Let me begin by saying that I wasn’t going to be a part of this retreat until late in the game. It was over my brother’s birthday weekend, and I’ve been planning to go back up home for months now. I was excited to spend time with my family, especially because my brother has recently become immersed in the world of creative media and we have become rather great pals in our shared passion. It has been unbelievably refreshing.
(Eli, if you’re reading this, I am so proud of the man that you are becoming, continue to think for yourself and pursue passions on you’re own because you’re pretty great and I think that you’ll make the world pretty great too. I know that high school is tedious and people are annoying, but you’re bigger than that, and I’m so happy that I was blessed with the opportunity to be your sissy.)
That same weekend (the last two days of January) my church was hosting a retreat in the lakeside town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and they had invited me to be a part of the “leadership track” which was specifically designed to cultivate the future leaders in our church. It was meant to be a period of reflection, when we all removed our distractions and focused on the Lord and his goodness instead of the stress of college. With the invitation to the leadership part of the retreat I was given a discounted rate and the opportunity to spend the weekend with my friends in one of the northwest’s most beautiful towns.
I was torn. It seemed like no matter which option I chose I was wronging one of the parties. Long story short, after my going back and forth with myself and many phone calls and text messages to my mom, my family was gracious enough to push me to go and be a part of the retreat and then come home for the tail end of the weekend – so I guess we all sort of won.
I wasn’t sure what the weekend would hold. I have been to Coeur d’Alene before because it’s so close to where I live, so I knew a few of the things I wanted to do while I was in town… but I suppose I was unprepared for the weight of the weekend.
With my entire weekend booked, I packed my bags and headed out after my Friday classes, my friend Sam (who also has a blog that you can read here) kept me company on the ride up and we managed to make the trip incredibly quick – which meant that we had more than a few hours to waste before the rest of our friends, and our church, arrived in town.
If you know me at all, then you know that I crave opportunities for exploration. I had made sure to take my camera with me – armed with excessive amounts of memory cards and fully charged batteries, stoked to soak up the beauty through the lens of my rig. But the foggy northwestern day cannot be done justice by these snapshots. The beauty of the blue-tinted world is something that even the greatest camera could not capture. We headed in the direction of the lake, the sun setting behind the clouds, shrouding the world in a darkness that echoed the blue of the night. The water seemed to fuse with the sky, and in the midst of the adventure I couldn’t help but pause and just soak it in. The lights reflecting off of the water, the fog hanging low – weaving itself between the trees on the bank opposite us, the serenity of a quiet town, the sound of the water lapping the shore and the steps that led into it. It was all a dream. Standing there on the edge of the lake, I wasn’t entirely sure that my reality hadn’t somehow shifted to be something entirely imagined. It all felt too picturesque to be true. It felt vast. It felt infinite. I felt infinite.
It’s probably pretty annoying to go out with me, the majority of my time is spent gasping at the beauty of the world around me, and the process of walking even a foot takes about an hour when I have a camera on hand. Sam was patient, (thank God) and I made him pose for a few shots around the bay – and by pose I mean I just caught him when he didn’t think I was taking a picture.
He’s probably not too keen on the idea of me posting all of these. The truth though is that I don’t care much because I want to share the adventure, and he just happened to be a part of it. I had a pretty fantastic night. Everything about it felt mystical, I dreaded it’s end, I dreaded the descent back into reality – the world full of collegiate stress, strained relationships, and hard decisions.
So I sunk my claws into the moment and clung to it, walking the strip of dock attached to the resort and snapping pictures of everything that I set my sights on.
Following our dock-side adventures, we somehow managed to make it into the resort where we were met with glances that let us know that everyone else knew that we didn’t belong there – the dynamic of the high profile life is thoroughly intriguing. So, once we made it out we stumbled our way into the shops where I got to show Sam the cool toy-store “Figpickles” where I made him play me a little tune on the bells – I mean, a realistic request considering he is a music major.
From there I dragged him to my favorite greek restaurant. I had been craving it all week once I knew that I would be in Coeur d’Alene, and I swear that the second it hit my tastebuds I could barely handle myself. I ordered a garlic and lemon buttered lamb dinner and Sam got one of the classic Gyros and then I made him try the baklava, because baklava is practically the greatest thing since sliced bread and since I’m gluten free now I desperately wanted to live vicariously through his tastebuds. I’m sure it was profoundly delicious.
I’ve recently added an English degree to my course load, and as such I’ve been taking classes heavy in writing content and one of the primary things that I’ve learned throughout the process is that writing was meant to be uncomfortable because it’s meant to be real.
So allow me to be real with you, even if it’s uncomfortable.
I feel like I’m failing.
