May is one of my favorite months of the year. Moms know that Mother’s Day is the singular day when they are celebrated, pampered, praised and given gifts, flowers and cards. I certainly acknowledge that I look forward to my children – who are young adults now – showing their love and appreciation for me.
Two of my daughters were born in May so that’s another reason to celebrate the month when tulips and daffodils are in full bloom and warm weather sticks around. But, I also admit that my number one reason for loving May is our church’s’ annual women’s retreat.
From a Thursday afternoon until midday on Saturday, the women of our church unplug from our routines, come apart and come together to be refreshed by the Lord.
My first retreat was about six years ago. I really didn’t know anyone from my church too well and I admit I possessed a degree of apprehension. After all, I’ve known Christian women who have been clique-ish, prone to gossip and sometimes downright mean.
I have a few close women friends, but none of them attend my church. I’d driven up to the Christian camp where the retreat was being held and bounced around in my Saturn along a rut-pocked dirt road. Signs pointed the way to our cabin and I parked the car and heaved a sigh.
I prayed, “Lord you know I don’t know what to expect, but I’m here. My expectation is from You. Touch my heart. Heal me. I pray that everyone here will embrace each other as sisters in Christ, as we gather to worship and hear Your word – in Jesus name.” Then I went in.
I greeted my sisters who’d already arrived with a grin and a bear hug.
After putting my things in my room, I came out to the kitchen and joined a game of Scrabble already begun. Women slowly trickled in and found their rooms. Laughter rang out from different parts of our cabin and I began to exhale.
A couple of ladies invited me to walk down to the lake. We sauntered down the road in the cool of the late afternoon to a glistening lake and just lingered there. The lake was lovely and to my amazement there were no street noises, just birds chirping and cicadas buzzing (or making whatever sound they make).
I closed my eyes and allowed the breeze to blow through my hair and caress my skin. There was a calm serenity there as we sat drinking in the silence of the moment.
Our pastor’s wife led us in worship that evening, strumming her guitar and singing love songs to Jesus. There were about 20 women – young and middle-aged, single and married, all there to be refreshed and recharged in God’s presence.
We sang from our hearts and many shed tears as our hearts opened like flower petals to the sun. She asked, “Did the Lord speak anything to you as we worshipped?” Many talked of feeling God’s presence, others spoke of God calming their fears, and many just wept, overwhelmed by it all. We were still for a time.
Then our leader ministered the word of God, speaking to us from Psalm 23, about our God being our Shepherd. There was so much truth and such valuable insight into a very familiar passage of scripture.
We spent about 36 hours together worshipping God, sharing from our life experiences as we learned more about how much God loves us. And we talked.
We don’t often get the chance to really talk during church or even at a church event. But we were able to talk to each other, unhurried without kids to pick up or rushing off somewhere. And all of us need someone to really hear us.
We chatted as we ate our meals together, we sat up late in our pajamas gabbing, we played “Quelf,” a truly kooky, fun game!
We laughed so hard that our stomachs ached and tears streamed down our faces. I got to pray with many of my sisters and my sisters prayed for me.
There was no rivalry, conflict, jealousy or gossip – but a genuine, heartfelt fellowship centered in Jesus Christ. And the Lord truly was at the center of it all.
My mind often goes back to that first retreat. I’ve attended many since then. Each retreat is different, unique and so special. Our God, the Lover of our souls, knits our hearts together and makes us one. He meets each of us, at the point of our need.
This month, we’ll meet at a beach house in Old Lyme, CT. We’ll worship together and study the Bible. And the Lord Jesus will meet us there. He always does.
Minister Helen Ellis, wife and mother of 4 great kids, has preached and taught in prisons in NJ and CT for more than 15 years. An avid painter, she specializes in oils, acrylics and watercolors. She and her husband Andrew live with their family in Norwich, CT.