This past weekend, I traveled to Denver for my second Evolving Faith conference. Last year, I attended the inaugural event, and it changed my life. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. Things busted open inside of me during that weekend of listening to and learning from brilliant, diverse, wild-hearted people, and it altered the path of my life forever.
Here’s a bit of what I wrote about last year’s experience in my last RAD recap email:
During one of the sessions of the conference, my phone lit up with a new text. I looked down to see who it was, and my heart nearly stopped.
A name I never expected to see was on my screen— the name of my ex-boyfriend, my rapist.
The boy I dated when I was a teenager, the one who weaseled his way into every part of my life and my body, the one who stole everything from me in the worst way imaginable… that boy was somehow texting me lyrics of a song he had written for/about me, despite me having his number blocked and deleted.
It sent me into a full-blown panic attack in the middle of that afternoon session.
I was shaking enough to shake the entire pew. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t focus. The tears were flowing, and the second I could, I ran out of that room into the cold rain. I sat in a rocking chair on a porch next to my best friend and cried and raged and yelled and grieved until I had nothing left in me.
I don’t know how he got to me that day, but I know that God used the fear and the anger and everything I learned that weekend to break something open in me for the first time.
That text set off a chain reaction— one that led to the biggest, bravest, hardest, scariest, intense decisions and actions of my entire life.
I went on to tell my parents about the abuse I endured and kept from them out of fear. I told them about the night he raped me. I told them about how I got the concussions. I told them the true stories of what happened those times with the police. I told them all of it. The secrets I had kept buried deep for years from the very people who raised me came into the light, and it changed me forever.
I even took things a step further a few weeks later, and published my story on my blog, giving the devil a big old middle finger and defeating the power my past had over me once and for all. No longer would the secrets and the shame be stuck inside of me. No longer would the guilt eat at me. No longer would I worry about accidentally slipping and letting it out— it was out. All of it.
Because of the bravery and boldness of the speakers at Evolving Faith, I felt empowered to take the most courageous (and terrifying) steps of my life.
Because of how the Lord moved in my heart that weekend, I fought for freedom in ways I never before had thought were possible.
Because of the stories of others, because of the support of dear friends, and through His strength alone, I did the scariest, hardest, most vulnerable thing I had ever done as I told my own story to the people closest to me and to the world.
It’s no exaggeration to say that weekend at Evolving Faith changed my life.
This year, going back to that same conference, I had a whole mix of emotions.
I was excited about hearing from speakers I admire and respect. I was looking forward to being in beautiful Colorado and traveling with my best friend again. I was hopeful that the messages and sessions would teach me new things, open my eyes more, and both challenge and change me.
The experience was both similar and different than the first year, and I’m glad for that.
The talks were less intense for me emotionally. I wasn’t triggered by anything to do with my past. There weren’t messages focused on sex or sexuality, and the “r-word” wasn’t even mentioned once, praise God.
Even still, the weekend did change me. It did open my eyes to new things. It did challenge me. It also encouraged me, and reminded me of truth, and confirmed things that had been stirring around in my heart for a while. And I’m grateful for that.
The hockey arena where we met felt like holy ground, and I’m grateful for Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu’s hard work and energy spent making that happen. It is no small thing.
To gather together with 3,000+ misfits and wanderers and doubt-filled believers like me is no small thing.
To hear from a lineup of speakers that is diverse in beautiful, unprecedented ways is no small thing.
It is holy.
It is powerful. Redemptive. Transformative.
It’s a picture of heaven.
And I’m walking away from that experience back into reality with a whole host of new thoughts, new ideas, new questions, and new assurances. It was hard, but it was good. And I am grateful for it all.
Here are a few of my takeaways from Evolving Faith 2019:
White privilege is real, but my whiteness is not a sin. There is so much that I have been given and that I have benefited from simply because I was born with white skin. This is not inherently bad, but it is something to be constantly aware of, and it is a tool to use for the good of my neighbors however I can. Because I have been given much, I have much responsibility, and I have much to give and share with others, and I must do so. (
Let God love you. Four small words, but the impact they had on my heart as I sat with my eyes closed and hands open in that arena were massive. Tears filled my eyes as these words were repeated these words gently over us all— let God love you. I will spend the rest of my life trying to do exactly that. (from Danielle Shroyer’s talk.)
Using correct pronouns for others is important. As I heard speakers use gender neutral pronouns in their retelling of Bible stories, and use no pronouns for God (who indeed does not have a gender!!!) but simply use “God,” and as I heard those from the LGBT+ community express how meaningful it was and how grateful they were to see themselves represented through these little adjustments, I realized I have no excuse but to adjust my own habits accordingly and use the preferred pronouns of others. It will take time to adjust, but it is such a small way to love my neighbors well, and it is something I am committed to doing. (Also, I’m committed to changing the way I use pronouns for God and Holy Spirit — neither have a gender, and neither should be referred to with he/his. Jesus, as a man, does, but I am working to tweak my thinking/wording for God and Spirit.)
