I plucked up the courage to leave my chaotic and needy small humans to invest into my future at Influence Conf this month. The time away was such a gift to my soul and I highly recommend that all mothers of small children find a way to do something like this every few years. Even if it takes days upon days (upon days) to prepare for your departure.
I’d been wanting to go to Influence ever since I read mama blogger Kristen LaValley (You might remember her from her viral post Are you Lonely, Mama?) say that this conference was one of the best things she had done that year. Tall Mountain was tired of hearing me contemplate all the pros and cons about going and he forced my hand in booking my trip. For those of you who haven’t heard about the conference, it is put on by a network of Jesus followers called The Influence Network. For the past four years, a core group has gathered 400 female creatives (think Etsy shop owners, photographers, writers..) for a weekend of cross-industry networking and being equipped in their passions and dreams. The conference weekend finally came, and off I was [a nervous wreck] to be dropped off at the airport!
Longing for a personal retreat as well as inspiration and new connections, I intentionally didn’t invite friends to hide behind. In the end, though, not knowing anyone felt pretty daunting from the moment I stepped off the plane. Imagining every woman was in Indianapolis for the conference, I was that awkward smiley girl, nodding her head at everyone in the airport. I’m telling you, insecurity does bizarre things to the best of us. As it turns out, Indy was also the location for “MomCon” (MOPS Leadership) that weekend and thousands of mamas were flooding the shuttle busses. Thankfully, before I could run away and hide, I quickly stumbled upon Danielle, another Influence attendee who had just flown in from Toronto. She held the bus for me as I figured out how to purchase a ticket to reach our hotel at the airport kiosk. After connecting on various subjects on that short bus ride, I quickly texted home like a nervous child on her first day of school: “I made my first friend!!“. That evening, I met loads of quality people, like the gals below, many of them mothers just like me, stepping out of their homes with great courage to refill their tanks and return to their homes and workplaces strengthened and recharged.
The weekend ended up being quite different to what I had expected. I had brought a few books, a swimsuit for the pool, cards to write in my downtime.. Yeah right! Instead, the time was jam-packed with keynote speakers, casual writers’ meet ups, optional breakout sessions, workshops, informational sessions, discussion panel lunches and so on. Also good, but not exactly the peaceful vacation I had envisioned away from my sleepless chaos awaiting me back home. I’ll be completely honest in saying that I also had to navigate my own inner tensions with many beautiful and then a few aggravating things of interacting with hundreds of millennials. I think this is the first time I had been surrounded by so many of these multitasking, always-on individuals.
Still, I met some absolutely remarkable and inspiring women like my roomie Beki (who was possibly made of solid gold) or mothers of extremely large families pursing their dreams. Several speakers spoke right into the themes over my own life this year: finding ways to just be; how to cultivate an undivided, focused heart, how critical it is to reorder our loves, how to live outwardly focussed and serve right in our local communities despite our very independent and insular culture…and despite the constant demands of small children.
The lady that stole the show and made the weekend absolutely worthwhile though, was my gal, Lisa-Jo Baker. This former human rights lawyer, turned ordinary-extraordinary mother and then author has changed my paradigm on motherhood like no other person I know. And again, she fired off many revolutionary gems about this life-phase so rapidly that I could hardly write it down fast enough.
I had read her book Surprised by Motherhood several times and each time was deeply impacted by her description of the high calling that is motherhood. Lisa-Jo believes that motherhood should come with a superhero cape and she is the ultimate cheerleader and encourager of all weary mothers. Surprisingly, at the conference, she didn’t dwell on the fatigue, the strain that we know to be true of parenting young children (apparently comparable to stress-levels found in front-line soldiers!). This time, I was left with a slightly different message. Lisa-Jo used her platform of mama-creatives to invite them to move ahead with purpose, advocating for children not to be viewed as an interruption to our calling but as part and parcel thereof. Lisa-Jo is famous for saying that when a mama is called to something, her kids are absolutely called right with her.
I think I will forever remember Lisa-Jo’s example of a mother of an extremely large family (think 8 or 12) that felt like God was telling her to bake a loaf of bread and go for a drive and it would be made clear who it was destined for. The kids were mortified thinking of the embarrassment factor, while the mother stepped into what she felt like was a clear prompt in her spirit. As she approached one particular driveway, she felt like that was the one she was to deliver this homemade bread to. The kids slid further down in their seats of their large passenger bus. Mama got out of the car, stepping out in faith, and said to an older man: “Hey, I know this seems odd, but I felt like I was supposed to bake you this loaf of bread.“ In response, the man said: “Thank you SO MUCH. My daughter just had a baby and the baby just died. My wife is trying so hard to receive people at the house but she is really struggling to pull it together. I appreciate it so much.“ Of course, the kids were completely silent. There was no need to tell them the value of serving. Mama was walking in it and it spoke so loudly for itself.
We can’t just repeatedly tell our little ones how to serve and to be missional, we have got to take them under our wings and invite them on this exciting journey of serving. As a next step, we then give them the words to understand what we are doing and why.
Sure, I loved the writer speed-dating, meeting new friends with big vision, the brief moment I got to swim in the hotel pool at 1045pm… But even if it was only to meet this phenomenal and authentic author-mother in person and hear her voice so many life-giving truths about this often grueling life-phase, it was well worth attending the conference.
What a counter-cultural idea to think that having kids doesn’t at all mean putting your calling on hold but rather that these small humans are called right by your side. We pour into their little lives by serving others and inviting them along. Even at a very young and tender age, our children strengthen our life’s calling immensely as they learn to serve with us. Yes!