Yesterday evening I snuggled up in bed with a hot drink and a notebook ready to watch the Thrive Moms Spring Retreat. If you haven't heard about Thrive Moms or their Retreats then let me suggest that you go and give both a look. Thrive Moms is an amazing ministry for mums and their biannual Retreat is a 3 hour online conference bringing together inspirational speakers, worship music, and supportive chat and prayer all together in an easily accessible space, wherever you are.
I have loved attending Retreat ever since their first one was held back in 2014. Sometimes I have watched them live and other times I have caught up with the recorded version later on, and there are advantages to both - the live version allows you to interact with others in real time, but the recorded one offers the opportunity to pause and make more detailed notes. In fact some Retreats I have watched more than once and it was by rewatching the Fall 2014 Retreat (Warrior) that I found myself surrendering everything to God and found faith in his plan for me through the first half of 2015 when our lives were turned entirely upside down.
Which is why I was so excited to join in with the most recent Retreat yesterday, because over the past few months my confidence in my faith has waned significantly and I felt the need to reconnect with others, to be reminded that we all have times when we lose hope and doubt in both ourselves and our faith, and that by simply making the time to try and connect we open up a door for all kinds of love and support to enter in.
And that's exactly what happened. Every single one of the speakers said something that spoke deep into my heart and helped me feel less alone and more empowered to keep going, even when it feels like I am on the wrong track. The main topic of the Retreat was Loved and I must say that this is exactly what I felt by the end of the 3 hours - loved, encouraged, and lifted up. I want to encourage you to go and watch the Retreat if you think you might enjoy it. But as well as this, I want to share with you what I took from the event and what it means to me in terms of what we are trying to do here at Spirit Kid Network.
We are all loved, no matter who we are
Jesse from Save The Storks, one of the event's sponsors, spoke about the story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman from John 4, focusing on how this was a woman who had been rejected multiple times by both her husbands and society, and how she must have been so used to rejection. Jesse shared how he felt that this story shows Jesus meeting those who need love right where they are, and how this is something we can all aspire to.
I must admit that whilst I have read John 4 before, I have never really understood it in this light. I am still very much getting to grips with how I read and interpret the Bible, and the versions I have in my own copies (NIV and GNT) do not speak to me in the same way that the version Jesse read out did. He used The Message translation and this was the part that really spoke to me:
For me this is so empowering - first of all because it reminds us that the greatest thing we can ever do is live with honesty and integrity, and secondly because it breaks down the walls that we ourselves have built up between the different communities we see in the world.
When I first set up Spirit Kid Network I wanted it to be an inclusive place for people of faith to come together and support each other in living spiritual lives and raising children to explore and find their own faith, whatever that may look like for them. I truly do believe that it doesn't matter what our faith looks like, we can still find common ground and celebrate together whilst learning from our differences.
But I've found that being so liberal (for want of a better word) in your beliefs can lead you to falling somewhere between communities, never quite fitting in. I find I worry about not being "Christian enough" to join in fully with communities such as Thrive Moms or even my local church, and also "too Christian" for some of the other groups I feel an affinity to and want to connect with via Spirit Kid Network. And so I am cautious when I write and find that both my own expression of faith and what I do here is lacking in simplicity and integrity.
So hearing John 4 read in this way, through a translation and interpretation that was new to me, really opened my eyes. It doesn't matter what I do, so long as I do it with love. And it doesn't matter what I am called or where I go to worship, so long as I do it with my very being. How wonderful is that?
We need to allow God's Love into our lives
As I mentioned earlier, I struggle to find my place within faith communities and as a result I find that I miss out on so many opportunities to experience God's Love in my life because I am so focused on trying to "get it right". So when Gina Zeidler shared with us the difficulty she had first experienced when being given the following passage to focus on, I listened intently to what she had to say.
Gina explained how reading this passage made her worry that she did not have a great relationship with God because she often feels fear. I don't know about you, but I can relate to that totally. So often we feel that if only we had stronger faith or a closer relationship with God, all the difficulties we face would be so much easier to cope with. But that's just not true.
Life is hard, for every single one of us, and fear is a natural response to so many of the things we face. But instead of feeling guilty for not having enough faith, perhaps we should choose to rely on our faith in times of fear, reach out our hand to God, and allow him to walk us through it, just as we encourage and support our own children through the things they fear.
Gina reminded us that if we make the time to stop and be inspired by God and scripture or prayer or meditation (or whatever draws us closer to God) then we will be aware of the power of God's love. For me this is so poignant as I have often found that the times I am most fearful or anxious are the times when I am trying to do it all myself.
