Monday, March 03, 2008

calvary chapel of the coastlands--part 3

Pretty much the moment Noreen and I settled on the retreat theme, months earlier, my internal debate began. I remember ending that phone call thinking, How do you speak for four hours on the subject of joy to a roomful of grieving women?

They need joy, the optimist in me said.

But you can't push them there, the pessimist argued.

Would my illustrations be insensitive? Would my admonitions be too bossy? Would it all sound implausible, impossible?

Every time I sat down to work on my teachings, those polar voices resumed their tiff. I'd have to la, la, la them to silence just so I could capture a few thoughts on the screen.

I chose my words carefully. I looked over every story, every illustration with an eye for Hannah, and how it might affect her loved ones. My aim was to lift up joy and say, "This can be yours."

When all was said and done, and I'd printed up the notes for my four, one-hour teachings, I dismissed those cranky voices and sighed in relief. It all felt right. It felt like I'd maneuvered myself through a minefield.

And so, on that first night of the retreat, when I sat down with my notes for one more look before heading down to the first session, my heart gave a little twist when I came to the first illustration and noticed I'd made a reference to prison.

How did that slip by? I wondered. I scribbled out the reference, thought for a minute, and replaced it with something a little less stark.

I turned the page ... and saw a reference to chains. The twist in my heart became a full shimmy. What had I done? More scribbling. More scanning. More heart galloping. Prison, prisoner, shackles, chains ... I'd done the very thing I most wanted not to do--I'd filled my teaching with words too familiar, too painful for this group of women.

My sister, Nancy, was in the condo's living room reading her Bible. "Listen to this," I said. When I'd finished, I asked her the question I was wondering myself. "Do you think this isn't a coincidence?"

Nancy nodded. "It all must be in there for a reason."

I thought about Romans 11:25, which says that "a partial blindness has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in." God, apparently, had granted me a partial blindness until I was fully away from my printer and unable to fix my words.

Noreen called from her condo just then to pray with me.

"You won't believe this," I began.

She listened, and agreed. "You have to leave it in." We prayed together, and then I gathered my notes and walked with Nancy down to the meeting room. I walked through those doors, looked at all those beautiful, smiling faces, and said another quick prayer. Father, don't let me hurt them.

I'm a big believer in laying all your cards on the table. So after worship, after a short vignette in what would be an ongoing play throughout our retreat, and after a brief introduction, I stood at the podium and told the women what had happened. I told them my hopes for our retreat, my fears over how my words might affect them, and my belief that it had to be said. And I told them what the Lord had spoken to me on the walk down from my room.

"There's more than one kind of prison. Sometimes, the chains we find around us are chains of our own making. I believe God will free Hannah--and I believe He wants to free you, too."

I shared my points, my stories, my verses. And I watched the same progression I've seen dozens of times in dozens of settings. The women didn't know me--and then they did. Polite smiles transformed into genuine smiles of connection and understanding. We went from strangers to friends, and I knew that by the end of the second session, we'd go from friends to family.

I held off crying until the very end, when, while praying, I had a vision of Hannah--Hannah not being in the room with us. So I prayed what I was thinking. "Tonight, Lord, give Hannah her own retreat with You. Let Your nearness be more real to her than it's ever been. Let her know how loved she is."

"And then, Lord, please bring her home."

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8 Comment:

At 3/05/2008 9:09 AM, Blogger Cora had this to say ...

Good job, Shannon.

I am sure your point got across to those women and they love you for it. And I am sure they love you for your compassion for Hannah. I know I do.

At 3/05/2008 7:19 PM, Blogger Curlyqfun had this to say ...

Shannon, what you spoke was obviously what they needed to hear. And you have a way about you when you speak. As a listener you can't help but connect with you. I am sure they were all sad to have you leave. But we'd be sad without our "Shanny".

At 3/06/2008 7:38 AM, Blogger Shannon had this to say ...

Cora and Gina, I love you both. I'm so glad you're reading, because I know that means you're both praying. Please don't stop!

This series will probably be at least ten posts long. Nearer the end, I'll tell you about meeting Larry and the five kids. What an amazing dad ... and what beautiful children.

At 3/06/2008 2:05 PM, Blogger Kim had this to say ...

It's amazing how God worked His plan through you in spite of your hesitancy to use certain phrases.

I loved this, "There's more than one kind of prison. Sometimes, the chains we find around us are chains of our own making. I believe God will free Hannah--and I believe He wants to free you, too." Amen! Well said, and a message the Lord has been trying to tell so many of His people.

Great job. Can't wait to read the rest of the series.

At 3/12/2008 9:55 PM, Blogger alis had this to say ...

Thank you so much for ministering to us at our retreat
( CC Coastlands). I just finished both of your books and was ministered to some more!! God used you as a healing balm and an encouragement - thank you for being His willing instrument and thank you for spreading the word further and farther about Hannah!
In Abba,
Ali Shepherd
(the "earthy salad" girl from Murietta)

At 3/19/2008 12:16 PM, Blogger Shannon had this to say ...

Kim, I really don't know where I'd be if God didn't graciously override me and fill in all my gaps--completely lost, I'm sure!

Hello "earthy salad girl!" :) Thanks for the visit and the encouragement. I miss you and the other ladies! Thank you for making me feel so welcome. It was just like being home with my own ladies.

Will you be at the Pastors' Wives Conference this year?

At 3/21/2008 12:50 PM, Blogger alis had this to say ...

Hi Shannon,
Don't know if I will be there this year - I was so blessed to be able to go last year (I am originally from that area and am a "transplanted Texan").
I also want to share with you that worship at the jail is continuing (I just read your recent post)- a group of worshipers are going out Sat. evenings to worship with a girl Hannah ministered to while there. Please pray for her as well - her name is Adrianna.
Have a blessed Easter!
He is risen...
In Abba,

At 4/09/2008 5:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

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