Last winter when I blogged about a budding new ministry/non-profit that I was starting with my friend Amy, I referred to it as my fourth baby.  I never stopped feeling that way, beginning on the plane ride home from Atlanta when God started developing the vision in our hearts to the moment we walked away from an empty banquet hall after seeing that vision come to reality.  This little ministry, Called to Love, is definitely my thing.  Not MY thing meaning I own it, but rather it’s the thing for me.  The perfect task for my gifts and passion.  I have not been so exhausted emotionally and physically in a really long time; but I have rarely felt so fulfilled and confident that I was exactly where I supposed to be. The weekend was not flawless, but overall it went better than I could have hoped.  The feedback was mostly positive, and even the negative was shared in respect and love, offering suggestions and insight, not harsh criticism.  It was clear that God was working in the hearts of the mamas who came, including ours!
We held the retreat at the Oregon Garden Resort, which has a fantastic Grand Hall where we had all of our meals and main sessions.  The venue is not perfect (chairs are uncomfortable, the meeting hall is far from the hotel rooms and the parking lot is too small), but it met our needs and the staff was great to work with.  Thanks to Amy’s creative decorating skills and the twinkling lights, the place looked great.  (PS: I stole all these pics from my FB friends, so thanks for that, ladies.)
One of our biggest desires was that the women would CONNECT with each other in real ways, not superficial chatter.  That began happening on the first night, as we saw conversations springing up all over the room.  Each night around 9:45 pm we had to ask women to go back to their hotel rooms so we could lock up.  It happened so naturally, it was amazing to watch.
This picture cracks me up, because these two girls are not new friends, but sisters.  🙂  Also, that fireplace is to die for.
Another fun part of the weekend was the vendor tables.  We had 10 different vendors, either promoting their non-profit or selling merchandise to raise funds for their own adoptions.  There was plenty of time to walk around and chat and drink coffee while looking at all the goodies for sale.
One of our team members put in HOURS of preparation for the Encounter room.  It was kind of a prayer room, but so much more.  She designed several different stations for us to stop and reflect on the theme that we adopt (or foster) because WE have been adopted by God.  It was a time carved out from a busy weekend for women as individuals to be alone with God.  We got the idea from a similar concept at Created for Care, and then Jessica just ran with it, adding her own spin.  I couldn’t believe how she transformed this rather boring room into a completely tranquil environment.
On Saturday morning we had a panel of six adult adoptees answering questions submitted by the moms.  We learned that panels are kind of tricky, because we want the speakers to be free to share their thoughts, we wanted each to have enough time to tell us what was on their hearts, but we were also on a time schedule, and six was probably too many for 40 minutes.  🙂  Although it didn’t turn out exactly as we had envisioned, they shared some incredibly valuable insight.  I don’t have a picture, but that night we also had a panel of three birth moms.  It was emotional, but really great to hear their stories.
I cannot talk about the weekend without talking about the worship.  It was obviously a highlight for many of the women, as reported over and over again in their evaluation forms.  We were so blessed to have some of our dear friends from church come and lead the worship time.  They are absolute professionals with no agenda other than bringing glory to God.  It was incredible.  I don’t have a picture of all of them, but this is Kristin and Lori, with my partner-in-crime, Amy, in between them at the podium. The LOVE marquis letters were made by Amy, and they were pre-tty bright!  One mom commented that as she closed her eyes in worship, LOVE was burned into her retinas!  Ha! Sorry if you had headaches, ladies, but it was just too awesome not to use.
There were so many moments in the weekend where I could feel God’s presence and favor.  One small thing was on Saturday morning, when we realized that the huge storm the night before had blown away all of our signage, except for one good a-frame sign.  We had several volunteers, panel members, speakers, and breakout leaders still to arrive, and it is very hard to find the building without good signs.  One of our team members, Tricia, and I were standing outside trying to figure out what to do, because the arrow on our one sign was pointing the wrong way.  At this PRECISE moment, a woman walked by and said “We just had an event at our church this week and I have a bunch of big arrows in my car.  Do you want them?”  Boom.  She brought the arrows, Tricia got scissors and tape, and our problem was solved.  Coincidence?  I think not.
