by Andene O’Neil

A few weekends ago nearly 45 women from Church of the Cross gathered at a retreat center along the St. CroixNow, I had a particularly unique vantage point from which to experience this reatreat. You see, it was my first retreat as a mom of a newborn. In my retreat-laden past, I’ve usually been running around getting things done, busy with leading music or making food or reconfiguring room-situations. I did no such things this time around. With my little not-yet-five-week-old peanut of a son, my view was often from the edges of the room—bouncing, swaying, shooshing, or simply resting. The view from the edge was, for me, especially refreshing. Here is what I saw.

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On Saturday morning I saw women who had been prayed for pour into a sunlit room. They were in awe of the beauty of the river valley’s fall color and the amazingly warm and beautiful weather we were blessed with. They were happy to see there was a quality coffee machine ready and rarin’ to go. They were grateful to walk into their individual rooms and for the promise of a weekend where they would not be cooking for themselves or anyone else.

WomensRetreat2014-3The weekend’s theme was “story”—both our individual story, and God’s. Through three sessions we looked at the uniqueness of our temperaments, the value of seeing our life’s journey as God’s workmanship, and we ultimately set our story in the context of the redemption, both personal and cosmic, that God is authoring. It was a fantastic reflection on identity. I saw women (who hadn’t given themselves much space to consider these truths in their busy lives) changed by considering that the paths they’ve traveled as daughters, students, employees, mothers, etc. have value and God has an eye to use all of it for his glory. After all, we know how the ultimate story ends, and it ends well!

On a less serious note, I also loved seeing so many women have so much fun! I saw women play on the water in canoes, kayaks, and paddle-boards. I saw women on hikes. I saw women antiquing and sipping lattes in Stillwater. I saw women praying or journaling or reading. I saw woman enjoying wine, laughing, and napping. Well, I didn’t see anyone nap—that would have made me a creepy intruder in their private rooms (haha)—but rest-assured I know it happened.

One of my favorite moments was one I couldn’t actually see but only hear. Our sessions were held upstairs in a chapel area and I had remained downstairs to feed my little one. Any thought I had in taking my time quickly left me when I heard a sea of women’s (and only women’s) voices echo through the stairwell. Wow! The powerful sound of strong female voices singing out was so moving I had to get up there as fast as I could to join them.

It is truly a renewing and transformative thing to get away with the women of our church family. I am already looking forward to next year. We’ve booked the same place for the same time in September 2015!

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