Fill the Cathedrals: What I learned from dancing like a fool at the Edel Gathering

July 29, 2014 | 51 comments

I had this dream that I was on a dance floor with dozens of new friends, and I suddenly saw Abby Johnson to my left, and a unicorn in a dress to my right.

Oh, wait. That wasn’t a dream. That was the 2014 Edel Gathering

There was singing.


There was wine.


There were talks so powerful that the Omni staff had to scramble to get enough Kleenex for all the sobbing women.


There was my amazing family — my mom, aunt Lisa, aunt Claudia, and uncle Kevin — who paid their own way to come and work the entire weekend, just to bless the women in attendance.


There were tweets broadcast on a jumbo screen.


There were husbands at home who figured out that they could get their tweets displayed on the jumbo screen.

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There was Kelly Mantoan rapping to Flo Rida and doing the robot on the karaoke stage. (Which was quickly followed by the crowd pretty much exploding with screams and shouts of awe.)

There were babies.


There was dancing with babies.


There were crazy shoes.




There were babies in crazy shoes.


There were stunning table decorations, handmade as a labor of love by Kathryn Whitaker.


There were new friends made, and virtual friendships cemented.


There was Abby Johnson crashing the party just as Heather burst onto the dance floor wearing a unicorn head.



But you know what there was most of all? An overwhelming, tremendous, palpable sense of RELIEF.

As Sarah Babbs so beautifully said in her post about the event, many of us came to this gathering feeling utterly overwhelmed and discouraged. Our lives are wonderful, but they’re also hard.

Being a faithful Catholic mother in the world today is a counter-cultural move — and it feels counter-cultural. Sarah articulated it perfectly by saying that we’re exhausted from “swimming upstream in a culture that would not care if we drowned.”


Hallie and I knew that God was the one behind this event. When we signed that first venue contract last year, we had no idea what kind of event this would be. We just knew — and knew with a level of clarity that each of us had only rarely experienced — that God wanted this event to happen.


It was a fascinating experience to watch the hand of the Holy Spirit guide this event into the form he wanted it to take. It wasn’t until the very end that I even knew what the Edel Gathering’s purpose was. But once I saw it, it seemed so obvious:

The Edel Gathering was meant to help us feel less alone.

As the day of the event approached, I kept thinking of that famous story about the mom who felt completely invisible, and realized that her work was like that of the builders of the great cathedrals. The outside world might not see the important work that the builder does, but God sees.

And because he sees, he knows we’re still lonely, even though he is there. God knows that we crave the physical presence of our fellow human beings, because that’s how he made us. The God who became flesh understands the importance of meeting in the flesh.



I believe that what God did with the Edel Gathering — and what he will continue to do with future Edel Gatherings — was to throw open the doors of the cathedral, to flood it with fellow builders. The outside world may still ignore the work that we’re doing, but that doesn’t mean we have to toil alone. I believe that every woman who left the Edel Gathering this weekend now carries with her the sounds of laughter and joyful chatter of the fellow workers who now labor alongside her in the cathedral.


Saturday night, I found myself in the middle of a dance floor. It is the first time I have willingly stepped onto a dance floor in fifteen years. I know can’t dance; all I can ever do is flail to the beat and hope for the best. I always know that it would only take a few seconds of my moves to elicit a chorus of condescending snickers from onlookers who are much cooler (and much better dancers) than I. So I am always — ALWAYS — the one bobbing my head awkwardly off to the side.




Yet the joy of the evening was too contagious, and I found myself dancing like a fool, more filled with joy and happiness than I’ve felt in a long time, basking in the pure flood of relief that came with knowing that everyone here was a friend. And when I looked around, I saw the same joy and happiness and relief on all the other women’s faces. And as I watched them jump up and down and bust crazy moves to the sounds of claps and shouts of encouragement, I thought:

This is the celebration of women who have finally found their people.


