I’ve been attending the spring Bridging the Gap “Free to Be” women’s conferences for nine consecutive years (excluding the year I missed because my daughter was a week old). My girlfriends and I drive down from our hometown “up north,” sleep in a hotel room (think: junk food and giggling and whispered stories rather than actual sleep) and then drink obscene amounts of coffee as we listen to great speakers, worship, and listen for Jesus’ whisper in our souls as we ponder the next year, the next steps, and the next adventure.
I love this yearly conference. I love the time with girlfriends, and I love meeting Jesus at this conference. It never fails, Jesus always shows up. Always, always, always. In past years, I’ve attended this conference while grieving, while broken-hearted, while sleep-deprived from tiny babies. Always, Jesus shows up.
In January of last year, I knew this conference was coming, and so I called my dear friend, Kendra. You see, our families were in the midst of launching a small church. She is a mom and foster parent, among a million other things. I work part-time and have two kids under the age of five. Our husbands were taking on roles in the church, as were Kendra and I. We were BUSY. Too busy. I was desperately trying to clear a few things off the agenda – trying to find ways to free up time, resources and energy. It was in this mindset that I called my friend and raised the topic of The Conference (which is how we always talk about it – as though it was the only conference out there).
“So…, what are we going to do about The Conference?” I asked, starting a painful discussion. We both agreed that 2012 was just too busy and that we were going to have to skip the Bridging the Gap conference. We loved it, but it was the one thing we could set aside for a year. And so that was that. We decided in January that we would not be attending The Conference. It was a relief. One thing off my plate piled too high with projects and obligations.
And then I checked the mailbox in early March. There, tucked among the bills and junk mail was the Bridging the Gap conference flyer announcing the 2012 theme: Free to Serve. As I stood next to my mailbox in the chilly March air, I gasped audibly. I slowly walked back up the driveway, into the house and called Kendra. You see, the church we had just launched focuses on service. Our families had been thinking, talking and figuring out how “service” fits into church and into our Christian lives for months. I’ve often felt that The Conference’s yearly themes related to things I was facing, but this was just too uncanny to ignore.
I immediately called Kendra, “Did you see the flyer?”
“We have to go.”
And that was that. Despite our crazy lives, we called up our girlfriends and moved mountains to set aside time for The Conference – we did not want to miss out on what God was going to say about service.
Last year’s conference was wonderful, as always. The speakers are always inspiring, convicting, and encouraging, and words cannot describe the incredible feeling of worshipping Jesus with hundreds and hundreds of female voices (and a few men). The women around you begin to feel like the sisters in Christ that they are, not just friendly pew-sharers. The booths set up with books and jewelry and other beautiful items are a veritable grown-woman’s candy shop.
As wonderful as all of the above is, the most dazzlingly beautiful about this yearly conference is in coming heart to heart with Jesus. In past years, I have laid down burdens, given up grudges, and wept about the unfairness of life at The Conference. I have come alongside old friends, new friends and complete strangers as they’ve done the same.
But it was last year’s conference, the one I struggled to get to, the one I initially decided was going to be skipped, the one that I was too busy, too overbooked, too overburdened to attend, was the one that changed my life the most dramatically. In years past, as I met Jesus in prayer he was dealing with my internal issues. This past year was the year he called me to step out. And he called my friends to step out. And we did. This past year we went on missions trips, became worship leaders, became bloggers, and authors, and church leaders – despite being average, ordinary women. My friends and I became the kind of women who dodge across busy intersections to hand a homeless teen our toddlers’ snacks, just for the opportunity to gaze directly into young eyes and tell him his life has value. Although the work began in our hearts before we attended the conference, it was our individual and collective experiences at last year’s conference that finished the work and encouraged us to jump into new, challenging adventures in walking out our Christian faith.
As my girlfriends and I wait with anticipation for this year’s Free to Fly theme at the Bridging the Gap conference, we look forward “girl time” and shopping and our annual sleepover at the hotel. But the real reason we each work so hard to set aside this precious time in our already too busy lives and weekends booked solid with obligations is that we know that Jesus always shows up at The Conference, and we cannot afford to miss what he would whisper into our hearts this year.