I was a dam holding back a roaring river. I had held it together all school year, so that I could stand in front of students every day and teach. Late in the month of May, 2016, would have been a probable due date for me to have the babies. So on that last day of school, subconsciously my heart saw that day as the signal to let the dam break.
The last week of school, that Tuesday night I began to unravel during my counseling session. I was deep in sorrow and began to weep. I felt alone on this path. No one that I knew had gone through a frozen embryo cycle. No one that I knew had lost babies this way. It was an isolating experience for me. After weeping in counseling, I pulled myself together and drove to the Apple-Bee’s close by. I was headed to meet some ladies to discuss the survey results from our latest women’s retreat.
I ate my nachos. I drank my diet coke. I was there, but I wasn’t. I was in the conversation, but my mind was somewhere else.
Talking about whether or not the food at the retreat was healthy enough. Or whether we should put the chairs around tables or in rows seemed meaningless compared to the pain I was feeling. I was trying so hard to keep it together. I was determined to join in the conversation about the retreat, but I couldn’t ignore my soul that was crying inside. It was saying, “None of this matters. I feel like I’m dying inside. None of this makes a difference. My babies are still gone.”
I felt my chest get tight. My responses grew shorter. Without thinking, I shot off a comment to someone towards the end of the meeting that was sharp and unkind. My heart sank into my stomach. The comment had nothing do with her. It came from my own stuff. My story and my wounds. I didn’t mean to hurt her. But I did.
Although I apologized to her in front of everyone, all I could think about was that I had hurt a dear sister in Christ and managed to do it in front of an audience. I mean… who does that kind of thing? I wanted to hide, to run, to get away from everyone who had seen me be so… mean. The only people who have seen me come unglued was my family. I’ve always been able to “hold it together” for everyone else. But this was beyond the scope of my skills. My emotions were so big that they would not be contained.
I felt so terrible. And I felt found out. Now they know the real me. I just kept thinking, I’ve never seen any of those ladies lose it in front of a group. Never. No, they don’t do that sort of thing. I found myself in a place of alone.
The next day, I wrote an apology email to the group asking for forgiveness. Explaining why I was a mess that night, but not blaming my behavior on my circumstance.
A shattered heart is bound to have sharp pieces and mine had caused collateral damage.
How I wished that I had not gone to the meeting that night! I asked God to help those women to forgive me. After I sent the email, I received the most gracious, loving replies and texts. I was so undeserving and yet grace carefully and quietly opened the door of friendship that I thought my mistakes had shut.
Every woman had reached out to me. I was blown away. To be seen in my sinfulness but still embraced. I’m not sure I had ever experienced grace in that way. Their kind words found my soul in the depths of shame where it was hiding. Whispering to me that it was ok to come out. I was not “found out,” but simply….found. They found me still worthy to be their sister and friend.
If these women were capable of this depth of grace, how much deeper was God’s grace? This humbling place I was in with these women, gave me a richer view of God. I could mess up and still be in relationship. I wasn’t alone. But shame is a hard one to shake. Especially for a recovering approval addict like me.
James 4:6 But he gives more grace.
How interesting that just before the Applebee’s incident that night in May, I had been in my counselor’s office and she asked me a question.
“Have you ever gone on a personal retreat? Just you, alone?”
She encouraged me to take some time to get away. To get away and be alone with the Lord. I clearly needed the rest and soul care that can only happen in solitude. My grief was not just beating me to the ground but it was stomping on others too.
She shared with me a scripture about Elijah. He had just called down fire from heaven and slaughtered the prophets of Baal. Now Jezebel was hunting him down and he was running.
1 Kings 19:4-8
- But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
- And he lay down and slept under a broom tree.
I wonder if Elijah asked the same question that I was asking.
“Who am I fooling?”
All these past several years of counseling and mentoring and I’m no better off than I was. I’m not spiritual. I’m not even a grown up. I felt so much shame and embarrassment. Even though those women had forgiven me, I felt like a child who had been found out. I just wanted to run away.
So maybe a personal retreat is what I needed. Was the Lord calling me to a time away with Him?
I began to think about how wonderful a retreat could be. My running away became a running “to”. I went online and searched for retreat centers where I could spend the time by myself. I found one in southern Missouri that had cabins on a beautiful lake available Sunday – Tuesday.