  1. Jeni

    Thank you Jen and Hallie and **everyone** who talked, set up, broke down, prayed for and participated in the Edel Gathering. From the bottom of my heart. This was just what my soul needed, and I am bursting at the seams with gratitude — as well as hope that next year even more ladies will get to share in the joy. I don’t know how but I sure as heck plan on getting to Edel 15!!

    Ya’ll are the best. <3


    • jeni

      Also–you didn’t even mention your interpretive dance to the spice girls (which you rocked). Fully loved it.

  2. Christine @ loveisneverdefeated

    This is so beautiful. I felt inspired just following along on social media. Next year I hope to come! WE DON”T HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE. Amazing. Also you all looked SO beautiful and truly joyous. Pretty great stuff.

  3. Melissa

    Amen! Thank you Jen for listening and saying Yes! to the Holy Spirit. He sure knows how to throw a party and He sure knows how to pick a party planner who will get the job done. Hats off to you.

  4. Julia Motekaitis

    Great job, Hallie, Jen and all who worked together with the help of the Holy Spirit to make this magic happen! I’m looking forward to my chance to bask in the loveliness of Edel next time!!!!

  5. Teri Love

    I only heard of Edel about two weeks before it happened (I know, my head must be buried in the sand) — I was intrigued and encouraged that it was happening and wasn’t surprised that such a venture would be sold out. It is great to hear from you how it went – from “finding your people” to unicorn heads. And my favorite line is this: “The Edel Gathering was meant to help us feel less alone.” What a much-needed goal and vision! God bless any continued efforts you make toward that end. I want to get in on it, too! So many women need to hear and know this. Our parish moms’ group will either travel to Austin for the next one or ask you to tell us how to duplicate it on the West Coast!

  6. Deb

    Hopefully if you can do this next year I’ll be able to go. This year was during the Defending the Faith conference. At least I know it can’t be that weekend next year! 🙂

  7. Lisa-Jo

    Man! It’s enough to make a girl wish she was Catholic!

  8. Mary Helen (A Helping of Home)

    This line — “Sarah articulated it perfectly by saying that we’re exhausted from “swimming upstream in a culture that would not care if we drowned.” gave me goosebumps from its truth. And the whole post brought tears to my eyes. I hope I can come to the next one, because you are right. We moms need this. Thanks for all you do and I’m so glad it was a success!!

    • TaraSz

      Hi Mary Helen, good thing I read your comment cause I was about to post pretty much the same thing. Not sure where you’re from but I’m in Philly and no way could make it to Texas…maybe we need an Edel East Gathering?

  9. Jen

    I didn’t get to properly thank you for Edel in person this weekend. Thank you for following God’s call to create the Edel Gathering. I’m sure that this wasn’t easy for you and Hallie to put together with all the other things that must consume your day-to-day existences. I appreciate the sacrifices you made to do it and that your families made to do it.

    I felt nourished and supported by all the women who came together to deny the cultural lies that we’re crazy and to beat back the loneliness that stalks us all. We are Catholic women and we’re here no matter what they say. The dance floor and karaoke were amazing…oh, and I LOVED that DJ. Here was a guy who embraced the room’s joy, encouraged it with his music and had fun with us. He clearly could’ve gone the other way when he realized that this event was a Catholic women’s conference. Please bring him back again if at all possible.

  10. Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany

    I love all these photos! Thank you again for all of this. Edel was just wonderful and MUCH needed. You and Hallie thought of everything (nap time?? yes!). I am still going over the talks in my head and reading and re-reading Sister Elizabeth Ann’s letter and reviewing my (hazy, iPhone) photos and smiling. I love all the Edel recap posts coming out. Hope to see you again next year!

