Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vacation Treasures III

This past weekend I went away on my last "vacation" until probably at least the end of 2011 (unless I can recover from a c-section super-quick and we do something crazy like take the family to Florida right after Christmas). Words can't even describe what an amazing weekend I had on this retreat up at Mt. Monadnock with some of the best friends a woman could ask for and over 100 other women. I knew I was going to have a blast with my girlfriends. I knew I was going to learn a lot. I knew I would come back refreshed and inspired. But I had no idea all the treasures God had in store for me. God is SO GOOD and I AM SO BLESSED! These are the treasures I discovered this weekend:


I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming when I reflect on how many wonderful friends I have and the fact that God just keeps adding to this circle of friends. Friends that, though their lives may be filled with drama, are not full of drama themselves. Friends that share my values, love for God and love for His Word. Friends that care about my family. Friends that make me laugh so hard I pee my pants (though that's not so hard to accomplish these days!). Friends that are trustworthy and loyal. Friends that would do ANYTHING for me. Friends that get my sarcasm. Friends that show and tell me how much I mean to them. Friends that pray for me.

Proud to call these lovely ladies my friends (well, excluding that bloated chick to the far left in the back).
I am not bragging or patting myself on the back for anything I've done to "earn" any of my friendships. It is only by God's grace that I have any friends at all! In fact this weekend got me wondering - am I the kind of friend I described above? And just how many people I can really be that kind of friend to? I've learned from experience how busy life gets and how easy it is to lose touch with my closest friends for weeks or even months at a time. I often feel really guilty when someone I consider a part of my inner circle talks about a difficult time they've been going through and I realize I've been so clueless and/or of absolutely no help to them because I've been focused on other people or distracted with my own life. I want to be the kind of friend that offers just the help, encouragement or listening ear all my friends need, when they need it. But lately I've noticed that I just can't "keep up." I feel like I've let people down or that I've appeared absent. I pray that God will keep me focused on my friends' needs and that he will lead and guide me to what I need to do for whom and when.


The main speaker this weekend was Bonnie Merrill and WOWZER what a testimony. This woman who has experienced all kinds of abuse, neglect, betrayal and hurt has experienced the love of God and the truth of his Word. She shared the freedom and wonders she has experienced as a result of her personal relationship with Jesus. One of the scripture passages she shared was from 2 Samuel 22:17-20: "He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me."

She talked about the difference between an abstract head knowledge of God and an experiential heart knowledge of God. So many women believe in Jesus but live as if they don't. When we put our faith in Him, he sets us free from sin and guilt. Galatians 5:1 says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Bonnie said that the degree to which we live in freedom is measured by the depth of our experiential knowledge of God. If God has forgiven us, why do we live in guilt? Why do we basically put back on our chains of shame that he already removed? Why do we keep deep dark secrets? 

Bonnie reminded us that God knows and loves each one of us completely. Psalm 139 is one of my favorite chapters in the entire Bible, one that I am making sure my children are very familiar with! (It's too long to quote but please click on the link to read it.) She presented an interesting illustration that I had never thought of before to demonstrate God's love toward us. When God was creating the earth, he spoke all things into existence...except man. Genesis 2:7 says, "The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." Picture God's hands getting dirty as he gathered up dust to make a man from it.

Then fast forward to Jesus' crucifixion and his hands that were pierced with nails and stained with blood out of love for that same man that he created with those same hands.

God was personally and lovingly involved in both our creation and our redemption, willing to get his hands dirty in both processes. I can never be reminded of that enough.


Bonnie also pointed out that God wants our lives to be wonder-full. Psalm 77:14 says, "You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples." Its a fact that God is performing wonders all around us and in each of our lives. Am I looking at my life through God's eyes? Even some of the smallest things are His wonders. I like to think I do a pretty good job of recognizing God's works in my life but it shouldn't stop there. He wants me to remember them and tell about them. One of my biggest "takeaways" from this weekend was Psalm 78:4: "We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done."  This got me thinking about the Israelites and all the crazy wonders and miracles God performed for them, yet how quickly they would forget them. As a result, the next generation would have no clue and therefore no faith and no obedience.

I left Monoadnock determined that I will tell of God's wonders in my life. I will talk about them often with my children and anyone else who will listen. :) I've always gone through cycles in my life of keeping a consistent prayer journal. I'm amazed at how quickly I do forget the wonders God has done in my life until I go back and read through old journals. It helps to increase my faith and trust when I see how God has shown his love and provision for me in the past. Even if it takes just 5 - 10 minutes each night, I'm going to try to start recording more of "the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done" in my life.


Saturday night all 100+ women gathered together inside around a fake bonfire (laugh but the faux flame was just as mesmerizing as the real thing) for an "Oasis of Sharing." Anyone could volunteer to take the mic and share something they'd learned, ways they'd been encouraged, or any other truth or hope with the rest of the group. Well one old lady stood up and introduced her sisters on either side of her. They all had to be at least in their 70s with white or gray hair. One sat with a cane by her side. They had each come from various parts of the country to meet up together at this retreat. The one talking thanked God for her sisters, that He made it possible for the three of them to be there together and for all the ways He had blessed their sisterhood. You could tell they loved and treasured each other so much.

