when god was at urbana also queen

As an extrovert, fine, I admit it: I’m a conference junkie.  I’ve always loved conferences, I stay up the latest and party the hardest though when I say “party” I mean getting drunk on conversations and high on laughter.  Of all the conferences I’ve ever been to, maybe 45 or more, I’ve only ever had a drink at two.  When your extrovert flag flies as high and bright as mine, trust me, you don’t need a smidge of choice beverage to have a fan-flipping-tastic time.  I digress.

For 16 combined student & staff years I served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship where I attended, served & trained at several of the aforementioned conferences.  One of my favorite conferences EVER is the Urbana conference where over 18,000 attendee’s from all over the world come to figure out what, where & how God may be calling them into the world.  It’s hard to describe what an amazing experience it is to worship alongside that many other Jesus-followers while hearing top-of-the-line legit, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural men and women preachers who BRING IT.  It’s intense serious brain and soul food for the avid Christian truth-teller. As a college student, I witnessed a miracle at Urbana ’96 and IT FREAKING BLEW ME AWAY.

And then Blogher ’13.  It’s equally difficult to describe communing with 5,000 other lady-folk -also from all over- who love to write, create, explore and push the boundaries of the written word through the medium of blogging?  It too, is amazeballs with a cherry on top.


I’m 97.2% sure Urbana & Blogher ’13 are two of my favorite conferences -EVER.  But how can they be, both being so vastly different by nature, so opposite yet so important to me? That lead me to a little conference comparison indulgence…

The Basics:

Urbana – App. 18,000 – 20,000 delegates.  Was held at the University of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.  Outgrew it.  Now in St. Louis.


Blogher – App. 5,000 delegates.  Location varies. Recently in Chicago.

The Mission & Vision:

From the Urbana website: “The Urbana Conference and Urbana.org have the same goal: to compel this generation to give their whole lives for God’s global mission. I hope Urbana.org becomes a place for you to discern how God may be leading you and a resource to help equip you for the journey ahead.”  You can read more about this here.

Blogher website: (I couldn’t find anything specific to the conference but here is their overall stated purpose): “Founded in 2005 by Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins to answer the question, “Where are the women bloggers?”, BlogHer has become an unstoppable movement, inspiring women to find their voices and turn their passions into content, community and commerce, attracting some of the web’s best talent and top social sites, in topics from food and fashion to politics and parenting. Today the BlogHer community reaches an audience of 92 million across premium blogs, Web sites, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter (May 2013, Nielsen Site Census).”  You can read more about this here.


Mutual Ground found in:

Urbana: Delegates find mutual ground in their Christian faith, the mission of carrying out the good news of Jesus to the rest of the world and the desire to be trained and discipled to do so.

Blogher: Delegates find mutual ground in creativity, writing, blogging, authoring books, instagraming, gender issues, life-stage issues, etc.

The Role of Community:

Urbana:  You frequently see random young people breaking out in small group prayer sessions.  The inherent message of truth and beauty of personhood and value is often spoken.  The gift of community in a group of like-minded believers is powerful.

Blogher: You don’t need anyone to say out loud “every person here has value and beauty, ” you just know it.  It was instinctive and obvious as each person descended upon the stage.

Bottom line: the conferences are way different. What struck me as I rode home from Blogher was that God was there.

God was present at Blogher ’13.

When you pull all of the other elements out a conference what’s left is the people.  I firmly believe all truth is God’s truth.  It doesn’t matter who’s on stage loving, encouraging or inspiring delegates.  If it’s true it’s God truth.  And at Blogher ’13, I saw women of every variety -Buddist, Athiest, liberal, Republican, Lesbian, Single, etc.- LOVING ONE ANOTHER well.

One need not descend upon a Christian missionary conference to see the love of God nor to love others well.

We expect God to show up at Urbana.  But do we expect God to show up at Blogher?  We should.


Queen Latifah was also at Blogher.


 I was excited.  I grew up with the lyrics, “Queen L-A-T-I-F-A-H in demand!” and with the movie, Set it Off. 

