This passed weekend I had the privilege of speaking to a group of wonderful women at a retreat. My topic was “Finding Streams of Living Water in the Desert” and I was incredibly humbled by the myriad of ways we saw and felt God’s presence throughout our time together.
Shortly after we’d arrived on Friday night, gathered around in a circle, we had the task of asking for a particular grace we hoped to gain from our time away. Each in turn, we introduced ourselves and we shared our heart’s desire. Patience was top on the list of many women, but I know better than to pray for that grace, because God has given me AMPLE opportunities to exercise that virtue (starting about five minutes after my eyes open most mornings).
Well, as my turn grew closer, I scrambled in my brain to think of what grace I wanted or more properly needed. Patience? Humility? Purity? Charity? Courage! That’s what I needed, courage. I needed the courage to stand up before those holy women and deliver my talk without my knees knocking together, without tears blinding my eyes, without choking on the words I’d written. So, when my turn came, I told them who I was, where I came from and announced that courage was my goal.
At 10:00am the next morning, I stood up before that room of women, ignoring the lump of fear that had whelmed up in my chest, and I spoke. I shared my testimony, my desert story and I did so without a tear (okay one tried to escape early on). Success, you might conclude. Less than twenty-four hours after my arrival, my prayer had been successfully answered.
Who Knows Better Than God?
But than that good God of ours, that all knowing, all loving, all wise Father knows me far better than I even know myself. While I just scrape the surface of my heart, He reads the very depths.
My speaking hour over, I was able to really relax, to fully enter into retreat. I enjoyed listening to the other women, gained lots of inspiration and laughed along the way. I rested my body and soaked in the excitement of so much time among grown-ups.
My pregnant belly fully exposing my “condition,” I got to share news of our expected little one: the due date, the names we’re contemplating, the fact that we’re not finding out the sex, etc. With a handful of nursing couples (mama and baby) in attendance, I got to cuddle a few tiny bodies and nuzzle a few soft cheeks when a spare pair of arms was needed now and again. Those privileged moments led me to dream about the day when my own sweet-smelling newborn will be suckling at my breast.
A friend passed on a borrowed infant car seat that her daughter has out-grown and we chatted about what other baby supplies might be missing from my mama arsenal. Would I sling or wrap? Would a single or double stroller fit the bill?
The weekend passed too quickly, as does most time spent in the company of friends.
Taking Inventory Of Our Answered Prayers
As the retreat wound down, we circled around again and took an inventory of sorts. This time we were to reflect on whether or not the grace we’d prayed for had been made manifest during our withdrawal from our busy lives.
Now I stated early on that I’d been graced with the courage to deliver my talk without much faltering or weeping, but as my turn approached that answer seemed too shallow. Rarely at a loss for words, I took a pass and said I still needed time to reflect.
Listening to each woman share her grace, something began to stir up inside of me like a neat pile of settled leaves gets churned up by a strong wind.
For the last 18 weeks of this pregnancy, I’d been cautious, calculated in my thoughts, my dreams, my emotions (oh well, except for that overwhelming anxiety). Scarred by previous losses, I was afraid to feel joy, to completely embrace the excitement of planning, to dare to dream about our future. It felt safer to hold back, like it might hurt less if I steeled my heart for the worst.
To give credit to my husband, he’d gently admonished me to savor this pregnancy, to soak in the memories being made each day. Of course, that was easier said than done.
Peeling Away The Scales
But as each beautiful woman took her turn, the Spirit peeled away my scales. Like a zap from an electrical shock, my acquired grace jolted my mind. Indeed, I had been blessed with courage, but the courage extended far beyond my Saturday morning discourse. God had given me the courage to feel joy, unrestrained, unmeasured joy! He broke through the protective barrier I’d set up around my heart and, with that wall breeched, a flood of pure joy poured in.
And Monday’s readings spoke directly to me, reaffirmed His Presence, His work in my heart. Psalm 30 instructs: Yahweh, my God, I cried to you for help and you healed me. Make music for Yahweh, all you who are faithful to him, praise his unforgettable holiness. His angerlasts but a moment, his favour through life; In the evening come tears, but with dawn cries of joy. Carefree, I used to think, ‘Nothing can ever shake me!’ You have turned my mourning into dancing, you have stripped off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. So my heart willsing to you unceasingly, Yahweh, my God, I shall praise you for ever.
We all spend time camped in the desert, but let’s not allow those times of trial to harden our hearts. For the Lord hears our cries, He knows our need and He provides. Keep your hearts soft and take courage, joy is on the way!