The IF: Gathering is a beautifully designed event for women. Everything about their website and the event itself says “we value community and a sense of space.” If you search Google Images for IF Gathering, you’ll get results like these:
In short, if you show up for an IF: Local event like I did a couple weeks ago, you feel like you’ve arrived at a stylish, Pinterest-inspired wedding where everyone is wearing skinny jeans and fair trade jewelry. The main IF: Gathering event is in Austin, with thousands of smaller IF: Local gatherings going on simultaneously around the world via livestream. I take my hat off to the event organizers. Sitting for a day and a half watching speakers on a giant TV could have been agonizing. But the beautiful tablescapes, thoughtfully designed “conversation cards,” and abundant food kept the whole experience welcoming, very deliberately so. I appreciated that.
So much for the design of the event. What IS the IF: Gathering? That’s hard to answer clearly, so I’ll take a few shots at it. Most simply, it’s a women’s conference founded by Jennie Allen featuring Christian author and speaker luminaries like Lauren Chandler, Annie F. Downs, Margaret Feinberg, Jen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, and Angie Smith. We also heard from a couple men: Eugene Cho and David Platt. So it was a time to be inspired by teaching from these people.
But everything about the IF: Gathering intentionally leads you outside the event itself. There are tons if IF spinoffs: IF: Table, IF: Equip, and IF: Pray to name a few. All these are designed to keep you connected to the spirit of the event. The “Who we are” page of the IF website says, “We gather, equip and unleash women to live out their calling by creating tools and resources for the local church and the women they serve. We put these tools in hands of women who desire to change their local context for the glory of God and the good of others.”
So what did I take away from the event? (Besides a desire to buy fair trade jewelry.) The message I heard most clearly was to stop trying to protect myself. I live in such a defensive posture, doing everything I can to avoid the pain of criticism and rejection. One quote I jotted in my notebook was, “When you have nothing to protect and nothing to prove, you will be dangerous. And free.” I think Jennie Allen said that, but I didn’t write a name down. But “stop trying to protect myself” was what I wrote in Sharpie on the domino that we all took home as a reminder of what we learned that weekend. What does that look like so far? It’s not very dramatic, but I’m learning not to be afraid of people thinking I’m incompetent. It means I can go into a work meeting ready to learn and ask questions rather than talking just to prove I have an answer. It means I can think about extending invitations that may be rejected, or turn out to be awkward. Small steps, but they’re ones I needed to take. And maybe I’m even having fun.