By Grace Frost
The ‘Beyond your Now’ conference at Whittlesea Secondary Performing Arts Centre on October 8 heard testimonials and stories of encouragement and inspiration.
More than 70 women gathered for the conference for its second year.
The event was envisioned by founder Christina Matthews as a safe environment for women to gather, share their stories, find hope within their hardships and acquire the skills to move ‘beyond their now’.
‘Beyond your Now’ this year adopted the theme of ‘Shame doesn’t live here anymore’, and saw four women each deliver their own personal testimony on topics ranging from childhood trauma and domestic violence to homelessness and difficult major life changes.
Women gathered during morning tea to reflect on the stories shared, confiding in each other with their own personal hardships and sharing advice, building community with both new and familiar faces.
Ms Matthews said her vision for the event presented itself while working at a church in Whittlesea, hoping that one day she might be able to provide a safe place for people in the community who didn’t have a secure support system to help them through their hardships.
“It’s about my passion for people who are hurting and people who are outside of community,” she said.
“Having somebody walk with you through a journey is important, whether that be a church, or a community or your friends or a prayer group, whatever it is.”
Ms Matthews said she had many ‘beautiful friends’ whom she wanted to provide a platform for to share their stories, knowing they’d come as encouragement to others facing similar difficulties.
Jacqui Kelly shared her story of grief, loss and shame she faced amidst a major life change in 2020.
Though saying she is still journeying the harship, Ms Kelly encouraged attendees that a change of perspective on a situation can help to cultivate hope in the face of uncertainty.
“It took me so long to decide to actually speak because I thought I wasn’t on the other side already of the journey, but I felt that it was important for people to hear…that they can find hope and courage in the midst of the journey,” she said.
“Things happen in life that aren’t our choice, that don’t go our way, but that there is always hope and there’s strength in hearing people’s journey’s and traveling with others through that.”
Event MC Ange Smith said she loved being part of the conference as it highlighted the power and courage within vulnerability.
“Everybody has a story, stories are powerful, but the power is in them being shared,” Ms Smith said.
“I think everybody sitting here is going to relate to something in someone’s story and draw what they need from that, whether that’s hope, courage or strength.
“For me, I think it’s about these stories being told, that break down barriers, but also everyone walking away feeling like ‘I actually belong to something bigger, I belong to a community’.
“Nowadays, especially coming out of COVID, there’s so much isolation, people forget how important communities are and how important a village is, and I feel like that’s kind of what gets reconnected here as well.”
Author of Where’s The Red Button? Lavinia Wilson shared trauma from her childhood, and said there was hope the scars of the past could be healed.
Madeleine Frost, who found herself homeless, in an abusive relationship and a drug user at 19 told her story of revival, speaking on how people could better support those feeling isolated.
“I wanted to speak for a number of reasons but one of them was to take away the taboo from some of the topics I’m going to talk about, like homelessness and drug addiction … to encourage other people to not be scared of those things but just to sit in that uncomfortable moment with others,” she said.
The conference raised $1000, $250 being donated each to Mill Park Community Care, Big Group Hug, Hope for a village Fiji and Prison Network.
Several local businesses supported the conference, donating ‘more gifts than could be given away’ to women in attendance.
Businesses in support were Whittlesea Flowers and Bears, Wild South Morang, Whittlesea Bowls Club, McDonald’s Whittlesea, Delightful Frootz, Lush Skin and Body Doreen, Encounter Dance Company, Mill Park Community Care, Love in Action Wallan, Royal Mail Hotel and Wendy Barlow Cards.
Ms Matthews said she was already in the planning phase for next year’s conference, of which the theme would be ‘strengthened by the storms’.