Surrendered Heart is the next step in the Captivating Heart Retreat Series. Stripped down, focused and intimate, this retreat is a weekend away with other women seeking deep healing and deep communion with God. Taught by Marilyn Hodgin, Judy Turner of Christview Ministries and Strings Attached’s own Cari Kaufman, we are incredibly excited about what God is inviting us to. Surrendered Heart takes place at St Scholastica Retreat Center in Ft Smith, Arkansas, May 13-15, 2016. For more information go to www.captivatingheart.com. This event is designed for those ladies who have attended Captivating Heart or a similar Captivating based retreat or who have been through the Captivating:Heart to Heart DVD series.
This is a reflection from my recent visit to Little Portion Retreat Center on More Mountain in Eureka Springs for a directed silent retreat hosted by Christview Ministries and Dovehouse Ministries. This was my second retreat with this group, and very different from last year. I am still, a month later, processing all that I learned about myself and about God. The writing has been slower developing this time and so I hope that you have grace for the slow way that I will share these reflections. If you would like to read more about my trips to More Mountain, just search for Sound of Silence in the search box.
“It sounds like God is preparing you for something really big,” the Pastor said.
I nodded and shivered. That declaration felt both thrilling and ominous. “Really big” so often means “Really different” to me…and you know what? Change is hard.
My palms began to sweat and I felt the flush of heat rise that is the harbinger of spirit truth. It resonated in me, this wise man’s statement, and I wondered where I would next hear the voice of God.
I had been telling the pastor of my experience last month on More Mountain. Speaking of how I had gone seeking to bask in the glory of God- to be undone by His presence. Speaking of how I did not know what to expect on that return trip to the mountain, but had traveled there with such high expectations. Speaking of how difficult it was to get over the disappointment that God just wanted me to rest. Of how my spirit wrestled and peace eluded me.
I told him about arriving, late and frustrated, and of feeling like a woman in a desert crawling toward water. I told him of collapsing after dinner and sleeping for 13 hours straight with the thought that I would rest and begin my journey with God the next morning. I told him of the first scripture passage we were given and how I cried myself to sleep when I read it because I knew that this experience would not bear up under the heavy weight of the expectations I carried.
“..the LORD appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” – Jeremiah 31:3
A song of love from our God, right?…But all I could see was:
“the Lord appeared to me from far away.”
I’m staying far away this weekend, God whispered. Rest here.
I didn’t want rest. I wanted God. Up close and personal and right there- in. my. face-not far away.
So I slept that night and awoke the next morning, still exhausted, for breakfast. I ate quickly and headed out to hike the beautiful trails around us, looking for my ‘Absalom.’ I barely made it back to the room before I was too exhausted to walk further. I lay down to nap until my allotted time with my spiritual director, Judy.
She could see I was exhausted. She could sense God’s plan for me already, even though I was still fighting it. Together we prayed for a word from the Lord. I, expecting the requisite three scripture references for our practice of Lectio Divina throughout the day, savored the idea of the spiritual work that was to come. Judy, my wise Yoda-esque mentor, listened intently for guidance from the Lord.
She asked me what I had heard from the Lord. I thought I might fib and say, “nothing,” but I knew she knew better.
I sighed. “Rest.”
“I keep seeing this picture of you crawling to water. God wants you to float in the water.”
“Is there a scripture that comes to mind?”
“Yes, 1 Kings 19”
Judy smiled quietly. “Do you know the story? Of Elijah and the broom tree?”
We opened the Bible and began to read what God was up to:
4 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.” 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 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. 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.” 8 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.- 1 Kings 19:4-8
Judy looked at me with tender eyes….I knew that look…the “this might hurt a little” look.
“I don’t have any scripture references for you this weekend. No lectio divina, no work. Just rest. God wants you to rest deeply.”
My eyes filled up and I dropped my head and looked away to hide the trembling chin of deep disappointment from this woman who had become my guide.
“Do you know that after his rest under the broom tree, Elijah went to Mt Horeb where he heard from God in the still small voice? Did you know that God told him there were others to work alongside him? There is a great journey God is preparing you for, but you don’t have the strength yet. Trust that God does not need your active participation to be at work in your life. Now go, and rest.” Judy dismissed me with a sweet prayer for peace and an even sweeter hug…one that said, ‘I know this is hard, but you and God can do it.”
I knew the truth of her words. I felt the same flush of spirit truth that I would feel just three weeks later while I related the story the pastor. But still, I was sad. Sad that I would miss out on the beautiful weekend and the hiking trails and the caterpillars and the long, long talks with God. My heart understood, but spirit still struggled against the truth of it. My body, however, overtook all that and screamed out its exhaustion at me.
