I sat in front of my computer the night before the retreat, munching on a bowl of cashews and sipping hot chocolate. I felt safe and comfy. Until the e-mail from Kathy. “Hey, Wanda,” she said, “Jerry has to back out of the retreat. He wants someone else to go in his place, since it’s already paid. Would you like to go?” I took a while to answer, while I argued with God. Okay, so it’s free, but you know I hate to drive.
With the next e-mail I found out that a ride would be provided. What else could I do? I figured God wanted me there—and thanked Him for the opportunity. I rushed around, packed my bags and stacked my things by the door so I’d be ready in the morning.
Kathy picked me up, along with Patti. Their excitement was contagious. I looked forward to what God had in store. We arrived at Maranatha, unloaded the car and claimed our beds. Instead of the flat mattresses I expected, they were extra thick. They looked comfy and inviting, with a Peppermint Patty on each bed. A short walk down the hall led to the main bathroom, which included a washer and dryer. For anyone needing more privacy, just down the stairs, there were bathrooms for one.
By the time 19 people walked through the doors, lunch was on the table. A variety of subs, tossed salad, chips of all kinds, drinks, chocolate chip cookies, fudge brownies, apples, and golden bananas covered the long counter. We laughed, shared, and visited while eating. Everyone brought plenty of snacks for writers to enjoy throughout the day.
Next came worship time. Noreen led the singing while strumming along on her guitar, and it was beautiful. One of the older songs, “It Is Well With My Soul,” spoke to me like never before, bringing tears to my eyes. The thought came to me that no matter what happens around us, on the outside, the inside is what really matters. And it is well with my soul—for all eternity.
Our verse was “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 62: 5-6.) We were supposed to take one word at a time and write what God spoke to us. I thought about the first two words, find rest. If I needed to find rest, it must be lost. Lost where? Lost among the earthly, daily cares of life.
So where do I look for rest? My soul can only find rest in God. Wait means I shouldn’t rush, or be distracted by the world and everything it provides. My soul longs—not my flesh and all its worldly desires, but my soul, my inner-most being, longs for God—the only one who is able to provide rest. He alone is worthy of adoration. He is my rock, my strength, and my hiding place. The verse took on new meaning and gave comfort.
Next, we all drew cards and were supposed to put on a short skit. Debbie, a new member, admitted that she was shy and timid. “No way,” she said, “I’m not going to do that.” But she surprised everyone, especially herself, by acting the part of Victoria Lamont. She came out of her shell and put on a performance that would have made an aging clown jealous (you had to be there). She stole the show.
We were blessed to have a Skype conversation with Michael Hyatt, author of the best selling book, “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World” He talked to us, then answered questions. Laura asked him about blogging and he gave his opinion. Later, during another lesson about how to write a bio, wonderfully taught by Kim, Laura was asked to read her bio. “Michael Hyatt told me personally,” she said, “that I needed a blog.”
“Come on,” Teresa yelled, “Let’s put on our winter gear and take a walk to the lake.” Spring was on the calender, but my cold hands and head reminded me that winter refused to let go. We agreed to brave the cold and walk along the shores of Lake Michigan. Besides, it was only half a mile away. Some people wrapped up so well, only their eyes peeked out from under a furry hat. We donned mittens, gloves and scarves in a variety of colors. Boots pulled on, zipped up, and we were ready for walking.
We huddled in front of the building first for a group photo. A few decided it was too cold for a walk, so they passed and went back inside where it was warm. Dan ran up ahead so he could video tape the crowd heading for the lake.
Wind whipped our scarves and chilled our faces. Turning around and heading back to the lodge seemed inviting. But seeing the white clouds amidst the blue sky, we trudged on, stepping over large chunks of frozen snow. The beach was deserted and quiet, except for the sound of strong waves lapping at the shore, and sea gulls calling. We walked on crunchy sand. Someone spotted a black lab in the distance, running and looking as if he enjoyed his outdoor freedom. Driftwood lying around made for some great pictures.
The gray blue water looked cold and uninviting. Some strolled along the sandy shore, leaving their footprints behind. It reminded me of the poem, “Footprints.” A few went hiking to discover what lay just beyond sight over the hill. Some had tablets and pens. They tried to write, but the wind turned the pages before they were ready. Others let the kid in them escape as they played on the swings. Most of us took pictures, except for Dan, the video man, who captured it all on film. A few just stood at the water’s edge, taking in the beauty while lost in their own thoughts.
Back at the lodge, our group gathered around the fireplace with a warm drink. We filled one another in on the latest accomplishments and struggles of our writing journey. We rejoiced, built one another up and encouraged everyone to keep on writing. A new lady, Kittye, opened herself up to our group by reciting a few of her poems. Some of the most heart-touching words I’ve ever heard. What a great writer.
All too soon, it was time for bed, at least for me. Since I retire with the chickens, I had a hard time staying awake. From bed I could hear the faint sounds of others talking and laughing, and it was comforting. I was tempted to get back up and join them.
The next morning people straggled in for breakfast at their own pace. Things were informal, but each person found a surprise at their spot. A new mug filled with candy, goodies, and even a couple pencils. Written on each mug were the words, “I am a writer,” with our retreat verse, and a smiley face inside. My mug was even my favorite color, red.
The coffee pot never ran dry. A variety of juices, bagels, English Muffins, cream cheese, yogurt, granola, fruit, and other goodies lined the counter. To each his own, in his own time.
One of our leaders, Tim, taught a lesson, Finding Your Tribe. “We’re all unique,” he said, “God’s given us unique gifts. He doesn’t compare you with me, or me with someone else. Because we’re not supposed to be the same.”
The class takeaway, “You will find your tribe when you boldly, courageously, awesomely start speaking & writing your message, your passion, from your heart.”
Even though I feel like I’m called to write, just thinking about public speaking puts me in fear mode. We heard later from Kim that maybe some of us are only supposed to speak one-on-one. But if we are called to public speaking, we need to be trained. Just like the first time I tried my hand at writing, my story left much to be desired. So I started going to critique groups and reading everything that would help me learn the craft. My skills developed over time, it’s an ongoing process. Everyone has to start somewhere.
I hadn’t planned on going to the retreat, but God had a better plan, as always. I’m so thankful that I met new friends and re-connected with others. God spoke to me in so many ways. I felt closer to Him and the others. My words could be trusted to their listening ears with no fear of failure. We all failed, then together, picked each other up, and continued the journey God called us to walk. The things we shared touched my heart and encouraged my soul, but our awesome retreat was over.
Loading the car was much easier than unloading it had been. The sun came out and melted all the ice. Warm hugs and sweet goodbyes were shared within the group, along with promises to keep in touch. From listening to the comments, we all felt revived and strengthened from our time together. One by one, the energized writers headed for home, knowing we’d soon be checking our e-mails, getting back to work, and writing the things that God laid on our hearts.
After going through a real struggle to get to the retreat, it was time to go home, but oh, I didn’t wanna go.