The Retreat

She stood there admiring the bright yellow mixed in with flaming orange and red leaves on the trees as they dotted the green landscape and stood proudly over the still water of the lake, seeming to admire their reflections.  It reminded her of a giant water color painting.  It was so peaceful there.  Coming to this retreat for a week was a blessing.

It was her friend Maura who suggested it.  She and her husband were there last year and absolutely loved it.  She had watched videos on the website, the acres of land with its natural beauty and the promise of refuge and renewal and peace and presence sold her.  And here she was, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoying quiet time with the Lord and nature.

She got up early and came down here just before sunset.  After she finished praying, she glanced up and saw the sun rise.  It was the first time she had ever seen a sunrise.  For several moments, the sun appeared to be sitting on the water before it rose higher in the sky.  What a breathtaking scene and display of God’s power.  She lingered there for a while longer and then headed back to the lodge to have breakfast.

When she was leaving the dining room, a tall and very handsome man walked in.  He was alone.  He was wearing a blue sweater and jeans.  As she approached him, he turned and looked at her.  Their eyes met and held for several moments.  He smiled at her and she smiled back.  This close she saw that he had beautiful brown eyes.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” she replied and then she walked past him and out of the dining-room.  She could feel him watching her.  He really was quite good-looking and seemed very nice.  Then, she chided herself.  You’re here to commune with God. Don’t get distracted.  She went to her room to freshen up and then to the bench facing the stream where she planned to spend the rest of the morning.

This time she took her Bible and a notebook.  The warm sunshine on her face felt good and a sigh of satisfaction, she sat down.    After she finished reading the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark and taking notes, she set her Bible and notebook aside.  As she sat there, gazing at the lake, her thoughts drifted to the guy she saw in the dining-room.  Who was he?  Was he single?  Was he here alone?

He was the first man she was attracted to since Reuben.  It was strange but when she thought about Reuben, she didn’t feel anything.  He was like a distant memory now.  She could hardly remember what he looked like and when she tried, she saw the other guy’s face instead.  It was five years since Reuben broke up with her.  They had been dating and everyone thought they would have gotten married.  She did too and then, he shocked her by telling her that he was in love with someone else.

It turned out that while they had been dating, he had been giving Bible studies to a woman who lived in his building.  Feelings developed between them and he realized that she was the one he wanted to be with.  She was devastated but with the love and support of her church family, she was able to pick up the pieces and get on with her life.  Reuben transferred to another church and the last she heard of him, he and the woman were married and had two children.  She wished them well.   It was clear to her now that Reuben and she were not right for each other.  He was with the person he was meant to be with and one day, she would be with the person she was meant to be with.

“Do you mind if I join you?” a voice broke into her reverie and she looked around, her heart skipping a beat when she saw that it was the guy from the dining-room.

She shook her head.  “No, not at all.”  She moved her Bible and notebook closer to her, leaving enough room on the bench for him to sit down.  When he lowered his tall frame on to the seat beside her, she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  She realized then that Reuben never had such an effect on her.  Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap to stop them from trembling.  She could feel him watching her and she turned her head.  Their eyes met and held.  She wondered if she looked as nervous as she felt.

He held out his hand, “Brandon Lee.”

She took his hand and felt his firm clasp.  “Esther Richards.”

“Nice to meet you, Esther.  Is this your first time to the retreat?”

“Yes.  A friend of mine was here last year with her husband and she encouraged me to come.   I’m very happy I did.  It’s a beautiful place and it’s nice to get away from the city.  What about you?” She knew she sounded a little breathless but she couldn’t help it.  His closeness had that effect on her.  She couldn’t decide as yet if he was a Godsend or if he was a distraction.  She truly hoped that it was the former.

“I was here once with a group of people from my church.  It is a great place–so much to see and enjoy.  This is actually my favorite spot.  I could sit here for hours.”

“What church do you go to?” she asked.  He told her and she told him the name of her church.  “Are you involved in any ministries?”