I did not even make it to my room for a nap. Instead, I lay down on the porch in a chaise lounge. The sun was shining, but the breeze was chilly and I thought that the chill in the air would jar me awake. As I snuggled down into the comfortable lounge, I sucked my arms up into my fleece jacket and closed my eyes.
Two hours later, I awoke. Someone had laid a heavy fleece blanket over me and started a fire in the fire pit next to me. The love and gentleness in that gesture flooded me with peace and I felt a piece of the resistance within me break away. I was safe…and cherished…and watched over in this place.
I gathered my Bible and my journal and headed back towards my room– for more rest.
“The early Christians referred to death as falling asleep. It was the point of complete surrender into the loving arms of a loving God. In this experience of his weakness Elijah encounters the Lord in a different way. I propose that this encounter reveals the heart of Christian prayer, a call to surrendered love. There, under the broom tree, he is fed a hearth cake and water, a Eucharistic symbol. “He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food; he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.” (1 Kings 19:8) There he is prepared to hear the voice of God as He passed by, not in a mighty wind, an earthquake, or a fire — but in a gentle whisper — the kind that can only be heard by one who has a surrendered ear to hear. Humble — not haughty.” – Keith Fournier, Learning to Live Under the Broom Tree
Everything seems so sensual this morning.
I slept fitfully last night and finally about3:30 am prayed that God would help me sleep. I dreamed of running through soft grass and swimming naked crystal clear hot springs with the water wrapping around my body.
I awoke and performed my morning yoga. I think that will become a routine again and I felt blood flow and course and my body hummed happy like a well-oiled machine.
The sky is hazy- not gray specifically, but the haziness that comes with humidity and soon-coming rain. The kind of haze that makes colors shout out their names and reminds you of the beach in midwinter.
Even breakfast caressed the senses this morning. Still simple fare, no gourmet chefs here these monks, but simple food from God’s bounty prepared with love and care. This morning we ate scrambled eggs and biscuits with link sausage from a package and I nearly did a cartwheel when the monk rang the bell for breakfast.
A smile, bright like joy itself, sprang to my lips when this man and woman spooned up God’s nourishment and I desperately wanted to bubble out “Thank you” but we are still giving each other the gift of silence and I have a breakfast date with Jesus so my smile like joy will have to do and I bound away happy.
I pour a glass of water flavored with lemons and oranges. I taste the slick spring water and it leaps to life on my tongue. Bright notes of floral and citrus play together and maybe a little mint and my heart sings because I am in love again….with this water, with this place, but especially with the Maker of it all.
I linger over breakfast. The smooth blanket of biscuit with fresh butter and strawberry jam, eggs scrambled just right- still soft and so warm. I salt the fruit to taste its flavors and they pop and kiss and mingle together in my mouth and my heart sings happy because I am in love again.
After breakfast, I head out to the place God prepared to do our last Lectio Divina. I’ve saved a verse about battle (2 Chronicles20:15-17) for last, for the time before I return to the real world.
For a moment, I feel fear and doubt rush in. There is no Absolam here. There has been a caterpillar to greet me along every steo of my journey there sort of as a guide to confirm my steps are his will.
“Oh, but I am here.”
I look down and there is a brown and black caterpillar I’ve looked for and found everywhere along the way crawling up my pant’s leg. I wonder silently how long he’s been there.
“All along,” comes a chuckle from God, “all along.”
So I sit and pray and open my Bible to appropriate passage and begin to dig in with God.
I expect words like “Fight the good fight.” And “Go tell the nations.” But instead, Jesus lets me off the hook. He took down the chore list from the refrigerator. You know the one with:
20 min of quiet time
20 min Bible study
Invite people to church
You know that list? The one that straps me into to “doing” everyday and fills me with shame at my failure every night? Jesus gently takes it off the fridge and crumples it and throws it in the trash.
“The battle is not yours, but God’s,” He says. “Stand firm, hold your position and watch the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.”
I stutter denials and but, buts.. and he says:
“I’ve given you a story. Tell yours and they will hear Mine. Love. Go in peace and stand firm.”
And then we sit for an hour and talk about fear-
Of doing too much.
Of doing too little.
Of letting go of fear itself.
Jesus says “Trust me.”
“You make it sound so simple,” I say.
He chuckles, “Simple is not always easy, Cari.”
He doesn’t always sound like my Dad, but today he does and I love him even more for it.
So, OK…Practice trust. Simply trust.
And then Jesus blows my mind-
“Listen. You are doing the right thing. There is no right or wrong way to draw near to me. No twelve step formula to hear my voice. Just listen. Listen for me.”
