In the past few months I’ve experienced the “Power of Vulnerability” so if this post helps even just one person, then it will be worth the “over sharing”. The purpose in starting this blog was to create a community built on authenticity. So here goes. I’ll share my dirt if you promise to take that chance on someone else in your future.
Not long ago I was in a desperate place. From the outside I’ll assume it looked like I had it all together because by cultural standards I did. I had a beautiful house we’d just purchased the year before, my husband Andy had a great job, I was doing well in my real estate career at a top firm in Charlotte, we had the perfect family: a girl, 4, and a boy, 2, and we had great friends. Everything was going right but I felt so lost in the shuffle. I was lonely from my husband’s work travel and starving to feel seen and heard by God. I didn’t feel like I had any control over my own life and was stuck on an endless loop.
Each week Andy would travel to New York for a project, usually Monday through Friday. Some weeks that meant he would have to leave on Sunday night and arrive home around 11pm on Friday. This left us with very little time to reconnect as a family before he’d have to hop back on a plane and get back to work. To make matters worse I was selling real estate so I was usually out working when he was home.
My college sweetheart husband is the perfect balance for our little family. The source of fun, belly laughs and large scale imaginative play. He’s the one who starts dance parties in the kitchen, builds the best lego towers, and plays firefighters and bad guys running down our hallways. His weekly absence in our home weighed heavily on all of our hearts.
It was the same routine each week. I began to anticipate when my children just couldn’t bare it anymore. Their breaking point was typically night 4. Their tiny little bodies would cry and scream for the daddy they missed so desperately. It broke my heart every time and left me feeling so helpless. By this point in the week I was so physically and emotionally exhausted that all I wanted to do was breakdown and cry with them. The strength I’d managed to get through the week would buckle the second he walked in the door Friday night. I’d just collapse in his arms.
During worship on Sundays I would cry out to the Lord in prayer. Please heal my lonely heart, help me to appreciate this beautiful life you’ve given us, teach me to count our blessings instead of focusing on what we seemed to be lacking. This lasted for months on end and in my pain I felt so forgotten by the Lord.
Right before church on a summer morning I was mindlessly scrolling through my Instagram feed and I stopped on a post from a friend. She wrote about this incredible Bible study on Tuesday mornings that took place at my children’s pre-school. In the past 4 years that my kids had been attending I’d never even heard a mention of it! How could this be?! I immediately registered and prayed that Lord would speak to me through this study.
The next 6 weeks felt like an eternity as I waited for this next chapter in my journey. My heart was so heavy as I walked into the large room that first Tuesday. I felt so ashamed by the way our morning routine had gone just to get there. More yells at my kids to HURRY UP than I care to admit. I kept thinking if anyone had seen the way I behaved on those long weeks that no one would want to be my friend.
And then Elizabeth, our speaker, began talking. She told us that she started this ministry for moms because we are the ones who possess the power to shape our families. When we are filled with hope, joy, peace, patience, and love then we have the ability to pour that into our families during our every day moments. She told us that Satan understands the power mothers have in their homes and he attacks us constantly in our vulnerabilities. Satan whispers the lies in our ears that we are unworthy to be moms, irrevocably screwing up our children, that we yell too much, and it’s all just too ugly to share. As I heard her speak, tears just started streaming down my cheeks. It was as if she was speaking directly to me and it was only week 1. I realized then it wasn’t just me who felt this way and that I had been under attack all year. Satan loved my loneliness and had been using it to break me.
Our homework for the weekly sessions was Kelly Minter’s “No Other God’s” Study. I can promise you that I am not being dramatic when I say Kelly’s study and Elizabeth’s speaking changed my life and the course of my family forever. Each time I opened up my Bible and read through the study God revealed something new to me. I never realized how many idols I’d set up in my life when I was claiming to worship God. Really I was worshipping the pride found in my career, money, vacations, family time, ME, perfectionism… my list of idols was endless. No wonder I was SO unhappy. My worth and joy were not founded in my identity as daughter to the God of the universe. I was “seeking” in all the wrong places and they were constantly letting me down.
A month into the 7 week study, I did something radical. I was making huge strides in my walk with Jesus and felt it was important to get away for a couple days and focus on it. So late one night just before bed I started googling women’s retreats. I figured I worship the same God as other believers in Jesus and being with other women who are pursing the Lord can’t be a bad thing. It turned out that the church right outside my neighborhood was hosting one in the mountains the following weekend.
I tried to convince anyone from my core group of girlfriends to come with me and none could make it. A day after my unsuccessful attempts to rally, I went on my second playdate with a mom who’d just moved to Charlotte a few weeks before. She’d just moved in around the corner from me and was also attending the same Bible study. As we were chatting at the park, I casually mentioned my interest in going on this women’s retreat. She told me it was the church they’d been trying out and she’d thought about going herself but didn’t know anyone so she was hesitant. A few hours later she texted me asking if she could could go, would I go? Without hesitating I said yes.
