I recently attended an oh so sweet retreat. This is the second time that I was invited to attend. Last year the weekend fell just days before my last chemo treatment and three months and a handful of days after Eric's passing. I was in a raw place--inside and out. At the time I thought that I had accepted the reality of Eric's death, but in hind-sight I was still in the midst of thinking that any minute he would walk through the door and I would have had the starring role in some strange new reality show. It sounds ridiculous, but it was the type of thing that bounced around in my head during those first months after he left us. Let's blame it on the chemo and just flat-out denial. The first night at the retreat everyone was given the opportunity to introduce themselves. I came knowing 2 out of a little over 30 women in the room. I turned to my friend and said, "Should I drop one bomb or two?" I took a deep breath and played both of my ugly cards. There was love and there were tears in those faces around the room as I told my story of both cancer and loss. I took a chance on that group of women and opened up about my hardest stuff. It was a moment where God gave me the courage I needed to live out loud in the midst of this amazing group. I'm glad I did.
This year felt very different. The new faces were not as new and time had begun to heal many of the open wounds that I had been busy bandaging last year. Most of the women there already knew my story and I knew theirs. Then the sweetest thing happened. These faces who were strangers to me last year as I entered that old stone house came up to me this year--many of them--and told me that they had been praying for me this last year. That they thought of me and my kids often. It mattered. Please hear me when I say, it mattered. All of those prayers, said while doing dishes, running errands, kissing foreheads and packing lunches--they made a difference to my little family. I felt humbled and so very grateful knowing that these women had quietly helped me carry my difficulties over the past 12 months. Last year this was a place to hide out and hurt, but this year it was a time to be refreshed and challenged for the next season.
A lesson that I've learned during my chapters on cancer and loss is that when you're weary of your story you get to a point where you're scared to be open--about your pain, your mistakes, your weaknesses. It's exhausting to be vulnerable and it's not always met with open arms. We think the world expects us to be strong, to be survivors, to hide weakness and hurt. But where does that get you? Usually in a very lonely place where it's all up to you to make it better--and let's be honest, who has enough energy to do that most days.
What I saw at my sweet retreatland was a group of women willing to get in the trenches alongside one another. I saw empathy, not pity. I saw women strategizing with one another about the best way to peacefully walk through their days while tending to their heavy burdens that they've been asked to carry. I saw true concern and promised prayer. Maybe it's my age or possibly the circles I run in , but I think I can safely say that everyone carries a burden--maybe even more than one. If you don't, then jump up and down, high five someone sitting near you and thank the Lord for that blessing and then go and use your extra bandwidth to come along someone who needs your support. Really. Use your good for someone else's good.
So there we were, a marketplace of women exchanging pieces of their hard things with one another. That bartering made the burden lighter, offered new perspective and most importantly gave hope. It was an amazing thing. I walked away wanting desperately to integrate these practices into my non-retreat life. How can I stay open to my kids' hard things, to my co-worker's challenges, or to things that bring my friends to their knees? How can I keep the busy of my life from getting in the way of really listening to and caring for my fellow sojourners in this world? You need to absolutely know that something miraculous happens when you take the time to get comfortable with someone's difficult thing--you show them the love of our heavenly father and in turn you are given strength for the moment and blessing for the journey.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ~Galations 6:2