Monday, April 11, 2011

"Retreat! Retreat!" (Part One)

So there was this e-mail, see.  Then a notice in the church bulletin.  And, well you know God, He just kept at it, and at it -- nudging me.  I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go.  Not that it was a ton of money, but it was certainly more money than I was willing to lose if I "bugged out" at the last minute.  What kind of freak would get cold feet about, of all things, a Christian women's retreat?  Me.

First of all, it wasn't exactly a lazy weekend on the homefront.  There were things to be done --a sofa to be picked up, some spring shoe shopping -- you know, all the stuff that absolutely cannot wait.  Yeah, yeah, poor excuse, but I can be a real control freak.

Secondly, and hopefully this one looks better on paper than it sounds in my head.  I have a lifelong problem with authority.  I hate being tied down, hate being told what to do, hate having to do anything.

Lastly, and probably most honestly, I have a problem with women.   I grew up thinking that to be vulnerable and feminine was to be less than human somehow, a license for people to walk all over you.   Maybe I became judgmental, thinking I was stronger, more powerful than other women because I refused to cry, hug, discuss dreams or, worse -- feelings.  Maybe quite the reverse.  Maybe I became ridiculously insecure; maybe I feel like I don't measure up in Girlworld.  How do they be so girly and still get what they want?  How do they admit to being fearful without getting crushed by the opposition?  How can they be so cunning, evil, sarcastic, conniving, bitchy, petty -- yeah, a problem with women.

Anyway, I mentioned it to Scott.  One sure fire way to commit to something is to make yourself accountable to someone else.  I'm surprised he didn't have me 302'd right there from the pew.  No guffaws.  Not so much as a, "Really?"  Wow.  The Holy Spirit is either working overtime on him, or I'm supposed to be at this weekend.

I was on the hook for this now, and expecting God was going to do something great, something marvelous, maybe where my relationships with other women are concerned.  Maybe I would meet a girl who loves shoes, enjoys sex with her husband, reads something other than Danielle Steele, and has more to talk about than who got kicked off "Idol."

I even made a list of some of my expectations -- "What Am I Looking to Get Out of This:"
1) deep fellowship time with Jesus
2) learning and growth
3) maybe a cool friendship

It actually wasn't until late in the game I realized this was at a church where, in the past, I may have had some people issues.  I have a few friends who belong there and love it.  Me? Not so much.  I have found the people, especially those associated with some of their outreach events, to be unfriendly, unhelpful, and generally en garde against "outsiders," AKA, me.  Some seem to be working from a pre-printed script or handbook; when visitors' needs exist outside those parameters?  *WARNING*  Suddenly the walls go up, you get a well-this-is-what-it-is attitude, and you are treated like a second class citizen.  Some agree with me; others do not.

So, I checked their website for details, and Googled the address; they've relocated since the last time I'd been.  Easy, squeezy -- except for the fact they are located in what resembles an industrial park.  I can see two or three buildings from where I am on the road, and I'm coming up on a driveway.  Of course, Mario Andretti in the Infinity behind me is so close it's like he's lookin' for French fries under the backseat of my truck.  I bang a quick left into the drive, finding I'm at the right place after all -- their sign only faces one way.  "No surprise there," I thought.

The parking lot was virtually empty.  "The doors opened twenty minutes ago," I thought.  "Hmm, not exactly the big rush I expected.  Can you say 'Harbinger of Lameness?'"
As I approached the front of the building I saw a sea of blue shirts – greeters and ushers just waiting to assist… uh, me?  “Can you say ‘woman’s retreat’?”  My mind went back to the Women of Faith conference I attended in Philly some years back.  Hundreds of women – all shapes and sizes – praising God, thrilled to be there, hungry to talk about their Lord and Savior.  “Plenty of women like me in a crowd like that.  But this…?”   

I received a hearty, warm welcome at the door.  She immediately asked me if I had pre-registered.  Anticipating my needs, no assumptions, no making me ask for things a visitor might require; a true hostess.  She directed me to the registration table.  Very friendly there.  Well, all but that lunch thing.  I’d handed in my completed form – with my selection for lunch -- and my payment.  As one of the friendly registrars handed me my name tag, the other friendly registrar casually informed me I was ineligible for lunch the following day.  


