Scrapbooks and photo albums cover an army of sweat pant legs folded on the floor of the retreat center. Laughter over big hair and shoulder pads the size of pillows turn heads to the corner of the room in unison. However, I notice that some aren’t laughing or holding a scrapbook.
It was an insensitive oversight on my part as the leader. How I asked a couple hundred women to bring their wedding albums to the retreat for a fun evening of looking back in time. I didn’t even think about it, until I noticed a few women huddled together without anything on their laps.
They just met, relieved to be sitting next to each other. They didn’t bring albums because one was on her third marriage and the other got married on a New Year’s whim in Vegas.
I was giving away prizes for the funniest hairdo, most changed, married the longest and I alienated several in the room by the small lens of my own experience. And every retreat, small group and bible study I’ve led since, these women remind me to think inclusive.
Luckily, Kelly (left) and LuAnn (right) turned out to be my closest friends.
Because sometimes in the midst of your biggest blunders, God redeems it with a gift you weren’t expecting.
My friend LuAnn just moved to Phoenix, joined the Mom’s group I led and bravely decided to come to the annual women’s retreat alone. She didn’t know anyone yet. It turns out that what I assumed to be courageous, was actually an act of faith.
She and her husband were on the heels of surviving his affair. And I represented the very thing that shattered her marriage, a pastor’s wife. In my ignorance, I assigned her to a room with the wife of the senior pastor.
Or maybe it was providence?
The three of us, we’ve shared tears in the delivery room of grace, swimming lessons by the pool, family vacations, and laughter about stages that come with wrinkles. We’ve acquiesced over the loss of muscle tone, of loved ones and the loss of community between us, now separated by thousands of miles.
Whenever we open the gift of wrapping our arms around each other, it’s often in the context of a retreat. We return to a similar setting, the way God joined us together the first time, with one exception. LuAnn speaks from the platform on many of those occasions.
I’m hoping for a reunion here in April, where I’m honored to play a small part in the dream of another friend. Because we’ll be talking about harnessing dreams and giving them voice and I want to share that with you and my two friends. The friends who forgave my insensitivity and helped transform dreams into reality, just by loving me.
Have you ever been to a retreat? Do you have close friends that live far away? I always say two days away with girlfriends, accelerates friendship two years. I hope you’ll consider coming to Nebraska for Jumping Tandem: The Retreat. Deidra’s dreaming up an amazing weekend with you in mind . I’d love to meet you there.
Early registration begins October 1st and space is limited.
Linking with friends Jennifer and Emily (they’re speaking at the retreat), Duane (I write with him at BibleDude.net on Friday’s for Living the Story – check it out), WLWW and Walk with Him Wednesday.
Oh I wish I could join. It was fun to look through the speaker’s page and see the rich depth that will be represented!
Amy, I wish you could come too. It is quite a cast of speakers isn’t it? I’m excited to hear from them.
I love the phrase “delivery room of grace.” I have been chewing on that one all morning.
Hope you are doing well Leslie, thankful you are here.
So I’m really going to get to finally meet you? Can you hear my happy???? 🙂 🙂 🙂
Yes, yes, yes! I can’t wait.
I am going to be praying everyday. What a fantastic group of encouragers and writers! Wow! And to think about meeting you in person. What a joy that would be Shelly! Love you!
I’m expectant about this weekend Danelle and even though space is limited, I love the cozy intimacy of smaller crowds where we can get to know people. I would love to meet you.
It is always an act of faith and courage for me to attend a retreat, even when I know the people well, but especially when I don’t. Yet I’m always blessed once I get there. It’s good that you recognized (even if after the fact) that often what we do to draw us together can also exclude others. It’s a hard mix; I’m not sure there are any “right” answers or ways to do it. But God can always draw benefits out of it. I’m glad he did that in your situation with our friend!
Every retreat I’ve been on (most of which I organized) has been a marker in my life. A place where God spoke to me in radical ways and moved me forward. I’m expectant that it will be the case here too, especially with the theme.
I love your photos! and your stories of awkward retreat experiences was a wonderful way to break the ice and encourage women to consider the retreat 🙂
Thanks Danise, I’ve learned a lot from those mistakes over the years. It’s hard for women to expose themselves to others in a setting where they don’t know everyone. But if I know Deidra, she’ll make everyone feel right at home.
Oh and that retreat would be so doable if I still lived in Des Moines. Michigan is bit further. Sounds fabulous. I know you will be blessed.
It would so great to meet you Laura.
Shelly, that retreat is one of God’s great gifts to me. It was a bundle package-the start of healing, the start of friendship, the start of a tradition- all tied together with love and laughter.
I plan to be there in April. Thank you for this refreshing reminder.
We just had no idea when we signed up for that retreat how it would impact our lives, did we? Can’t wait for the fun in April.
What a beautiful invitation, to join together with new friends, looking to Him and the dream He places in our hearts! Love this, and what a blessing to everyone that you are a part of it, Shelly. Your words, wisdom, and heart are such a gift. Thank you.
Thanks for your encouragement Jennifer. Maybe you’ll come?
Always love how God redeems and makes beautiful…lovely photos of you w/ your friends…the conference sounds great, and the speakers…amazing… blessings, Shelly 🙂
Me too Dolly, it’s why I named my blog Redemptions Beauty. 🙂
Oh how I miss you and your words friend….
God’s grace is sufficient…and you’ve reminded me…and that is gift.
i miss you kimberly!
I miss you too Kim. There is a Kim sized hole missing in the blogosphere. I hope you are doing well, feeling His presence with you in this new season.
oh, how i love these stories–God, redemption, glory. so glad to have read this and shared in the moment. true grace all the way around 🙂
thanks for the blessing!
Glad it resonates Steph, so glad you’re here.
I love a story of redemption! So glad you get to go to the retreat, Shelly — it sounds fabulous!
Me too Susan, those stories are the best ones. Can’t wait for this retreat, I have some holy anticipation.
Wow, I did the same insensitive thing at a women’s retreat once. Like you I thought it would be so fun… How I learn the hard way but like you share, how God blesses us in spite of ourselves. Have a wonderful day 🙂
Hopefully, what people remember is the fun, not the blunders.:)
absolutely can’t wait to hug you in person, girl.
Same here Emily, so excited you’ll be speaking.
Emily! I miss you as well. I think of you and your family often and offer up a little prayer…
This is an awesome and honest story, Shelly.
I always feel like one of those women that became your friends. Not for the same reason–other ones.
Hope I can come. It will take a miracle, work-wise.
I hope you get to come Megan, it would be great to meet you. And I think we’ve all felt like my girlfriends at times. You are in good company.
Thank you. Thank you. You are a gift.
Grateful for you. So grateful.
Ann, I’m truly humbled that you would stop by my little part of the world here. Someday, perhaps I can tell you the story about why today, you being here is like a love letter from God. Thank you. So grateful for you my friend.
I dream of a story like this, a happy ending, a friendship that withstands the miles and a healing that shines through for all to see. And for someone to hear, to understand my pain…
Liz, I’m praying that for you now. That God will bring you the desire of your heart. I’ve had seasons of this and some real loneliness that comes with my closest friends being so far away. I do understand and thank you for being honest.