“Yes, I am the leader of our Youth Ministry. ”

“I am involved in the Women’s Ministry and I sometimes lead out in our weekly Bible Study group meetings.  For our next Women’s Ministry retreat, I will recommend that we have it here.”

“Are you here alone?”

“Yes.  And you?”  Do you have a girlfriend?

“Yes.”  I hope she doesn’t have a boyfriend.  “Do you have family here?”

“Yes, I have lots of aunts and uncles and cousins here but my parents live in Florida.  They moved there after I graduated from university.   I usually spend Christmas with them.”  I’m glad I didn’t move to Florida too or I wouldn’t have met you.

“No siblings?”  Thank You, God for keeping her here in London or I wouldn’t have met her.

“No, I’m an only child.  What about your family?”

“My parents live in Yorkshire and I visit them on the weekends.  I live in London and my sister and her family live in Manchester.  We spend the Christmas holidays in Yorkshire.  Speaking of Christmas, have you finished your shopping as yet?”

She laughed.  “I haven’t even started.   I have no clue what I will get everyone.”

“I’m done.  My advice to you is to get gift cards.  Once you know what people, like, you just get gift cards instead of trying to figure out what they would like.  For my nieces and nephew, though, I don’t mind spending hours browsing toy stores.”

“Gift card?  I never thought of that.  Thanks for the suggestion.”

Talking to him had relaxed her to some degree.  He was easy to talk to.  She enjoyed his company.  They sat there, chatting about other things and then it was time to go for lunch.  They sat next each other at a table and continued talking to each other and some of the people around them.  After lunch, he invited her to go for a walk with him.

From that day on, they spent time together, going for walks, praying, worshipping, studying the Bible and joined in fun activities with other singles such as Finish the Sentence, Bible Pictionary, True or False, Bible Telephone, Bible Hangman, Name Game, Who Am I, Bible Bingo, Bible Scavenger Hunt, Name That Hymn and Bible Scene.  Her favorite was Finish the Sentence and when it was her turn to finish the sentence, I am blessed, she said, “I am blessed because God has shown me favor.” and she looked at Brandon when she said this.  I’m blessed because God has brought us together.  His answer was, “I am blessed because God has brought new joy into my life.”  His eyes were on her when he said that.

They spent the evenings alone together–talking or going for walks.  On the last evening before they were to leave the retreat and return to London, Brandon stopped and turned to her as they strolled the grounds.  It was beautiful night.  The full moon cast a ghostly light on them and the still water of the lake.  He reached out and took her hands in his.

“Esther, these past few days with you have been the happiest of my life.  I had planned to come to the retreat next week but I felt a very strong impression to come this week and I am thankful that I did because I met you.  I don’t want to say goodbye to you.  I want to continue to see you.  I’m not in a relationship.  Am I safe to assume that you’re not in one either?”

She shook her head.  “I’m not in a relationship,” she confirmed.

“I want to be in a relationship with you, that is if, it’s what you want too.”

“I-I want to be in a relationship with you too.”

“Good.  Tomorrow, we drive back to London together.”  He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them before they continued their stroll.

She raised her head to the starry sky and silently mouthed a prayer of thanks.  Coming to he retreat had changed both of their lives.

 

Sources: Ashburnham Place; Christian Camp Pro

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Bundles of Joy

For with God nothing will be impossible – Luke 1:37

As she sat by the window, looking out, she recalled those turbulent years when Mark and she were trying in vain to have children.  They have been married for twelve years.  They met through a mutual friend and it was love at first sight.  They dated for a year and the following year they got engaged.  It was a small Spring wedding and after returning from their honeymoon in Montego Bay, they decided that they would buy a town house at Bayview Village.

After settling into their new home and adjusting to married life, they decided that it was time to try having a child.  She was late twenties when they got married and was hoping to have at least two children before she turned thirty.  A teacher at a Christian daycare, she loved children and longed for the day when she would have her own.  She knew that Mark would be a wonderful father.  She had seen him with his nieces and nephews.  They adored him.  Her friends were having children so she attended many baby showers.  As she had shopped for onesies and other gifts for their babies, she dreamed of one day buying for her own children.

