This weekend 90 ladies from our church, or with connections to others in our church, gathered in the North Carolina mountains for our annual women’s retreat. We come together for two days in this lovely area to rest, build friendships and enjoy spiritual renewal. And I am all about this get away.
When last we visited I was in a very different place. The weekend we came was just a few weeks after my cancer diagnosis. I was sad, scared and a little fragile if I am willing to admit it. I came to this lovely place on my knees needing to feel the love of Christ in a way I hadn’t experienced before; and I needed to be embraced by a bunch of women I really didn’t know who had no idea what I was carrying.
The teaching last year was all around the birth of Christ. From its foretelling in the earliest chapters of the bible through Revelations. Cover to cover in two days? That sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Not at the feet of our women’s ministry leader.
Robyn is a gifted leader and speaker. She is funny and engaging, but the woman knows the Word and how to bring us in it and through it in a way I had never experienced before meeting her. She’s humble and is always the first to admit the words are seldom hers, they are Spirit breathed and from God, and I believe we all hear through her what it is we individually need to hear.
Last year I needed to hear of Christ’s great love and sacrifice for me. That He would not leave me alone in my darkest hour. I needed to understand in an intimate way how much He loved me and that He has a plan, and no matter how we try to screw it up, no matter how difficult the situation or pit we find oursleves in, He will find a way to make it work for His good. And for me, that is exactly what I received. I was filled to the brim with the understanding that God loves me and that He truly had me, in those moments, and all the moments of the months to come.
Even His timing of the retreat last year — September — weeks after my diagnosis and just weeks before my surgery to eradicate the sickness. I soaked up the words, the tone, the love that weekend. I made new friends and felt embraced, filled and renewed. I went home knowing God was with me and it made my future steps more sure, my surgery and treatment less lonely and my attitude was that of empowerment rather than fear. And the time passed quickly.
Here we are a year later and as I drove to the location again with my friend, Tammy, we took in the beauty of the lake. The trees surrounding it are in full autumn splendor; red, purple, orange, gold, brown and a tinge of green. All of them showing off for us as we arrived. I pulled up with eager anticipation — this year I was different. I knew more ladies who were attending, I am not sick, I am not heavy laden with anything monumental going on in my life. I am part of our women’s ministries so this year, together with Tammy, we had been asked to lead small group discussions after the teachings. I was here to fill others.
We arrived, checked in and went in to town for dinner. Tammy and I have been friends and co-leaders for a little better than a year now and I really enjoy my time with her. We shared stories along the drive and now here over good food. When finished, we headed back to the hotel and right into our first session of the weekend.
This retreat is titled, “In His Image.” Our first speaker was Shelley Brennan. Shelley runs a ministry called, “Hope for Her,” which empowers women in their walk with Christ. Shelley opened with a question lifted from a Beth Moore study she is participating in. The question was, “Have you made peace with your captivity?” She went on to recap the story of our beginnings in th Garden where we moved from loving confidence to shame and hiding behind fig leaves, and how as women, as humans, we are still doing that today – only our fig leaves are modern drapings — makeup for some, the look of having it all together for others. We think by covering our flaws, often flaws we perceive we have, we are hiding those flaws from the world; even from God. But we are not. He sees us. He sees us because He created us.
As the weekend continued Robyn spoke of our biblical esteem — truly understanding who we are in Christ, our identity that comes from Him. We studied Psalm 139 and I landed on the words that tell me that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. We dove into Luke 10:27 which instructs us to love others AS we love ourselves. But when do I look at my best friend, or my daughter, and think, “boy I sure love you, but you could use to lose 10 pounds.” Or, “I will be so much happier with you when you achieve _________.” Really? I don’t think that way, do you? I look at my daughter and see her beauty, her youth, her kindness towards others, her sense of humor and I marvel at all of it. But when I look at myself, I am critical of so many things. How can I begin to love Kenzie fully and why would she even want me to love her as I love myself? When I love myself in such a lesser way? Boy the Holy Spirit was convicting me.
The phrase that kept coming up was that “our bibical identity has to become our self-esteem.” I glossed over that several times, but after hearing it so often, I pondered it for a bit. If I believe the word of God to be true, and I do, then I cannot gloss over the Psalm 139 or Luke 10:27 or any of the other words he shares with me. And if I pause to read them and soak them in, this is what I learn:
He made all the delicate parts of me. He carefully chose the fabric of my being and knit me together before I was born. He made me as complex as I am. He knew my mind would spin a million miles a minute and that I would strive for big adventure and sometimes get lost along the way. He has already recorded all of my days in His book and He has a plan for me, even when I am so unsure of what it might be but I am at least brave enough to take the first step, and He will wait patiently even when I am too afraid to move at all. His thoughts about me are precious. Precious. And they cannot be numbered. He is with me when I sleep and when I rise. He knows my heart, my anxious thoughts and He loves me through it all.
If I believe all of this to be truth, and I do in this moment more than I think I ever have before, then who I am to speak to myself unkindlly? And what example does that set for my precious child?
My favorite image from the weekend was Robyn speaking to us about our brokenness — we are all broken and imperfect in our humanness. We are like broken mirrors and we are standing before people who are broken mirrors and looking at our reflections in them and asking their opinions of who we are. Why do I do this rather than seeking my reflection in Christ, the unbroken, perfect mirror? He who reflects the beauty in me? He who sees all the potential I have, that He created in me?
I came here thinking LAST YEAR was for me. That this year I was “healed” and didn’t come seeking anything. I had no needs or holes that needed filling. Surprise. God saw me coming from miles away. And because He knows my heart and my fig leaves He placed me here to hear this message — all the messages — some I am not even ready to pull apart and absorb quite yet. He is so good. Even through the experience of being convicted — knowing without a doubt the words spoken this weekend were for me — I still feel His love and embrace above all. I will leave this weekend feeling full, and lighter, and free-er. Free from this ridiculous list of “have tos” I’ve created for myself. The list I have made that I use as my measuring stick – the one I use to measure my worth and call it God’s. It is not His list at all. It is my pen and my paper that I have used to draft it and it is up to me to crumple that paper and toss it out — burn it even. It is not that I want to float with no expectations in my life, but instead of it being my bar, I want it to be God’s. He asks of me to love my neighbor as I love myself. I want my love to be a gift, not a burden to those I care for. I want it to be pure and lovely and warm, like the hug of acceptance God offers me.
I leave this retreat today with a new outlook, refreshed and lighter in my step. I am skipping along like the child of God that I am. I feel a rebirth and new vision of who I am and who I am meant to be. And I am thankful to have had the opportunity to steal away from the busyness of my life for a few days to hear His message for me. Amen.