Vacation or Retreat: Day Two

Tuesday – Due to COVID, the hotel’s breakfast buffet was closed. We weren’t on a schedule, so we went out for breakfast. Although it’s a chain and we have one at home, we had never eaten at the restaurant we chose. It was in the historic district. The architecture in the area is gorgeous. We took our time (and our laptops) and worked while we ate. I know, this is supposed to be a vacation, but for months Ron and I didn’t have time to work together and combine our efforts.

The staff at the restaurant were amazing. They took the time to greet us and make us feel welcome. They didn’t even make us feel unwelcome for spending the extra time working and taking up a table.

After breakfast, we went to the beach, being careful to wear sunscreen because I burn easily. A trip to the beach for me is both very simplistic yet very complex.

According to Mark Gungor, men have a “nothing” box in their brain. You can ask a man what he’s thinking about and he can honestly answer, “Nothing.” I believe it, but being a woman, I can’t mimic it. The closest I get to thinking “nothing,” is when I am at the beach, and that requires conscious effort. No, that isn’t counterintuitive. 

It’s the one place where I can smell the salty air, listen to the waves as they crash along the shore and the birds squawking as they chase after a tasty morsel. I feel the wind and sun on my skin and experience the relaxation of breathing deeply. Even in those circumstances, I still do a little thinking, but mostly I am “experiencing.”

The other thing I do in these times is to approach the throne of God. I imagine the beach is empty except for God sitting on his throne and me, at his feet. I seek to spend quality time with him. I ask his forgiveness for the things that have interfered with my time with him, thank him for his blessings, and renew my relationship with him. I spend as much of that time as I can just listening to him. What did I learn from him on this trip? I learned that I ask him to stay with me and walk with me a lot, but then I stop paying attention to him. He’s right beside me the whole time and somehow I keep thinking he’s wandered off somewhere. I’m the one who keeps saying, “Wait here, I’ll be right back.” He’s never left my side; I’m just not paying attention.

At the beach, we found a covered picnic table and spent quite a while there as I prayed, thought, and confessed my weaknesses to God, and to my husband. Both were kind enough to forgive me. In college, one of the exercises in prayer that we learned was to choose a place we are at peace and imagine approaching the throne of grace and spend quality time with the Lord in that place. Mine was at the beach. I always take time at any beach to do this. I took a chisel to the ice to whittle away at it. This time it cracked open wide. Pieces of ice flew away from my heart, mind, and soul, freeing me from things I’m not even sure I can describe.

Then I played. I walked through the surf while Ron took pictures of the birds as they chased tasty morsels in and out of the waves. That night we again relaxed by eating at a Caribbean seafood restaurant on the waterfront then went for a walk on the pier. I got a tiny bit of sunburn, but it wasn’t bad at all.

Our days were simple and basic on the outside, but complex, on the inside.

Vacation or Retreat: Day One

I recently found myself looking like my own deep freezer. The fruit on our apple tree reached a point of maturity so we harvested a bumper crop of apples. I froze about seven gallon-size bags of apple slices. I don’t get into the deep freezer very often, but I quickly discovered there are sheets of ice coating the walls and shelves. The ice is slowly taking over the space purposed for storing and protecting food.  

The same has been slowly happening in my life. Those open storage spaces are no longer clean, symmetrical, or easy to use. My life is clogged with the icicles of my own making. The feelings of, “I should be…, I need to do more of…, Why am I not more…,” and so many others. There’s plenty to occupy my here and now without adding the should haves, could haves, and maybe’s. Satan likes to slip those “spiritual” things in there too and beat me up with them. “I should be praying more, reading my Bible more, give more, do more,” until there’s nothing left. I was losing my purpose in the worries, frustrations, and confusions of life. All of us are in danger of this happening and I am certainly guilty of allowing it to happen.

As the time for our vacation came, I was spent. There was no room to move left or right. I found myself cold and hard. I didn’t need a vacation; I needed a retreat. We planned very little about this trip. We didn’t know even where we were going until two or three days before we left. On Tuesday, we did sit down and plan two or three things that we wanted to do while we were there. Ron wanted to eat some crab, I wanted a dolphin tour and to spend as much time at the beach as I could. God uses these times to work miracles in my life.

I decided to break this post into smaller bites. Welcome to Day One of our vacation and spiritual retreat.

