Last Friday morning, my husband was kind enough to drive me to the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank on his way to work, so that I could catch a flight to Seattle.
Since the mid-1990s, I have been 1/6th of a group of women pastors ordained in the Evangelical Covenant denomination. Sometimes I wonder what sparks friendship, what bonds people to a commitment to one another. I think we found a certain commonality in our mid-life call to ministry, our shared experiences within the denomination and a rather off-beat sense of the absurd. (As a fine example of that last point, we called ourselves the Ya-Ya Goddesses. Yes, we did.)
About once a year, we tried to gather for a period of retreat - usually about a week long - with days spent in silence and solitude and evenings spent in conversation and community. We searched for someplace beautiful and quiet, some place that would allow us time to savor the goodness of God in the natural world while at the same time enjoying the conveniences of indoor plumbing and cooking facilities. Due to a long list of stresses in all of our lives, it has been almost 5 years since we have attempted to get together and now a weekend opened up for 4 of us and we grabbed it.
I met my friend Nancy in the Seattle airport, picked up a rental car and drove 2 hours north through rush hour traffic to the Stanwood exit, following lovely 2-lane country roads to one friend's spectacular home and guest apartment on Camano Island.
What a view.
What a house.
What a welcome.
Because we have been unable to squeeze out travel time in these last five years, this year's gathering was filled with catching up, story-sharing, lots of laughter and a few tears here and there - in addition to fabulous food, cooked by Diane and Vicki and cleaned up by Diana and Nancy.
Basically, we had 2 days together rather than our usual 4 or 5, as one whole day on each end was spent in travel. During these years since our last gathering:
one of us has lost a daughter to breast cancer,
one has lost a son-in-law to the after effects of cancer
treatment many years ago,
one has survived (successfully) a drawn-out lawsuit and
built a new home,
one has endured terrible disappointment in her job
situation and has very recently both remarried and
moved from one state to another.
So there was LOTS to talk about.
And talk we did, until fairly late into the evening on Friday and Saturday nights. And on Sunday night? Well, on Sunday night....we ordered pizza by the boxload, enjoyed hot fudge sundaes AND watched the Red Carpet and the Oscars. What more could you ask for?
Diane's home and apartment mirror each other architecturally and are both lovely to look at and live in. The apartment is dedicated to providing retreat/renewal space for weary pastors - what a glorious gift to offer the church!
When I went back to work on Tuesday, my boss asked me what I had gained 'spiritually' while away on retreat with my friends.
At first, I was stymied - this gathering was filled with more talk and less silence than most. But as I thought about his question, I was once again reminded that often very profound things can happen spiritually when you least intend it and seemingly don't plan for it.
I went away this last weekend in a spirit of openness to whatever God might do with our time together. And it was so good for me to hear something of each of their stories --- in order to make better sense -- or perhaps to have a better sense -- of my own.
For of the six of us, I am the last remaining pastor serving in a local church. Two work in retirement community environments, one teaches, two are 'retired,' though both are active in the parish churches they currently attend.
My pastoral role has been a gift to me, to my family and, hopefully, to the churches that I have served. And as I reflected on both the question I was asked and on my time away from the routines of life and work in Santa Barbara, I discovered (or re-discovered) these important truths about myself:
1. I am a person who needs regular exposure to God's beautiful creation to function well in ministry and in life.
2. I am a person who needs some kind of regular interaction with long-time, hold-me-accountable, encourage-my-gifts, listen-to-my-crap friends, friends who know something about me in my local setting but are not a part of that setting.
3. I am a pastor who is called to serve the Lord in the local church.
4. I am a pastor who sometimes needs reminding that taking a break, setting a boundary and stepping out of the routine are necessary and important things to do from time to time.
5. I am a person who, despite being in the throes of long-term, low (and sometimes high)-level-anxiety-and-concern-now-moving-into-grief - I am a person who needs to have some order around her. And that sense of order has just fallen off the cliff during these years of illness and worry in our family.
After seeing the lovely, quiet and restful spaces that Diane has created in her home, I am encouraged and challenged to make such spaces around me in my work environment and in my home office environment. Slowly, slowly, I am going to purge my book collection, get rid of extraneous paper and create workspaces that are conducive to reflection, writing, thinking and prayer.
6. I am a person who will very likely apply for the next go-round of the Center for Spiritual Direction, offered by our denominational seminary and ministerium. It's been on the back burner for a number of years, and I think the Spirit is nudging me to move in that direction NOW. (Applications are due March 31.)
So, yes, it appears that some things did happen spiritually during this time away. Thanks be to God - and to really good friends.
Nancy and Diana with Diane
Nancy and Diana with Vicki (Maybe next time, we'll master that automatic picture-taking thingy.)