Traveling to Renew

Confession: When the opportunity came, I didn’t know what to say. I’d never flown anywhere to speak before. Oops, I wasn’t going to say that out loud.

Ryan got that warm-jealous-love-you look on his face and said, “It’s an amazing opportunity. I think you should go for it.”

So I did.

A January adventure of 2,500 miles one way; the sweetest break in the hardest month.

I flew to Oregon for the Renew Ladies Retreat in Brownsville, and became one of their three or four speakers last weekend. I felt all kinds of things leading up to it, like “This so cannot be worth the price of a ticket to them,” and “Would they pay me the ticket price to stay home, and get a local gal to talk?” But that was their own decision, and just my fears popping up. My old fears that say, “What are you worth?” and “Will they be disappointed in you?” I had the kindest friend who talked me through it, saying, “What you’re feeling is normal. That’s the opposition talking. Come anyhow.”

So I did.

I haven’t flown alone since I was a teenager, or flown at all for about ten years, and everything has changed, with smart phones and easy check-ins by email. (Turns out I loved it. All of it.)

I anxiously checked the weather for the morning of departure, because I had to leave the house at 3:30 am to arrive in Pittsburgh in time. The forecast looked fine, with a very low chance of snow, but it lied. Early Friday morning the snow was flying fast, and even the interstate was completely white. I drove slow and prayed a lot. When I got all the boxes checked (to the right place at the right time, and through security, and all the shoes and jackets and pocket contents off and back on again), I boarded my plane and we sat on the tarmac for TWO HOURS waiting to be de-iced, while the minutes ticked by and my chances of making my connecting flight in Texas slipped through my fingers. Stress!

So I detoured through Washington state, with another tight connection.

The welcoming women in Oregon were gracious in the extreme, shuffling jobs between them so I could be picked up. I arrived three and a half hours later than intended, and slipped into the seminar in the nick of time for the charcuterie spread and the glorious live music on Friday night, but I DID NOT MISS A MOMENT. How is that for beneficent?

I stayed in the home of my friend Dorcas Smucker, with our mutual friend Luci Martin, who flew in all the way from Alberta. Dorcas started welcoming us before we ever set foot in her state, with social media jokes about her Important Preparations for our arrival. (“Sewing Room: 1. Shove everything in. 2. Shut door.”)

By the time I got to bed that night, I’d been out of bed for 22 hours, not counting some essential naps on the flights, and the world was spinning around me, hazy. Dorcas and Luci dosed me up with herbal tea, and melatonin which I never take, and another thing I never take that I’m not going to mention, but it felt like the bomb, and I went to sleep in that beautiful unfamiliar room and bed, all cozy and relaxed, and slept like a baby. A very good baby.

I love being married and having kids, but sometimes a room All To Myself is my idea of heaven. This one had windows on two sides, and the sun came up red and glorious outside. And the world smelled like spring, with frosty mornings and bright days. The daffodils buds were pushing high already, and the light stretched all the way to the mountains, and the colors of the sunsets and rises hung in the sky for an hour. I’ve never seen anything like it – where I come from, the horizon is so near that it’s all over in ten minutes. Here it lingered, long enough for a party or a proposal or a feast.

I might have lost part of my heart to that state.

The seminar was so precious to me. So many beautiful women, using their faces to shine on each other and their gifts to bless the world. There were fresh flowers and talented speakers and the nicest foods I’ve seen in months, spreads and spreads of all we could eat. Fresh baked breakfast scones made in the wee hours, splendid cheesecakes, build-your-own salads, herbed dinner roll knots, hot tea. Beautiful tables, live plants, lemons everywhere.

I cried my way through all the worship, my heart turned inside out somehow. The group Graceful from Indiana presented their music for us, an amazing pack of women who love Jesus and each other. And the local girls who led worship for us to sing along with were just as moving, in tune with each other, so beautiful.

I got emotional during one of my talks and blew my nose into the microphone and then felt stupid for the loud honking and started apologizing WHILE MUTED, because the sound guy was that fast. Then we all laughed. Mics and I have issues, rarely in sync.

But I said what I knew I needed to say.

Soaking in the beauty with Dorcas and Luci

Women I haven’t seen for years were there for quick chats and good hugs, Stephanie and Jane and Yvonne and Grace and Jessica. It was too short!

I loved seeing the tears and the laughter. I received vulnerable fragments of hard, hard stories. I watched the beautiful way women care for each other, quick to draw close. The way our faces soften and our arms come out to draw each other in. I love that about us, sisters at their best.

The lovely women I got to network with

Staying in Dorcas’s old farmhouse was enchanting. I feel like my life will be more whole now that I know what the backsplash looks like behind her sink.

She has a gift for welcome. And all the best phrases, like “Do you want to watch the cats erupt?” when she opens the door to feed them, and “I’m going to drive you up Washburn Heights, if you don’t mind,” and “Ben, put the kettle on again.”

I watched her cats swirl around her skirts on the porch, and then I said, “I love that you talk Dutch to your cats,” and she looked at me with an apologetic twinkle and said, “Well, and they just understand it so well…!”

Her hand on mine while Luci prayed for me. Her peace with struggle. Luci’s lovely calm, and words of emotional honesty. Lots of tea. Late night talks, with a confidentiality agreement between us three. Breakfast by the big windows. Perfect snacks Dorcas gave us for our flights home.

I am still struggling to find words for it all, how awake I felt. How buoyant for all of February and March in Pennsylvania, buried in snow once more but not overcome. How healed. How happy coming home to my own man and my sweet kiddos, who said, “Mom, you canNOT leave us again.” Music to my ears. I’m staying here for a while, duckies.

I might be the richest girl in the world, but something tells me you are just as rich. Yes?

To the deities who arranged this, and the women who made it happen:
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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1 year ago

So much love for this post. And you. You describe things so beautifully.

Shannon S
1 year ago

Sounds like an amazing weekend; I enjoyed reading about your experience and seeing the photos. Also- I purchased your book yesterday. It made it all the way up to Ontario! 🙂

1 year ago

That sounds like a lovely weekend of fellowship. I think it’s something I think I would have enjoyed.

Donna P
1 year ago

This looks fun! but I’m commenting (for the first time ever) to say that I like your glasses! Are they new? Great choice; they look great on you. Or you make them look great! And that is now 3 times using the word great. Wow. Anyway, if you needed a complete stranger to tell you that your glasses are ….great, here ya go! ???? Happy Saturday!

1 year ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Do you have a brand/number on the frame? I’m laughing because I love your great glasses!!!

1 year ago

This made me cry!????
Thank you so much for coming – I loved meeting the person behind the words of Confessions! I’m so glad you were renewed!! ????

Mary Ann Beachy
1 year ago

Awww Shari it sounds like you were renewed indeed! I enjoyed this post so much and I’m happy that you had that wonderful privilege of travel and time with friends.

1 year ago

So wonderful you could enjoy a trip with such rich blessings, and the beautiful blessing of coming home to family. And yes, I am rich too. Sometimes I forget, but I am oh-so-rich.

1 year ago

I enjoyed the trip just by reading about it. ???? You have a gift with words. I was wishing you’d transcribe your topics into blog posts for us.
(just an idea ????)

1 year ago

Here’s another vote for you to write a blogpost or two based on your topics there. Thanks for bringing us along to “Renew” via the sweet descriptions and photos.

Judy Roth
1 year ago

I vote for blog posts from your talks, if it works…

Kendra Sensenig
1 year ago

I adore every bit of this! I’m so happy for you. ????

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