Category Archives: Retreat

Vineyard Women’s Retreat

This past weekend was our Massachusetts Area Vineyard Women’s Retreat. It such a great experience.

It was my first time organizing something of this magnitude. I learned so much! Things like:

  • The women at my church are simply the best. They rise to meet a challenge like nothing I’ve ever seen.
  • Having people come to bless and pray for you from outside your context is incredible.
  • I forget to feed people. The next time I do this I will totally be looking for volunteers to make sure the guest speaker gets food!

My friend Sonya Seng flew in from Hawaii to speak to us.

I can’t begin to describe all that happened, so I’ll just post a bunch of pictures to make you feel like you were there:

Yesterday, I was so tired, I almost fell over at the gym while attempting a bicep curl. What’s that you say? One’s feet shouldn’t move when you do a bicep curl? I agree. And yet…

I’m grateful for the chance to be wiped out in the best possible way :)


Stop the World, I Want To Get Off

I know this will shock you, but not every moment in our household is delightful and heartwarming.


Fun family night, right? Yeah, none of us were speaking. #2 got mad because I made her wear a hat. She sulked through the whole game. #1 flat-out refused to take a picture with me. Memories!


That’s Steve’s “We should have just fed it the money for these tickets to a goat…” look. At least the Celtics won.

This was especially bad in the first year, when I so regularly found myself in situations I had no clue how to handle.

     Can you go to some random park with your friends? How should I know?

     Should I worry that you wear the same sweatshirt all week long and now I can’t get the boy smell out of it? Probably.

     What IS the consequence for yelling at me, “I AM TOO smarter than you (DOOR SLAM)”?  (And before you tell me that such statements are only made in the heat of the moment and aren’t what they really think…let me assure you that this particular Cherub doesn’t just think she’s smarter than me. She’s quite certain she’s smarter than you, too).

I’ve learned that 90% of the time, my initial response in these moments will be something I’ll wish I hadn’t said. I get into bad habits: the reflexive no to everything, the letting my thoughts come out as words (Last week when it was 19 degrees outside and my son wouldn’t wear a coat, I actually said, “Fine. Freeze your ass off. It’s your ass…”)

Here’s the funny thing: My kids are okay when these things happen. They’re no fragile snowflakes. The problem with my initial responses is that they leave me in a heap in corner, angry and exhausted, wanting nothing more than to be left alone. And it takes me forever to regroup. That’s not all that helpful when you’ve just doubled the number of people who live in your house.

The embarrassing part is NOT that I can be such a disaster. It’s how long it’s taken me to realize that the same skills I use in every other relationship in my life – marriage, work, friendships – are the ones that save me here.

When I have no clue what to do, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to talk to God.

But first, I need to fume. I need  time to marinate in the absolute rightness of my position, even when I’m not entirely sure what it is.

Once that is finished, I talk to God. (Be sure to check out my forthcoming prayer book, Okay God, What The %^&* Should I Do Now?)  

Then, so long as I have properly completed the fuming step, I almost always have some sort of intersecting, Gee I wouldn’t have thought of that, idea pass through my mind. Hallmarks of these ideas (the answer to the perennial “How do you KNOW it’s God?” question) are:

  1. They don’t involve swear words or threats to give my children’s unworn or unkempt clothes to some anonymous grateful child who will appreciate them;
  2. They consider the larger picture of the kids’ growth and desired development, not just this present frustrating moment; and
  3. They are so reasonable that I can say them to the Cherub(s) in a normal voice, and tell them I love you from my heart, not just my brain.

This is a good news miracle, every time.

I’m in the process right now of organizing a Vineyard Women’s Retreat for our area, so I’m thinking a lot about the concept of retreat – what a difference it makes to take a intentional breather before you move forward. It’s so counter-intuitive. And yet I bet it’s EXACTLY what my mother longed for for when we were little kids and she used to cry, “STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF!” in the middle of a particularly frazzled moment.

I’ve felt that so often in life, not just since motherhood.

If you’re feeling this sneak up on you, too, look for a retreat. Pray for one. If you’re from New England (or game to travel), come to ours. Let’s ask God our impossible questions (and pray the prayers with ALL THE WORDS) together.

Talking About a Revolution

I spent the weekend in the Maryland mountains, at a retreat with the women from Revolution Church in Annapolis. I never knew that Maryland had mountains (turns out they’re beautiful) or that a group of women staging a revolution would be so much fun to hang out with.

I was the speaker for the retreat, which is always a mix of wonderful and terrifying. It’s wonderful because I get to ask God, “What are you sending me to say to these women? What will encourage them?” As an outsider, I can say things folks on the inside can’t, because I’m not distracted by concerns like, “How will so-and-so take this?” or “Will person X think I’m talking about her specifically I mention xyz?” I don’t know anyone’s story yet, so there’s freedom to go in and speak as God prompts me, trusting Him with how it lands.  But these are the same things that make it a little bit terrifying: I have no relational equity with these women. My freedom to speak means they are equally free to say, “Who brought HER?” and pelt me with water bottles and granola bars.


