My (in)courage story is one of grace, full of twists and turns, hopes and dreams, airplanes and quite a few digital devices. (in)courage found my heart eight years ago, sitting in a dark office building off a gravel road. I received their daily emails, engaged in the comments, and found a community. I began to serve the (in)courage community in several ways on various projects, became a contributor, and have been managing the social media behind the scenes here at (in)courage in 2014, sharing beautiful words and pictures on Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
But one of my favorite ‘gigs’ from the (in)courage community has been locally co-hosting the (in)RL conference during the three years it was offered.
In 2012, I hauled cupcakes and decorations into a friend’s beautiful home and sat on a basement floor with 30 other women. We heard from the (in)courage writers about why they bothered staying in friendships, why friendships matter at all, and I got a glimpse of something bigger than my self, my town, my state, my comfort.
In 2013, I reconnected with an old friend. She was a camper when I was a counselor at a Bible camp in college, and years later God used (in)courage and (in)RL to reconnect our hearts. We co-hosted (in)RL, holding the conference at my own church and inviting the women in our community to hear stories about community. That year, we had the largest (in)RL gathering on the map — an honor that humbles and awes me still.
In 2014, I planned to co-host again with my camp friend. I was a featured speaker that year, and co-hosted the ‘(in)RL Road Show‘, virtually taking (in)courage on the road as we heard from the hearts of women everywhere. My friend and I made decorations, reserved another friend’s church fellowship hall, invited all of Minnesota to attend … then three nights before the event, I went into labor. My baby girl was born!
And three days later I brought her to (in)RL.
That’s right — I wrapped my brand-new baby onto my yoga-panted postpartum self and off we went to the event that had been born in my heart. I don’t have it on record but I’m pretty sure my Josie girl was the youngest (in)RL attendee that year. 🙂 We only stayed for an hour, but the sweetness of real community transcends time.
Later this year, (in)courage is partnering with LifeWay to resurrect our beloved (in)RL. Six days after my birthday in October 2017, we’ll be bringing (in) real life FRIENDED live to Nashville, and into living rooms and churches across the globe via simulcast. My role will be different than in the past — I will be happily tweeting and Instagramming my face off, behind screens but with a front row seat to the glory. I will miss hosting my own (in)RL gathering, though; the three events I did host have left a sweet impression on my soul.
They also changed my life.
Hosting (in)RL events challenged me to look outside the borders of my comfort zone. Hosting offered the chance to practice true hospitality rather than attempt to entertain. Hosting gave me the gift of opening my doors, my wallet, and my heart to others. It wasn’t until I hosted these gatherings that I learned — and experienced — that being a hostess doesn’t put you in the limelight. If it’s done right, hosting removes one from center stage and offers the spotlight to the only One who matters.
Only when God shows up does the gathering become meaningful.
And a gracious hostess knows when to open the door, when to usher in the guests, and when to get out of His way.
Hosting (in)RL went way beyond cupcakes and pretty decorations. It was an act of the heart, a chance to share with others the love and joy that the (in)courage community had given me. It was a chance to make other women feel as though a seat had been saved for them.
And isn’t that love in action, friendship in the flesh, good community at work?
You too have a chance for your life to be changed. You have an opportunity to host (in) real life: FRIENDED this year — to gather in your very own community, church, or living room. You don’t need hundreds of women to attend. It’s one of Jesus’ most beautiful promises, that where two or three are gathered, He is there. All you really need is a heart for women and a front door flung wide open.
Take a leap of faith: read the FAQ’s, purchase a simulcast, talk to your church leaders, make space on your couch.
Let’s gather in real life, again.