7 Things I Learned at Influence

Hey there friends.

Last week was one heck of a WOW week.

I got engaged.

I ran a marathon.

Yep- I cried.

And then I drove 8 1/2 hours with my friend Erin to Indianapolis for the Influence Conference.

I was super pumped about attending a blogging conference where I was going to learn about blog design, buttons, widgets, sponsors, ads and a host of other techy things I know nothing about.

What I was NOT prepared for is how much I would learn about Jesus.
What I would learn about the power of grace, forgiveness and  2nd chances.
What I would learn about friendships and the bonds of women.
What I would learn about myself.

As my friend Erin put it- we got a 'soul exfoliation.'

And since I love lists, especially lists of 7 things...here you go: 7 things I picked up at the conference:

1. I like hanging out with women.

Yes, I'm a woman. Do I have girlfriends I chat with? Yes. Is it like those TV slumber parties where we all throw pillows and talk about boys? Nope. Not in the least. I've always been the girl with a lot of guy friends so the idea of spending an entire weekend surrounded by 200+ women, 5 of which I would be rooming with...actually terrified me. I knew Erin from church but we hadn't spent a lot of 1:1 time together so I was also worried about that.
What would I say?
Would we run out of things to talk about in the car?
What if we end up not having a lot in common?
What if our roommates suck?
What if it's really cliquey and like high school all over again?
Turns out- none of that happened.
Erin and I talked NON-STOP from Iowa to Indiana and back again.
In fact, we connected all weekend.
We also connected with our roommates and tens of other women at the conference.
With our roomies, Amanda,  Erin, Adri, and Jill on the way to the Stripes party


