Unique Conference 2017 | PLANTED
I have had the pleasure of attending CityHope since late 2013- back when it was Bay Community and we met in a small room that is now used for KidCity. (Who's with me!?) When I first moved to Spanish Fort I was pretty much alone, had just found out that we were expecting Chloe and I was desperate for community. I was desperate for friends, for women to invest in my life, for Jesus, for a miracle... desperate. I attended the second ever Unique Conference that fall and met my very first friend (who is still a great friend to this day and is expecting her first baby!) that night. We had both come alone and awkwardly sat next to each other during the conference and went for dinner afterwards. If it were not for that night and that friend I probably wouldn't have made it through that year.
Flash forward to today and I have now attended four of the five Unique Conferences hosted by CityHope Women. I can honestly say that this conference blows so many others out of the water. From the attention to detail, the incredibly talented worship team, the CRTV Team and Servers who spend hundreds of hours preparing, to the Pastors, Wives, Leaders, and Speakers who speak life into each person who enters the room- it is like no other.
If I am being totally honest, though- I almost didn't make it this year. I waited until the week of conference to buy my ticket. I have been overwhelmed with life and business and it is pretty easy to become a recluse and find excuses with two babies two and under and a fairly thriving business to run. This past weekend was also the kick-off into the busiest part of the year for weddings and I was tempted to use Friday to rest since I had a wedding on Saturday. You guys- we can't allow our busy schedules to take us away from investing in ourselves. When we become overwhelmed with life it is so easy to focus on all we have to do for others and put our own needs on the back-burner. For me, Unique Conference has always been a safe place to restore my emotional and spiritual needs and to have some fun time with girlfriends. These are things that don't come easily once you step into mother-hood so having a lot of my friends in one place, kid free for a few hours, dressed cute, dancing to music, eating food, taking photos, and spiritually investing in ourselves is a treasure.
This year's theme was PLANTED. For a floral lover this automatically was a bonus. However, the message behind this theme ran much deeper than pretty floral decorations being scattered throughout.
The conference kicked off with words truth from Isaiah 61:3
" and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor."
Every year, worship begins with an opening song that sets the mood for the duration of the conference. Last year, Shannon opened with a KILLER version of "Feelin' Good" which you can watch here. This year it started off with a powerful and beautiful song of worship from Kari Jobe.
"Faith is rising up like ivy
Reaching for the light
Hope is stirring deep inside me
Making all things right
Love is lifting me from sorrow
Catching every tear
Dispelling every lie and torment
Crushing all my fears
Now I see redemption
Growing in the trees
The death and resurrectionIn every single seed"
The Garden - Kari Jobe
Shannon and the worship team are some of the most talented and beautiful singer/songwriters I have ever seen in my life and it is truly an honor worshiping under their lead.
When worship was done and it was time to begin the first session, Lindsey Ard came out to first thank our fearless leader- Mrs. Jerri Taylor and welcomed her to the stage. Mrs. Jerri is the women's pastor and Pastor Jerry Taylor's wife. She has the biggest heart for victory over the heart of each woman in the room and we are all forever thankful for "Momma Jerri".
We broke back into one more song before Nicole Reyes took the stage and made us all realize that #wefamily. (I will explain that all later!)
This is where the heart of the conference (and this blog post) came to life. Nicole took the stage and within minutes dispelled the tensions in the room, easing the feeling of awkwardness and discomfort for all of the women who may have felt out of place. We talked about Race, Equality, Honesty, Financial Status, and ultimately, as I like to put it, The Comparison Trap.
(This will forever and always be a passion of mine.)
I want to highlight some of the things Nicole spoke about during this first session-
"What does it look like to be PLANTED in the kind of world that we live in?"
Ephesians 2:11-22 says:
Jew and Gentile Reconciled Through Christ
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Nicole went on to note that because of these verses- written in a time of extreme segregation- broke the wall of hostility across ALL barriers and because of this "we are all members of God's family".
"Family is not something you pick and choose!"
"The lowest denominator (referring to family) is that we are all bound by blood. It works the same way with God's family! That bond can never be broken and this is something to CELEBRATE; not just tolerate."
"Human beings function best in a healthy, thriving, family. Satan knows this and attacks families the hardest because he knows that God has given them the most power. The good news is: God knows this too because He designed it...
...It matters to God how we treat each other. That is why He named us the family of God.
Family is a place to be known. In a family, you are more than just a face in the crowd. Your absence is noticed and your presence is always desired.
Family weathers storms together. So let's be the kind of family that is there for one another.
