Ladies Retreats. They always seem to bring out the worst in me. I circle around them like a hawk from the moment the event is announced, my beady little eyes on the lookout for anything I can sarcastically ridicule as being estrogen-overload or write off as a display of all the cliches of womanhood I think I am so above. I like women. I'm glad I am one (back hair? no thank you). I even like being friends with women and thrive on the love and fun and fellowship we share. But women's retreats seem to always spiral into some abysmal overdrive of emotions, confessions, tea pots and pastel flowered name tags that I can't bring myself to enjoy or understand. I want a cool retreat.
This weekend came close. Due in part to the fact that at least the appearance of it was chic and modern (thanks to my uber talented art teacher friend who designed it) and extremely well done.The other part was because of the unseen Headliner for the weekend, my very own... Holy Spirit.
I had already decided that in the case of a dud speaker (which she was not), or a message theme that I wasn't jivin' with (which was the case), that I would bring along a couple of Substitute Guest Speakers; you know them well, Jack and Tom (aka: Clive Staples Lewis and Thomas A'Kempis). I knew if all else failed me, they in fact, could not.
But, as it turns out they were unnecessary because of a sometimes subversive but always present Speaker-- the One who has my heart. Which brings me back to the moment when you know you have failed as a friend...
This is not a new feeling for me. Surely one of the things I have been given more of in this life than I could ever deserve or understand is Good Friends. They come on many levels and perhaps only a few stand out as those who with whom I share a special trust and knowledge of, but one of the most important and life-changing parts of their friendship has been their willingness to forgive me.
There is one moment in my friendship history that stands out, and I believe always will, as the day my friend saved me from the pit of my own blindness and selfishly hardening heart... the day she wouldn't let me Let Friendship Go. I had felt a divide between us, a growing separateness. I fed it with my private hurts and disappointments, my excuses for why it was too hard to chase her down, break down the wall, talk about the Hard Stuff. I shrunk back and lashed out with my silent retreat. She felt it: the sting, the quiet, the coldness.
But she knew Grace. She'd tasted it first as a college girl on a concrete step and she'd learned to drink deep and to keep coming back, growing intoxicated with this all-spirit, all-soul, all-life sustaining Love that was Jesus' life poured out for hers. So she, in all her hurt and anger and disappointment, knowing Grace had loved her still, reached out to me and loved me still. She came to my house and spoke honest words, searching words, humble and wounded words-- and she gave me Grace. In her emptiness, she was filled with High Love and she poured it out on me. I have never forgotten it. She saved me, and He saved me from drowning in my own self-infested pool where I would have Let Friendship Go.
Somehow though, as I sat in the high walled conference room, surrounded by a myriad of females from a world of different countries, listening to the American speaker talk fervently on a subject I was completely detached from, my mind was elsewhere because I realized I had done it again. I had become a friend who had failed. The feeling had been growing for months-- a different face this time, a different land, a new backdrop to my same old ways. The ugly burdens of guilt and regret and sadness and finally, fear were increasing at such a rapid speed that I found myself unable to shake the weight of their existence. I could think of nothing else in this beautiful, peaceful, well-lit room. I began to be afraid. I knew now what had been lurking for months and that was that I was in the wrong, pulling back, being distant, retreating with lofty coolness, and causing another friend a lot of pain. My reason are shameful, but He knows.
And it was in His knowing, and in the way that she had saved me from Letting Friendship Go that Grace found me and saved me again. I sat in that room, my heart gripped with fear and my mind racing with prayers and thoughts about what I might have to do, and we sang:
...And as He stands in victory,
sin's curse has lost it's grip on me.
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
Grace found me again and helped me see that all this curse in me has no grip on me, and I can go forth with humility into scary places (like seeking forgiveness and admitting great wrongs), pouring out the love He is pouring into me. I went. I stumbled. I shook. But Grace was there and His love flowed. We found hope and renewal and the beauty of a Friendship Not Let Go.
Have you ever known the moment of being the friend that failed? You are not alone. I have been there. I may be there again... but so too is Grace. And sometimes Ladies Retreats turn out to be not that bad.