IF: Jacksonville

One of the most difficult things to overcome is distraction. We live in a culture that is constantly vying for our attention. Friends and family, our job, our house, TV, and social media are waving flags demanding that we pay attention to them. In the midst of this war for our hearts, we often miss the still small voice of God. On February 6 and 7 women from all over the world set aside distractions and joined together to explore the answer to one question: “If God is real, then how does that impact the way we live?” 

IF: Gathering took place in Austin, Texas. Unlike similar women’s conferences, the live event was capped at 2,000 people, but women from around the globe were invited to join the event in their local communities via a webcast. These groups were called IF: Local.

unnamed-3Everything about the IF: Gathering mission resonated with us at Access, including the emphasis on local community and the question itself (If God is real, then ______?). We decided to host an IF: Local, and we were honored to welcome 85 women from our community.

The first two sessions of IF: Gathering were the most impactful to Ashley Bunnell. Jennie Allen, the founder of IF, spoke about the work God wants to do in our generation. Ashley said there are days where she is merely completing necessary tasks like work, dinner, and laundry to get through the day. But God impressed upon her that her life here is so fleeting. “I realized how little time I have left to make much of God and His kingdom,” she said. “I am not sure what this will look like in my life, but I need to be about sharing the truth with urgency.”

Jen Hatmaker, another speaker, spoke about her mother’s battle with cancer. “God is good, but He’s even better when it’s bad,” she said.

IMG_3135Ashley had no idea how much she would need this truth merely four days later, when her mentor, prayer warrior, and grandmother left this life and joined eternity. “If God is real, then I desperately need him,” Ashley said. “Without the truth of His Word, I have nothing to turn to when life is hard. I have no hope for my grandmother or anyone else I have lost. I have no hope to share with others who are also hurting. We have no purpose for our suffering if not to refine our character and to point others to the goodness of God. I need him when there are big scary hard things, and I need him when there are little, small things He has called me to every day and every week. I need him if I am going to be any sort of a good friend, sister, wife, or mother.”

Sarah Graves summed it up well when she spoke about the impact IF: Gathering had on her. “I was so busy leading with our IF: Local team at Access, that I didn’t anticipate what an impact IF would have on me,” she said. “But I realized that if God is real, then nothing else is more important. My life needs to start right there. My decisions need to stem from that belief, especially my actions with others.”

IMG_3109We’re grateful for the opportunity IF: Gathering gave us to love on our community and build relationships outside our walls. “We knew IF: Gathering was going to be good, but I don’t think any of us imagined just how meaningful it would end up being,” said Stephanie Barrett. “During the times between sessions, women from all over our community sat around tables to dig deeper, talk together, question together, hope and dream together, and pray together. As a community, I think we’re going to continue to feel the effects of having been part of this gathering.”

We received the following note soon after the gathering. “Thank you so much for the beautiful work you did hosting the IF: Gathering this weekend! I did not really know what to expect, but I definitely did not expect to be pampered and cared for so lovingly by everyone at Access Church. Thank you for making me feel welcomed and wanted, and for creating a beautiful, comfortable space to meet with God and others on this faith journey. You ladies are awesome! The decorations, the food, the table leaders—everything was wonderful and truly surpassed any of my ideas about how the weekend would unfold. I’m still processing the messages, worship, and challenges from the weekend. I’m excited about what God is doing in my own life and in our community. Thank you again for opening up your space to include everyone.”

IMG_3104Even beyond Jacksonville, a global feeling of community was felt during IF: Gathering. Kelli Davis said, “The IF team in Austin was constantly showing photos of IF: Local groups all over the world, and #ifgathering was actually trending on Facebook as local groups and individuals posted their photos and responses to the sessions,” said Kelli Davis. “It really gave us a sense of the bigger picture of the gathering. There are women all over the world in this mission with us to love Jesus better.”

Whether we attended IF: Gathering or not, we all need to consider the question, “If God is real, then _______?” What does this mean for YOUR life? If all of the distractions are stripped away and you are left with this one question, how will you answer?