This past Wednesday, May 22nd, I embarked upon a journey that changed my life, and that I will never forget.
This time last year, my dear friend and pastor, Nat, came home from a mystery excursion to the Muskokas raving about his experience, and telling me it was one he really thought I should consider applying for.
The Bloom Leadership Retreat, hosted by Fluid Conference, accepts 24 applicants from across Canada to take part in a three-day, workshop-filled retreat at Muskoka Woods Camp in Ontario. Upon Nat’s recommendation and prayers for me, I applied to the retreat a few months ago, and was excited to learn that I had been accepted to attend.
My journey began early Wednesday morning, as my older sister kindly drove me to Burlington, an hour from my own home, to be picked up by a complete stranger, who was also attending the retreat.
Megan Smylie lived up to her name. She met me with a beaming smile, and, after quickly introducing ourselves, we shared authentically with each other that neither of us knew at all what to expect from the few days, but that we shared an excitement and anticipation that came from God’s affirmation.
We shared our hearts with each other over the course of the three hour trip to the camp, where we met up with the other people who we would surely become equally acquainted with. As we toured the massive grounds, which were full of eager camp kids, we relented that we felt like we had just arrived at Camp Rock. The atmosphere was exciting and infectious.
The actual journey began on the entrance side of a loooong suspension bridge, which the staff kept questioning the safety of– statements we participants couldn’t tell the sincerity of.
We stood in a circle on one side, and each one of us was invited to share what we were bringing into the experience.
Uncertainty about career, intense grief, confusion, sadness, and fear were among the answers. Some said they were bringing hope, but most were walking through a season of uncertainty.
“I have felt called to church ministry– a call outside of myself– since I was nine,” I said when it was my turn to share. “But I don’t know what God wants it to look like, or when, or where.”
Before we crossed the bridge, one of our leaders invited us to think about what it felt like to enter into a brand new setting in a treacherous way.
Crossing the swinging bridge was certainly treacherous, as Megan, one step in front of me, whispered, “I feel like I’m on the bridge in Shrek.”
As I crossed, I felt a release of worries and uncertainties as I prayed, and God’s presence enveloped me. Miraculously, I don’t think I stopped being aware of His omnipresence the rest of my time at Muskoka Woods, thanks be to God.
The Leadership Studio at Muskoka Woods that we entered after crossing the bridge was one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in. Every part of it, we were told, was designed with purpose. From the beautiful wooden ceilings with cracked outer edges that represented the beauty God makes of brokenness, to the open space with stunning table space and dinnerware set for kings and queens to emphasize the importance of hospitality and shared meals, the space was something out of a storybook.
The “pillow wall” you see above is where we got to cozy up for each one of our intense learning sessions, spent immersed in the Bible, in prayer, and in gifted preaching.
The room to the far left is where we gathered to worship together, strangers coming together to sing songs to the same Jesus who we’d all walked with, who was the only reason we were all there.
And the food we got to enjoy was absolutely incredible. Presented and described to us each night by the incredibly talented cooks, I teared up a few times at the incredible display of family-style hospitality, in which we all shared delicious food and ensured everyone was well fed.
The many conversations I got to take part in were absolutely beautiful. From a few spontaneous prayer sessions after heart-sharing vulnerability, once from my own heart and many times from others’, to conversations about our journeys with the Lord, to conversations simply about how good He is, I was made to be in constant, never-ending awe of my Father, and how every good gift comes from Him.
Here are the most fundamental things I learned:
- Soak yourself in the Psalms. This is the advice of John McAuley, president of Muskoka Woods. Absolutely drown yourself in them, He said. Never let yourself forget of the utter goodness, sovereignty, PERFECTION of Christ. Start with Psalms 1 & 2, he said, and always hold fast to Psalm 23. Allow the Lord to speak through His Word always– even if the reason you approach it is for academic purposes.
- Prioritize rest. There is a reason God rested on the seventh day of creation, and it was to marvel at the goodness of His work. He truly RESTED. He stopped, rested, delighted, and reflected. Have a day of the week in which you truly STOP, and have this rhythm of stopping in your daily life in some manner, too.
- What you look at, you see. Wow, so profound, right? Really, though, it is. Modern psychology reinforces it. If you’re looking every day at photos of a particular, posed body type that is presented as an ideal, that is what you will want to conform to. If your world is one of only Christians, and you’re living in a “Christian bubble,” you’ll forget the reality that there are many beautiful people in the world who don’t share the same belief, and that God is calling you to see those people, too.
- Where are you starting, and where are you going? In other words, you don’t need to know precisely where you’re going, but, to really get anywhere, you need to have an idea of God’s Truth and vision, and ask Him to help you understand His vision and purpose for your unique calling. How do we discover His vision, His overall and most important purpose for this earth? Revelation 21 is the final chapter in the Bible, which accounts what is most commonly assessed as the vision for Jesus’ return for His bride (the Church– you and I). It is summed up by “God with us.” So, our purpose as HIS people, His hands and feet, vessels of His goodness, is to live WITH Him. Not just meditating on Him, or learning about Him, but living in STEP with Him.
These are just a few little points in a massive list of learnings I had the honour of taking away from this incredible opportunity. Not to mention the chance to hike while praying and being in one of the most beautiful places in Ontario, to talk and pray with Ellen Duffield, and to come home with physical resources for growth in my walk with the Lord.
Thank-you, Lord, for changing and shaping me and reminding me of your goodness. Forgive me when I forget, and put aside Your perfection in pursuit of something– anything– else. Would this world fade, and You become all in all, so that Your Son is glorified.