Every year or so, our church hosted a women's retreat. It was a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, with time spent getting closer to God. Many women found comfort and relaxation in the company of others who shared a common knowledge of the burdens we carry as moms, wives, grandmothers, employees, or any other of the myriad of roles we fill. It was, for the most part, a safe place to "let go, and let God." Many had wounds healed at these retreats, so I was game to go.
My friend, Sharon, agreed to come with me. I needed someone to "hold my hand" because I knew fear would need to be challenged at this showdown. I needed someone who knew my situation, would support and encourage me, and would love me no matter what happened. She was my armor-bearer.
We drove the hour or so to the retreat center on a late Friday afternoon. Set in a hotel-like facility poised on the edge of Lake Michigan, the atmosphere was relaxed and casual. The undercurrent of excitement and anticipation was rippling through the scattered clusters of women either busy settling into their rooms, or simply enjoying each others company. Something good always happened here, and they were primed with expectancy.
I, on the other hand, was a little nervous. In spite of wanting to be free, the fear of the unknown still gripped me, and I still harbored fear about my identity. I had carried the grief so long, it had become my identity. The fine line between continuing in misery, and the fear of freedom and all its unknowns, kept moving. Sometimes I stretched forward toward freedom; other times I scrambled back to the recesses of my cave, not ready to move on. It was amazing how much control fear had over my life.
The weekend proceeded as most had before, with music, singing, teaching, and times of prayer and ministry for those who wanted it. While others went forward to receive personal prayer, I remained locked in my chair; unable to make my legs force my body up. The fear of the future was winning. Pastor Dawn was leading the conference, and she knew both me and my friend well. Dawn called for Sharon to come up for prayer, but not me. I thought it was odd since she was my counselor and knew my struggle. As a result, my feelings of invisibility drove their roots deeper into my heart. I remained glued to my chair the entire weekend . Prompting by Sharon couldn't budge me, and even a loving arm around me from an unexpected friend couldn't move me. I found myself still chained to my cave, unable to take that first step toward God. As a result, my healing did not come that weekend. I went home disappointed in myself for lack of courage, and frustrated with Dawn for not calling me out.
At our next counseling session I told her how I felt. Ironically, she didn't even know I had been there, nor had she seen me sitting next to Sharon, so my frustrations with her were unfounded. I was disappointed that I was still in my cave since I had believed the weekend was supposed to be my time to break free from it. I felt as if the two steps I had taken forward were actually three steps backward.
It was like the carrot dangled before the rabbit; I could see the end reward, wanted it, but just couldn't quite reach it yet. God was baiting me. He knew I had to take that first scary step toward Him. He knew I had to truly want my healing more than I wanted to remain frozen in time. He was priming my heart for the final event; the moment when all the past would be re-framed in His love and compassion, and my heart would soar free. Like a little child who had been shown a wonderful gift, only to have it suddenly snatched away for a later time, I now became impatient. I wanted my freedom, and I wanted it now.
At my next counseling appointment with Pastor Dawn, she shared how in a couple of months she would be leading another conference in a town two hours away. If I really wanted another shot at my freedom, here was the opportunity. I went home and called Sharon. We began packing our bags for the final showdown.