Jesus does not protect us from the wilderness. He leads us— drags us— into it. The wilderness is not optional. We do not get to avoid hard things or stormy seasons. The wilderness is where God changes us. We will enter it one way and leave another — lighter, more free, more confident of who God is and how we are loved. (from Barbara Brown Taylor’s talk.)
The Spirit of God is not beholden to a system. Our systems— ALL OF THEM— are broken. They are incomplete. They are not accurate or whole representations of God or of truth or of what is right. Thankfully, the Spirit is beyond them, and there is so much freedom in that for me. (from Pete Enns’ talk.)
What I think is broken in me might actually be something breaking open in me. The very things I think are beyond repair might instead be the places where resurrection life is bursting forth. This reminded me, again, that I must give myself more grace, more grace, more grace. (from Jasper Peters’ talk.)
As you work through your pain, leave some room for gratitude. This hit me hard. I have been neglecting my practice of journaling gratitude, and it’s made a (negative) difference in my life. As my counseling journey ramps up and greater pain is unearthed in the weeks to come, I’m recommitting to focusing on gratitude. (from B.T. Harman’s talk.)
How dare I call myself woke when there is still so much waking to do. I am waking up to so much (more and more day by day) but I am not yet, nor do I think I ever will be, fully woke. Thank God for that— there is more growing, more learning, more healing, more helping still to come. (from Kaitlin Curtice’s talk.)
We are all called to justice— the question is HOW. None of us are exempt from this work, this calling. We all have a role to play. But none of us can do it all. It was helpful for me to remember that not everything is on me, that I am not called to be an advocate for every cause, to fight for every injustice, to do all the things. I can only do what God has given me to do, and I want to be faithful and focused on that work. (from Alicia Crosby + Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes’ responses in a breakout session.)
Proximity breaks down prejudice. This is so incredibly true for me. May this be our goal always— to get to know people, to get up close, to see and touch and hear and walk with others, to not stay distanced from the brokenness and the messes and the injustice, but to let it come near and let it humble us and change us. (from Jennifer Knapp’s talk.)
Look to the fruit. When we are wondering what is good, and what should remain, and where Jesus is in all of the mess, we can look to the fruit. Whatever the question or circumstance, we can ask— is _____ bearing good fruit or bad fruit? Is my church bearing good fruit or bad fruit? Is that belief system bearing good fruit or bad fruit? Is this decision bearing good fruit or bad fruit? Where we find good fruit, we find life, and we find Jesus. (from Jen Hatmaker’s talk.)
The Bible was written by brown, enslaved, colonized people. It was written by the oppressed, for the oppressed. White, privileged Americans were and are NOT the center of the Gospel. We must de-center the powerful majority from the Good News. We must elevate and center the voices of the other, of the marginalized, of the oppressed, of the neglected. (from Jen Hatmaker + Lisa Sharon Harper’s talks.)
It is not real flourishing if not everyone flourishes. If only one kind of people are benefiting, it is not real flourishing, and someone else is being oppressed for the sake of their benefit. True flourishing is when we all are flourishing, not just a few. Not just white people. Not just the privileged. All of us. (from Jeff Chu’s talk.)
Our reconstruction is not just for us. Our rebuilding should be for the sake of ourselves and God and others. Our healing should in turn begin to heal others. When our hunger is met, we can bake bread to feed others. When our thirst is quenched, we can offer water to the thirsty. When we have found our way through the wilderness, we can help guide the way for those still journeying through. When we have reached the summit, we can turn around and offer a hand for those climbing behind us. We must be for one another.
I could go on.
The lessons learned are many.
The changes in me are endless.
So much of it is hard to wrap words around. So much of it doesn’t need words, it just needs action. I’m committed to that action, to that work, to living my life in a way that glorifies God and honors all others well.
And I’m grateful for experiences like this weekend that are such massive tools in helping me do just that.
I am grateful for wise and brave and honest truth-tellers who stand up and speak, for those who push back the darkness to let light break through, for those who refuse to settle for broken systems and hurting people and do something about it, for those who willingly step into spaces where they are the minority to help those of us who are naive begin to understand and learn, for those who offer of themselves for the good of all of us. I am grateful to have sat at the feet of so many of these people at Evolving Faith. I am grateful to have been taught and challenged and encouraged and called to action by them all.
I’m grateful for all 3,000+ of the misfits who were alongside me last weekend. I’m grateful for the friends I traveled with. I’m grateful to not be alone in the journey of deconstruction and reconstruction. I’m grateful I was not in the same place this year as I was last year. I’m grateful for growth— messy and wild and unpredictable though it may be.
I’m grateful for the seasons of wilderness and for the lessons God has taught me through them and in them.
I’m grateful for the wilderness still ahead— for the change that will happen as I go through it, and for the lightness and healing that will come along the way.
I’m grateful for a faith that can evolve, that can grow, that can change as God, the unchanging one, changes me.
May it always be so.