I spent last weekend with 400 other women at the Influence Conference in Indianapolis. And it was way, way better than I had anticipated.
The Influence Network is an online community that equips women to pursue their passions and projects right where they are. I joined when I was living in Cambodia, and they became a lifeline of creative inspiration and encouragement in the faith to me. But I don't think I realized how much of an impact that community has had on me until I finally met many of the women face to face.
My roommate (another KC Influence gal) and I flew into Indianapolis Thursday morning and spent the afternoon exploring downtown. Flying into Indy, the landscape didn't look much different than KC. But when we started walking around our hotel, I was surprised by how enjoyable it was. Downtown Indy is one of the best areas I've explored - clean, broad streets with plenty of sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists; dozens of locally owned cafes, restaurants, and bars; and a towering century-old Civil War monument right in the middle.
The reunion (with those I've never met in person) began at the registration line back at the hotel. Gretchen from Life Lived Beautifully (please don't miss her on Instagram or Periscope - she has one of the most beautiful hearts for Jesus ever) was in line behind us with her adorable baby boy. Moriah and Nadine gave us our packets. I finally met my fellow recovering expat Rebecca and had dinner with her and Emily. And the introductions to new friends and meetings with old continued - Frances, Sarah, Anne, Kristi, and more women than I can even begin to count.
It is a unique experience to enter a room and meet familiar faces that you've only seen online. And as I heard my name over and over again, I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that my story was known by so many women. Even though I had felt alone countless times in Cambodia, I really wasn't. God had given me a community that was cheering me on and praying for my family.
And I haven't even talked about the speakers yet.
All I can say is that Jesus filled me up in ways I didn't know I needed him to. I went into the weekend feeling tired, stressed, and empty of all ability to put words together or to extend anything besides threadbare grace to people around me.
This will sound incredibly churchy and charismatic, but - I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Not the "speaking in tongues" or "slain in the Spirit" kind of way. I encountered him in the words of Hayley Morgan, challenging me to put away the distractions and pursue Jesus with an undivided heart. He spoke to me through Alex Hoover, when she asked, "What happens when our dreams don't line up with God's plans for us?", and boldly spoke of the need for us to embrace whatever journey God wants us to travel. He lifted burdens of guilt off my shoulders with Lisa-Jo Baker told us we needed to take our children with us into the work God called us to do, instead of leaving them behind or putting aside that work for twenty years until they're grown.
Over and over, God confirmed in my heart that he loves me beyond belief and that my best days are ahead of me. He gently showed me how I'd been striving and fighting to do life on my own terms, and that it was not working. Although I had been studying his Word semi-regularly, he reminded me how desperately I need Scripture to remind me what truth is and to equip me for doing life well.
The conference ended Saturday night (after an epic headstand contest and dance party). I made the best decision ever to stay in Indy til Sunday evening, giving me a chance for a farewell breakfast with several friends and time alone to process everything that had been spoken into my heart. And I kept hearing the Lord whisper, "You know how you are so filled up right now? That doesn't have to end when you go home. I want to fill you up every morning with grace and love and hope. I'm waiting, willing and able to do it."
So I boarded the plane and landed back in KC. Life was still happening at home - in-laws visiting, dishes to wash, a toddler to snuggle and put to bed. My daily rhythm hasn't changed dramatically. But I have a deeper knowledge of my need for Jesus every day. I have a beautiful Give Me Jesus journal that is helping me walk through Scripture and apply it to my life. And I have friendships that have been strengthened by time spent face-to-face and the knowledge that, although our stories may all look a bit different, we are journeying to the same place - a life spent in pursuit of Jesus and loving people well.
That was what the Influence Conference meant to me. And I'm so glad I went.
If you don't have a strong community of women pursuing Jesus with you, or if you don't feel equipped for doing life well, check out the Influence Network. It might be what you need.