The premise is simple: her story matters.
Our world was built with stories. There’s no real need to convince anyone of that. In many ways, our stories serve as the gravity of our hearts – they are what keep us rooted. They tell us where we’ve come from and where we’re headed.
Our women’s retreats believe this, too. We believe that her story matters because God values her. And when you value someone, her story is important, too.
Last week, we hosted our first Beauty for Ashes retreat at our house. We invited 30 women (and their children!) to spend a Thursday evening and Friday with us, filled with teaching, fellowship, worship, activities, and food. The women we invited are women we have known since April.
A few of us have been attending a women’s group one town over hosted by our beautiful friends Emma and Renzo de Lopez. At the group, the women hear a devotional and learn a new skill (crocheting, baking, etc.). When we introduced the idea of having a retreat, the ladies were excited. Most had never been to a retreat before.
So we planned and we prayed. It was the first time we were hosting one of these retreats with our staff and I was the one directing it! Needless to say, I was nervous. Did I know what I was getting myself into? Of course not. But when do we ever really know, right?
The first day finally came. The house was buzzing with anticipation and it was almost as if the walls themselves were singing a new hope. I was excited and scared – eager to jump into a new place of faith but terrified by the prospect of leaving the ledge.
That night, Kellie, Emma, and I shared brief versions our life stories. Before I spoke, I wanted so much to seem put-together – a strong leader worthy of inviting these women into a deeper place. But I felt the stirring in my bones: be honest and lead by example. The best leaders never ask others to do something they haven’t done first themselves.
A lot of my life is still in process, existing in that beautiful place of healing and being healed. In my story, I highlighted a few difficult childhood experiences and a tough relationship from my childhood that I was still reeling from in many ways. I cried, and told them that it was difficult for me to talk about it but there is true freedom in honesty and vulnerability. Our masks are cages. There’s not enough room for both.
The next day, all three of us – Emma, Kellie, and I – all taught different lessons paired with activities. I taught about Tamar and the power shame has in silencing us. The activity was to draw a painful moment in life that feels unresolved, unhealed.
There was some skepticism at first, but again I felt pressed to lead by example. I showed them my drawing, shared my memory. Sharing with others does two things, I told them. It turns on the light and opens the door, bringing in His truth and inviting others in.
When it was time to share, there were a few beats of silence. (I am becoming a professional at pressing through awkward silences in matters of the heart.) I waited, explaining that it was okay to feel nervous.
One woman slowly raised her hand. She shared, showing the drawing. The tears flowed. Another woman followed after her and did the same. Then another and another. I couldn’t believe it. They were saying yes!
They shared powerful stories, painful memories, and the desire to both forgive and be forgiven. Emma taught the next lesson about redemption and restoration through the eyes of God, a beautiful teaching involving both Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
In the next activity, more women shared. By the last teaching, led by Kellie about the Woman at the Well, many women raised their hands during the Gospel presentation. They wanted more of His healing, more of His love. They were saying yes.
At the end, each of the women wrote down a name of someone they knew they needed to forgive, and one by one threw it away in the trash as a symbol of letting it go and choosing forgiveness. I wrote down the name of the tough relationship from my childhood and asked God to please heal that wound, that after all these years I finally felt ready.
He heard me, and what I had asked came true: the healing felt instantaneous, as if Jesus himself passed His hand over my heart and healed what had festered over years. Now, a scar is left. But oh, the story it tells.
Many women chose Jesus that day. To choose Jesus is to choose forgiveness. There sure is a process to it, but it’s worth it every time.
Less than a week after the retreat, a sweet friend came up to me after our women’s group and thanked me for all that our staff and the de Lopezes did to make this retreat happen. She said that before attending the retreat, she felt like her heart was in a desperate place and she couldn’t figure out why. Through the teachings and the drawing activities, she was able to discern what was going on inside her and find peace at the feet of Jesus.
This retreat is just the beginning. Our follow-up discipleship will include a lot of teachings that expound on what we began learning during the retreat. We’re all eager and expectant to press into this next chapter of what we know is becoming a beautiful story in each of our individual lives.
The premise is simple: her story matters. When we make room to listen, we make room to love and through that… everything changes.