I attended a women’s conference this weekend. It was an IF gathering at one of the area megachurches, which I don’t mean offensively. Dad had a work day at camp, so all of the kids who weren’t taking their ACT in the morning stayed with him to clean cabins and rake leaves with the other workers who came to help. There were sessions last night along with this morning and afternoon. It was a good combination of hearing, singing, and interacting with others. Since church a lot of times can be a forward facing event, the leaders wanted to include times where we could break up into groups, turn to one another, and have a chance to answer questions and discuss the speakers messages.

I like how at these kinds of events they assume that God has you there for a reason. One of the questions last night was, “What are you hoping to get out of this?” Our small group of ladies moved to the floor and then went around and shared their answers. Something I’m noticing that is nice about blogging is that it gives me the time to get out what’s on my mind and the things that here and there I am working through. It frees me up to be able to not feel the need to talk as much when I’m with people. Instead I can sit and listen, without that feeling like you’re not getting your chance, which can happen sometimes in groups. The others went around and shared their answers. My answer was short. I said I didn’t know, but was there for whatever God would surprise me with.

There were two breakout sessions, with five topics to choose from. The topics were Take Back Your Family, Embracing Your Emotions, What God Thinks About You, How To Be A Bridge Builder, When You Want To Quit Church, and When A Life of Joy Feels Impossible. For the first session I chose the emotions one, which was good. The next session, When a Life of Joy Feels Impossible, was a video of a 39-year old woman who’d suffered a major hemorrhagic brain stroke out of the blue when she was younger. She found herself with partial facial paralysis, physically disabled, and in permanent need of a wheelchair. Her husband had stayed with her the whole time and they’d even gone on to have another baby. That one was good too and made me cry just knowing about all the hardships people go through in their lives.

After that session it was time to go back into the auditorium. The worship leaders sang a few more songs. Because I was in the front row, and had started to feel an uptick in anxiety since coming back to the bigger room, I didn’t stand up when they started singing. I could still see the singers and words from my seat. I sat with my legs pulled up to my chest, still comfortable in the jeans I found earlier this week, and watched and listened to the beautiful singers. I wished that I too was able to play the keyboard and sing at the same time like the young man with the beautiful tenor voice. If there was one superpower I wish I’d been gifted with, it would probably be that of singing and playing the piano together. I sat in awe and wonder at the different ways God gifts people.

The anxiety was getting worse, and I almost left. I’d already felt it earlier that morning, after spending a little over a half hour watching and cheering for the half-marathon runners. I had a friend who was running, so I before I went to the conference this morning, I parked over at Lincoln Park where she said is a difficult place because of the hills. There were people from her church there too. I was amazed at how many runners actually said, “Thank you” whenever you said something like “Great job” or “You’re doing awesome”. I had to back off after a while and couldn’t clap as much. Something about the cold, clapping, and tightly holding the blanket around my body started to activate that spot in my chest, though it rarely happens anymore, thank God.

I had started to wonder if maybe the coffee I’d had wasn’t decaf, but eventually the feelings of anxiety went away again. We were watching the video of one of the speakers giving her talk on idolatry, and how every idol, being created, has limits but also has no life. She made a comment about fairy tales and romance, how we think we’re going to fall in love with a man who will be the one who completes us and fills every void in our lives and in our hearts. Being ridiculously stubborn but understanding more now, I have to admit that I still kind of think this. In Christ we come alive in God. But to complete means more than just being the black to my white or the yin to my yang. Our completeness comes not just in bliss but in trials. As James 1:4 says, “Let perseverance finish its work, so that you might be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

“Every man is just as needy as you are”, she said, I assume knowing that needy is the thing you’re not supposed to be as a woman. To be a created being is to be dependent on our Creator for sustenance. Indeed, to be human is to be needy. Whatever people want to say about what a man or woman’s needs are, I feel like I want to say that none of that matters nearly as much as what God in his heart is fully set and intent on giving to you. It’s like I’m coming back around to this familiar place of settling in after what feels like an incredibly long and exhausting season of wandering, questioning, and relearning what it means to love the ones I love most. I think this is the thing, sadly, that has surprised me most about God and his perfect human love. You can still be happy, like actually happy, when as created beings we look to none other than our Creator, the giver of hope, salvation, and joy.

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