I breathe deep his peace and look down. There in the leaves are two more Absolams. They raise up the front part of their bodies as if to speak to me or say “Hello.”
But I think perhaps they are saying, “Goodbye,Alice. Until we meet again.”
15 And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. 16 Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them,and the Lord will be with you.” – 2 Chronicles 15-17
I came here seeking answers. Lots of them.
Anne Lamott says she knows only two prayers- “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I would add to that my own two – “I love you, love you, love you,” and “guide me, guide me, guide me.”
I surrendered my list of “Guide me’s” when I entered silence last night…I laid them all on the altar….save one.
One I kept in my tight-clenched fist, unknowingly holding it up to Jesus with every prayer. My heart whispering, “Guide me, guide me, guide me.” The promise of a new book- a book with 124 pages already written, no ending in sight and a six month writer’s block that wouldn’t budge.
I didn’t realize I had held onto it until I voiced it in spiritual direction this morning. My director, Judy, pressed into that question.
“It feels like you are holding this gift from God very close to your heart? I wonder. Is that part of what is binding you up?”
Fear began its creep up my spine…slowly, like a tentative spider, tick-tickling its way up to my shoulders. I felt my eyes dart to the ground as I pondered and denied. Jesus, bind fear…help me stay open, I prayed silently inside.
“Yeah, I think it is.” I said finally, not really committing to doing much about it. What about this Lord? Can I keep this?
Jesus answered through this slight, gentle woman across from me.
“The story that comes to mind is the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac.”
Oh, Dear Jesus, no! Sharp intake of breath, the fear spider swooping in for the kill now.
“What would you say if God asked you to put this book you are writing on the altar?”
I must have visibly recoiled, for the question softened and was tempered by this gentle woman….by an even gentler God.
“…maybe not for good, but just for this weekend.”
“I can do that. Yes, God…I will do that.”
I sighed relief thick and heavy and felt God’s antitoxin for fear venom sweep through me- the peace of surrender and trust.
As we finished, Judy prayed for me…for us…
“Jesus, we give you these gifts. We give you the give you these things we create from our great giftedness- the giftedness You gave to us. We give you this book that you and Cari have been writing together. We give you the grief of loss- grief that comes when our gift isn’t fully brought to life, grief like that of having a stillborn child. We give you this stillborn child now…bring Cari peace in its place. “
The image struck me cold and hard and I realized that it was perfect. That is it. I have been grieving the still birth of this promise unrealized. I have been grieving the fear that it would never be at all…that I had misheard and misunderstood. I have been grieving for the doubt that has welled up in its place.
What a gift Judy and God gave to me in that moment. A sadness named. Grief…that is the name of this sadness that sweeps away my joy. I breathe in the peace of a person who is at home in the silence and breathe in the peace of a God who sends his rescue even when we don’t know that we are trapped.
Jesus, I unfurl my hands and give you this stillborn child. There is still hope that you will breathe your life into it and return her to me – full of life and vigor. But I lay her on the altar now, Jesus.
A Reflection on this reflection:
It’s so interesting to me to see how God uses experiences in our lives to prepare us to receive wisdom from Him. Just two weeks ago, I played Jairus’ wife (Jesus raises her daughter from the dead during his ministry) in our church’s resurrection drama, The Savior and the Scarlet Thread. I was looking through pictures of the drama and this one caught my eye.
This morning I did yoga for the first time in many months. I don’t why I chose it today, perhaps unconsciously I thought to stretch and relax my body would do the same for my mind.
My usually flexible and pliable muscles were tight and achy and groaned at the movement. Not unlike the spiritual muscle of my heart.
I’ve been working hard at ministry lately. Serving. Doing. Accomplishing great things for the Kingdom.
And none of that is bad or even outside God’s will, but my heart is bound up by all the heavy lifting. Like a weightlifter who builds giant muscles, but can’t bend over to tie his shoes, my heart has grown inflexible and muscle bound.
As I stretched, Jesus said, “I prepared for you, Cari. Trust me. Let down the walls and trust me.”
Oh Jesus, please come. Come for me here in this place. I’m waiting for you to just be here with me. I came with questions and requests for guidance and I let them go…I just give them all to you right now. I don’t need answers, Jesus…I just need you. Holy Spirit, come…I invite you here. Stretch me. Relax me. Be with me here. Come.
3 In the first month of the first year of his reign, he opened the doors of the temple of the LORD and repaired them.
– 2 Chronicles 29:3
36 And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people, for the thing came about suddenly.
– 2 Chronicles 29:36
“You provide the fire. I’ll provide the sacrifice. You provide the Spirit, I will open up inside.”
