I really look forward to our yearly personal retreat that ASM asks us to take at the beginning of the year. This year as I prayed about what to do, I received an email from SONLIT Acres Retreat Center saying they were offering a retreat led by spiritual directors Carla Rousseau and Shay Eveland. Normally, I would prefer to retreat by myself. I know what to do and how to do it, but this year I really needed someone to minister to me. I didn’t want to have to think about what to do or process about it. I needed a guide! I was intrigued by the fact that the retreat was designed to help each person reflect and focus on new beginnings using artistic expressions. I am so glad I went! It was a soul satisfying day that refreshed me on so many levels. I filled many pages of a prayer journal, but interestingly I did not make it home with it or I can’t find it! I guess some things should just be where they are at and not find a way out! 😊
Our first assignment was called Honorable Closure. We were given a page that held questions for reflection for 2022. I love that I did not to have to think through what I must do, I only had to just follow the journey provided. I immediately hid off in a corner looking out a huge expanse of a window that allowed me to look out into the woods and nearby pond where they were building a bonfire. I realized that as I wrote about my year that the one thing, I needed to do more than anything was repent of anxiety. I have found myself dealing with an anxious heart this year. I realized that balancing my Greg time, family time, and ministry time has opened a door for me to be anxious like I was in my twenties when I first started walking with the LORD. UGH!
I have always shared that when we enter a new season we will have to deal with our traumas, pains, fears, etc. in the new season. I can only shake my head as I realize that I am only walking the path that I already know. It felt so good to repent of my anxiety and fears about the “What ifs” of what is coming. God has proven Himself so faithful to me, well to Greg and me, through so many seasons. This season is no different. God opens and closes doors as He sees fit. I know this! I love this and I actually embrace the ambiguity of it, but I have never had to face it while caring for my parents. God showed us how to release each other through raising children and now God will show us how to release our parents. I had a friend recently say, “Do not say to me that caring for your parents is like raising children! It is NOT! With children they will grow and move on in ways that we can rejoice in what is happening in their lives. With our parents as we care for them, we recognize that we are preparing them for death and the afterlife. It is NOT THE SAME!” As we walk this journey, I am realizing that I am walking a journey of grief and joy.
A “taraphrase” of Psalm 90:15 would be, “Let our gladness be in proportion to our misery!” Truly, we are walking this through laughter that is deep and rich. You know the kind that makes you hurt behind the ears and have sore stomach muscles the next day. But we are also walking through many unknowns and watching as our parents have to release so much and still find joy.
As I looked out and saw them stoking the firepit I decided to go out and throw my anxiety on the fire! We were given several options for release, but fire has always been my favorite form of release. I scribbled anxiety on my paper then Greg, Mom, Poddy and Aunt Janie as I wrote, “LORD, I release them to you! They are yours not mine!” I prayerfully walked out to the fire pit wondering if they would want to chat. I didn’t want to chat. They didn’t so I walked up to the fire and crumbled up my note and watched it burn. It was so cold out that I did want to sit either, but I stood and waited as each ember consumed my anxiety just like how our LORD does with anything that we confess or commit to Him. As far as the east is from the west, GONE!
Just a stone’s throw from the firepit was a labyrinth. Not the kind you get lost in, but the kind that you follow the path and eventually after time and many turns you will reach the end point. I slowly walked the labyrinth turning this way and that following the intended path praying aloud as I walked. God and I chatted about many things dealing with life and ministry. His joy and peace washed over me as I turned this way and that. I kept wondering how long it would take for me to finish the journey and how many turns I would have to take before I got there, but then I realized it really didn’t matter. I was on the right path going at the right pace with the right companion. He would walk with me and talk with me through it all even when I didn’t think it would be possible. There was a simple bench in the middle with a lamp. I walked up to the lamp and touched it giving praise to the Light of the World that directs our path and prayed, “LORD, make me a light that is like a city on the hill that leads all to You!”
When I went back into the room for my next assignment, I was delighted that we were read this poem:
Psalm Prayers by Kreg Yingst.
Awaken me Lord
to your light,
Open my eyes to Your presence.
Awaken me Lord
to your love.
Open my heart to Your dwelling.
Awaken me Lord
to your life.
Open my mind to Your abiding.
Awaken me Lord
to Your purpose.
Open my will to Your guiding.
Amen! I immediately felt affirmed in my prayer about being a city on the hill. Yes! LORD, awaken me to Your presence!
Our next assignment was a Lectio Divina. This is when you read a passage over and over allowing God to speak to you as you read it. We were provided a series of steps to follow while reading Ephesians 4:20-24. Here is a short summation of what I remember.
1. Read to listen and receive what God speaks to you. We read it three times in three different translations to break down any preconceived thoughts.
2. Read it again and when a word or phrase strikes you sit and rest in the word. Repeat it to yourself and allow it to speak to you.
3. Read it again but respond by writing a prayer based on what God put on your heart.
4. Read it again while contemplating what you might want to embrace. Just sit in the truths that are revealed and rest.
The phrases that stood out to me the most were from the Message!
You learned Christ!
A God fashioned life,
A renewed life from the inside,
A renewed life working itself out in your character.
God is producing His character in you!
That in of itself is a beautiful poem and was a perfect reminder for me! I know HIM and HE is at work in me. All I can say is “Amen & Hallelujah!”