It’s the fourth week of second semester and I already feel like I’m drowning. A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I had made some hard decisions in response to what I felt God was calling me to do (here), and then I got to spend time with some lovely and Godly women. I felt like I was done with all of it. I thought that I was finally getting my life under control, or at least managing the chaos. But then I went away for the weekend and it feels like I ignited a downward spiral.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of seasons – living your life as a process from beginning, middle, to new beginning – and it’s revolutionized the way that I think about things. It first came to my conscious through Jeff and Alyssa Bethke’s podcast, and since then it’s been a constant process; and in so many ways, getting away for the weekend made me aware of my status in the cycle, and as it turns out, I don’t think I’m as far into it as I let myself believe.
All of the heartache that I was feeling at the beginning of the semester came back in full force. My few hours of bliss exchanged for days of heartache, and it sickened me. Here I was to worship the Lord almighty and I would have rather been anywhere else.
And I guess that’s why it’s so good that I was there.
As part of a collegiate congregation, a lot of the focus of the church is exposing the students and people on campus to a God that they may have never even heard of; but as someone who has been following the Lord for years I sometimes get the feeling that I’m forgotten or pushed into the background to figure things out on my own because I have years of faithfulness as opposed to hours. And that is so hard. Following Jesus is just as hard sixteen years in as it is three years in as it is three days in. It’s difficult. Choosing Him is a daily process, and it’s so hard.
I don’t want you to think for a second that I am doubtful of the community around me, but because I am a follower of Christ I have a massive target on my back, and you can bet that the Devil is quick to fire at it. He makes me feel like I’ve lost prominence, like the people around me couldn’t care less about how my walk with the Lord because it’s old news, he makes me feel invalid for seeking support and community. He makes me feel worthless.
And in my heart of hearts I know the truth, but for the entirety of this weekend I felt pushed to the background, thrown into a corner to stew and be silent.
And it sucked.
I just wanted to be introverted, but instead I was in a massive sea of energized people and I could barely handle myself. By the time we reached free time, I had to excuse myself, the thought of spending the next few hours in the company of others when the only thing that I actually wanted to do was explode into tears made me blanch. It was humbling for me, but I had to ask to be alone.
So I drove to the lake.
I parked my car off to the side of the road, my eyes burning from the tears that I had been holding back and my throat swollen from the welling sobs. I had Housefire’s “Good Good Father” playing through my car stereo, and despite the fact that others were in the car in front of me, and runners were lapping my truck I let out my torrential downpour of tears into the steering wheel. I yelled. I cried. I journaled. I purged my heart.
I guess I didn’t realize how awful I was actually feeling until I really went to God – I feel like church retreats somehow always seem to have that effect – as I sat there in my car I realized that what I was screaming wasn’t random sounds, but the pleading of a desperate heart… “please Lord, please Lord, please Lord”… I could barely breathe… “I tried to listen… why does this hurt so much”… I turned the stereo up to drown myself out… “Please. Please.”
I tore into my journal, my heart saturating the page with it’s pleas. I found myself writing out the words to Hillsong United’s “I Surrender”:
Here I am,
down on my knees again,
surrendering all, surrendering all.
Find me here,
Lord as you draw me near,
I’m desperate for you, desperate for you.
I was on my knees. I was surrendering. And it was hard.
I think that following Jesus is a constant process of surrendering everything over, and God was sure to make sure that I knew that then. I sat there on the side of the lake for a while until I mustered the strength to gather my things and step out to take some pictures, but all of the ducks freaked me out and there was a young woman with a little girl headed down to the beach and I didn’t want my mascara stained eyes and snotty nose to bum them out, so I waited a while longer until I was good to drive and took myself up to the other end of the lake.
It was here that I saw that the clouds were finally beginning to part. The northwest grey was giving way to blue, and it didn’t last for long, but in that moment I needed it. I stepped out of my car, and it was cold and I was still upset, but for a few seconds I got to focus on the picture and not the moment.
I don’t want you to think that everything was magically alright, because I think that’s one of the biggest lies that our culture perpetuates – that everything is alright the instant that you are face to face with something beautiful. No, I was still upset, and I would rather have sat in my car and continued to journal and sing along to the radio, but I know my heart, and I know what I love, so I decided to make an effort and get out.
I grabbed my camera and slung it over my neck, and out there alone, in the frigid northwest air, I focused in on the things surrounding me that were bigger than the moment. I focused on being present and being alone. I focused on the reprieve that I was getting from the busy world. I focused on being silent.
The theme of the weekend was abiding in the Lord. Establishing your roots in being silent and tuning out the world in order to genuinely respond to what the Lord was breathing into your life in the moments of intentional quiet.
Out there alone I had no one to talk to but the Lord, and because of that I focused on the creative process and found my heart slowly begin to soften. Running the risk of sounding incredibly cliche – it was in light of my surroundings that I remembered how small I am and how vast God is.
And now, as I’ve been back for a few days, I’m still working on finding my sea legs again. Thrust back into reality with a tired heart is no small task.
I’m trying to dwell on the words of Psalms:
“You’re my place of quiet retreat; I wait for your word to renew me.” –Psalm 119:114 MSG