She had two little people the exact same ages as mine. Her husband had been traveling for 7 years so she was past the bitter stage. I needed a friend like that who could relate to my situation in every way and encourage me in my marriage. Someone who was also walking this walk but with a smile on their face. It felt like God had sent her to me.
In my past experiences it’s when I’m the most uncomfortable that His works are greatest. So I signed up to go on a Women’s Retreat with a church I didn’t attend with a mom I’d only spent 2 hours with. Yep. I told you it was radical.
I could feel that the Holy Spirit had worked this whole thing out and it was meant to be. From prompting me to google the retreats to even mentioning it to this basically stranger. This isn’t to say I didn’t panic while I packed my bags. My mind took me all kinds of places- wondering if she was an ax murderer or whether we’d have to spend an awkward and silent drive to the mountains.
In the end, the weekend was all perfectly orchestrated. Something about riding in the car with someone, in as intimate of a space as a car, and not having to make eye contact, frees you to be completely vulnerable. During our drive I shared ALL of the struggles and shameful sin I’d been dealing with the past year. She’s a master listener and the beginning a friendship rooted in Christ began.
Our weekend was spent in authentic community with other women. Most were floored and couldn’t believe our boldness in coming. But most importantly, we felt welcomed and cared for.
The retreat speaker’s main topic point was the concept of being seen by God. I had a hard time relating to most of the examples the speaker shared over the weekend, but I think the Lord wanted to drive home this simple idea that He sees me. Even when I’m in pain and can’t feel His presence: He’s there, He cares and He loves me.
Our Bible study the weeks leading up to the retreat had been taking us through some of the same scripture in Genesis. To set the stage for you, Sarai is Abraham’s wife who has wanted a child all her life but was unable to conceive. At her old age, she’d completely given up that she’d ever have a child and instead of waiting on the Lord’s plan she took matters into her own hands. She asked her servant Hagar to be her surrogate and conceive a child with Abraham so that she could finally have a son.
Once the child was born Sarai was so bitter that she turned against her faithful servant Hagar. Sarai mistreated Hagar so much that she ran away her child.
Genesis 16: 7-16
7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 He said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”
She replied, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.”
9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her authority.” 10 The angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your offspring, and they will be too many to count.”
11 The angel of the Lord said to her, “You have conceived and will have a son. You will name him Ishmael,[a] for the Lord has heard your cry of affliction. 12 This man will be like a wild donkey. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; he will settle near all his relatives.”
14 That is why the well is called Beer-lahai-roi.[d] It is between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar gave birth to Abram’s son, and Abram named his son (whom Hagar bore) Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.
If you’d like to know the rest of the story I urge to read Genesis 18-21. The cliff notes version is that the Lord sends a messenger to Abraham and Sarah (her name changes) to tell them they will soon have a son. Sarah is so old and filled with disbelief that she actually laughs. The messenger responds with:
14 Is anything impossible for the Lord? At the appointed time I will come back to you, and in about a year she will have a son.”
A few chapters later in Genesis 21 God gave Sarah a son at His appointed time and fulfills His promise. God had a plan for Sarah all along- despite how bleak things seemed.
The Birth of Isaac
21 The Lord came to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.
2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time God had told him. 3 Abraham named his son who was born to him—the one Sarah bore to him—Isaac. 4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
6 Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and everyone who hears will laugh with me.”[a] 7 She also said, “Who would have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne a son for him[b] in his old age.”
When I read these scriptures for the first time I could immediately see myself in Sarah. How many times had I been impatient and so desperate I took things into my own hands instead of waiting on the Lord to provide? More times than I can count.
The speaker gave us time alone outside to meditate on the scripture. I spent it staring at a waterfall and praying God would speak to me there. I’d almost given up when I looked down to see a yellow leaf on the table where I’d been sitting. It wasn’t traditionally beautiful, some may even call it ugly, as it was covered in holes but to me it’s color and imperfections were striking. As I continued to examine it I realized it was the way God sees His children. Beautiful, flawed, loved, and desperate for salvation. He’s just waiting for us to come to Him, so he can transform us in His image.
2 Corinthians 5:17
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has[a] come!
I picked up the leaf and told my small group this revelation. I felt crazy even saying all this out loud. Later that night I threw the leaf away. I felt it had served it’s purpose- message received God.
The next day as the weekend was coming to a close, the speaker opened up the floor for comments and questions. My heart started thumping out my chest and I could feel I needed to tell the other 150 women present. So I braved the microphone and shared my story about the leaf and His great love for us. Afterwards I regretted being so flippant the night before by throwing away the leaf He’d sent me.
As we stood up to head home, my new friend pointed to the ground. In a sea of chairs, below only my seat, was another beautifully broken golden leaf. He pursued me yet again by bringing it back to me. I know He wanted me to remember how He spoke to me and called me beautiful despite my obvious flaws.
None of us are too small, too insignificant to be forgotten by our God. He sees every one of us in our pain and He weeps with us. He has a plan. He will deliver you from your pain if you only seek Him.
11 For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Peace and hope,