So... it happened. I slept in a tent by myself for the first time in my life.
Is this little tent a child's size tent? It felt like my head and my feet were hitting the walls of the tent. I think that might have been why my head got really cold in the early mornings...
Anyway! I went camping with a bunch of girls I'd never met before because I was their retreat speaker!
I don't usually drive very far from home. The furthest I've ever driven by myself was Bakersfield and I thought that was crazy far and didn't want to do that ever again. I'd driven once to Santa Barbara and I also thought it was crazy far and didn't want to do that ever again. So this drive to Ojai... I was dreading... I kept making excuses to stop... at Costco... at Trader Joe's... at Target... I was dragging my heels and battling to get myself to the retreat. I was also afraid of not having running water... and having to pee/poo in a hole. I almost cried at Target... during my "last time using a real flushing toilet..." and yes I realized that it would only be for like 2 days but I'm dramatic and I was stressed.
I hadn't been camping in over a decade and the last site I went camping at had running water, sinks and toilets. The most "natural" I get is going to the park lately or going hiking for a couple hours. It's urban nature. Cultivated nature. With cell phone signal.
The last time we had a hiking incident, our two hour hike ended up being 8 hours, we ran out of water... I almost passed out twice... someone broke her ankle... and we only found out we were completely lost when we regained cell phone signal and discovered we missed a turn... 2 hours and I don't know how many miles ago. I was dying and crying inside.
So this past weekend... there was a moment... 10 minutes after I lost signal as I was driving to the retreat site... when I couldn't find the site and I wondered... what did I get myself into... and why am I doing this?!? I'd been driving for 3 hours already and I wondered... what if I can't find them... and they have no signal... should I just go home? I drove back to where there was signal and just sat in my car for a little bit. Pondering what I should do. What if... what if... hm. So then I checked the Facebook site to see if there were any extra instructions posted and sure enough... there were driving directions that I'd somehow ignored... and I was able to find the site just fine. Boo on GPS and on Apple maps for saying I had arrived a mile before the actual campsite.
As I pulled up to our site, a bunch of the girls came running up to my car and they were waving and jumping and introducing themselves to me with such excitement that any fear I had going into this retreat had begun to melt away. I wish that I could say that I could have handled speaking at this retreat even if they were a tough crowd but I don't know if I could have. I'm thankful that even though there was the added stress of camping... that the dynamics of the group were not an issue. They are the loveliest group of women and I was so blessed to have had the privilege to spend time with them. They warm my heart.
I was so blessed that they accepted me for who I was... and also for the fact that I wore the shorts I intended to wear as pajamas... for the majority of the weekend.
This is quite possibly the most chillaxed speaking engagement I've ever had.
The theme was Choosing Jesus Daily. As much as they may have needed a woman to fill the role of retreat speaker for last weekend, I felt like I needed this retreat and it came at a good time for me. I've had a pretty eventful month or past few months. I'm studying for my certification exam. I've been pretty emotional and stressed. I really enjoyed being away from my norm. No internet. No phone. No worries... Nowhere to be except in the tent, in the chair or walking to the "toilet". No responsibility... ok well... except for giving the 3 messages.
As I was prepping for this retreat... I realized... how horrible I am at public speaking and preparing for it. I didn't even know how to start or where to begin. I had outlined my messages when I first agreed to speak but somehow filling in the meat on those barebones... was extremely difficult. I remembered the last time I was preparing for the women's tea and I had a meltdown as I tried to push myself to prepare and stressed myself out in the process. I didn't want to push it to that place again. I wanted to start at a place where I admitted my inadequacy and weakness and allowed the Holy Spirit to move and flow through me...
aaaand not much was happening so it ended up being last minute again. Extremely last minute. I may have pushed the limits of God's grace this time. I thank God it wasn't a complete and total failure. These last two times I've done speaking things... I've really felt ... not on top of things. I've felt like I was so emotional it was difficult to find clarity. Difficult to find words. Difficult to bring together ideas. Maybe it's just been a stressful year.
Pretty much all I did was string together a bunch of my life stories with some connecting points in between. I felt like I didn't have much to bring other than my stories. In exchange for the stories though... I felt like I gained a whole lot more than I gave.
There were moments when all of the girls were caught up in talking about school life or people I knew nothing about. I sat there on the side... observing... and what I saw was beauty. Raw beauty. "Primitive" beauty... as they would call it. It was our #primitive weekend. I saw delight in their eyes as they came together and enjoyed each other. I saw youth. I saw energy. I saw so much life. I listened as they talked about their futures... about what was on their minds and hearts. I witnessed so much grace extended to one another. We encountered some issues that weekend... with being so limited in water, utensils... resources... and the girls just went with the flow. There were bug bites and no hydrocortisone cream. They'd planned their food around having a stove and there was none. We had no ladles, no stirring spoons... there was one spatula and that one spatula did everything. We had cups that became ladles... sticks that became firewood... we made do with what little we had... and watching them problem solve and get creative with their resources... was beautiful to behold.
Listening to them share with each other and also with me... watching them connect with one another and get so enraptured in conversation with each other... was also beautiful for me to witness. I felt like an honored guest at times... but more often than not... I felt like a servant who was privileged to join the meal times and conversation at the "big house". They opened up and shared so much of their lives with each other and also with me. They were considerate to me as an outsider and tried as much as they could to explain things and give me the background I needed to understand what they were talking about. They threw encouragements at each other like water balloons and giggled with just as much delight when they exploded on someone.
Even more amazing was listening to them share about God and how much they wanted to get right with Him and live for Him. I was so encouraged by the questions they asked... which told me that they were searching for Him... searching for truth... searching for wisdom. And those who search and ask... will find and be answered.
There were so many moments where I was moved to tears... while singing worship songs with these women... listening to them share... or sharing my own stories... I felt myself reliving moments which were precious to me as moments in their lives echoed my own... they sang songs which brought back memories of beautiful moments in my life... or even the lyrics which resonated with what I was feeling at the moment. There were so many moments when I just closed my eyes and let myself take in my surroundings... and just revel in the amazement that I was there... in that very moment... with a bunch of "strangers" but enjoying fellowship and unity in the Spirit... and I knew that God was there. Stuff like this doesn't happen by chance. Love like this doesn't happen haphazardly. These girls love God and love one another and it showed. And I loved being there to witness it and take part in it... in my own small way.
It was a weekend of being primitive... but it was a weekend of spiritual and emotional refreshment for me. It was one of those things where I was so fearful to do it... but I still wanted to say to God, "here I am, send me"... and He blessed me so much considering the meager offering I so fearfully brought before Him. Those lovely girls let me come just as I was... share from my heart... and I felt... pretty free to just be me. Unashamed and unafraid to be who God made me to be. And all "natural" smelling too.
For two nights, I'd look up at the dark, dark sky and marvel at how many more stars I could see there. It's amazing how dots of light against a pitch black backdrop could be so beautiful... but it was. It was one of those moments where time would slow and maybe just stop... as I tried as hard as I could to soak in as much beauty as I could. Those starry nights... made it well worth it.
You know what else was well worth it? That shower I took when I got back... and the sleep I was able to have in my own bed last night. I slept through the entire night without being woke up every few hours by ... something unpleasant.
I was thankful to be there... but I'm also SUPER thankful to be home.