“Yeah, the lunch order was already turned in, but you’ll have enough time to drive to any place you choose, close by.”  

 “No, see, I choose here.  That’s why I paid you right here,” I thought.  “Didn’t the website say registration at the door?  No deadline.  Didn’t every e-mail and notice I got about this thing have a typo for the coordinator’s phone number, so try as I might, I kept dialing the same poor woman and insisting she was head of women's ministry?  (The charges are being dropped -- hopefully)  Wouldn’t the vast majority of people registering at the door be guests from out of town, or ladies with lives so hectic, they made it on a wing and a prayer?  So this is how you treat guests? the tired and weary?  So I, a guest, am paying the same price with no lunch, as your members are paying because they knew about the lunch deadline?”  Silly really, to get so affected by a plastic wrapped chicken sandwich on a toxic Styrofoam plate; especially since earlier that day I was thinking how good a salad with Feta and Raspberry Vinaigrette for lunch would taste instead of dry chicken on white and a Little Debbie’s brownie.  I mean, really, what would the refund be?  Three, maybe four dollars?  But I had planned on using the lunch break to sit down with a few folks, meet some new people and rehash some of the discussions. 

I amended #3 on my objectives with "but I am not hopeful."  So much for trying to interface.  "Lord, I’m trying here; why are you making this so difficult?  When will I have time to mingle? Bounce ideas off others?  Certainly not while standing in the CD line.  The bathroom line?  Maybe I’m the first to notice, God, but women aren’t exactly at their personal best when they’re waiting in line."

"Where can I hang my coat?" I asked.  It had been raining, and my trench coat needed to dry.  After stunned looks, hemming and hawing, some vague pointing toward "the hall," some discussion over whether their were even racks in "the hall," someone suggested I hang it on the back of my seat.  Do I have to tell you what happens in a crowded auditorium when you hang a long coat on the back of your seat, and it crumples into a pile, and the people exiting and entering, and exiting and entering, and exiting and entering the row behind -- well, you get the idea. I slung it over the seat next to me thinking, "Even my Podunk little church has coat racks.  It's really only civilized.  This is a women's weekend, right?  Like, not a filming of Ice Road Truckers?"

Settling in, I thought it would be a good time to pray and focus on some of the material we'd be covering; I thought it would be a great time to pray against silly little distractions like lunch deadlines or coat checks.  I also took the oppurtunity to update my objectives.  I added a fourth:

4) glorifying and honoring Jesus' name (I felt sort of foolish for not having made that Objective #1.)

The auditorium began to fill.  Just as I opened my Bible for a little meditation...

"No, she goes there to have her eyebrows done."
"Really?  Is that the place her boyfriend owns?"
"Which boyfriend?  The one she left her husband for?  Noooo, she doesn't see him anymore!"

"Are you kidding me?  Am I missing something?  This is supposed to be a retreat, right; as in retreat from all of the usual nonsense and worldly prattle.  God, I wanted this to be a time for me to get away from chaos and commotion, really focus on You, where You are leading me, what You are saying to me.  They've switched seats three times, the coordinator is beginning prayer, and they are still talking!  I feel so alone, so out of place, and so far from anything remotely 'Godly.'"

Once again, I amended Objective #3 -- "especially not now."

Worship was absolutely amazing!!  At one point I even found myself thinking, "This is so beautiful, all these women, it sounds like angels singing."  I don't know why I thought that; somehow I can't imagine the Angel Gabriel sounding like Beverly Sills, but...  Immediately, I dismissed the thought; I waited for someone else to make such a cornball statement, but it never did come.

Instead, the first speaker was introduced.  Her message was good but, somehow I wasn't getting it.  I mean I understood it, but it seemed flat to me, like Tab.  It wasn't particularly revealing; no study of Greek, or ancient customs with which your average middle-aged mom might not be familiar.  It wasn't completely inspiring; no challenges or convictions that grabbed me.

8:45 -- Closing worship and then, party's over.  "Worship rocked, but the exodus?  This oughta be fun; two hundred women trying to get out of a parking lot on a rainy night."  It really wasn't bad.
At home, exhausted, I fell into bed.  Strains of the last chorus still floating heavenward and drifting through my head, mixed with the words of my husband as he kissed me goodnight – “I love you.”

(Part Two on Tuesday)
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