With our new buddy Courtney
Not only did I have an amazing time, I really bonded with a new friend in a way I never expected.
2. Not all women bloggers are part of the 'mommy club.'
I'm a little embarrassed to admit this.
After seeing some of the posts on the facebook page for the conference I made some quick judgements that I was going to be the only single girl with no kids that also wasn't in college. And that I was going to have to listen to a lot of diaper, poop, breast-feeding talk all weekend and feel like an outsider.
That didn't happen either.
There were moms. And yes, there was the occasional diaper-poop-breastfeeding-kid talk, but I never ONCE felt like I was an outsider to an exclusive club.
In fact, I was honestly taken aback by how many of them wanted to know who I was, what I write about and what my life is like.
Again, here is me drudging up old insecurities about not fitting in and being completely surprised by the amazing things God does when he puts a bunch of women together.
3. Celebrity bloggers are just regular people with a past too.
I'm ALSO embarrassed to admit this.
Okay I'm surprising myself with the amount of preconceived notions I had about this whole thing.
As I've probably mentioned on her once or twice or 15 times, I'm a big fan of Mama Pea. I've made a lot of her recipes and posted them on here. She's sort of my blog idol.
One of the reasons I decided to come was because she was going to speak and I thought 'OMG! I could MEET HER. We could become FRIENDS!' (again- inner celebrity crush coming out).
In fact, I found out before the conference that she was coming to the morning run group and I actually posted on her facebook wall like a creepy stalker fan.
So fast forward to the Stripes party. I see her across the room and actually end up right next to her at least 3 times and do not say hi.
I do not know what came over me. I just felt so out of place. Like- here I am, some random girl from Iowa, who writes a blog that only gets read by a few friends- I'm not really at that level. And also, as extroverted as I may seem, it's not in my nature to just strike up conversations with people I don't really know.
I see Mama Pea 3 more times after that and still don't say hi.
Then I went to her Saturday morning Life session.
And I heard her story.
I saw her cry.
I saw her bare her soul to a hundred women, most of which she had never met, and who, like me, blog on the Internet and most likely would share her amazing story of grace and redemption with their readers.
She shared things like:
I was asking God for a truce, and he wanted a surrender.
I could gain the world and forfeit my soul.
In order for his kingdom to come, I had to let my kingdom go.
Finally fill my God-shaped hole with a personal relationship with Jesus.
I found a new purpose- Jesus is the filter for my life.
Then I sort of felt like a chump.
I was so excited about meeting Mama Pea, but I realized the person I really wanted to meet was Sarah. 
Sarah, the woman who discovered no amount of success or fame would ever fill her the way God's love does.
So I talked to her after her session.
Got a picture.
Then we chatted via Twitter.
And then before we left Saturday night I gave her a hug.
And she said 'Email me anytime.'
And I realized I didn't meet my blogging idol, I made a new friend.
4. It's okay to say 'no' sometimes.
If you've been coming to Even Me for any time at all, you probably are well aware of how much I overschedule, overplan and overstretch myself.
On Friday, I listened to John Saddington's strategy session. His theme was 'Entreprenuership and You.' There was a lot of practical business advice, but the best advice he gave was 'Yes, No.'
He said learn to say 'no' before you say 'yes.'
IF you are going to say 'yes' to something, then you have to be willing to say 'no' to something in your current pipeline.
He talked about margin versus exhaustion. That, as writers, we need to have time to have no one to report to and nothing to do and that is OKAY.
That the saying 'yes' can only come out of your margin.
So...this week I started something different. I scheduled time for myself.
Novel idea, right?
I decided since I love blogging so much and I'm always feeling like there isn't enough time, I'm scheduling 2 writing sessions a week for me to blog, journal, whatever. Just time for me to decompress and do something that I love to do.
Of course the minute I schedule this writing session someone asks me to do something.
and guess what, people?
I said 'I'm sorry, I have blocked off that day for some personal time. Maybe we can do something later this week?'
And it felt good.
5. No matter how extroverted you are on your blog...most writers are introverts.
We arrived at the conference Thursday night. They had a quick opening session, then we were headed off to the Stripes party.
You know what happens when you put a bunch of bloggers who don't know each other in a room together?
We stand around with the people we know or are rooming with.
It was a little like a middle school dance. Ha.
I read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts a couple months ago. It talks about how introverts value personal, one on one connection and maintain high levels of empathy and sensitivity.
I found this to be so true in many of my encounters with other writers. There were a few extroverts or good 'fakers' as some of them openly admit, but most of us play our cards a little close to the chest until we feel comfortable.
 6. We are broken people. We all need to receive the Gospel everyday.
I heard the words 'broken people', 'grace' and 'redemption' often during the course of the weekend.
I heard so many stories of salvation through receiving God's forgiveness.
Stories I could relate to. Stories of finding peace through Jesus.
In her session, Jessi talked about how believing and receiving the Gospel are different things. We may have believed the Gospel years ago, but we still need to receive God's grace and redemption everyday.
Often, I think we forget that.
Forget that we are gonna mess up. And the only way we can 'fail well' is to learn through God's unending grace.
7. When you invite God into a place, he shows up.
The days and weeks leading up to the conference were filled with women (and men) all over the country praying.
Praying for guidance for our conference leaders.
Praying for safe travels for attendees.
Praying for logistics.
Praying for the speakers.
Praying for families being left at home.
Praying for tender hearts to show up and be INFLUENCED.
And you know what?
Those prayers were answered.
Jesus was present in the way complete strangers shared rooms, meals and hearts. 
He was present in the way new bonds were formed and old ones forged stronger.
He was present in every story, tear, hug and 'I love you.'
We asked him to hang out and he SHOWED UP.
I have so many thoughts on how I'm going to use my Influence to share Jesus with the world. I have plans for discovering my passion and purpose.
Leaving Influence was a little like when I left church camp as a kid.
High on Jesus and expectant of the future.
I hope and pray that this weekend will always be a constant reminder of what we can do when we become a force for good.
I'm grateful for the many women I met who are now blowing up my Twitter feed and inspiring me every single day.
God is awesome ya'll.