Tuesday, September 15, 2015

That time I went to Jen Hatmaker's House

So I went to a party at Jen Hatmaker's house over Labor Day weekend.

Photo cred: Audra Ohm

It was so much fun.

Truly better than a vivid dream.

Jen was as dear, fun, and welcoming as I hoped she would be.

Yet the party was only a small slice of my incredible weekend.

The sweetest part was meeting people whose names I didn't know before six months ago. People whose names are now etched into my heart forever.

And a few of them live within minutes of me.

San Antonio Sisters: Me, Alyssa and Rebecca

The internet may be full of dumb stuff, but our tribe was born there so we're kind of protective of it. The irony that some of the most authentic, life-giving group of friends I have ever encountered emerged from social media is not lost on me. I have had an ongoing love-don't like at all relationship with Facebook and the posted  Christmas Card versions of people's lives. But finding authentic connection there was the sweetest surprise.

Brought together as members of Jen Hatmaker's Launch team for her book For the Love, we refer to ourselves as The 500 since that's how many of us there are: we're creative that way. :) We are as varied in background and life stage as you might expect with a number that size, and yet we have so much in common. We have a shared love for God, good humor, great writing, and a fondness for not taking ourselves too seriously. It proved to be a most excellent recipe for truth telling and soft landings. We have pulled back the curtain and shown each other our hurt places and lifted each other up over life's hard knocks and hilarious foibles. We are family. We are church.

Several months ago Jen told us that when the book successfully launched, we were all invited to her house in Austin for a party. We thought she was kidding since, umm, there are 500 of us and we're from all over the country and even the world. But she was serious. She just said she didn't have the bandwidth to plan it but if anyone had it in them to pony up some event planning--game on. Those of us who love this sort of thing jumped into action and a planning team emerged. I had the fun fortune of being a part of the team.

We required RSVPs a month out and found that 220 women were coming. 220 women who had never met were going to get on planes and drive cars alone to a city and even a state that many of them had never been to. It makes perfect sense to us but more than a few people had to explain to to the waiting world why they were heading off alone to meet "internet people". There was no cost to attend the party, but everyone was on their own to make their way there. When The 500 learned that there were a lot of people who wanted to come but couldn't afford it, they set up a scholarship fund. The girl who led the way was in Saudi Arabia. Yep. This is just the stuff of fiction but it happened and together we scholar- shipped 27 girls' way to the party. It was incredible to watch.

The party team was given a budget from the publishing company but it went quickly since we were paying for a party larger than many weddings. We got creative once we learned that renting un-fun things like portable toilets, tables, chairs, and fifteen passenger vans costs big money. So, I toted my patio umbrellas and two 44 gallon trash cans with me in my car, printed and cut out each and every little book quote by hand (which had been formatted by talented volunteers on the team), and painted candlesticks for the table decorations.

Sweet Cindy from the team made the cutest table runners and dear Laura brought dozens of borrowed table cloths and 40 mason jars to fill with flowers purchased by a generous team member. It was so much fun to watch everything come together so beautifully when everyone chipped in their efforts and gifts. A beautiful picture of how we've done life together for the past six months.

Someone had a connection to a custom backdrop and we had the most fun with the empty frames I bought at a garage sale. Several gifted photographers are part of the team and donated their talent to capture the magic of the evening.

Kimberly: Adorable. Hilarious. Tender friend. Tennessee treasure. Stellar wordsmith
Gifted graphic designer and photographer. Hashtags everything.

Corie: California girl. Beautiful from the inside out. Precious heart. Supreme mixologist
(All other margaritas are dead to me now). Author of The Simplicity Project and creator of
The Purposeful Planner.

  Annaliese: Gorgeous soul. Baylor Bear. Speech pathologist.  Beautiful storyteller. Hilarious company.

Sweet sampling of some Launch Lovies at the party. And Becky (who is second from the left)
is a ringer for Princess Kate, no? She's a Tarheel but looks like royalty to me and is pure delight.

Yes, my face is as red as a strawberry in each photo taken outside because the backyard was approximately the temperature of the sun give or take a frying pan or two.

Oh, but the pies. Sweet mercy they were divine and were donated by the amazing Royers Pie Haven in Round Top. We had asked them for a quote and then had to decline since it was out of our budget. They turned around and asked how "Free" sounded. They are such dear people and the pie. Did I mention the pie?

