest became an obvious “no”, I began to question whether or not I was even capable of being used by God for this. Why on earth would a church not want an event where women could come together to learn more of Jesus?? God checked that attitude very quickly and pushed me forward because it is not about me. As I moved on with another IF sister, we thought we had finally found our place but…another “no” for IF:Local. So as of right now, we do not have a place to gather but I will not give up. This has become a time to continue to pray and wait to see what God is going to do. I don’t know how it will play out but God does, so I will continue forward. The women around me are all praying and waiting. Friends are gathering for Bible studies and seeking God’s will. In the end, if we all grow closer to God, mature in our faith, and learn how to live it out, a gathering may just look like the life we are already living.
We are a generation of women that believes God at His Word that He called us to our places and will use us for His glory and for the good of His people. We have seen God move in incredible ways already and believe it was only the beginning. We will come together around the world on February 6-7, 2015 in a spirit of humility and unity to pray that God will work in even greater ways.
How do you get involved?
If you want to attend an IF:Local in your area, you can search here.
If you’d like to learn more about the vision for IF:Local and the 2-day gathering this February, watch the vision cast hosted by Jennie Allen and a few friends.
We have chosen to forgo a set ticket price, and are asking you to partner with us, by making a donation to the vision of IF. We are half way to raising our event. If everyone gives at least $25, then we will be able to pay for the gathering in 2015.
We know that some of you cannot afford to pay a lot and that is okay. But we also know that some of you can, so would you step up and give for you and someone else? Register for IF:Local now.