I received the email early one morning last spring.
You're Invited it said, and I read and re-read the email just to make sure I got it right.
You see, there have been plenty of moments in my life where others were invited to the table and I was left looking in, wishing I knew what it was that set me apart as not included—not wanted.
But this time, it was different. I was invited. All I had to do was say yes.
I knew I had to say yes.
And let me tell you. This intimidated me. These women who were invited were those I've read for years. They were those with audiences ten—no—maybe even a hundred times larger than this small yet loved community I have here. For a brief second, I thought there was no place for me. I knew I had to say yes, but I had no idea why.
So I said yes. I packed my bags and drove the twenty minutes outside of town to a small getaway in the hill country to maybe talk about a future conference called IF:Gathering. I knew a handful of people via twitter, one or two I had met previously, and the rest I knew because of their words or song or inspiration.
The first day was hard. I texted my sister I just don't know why I'm here—I feel like an outsider and it isn't bad, I guess I'm just confused.
Two minutes after that text a woman came up to me, wrapped me in a hug, and smiled as she looked me in the eyes. "I've been reading your blog for years," she said.
I started to breathe a little easier.
The restlessness was still there, though. These were women with voice. With power. With substantial sway. I felt artsy fartsy sitting amongst them and was so fearful one of them would find out that I was some kind of fraud and send me home.
Have I mentioned this was a spiritual retreat? Where we gathered to see what would happen if we let God move?
Have I mentioned that God and I weren't necessarily on speaking terms?
That night, we sat in a room and I listened as a woman I deeply respect spread her arms wide and as gently as possible reminded us of our worth.
"Stop waiting for permission." She said, "you've been invited. The invitation is your validation. Now go and live in that confidence."
I rolled my eyes and dug my nails into the palm of my hand.
But am I really? I thought. Am I really invited?
The next day, we were placed in groups. I'd stumbled through breakfast conversation and was feeling shaky. The thoughts kept reappearing. Why am I here? What's this have to do with me? Why was I chosen?
And then, these women started talking of wilderness. They started talking about how God is asking us to risk something and what could that be? What would it look like? What's holding us back?
The levee broke.
I started talking about these past six months—of this past year—and how RISK is my word for 2013 and I still trip my way through what I'm supposed to do because how do I know He's even going to catch me? Everything up until now sure feels like I've fallen on cement. I have the scars to prove it. The tears started falling harder and the women reached for my hands and elbows and knees and prayed.
And it wasn't the prayer of women just wanting you to shut up already so they can talk.
It wasn't the prayer of pity falling from lips who don't know pain.
It was the crushing hope of a prayer from the heart of a sister who sees the fight left in me and whispers "it's okay if you're struggling with belief. I'll stand here with you and believe for you until you can stand on your own."
This is what it feels like to be known.
Not in the platform sense. Not in the how-many-blog-readers-do-you-have-a-day known. That's not reality. This was a room full of sisters eager for the skin deep knowledge to sink soul-level. I think something shifted in that moment—at least for me. Those few days weren't just a place for me to offer up my cynicism and raise an eyebrow with come at me, bro. This was humility in action.
This was coming to lay everything down in order to pick up my purpose and run free.
The last morning, I woke with the sun. I sat on the porch and watched as the big ball of fire rose higher and higher and higher and painted the tops of the trees in this iridescent glow.
"It's a new day." He whispered.
I shrugged. "Yeah? And?"
I could almost hear Him chuckle. "It's a new day for you. The night is over."
And my breath caught in my throat because I finally knew why I came.
Yesterday, tickets sold out for If:Gathering in 42 minutes. I'm not really surprised, because I believe women every where are craving a place where they are known and loved and their dreams are worthy.
If you didn't get a ticket, consider signing up for If:Local.
Take the leap of faith, rent a house nearby, and go in with a couple of girlfriends and even a few women you don't know. Be the one who holds out her hand and says, "you're invited."
Because when you feel like an outsider, there's no better place to heal than in the presence of your sisters.
Note :: before I even traveled to this retreat, I spoke with Jennie about the vision behind IF. It's a nonprofit. There's no goal or aim to make money off this vision. If you feel led, consider donating to the gathering. Click here to give.