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