It’s just as beautiful as I imagined, I thought as I gazed at the scene set before me. Perfectly imperfect white brick buildings protected by mismatched red shingles: Retreat.
I settled into my room and started digging through my swag bag. Flipping through the pages of a beautiful magazine, my sister said “Did you read this page?” Pointing to a long story that I passed over, “I think you should.”
As I read I teared up. This was written for me, I thought. And for the first time in a long time, I exhaled. These four days were going to be the retreat that I needed from a stressful year. Time to fall apart, time to recollect. Time away.
The Pursuit 31 Conference is held in Rome, Georgia every year for creatives and small business owners; it’s so great that you have to sign up a year in advance. And to be honest, I didn’t want to go. When it was time to sign up, I was stuck in a job I hated and was drowning in a full time job, trying to get my interior design business re-started after moving halfway across the country, and didn’t feel like any of my dreams were going to come true. But, as good sisters do, Sara wore me down—I signed up and was put on the waiting list. I got an email a few weeks later saying that a spot opened up for me. A year later, I’m so glad that she wouldn’t let well enough alone. So glad that I just gave in.
That was a year ago; so much has happened between then and now. A week before this conference I stepped away from what I thought was my dream job. I had lots of ideas about what I wanted to do next, but I just needed space to get away from everything.
There were so many great speakers and teachers at the conference, and I really got a lot out of what each of them had to say. But for me, these few short days seemed to repeat the same things to me over and over again:
When I really look at the past few years of my life I start to realize that it’s been really quite insane. In the past 5 years I lived in 4 states, I moved 6 times, I made friends, I lost friends. I’ve traveled to 3 countries, I got married, I bought a home, I suffered the death of a friend, I rejoiced in the birth of 2 nephews and a niece. While some of these are great blessings and some things are truly hard, These few days of escape, these few days of “re” have been desperately needed for 5 years.
When I was little I could do anything.
Dad’s going to feed the cows? Let me grab my barn boots.
Mom says I’m not old enough to use the sewing machine. Where’s the needle and thread?
Someday I want to be a designer. I’ll have a table at the school craft show.
Someday I’m going to make it big. I’ll go to college.
I want to see the world. I’ll move to another state. I’ll jump on a plane.
But then something changed. My big dreams started to look silly; I’ll never be as good, my work won’t look that, I don’t know how, I don’t have time, I can’t—. The determined dreamer of a little girl was getting lost in the educated working woman. I started becoming less faithful, more calculated. Less excited, more realistic. Less awe, more busy. And I told myself and everyone else that I hadn’t changed, but I didn’t believe it.
Needless to say, when I got to Georgia and saw that the theme for the week was “Brave on, you crazy dreamer,” I rolled my eyes. Now, I know that this was for me. I needed this. I needed to remember how to dream again. I was striving for some dreams that were not about passion or gifts, but about stability and predictability. Other goals were reckless and went against my own convictions. God re-centered me on Him and His word, and I’m so thankful. I can pursue my dreams & my passions, but only when the focus of my life is my God.
When I was living in Chicago, I had the honor of leading a small group of high schoolers at our church’s youth group. We would meet weekly in our home and every few weeks I would take center stage, shaking, while I shared a piece of Scripture, a piece of my heart. I’m not sure why I got so nervous every time; maybe it was the hours of study put into each lesson, maybe it was the immense weight I felt for the souls of these precious girls, maybe it was an outpouring of God’s love for them through me. Even though I don’t understand what it feels like to be a mother, these were my children. And I had something to say to them. I wanted them to understand God’s love for them. And so, I would study for hours. Research for ages. Steal books from my husband’s shelves, overflowing with commentaries and theology. Spend hours in the library.
And guess what. The more I had to say to them, the more God had to say to me. There was never a week where I didn’t learn something, grow closer, and fall deeper in love with God. Studying the Bible became something I looked forward to & did even when I didn’t have a big lesson coming up. God pulled me in.
Where did that go? Why am I so busy? What’s so important? Come back, Re-learn.
Sitting in a session with Jane Johnson I watched her page through the Bible—she knew it like the back of her hand. Cross-references got her more excited than a new pair of shoes. She could barely contain her excitement at what God has been showing her through her studies. I caught a glimpse of my old self: someone who got excited about a new commentary, who read about ancient cultures, someone unafraid to ask the hard questions. Someone who was always going to re-learn.
I’ve never really understood how God talks to people. I’ve always clenched my jaw in frustration when people say “I heard God say…” Why doesn’t God talk to me like that? Honestly, I still don’t completely understand, maybe it’s different for everyone. But I’ve been convicted, had words of the Bible stab me in the heart, and been brought to tears just being in nature or holding a newborn baby. And that’s enough. Sure, I’d love a shoutout from God, but He speaks to me sweetly through other ways in life. It’s been a while. I’d forgotten how to listen. Through this journey of re-learning, I’m also learning to listen again.
All of these great breakthroughs, just from a few days away! Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t have to think about cooking 3 meals a day, or maybe it was that I was sipping sweet tea from a mason jar. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it, but boy, was I hoping for it. It’s been a time of spiritual drought for me. It’s been a struggle. And I’m not about to say that the drought it over. But these few days were like an ocean in the desert. I feel revived, refilled, refreshed. Getting away from the noise and business of life gave me a chance to remember who and what is important.