At this point, I felt so full and refreshed. I could have left the retreat and been perfectly content, but GOD knows I need creativity and they had all the stuff available for creative expression through the art of crafting. We were invited to create a picture that expressed something God was speaking to us. In the morning before the retreat, I was listening to a book called, “Everything Sad is Untrue.” It is about Daniel Nayeri, an Iranian immigrant that moved to America for asylum with his family when he was in third grade. Daniel shared that the one thing he remembered the most about his first year in the US was that his teacher listened and spoke. This description was a tie into how his mother was able to escape persecution for her faith. One day she was detained by the commitment police for her Christian faith when Daniel asked her why they released her. She only shared that after she asked a question, they released her. She said she asked the interrogators, “Would you rather have a God that speaks or a God that listens?” Nayeri points out that we need a God that does both, but if we have a God who only speaks most will chose the one who listens. Our God listens! They released his mom after her thought-provoking question about her faith. So when Daniel shared that he felt blessed to have a third-grade teacher that did both I felt the blessing, too. So as I went into the retreat that was my morning prayer, “LORD, please make me into a teacher that listens and speaks for your glory!” So, this is what I painted on my creation board.
Every year I choose a leadership word to focus on and I had already decided that glory would be my word for the year. I long for the LORD to show me His GLORY so that I can give HIS glory away like Jesus did so the world will know the love of the Father. To sit and create something to show my heart for leadership this year helped me to center my focus on what really matters. I have it now hanging in the entry into my kitchen from the garage so that I have to pass by it many times a day. The LORD commands us to remember and I love the visual reminder to be a teacher that listens and speaks for His glory!
The very last assignment was a visual meditation. In a way, the previous assignment set us up for this time of closure. Carla and Shay filled two six-foot tables full of different images ranging from ethereal paintings to extreme landscapes that portray emotion. They invited us to walk around and look at the images. We were then to take the ones that speak to us. As I glanced at the photos from a distance, I saw one that caught my attention so even though I saw many that would depict my reflections I wanted the painting of a young girl standing in a beam of light. Orit Martin painted the picture. At the time I did not know that Orit Martin was an Israel artist that focuses on the art of the soul. I now know why I was drawn to her image. I found myself being thankful that I had read the book, “The Prodigal’s Son” by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen loved Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal. He hoped that some day he would see it. God so loved Nouwen that He orchestrated circumstances so that Nouwen was sent to Russia to serve in a parish there and he became friends with a security officer that worked at the Hermitage where the painting hangs. His friend set it up so that Nouwen could sit for a day to study the painting. This book ministered to my soul as Nouwen shared how he prayerfully examined the painting to hear from God. I have always done this with scenery and art because God ministers to me through it, but the book gave me permission to do this as a rhythm. So, when they asked us to practice Sacred Seeing—Visio Divina, I was excited, and it came naturally.
Orit Martin’s painting humbled me as I studied it. The very first thing that caught my eye was that in the right-hand corner of the painting there was a faint hint of writing and on the left, there was a hint of land and water like on a map. I immediately heard in my heart, “I have already written what I have planned for you in serving the nations!” I had to pause and sit on that for a bit. What an affirming thought He allowed me to consider! I then noticed that the young girl is standing on her tiptoes with her hands lifted in prayer or praise to the Father sending a column of light upon her. There is no way of knowing if the beam comes down or goes up to Him. In my mind, it is both. He beams down on her as she lifts Him up and He lifts her up as she seeks Him. I then realized that she really isn’t standing on her tip toes. She is being lifted and I heard, “He lifts you up in due season!” It is not for us to lift ourselves up. He does this when it is right. He just wants us to be reaching up for Him with all that is in us like we are on our tippy toes reaching toward the heavens for Him. I then noticed that there are three columns. How I didn’t see those immediately I don’t know, but now I cannot see it without seeing them. In them I see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Radiating from the three the beam of light kind of arches like it is spreading out from them and her to all the world. It was then that I noticed little red flesh-colored flecks all through the beam. In my mind, these represent all the people that are hearing the gospel through out the nations and receiving truth. If you notice them, you will see that they are moving upward toward heaven as well!
I have no idea what Orit Martin intended for her painting to communicate, but for me at the retreat it was God affirming me in my call. I felt so loved as I meditated on the painting and prayed. I love that our Creative God uses creation and creativity to bless us and speak to us. He uses His creators to help us draw near to Him and know that He is God. I stared at the picture and realized that I didn’t want to leave the retreat. I wanted to get everyone I know to come and join in the day of rest and refreshment spending time reflecting on truth while providing holy closure to what has been and bring forth a spirit of welcome to what will be in the days to come.
I didn’t plan a schedule or write a strategy, but I feel renewed and ready to go forward for His glory for the next year. Ministry will happen. He will use me to reach nations. We will have many highs and many lows as a family. Through it all you will find me standing as if on my tippy toes, but if you look really close might actually see that I am being lifted up!
“Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation (Psalm 79:13)!”
If you are interested in the retreat center or in having Carla and Shay lead a retreat here is how to contact them.
SONLIT Acres is located at 2304 Campanile Rd. Waterloo, NE 68069
Carla Rousseau and Shay Eveland have both received training and completed their certificates in Spiritual Direction from Moody Bible College. They are passionate about sharing their love of retreating with those who are longing for something new.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have!
Carla Rousseau firstname.lastname@example.org
Shay Eveland email@example.com