It is better to give than receive. Really!

This year, I finally got to go on the JBC Ladies' Retreat. It is a weekend that I have looked forward to for two years now; a chance to leave Will & the girls at home and spend more than 15 minutes (like I do every Sunday after church!) chatting with and being encouraged by the ladies that I have gone to church with for the last 7 years. 

Expectations for a life-changing weekend were high. Every retreat/conference type meeting I have been to since I accepted Jesus as my Savior has excited me and revolutionized my life. So I couldn't wait for what God was going to show me. I packed my Bible and my notebook, my hopes and expectations, my Keene State hoodie and two favorite blankets (hey! it's getting cold out!!), other necessary going-away-for-a-weekend type things, and an Iced Coffee...away I went! 

The woman who spoke did a marvelous job. She is so concise and clear when she speaks. God has given her the ability to communicate His truth to women, in both large groups and in a one-on-one setting. I am so thankful for her in my life!! I was so ready to receive whatever nuggets of amazing truth God had laid on her heart. 

The first session was focused on why and how various trials come into our lives. Sometimes our trials are to strengthen our character and our faith; sometimes it's so that people can look at us and notice the love, joy and peace of Christ in the midst of hardship; sometimes it is so that we can reach out to others who are going through what we've already experienced; always it is for us to glorify the Lord. Trials can come from Satan, but that is not always the case. Sometimes, our own blatant disobedience can result in trials, and sometimes the Lord Himself allows us to go through trials to cause us to become more like His Son. (Lisha's short n sweet version...the real thing was much better!) 

...and to be so very honest, I didn't really feel that I needed to be told that. No big revelation there, Lord. I'm in the middle of it. God has been good to show me different reasons why He has given and taken my youngest child from me. 

But there were two more sessions, and 24 more hours! Plenty of time for a life-changing moment!! 

I got to meet some godly women that I didn't really know that well while we had dinner (and it was a fabulous dinner!). Then, off to the next session! The message was about how very, very, very much God loves me. 

...and I was slightly disappointed. "God," went the one-sided conversation, "I didn't need to be reminded of that, either. Really. I have been overwhelmed by the depth of Your love that You have poured out on me through my friends and family in these last few weeks. I know You love me. I have not doubted that. When am I going to get my life-changing message? What do you have to teach me this weekend? Is there something I'm just missing?" 

The evening was fun. We did lots of crafty activities. I learned how to make lip balm and bath salts and we made pancake, cookie, and soup mixes to take home, followed by ice cream sundaes and about 3 hours of chatting about amusing high school memories with one of the ladies that I went to CHS with, mixed in with conversations with the "younger women" (not really part of that crowd anymore! Eeek! :-O ) about their life dreams and ambitions. Overall it was a great evening! 

6:00AM came, and I was awake for it. (WHAT?! My weekend away from the kiddos...who usually sleep in until 9:30...and I was up at 6, on my own?! Gooooooooood gravy!) I laid in bed, trying to thank God for being able to watch the sky lighten up, and my heart, mind and spirit were confuzzled about all of the things I had been pondering the previous day. 

There was a prayer walk (which turned into a prayer sit on the rocks, because the grass was so wet and cold that our shoes got soaked through!) which was beautiful and breakfast which was oatmeal. (Did you know that people make their oatmeal with milk instead of water? That was something I did learn this weekend. Hmm.) Session three focused on the story of the prodigal son (see Luke 15 if you're not familiar with the story). We focused on the reaction of the father and the older son to the actions and return of the younger (prodigal) son. I learned a couple of interesting facts, and gained a new perspective of a story I've read a few times. But there was no "OOOOH! I get it now!!" moment. "Golly," I thought, "should I have even come?" 