Her heart yearned to hold her own baby when she held her friends’ babies.  At first, she was excited as she and Mark tried to conceive but as time went by and she wasn’t able to get pregnant, hope turned to despair.  Her faith began to waver and she questioned why God would deny Mark and her children.  Mark was her rock during those tough times, encouraging her not to give up and that God had a plan.

At night when he was asleep, she would lie awake and think about other women who had trouble conceiving.  She thought of Sarah, Hannah and Elizabeth who were barren but were blessed with sons.  Was it possible for the same thing to happen to her?  As she lay there one night, she was impressed to pray as Hannah did.  Sliding quietly out of the bed so as not to disturb Mark, she knelt at the side of the bed and prayed.

Like Hannah, she poured her heart out.  She ended the prayer by saying, “Lord, I know that nothing is impossible for you.  Thank you for hearing my prayer and for answering it.”  A peace that she had never felt before came over her and she climbed back into bed, believing that God had finally come through for her.

She was in very high spirits after that and waited patiently for God to do His part.  When she missed her period, she went to the drugstore and bought a home pregnancy test.  While Mark waited anxiously in the living-room, she went into the bathroom and took it.  Minutes, later, she emerged.  She showed him the results and he hugged her.   She made an appointment with their doctor who was happy to give her tests just to make sure.  And when the results confirmed that she was pregnant, she couldn’t prevent the tears of joy from falling.  She raised her eyes heavenward and gave thanks to God.

That night, Mark and she hugged and held each other for a while.  They were finally going to be parents.  Family, friends and church members were delighted for them and the next baby shower she attended was her own.  At the age of forty, exactly ten years after she had planned to have children, she gave birth to twins–a boy and a girl.  They named the boy, Jaden (Jehovah has heard) and the girl, Eliana (My God has answered).

And as she held the girl and Mark held the boy, she mouthed the words, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” he said, before he leaned over and kissed her.

 

A New Life

“It’s so hard to believe that the child who used to disobey me at every opportunity is the same beautiful young woman standing before me now on her special day,” Mrs. Clark said to her daughter, Karen who looked radiant in her wedding dress.  Tears pricked the older woman’s eyes and she quickly blinked them back.

Karen hugged her tightly.  “Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry for all the trouble I gave you when I was growing up.  I know it wasn’t easy for you to be a single parent.  You struggled to make ends meet and to give me the best.  There were some nights when I heard you crying in your room.  I knew you were missing Dad and wishing he were there to help you to raise a wayward daughter.  I thought of running away so that you didn’t have to deal with me any longer but I knew that would only make things worse.  On the night of my fifteenth birthday, I got down on my knees and asked God to change me.  I didn’t want to be a burden to you anymore.   You were such a good mother to me, so patient and forgiving.  You deserved a better daughter.  So, with God’s help, I changed.  And this is what you see before you now. I’m only sorry that it took so long and so much heartache before I came to my senses.”

Mrs. Clark hugged her and looking heavenward, she mouthed a silent prayer of thanks to God for answering the unceasing prayers she had offered up every day for her daughter.  She had been encouraged by various scriptures and had clung to them when the temptation to give up was particularly strong.  Prayer was the strongest crutch a parent had when it came to protecting a child. For as long as she was alive, she would continue to pray for Karen.

They drew apart and Karen smiled.  “I am trying hard not to cry,” she said.  “Mom, I’m so happy, so blessed.  I am about to marry a terrific man and start a new life with him.  I wish Dad were here.”

“He is,” Mrs. Clark said.  “He’s here.” She pressed her hand against Karen’s heart.

“Yes, he is,” Karen agreed, blinking.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I will send your Uncle Jack in.”  Her father’s younger brother had the honor of walking her down the aisle.

“Mom, before you go, will you say a prayer?”

Mrs. Clark smiled.  “Of course, Honey.”  She took Karen’s hands and bowing her head, she prayed.  And the same peace she felt the night before Karen’s transformation filled her and she knew then that all was going to be well.

