I just returned from a weekend away at the Influence Conference and I am super grateful to have been able to go for my second time this year. But I have to say If you’re looking for a neat and tidy conference re-cap, you may want to keep on looking. I’ll be writing pretty much exactly that for The Well Studio in October, but this one will be messy, real, and hopefully a bit brave.
Have you ever noticed how a conference is really just a microcosm of normal, every day life – just concentrated into a smaller window of time? Broken and burdened people are everywhere, but something about bringing a group of 300 strangers together for 2.5 days has a way of peeling back the layers to expose what’s been underneath all along.
Hugs and social media updates were flowing like water, but inside every new acquaintance and behind every status update, is a real person with real burdens. I went into this year’s conference feeling rather broken myself and walked out of it just another layer of burdened & broken – in a good and necessary way. I was feeling heavy-hearted before I ever walked in the door for a friend in pain; a pain so deep that it kept her from being there at the conference as she had planned to be.
But in between, I had an awesome experience. I listened to wise and inspired teaching, connected with friends old and new, and was uplifted by the stories and the hearts of all those who I met. An absolute super-blessed highlight was meeting some friends for the first time I have gotten to know through the sweet gift of doing life together in the Make A Difference Mondays community.
Of all my takeaways, my most meaningful and needed were found in the members’ session presented by Lara Casey. It was life-giving and life-changing for so many women. But not without struggle both during and after it was over. For myself included. I received a disturbing email during this session that I initially regretted acknowledging, but I later came to see the timing must have been no accident. As distracted and sad as this email first had me feeling, I ultimately realized it would have been all too easy to miss the whole stinkin’ point if I hadn’t received it right when I was being issued a bold challenge to take courage and ask myself what’s gotta go and what’s gotta stay. What do I need to say no to and what do I need to say yes to? As they say, all good things are worth fighting for. So in the spirit of accountability, here are my own responses recorded to Lara’s specific questions asked to help us clarify our purpose:
- My life is too short not to spend on the things that matter most
- I am saying no to the judgement of others because I am already pre-approved
- I am saying no to owning others negativity because it is just not mine to own
- I am saying yes to giving up good for better
As I know all attendees did, I left this transformative session feeling raw and challenged to the core. It got me thinking about what really matters most more than anything I’d experienced in a long time. You know that feeling when you’re a bit emotionally exhausted and just need a big hug and a deep breath? Well that is exactly how we left this time – quiet, reflective, and deeply challenged.
That would have been a hard, but good thing in and of itself. But God had a little bit more planned for me that evening. I decided to skip the meet-up I’d planned to attend afterward, and call my shuttle early to head back to the hotel I was staying at a mile away from the conference location. Having no idea I’d end up leaving in tears several hours later, I sat down outside to call my husband and wait until the shuttle arrived. I’m not sure if it was the vulnerability that arose during the session, the deep vulnerability I internalized of my friend I walked alongside leading up to the conference, or my exhaustion after too little sleep lately – but I began to feel more and more raw and vulnerable. I made the mistake of scrolling the instagram conference hashtag, seeing all the happy pictures of friends together, meanwhile this people-person was sitting on a street corner for hours long after her roommates were in bed. The combination of the disturbing email, the hotel shuttle that just wouldn’t come for me no matter how many times I called to check-in, and the witnessing of conference photos streaming in real time right after a conference session designed to strip away all the walls we tend to build up for self-protection had me feeling isolated and alone. The outdoor area in which I waited to for the shuttle I’d reserved the day prior had long since cleared out of any other living soul and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get into my hotel room without waking my roommates, (or get back at all). But I eventually found a random way to improvise, and made it back by the skin of my teeth 😉
At first so many of these things that went down both before and during the conference just didn’t seem to make sense. But perhaps that is just what God had in mind to reach me in a way that nothing else could have. The circumstances that followed me answering those questions in Lara Casey’s session ultimately helped drive the points home that much more. I needed change, and by this point I was broken enough to really see it.
Sometimes, God can reach us most effectively through the circumstances in life that make us feel alienated and sad. It is a much-needed reminder that though other people may disappoint and let us down, our God never fails. Both before, during, and after the conference I heard from so many others that they had been and were continuing to experience their own personal brokenness.
So as I sat down to formulate my first post-conference reflections, as hard as it was in some ways to speak to the deeper issues – I just couldn’t ignore it. All who know me well will tell you I love to celebrate the simple things in life and keep things light and happy, but I also appreciate taking a hard look at what matters most, and this is me doing exactly that. My ultimate goal is to suggest a grace-based solution here. God often uses the people around us to be His change agents so even as we experience these heartaches, we are privileged to be able to show one another His compassion and love in the meantime.
Whether you have yet or not, you may soon find yourself next to someone at a conference, (or otherwise) in need of your presence to bear witness to your faith. I want to offer a few ideas to share His compassion and love that my experience has brought to mind. Just three simple ideas to be the change you wish to see, next time you find yourself in a similar setting too. I offer these ideas not as an authority on the matter, but as one with a heart to see hurt turned into hope. I plan to go back and re-read this post myself before I ever attend another conference and I hope you find something of encouragement here too on how & why to represent Christ at a Christian conference. And the beautiful thing is this is come as you are! No need to have it all together, in fact when we too are feeling broken, we are better equipped to meet others in need, right where they’re at.
1) Notice and acknowledge servers and other employees working in and around the conference – John 13:5 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Look them in the eye, smile, and show them that they matter. Look for opportunities to thank them for their service.
2) Be on the lookout for conference attendees feeling lost and lonely – Many people are attending events like this for the first time each year, oftentimes flying solo. This can exacerbate what is already a scary experience for many people, as it sometimes already feels like drinking from a fire hose surrounded by dozens upon dozens of people you’ve never met. Be aware and have a heart for those feeling out of place, overwhelmed, and isolated.
3) Be willing to include others – So this is piggybacking on #2, but once you have recognized someone else in need of someone willing to come alongside them, why not invite them to a meal with you or even a walk outside between sessions? When we’re willing to include others in our circle of existing friends and acquaintances, we are sometimes beyond surprised at the amazing treasure we would have otherwise overlooked had we not been willing to branch out. We often feel like the blessed one, even as we started with looking to bless someone else.
“To be alive is to be broken. And to be broken is to stand in need of grace. Honesty keeps us in touch with our neediness and the truth that we are saved sinners. There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.” – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel