>> 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.

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