I misplaced my glasses during the evening and while looking high and low for several minutes I thought about where I had spent a great deal of time. Near the pies of course! There they sat on the table next to piles of decadence. We also had amazing catered tacos from Papalote Taco House in Austin. Hashtag:yummo!

Our team decided a few months ago that it would be helpful if we stayed in the same house so we could easily drink wine together tend to last minute details. We started our own little Facebook group and that's where the real magic happened. We told stories and over the course of the weeks inside jokes emerged and real affection began. Somehow this foundation made it decidedly un-weird to drive to Austin to meet them for the first time and share a rental house for the weekend. We may have never met before, but we absolutely knew one another.

In For the Love, Jen talks about her chickens and how they free-range all day long then come back together to nestle in at night. This absolutely resonated with our little group's independent lives cushioned by genuine community and so we adopted the name Chickens for our group of twenty. The house we rented, was naturally nicknamed, The Coop.

Hashtags easily emerged: #coopmebaby #coopitup #coopdreams #needmorechicken #featherthenest. We created our own language before ever speaking face-to-face. When we finally did meet, we greeted one another like life-long friends.

These are the first chicken beauties I laid eyes on in real life. I may have felt a lump in my throat when I heard their voices for the first time and felt their genuine warm hugs. They put me at ease instantly and I felt like I was at home, a home I've been dreaming about for a long time.

Photo Cred: Princess of Clarkston

We've shared more depth of intimacy than many find over a lifetime. We encouraged the far-leaning extroverts to go to the big 35+ dinners in Austin to meet up with more from The 500 and I welcomed the rest of the lovies to hang with me at the house.

Corie mixed up her famous skinny margaritas and we made guac and pulled out appetizers and proceeded to sit together and laugh to the point of tears.

 Kimberly, Dana, and Brandy

We stayed up late and woke to the smell of bacon and coffee, because Jesus loves us that much. Ten or more of us piled in one of the girls' rooms in the morning and in our PJs we all took the Myers Briggs on our phones because, why not? We encouraged one another in the unique contributions we all brought to the group and laughed at some of the traits revealed. In the midst of it, someone brought up a blog post that beckoned us to pray for Jen.

We stopped everything and prayed together for her. It is one of the highlights of the weekend for me. To stop right in the moment and lift up our friend in prayer, it's what we've been doing for one another for six months and it felt sacred to have the chance to do it in the same room.

And truly Jen feels like our friend. She has loved us all well and been so real and un-famousy (as dear Kimberly named it) in front of us.

She's just a talented girl who loves God so much. She's hilarious and fun and wicked smart. We just want to know her more, but we don't want to be her.

Photo cred: Bethany Beams

The different gifts we each bring to the blend is what makes the community we share so beautiful. We don't need more of the same, we need one another's unique story. Being fully ourselves and fully alive in front of each other makes for beautiful friendships, turns out.

The weekend capped well on Sunday morning when we got to hear Jen preach at Austin New Church. The message of encouragement to play our note to the world, small though it may feel, brought most of us to tears. She joked that the place looked like a sorority house with all of us in the room. You can listen here.

I am so happy in this picture. And guess who took it? Lindsey Nobles! I know!! I was surrounded by authentically incredible women. Such a treat. I was so happy to be inside the gorgeous HGTV renovated home of this beautiful girl. So happy that I am smiling so big that my upper lip has disappeared and all of my teeth are in full view. Haha! I so wanted a good picture of me in the glorious air conditioning before the outdoor party. I even toyed with swapping out a different head photo of me so that I would like this picture better. But that sort of seemed counter to the whole "We're so authentic and real" theme I had been enjoying. But seriously, a person could have a lot of fun with photo-editing software if they don't mind wasting a lot of time. Which clearly, I do not. Because look how real my fake head looks all poised and cozy up on my neck. #freakyfriday.

We chickens are already talking about a reunion trip in 2016 and you know what? I really think we'll do it. We are knitted together forever. They are the greatest gift I never knew to ask for.

And if you're up for even more of a recap of all of the goodness, you can check out the movie my dear friend and Sister Chicken Brandy from northern California created. It's a fantastic capture of the journey of the weekend including Coop time, party arrival, and the party itself. Watch to the end and you get to see me in my PJs setting off the smoke alarm while cooking breakfast for the house. Good times.

We never took a group shot, but here we are. #chickentenders 

My Chicken Tenders Forever 

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