During our down time that followed lunch (um. I almost choked at lunchtime. Praise God for putting some nurses at my table. Like, 3 of them! Two on either side of me and one on the other side of the table! Really! Slightly embarrassing, choking on a wayward crouton. But I digress.), I was speaking with a lady who is very dear to me, and has known me much longer than I've been a Christian. I was telling her about my lack of "aha!" moment and how I was waiting for it. She mentioned that sometimes, in her experience, that moment won't hit for days, maybe weeks. Months. Years. Quite concievably there will be a season in my life when I don't see why God has brought a certain trial to my life, or maybe that I could forget just how much God loves me, and I will remember what I have heard here. 

Ok. I could believe that. But I was still bummed that my life hadn't been changed much. I didn't feel like I had gotten much out of the weekend. 

We gathered for our last session, which was a time to share anything we wanted about the weekend. I had heard that last year's reflection time was outstanding and moving, and so I was anticipating my aha moment here. There were meaningful lessons shared. I was thankful to hear what God had done in other hearts, but still I didn't hear anything that I really, deeply related to. 

We packed up and left. It was a quiet ride home for me. I mulled things over, replayed the weekend in my mind, and tried so hard to figure out what I had learned. And I couldn't come up with anything. The fault had to lie with me, because, you understand, God is perfect in all His ways, and I am not. Thus, if I felt I was missing or lacking, one of two things was happening: 1) God had provided all that I was lacking, and I had utterly missed it, or 2) what I thought I was lacking, I wasn't actually lacking at all. (Does that make sense? I hope so; it makes sense to me.) 

So...fast forward to about 10pm last night. The girls were in bed, so Will and I finally were talking about our weekends without being interrupted! I unloaded all that was on my heart about the retreat, and in doing so, I was gently reminded of a saying that one of our dear friends had shared with us a few weeks ago. It is something to the effect of: We shouldn't be going to church (or in my case, a retreat) to get anything. People who go to church (retreats) looking for something usually end up unfulfilled. You go to give. Give God the worship He deserves for the work He is doing in your heart. Give others the encouragement they might need. Give others a compassionate shoulder to cry on. Give tired moms a break. Give of your time and service to nourish weary bodies and souls. Jesus didn't come to get. Jesus came to give. God gives us all good things, not because He gets, but because He loves us. 

And then I felt really stupid. I had totally gone with the intention of getting, and did not even think about what I could be giving. There are women who spent their whole weekend giving, and you could tell by Sunday evening because their physical apprearance practically screamed at me how tired they were but they were rejoicing at how awesome the weekend was. 

So I've been feeling stupid for pretty much all day today, having this conversation with the Lord that goes on and on, and like this: "Sooooo, now, Lord, I feel like I wasted a weekend to serve You because I was so self-absorbed in my trial and in how much You love me that I forgot to pass it on!" and He, being the patient and merciful God that He is, has been speaking to my heart all day: "I still love you. Take what you learned and start passing it on, right now. Start giving; it's not too late!" 

As I was tucking Elizabeth and Abby in, I got my big aha! moment. I let God prompt me to hold each of them so close and tell them how much God loves them. That He will never, ever, leave them, no matter what bad choices they make, no matter how many times they sin, no matter where they are. That they can never, ever get away from how much Jesus loves them. That the same God who created all of heaven and earth created Elizabeth Grace and Abigail Ruth fearfully and wonderfully. I got to pass on that which I already knew, that I have known for so long, but had never really taken the time to pass it on to my babies because I took that knowledge for granted. I needed this weekend to be reminded that I have been given the responsibility to share His love with two precious little girls who need to know His unconditional love toward them! 

Mommy, E, & A...Spring 2010

I'm glad to report then, that my weekend, though it may have seemed it at the time, was indeed not a waste. Many, many thanks to a God who is gracious and merciful, abounding in love and slow to anger with me!! And thanks to the beautiful and godly women who let God work through them in a powerful way, whether or not they can see it now. Thanks for passing on God's love and for being His hands, His feet, His heart, and His eyes! May God continue to renew and rejuvenate your hearts this week. Thanks for speaking the truth, in love, to a heart that needed to hear it. To God be the glory! :) 

"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." 
-Romans 5:1-5

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