We did not do this. And we are glad.

Thankfully, that did not happen :) So I thought I’d tell you a bit about what did. Because one of the things I discovered over lunch on Saturday was that the word “retreat” is loaded with baggage. This was news to me. Those of us in the writing world all but salivate over the idea of a retreat: a chance to escape from the frenzy of life to order our thoughts and wrestle them out onto the page without interruption. But for others, it represents (I think) hokey weekends filled with schmaltzy activities, feigned niceness tinged with guilt, round-robin judgement, and a casserole recipe swap. Perhaps some light Jazzercize to mid-tempo Amy Grant songs from the 80s.  Smile, smile, smile ladies!

THIS was not THAT.


Walking to breakfast yesterday morning.

The retreat site, River Valley Ranch, is an oasis hidden between some mountains about an hour from BWI airport. I walked around thinking, Where AM I? because it felt like I’d been transported to another universe. Granted, my understanding of Maryland geography is limited, but this felt unusually “away from it all” even so. We drove around a bend in the road, were dropped down over a hill as steep as a snowboarding ramp, and suddenly, we were in a different world.  A rustic world where there are BUFFALO HEADS on the wall, and suddenly your city-appropriate shoes feel somewhat ridiculous. In a good way. A way that makes you wonder what else about your life is somewhat ridiculous, or extraneous, or unnecessary. These are good things to have the chance to think about.

This world also had the kindest, most helpful staff I’ve encountered, and the best food I’ve had at a retreat center. To be honest, retreat food typically inspires me to fast. It’s a holy-sounding survival skill that lets one avoid those scary sausage links and crusty lasagna squares sizzling in grease over Stern-O for 4+ hours. But we had steak. And crepes. And this Mexican soup I didn’t even understand but couldn’t stop eating.


LaDessa & Sara

All to say, if you’re planning a retreat, consider River Valley Ranch.  Say hello to LaDessa & Sara: these girls will be your best friends, because they can do ANYTHING. They build bonfires, drive a John Deere Gator, figure out glitches in the sound system, and even replaced a clock on a 19 foot wall…without anyone noticing. They have mad skills, and they’re funny and helpful and somehow combine the lifting of heavy objects with talking about what God is doing in their lives.

I should also say that RVR has a zip line. And a ropes course. And horses. And that I will be eternally grateful to the retreat organizer Holly (Total fail that I didn’t get a picture of Holly) for not making me get on these things, or dangle from the heights for Jesus. I prefer to hang out in the room where the buffalo buffalo(heads) roam, talking about God.

And we did. We talked about friendships: how they develop in unexpected ways, how people surprise us. How they sometimes fall apart and break our hearts. And how God introduces new possibilities in places and situations just as we’re certain all hope is lost. And in between all those deep and hopeful thoughts, we laughed. My favorite exercise of the weekend was when one of the Revolution leaders asked, “Would you rather eat poop-flavored chocolate, or chocolate flavored poop?”  There were a bunch of similar questions in this ice-breaker, but I think this one was particularly interesting in terms of what it tells you about someone’s approach to life :)

As the weekend went on, I got to shift back and forth between being a new member of the group getting to know people, and being the observant outsider, watching this community come together. A lot of these women didn’t know each other when they arrived on Friday night. I was struck by their honesty as they shared reservations about coming, about not knowing what would happen or if they’d meet anyone. And as the weekend unfolded, I saw people walking in different groups as they connected, reaching out to include one another.  It makes me wonder what God will do with these friendships: Which of these ladies will help rescue a friend she met this weekend, the way my college friend Kristen helped rescue me when I left my first marriage? Who will form bonds over weekly girls’ nights out the way Gwen and I have over the past few years? Who will inspire long distance creative perseverance, the way the Ryanhood guys have pushed me along with encouragement?

At the end of the retreat, two of the participants were baptized under bright sunshine in a very cold stream.


baptism2It was SUCH a celebration, a perfect representation of how the end of one thing can be the beginning of another if we’re willing to let go.  As the Apostle Paul told the Jesus-ey people of Corinth, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come.” That promise never gets old for me.

On the opening session of the retreat, I shared a quote from this book by musician Michael Gungor: “Art is the ordering of creation toward the intention of the Creator.” I suggested that friendship is art, something God creates where only pieces were before.  And then we got to watch art happen, as God brought His intended order to our fragmented world.

Rock on, Revolution ladies. Rock on River Valley Ranch. Thanks for letting me spend the weekend in your world and behold the work of God :)