I didn’t want to go.
The theme of the retreat was HOPE, and I desperately did not want to go. I’ve been having a bit of a rocky relationship with Hope lately. Sometimes it seems cruel and mocking rather than life-giving and lately it has been mocking me relentlessly.
I had signed up a while back, payed the fee, planned to go, and was even excited at first. A long autumn weekend in the Pennsylvania mountains with newfound friends who shared common interests… getting away from work to bask in some time with the Lord… It all looked great. Then life just happened. Circumstances seemed to be out of (my) control and things I had been hoping for crumbled to the ground in tiny pieces. I seemed to be running non-stop and I just felt exhausted with no relief in sight.
So I prayed. I was out walking through my neighborhood when I asked God to give me a sign to confirm that He really wanted me to go to this retreat in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, and meet up with Him there. And there it was:
A literal sign. I actually had no idea our common area was called “Mill Run.” At least God has a sense of humor about this. So I bought a sleeping bag, requested time off, and rented a car for myself and two friends for the trip.
The drive up was beautiful, and since David can sniff out any bakery within a twenty-five mile radius, we stopped at the charming Root-A-Bakers, somewhere in a small town Kentucky.
We were enjoying our lunch when I got a call from my doctor’s nurse, who, for the second time in a year, cheerfully told me I have a disease. Hashimoto’s Disease. Thyroid stuff. Not horrible, but enough to make me break down and cry in front of my friends. At least now I understand why I’m so exhausted all the time.
I dried my tears and onward we traveled. I must say that West Virginia is indeed one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever experienced. The calming conversation with my friends and the beauty of the land did much to soothe my weary heart and when we arrived late that night at Camp Christian, I was ready for sleep. In a dorm… In a bunk bed… No kitty to snuggle… Circumstances a bit bleaker than they were before I left Nashville… To my surprise I slept rather well, all things considered.
And then the morning came and I forced myself awake and headed to the cafeteria for breakfast and a little liquid courage. But there were people. And they wanted to talk. Before coffee. Before food. Before 10:00 a.m. Which doesn’t really work for me.
But I digress. This is about the pain in my neck calling itself HOPE.
Although I didn’t physically have my arms crossed in defiant rebellion, they were certainly emotionally crossed over my heart, daring God to try to break in.
Note to self: Never dare God to do anything unless you’re ready to handle the consequences. As the second session progressed, a distinct thought began to form in my mind: maybe there are two different kinds of hope. After all, my hope has never wavered in God, my salvation, and eternity; but the place it taunts me is where I hope for circumstances. That must be the kind of hope that Proverbs is referring to when it tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Prov. 13:12). As I shared my pondering with my breakout group, Anna and Amy, and then with David briefly after that, it happened: a tiny crack in the armor around my heart. Could God possibly redefine hope for me? All of a sudden, I was excited by the possibility.
I wish I could tell you that I have figured it all out in the days since that revelatory moment, but I can’t. I’ve processed with friends and with my counselor, and the best I can come up with is that I feel like I had a kind of spiritual surgery. I don’t know the details of what God did in my heart, but I know that He did something huge. I don’t need to know, because I know that God has a plan. I know that He puts desires in our hearts for a reason. I’m trusting in that and slowly allowing myself to hope in the potential, because the potential belongs to an Almighty God.
When I look back at the weekend that I had not wanted to happen and pictures of myself taken there, the smile on my face says it all. There is hope.