As you may have noticed, Queen Latifah is a black woman.  She’s educated, successful, thick, hilarious, accomplished.  She was there to host The Voices of the Year.  I was chosen as one of 100 Voices of the Year.  To be a part of that celebration was affirming on 1,000 levels. Much in the same way Obama being the biracial President of the free world makes me feel like I can accomplish all of my goals and dreams.  Being affirmed -in any way- by Queen Latifah meant something to me.

Perhaps more significant than I can fully grasp.  It’s as if God reminded me -through QL’s presence there- being black, being a woman, being thick, being hilarious, being a leader are not just things the world sees and celebrates because of her success but they are also things God celebrates in me.

God is pleased that I am black, a woman, thick, hilarious, a leader, a writer, etc.  My unique combination isn’t celebrated in many contexts and it’s certainly not the message I’m getting from anyone other than my inner circle.  As a black, Christian, woman, writer, leader I have to seek that out, I have to hunt that message down i.e. “am I okay just the way I am?” “Yes, little buddy, you’re okay just the way you are, looking the way that you do, speaking the way that you do, dressing the way that you do.  You be you.”

I tried to breathe and ingest this positivity.  I tried to bottle it up for my nightstand for those upcoming dark nights of the soul when the world is shoving me around telling me to look, act, dress, write, lead differently.

I took those deep breaths as I sat in the front row, giddy, excited, full of anticipation…


 …there was some chaos, there was some crazy, some VOTY winners were a little disappointed at how it all went down (<–great post by the way)…

voty chaos collage

 …but I let it roll over me because well, Jesus.  It didn’t go as planned at all.  But what I did was initiate a 15 second conversation with her…  (waste not, want not, eh?)

Me: I’m so happy to meet you!

QL: (chaos all around her, probably doesn’t even hear me yet, I persist…)

Me: I know Nayanna Holley!  (Nayanna, a WMU InterVarsity alum of which my hubby & I have had a discipleship relationship with during her time at WMU, who is a singer/songwriter & toured as a back-up singer with Queen Latifah).

QL: Oh you do!  Man, I miss Nayanna! She’s touring in Europe now right?

Me: Yep, she’s doin’ her thang!  Can I get a picture?

QL: (barely has a second to breath before I pass off my phone off & snuggle up).

More chaos.   The stage becomes a hazard to our safety.

Eventually most of the VOTY winners got a group shot…


 Afterwards we rush the reception where the winning articles stood 8 ft. tall….

2013-07-26 20.07.04

…and the drinks were aplenty.  I had only one fruity drink for no other reason than I was about to get on the road and drive 3.5 hrs. home so that I could make it to Detroit the next day for the Funeral of my best friend’s Mother.

I missed the full final day of Blogher.  I missed hearing Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In: Women, Work & the Will to Lead.  I heard it was amazing.  I missed more networking.  I missed more fun, more extroverted happy-drug-high.

But I left and I’m so glad I did. My heart was full, my inspiration floating high.

I left because people are always more important.  Love is always more important.  Call me crazy but I know 98% of the Blogher delegates would have done the same thing because that is what you do when you love.

That’s what I experienced at Blogher -differently- but similarly to what I’ve experienced at any Urbana conference: love.

And when you recognize and spot the love of God anywhere you are, well then, hard choices become a lot easier to make.

Thanks Blogher & thanks God.  That was pretty damn rad.



  1. SortaCrunchy says:

    “One need not descend upon a Christian missionary conference to see the love of God nor to love others well.” That gave me chills. Absolutely! I love the pictures of you just sitting there BEAMING. I so hope we get to meet someday in the face-to-face way. We could totally extrovert out on each other. Congrats again on VOTY. Awesome thoughts on BlogHer!

    • ahahahah, I would LOVE to extrovert out on you, M! Thanks so much for your encouragement. Those pics are GREAT. I’m so glad I got in the front row! Early bird gets the worm, eh? =)

  2. Starleisha Gingrich⭐ says:

    I literally sat straight back in my chair at that picture of you and QUEEN LATIFAH. But I love what you say about expecting God to be there at an not explicitly Christian event. I’m learning to see God in everything, everywhere. He permeates us with his presence, and it’s so cool that you were able to witness that! ALSO QUEEN LATIFAH. :)

    • Yes, it’s so true, Starleisha, God is whereever we are!!! I’m so sick of people labeling people and functions and refusing to see an alternative approach. He does PERMEATE, thank you God. Also, Queen Latifah. lol. =)

  3. Oh.my. I was at Urbana 96 too! The only Urbana ive been to. My most treasured memory was the the sister Jackie, I think her name was, who was a bible translator in the Philippines. The whole experience was awesome!
    I love the photo of your article standing taller than you! What an honour!