EPH. 2:14- "He broke down the wall of HOSTILITY that separated us"
Because of this, the days of special treatment and prejudice are over. So, we must allow our OWN walls of hostility to be torn down. "
So ask yourself this question: "What is stopping us from loving people?"
"We say "Hi" and we just don't make it weird, okay? Like that's it. That's how it starts"
Oneka McClellan was our session 2 speaker. I was planning to leave early so I had my camera packed away and missed getting any photos of her sweet self, but you can find some on the CityHope Women's website or Instagram!
Oneka's goal was to challenge each of us to "Get our ASK on". She spoke about how so many of us, herself included, had once had a need they were desperate for God to meet and had since given up asking. They may have given up entirely or simply just set it aside. They were not fervent with their "ASK". They had gone "AWOL."
AWOL- absent from one's post but without intent to desert.
1 Samuel 1:17
"Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
A little bit of back story on this scripture:
Hannah (the subject of the verse) was desperate for God. She was barren and she, her husband, and his other wife were headed to the temple. The scripture tells us that the other wife was cruel to Hannah because she was barren and that because of this, Hannah was even more desperate for a miracle. The temple was a place where only Jews could enter into and the Gentiles had to stay in a courtyard on the outside. Basically, they could hear what the Jews were learning and experiencing but could not actually partake in it.
Eli- a high priest and judge- saw Hannah's brokenness as she prayed and cried in the outer courtyard and he spoke these words to her. After this, Hannah returned after she had born a child and showed Eli that because of his intercession for her, she gave birth to her son.
This all happened because Hannah became undignified at the temple and Eli saw her, came along side her, and interceded for her. They "Got their ask on".
That child that Hannah bore was Samuel. Just google "The Prophet Samuel" and you'll see how significant this "Ask" of Hannah's was.
"Sometimes, our ASK is bigger than we know. It may be even more for the lives of those around us than just for us."
"What is your Samuel?"
-Some of us need to start asking
-Some of us need grace to keep asking
-Some of us need to start asking on behalf of our sisters
"Our ask is not about the end result but about the IN result." (see Ezekiel 37:10)
I still had my camera put away when Jennie Spuler came up to speak So I unfortunately missed out on capturing her too.
Here is her recap:
PLANTED: "To be placed or fixed in a specific location to be able to grow."
"OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS"
Jennie walked us through the process of how an Oak begins it's life and how older Oaks aid new Oaks in their early life.
An Oak starts with an acorn and only grows a single root straight downward until a reliable water source is found. Once the root finds water the Oak can begin to grow. There has been studies that show that an older, stronger, Oak can send nutrients out to the newly sprouting Oak and help that sprout thrive! It even shows that in some cases, nutrients from one Oak can be traced back to an older Oak over a mile away. HOW AWESOME?!
Now- take all of that information you have learned about Oaks and apply that to us as human beings. As sisters in Christ. Why does Jesus call us "OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS"?
We are called to be Oaks of righteousness to those in need around us.
61 The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has chosen me.
He has commissioned me to encourage the poor,
to help the brokenhearted,
to decree the release of captives,
and the freeing of prisoners,
2 to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor,
the day when our God will seek vengeance,
to console all who mourn,
3 to strengthen those who mourn in Zion,
by giving them a turban, instead of ashes,
oil symbolizing joy, instead of mourning,
a garment symbolizing praise, instead of discouragement.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
trees planted by the Lord to reveal his splendor.
Just before I had to slip out, I was able to catch this panel with Season and Brian Russo - Founders of EYE HEART WORLD.
Eye Heart World was born in 2010 when Brian and Season Russo decided to take action against human trafficking in an innovative way. For the first awareness event they organized, Season and her mother, Denise Foster, created 30 bags, hoping to raise funds for a safe home in their community. Supporting the cause in a tangible way proved to be contagious - every single bag was sold that day. To this day, EYE HEART WORLD offers a product line who's funds are a small part of their operating budget and serves as a way for people to Carry The Cause.
They shared a personal story of a young girl who's mother had reached out to their local rep about her daughter and over the course of time, this young girl agreed to get help after being incarcerated. Once released, she eventually returned to her trafficker and was later found deceased in an alley. She was a mother of two. This transpired in OUR local area.
This story is to show us all that it takes a continual effort to help these women break out from this lifestyle. One way of helping them is to have "drop houses" for them to come to for a safe place, a hot meal, clean clothes, and love.
There is a drop house launching in Mobile called The Rose Center and you can donate to the cause to help build this location by clicking here.
I had such a wonderful time at this year's #UNIQUECONF and can't wait to see what next year's is like! You can register for it here!
See you next year!