Last year after the very first Called to Love Retreat, I wrote in a blog post: “This little ministry 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.”
Can I just say for this year: “DITTO”? Since the day we said goodbye last year to those 103 women, I have been excitedly counting down the weeks until we could do it again. This last weekend was the second annual C2L Retreat, and it was wonderful. It was not perfect, but it was wonderful. I had that same feeling of being filled up as I was pouring out, a total peace that I was serving right where He wanted me. Being with these girls gives me such joy. My amazing ministry partner is Amy, and we were reminded again this weekend (and laughed at ourselves) that our strengths and weaknesses perfectly complement each other. For instance, I am a total extrovert and worked hours with the spreadsheets of names and information, so I wanted to meet, hug and remember as many faces as possible. Amy is more introverted and has a hard time remembering lots of names. She’d probably rather not hug people she doesn’t know. Amy is amazingly creative and talented at decorating–she TRANSFORMS a room– and I have a hard time stringing a banner in a straight line. She also organizes thank you cards and gifts in beautifully decorated packages, and knows exactly what is in each gift and who it is for. If I’m left in charge, the guests leave without their gift or with the wrong bag. It’s a match made in heaven. We have a PHENOMENAL team of 7 mamas who work humbly and willingly all year round. We couldn’t do this retreat without them.
We had 188 mamas coming from all over the west coast (and Hawaii, South Dakota, Utah and Colorado!), and our heart’s desire was just to love on them and fill them up. Our theme was “Love Like Crazy.” Adoptive and foster moms are not better or stronger than any other moms. We just are walking a unique path that can sometimes be hard to explain or understand. I think all parents NEED connection, and these women might need it a little more than others. It can be a very lonely and isolating role. These women had to be kind of brave and make themselves vulnerable in a short amount of time, and they did. I think the Holy Spirit honestly just invaded the room and there was such a unity felt among all the moms there. The situations varied greatly, including international adoption, domestic infant adoption, foster care, adoption through DHS, and some relative adoptions. Even though the specific details of our situations were not identical, our paths are all similar enough that we could relate and connect on a deep level. My heart is so full thinking of all the times I would look around our big room and see women talking, smiling, crying, hugging–many of whom had never met! The speakers and the breakout sessions are important to the event, but having so many moms come alongside one another is what makes this ministry so much more than a normal conference.
I’m honestly debriefing for myself in writing, and the weekend was so full
and complex that I don’t even know where to start. For me and Amy and our team, the weekend was full of little fires that needed to be put out, most of them logistical and technical in nature. We are such a young ministry, and as we experience some growing pains, we are learning a LOT. We often scrambled frantically to try to hide our mistakes and surprises from the attendees. I have to give a big shout out to my Dad who dropped everything to bring me his own laptop, which we desperately needed when THREE of our team laptops did not work the way we needed them. However, learning some things the hard way is going to ensure that we learned it well, and I anticipate far fewer technical difficulties next year! Some “fires” were out of our hands, not our fault or not fixable, and we just had to be like Elsa and LET IT GO.
I loved the speakers we had this year. Their speaking styles and experiences were completely across the board. Two are adoptive moms, one is an adult adoptee, and another grew up in the foster care system and became the lead foster family trainer in our county. Each of them entrusted us with their stories, which we cherish and learned from. All four of them showed huge courage in opening the deep parts of their hearts and allowing us to see adoption or foster care from their point of view.
As the coordinators of this retreat, we know what kind of atmosphere we want to provide–we know the vibe we hope is created. But we can’t guarantee that it will happen. The very best way we can do that is by starting every session with heart-felt worship. We were blessed beyond measure to get some of our dearest friends to lead us in that worship this weekend. This band gave up their entire weekend to provide not just high-quality music, but authentic, fall-on-your-face-before-Jesus, tears-streaming-down-your-face, can’t-get-enough-of-this WORSHIP. It was clear they were all-in, that their sets had been prayed over and carefully chosen for us. As we read through the evaluations, we saw that this part of the retreat was powerful for the mamas, and God was so present. None of this–NONE!–could be done without Him. His hand has been so evident in every step, that it gives me such joy to stand in worship of Him with all these women.
I started writing some of my favorite moments of the weekend, but I just can’t even put it into a single blog post. I will say a big highlight for me was seeing a little idea come to life. Last spring we had the idea to assign a prayer partner to every single woman attending the retreat. The plan was to get some of our non-adoptive-parent friends or family members to start praying for these moms by name, including some information about their situation from their registration form. It was a way that they could be involved and play a part in the ministry. Then before the retreat, they would write a card to their specific person and we’d give it to the mamas when they arrived at C2L. We had over 100 people willingly take on this task. I was the lucky middle man in this secret project, and for the last week in October, every day I opened my mailbox to dozens of letters and notes, full of love and prayers from across the country. I loved hearing from the moms who were surprised and touched by the words from their prayer partners, covering many of them since May! The friends prayed over little details about them, like how many kids they have in their home and whether they are waiting for an adoption to be finalized or a kiddo to come home. I was humbled and thrilled that so many people wanted to love on these ladies and lift them and their families up to the Lord. We will definitely do it again, so let me know if you want to get on the list!
Another favorite part of the retreat was our Encounter room. One of our team members, Jessica, spends hours creating several stations in this room, a space for us to sit and savor the presence of the Lord. She copies Scripture and writes a sort of devotional for each station to direct our thoughts and hearts. At one station, there was a large canvas for us to write the names of our children as we prayed for them. Then on Sunday morning during worship, one of our mamas took that name canvas and created an amazing painting over it. It was so clearly her act of worship as we sang our songs and watched a beautiful picture appear over the names of our babes. If it sounds cheesy, it wasn’t. The end product conveyed pure joy and peace, and the fact that you know what was under it made it even more meaningful. It summed up the whole weekend and the whole point of the retreat for me. We all come with from individual situations, we carry our baggage and also the hurts of many of our children, and we lay them out before the Lord. We are all messy and messed up and weary. But when we come together in His name, we are renewed and encouraged. He is taking the stories of our kids, the stories of our families, and redeeming them. HE is the one who heals and makes things beautiful. We just have to seek Him and love like crazy.