Several months ago…
“How would you define grace?” His study materials are strewn across the kitchen table on this dreary Sunday morning I am weak and sick with an infection. I am swaddled in his robe combing through my wet hair when he asks me the question and I stare off into the distance, lost in the query, the question mark of grace.
What is grace? How do you describe something so much bigger than yourself? I keep combing, straight through the knots and tangles.
“Grace is blessing and redemption,” He nods but waits for more. I pause. “Grace is something that doesn’t just save me, it keeps me.” His lips turn in a small smile. I think about what I just said, Grace is something that doesn’t just save me, it keeps me.
My pen was poised but my hands shook uncontrollably. I had no idea what to write and felt seized with a compelling urge to hurl my journal across the room. There was no energy to process, no strength to sift through my heart and all the demanding questions that tormented me.
I sat there, curled into the corner of my couch, a complete nervous wreck, telling myself over and over again to breathe. My heart tried to pray, but all I could think was Oh God.
Do I really believe what I said? That grace doesn’t just save me, but that grace keeps me? When I collide with the impossible, do I really believe that grace keeps me from falling over the edge and breaking all apart?
Several months had passed since Rosemary first made contact with me and we began planning. Weeks of emailing, dreaming, praying, coordinating, and planning had slipped away. Hours had been dutifully spent on the many details of planning and hosting a retreat; sometimes up to twenty hours a week.
Through all our moments of hand-wringing doubt, God had opened up doors for this retreat, left and right. In our dark moments when our efforts seemed futile, He made a way every time.
* There was the time we realized we’d have to talk with Meadville school principals, and we were scared out of our minds. I could just envision the awkward scenario, waltzing into the school office with our plan and watching the principal ask me what every other stranger I meet asks me: “And…how old are you?” I just knew he’d never put his stamp of approval on our retreat and release our youth club girls to miss school on Friday when he saw my youthful face, possibly not even after I brandished my license. We prayed about this and I struggled to believe that something would work out. My thoughts waxed pessimistic and I entertained the idea of giving up altogether.
But Susie called the school office to set up an appointment and got the principal himself. “Why do you need to meet with me?” He wondered, and she told him what we wanted to do, how anywhere from six to twelve girls wouldn’t be in school on February 2nd if they come on the retreat and would this be a problem? “That’s fine,” he didn’t even hesitate. “Tell their moms to send a slip to school on Thursday if they won’t be in school Friday.
Have a nice trip.”
* Then Joanna said she couldn’t come. Her husband hadn’t given a reply and she didn’t want to pester him, so she felt that she just needed to say no. I texted her back and said, “That’s okay, I understand,” even while my heart beat fast and I wondered who else I could ask to take her place. I had been counting on her skills in the kitchen, her presence as an older lady, and her twelve-passenger van. We really needed that van. Now what?
Two weeks later she texted me and said that her husband told her she should go. He’d forgotten to get back to her, that was all.
* There is always the issue of money with any kind of weekend retreat and this weekend was no exception. We needed at least $200 for gas, roughly $250 for food, $150 to help pay for the use of the facility, plus money to buy our students food on the way down and back. That’s about $800.
I struggled with knowing what to do. I never like getting those letters in the mail asking for donations of money to fund missions trips or adoptions. I’ve always admired the George Mueller method of old-fashioned prayer and trust. I prayed. God had given vision, inspiration, transportation, help…if He wanted this to happen wouldn’t He also give money? Was it completely wrong to ask for financial sponsorship?
I finally decided to send an email to my church, my parent’s church, and my family. I labored over my email. I kept it simple and I said what we were doing, I asked people to pray, and I outlined different ways to give financially if anyone felt God calling them to do so. I sent the email having made a decision to not repeat the email in any way again. If people felt led by the Lord to respond, they would.
It felt final because it was final. I wasn’t going to send follow-up mail saying how much we still needed, or widen my audience and post my need on Facebook. That email was it.
In three days $550 had been given. By February 1st, the weekend was funded with money to spare. I reimbursed workshop leaders for expenses they personally incurred and the remaining leftover money was used (with the permission of the donor) to begin a fund for next year’s retreat.
Yes, through all our moments of hand-wringing doubt, God had opened up doors for this retreat, left and right. In our dark moments when our efforts seemed futile, He made a way every time. From day one, the STAR Retreat was wrought in the grace of God, that scandalous grace, undeserved and inconceivable.
So what was this heaviness pushing me further into the corner of my couch, weighing deeply on my heart? Do I really believe what I said? That grace doesn’t just save me, but that grace keeps me? When I collide with the impossible, do I really believe that grace keeps me from falling over the edge and breaking all apart?