Every year for 3 years now, I go to Branson in October. And I don’t take my husband or kids.
No, I go alone.
But it’s not all fun and games – I go there to meet 100+ other moms who “get it”. We’ve fostered. We’ve adopted. We’ve been in the trenches loving children who’ve experienced trauma (separation from a person’s birth family is the most basic trauma these children have experienced and, for most, it’s been far worse).
This time in Branson each October is a refreshing, renewing time in which I shift my focus for 48 hours from being a constant chauffeur, nanny, cook, housekeeper, boo-boo mender, disciplinarian – and I refocus on being who God has made me.
Sometimes, I arrived here literally broken. That’s where I was the first year. My life was falling apart. I didn’t know how the WITH Retreat would help me, but it did. That year, we wrote on tiny Jenga blocks the truths we knew.
God heals broken wives.
God fixes broken children.
God loves broken husbands.
God is good.
It was exactly what I needed. And I stil have those Jenga blocks on my desk as a reminder.
Last year, I arrived here in a better place. The parts of me that had been completely shattered the year before were beginning to be fitted back into place by his Hand, held together by the power of His spirit. Our theme was “Remember His Faithfulness”. I could remember what I’d been the year before and how He’d brought me across that river, and I could praise Him in awe. Like the Israelites did after they crossed the Jordan, we made stones of remembrance so we wouldn’t forget how God helped us cross our impossible rivers.
God gave me Kent.
God gave me children.
God gave us a new house.
God gave me a story to tell.
It was exactly what I needed. And those stones are scattered throughout our house as reminders to us all.
This year, I arrived at the WITH Retreat in a great place. My only struggle seemed to be that we decided to refinance our house the day I was leaving and the reception was so bad on the road to Branson that I got disconnected when on the phone with our lender. So, things were more or less looking good.
At the retreat, we were asked 2 questions by the speaker (Natalie Gwyn, who totally rocks – go buy her book Okayest Mom).
1) What are your ebenezers?
2) What are your idols?
My ebenezers were easy to list – I recalled my river crossings from last year.
But I cringed as I came to that second question. “My idols? Lord, You know I don’t have any of those.”
But I sighed in shame, knowing that as I held out one hand to God, I hid the other behind my back, my fist clenched tightly around my idols.
“Are those really idols, Lord? Is my desire to write another book and to make a little money here and there really an idol? But, Lord.”
I could feel His YES like a glare from someone I’ve wronged.
“But, haven’t You given me the gift of writing? And the other ways in which I’m earning an income – aren’t those gifts from You, too? So, how could they be bad?”
Well, as you may already know, trying to convince God He’s got it all wrong wont do you any good.
“Darlin’ (because my version of God speaks southern), I gave you those gifts so you could use them for me. So, as long as you’re focused on making a profit or name for yourself, I’ll hold back the floodgates on what I could give you.”
God called my worries out. He called me out where I’d lost focus, and He called out my idols.
And the worst part is that God’s been trying to teach me this lesson all year long. In fact, mid-year, I’d recognized this and looked back on where I had been at the beginning of the year, and I shook my head, pitying myself for who I’d been. “Glad I’m not there anymore,” I had said to God.
Only, I still am. It just looks a little different but, underneath it all, I’m still placing idols above God.
So, as I tried to figure out what this all means, I asked myself a third question: What do my idols say about me?
Perhaps I’m working to earn the validation of others for the work I do.
Perhaps I’m trying to find my value in how productive I feel.
Perhaps I measure my own success and value based on: if people will notice and value the work I do and things I produce, how much money I can earn on my own, if I can earn more money than I lose (I’m not talking gambling- just the amount of money I must put forward in a business venture to eventually earn some back).
Perhaps there is a direct link between how I value myself and how many things I can sell.
(Notice my denial: I began all those statements with “perhaps” because I still couldn’t accept the fact that every single blessed one of them was true.)
As I stared at this list, a fourth question burned inside me: What could these things indicate I’m craving?
I knew my idols weren’t my problem – at the heart of it was the issue. So, even though it would’ve been much more comfortable for me to just close my notebook and walk away like nothing had happened… I looked closer.
“What am I craving, Lord?”
And He answered me, because He’s cool like that.
“Darlin’, you’re looking for someone to tell you that you’re worth something. You want someone to tell you, ‘Girl, I see what you’re doing and it’s valuable.’ But the problem is that you’re looking for it in all the wrong places. It’s not in how many comments and likes your posts get or in how many book-sales you have or if you make a profit this year. It’s based on who I say you are.”
And, would you believe it if I told you but our speaker left us with this message.
“Take heart. Our worth is not in how good our kids behave or in how awesome our family is. It’s in what God says about us.“
And what does He say? I wish I’d written down everything she told us, but here’s what I know.
I’m a child of God.
I am called to love others.
He’s broken my bondage to slavery (time and time again).
He delights in me.
I am seen and noticed by the King.
I am remembered and loved by the King.
I am never alone because He is always with me.
I am not too much trouble for Him.
God made me as smart as He wanted me – and He likes me this way.
It was exactly what I needed. And I’m writing it down here as a stone of remembrance.
I needed that uncomfortable, chair-squirming slap in the face. I needed that warm hug of a reminder that I’m God’s daughter. I needed those ropes around my wrists untied – again.
I’m God’s daughter, from crying out loud. I’m a princess of the greatest King and kingdom ever in existence. Why would I worried about how people value me when the King of kings calls me His treasure?
And that’s the truth, not just for me but for you.
You are a child of the king.
He sees and notices, remembers and loves you.
You’ll never be alone – you’ll never be too much trouble for Him.
You are infinitely delighted in by the King of kings.
(Somehow, it’s easier for me to remind others of these truths than it is for me to remember they apply to me, too – yet another symptom that I’m broken. But my value isn’t even in who I say I am. As it is for you, so my value is God’s alone to determine.)
And, so, I will leave the WITH Retreat again tomorrow refreshed and renewed, comforted in the lesson I was reminded of, knowing my value is based on who the King says I am. And I’ll look forward to next year, knowing God is already preparing a lesson which my future self will need to hear.