Tuesday, November 6, 2012

In which we stretch to make the trade.

(photo credit:  Angel Smith)

We straggled in on Friday night.  Alone or in groups of two, we piled out of vehicles, lugging pillows, board games, and a few infant carriers with little ones strapped inside.  Greeted by a door sign crafted by the brilliant mind of one of our own, we stepped into this huge, luxurious house in the middle of the countryside – and stepped out of our roles as teacher, waitress, consultant, transcriptionist, student, instructor, lab technician, nurse, stylist, and (for the most part) Mommy.  We walked out of weeks that held meetings and projects, trips to the pediatrician and family crises, dance recitals and piles of diapers.  The excitement of a weekend away mingled strong at first with the questions of whether it was really okay to be there when life loomed so large outside the door protected by Jack Black in a cape.

Food came out of nowhere, exploded into abundance, and we piled our plates to gather around tables and laugh off some of that mental heaviness, locking eyes with friends and beginning to breathe deeply. 

Beckoned to the living room, some sank into couches and others pulled up bar stools.  My eyes traveled the room and counted twenty-three, with more on their way.  Twenty-five women who walk life together as family in Him, gathered this weekend  from our different lives and circumstances in order to learn to walk more closely.  

The door-sign-maker led us in some kick-off frivolity, one of her spiritual gifts.  Within a few minutes, we had new mental pictures of one of us as a pageant contestant/flautist, one as an ice-boring synchronized swimmer, and one who would spend a day of invisibility pushing people over.  Tears fell for the first time, laughter-induced ones breaking ground.

(photo credit: Angel Smith)

That night we flittered through the house, some pulling out yarn and hooks, others bonding over Telestrations (“Aqua Cats” and “Captain Beardy Man Boobs”?  You complete me.), and still others deciding that a sweet three-month-old really needed sparkly blue toenails. 

Bedtime stretched until the wee hours for many, voices trickling in from the main floor well past 3:00 AM.  Still, the kitchen bustled with activity on Saturday morning, bacon frying and biscuits warmed alongside gravy and jams.  We came together again on couches and chairs, and I offered some feeble, scattered thoughts on what it means to feel stretched thin, reading from Isaiah 40 before we sought out secluded spots to be still and know.  To let Him lift our eyes to those frayed places into which He wants to speak peace, rest, hope.  A few brave souls shared with the group, and still others allowed their carefully-constructed barriers of self-protection to fall away as we broke into small circles to share and laugh and cry and pray and hold each other up.


The afternoon offered seemingly endless possibilities.  To each her own.  Some stayed at home base, luxuriating in baths and naps, uninterrupted time with a book.  Others hit the thrift stores, scouting out fun finds in used furniture and potential crafty projects.  I piled into a car with three friends and a four-week-old, stopping for burgers before falling so in love with a clothing and jewelry boutique that we spoke gentle parting words to it as we left, assuring our return.  Starbucks red cups in hand, we laughed and relaxed on the road back to meet the others.  A husband phoned on the way, in a harried moment on his own with four children at Wal-Mart.  His wife cooed her sympathy.  “Well, we’re not having any fun either.” she fibbed.  “That’s right,” I chirped helpfully from the backseat, sipping my peppermint mocha. “This weekend sucks!”  (I don’t think he bought it.)

Back at the house, our “simple dinner” of soup and bread turned into another culinary explosion, and I would hold the collective cooking skills of this group up to any other in existence.  Stock pots bubbled with sausage and kale, sweet potato and quinoa, ham and cheddar.  Fresh-baked cornbread, garlic biscuits and a loaf of rosemary white sat alongside, with taco salads and fruit bowls rounding out the meal.  Conversation grew serious around small tables, with musings on heaven, earth, pain, and perspective.

(photo credit: Angel Smith)


We were called back to the living room, and pulled up couches and chairs once more, circling the spot where she sat in front of the cobblestone fireplace.  This woman, with her sparkling blue eyes and infectious laugh, she has walked an unimaginable road in recent years.  And yet, God?  He lit a fire under her for this evening to focus on the good.  Because He is good.  Her burden for the evening was to encourage us as one who has been there and come out on the other side, all and only because of Jesus.

Her gaze locked suddenly on a young mother of three, whose days are often long and harried.  “You … I know it’s hard, but Honey, you can do this. You’ve got this.  He’s got this!”  Around the room, tears welled and started to spill over.  Her eyes flashed and her words took on new intensity, body trembling with truth she could hardly contain.  Another sister in her sights, she zeroed in again.  “Woman, you amaze me.  Your story … your faithfulness … “  Voice breaking, she couldn’t continue for a moment, and more walls crumbled. 

She was a woman on an unrehearsed mission, and momentum built as she spoke directly to every person in the room.  Something broke wide open in this time and space, full-out saturated with the Holy Spirit.  And I marveled at the miracle.  If anyone had an excuse to wallow, to throw up her hands … and yet here she was, a glimpse of God’s healing and grace so beautiful it caught my breath, pouring encouragement into each of us until we could scarcely hold any more, calling out a rallying cry to press on and reach up for the trade He offers.

… a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair … (Isaiah 61:3)

She sang a few bars, and we passed tissues around.   This makeshift gathering area wedged between windows and pool table had become holy ground this weekend.  Each one of these women my family, as we resolved to be one another’s cheering sections through life, to have each other’s backs and to speak the hard stuff – yes – but to also speak this stuff.  The I-see-Christ-in-you stuff.  The you-can-do-this-because-He-is-bigger stuff. 


The rest of the night held its share of crazy.  The random 11:00 PM exercise class followed by free dance, the epic trying on of handmade hats, the spontaneous midnight rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody with brilliant piano accompaniment.  Some trickled out towards home and waiting babies.  Others fell into bed far too late again. 

In the damp, cold morning hours, we packed our cars and left for coffee and pastries.  Other than the brief glitch where several of us were almost killed on the highway by a clearly drunk man behind the wheel of a swerving Cadillac Escalade, we enjoyed a peaceful breakfast before joining our families and our church family for worship.  


Women, we're so often wounded by one another.  We compare and despair and we are our own worst critics.  We flash back to school days and mean girls and the scars linger.  We wonder if it's truly safe to trust.  Sacred days like these, spent together removed from the ins-and-outs of life and work and responsibilities, are reminders that we are all longing.  We are so much the same, and all we really want is to learn to make the trade.  To leave those ashy heaps of hurts and see the beauty that He sees - that we see so much more easily in each other than in ourselves.

I don't know that it will come easily from this point on.  What I do know is that these women will speak to me the beauty when I can't see it.  They have my back.  And my heart, too.  

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