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IMG_3721Several weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to spend a weekend away at a mountain cabin with four very special girlfriends.  There were late nights spent chatting around a great stone hearth, mugs of hot tea, glasses of wine, delicious meals, whispers from God, and hours of art making.  And when I think back to that weekend, I keep returning to the way it all unfolded so naturally.  The way a collective sigh following one person voicing the need to get away from the busyness of life quickly turned into a mountain retreat just over a month later.

This circle of friends started out as a small group of two several years ago.  IMG_3737Cheryl and me.  Both of us, exhausted from the impact of raising small children with challenges, were searching for a place to share our journeys and to spiritually recharge with no further expectations.  Cheryl, being the grassroots girl that she is, offered the stools around her kitchen counter as a meeting place, a cup of coffee and the promise of being heard and that’s how it all started.  During that first year, we spent a good portion of our time together airing our challenges and tossing around different ways to approach the parenting of our spirited children.   This was the year of learning to be present and showing grace both to ourselves and our families.

The following year, our dyad grew into a cozy group of four, as Megan and Michelle joined us on our Tuesday mornings.  Megan shares her  beauty and life challenges with us, as well as her precious little girl, Anna Grace, who is an angel in our  midst.  And Michelle, brings a liveliness to our gatherings with a love of  Southern Living, Diet Coke (from McDonald’s in a large styrofoam cup) and accounts of her own spirited little ones.  It was  Michelle, who offered-up her family’s mountain cabin for our weekend get-away.

This fall, God expanded  our Tuesday morning family with the presence of Kim and Sonya.  Each week, Kim shares her nurturing spirit with us.  And being a few years ahead on the parenting spectrum, she provides a loving model for us to follow.IMG_3730  During our weekend getaway, Kim nourished our bodies with her carefully planned and lovingly made meals:  fresh fruit, egg casserole, chick-pea and onion soup, fresh spinach and pea salad, and lemon pound cake that melts in your mouth.  Seriously.  Sonya, our resident “God Whisperer,”   dresses like a fashionista and prays over people with fervor.  On this particular weekend, Sonya prepared a morning devotional entitled, “Who Am I?” which called us to worship by living-out God’s purpose for our lives on a daily basis.IMG_3753

When Sonya shared  the idea that worship sometimes leads us to step-out of our comfort zones, she offered the perfect segue into my contribution to the weekend.  Art.  While I find great peace and joy in creating art on my own, I still feel a bit uneasy leading others in this realm.  As God does so often when we allow Him, though, he knit Sonya’s devotion and my art activity together  beautifully…Unknowingly, I named the art project “I am…”  During a period of four peaceful afternoon hours, I facillitated my friends through the process of collaging  a visual of the unique person God created them to be.IMG_3766

This beautiful circle of women and the retreat we shared?  It did not happen on the merit of just one individual’s gifts.  Community happens when we recognize and celebrate the unique gifts that we each have to offer and we combine our efforts to create a whole. For “as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.”  (1Corinthians 12:18)   It is my prayer that we all seek to know and celebrate who we are, allowing ourselves  to experience the  joy and fulfillment of working together as the body of Christ.

SpreadJOY

YOU have a gift to share, dear friend!  Listen to your heart.  Embrace your passion.  Spread joy with wreckless abandon!

Up the driveway, down the street, turn right, down the hill, another right at the stop sign, and up the next hill towards the walking & biking paths.  The bike route is a familiar one and my boy and girl follow my husband on their kid-sized bikes like two little ducklings. I bring-up the rear until we reach the cut-through.  On this particular evening,  I am surprised to find myself struggling to keep-up with my 6 and 8 year-old.  It must be the heat and humidity.  I am out-of-breath before even starting-up the hill and my legs burn heavy, straining to keep going.    We reach the end of the road where   the cut-over to the dirt path lies.  My heart is now pounding in my ears and I suggest that we do the “short ride” this evening since it is getting close to bedtime.  Secretly, I feel a bit lame and don’t want to let-on that I am struggling to keep-up.

We turn around and coast down the hill, winding our way back through the neighborhood streets.  Still breathing heavy, I push my way up the last hill towards our house.  My boy and girl whiz down the driveway and  my husband hangs back to make sure I am going to make it. “I must really be out-of-shape!” I laugh halfheartedly.  He smiles.  I know he is probably thinking the same thing, but doesn’t want to be the one to say it out loud.

I keep wondering, in the days that follow, how I have gotten out-of-shape so quickly?  Admittedly, I am not  faithful at working-out, but I do try to stay active in one form or another.  Just last week, I walked miles  up and down the beach with my sister. And doesn’t going up and down the stairs multiple times each day count for something? Convinced that my body is in worse shape than I thought, I start watching what I eat over the next days and even secure my girl’s company on morning walks and bike rides.  All the while, the biking continues to get the best of me.

Still, I reluctantlyagree to another family bike ride the following weekend. My husband rolls his bike into the garage to add air to the tires before we go on our way.  Sitting-atop my squeaky comfort seat, I look down at my own tires and notice the rubber nearly flattened against the concrete.  Could this be the source of my strain?  With hope, I fill the tires with air and take a turn around the bottom of the driveway.  Much easier.  Maybe I’m not so out of shape after all!

My freshly filled tires gliding over the pavement,  I relax into the ride when the thought occurs to me that this experience was not unlike trying to live my daily life without checking my spiritual tires.  There have been times in my early adult life when I lived-on spiritually flat tires most of the time.  Distorted thinking and constant worry stole the air right of me.  Fortunately, with the precious guidance of a  counselor, I developed more positive coping skills and now, for the most part, ride with my tires at least half-full.  But what about the other half?  Sometimes circumstances beyond my control or poor time management take a hit on my spiritual well-being.  How do I keep myself from going flat again?  In addition to prayer and worship, I find breath in the act of uncovering and using my God-given gifts.  When I pen a journal entry or write a blog post, I commune with God.  When I create a gift with my own hands and tie soft yarn and ribbons around it to share with a friend, I breathe-in spiritual air.  When I turn-up the volume to my favorite Christian CD while running errands in the car, I fill-up in His presence.

And so, dear friends, if you are feeling the strain of flat tires, I encourage you to check your own spiritual air pressure.  Are you taking time to discover and exercise your  creative gifts?  Whether it be writing, painting,  gardening, cooking, quilting, or something totally different, take advantage of the unique tools that God has bestowed upon you.  Dare to co-create with God and allow him to fill your soul with the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.

When artists seek the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God stirs within them and God reveals what they are to do and how they are to do it.     -Janice Elsheimer,  “The Creative Call”

                                                                                                                                                                      photo credit:  Google images

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