Let me tell you about retreat.

Happy November!!! Already? It seems like October was one of the quickest and slowest months ever.  You know how those happen sometimes?  A lot happened, and it’s been a challenge to bounce back from.  A lot of things I thought were sure turned out to fall apart, and pretty soon, the promise of leaving this craziness behind and spending five months in another country next semester sounded pretty fantastic to me.

That’s not the way life was meant to be lived, however.  God has been doing a lot in my heart this month – teaching me that fulfillment is only in Him, teaching me to ask “what now” instead of “why” and to trust that He will always answer both questions, and that answer will always be part of a plan for my good and His glory.

Another lesson I’ve been learning is about rest.  Earlier this semester, I gave a devo at one of our chapter meetings for Phi Lamb about rest.

Rest: (as defined by my NIV study Bible)

  1. freedom from activity or labor
  2. peace of mind or spirit
  3. to take relief or respite

While these first two definitions make a lot of sense, and there’s lots of ways we can find some semblance of rest depending on what kind of a person we are, the third definition was really what I focused on.  The first two are states, the third is an action.  One thing I wanted to make clear was that rest is a verb.  The second thing I wanted to encourage my sisters to explore was the ways that God was calling them to actively rest in their identity in the Gospel – the things God says are profoundly true about us. (check out Ephesians 1:3-10).

Did I ever forget this truth the minute it left my mouth.  I spent the whole month of October at the end of my rope, desperate for some freedom from labor, for some peace of mind.  What I didn’t stop to consider was that maybe, just maybe, I was really desperate for relief and respite.  Maybe I was really desparate for rest.  And maybe that rest didn’t look like binge-watching How I Met Your Mother, or taking a nap, or even listening to music.  The longer I tried to find  rest in those things – good things – the more obvious it became that these were things I was using to avoid seeking true rest in my identity in Christ.  I was feeling really broken, and I was afraid of approaching the One who is not, even though I knew in my heart of hearts that He is the only one who can make the broken, whole.

So in small ways – podcasts and blogs and prayer and conversations – I started seeking relief, and respite, and rest.  Which brings us to a different kind of rest: retreat.

retreat: (the Dictionary.com definition this time)

  1. to withdraw, retire, or draw back, especially for shelter or seclusion.

Y’all, it was high time for me to draw back from life and meet with the Lord, and to take full advantage of the shelter He is offering.  You know what was even more sweet about those 24 hours?  I got to spend it in the gorgeous countryside of Cedar Lake Camp, with my sisters and some of my closest friends.  I have always loved retreat weekend, but this was the first time that I really likened retreat with the activity of rest – and both were so needed!  We sang, we danced, we painted, we laughed a lot, we walked around in the woods, we ate tons of great food, we played games, we made a bonfire, we shared life, we encouraged each other, and after all that, we drove home.  So now that it’s a few days in, let me tell you my top three takeaways from this weekend’s retreat.

1 – Be present.  This one comes courtesy of a conversation with my sweet grandlittle Lauryn, who encouraged me not just to look forward to Argentina next semester, but to make the most of the time I have here on campus.  It’s a beautiful place to be, y’all.  Just because it isn’t always what I want it to be doesn’t mean I should love it any less or want to leave it any sooner – it just means I’m putting too much of my own fulfillment and stock into those things, built by the world, that will only let me down.  God has a purpose for me at Vanderbilt – I don’t need to go seeking it out or trying to do all of the activities I’ve felt drawn to, I just need to be present.

2 – God is growing beautiful, beautiful things in my life.  In the afternoon on retreat we spent an extra long time alone with God (XTAWG if you’re into acronyms) with a prompt from Isaiah.

17 “The poor and needy search for water,
    but there is none;
    their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
    and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
    and the parched ground into springs.
19 I will put in the desert
    the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
    the fir and the cypress together,
20 so that people may see and know,
    may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    that the Holy One of Israel has created it. Isaiah 41:17-20

One of our sisters, Melissa, told us about how we could liken the desert in this passage to our own lives, and then extended the metaphor to encourage us to look for the trees God was growing in our lives, the cacti that had been there before we were living in Christ, but could flourish now with being by a river, and the other ways God’s Spirit like a river changed the landscape of our lives.  As I started drawing my desert, God also drew my attention to the mention of “springs” in this passage, which made me think of Jeremiah 2:13 –

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

So I added cisterns to my desert – places I had dug to find fulfillment by my own power, like relationships, friendships, band, my service organization – and springs – attributes of God that were pouring into my life, like power, constancy, joy and strength.  It was so cool to see from there how some of these springs – like constancy, for example – so neatly replaced my cisterns – like relationships & friendships – and poured into some of my cacti – like loyalty – while also growing trees I hadn’t had take deep root in my life before – like trust.  I love metaphors, and I LOVED drawing this all out to get a clear picture of the work God was doing in my life and how He was all tying it together.  He never leaves you hanging on that “why” for the trials, dear friends!

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3 – “We get to serve the God who made THAT.”  Have y’all ever sat around and stared up at the stars?  Go out and try it sometime.  My wonderful friend Rachael and I were sitting on a log at the bonfire, checking out the country view of the stars.  They stretched from one end of the sky to the other, and there were too many to count.  It literally took my breath away.  And that’s when Rach said, “We get to serve the God who made THAT.”  And she’s right.  I do.  We do.  No matter what ever else is happening, what life throws at me, how down I feel – I get to serve the God who made this world and made me a part of it.  That’s some beautiful truth.  I can rest in that.

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Sydney, Kari, me & Emily – this is our wonderful car!

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This is Sydney, Emily & me after we put the wrong address into the GPS & wound up at a dead end

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The beautiful fall colors of Cedar Lake Camp

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Worship around a bonfire

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Endlessly grateful for this place, this cross and these friends.

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