But my favorite story of the weekend unfolded slowly and ended with a fabulous bang.  Literally about 10 minutes before registration began, I got a call from our Sunday morning speaker.  She had been diagnosed with pneumonia, and was extremely ill.  She was in the hospital with a PICC-line for antibiotics and was on bed rest.  She would not be coming to speak on Sunday.  I can only give credit to God that I did not panic. I told Amy, and we both just said…OK!  We didn’t have time to talk or think about it, we just prayed that God would tell us what we were to do for that session.  Put it on the back burner until we get these women registered.
As we were meeting and greeting the mamas whose names we had prayed over, one of them had a question about the vendor tables.  I began chatting with her about her table, and I instantly liked her.  She’s an attachment specialist, a counselor and therapist, and she had just started a ministry with a desire to focus on supporting adoptive and foster moms.  She said she felt God calling her to help fill the gap that exists in the support and care of weary moms.  (So, kind of exactly what our weekend was about.)  She mentioned that she had previously run an adoption agency and placed over 100 kiddos (so, experienced and knowledgeable), but this current non-profit only has only one client. A friend of hers had gifted her this weekend as “kind of a launch” for her ministry.  All I can tell you was that the Holy Spirit was practically standing behind her, frantically pointing at her head, saying THIS IS YOUR GIRL!  Her name is Susan, and she was instantly likable, humble, and the exact opposite of self-promoting.  At this point, she still thought we were just talking about her 8 foot vendor table!
I asked Susan if she ever did any speaking.  She said something like, “Yes, kind of.  It’s one of my goals in the future, but I mostly do one on one right now.”  I smiled and called Amy over.  We told Susan our situation, and asked if she would prayerfully consider speaking on Sunday morning, even for 10-15 minutes.  Her eyes filled with tears and she said “In front of EVERYONE?”  I reminded her that this weekend was her launch!  How about a rocket launch?
I continued to check in with Susan throughout the weekend, and she was incredibly nervous and scared, but admitted that she already felt like God was giving her things that our women needed to hear.  Every time I talked with her, I liked her even more, and felt more sure that we had made the right decision.  Even if she was only mediocre, God wanted her up there.
It turns out…she’s not mediocre.  She took the podium on Sunday morning and just knocked our socks off.  She was eloquent, wise, FUNNY, insightful, personal, and absolutely perfect for what we needed to end our weekend.  When she left the stage, the women gave her a standing ovation.  After we closed, her table was surrounded by women wanting to talk with her, thank her, buy her Bible study and get her business card. I’m so sorry for our original speaker, Kerrie, who is so sick!  But I have absolutely no doubt that it was God’s plan all along for Susan to be our Sunday morning speaker.
Lastly, I want to mention that Amy and I did not pull of this retreat alone.  We had an incredible team of eight women by our side.  Hardly any of them knew each other before this year, but we’ve come together with a common goal and no other desire than to serve these moms.  Each of them is incredibly capable and willing, and none of them has any ego.  We never had to over-think the tasks we were delegating, worry about anyone being hurt if they were asked to do too much or too little.  We could not have done it without them.
This is my soul-sister, Amy.  We have a lot in common, but we are also very different.  Our gifts and strengths wonderfully complement each other, and I never feel a sense of competition with her. I love being her partner.  She is an amazing woman of strength and resilience.  She’s entering her third year of waiting for her adopted children from Ethiopia, and the wait is enough to undo anyone.  I am in awe of her grace.  My only regret is that we waited until the last session was over to take this picture, and we had both been bawling approximately 3 minutes prior to this photo.   (Also, the L and the O were sagging.)  It’s a good thing we work well together, because we are sure that this ministry is here to stay.  In case anyone was wondering, this was not a one-time retreat.  We learned a lot and have room to improve and grow in several areas, but it was clear God’s hand was in it.  It was definitely the first annual C2L.  First of many.