Monday, May 01, 2006


Two weekends, two women's retreats.

I spent the first with the women of Trinity Baptist Church. We gathered in Leavenworth, Washington (home of Bavarian-styled storefronts, lots of sausage, and a man who climbs a second-story balcony railing each morning in his lederhosen and blows a ten-foot alphhorn to serenade the town) and discussed what it means to walk "Hand in Hand" with one another. Though I'd only met three of the women before I arrived (and then only briefly), the bunch welcomed me warmly, treated me as though I were one of their own, listened attentively to my teaching, and hugged me on my way when it came time to say good bye. A truly lovely group of women. Before it was all over, my sister, Nancy, (who is my assistant and a wonderful traveling companion) and I spent several hours fingering yarn and talking patterns with the shop owner of Wooly Bully, Leavenworth's finest yarn shop. We also consumed far too much passionfruit gelato from Viadolce ... but I'm not apologizing.

Weekend two was spent with my own women at our annual retreat. As we've done for the past four years, we gathered out at The Homestead, a family-run retreat center between Snohomish and Monroe. I saw no lederhosen-clad men, heard no horns, tasted no passionfruit gelato. But here's what we did experience:

• The full gamut of emotions: much laughter, many tears, gratitude, and joy
• The kind of unity that only comes when you're all on the same page
• The releasing of a few hurts
• The birthing of many new friendships
• An openness like none we've shared before
• Shackles ... and a lot of dancing

That last one calls for an explanation. We had two fabulous singers in our midst: Patty Estrada (my good friend and the wife of my longest-standing friend, Andy. Patty has led worship for four of our retreats, and I can't even begin to describe what it's like when she takes the piano and starts worshiping. God has anointed that girl) and Sonya Kaye (also a beloved friend. She made the trip from Tacoma simply because she wanted to attend a retreat, but ended up blessing us with her amazing voice and spirit).

Every part of this retreat was ordained by God. It's always that way. It doesn't matter if you start planning in October (which I don't) or you wait on Him right up to the last few weeks (which I do), He's the originator of retreats, the knitter of details, the opener of hearts. We couldn't possibly have planned the blessing that came upon us. Though Tarri, Fran and I met a few months back to discuss our theme, I have to be honest ... we had lunch, talked about the retreat for a half an hour or so, and then spent the rest of the afternoon learning how to knit an I-cord. After that, our huddles went something like this:

"Are you ready?"
"No. Are you ready?"

I wasn't worried. I'm never worried. Because I've been doing this long enough that I know God will reveal His plan in His own time, and will bring together details we couldn't possibly orchestrate. It's His retreat, after all.

We had no idea what the three of us were planning to teach (other than that it all revolved around our theme). Nor did we know what Kari would say in her devotional. Nor did we know what Sylvia would share in her testimony. Nor did we know the songs Patty had planned, or the songs Sonya would share Friday night. And it's a blessing we didn't know, because we walked around with big eyes and awed hearts as the thread began to show itself. God planned it all. Without knowing I was going to teach about Hosea's forgiving love toward Gomer, Sonya chose a song by Scott Kripayne about forgiveness, entitled, "I Can't Believe You Still Love Me"--a song she sang for the women just before my teaching. The three sessions echoed, confirmed, or elaborated on the points of each other. Kari's devotional and Sylvia's testimony served as exclamation points on a sentence we didn't know we were writing. And over all, God's presence hovered.

The joy we felt, collectively, was so intense it needed release. Even though there was plenty of blowing-off-steam time (the women participated in our first ever "Amazing Race" competition, complete with ladder ball, hoola-hoops, gingerbread houses, popping balloons, and a trip across the pond via swing or scooching bottoms), we had such a welling need to proclaim the release God had wrought that we pushed back all the chairs and danced to Patty, Sonya and Sylvia's rendition of "Shackles" (Mary, Mary)--not once, but twice.

When I think of our retreat, I will remember the tears, and the stomach-tightening laughter, and the numerous times women told me, "This is the best retreat we've ever had." But I think the overriding picture I'll carry with me is the sight of my beloved sisters dancing to the sound of their own freedom, with clapping hands, shining faces, and eyes closed in pure delight.

Enjoy the lyrics.

Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance
I just wanna praise You
I just wanna praise You
You broke the chains now I can lift my hands
And I'm gonna praise You
I'm gonna praise You

In the corners of my mind
I just can't seem to find a reason to believe
That I can break free
Cause you see I have been down for so long
Feel like all hope is gone
But as I lift my hands, I understand
That I should praise You through my circumstance

Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance
I just wanna praise You
I just wanna praise You
You broke the chains now I can lift my hands
And I'm gonna praise You
I'm gonna praise You

Everything that could go wrong
All went wrong at one time
So much pressure fell on me
I thought I was going to lose my mind
But I know You wanna see
If I will hold on through these trials
But I need You to lift this load
Cause I can't take it no more

Take the shackles off my feet so i can dance
I just wanna praise you
I just wanna praise you
You broke the chains now I can lift my hands
And I'm gonna praise You
I'm gonna praise You

Been through the fire and the rain
Bound in every kind of way
But God has broken every chain
So let me go right now

Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance
I just wanna praise You
I just wanna praise You
You broke the chains now I can lift my hands
And I'm gonna praise You
I'm gonna praise You


6 Comment:

At 5/02/2006 10:19 AM, Blogger whaaaat! had this to say ...

Both retreats sound like wonderful, blessed experiences.
We love Leavenworth.
Was there any dancing goin' on with the Baptist women? : )

At 5/02/2006 10:38 AM, Blogger ...jus me had this to say ...

Sounds like a lot of fun! Our women need to have a retreat of our own again. Normally the only one we have is with the district and although it is fun, I kinda feel the need for one with our Women alone. Thank you for the moving post!

At 5/02/2006 11:39 AM, Blogger Ginger had this to say ...

It sounds lovely, Shannon. A member of my family is always making smart remarks (in good humor) about all the retreats I go to. Retreats are such a rich renewal time, though, aren't they? I will be at the Christian Writers' Renewal this weekend and will look to say hellow to you there.

At 5/02/2006 11:50 AM, Anonymous Gina Marie had this to say ...

Shannon, Thanks for bringing me back to the retreat experience once again. I am blubbering at my desk! What can I say, except what a blessed time with the girls. I didn't want to try and guess what God was going to do, but He sure did show up and do a work in us all. Praise His wonderful name! Oh, and by the way..you ladies are the best.

At 5/02/2006 12:33 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

No, T., no dancing. Maybe next time. :) I agree about Leavenworth. Such a great destination. How've you been?

Hello Jus Me! (Cute name :) And yes--you need to have a retreat of your own. I insist. :)

Ginger!! I'm so excited to get to meet you! I'm teaching three workshops (one on blogging ... I'll have to mention that you and I met through our blogs) and will be representing Cook Communications for the editor meetings, so please come right up and let me know who you are. I can't wait!

And Gina, what a blessing you are. I was so excited knowing you would be at the retreat. I remember praying fervently that God would bring you and Rick to our church ... and now look! You are such a gift. I can't imagine our group without you.

At 5/03/2006 4:55 PM, Anonymous Vicki had this to say ...

Such a beautiful time! I'm almost envious of the sweet fellowship--been too long since I've enjoyed such a retreat myself. Encourages me to hear how God works out every detail down to the last minute, knitting hearts together.


PS--thanks for adding my new site to your blogroll!


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