This was the second weekend in our long fall stretch of weekend plans. This week: church women’s retreat!

We spent the weekend (or, well, Friday night until Sunday morning) at Wintergreen, a ski lodge (is that what they’re called?) about 45 minutes away. It was gorgeous! I wanted to take some pictures of our surroundings and my housemates, but I discovered I left my camera’s memory card at home. Heh. So here’s a picture from last year’s retreat:

In last year’s retreat report I talk about how I was looking forward to getting to know people and connect with friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I say that for the previous few years, what with building my relationship with Steve and also trying to navigate and then recover from a toxic job situation, I hadn’t had space in my life for a lot of fellowship – but all that was in the past! I was good to go and ready for more community now that things had settled down a bit. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

As it turned out, this year’s theme was actually pretty timely for me, at least in parts. Our speaker, Laura Johnson (she was great – the wife of one of our church’s staff), spoke on “the counterintuitive path to life”. There was a big emphasis on community with others and being “oil and dew” to others around us. As she spoke on Saturday morning, I thought about how in the past year I have come to rely so much on the community around me. I had to stick close to those people; as I’ve said before, I wasn’t in a position to be able to build a lot of new relationships, and I remain so grateful to the people who listened to me, let me cry with them, checked in with me, got angry alongside me (and let me vent while still helping me guard against bitterness), and allowed me to share in their own joys and struggles. I built closer relationships with some girls who I’d previously known as “Leah’s friends”, forged an even deeper connection with someone who had been “a dear high school friend”, and came to know the love and support of my own closest friends more than I ever had before which makes it even more annoying that I forgot my camera. In short, my friends acted to me as Melissa once said she would do: they were my Aaron, holding my arms up over the battle when I couldn’t do it anymore. So Laura’s talks really resonated with me this year and I’m so glad I was there to hear them.

Before one of our sessions, a young woman from the church shared a testimony of how God is walking with her through a life “theme” that is really painful to her. There was barely a dry eye in the room as she spoke, but the thing she said that struck me most was that she declared she wouldn’t have traded these painful years for anything, because her relationship with God was so much deeper. At this point in my life, and at this point in this season of loss, I’m not sure I can say that. Honestly, when it all comes down to it, in many ways I wish I could just be dumb and shallow and clueless, cruising through a superficial Christian walk. To me, right now, wisdom doesn’t always feel like it’s worth it. I find myself wondering, but can’t my relationship with God deepen and grow without these painful life events — without all this grief? But I do feel God walking with me through this, and my faith has only been strengthened. For that I am actually really grateful – my faith was very challenged in 2007, but by contrast, in 2011 it’s only grown, and that’s been a huge blessing. I ask Him to carry me, and He does.

Last night I was reading a passage in Scripture that really resonates right now — Lamentations 3.

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

7 He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
8 Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
9 He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.

10 Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
11 he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
12 He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.

13 He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
14 I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.

16 He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
17 I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

55 I called on your name, LORD,
from the depths of the pit.
56 You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
57 You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”

58 You, Lord, took up my case;
you redeemed my life.

You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”