I found God on the beach in Santa Cruz.
When you're a writer and you haven't typed a creative word in months and your day job has left you on the verge of a nervous breakdown, you might need a retreat before the writers retreat you have spent months promoting. So, when my editor bestie suggested we take time out together before the retreat to retreat, I was all in.
Over a decade ago I read a book that changed my life, The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. If you've known me that long, you might have even done the Bible Study Blog I led on it. Throughout the book, Brennan talks about the silent retreats he would lead. This was always intriguing to me because, well, I love retreats. I love being close to God. I love fellowshipping with others. I love that feeling of renewal. But to imagine going on a retreat where you don't talk to anyone except God for an extended period seemed pretty radical to me. And it excited me.
So, I purchased the book for my editor bestie a few days before we left and texted her that I had an idea. Being the great spirit-filled friend she is, she was all in.
The night we arrived in Santa Cruz, we flipped to the end of the book. I pointed out the 19 Spiritual Mercies in the back.
"What do you think if we're silent from after breakfast until dinner tomorrow and we work our way through these individually?"
Her wide eyes and smile told me of her agreement before she said, "I love it!"
During breakfast, I asked her what she was seeking from God today. When she asked me the same, I was at a loss for words. Maybe because right now in the middle of my life, it feels like I'm constantly living in crisis. As I heard it said at the first staff meeting after my bestie Tammy died four years ago, "When you are living from crisis to crisis, it's impossible to focus on anything beyond the moment."
I was twenty-one and in Moscow, Russia, when I felt God's call into full-time ministry. I had just graduated from college and was starting my teaching program in three months, so a part of me didn't understand what it really meant when God planted the idea of surrendering my whole life to Him in my mind, but I agreed. There, on the streets of Moscow, I told God I'd do whatever He called me to for the rest of my life.
A decade of children's ministry in the church and teaching in low-socioeconomic areas followed. I offered love and silent prayers for kids who were in awful living situations. I encouraged 5-6-year-olds to find joy in learning. I told kiddos who came to church and VBS of Jesus' love and led other adults to do the same. Was this my ministry? It was comfortable, easy in a sense. Enjoyable, most of the time. I was doing good for God and that was good enough.
Then I started teaching women. I was asked to assist in teaching a Beth Moore Bible study because I had gone through it before. That's when God opened my eyes to a new ministry—connecting with women. Empathizing with other ladies in the faith. It was at the Bible study that I mentioned my depression publicly for the first time that my eyes were open. The shame I felt faded into an understanding of a greater calling when a woman hugged me afterward and whispered in my ear, "I struggle too."
Next came a fire in me to lead my girl in His ways. That included multi-generational events called "It's a Girl Thing!", dinners where ladies and girls shared in His Word and fellowship. Retreat for ladies of all ages followed. Yes, those had to be the glory days. Beautiful times filled with gorgeous blessings. A life filled with His presence.
Enter brain trauma. The beginning of years of unfortunate events in my life and the lives of those I love. Again, if you know me, you remember—my daughter being hospitalized, my best friend discovering breast cancer, my husband's first heart attack, the death of my bestie, heart attack #2 for Jeff, the death of my dad. A whole lot of physical pain for me (including shingles) was stacked in between and after.
Unfortunate events or God's will? Well, as Romans 8:28 NIV says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
It all sucked. Really it did. But through it all, I've seen glimpses of His glory. His goodness.
I saw God on the beach in Santa Cruz when I admitted to Him, as well as myself, that it's okay. The pain, the hurt, the loss, it's all okay because through it all He's been there. And because of it all, I've come to this place of surrender yet again. I've fought it for two years now. I've tried to guard my heart. That only resulted in more pain. I tried to drown my sorrows by eating and drinking. That has left me overweight and in more pain. Life has continued on. I've watched my kids become amazing people as I've felt I was losing myself. I cried out for God to help my husband love me like Jesus loves the church because in my heart I was completely unlovable. Because inside I felt dead and needed a savior.
That's who I found on the beach. Jesus, my Lord and Savior. The lover of my soul. He was there when I was six. He heard every prayer I whispered into the night for my family when I didn't even understand what praying was. He was there in my teens when my self-esteem was in the dumpster, telling me how much He loves me. He's held me when the darkness of depression has covered my mind and soul. And through this season of trials and loss, He's carried me to this place of healing and letting go.
To a place where my heart could whisper yet again, "Whatever You want, Jesus. Take my life. Make it Yours. Do whatever You want with it."
He began to fill my mind with retreats. Not just women's and It's A Girl retreats, but mother retreats, high school senior retreats, couples retreats, college retreats, writers retreats. A weekend time for believers to connect radically with God. To hear from God on their own to spark a way of living. A time and place for believers to connect with their Savior and receive the call He has placed on their lives.
A call to make a difference. A call to stand in this world. A call to love.
I told my friend after breakfast that I know if I answer His call on my life, He will strengthen me and give me complete peace and joy. But I was scared it would be too hard.
"The world is so crazy," we say since 2020. "Everything's out of control."
But Jesus, Jesus is in control.
Spiritual mercy #6 in The Ragamuffin Gospel is The Call from the Cross. On page 237 Brennan writes, "Listen to what Jesus speaks to you from the cross. 'I'm dying to be with you. I'm really dying to be with you.' And then He whispers, 'Will you die a little to be with me?'"
A life surrendered to serving God could be filled with trials, loss, hurt, suffering. It could be. But a life surrendered to serving God is definitely filled with His presence, His peace, His joy, His love.
God, forgive me for forgetting this. Forgive me for thinking the easy way was better. Lead me into Your perfect will where peace, joy, and love await. That's where I want to be.
If you are interested in attending one of the retreats I mentioned, you can subscribe to my website for event updates. You can also fill out this form. There will be ministry opportunities available for those who wish to be a blessing by serving at a retreat as well.
Let's make the upcoming year one filled with His presence. Let's choose to seek and live out His call for our lives.