I was all set to head to the lake that Sunday, when my Dad called me letting me know that him and my mom were not going to be able to go to the cabin he had reserved several months prior. He said it was going to be empty and their reservation was Sunday – Thursday. The cabin was all paid for and all mine if I wanted it!
It never ceases to amaze me how God is so personal. God saw that our finances had been a strain these last few years and He provided.
This twist in circumstance was God’s irresistible invitation to me. I didn’t see this as a coincidence. It was God finding me laying under a broom tree in the desert and baking me a cake. That probably makes no sense right now, but keeping reading how Elijah’s story intersected mine.
That Sunday afternoon, I found myself on the scenic drive to Sam A. Baker state park. This was the park I had been going to with my family since I was little. The cabins sat in a row. Each cabin had stone steps leading up to a wooden porch.
Now, years later it was a warm day in May. Walking up the stone steps to the cabin with key in hand, I found myself at the door. Ready to walk through a door that had been reserved for me months before. I was anxious to relax and spend time with God, the one who had orchestrated this space and time.
I walked in and smelled that familiar air. How does a place smell just like it did 35 years ago? It was the smell of the wooden porch mixed with freshly mopped floors. I brought my back pack inside and unloaded the basics. Some diet coke, dark chocolate, essential oils, my journal, Bible, water colors, paint brushes and a tablet of art paper that I had snagged from one of my boys. I dropped my back pack and within minutes I was walking down to the river with my camping chair, Diet Coke and journal in hand.
I had copied the verses about Elijah in my journal. Reading over it again, I watched the river rushing over the rocks.
Verse 5. And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.”
- And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.
Elijah had just called down fire from heaven on Mount Carmel. He showed everyone how powerful his God could be, but he was scared and ran for his life. Exhausted and emotionally spent, he had needs like all of us do.
He needed to sleep, eat and hydrate and then he needed to do all of that over again. Elijah’s body was created by God to hunger, to thirst and to fall asleep. In His kindness, He showed up to meet every single one of the those needs for Elijah. How often I have ignored what my body is telling me and I’ve needed someone else to come along and tell me to slow down and take care of myself.
I found myself under my own broom tree. It is said that Elijah was running from God. I found that this personal retreat for me was not me running away from God but towards Him. I desperately needed food and water for my soul. He was the only one that could give that.
He knew that there was a younger part of my heart that was hiding in shame. Running from an embarrassing moment at Apple Bee’s. Wondering who would really want to be friends with a hot mess like me?
He saw the mother in me ache for the babies that I had dreamed of having.
He heard me crying myself to sleep when I wasn’t sure where the money was going to come from.
He knew that I just couldn’t take one more thing. Not one more day of anyone needing anything from me. Because I had nothing left to give.
He knew. He saw my fatigue and just like He met Elijah in his desperation, He met me.
My broom tree was not only a little cabin by a river. It was the time and space to be so quiet that His voice was the only voice I heard.
Psalm 29: 3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. 4. The voice of the Lord is powerful: the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
I took long walks on nature trails and sat for hours by the river. I read about Elijah and how God supernaturally worked through his obedience. I was encouraged by reading the Psalms because they gave me the words for my prayers. I took naps when I wanted and ate when I wanted. I rested well.
The passage in 1 Kings ends with this:
Verse 7. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”
- And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
The scripture says that Elijah ending up going in the strength of that food and water for 40 days. God knew what was ahead for Elijah and how the journey would be physically exhausting. He not only provided food and water, but He also took the time to prepare it.
I wonder how long that broom tree had been growing in the desert, waiting to offer shade for weary Elijah? Had it been reserved months in advance, so it could be a meeting place for him and God?
I spent 2 days under my broom tree. I saw His character in the scriptures and in His creation. There’s so much more I want to tell you about my time there, but for now, I want to ask you… have you been invited to go away with God?
Have you found yourself trying to keep the dam from breaking? Holding back those torrents of water? Raging rivers made of your pain, hopelessness, shame, loss, disappointment, rejection, abandonment, addiction, failure.
You’ve tried to hold yourself together, but there is One who longs to hold you. He will care for you. Preparing a jar of water for your thirsty soul and a cake baked on a stone.
Psalm 107:9 For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
Maybe a cabin out in nature isn’t your thing. But is there a time and space that God is calling you to?
I’m so glad that I accepted His invitation.
When your invitation arrives, don’t forget to RSVP.