  11. Melody

    It looks like the gathering was truly phenomenal. I am so happy you guys had fun and that everyone was really ministered to! I am not a mother, but I have recently begun working at a preschool, and today as I was off in a corner room changing a diaper while toddlers crawled on a toy-laden mat several feet away, it struck me how overwhelming it would probably get at times, despite the joy, when a mother has a baby (or several littles) alone at home day after day…. I can’t help but agree that God was in the plans for Edel! 🙂

  12. Theresa

    Oh my what a fun bunch of Catholics!!!!! The photo of you taking a selfie, look again the baby in the sling The eye peeking out just seems to scream “WTH” 😉

    • Aileen

      I saw that little eye, too!! lol. That’s exactly what it looked like! 😉

  13. Nell @ Whole Parenting Family

    Dear Jen! I’ve been clutching that letter from Sr. Elizabeth Anne and showing it to everyone I possibly can. Just knowing we all converged, and then went back out into the great battle of our day-to-day existence, armed with each other, makes me grin like a goofball. Thanks to you & Hallie and everyone who made it happen. #edel15!

  14. amy

    Ok the selfie Jen, you are taking with Christy and Jenny and evie is photo bombing from the ergo.. My fave!! Glad the event was such a success!!

  15. Elisa | blissfulE

    Awesome! I wasn’t even there, but your post encouraged this builder. Thank you!

  16. Kristen Weber

    I remember when this was first announced and I wanted to go SO bad! But it sold out so fast, and it really wasn’t feasible for me to go this year. I hoped and prayed it would be a huge success so there would be one NEXT year, and by golly, I’ll make it to that one! Looking through all the Instagrams and tweets, etc I KNEW this was one heck of a weekend and somehow I felt like I was there maybe just a little bit. Even though I longed to actually be there in person, I had a feeling of contentment just knowing THOSE were MY people; I wasn’t alone! Thank you SO much for doing this for us! God bless you and everyone involved!

  17. Emily B

    “swimming upstream in a culture that would not care if we drowned.”

    Love that quote. I did not go to edel. As I contemplated whether or not I could handle going to the conference and being the oldest one there (just turned 50 on Sunday) it sold out!

    • Suzi

      Emily– you wouldn’t have been the oldest. There were a few of us there. Come next year, you won’t regret it!

      • Michelle M

        Emily, I am about to turn 50 in August but I SO HOPE to be there next year. Maybe we could have an “elderly” faction there, too !! 😉

        • Emily B

          Michelle, sounds great!

      • Emily B

        If I make it I will be looking for you Suzi!

    • Denise

      Maybe there could be an older mother with little ones faction, too. I’m 44 with three very small ones, one teen, and one adult.

      • Emily B

        Sounds good to me!

  18. Stefanie

    So happy your event went well! There is no greater feeling than being with those who share your Catholic beliefs! I hope I can attend your event next year. 🙂

  19. Caroline Starr Rose

    I’m in love with that baby peeking out of the carrier!

  20. Michelle@EndlessStrength

    I am saving my money and hoping I can make it next year. It sounds wonderful and I’m so glad you all put it on. Congratulations on a successful event.

  21. Kathy H

    Thanks for the lovely weekend! It was so good to meet other moms in the trenches and make connections off line. And meeting so many bloggers in person was just awesome 🙂

  22. Suzette Mahoney

    I am not sure why but this has me weepy in a good way. I am SO IN for the next Edel weekend. I will walk from North Carolina if I have to!

  23. Adrie | A Little Wife's Happy Life

    It looks like it was sooo much fun! (And can I say, I’m sort of weirded out by seeing so many of “my” bloggers in one place. It’s like all my open tabs smooshed into one.)

  24. Nancy

    Swimming upstream in a culture that would not care if we drowned…. oh, indeed. As an older, baby-boomer-generation upstream swimmer, I’m hugely encouraged to know that the swim goes on. Thanks for sharing such joyful scenes from this “celebration of women who have finally found their people.” Those beautiful words almost made me cry.

  25. Morag

    I’m a little teary eyed after this post. I really hope I might be able to come next year….!

