>> awake, my soul {IF Gathering: part two}

The cabin we stayed at for our women's retreat was beautiful. It was big, rustic and warm with windows that displayed the quiet, snowy surroundings.

The first night began with all 25 of us gathered into the theater room upstairs, watching the first part of the IF Gathering conference, which we were live-streaming from Austin. The speakers and worship music from this conference were amazing. We heard awesome stories about women being rescued from a sad, hopeless life; stories of women who overcame fear and insecurities; stories of adoption and hope. I heard someone talk about being a Daughter of the King, and my heart grabbed a hold of that truth as if it had never heard it before.

We broke out into small groups and talked about what makes our hearts race and what holds us back. We dreamed and confessed to each other, and connections were made. We prayed together and for each other.

We stayed up later than we should have and played pranks on each other, laughing into the early morning hours.

Day two, Saturday, began with a yummy breakfast then a few hours of watching the IF Gathering conference. Most of us wore comfy pajamas, and I remember looking around the theater room at everyone with their makeup-free faces and dirty hair, thinking to myself, Wow, I'm falling in love with these girls.

Our next small group session was all about confessions. Hearts were open, honest and vulnerable. Tears poured as we bared our ugly souls. Friendships were made stronger through sincere hugs, words of affirmation and complete acceptance of each other.

There were more sessions watched, another small group break out, and a lot more eating. During some downtime around sunset, I went on a walk around the property with Ashley and Sandi. We came back to a cozy fire.

One of the highlights was when a woman from our church, Christy, gave her testimony. Her life is a living testament to how God truly cares about every little aspect of our lives. He weaves the threads together to create a beautiful story, a masterpiece made up of ugly circumstances and sin that, when surrendered to God, turn into a glorifying picture of His grace.

After Christy gave her testimony, we spoke words of affirmation over each other. We pointed out each other's gifts and talents. There was no competition, no jealousy--only love as we praised each other and built each other up. This was my favorite part of the whole weekend.

I thanked God in my heart for the friendships He had blessed me with and for this amazing church I get to be a part of.

Sunday was our final morning. We had our own worship service with music led by Christine and Lauren, followed by Cheryl's testimony.

When it was time to load up the vehicles and say goodbye, I didn't want to leave.

I prayed my heart would stay soft to all that God had opened it up to. I felt so loved. I felt so alive. I knew I would inevitably come down off the high of worship and soul-bearing, but I didn't want to.

What I took away from the weekend at JC Ranch is this:

>> I am a Daughter of the King. His love for me is simple and complex. He pursues me.
>> At 30 years old, I can finally say I have amazing friendships.
>> God has not given me a spirit of fear or inadequacy. Battle these thoughts with the truth from God's word.
>> Break the walls and barriers down. Be honest and humble. That's how true bonds are formed.
>> He is worthy of our praise always. The storms in life bring us closer to Him.
>> Everyone has their own story and their own testimony, each one powerful in its own way.


>> journey to my heart {IF Gathering: part one}

I've hesitated with the thought of blogging about the weekend that captivated my heart and changed it forever because I know I won't have the words to convey it all.

Last weekend, my heart was touched by God in a mighty way in a cabin with 24 other women.

The adventure began with four other ladies who I now consider my dear friends. We set off in a front-wheel drive SUV on highways that were mostly clear from the earlier snowfall. The cabin was supposed to be a little over an hour away from where we all live, so we followed the map on one of our phones with great anticipation. The map must've been slightly confused because we ended up lost on a very slick and hilly dirt road. Let me expound on that: We ended up lost and sideways, stuck on a very slick, ice-packed dirt road.

A nice man in a camo sweatshirt driving a camo-clad Chevy truck drove down the road only to find himself trapped by our sideways SUV. Long story short, this man (named Randy) pushed us as Shannon steered; he slipped on the ice and bumped his head on the hard road; and he attempted and failed multiple times to drive us back up the hill to get us back on the highway.

Randy stuck with us at least 30 minutes trying to help us get off this treacherous road before he left and returned with a chain and his bearded friend Eddie Wade. Eddie Wade was the man. He sat in the driver seat of Shannon's car, determined to rescue the five damsels in distress. His first words to us were: "I think I can get it up if you girls don't scream." .....Umm...

Eddie Wade touched the gas pedal, and we slid a little. Someone asked him if he was still confident he could get us up the hill without us having to be pulled. He replied, "I don't think so."

That's when Eddie Wade put the pedal to the metal, gunned it like we were being shot at, all the girls screamed and feared for our lives, and the little SUV flew up the hill and back onto the highway like it was nothing.

We took a few minutes to write down the men's names and addresses (and will be getting together soon to bake cookies and mail them out to these country boys aka angels).

So we were back on the road, still lost, when my friend Ashley says in her southern drawl, "Y'all, I just remembered I have my Garmin in my purse!" We plugged the address into the Garmin and needless to say, it got us where we needed to go.

Come to find out, every car of women heading out to the cabin that day had some kind of trouble. Some got lost, some got stuck, some had to flag down help, some had to pour kitty litter on the road to get out. But we all made it, by the grace of God. My group was the last to arrive. An hour-and-half trip ended up taking closer to four.

Once we actually made it to the cabin, our obstacles weren't over. The driveway was ice-packed and hilly. We got stuck, again, and a couple of ladies who were already there had to attach a rope between both vehicles and pull us out. Before that, we tried putting big sticks under the tires to gain traction, but that was a bust.

Finally we arrived and were welcomed by all the ladies standing on the porch cheering for us. They unloaded our bags for us, and, from there, the real adventure began.