My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. James 1:2 CEB
The brochure had read:
Spiritual Renewal Retreat
Get away to rekindle your relationship with God through solitude, prayer, relaxation and connection with other women in ministry.
Gratefully, everything fell into place and I was able to spend the Encounter Weekend with nine AMAZING women ministers. We had gathered at a beautiful home havened in the Snoqualmie River Valley to spend time in solitude and relaxation. We worshiped, prayed and fellowshipped. I rested, read, and walked, posturing myself for an encounter with God. On one afternoon, I sat on the backyard deck and after reading some Bible passages I prayed, “Lord, I want to hear from you. What do you want to say to me?” I closed my eyes and listened attentively. Moments later, a rooster from the neighboring property began to crow. I chuckled and continued to wait. Perceiving nothing more, I went for a long walk down a forest road taking in the beautiful scenery. Sadly, the Encounter Retreat came to an end but I headed for home rested and refreshed .
A few hours later, I pulled into our driveway. The first thing that met my gaze was the DEAD potted Alberta Spruce. When I left only three days before, it was green and sat happily with the others flanking our garage doors. Dead in just 3 DAYS, how could this be—the three had sat beautifully perched for eleven years!
I proceeded into our house where I was then greeted by a haphazard trail of Cheerios that started at the front door and meandered to the kitchen where I–not coincidently– met with 3 DAYS of dishes in the sink. The house was empty, so I peeked out the kitchen window and spotted my husband and two youngest children swimming in the pool. Admittedly, my irritation grew as I noticed my daughter was in regular clothes and not in a bathing suit. She was wearing her nice DEEP PURPLE shirt in the amply chlorinated water happily calling out, “Look Mom, Dad let me wear my clothes in the pool!” Just then– as if to some celestial cue– wind, lightning, thunder, AND torrential rain filled the sky. These caused a mad rush into the house thereby mixing large quantities of dripping pool water with the fore mentioned Cheerios. Just in case one thought all this wouldn’t be enough, we heard a loud crash as the wind SPLIT my favorite Purple Robed Locust tree, landing half of it onto our deck. After doing dishes and a few loads of MUCH-NEEDED laundry, I plopped into bed exhausted and bedraggled despite my three-day respite. (For the sake of marital peace, I should probably thank my husband here for all he endured while I was away!)
Unfortunately the following week continued in the same discouraging fashion. Hectic dealings with school teachers and administrators over unmet obligations to my special-needs children. Work pressures. Ministry deadlines. Bills due. Uncooperative children. Failed diet attempts. By the end of the week, I screamed (kind of) to my husband, “Either you need to check me in (mental facility) or help me out!” To this he replied, “Will I get conjugal visits?” (I’m so grateful for my husband’s sense of humor which has many times got me off the metaphorical ledge.)
I think now would be a good time to let you in on something which I consider to be pretty relevant to this post. On the entire drive to the Encounter weekend and most of the drive home, I listened to The Struggle, the latest CD by Tenth Avenue North. I had purchased the CD months before but this trip was the first opportunity I had to listen to it. When it came to the song, Don’t Stop the Madness, my heart was stirred. I played it over and over singing at the top of my lungs with all the heartfelt passion and conviction I could muster. Ironically, here is the Chorus:
Don’t stop the madness
Don’t stop the chaos
Don’t stop the pain inside of me
Do whatever it takes to give me your heart
And bring me down to my knees, Lord
The second week after I returned from the Encounter weekend only got worse. Then one day in the middle of my complaining, I remembered singing that song. (I should know by now to be very careful what songs I offer up as praise! See Brokenness Post.) AND THEN I remembered the rooster crowing! Like Peter, I had declared my consecration. “Lord, Don’t stop the madness, chaos and pain! Do whatever it takes so I can encounter you!” And then when trouble came, I had second thoughts. There is nothing like a nice gentle rebuke from our gracious Lord.
Soon after the Lord’s little reminder, I came across the featured verse. (James 1:2 CEB) According to James, all our encounters with trials are occasions for joy. I am learning to see that with every trial an invitation presents itself. Jesus is very straightforward with His invitation. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened. (Matthew 11:28) Every trial is an opportunity to have a close encounter with the Great I AM. I AM Peace. I AM Sufficient. I AM Security. I AM Wisdom. I AM Healing. I AM Comfort. Right in the middle of our trials we are invited into His presence where there is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
I still prefer Weekend encounters with God of the retreat/resort type. But lately I am learning to appreciate close encounters of a different kind! LH