  26. Madeline

    My practical mind is reeling, because if all those ladies who went this year want to go again. And all of us ladies who didn’t go would like to go next year… how on earth are we all going to fit? Would you say that the group was exactly the right size for the event? Would it doubling in size detract from the fun and sisterhood–could it be too big to really connect? Should the location change annually to allow more “local” attendees? Am I crazy for overthinking next summer a full four days after Edel 2014 ended? (Yes. Yes I am.)

  27. Tara

    Is there a confirmed Edel 15? I’m already saving soooo I sure hope there is! I refuse to miss this event again!

  28. Laura

    Had I known you can wear the head of a unicorn, I would have totally been there!

    You, this, all of it…so encouraging and powerful to see God at work through all these beautiful women. Even, and perhaps especially, the ones wearing unicorn heads.


  29. Kristin S.

    I got teary-eyed reading this and I wasn’t even there! What an amazing message, and clearly the Holy Spirit was aallll up in this. 🙂 Is it time for Edel 2015 yet?

  30. Heather

    Absolutely brilliant quote,
    “Yet the joy of the evening was too contagious, and I found myself dancing like a fool, more filled with joy and happiness than I’ve felt in a long time, basking in the pure flood of relief that came with knowing that everyone here was a friend. And when I looked around, I saw the same joy and happiness and relief on all the other women’s faces. And as I watched them jump up and down and bust crazy moves to the sounds of claps and shouts of encouragement, I thought: This is the celebration of women who have finally found their people.”

    If that doesn’t describe all that we hope for in forming Christian relationships with other women, with attending a church and looking for community, all in the context of a loving relationship with God, I don’t know what does. You captured it completely.

  31. Beth

    Yes, overwhelmed, exhausted, and tired of swimming up stream alone.

    I keep interviewing the older adults I know about how they felt about living their faith in the world at my age. I keep trying to figure out if the world has changed or if I’m just sensitive, but often I feel like I’m out on my own catholic island, generally not fitting in anywhere.

    Edel was not in the cards for me this year, but I definitely think it is something the world needs more of–more energizing support among catholic women. I will continue to pray for this ministry.

  32. Virginia

    Reading all the thoughts, the speeches, the quotes that came from Edel makes me really sad that I couldn’t attend, so thankful for those who could, and very determined to make it to next year’s Edel!!

  33. TaraSz

    I think the rest of my day might be spent reading all the posts about Edel14. If anyone wants to talk about an EdelEast let me know. And if anyone has figured out how to get a 5 year old to put dinner on the table so Mommy can spend just a little more time reading blog posts about Edel, please let me know that as well.

  34. Gina

    That’s wonderful, Jen! So glad everything went well and you all had so much fun! 🙂

  35. Carla

    Seeing those baby-toting mamas dancing just made me feel so encouraged as a baby-wearing mama myself!! It can be so hard to feel like you are “the only one” backpacking through life with a baby-in-the-ergo. If I could have come I would have been one of you dancing ladies!!!

  36. Anne

    I just stumbled across the Edel Gathering via some social media. I’m so glad I did! I’ve been looking for other Catholic women to follow and to be inspired by… would be awesome to attend something like this in the future!

  37. Amy Z

    I, sadly, was unable to attend the weekend gathering. I did pray for all of you that attended and I’m so glad to read all of these beautiful stories. The Jews have the saying, “next year in Jerusalem”, well maybe for me “next year at Edel”, lol.

  38. Elizabeth

    Sounds like an amazing weekend! Hoping I’ll be able to attend next time!

  39. Smoochagator

    Oh my gosh, the babies, THE BABIES! So much adorableness. I really hope I can make it to Edel 2015, it looks like you guys had an AWESOME time 😀

  40. Amanda

    So very grateful for you, Jen Fulweiler! And, Hallie, And, every woman that was present at Edel/helped it come together. As well as every other woman who wasn’t there but on this amazing journey of Catholic womanhood. God bless always and somehow, someway, I pray I can attend Edel15 with a bit more courage and a lot less shyness!

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