Evening Prayers, called Compline, are the only time we meet as a group. Our directors call it group worship and my heart yearns for music, but I’m learning to worship without a song and that’s not a bad thing.
We prayed antiphonally and it was beautiful harmony- the voices of these women- raspy from non-use- speaking the 91st Psalm together.
I was unsettled for a moment as the women’s voices speaking in unison came very near the sound of a Wiccan chanting circle.
This is a new sensation for me, this mirroring of my past life. But more and more, I find myself caught off guard by a similarity. Things I have done for years now in my Christian walk will now remind me of rituals or circumstances from my old occult ways. I find it startling- and I wonder if God has kept this revelation from me until now when I have the maturity and spiritual support to handle it.
So now I find myself back in my room. Listening to a storm blow strong across the mountain and spilling these words onto paper. My jaw holds this tension like a clamp. My head aches with the force of it and I’m no sure how to relieve the pressure there. I suppose that means that maybe the fear has subsided, but the anxiety still remains, and I am not sure what to do with that, but I know God does so I just sit with it for a while longer and pray that tomorrow will be more comfortable and I just know that it will far exceed my expectations.
There were eight of us on retreat.
Eight beautiful women seeking rest and restoration. Seeking presence and guidance and an un-opposed word from the Lord. Two fearless spiritual directors made the journey with us….women who quietly challenged us to unplug, unfetter, unmask. To disentangle and listen and be intentional with our time with the Lord.
We went around the circle, saying names that wouldn’t be spoken again in conversation for three days, but would be prayed in hearts every minute. We each told why we’d come and shared how we were feeling as we entered in.
As the circle rounded to me, as hearts were spoken and deep desires named, I cringed at my true feelings. I worried that speaking my heart would open others to the same bad feelings. I shrank back from sharing too much.
But our leaders, they were good.
They saw the unspoken fear and questioned…gently pressing in as if to say, “does it hurt here a little?”
“I’m scared to death. I’m afraid of what God will say and what he won’t say. As I drove up here, I felt all the entanglements of life start to fall away, and that’s good because I got here and I feel free, but I’m also afraid of letting go of all those things that root me.”
I felt a tangible sigh of relief from some of the other women.
There…I said it….No, I am not excited about meeting the Lord here- well, I am, but that’s not the overriding emotion. I’m terrified about meeting the Lord here. I don’t know why I came…why I chose this thing….why I PAID for this…this silence that I am no good at- this locking away of words that makes me so uncomfortable.
We entered silence about 4 pm after all the questions we could possibly think of had been asked. I was like a toddler at bedtime with the questions, “Mom, I’m thirsty.” “One more story, Mama.” “Mommmyyyy, I need to go potttttyyyy!” But Gail seemed like a talker too…much like me, someone who led with words…I thought, she does this all the time…I can do this too.
Gail asked us to turn off our cell phones, but there was no alarm clock and I hate to miss dinner. This seemed like a perfectly good excuse to keep it on. Gail conceded and told us to put them in airplane mode. Like a crack fiend jones-ing for her next hit, it took less than ten minutes to find myself on Facebook. The hysterical irony that I was about to post on a comment someone had posted offering to pray for me on my silent retreat was enough to jar me out of my tech-induced high.
Shame rushed in…I turned the phone off, through it across the room, and broken and in tears, started to pray for help. God said to trust that he had it under control…I said I did trust but kept my ear out for the dinner bell….it never rang….I was twenty minutes late for dinner, and very disturbed.
Our first meal together was excruciatingly awkward. First, I was not first…I was twenty minutes late. I was last and didn’t know what to do. Regardless, eight women sitting around tables trying to ignore one another while eating dinner is just awkward. Add to that slurping of soup and crunching of salad and silence gets REALLY noisy. Since I had nothing else to do but listen to others eat, I started chatting with God (I guess that’s the point or something J ) and apologizing for the whole FB/Cell Phone Rule Breach and promising I would do better and he hit me with his first grace.
He whispered, “Charlie’s watch is in the car.”
Huh? OH MY! A watch? Really?
Unbelievably, my husband’s watch- that he took off and put in the console AT CHRISTMAS (5 months ago) is still there….ticking away perfect time.
I practically skipped back to my room to put away my phone.
After dinner, I put my husband’s watch around my wrist, it was heavy and it’s weight against my arm reminded me that God really had prepared this for me. I made some green tea and found a sweet perch on the swings on the far side of the property. I drank tea and swayed back and forth and could feel my body begin to relax and suddenly realized I was smiling. It’s been a long time since a smile bubbled forth from my insides, but there it was.
And it was good.