I tried not to bawl like a baby though I had a few valid reasons to do so. First, I'm 8 months pregnant and don't need a reason to cry. Second, the three old sisters were such a rare and beautiful sight.  Third, and most significant, I was both convicted and encouraged by her testimony. Ever since I learned that baby #3 is most likely a girl, I have to admit I've had a pretty bad attitude about it, like having three girls is a horrible curse. I often think of how I'll have 50% more catfights to break up, that we'll have one more wedding to pay for, and how "fun" 3 teenage girls all PMSing at the same time will be. When people ask me if I know what I'm having I always roll my eyes and sort of hopelessly sigh through the words, "They tell me its girl # 3..." Shame on me! My three girls could be those three sisters some day. Have I ever considered the possibility that my three girls could be each other's best friends in the whole world? That they could grow up to love, serve and worship God together? That they could grow old and gray haired and look forward to meeting up at a mountain retreat together some day? Oh me of zero faith. Heck, if I could sign up for another sister of my own like the one I've got, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

So after beating myself up over my guilt, I confessed my bad attitude and lack of faith to God. I also vowed to continuously repeat a prayer that God's hand will be upon the sisterhood that will come from my womb and that they will grow up to share a testimony like that woman's. That this could be a picture of my girls one day:
I hunted down the three sisters Sunday afternoon to tell them what an inspiration they were to me and to ask if I could take their picture. They laughed and said something along the lines of "it look us a long time to get to this place!" I don't think they were referring to their drive to Monadnock. ;)


The "glory of God" is something I can't say I've ever really understood very well. Don't ask me to define it. Last year in my study of the book of Isaiah I was able to chip away at this mystery a little bit but still didn't feel like I had a great handle on it. Which is wierd because I think I'm motivated to live my life for "the glory of God" and my future hope includes an eternity of experiencing "the glory of God."

So Sunday afternoon our speaker Bonnie did something so amazing and it resulted in my having such a more accurate and vivid understanding of what God's glory really is. She had us all close our eyes while she read every passage in the Bible that deals with this topic, starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation. She never included the references and never paused when moving from one verse, paragraph, chapter or book to another one. Every sentence just flowed continueously so that after about what seemed like 10 minutes, we had been presented with every single mention or description of God's glory throughout all of the Bible. If I was physically able, I would have been prostrate on the floor before she was done, but see I've got this big bump in the way and I can hardly even lean over. What a humbling experience nontheless. God is so good, so perfect, so bright, so majestic, so powerful, so holy, so wise, so loving. I am so not any of these things. What a treasure to have better understood and experienced even just a glimpse of the glory of God. And to learn that if I want to see more of God's glory this side of heaven, all I have to do is ask for it like Moses did (Exodus 33:7-11,17-22), believe for it like Martha did (John 11:38-45) and hope for it like Paul did (Philippians 3:10 - 14).

The beauty of God's creation also gives us all a little glimps of His glory since the earth is an expression of who He is. It was nice to head up North where they've got a little head start on the fall foliage. Trees were still mostly as green as at home but there were a lot more pockets of color, which just increased my anticipation for the coming weeks of fall. Here are a few photos I took of the trees and sky. It's beyond me how anyone can actually believe that scenes like these have their origin in a billions-year-old mystery speck of matter that inexplicably exploded with a big bang. No, God painted these himself.


I went up to NH with the expectation that I'd enjoy a little retail therapy in downtown Jaffrey like I did last year at the same retreat. For weeks I've had visions of hunting through Elaines Aniques and Collectibles and trying on clothes at the consignment shop. Okay, so maybe not the latter at 8 months pregnant. Well it turned out that I had only about 20 minutes to peruse through a few shops on Sunday afternoon as we were leaving town. One of the consignment/antiques/gift shops had some jewelry so I asked the shop owner if she happened to have any silver charms. I knew it was a longshot to hope for a charm that could actually serve as a little memory token of my weekend.  As I expected, she didn't have any charms but she did have some random sterling necklace pendants. Lo and behold there was a little capital "H" with a tiny flower attached to the upper corner of it. Hmmm.... "H" is for Hailey. Or, "H" is for Holy Ground. My friends and I had previously referred to the Monadnock Retreat Center as holy ground. Anytime any of us had been there (from as early as junior high youth group retreats to now) we experienced God's presence and heard Him speaking to us. There's a song that goes,"This is holy ground. We're standing on holy ground. For the Lord is here, and where He is is holy. This is holy ground..." So that "H" charm was perfect. My only purchase of the weekend, it will serve as a great reminder of all of the other priceless treasures I discovered at Monadnock.

(P.S. Not that it would make a difference but I'm curious, is there a suggested maximum word limit for a blog post?? I have a feeling I just broke some blog rule or something. Oh well.)

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