**Long and rambly**
Last weekend I did something totally outside my comfort zone and while it started off pretty rocky, it wound up being okay.
Backing up a bit... a few weeks ago I got a text from a friend (A) inviting me to join her and another friend (L) for a women's retreat weekend at Camp Berea up in Hebron, NH. This seemed to be perhaps a providential invitation as I'd just recently mentioned to both Steve and L that I was feeling somewhat that I needed a 'camp' experience like the kids enjoyed over the summer to hear from Jesus more clearly. Steve agreed that I should go, so I signed up and we waited.
The week prior I offered to drive for carpooling - mostly because I like to drive when I go places with other people (other than Steve). It worked well for both friends because of various family car issues happening at both homes. It would turn out that God would show how He had a hand in that little decision.
On the designated Friday, we loaded up the car - after Jess helped me get everything to fit in my bags and Ben carried all the luggage for me. Then I set off to pick up L first before heading over to get A. At L's we loaded her stuff into the car and after many tears from her youngest child, we set off for the 20 minute drive to A's house. On the way we talked about how odd it felt to be leaving our families like this and that it somehow seemed 'wrong' to both of us.
At A's, she happily climbed into the backseat after her family helped load things up, and then we were off with a drive of 1.5 hours ahead of us. We chatted as we drove with both L and I sharing with A our hesitancy about this weekend away and A sharing how she was really in need of this time away.
None of us had ever been to Berea for a women's retreat before this, though I did participate in a week of summer camp there when I was about 8-9 I think. We arrived with many, many other women at the camp shortly before 5:30 and checked in, got our bags into our assigned cabin and made our way to the dining hall for dinner.
At this point I was already feeling pretty close to completely overwhelmed. I'd never been to something like this before and had no idea what to expect or what would happen. There were well over 200 women there, we were sharing a double room space with 9 other ladies that we didn't know but who all knew one another. Dinner was a buffet that was bountiful but by the time we got our food and found a place to sit most of it was cold and unappetizing. There was a salad bar and chocolate cake - so not a total loss.
After dinner we were supposed to head up to the gym for our first session of the weekend. On the way up I found a staff person and asked if he could please turn the heat on in our room as it was already really pretty cold and temperatures were supposed to be in the low 30's overnight.
The worship band was Alanna Story and they were very talented and I enjoyed them. The main speaker for the weekend was Jodi Greenstreet of CrossTrainer's Ministry from Canada. She was incredibly high energy and obviously very excited about the weekend.
Just before she began to speak, I was suddenly overwhelmed with anxiety and had to leave the gym. I phoned Steve and paced outside the gym crying while talking with him that I wanted to come home, that this wasn't for me and he tried to talk me off the ledge and calm me down. He reminded me that I wasn't alone, that L & A were there with me, that I hadn't given it a chance yet, that I'd be fine! L came out at one point to check on me and grasped my arms whispering "You can't leave me here!" After I'd calmed down and pulled myself together, I told Steve I'd give it a chance and that I really couldn't leave because I was the driver and I couldn't strand my friends. There were some jokes made about how someone should have brought a bottle of wine. After the session was over - and I'd had no more anxiety attacks - I called Steve and told him I'd survived and I'd talk to him tomorrow. We went to the bookstore and bought travel mugs for coffee and then went and had a snack in the dining hall before bedtime.
I didn't sleep much, it was well after midnight before I was able to fall asleep at all and then I was up every hour checking the clock and praying that God would speed up time so I could go home. This was definitely not fun and I was not hearing from God or enjoying myself at all.
In the morning one of the options was a guided prayer hike at 7am, we opted to grab coffee in our travel mugs and go get some exercise and spend some time with the Lord. There was a woman who led the group - maybe 25 of us - up a short hill and along a short ridge line above the camp with several stops to focus on different aspects of prayer. As I walked I wrestled with God in prayer. I spent time confessing to God my bad attitude, that I didn't want to be there, then thanking Him for the beauty of the woods and the weather and all the blessings in my life, and confessing more about how disappointed and angry I've been feeling with our current church experience. After our 45 minutes in the woods it was time to head to breakfast and then to our first session. Fresh coffee helped to fend off another anxiety attack and I didn't bolt this time though I felt the bad attitude simmering just below the surface.
After our morning session the 3 of us went for a short walk for exercise then we all went to lunch and the afternoon stretched before us with options for seminars or nothingness as we chose. For most of the afternoon we opted to just hang out in the room and do nothing much at all. I had brought some hand sewing to work on, so we just sat and chatted and rested. I had been texting with Jess and she was teasing me about wanting to come home. Her sense of humor helps a lot in tense times for me.
Finally it was dinner time and it was a themed dinner with costumes, etc. The 3 of us opted to not participate in the dress-up, but it was interesting to see how all-out some of the ladies had gone to be 'by the sea' for the evening. Dinner was actually really good and we all enjoyed it, then there was a comedienne that provided entertainment before our evening session. She was really funny and we laughed and laughed.
I talked to Jess briefly on the phone before the evening session and she encouraged me to "learn something about Jesus" with her usual dose of humor for her home-sick mama. Then it was time for worship band to begin. The music started and we all stood and sang a few songs and then they asked us to sit down. One of the women began to speak - I'm not even sure all that she said only I could feel my heart beginning to crack. Then they began to sing a song they'd written.
All around me women began to cry and A began to softly sob beside me. I sat in my chair wrestling with my pride, fighting my heart. At last I let go and fell to my knees in prayer and tears. It was one of the few times in my life where I felt myself fall into God in all the raw emotion and need for His touch on my heart & soul. The tears fell hot from my eyes as I sobbed and prayed. At last I was able to quiet and sit back into my chair. After a few more songs, Jodi came to speak and I heard the story of Peter & Jesus in a fresh way and found myself relaxing and relating as she taught about some of the ways Peter had failed and tried again, over and over.
After the session, A went straight to bed and L and I went for snack and then a walk around camp in the mild weather. Again it was well after midnight before sleep would come, but at least this time I felt calmer and was able to snatch about 2 hours at a time between wakeful fits. I was up early and we were packed and ready to go before breakfast. The 3 of us grabbed coffee and sat by the water waiting for breakfast. We ate and then loaded all our things into the car before our final session.
As we drove home we shared and talked, laughed and cried a bit. It was a good time of growing our friendship and I was able to honestly thank A for inviting me to go.
I had written Steve an email on Saturday telling him what I think sums up the experience. I'd wanted to come to a women's retreat because so many people I know have gone at different times and raved about the experience. I felt that I needed to see for myself so I'd know if I was really missing some deep spiritual experience with Jesus that could only happen away from my family and my normal life. Turns out that the answer to that is - for me - no.
I did encounter Jesus of course, but I encounter Jesus every day and even every moment if I'm paying attention enough. The experience taught me that I really hate being away from my family. I don't like crowds, I'm not comfortable with strangers and I really prefer to sleep in my own bed and eat what I choose. Time with my friends is really wonderful and I hope we can find ways to get together more often at home.
In looking back at the weekend, I can mostly say that I'm glad I had the experience, but I won't do it again. If I could have escaped on Friday night, I'd have done it in a blink and this is where it was proved that God uses things we don't expect. I was trapped by my sense of responsibility to my friends because I drove and was forced to walk a weekend road I'd much rather not walk. But God doesn't waste any experience in our lives and I suppose in hind-sight the time away brought me to my knees over some hurts and anger I've been holding onto and God was able to work those out of me. For His forgiveness and grace I am always thankful.
Many thanks to A and L for their amazing patience and gracious kindness during my anxiety attacks and dramatic fits.
Blessings on the journey~