The same can definitely be said about all the fears I have had about "getting it right" here at Spirit Kid Network rather than allowing God to guide me in all I do. Gina explained her understanding of "perfected love" as being more about taking action than being without fault. If we choose to participate and step into God's Love rather than trying to be something we are unable to be (i.e. perfect) then everything becomes so much easier.
We are called to actively love and serve others
One of the things I have struggled with the most over the past few years has been the sense of being let down and betrayed in various ways and by various people. Anger and sorrow are not emotions I am used to, and dare I say that God has also been included within the list of those I have felt great anger at? I even requested a prayer from the Thrive Moms team during Retreat to help me find the strength and courage to move on and find forgiveness in my heart for myself and others, because it hurts me that I still cannot find forgiveness and peace for certain things that have occurred.
So when Karen Stott began by sharing the story of the Last Supper with us, almost immediately after my prayer request, it felt so poignant that she focused on the fact that Jesus not only knew that he was about to be betrayed but openly welcomed the one he knew would betray him. Can you imagine ever having that much peace and grace for someone else that you could do that? I can't even find that much grace for myself, let alone others! But that is what we are called to do.
Karen shared her own experience of this and how hard it is to love those who have hurt us, or those who are different to us. And this love needs to be non-judgemental too. It's so easy to love those who are like us, but how impossible it can feel to love someone without judgement, even when their lives or beliefs are so very different from our own. I know that the fear of this kind of judgement is what has kept me unable to speak out about my faith for so long, and if I am truly honest with myself I only fear judgement because I know that I too judge others far too easily.
So what does this mean when we are called to love and serve others? Are we being asked to do an impossible task? Or are we being asked to walk alongside God, relying on him to help us especially in those times when love can feel the hardest thing in the world? I like to think it's the latter, don't you? As Karen so beautifully put it - you may regret acting in frustration but you'll never regret acting in love.
Making time for faith is important
All of this, of course, seems impossible unless you rest on your faith and trust in God's Love for you. The final speaker at the Retreat, Sara Hagerty, really touched on this when she talked about God's invitation to us being permanent and that he is ready for us whenever we are ready to turn to him. How often do we let our busy lives get in the way of taking time out to sit in prayer or meditation? How often do we rely on our own devices rather than turning to God?
Even when we think that we are strong in faith, we can find that we are simply going through the motions. Sara spoke about how at times we can be so excited to sit down and read the Bible and get to know God and yet at other times we can be speaking the words without feeling it within our hearts.
Sara's message was that when we focus on what we can bring to the table, what we have or haven't done, we can find ourselves denying God's Love by waiting until we are the best version of ourselves. But God's invitation is for us to turn to him in every moment, good and bad, not because we have done anything special to deserve it. Sara used the following passage to emphasize this point:
I've mentioned in a previous post that I do not really feel comfortable with the idea of Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. But what I do take from the passage above is that God loved us first, before we ever did (or did not do) anything, and that love remains forever. It is not about what we can give but rather that we turn up and accept what God is giving to us - his love - that matters. The way in which we do this will be different for us all, but making time for that in our lives is so very important.
Sharing our stories is so powerful
Finally, the thing that I love the absolute most about the Thrive Moms Retreat is that I get to hear the stories of others. And I don't just mean the speakers' stories, but also those of the women in the chat room watching along at the same time. The strength, courage and grace that every single one of them showed in sharing their hearts so openly was incredibly moving and inspiring.
They also reminded me that even when I am feeling like the worst woman, wife, or mother ever, I am far from alone in what I am experiencing. This helps me to release some of that guilt and fear and encourages me to open up my own heart both to God and to others. Which is why this post is perhaps the most honest and open one I have written in a very long time.
For far too long now I have felt restricted by my own fear of sharing my heart and being rejected by the communities I feel inspired by (it has happened before). But in doing so I keep myself on the outside, neither here nor there, and I miss out on so much. And if there's one thing that the women at the Thrive Moms Retreat taught me it's this - we all have our stories, and we all have our own fears and doubts, but in sharing with others we may just find that we are not as alone as we thought we were.
Spirit Kid Network is part of my story, and as such it is time that I began sharing all the things that I've been too afraid to share. And that's thanks to the wonderful community at Thrive Moms who have shown me so much about God's Love and Faith this weekend. If you missed Retreat you can catch the second live showing on Tuesday 3rd May @ 7pm CST (that's 1am to those of us in the UK so you may want to wait and watch the recorded version on Wednesday!) And in the meantime you can check out their new App (available for free in both the App Store and Google Play)!!
Thank you Thrive Moms for another wonderful Retreat. I can't wait for the next one!