    • Oh my gosh, Urbana ’96 was (in the voice of Macklemore) FREAKING AWESOME! I don’t remember the Jackie thing. But there were so many stand out moments. Probably the TV Thomas one was the biggest for me. But yeah, the BIG, GIANT article was so amazing, and it was a true honor. for-reals.

  4. Natalie Hart says:

    Congratulations on being a top 100 voice. This part of your post will stick with me: “You don’t need anyone to say out loud ‘every person here has value and beauty,’ you just know it. It was instinctive and obvious….” How amazing. Of course, I’m wishing church could be this way all the time — then again, as a leader, I can be part of making this happen. Thanks for giving me something to think about, to shoot for.

  5. Elisa Camahort Page says:

    I LOVE this post, especially this: “You don’t need anyone to say out loud ‘every person here has value and beauty,’ you just know it. It was instinctive and obvious….”

    Thank you! For coming, congrats on being a #VOTY and thanks or this lovely post :)

    • Elisa, thank you so much!!!! Means a lot coming from you!!! Thank YOU for making it a reality for every person to know to feel that acknowledged sense of value, beauty & dignity. It’s an amazing thing & such a gift to all of us in our differences.

  6. Whoa – this is a work of art, Grace. So pleased to meet you and be considered your VOTY peer. Here’s the line that really struck a chord with me: “…but I let it roll over me because well, Jesus.” Sounds like I need to spend some more time with God. Thanks for the gentle reminder. I needed that.

    • Oh man, thanks so much, Leslie! I’ve been routinely cracking up at your work for a long time now (as a blog stalker. lol. sorry. =) Anyway, wow, so glad that thought in particular struck you. I hope it leads to some good ole quality God time. =) Thanks so so so so much for stopping in here at my humble online home. =)

  7. Moni Washington Padula says:

    This was amazing! Great blog, and amazing pics! Congrats :) And I could hear QL’s voice during your dialogue.

  8. Congratulations! What an accomplishment. Too bad the recognition ceremony was so chaotic. It’s so interesting how you compared two very different conferences, which I guess aren’t so different in a lot of ways.

  9. Hi! I just wanted to say I love this post and I am just starting to “get to know you” through your blog, and I think you and your writing are awesome.

  10. An 8 ft tall amplification of your voice and work = awesome! Queen Latifah = Shut up! That sure was “damn rad.” And all while being as radiantly fashionable as ever. Happy for you! Just, wow.
    Also? Loved. this.–> “Yes, little buddy, you’re okay just the way you are, looking the way
    that you do, speaking the way that you do, dressing the way that you
    do. You be you.” :)

    • Jamie, that quote, it’s funny but it’s one of the things one of my besties says to me when I’m having a hard time, “little buddy, your okay just the way you are!” It’s sort of a silly thing in my mind, but the truth is people need to hear that more than once and from a variety of contexts for it set in… anyway, thanks!!!!

  11. This: “We expect God to show up at Urbana. But do we expect God to show up at Blogher? We should.” Spoke more spiritual truth to me than probably anything I’ve heard or read in the last five years. We should because if God is in us then He is there because we are there. And He is here where I am now. In my journey. You have no idea what reading this has done for me. Thank you. And it was great meeting you. You have a smile that lights up your face. I’m glad I got to see it live and in person.

    • Oh my gosh, Jennifer –the last 5 years?! Holy smack, girl! What an honor. But yes, I so agree with you God is/was there because we were! I’m so glad that truth set in for you in a new way. So so so so so glad. It was SO lovely to meet you too!! You made me feel so welcomed by letting me tag along with you & your peeps. =) Also, you let me rest on your bed, so there’s that. ahahahahaha

  12. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next write ups thanks once again.

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