  Monday – We loaded our rental vehicle and by 0800 we were on our way. The trip took around eight and a half hours. Ron drove and I worked on my laptop writing when I should have been editing. We checked into our hotel and went to dinner. I was looking for a burger on the trip down and didn’t get one, so we tried again. We went to a restaurant on the beach because we were in Florida. You’re supposed to go to the beach. I chose fish and chips, instead of a burger. It was delicious. For many months we have worked hard. I haven’t laughed or played in… I don’t know how long. We came here to reboot our minds. Sitting at the edge of the ocean, feeling the warm breeze, eating a relaxing dinner, the thick overgrowth of ice in my brain cementing my routine in place began to melt. The concerns of everyday life were several hundred miles away. The habits and routines are gone. The ice in a freezer doesn’t build up overnight and it will take more than one day to defrost my mind. Sometimes it isn’t easy to explain my needs, but God knows what we need and he has the answers even before we ask.


Be Invested

Luke 12: 32-34 (NIV)

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Scripture tells us in John chapter 3, that God didn’t send his son Jesus on a mission of condemnation but on a search and rescue mission. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He does know that some will though. Why? 

In the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13), Jesus tells the people the story of a farmer sowing seed. Some of the seed falls on the hard, dry beaten path, some on rocky soil, and some in good soil but is choked out by weeds. Are any of these soils unredeemable? No, they aren’t. Why are the other soils cast in a bad light then? The dry beaten path doesn’t understand and isn’t interested enough to even pay attention to the words of God. The rocky ground joyfully receives the message but they are shallow and not willing to invest in true growth. The soil that is choked out by weeds is good soil, but they allow other things to grow alongside and don’t have the resources to support God and the rest of the world.

There have been numerous sermons/devotionals on this passage of scripture. Writing another specifically from this passage was not my goal. My goal is to be the profitable servant mentioned further down in chapter 12 of Luke. 

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. (NIV)

Verse 32 says: 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  First of all, I am a helpless little lamb but I shouldn’t be worried. Worry, fear, and anxiety are weeds and they choke out the good seed. NO WEEDS ALLOWED! Why shouldn’t a helpless little lamb worry? Because GOD is my FATHER and he’s given me the Kingdom. When I choose to join his family and become his child, I am an heir to his kingdom.

Verse 33: 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. When Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem at the age of twelve, his parents were understandably lost and confused. They questioned his motivation and he was equally as vexed with them. His answer was “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” To be fully invested, we should be doing our Father’s business. We should be giving to the poor, preaching the gospel, teaching, whatever area God has called us to do. Don’t be invested in earthly things, not money, possessions, fame, (taking it down a notch) – comfort, popularity, great cell phone plan, make just a little more, a newer model car, a vacation home or condo, not much, just enough to make me happy(ier). 

Oh, ouch, stepping on some toes now, mostly mine.

The next part of that verse says to provide purses for yourselves that won’t wear out. What would I need that for? I need an eternal purse for my eternal treasure. We’ve seen of late that our houses, churches, favorite restaurants, or our businesses can come crumbling to the ground when struck by the financial ruin of a quarantine, the winds of a tornado, or the flames of a fire. These are not the things to be eternally invested in.

Verse 34: 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Whatever matters most to you is what you will be fully invested in. Are you invested in earthly things or heavenly things? Do you spend your time? money? resources? in things that matter only to the here and now or are they things for the next life? This life is temporary. The next one is what really counts. How many times are we just barely getting by? 

I want to be a profitable servant. I want to be the one who knows his master’s voice and follows it. The scriptures tell us several times whatever God gives you, you are responsible for and you will be held accountable for what you do with it, how you use it and how you don’t. 

No story would be complete without a football analogy. Does God need bench warmers? No, he needs players. He tells us to pray for workers to go out and harvest. On a football team, you have offensive players and defensive players. Not everyone is on the field at the same time. When the quarterback is planning to pass the ball, he doesn’t need the kicker on the field. Does that mean he doesn’t ever need the kicker? No, it means he needs the right person for the right job. Every player is important, even the backup players.

God needs me to do my job and I can’t just be rocky soil that does a happy dance every Sunday morning and then allow the grain to die Monday through Saturday. The bad ground doesn’t have to remain bad ground. What do you need to do to be fully invested in God’s kingdom? Weed out the worries? Till up the ground to make it soft? Listen/Read the Word and seek to understand it? Kick out the rocks of adversity? Sometimes the hardest prayer to pray is “Lord, make me willing to be made willing.” I may want something, but I don’t want to do the work to get it.

God has called me to do several jobs in my life. He has called me to be a wife (insert long devotional for another day here), a mother (another long devotional for a different day), a nurse, an educator, a church leader, a friend, and a writer. I’ve spent the last forty-four years (no, I am not 44, I was saved as a child) pulling weeds, softening the hard soil, and chunking rocks. The soil still isn’t perfect, but I’ve had some seeds take root and grow to maturity. I want the Master to return and find me following in his footsteps, knowing what he wants done, and what his goals are. I want to hear him one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” (KJV).