The 1200-seat Austin Municipal Auditorium sold out in under an hour. So they offered live streaming to anyone with a computer. And from around the world 20,000 more registered, many of those inviting friends and even churches full of women. It was as IF the organizers had blown a giant whistle and thousands had come running…to what no one was exactly sure. Not even the organizers.
But here is my hunch: In Bird by Bird: instructions on writing and life Ann LaMott says that “Having a great narrator is like having a great friend whose company you love, whose mind you love to pick, whose running commentary totally holds your attention, who makes you laugh out loud, whose lines you always want to steal. When you have a friend like this, she can say, "Hey, I've got to drive up to the dump in Petaluma--wanna come along?" and you honestly can't think of anything in the world you'd rather do.”
And I suspect that is why at least 21,200 women showed up: organizers Jennie Allen, Jen Hatmaker, Rebekah Lyons, Ann Voskamp and the IF gang are terrific narrators of life. And IF they were going to the dump we all wanted to go along.
I registered online, and like everyone else, paid what fit my budget. When I arrived Friday afternoon at Monica’s house here in Columbia, South Carolina I was greeted by seven other women in her living room strung with lights and candles to match the stage decorations that flickered on her big-screen TV hooked to her computer. While the 1200 on the screen in Austin were seated at tables, we were seated on Monica’s cushy couches. #comfiestconferenceever
Most of the women in Austin and in Monica’s living room were under 40. I am not. But I would have to have a pulse rate of 40 to not be infected by IF founder Jennie Allen’s contagious passion for Jesus and women and the people who live in the dump. And her flaming desire to connect the three.
The IF team intentionally did not release the list of speakers. But the story-tellers and speakers who walked on stage with a minimal 10-second video intro riveted us for hours. Beginning with Annie Lobert, married to a member of Christian metal band Stryper and founder of Hookers for Jesus. The former prostitute took us into the heart of Rahab and her great faith.
Angie Smith, married to a member of the much more mellow Christian singing group Selah did what we all do—compared herself to Annie and felt so uncool and unhip, only to find out that Annie had been deeply touched by Selah’s music.
Then Ann Voskamp took the stage with actual measuring sticks in hand and said she was so done with comparisons. “Measuring sticks always become weapons -- of self-harm and Body-harm.” And she broke her measuring stick. She broke several, in fact, and called on us to see our great worth and beauty as God sees us and break ours.
IF is about gathering and equipping. It’s also about unleashing the next generation of women to live out their purpose. “We spend our whole lives,” Jen Hatmaker said, “blessing the blessed and safe.”
She told how God had moved her to help the homeless which led to serving the working poor, which led to coming alongside single Moms and finally to two refugees from Ethiopia sleeping in her house. Kind of like the DIRECTV commercials that show the guy getting mad over his cable bill, then taking down the electrical grid and end with “Don’t let your Dad get punched over a can of soup.” Once you get started partnering with God in his wild redemptive run of grace you have no idea where it will end. But it will be more life and joy than you can imagine.
The IF team has partnered with Feed the Hungry to “nuke” hunger, undernourishment, sickness and death not in the dump, but in one corner of Bolivia. And they definitely want you to come along. When you text them they send you the name of a child you can nourish there for $35 a month. They will also put you in touch with his mother to whom you can write and build a relationship of love and concern.
Until midnight tonight you can live stream all the IF sessions here. You’ll miss the wonderful discussions generated by the “IF” cards mailed to registrants. But you can purchase the CD’s at If's web page and you can still register to continue the IF gatherings around your own table in the months to come: 6 women, 2 hours, four questions that they will send you.
They plan another large gathering in Austin next year and LOTS OF OTHER THINGS. They have a big God and a big faith and a big heart for people.
It amazes me what God can do with housewives and harlots and pig farmers’ wives. How he can speak through the under 40’s to rekindle the under and over-40’s desire for him and his work. Their basic idea is simple and powerful…”IF God is real…then what? Join the conversation.”
And then don't just think about the possibilities. IF God is real DO IT.