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Giving

It was one of the highlights in her life.

To organize a donation drive and then

make arrangements for the delivery

of the clothes and other items she

received from the church members

and to see the faces of the staff

when she dropped them off.

 

It was an opportunity to teach

her daughter Kayla about

caring for those who

were less fortunate.  Kayla’s

face lit up every time they

got out the boxes and went

through the toys and clothes

that they were going to give

to the women and children

in the homeless shelter.  Kayla

was more than willing to give

away her toys and books.  “It

will make them and Jesus happy,”

she explained.

 

Once Kayla went with her to the

shelter and on their way home

she asked, “Mommy, why do

people live in shelters?”

 

“Sometimes things are so bad

at home that they have to leave

and find somewhere else–a place

where they feel safe.  The shelter

protects them from harm.”

 

“I’m happy that things are good

at home, Mommy.  I am happy that

I have somewhere to live.  I wouldn’t

want to live in a shelter.”

 

She smiled.  “Yes, Kayla.  We have

so much to thank God for because

He has blessed us so now we are

blessing others.  Those who

are living in the shelters are

thankful too.  They have shelter,

food, clothes and other things

they need.  And when we help

them, it is as if we are helping

Jesus.  It is always good to help

people.  When we help them

by donating what we have,

there is a feeling that we are

doing the right thing and we

are making God proud.  God

is always proud of you when

you help people.”

 

“When I grow up, I want to

help as many children and

their mommies as I can.”

 

She smiled.  Lord, bless

her little heart for wanting

to be a blessing to others.

And thank You for showing

her that it is more blessed

to give than to receive.

 

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Much to Celebrate

“Happy anniversary, my Darling,” he said as he handed her the beautiful bouquet of flowers.  “Forty years ago, you turned my life upside down when you moved into my neighborhood.  And it took a few years before I plucked up the courage to ask you out on a date.  Thank you for not saying no and for the happiest years of my life.”  He pulled her to his side and kissed her on the temple.

Joanne smiled as she inhaled the sweet fragrance of the roses.  “These are lovely,” she said.  “Thank you for being such a wonderful husband.”

Tears came to her eyes as she thought of how amazing he had been when they found out that she couldn’t have children.  It had devastated her because she had longed to be a mother and she knew that he would have made a terrific father.  For years they had tried and then she had learned that they would never have children.  It was a very bitter pill to swallow and for months she was depressed but Martin was always there, loving her and trying to help her through those though times.

During the moments of despair, she lashed out at God, asking Him why He would deny her the joy of being a mother.  Friends encouraged her to looking into adopting a child but she didn’t want to consider it.  And Martin assured her that she was more than enough for him and tried to encourage her to go away on trips with him and get involved in activities to take her mind off of things.  He was so devoted to her that sometimes she felt ashamed of how she was so fixated on not being able to have children that she might be neglecting him.

One day she was turning the pages of her Bible, not sure what to read.  It had been a while since she had even opened it.  And her eyes fell on the chapter one of the first book of Samuel.  She began to read it.  She could identify with Hannah.  She remembered those times when she couldn’t eat and was always in tears.  And all Martin could do was try to comfort her as best as he could.  It must have been so hard for him.  The words, But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb.  Martin loved her even though she couldn’t give him children.  Her barrenness hadn’t diminished his love at all, in fact it had grown stronger.  Her friends remarked on how he treated her like a queen.

And Elkanah’s words to Hannah cut Joanne to the quick.  “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”  Wasn’t Martin better to her than the children she wished she could have?  He was there and they were not.  God had blessed her with an incredible man whose happiness was wrapped up in her and the life they could have together.  She felt ashamed and she cried out to God, asking Him to forgive her for being so selfish and for her anger and bitterness toward Him.

That night when Martin came home, she asked him to forgive her and he, of course, assured her that there was nothing to forgive.  He took her in his arms and held her close for a long time.  That night was the turning point in her life.  She decided that she would focus on her marriage and nothing else.

Forty years later and they were still going strong.  There were still moments when she wondered what would have happened if her life had turned out like Hannah’s.  Hannah had prayed to God and He had opened her womb and blessed her with seven children.  Joanne had prayed for Him to do the same miraculous thing for her but it didn’t happen.  God had blessed her with a lasting, strong and healthy marriage and tonight she was going to celebrate.

“Are you ready?” Martin asked.

She nodded.  “Yes.  I’m ready to celebrate forty years of being married to an incredible man.” Yes.  There was much to celebrate.  And she had God to thank for that.

man giving wife flowers

Serving

For as long as she could

remember she loved

inviting strangers

to her home for a meal.

She lived by these words,

“Do not forget to entertain

Strangers, for by so doing

some have unwittingly entertained

Angels.”

 

As she served them, she shared

her faith.  She wanted them

to know that there was a

God in heaven who loved

them.

 

Many of them were

touched by her hospitality.

They were lonely or going

through a tough time and

this woman was welcoming

them into her home, feeding

them and talking to them.

Not all of them were interested

in hearing about God or religion

but they were grateful to her

for her kindness.

 

She wasn’t discouraged by their

lack of Interest in spiritual matters,

but she knew that she had

shown them the love of

Christ by the way she treated them.

Sometimes sharing the Gospel

came not from words but from

actions.  Still, it was a thrill for her

when they accepted Christ.

 

Initially, her family and friends

were concerned that she was

inviting strangers into her home

but she assured them that God

led the people to her.

She thanks Him every day for calling

her into the Hospitality ministry.

 

“I love to feed and talk to people,”

she said, “and that is why God chose

me for this work.  I am so blessed.”

She has been doing this for years.

and will continue to do so until

she is called to another ministry.

 

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Source:  Hebrews 13:2

Forgive

Does a spring yield at the same opening sweet and bitter water? – James 3:11

The words poured forth like the waters of the dam, gushing out without restraint.  They had been bottled up all morning, threatening to break loose but somehow she had managed to keep them in check.  On the ride home on the bus, she clamped her lips together tightly as the thoughts swirled in her mind.

How could he bring another woman to church and sit in the same pew she and he used to sit in?  She hadn’t seen him since their break-up five years ago.  Why was he here today?  And why couldn’t he have come alone or with a friend?  Why did he have to bring his new girl-friend and sit there, holding hands for everyone to see?

Anger, bitterness well up in her and the worship service was forgotten—the words of the sermon faded into the background.  All she could hear were her thoughts.  All she could see were her ex and the new woman in his life.

How dare he show up at church like that?  She was over him but that didn’t mean that she wanted to see him again so soon and definitely, not with someone else.  She looked at her.  Young, beautiful and…white.

He was with a white woman of all things…A new wave of anger came over her.  How could he?  Was he done with black women?  Had things been so bad between them, that he had to date someone outside of his race?

The service was torture for her and as soon as it was over, she was out of there, rushing past the ushers and the pastor who gazed after her in surprise, his hand outstretched. She sprinted to the bus stop and waited for what seemed like eternity.

As soon as she got home, she let it all out.  She went into the bathroom, locked the door and the words spewed out this went on for a while.  Then when she was spent, a small, still voice said, “You blessed me with your mouth this morning and now you are using it to curse Daryl.  This ought not to be.”

Shame filled her and she sank down on the bath rug.    She had praised God that morning for being faithful and good to her during the praise time and then at the time when she should have listened to His Word, she had thought evil thoughts toward her ex and cussed him in her heart and mind.  Tears poured down her cheeks.  “Forgive me, Lord”, she cried.

“I already have,” He said.  “But you need to forgive Daryl.  You need to let go of the bitterness and anger that you have in your heart.   Only then can you begin to heal.  Do not fear, for I am with you;   do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

His Words filled her heart with peace.  The toxic emotions which had overtaken her were dissipating.   The hurt and anger were still there and would take a while to go away but at least she had God to help her to reach the place where she could find it in her heart to forgive Daryl for breaking up with her and move on with her life.

MarriagePic

Sources:  James 3:11; Isaiah 41:10