Letting Ourselves Be Loved


I nearly didn’t go to the women’s retreat. But when your husband urges you to leave behind the dishes, the looming deadlines, and the “to do” lists to escape to the mountains for the weekend, you listen. I signed up two days before the trip, wondering what I was getting myself into. Women’s retreats are notoriously risky, especially with a church you’re still skittish about calling “yours,” but this seemed like the logical next step in cultivating the community I said I wanted.

In spite of a rebellious GPS, we pulled up to a ginormous house belonging to someone the pastor knew. We dumped our luggage inside the front door and joined the earlier arrivals already circling up around the kitchen island for lasagna and salad. I grabbed the hands of the strangers next to me as we bowed our heads to pray for the meal. Peeking, I counted twelve women. I had met four, and knew none of the others.

The house was an eclectic mix of textures, shapes, and colors, all defying the current minimalist white/grey farmhouse trends. Lamps lit every dark corner, and chandeliers chased away the shadows over bathtubs, chairs, and tables draped with cheerful cloths. Windows showcased snow-capped mountains in the distance; paintings, tapestries, and lettered signs decorated every blank space.

I scrounged around in my bag after dinner, desperate for an ibuprofen. The head cold that had tormented my children the previous week seemed to have found me. My throat itched, a cough occasionally wracked my body, and my head pounded. As an extrovert, I pushed off the fog until I was alone again and remembered how horrible I felt.

After dinner at the long table with a blue bench and bright table runner, we put our multi-colored Fiestaware plates in the dishwasher, poured ourselves glasses of wine (a first for me at a church retreat), and settled into the living room for our session.

Someone had started a fire in the stone fireplace and I sank into the leather couch nearest the warmth, swaddling myself in one of the many throw blankets slung over every railing, chair, and bench in the place. The leaders began the discussion, introducing the light topic for the weekend: grief.

I haven’t had the most stellar church attendance in the past, oh, two years. Call it what you want to call it, but distance makes it easier for me to point fingers, believe assumptions, and formulate judgments of “the church” and “those evangelicals.” But lately, my favorite thing is to be proven wrong.

It turns out many women of faith are still courageous enough to spelunk the dark caverns of their hearts and lives, believing there’s gold to be found there. Many of those women still go to church, maybe even my church—and yours. Though I didn’t contribute much more than tears, I soaked in the vulnerability, depth, and honesty of the women around that circle.

The women’s ages ranged from about 23 to 70. They were married and single, divorced and widowed, mothers and non-mothers. A mix of artists, musicians, scientists, backpacking guides, writers, and teachers, they fed me with their wisdom. For a mom with young kids, the accumulated hours of quality conversation at that weekend retreat easily amounted to two years’ worth of splintered play date conversations.

After our meeting, I explored the six bedrooms. As everyone else had claimed a bunk bed, pull-out couch, or trundle bed, one entire bedroom sat empty—for me. I was late in signing up for meals, so I brought coffee, tea, and creamer, while the other women cooked breakfast casseroles in the morning and fajitas for dinner, usually clearing away the dishes before it entered my mind. Others lit the fire, stoked it, and even disposed of the ashes at the end of the weekend.

At our final meeting, sunlight slanted through the windows of the A-frame room, with pine planks lining both ceiling and floors. We sang a capella and I noticed two banners strung on either side of the three-story wall of windows, like the ones I’ve seen in some churches. “Where does my help come from?” one asked; the other answering, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Flames from the fireplace snapped and cracked the blistering logs, and I reveled in the metaphor of a living room-turned-chapel.

I honestly had little to give emotionally, physically, or even spiritually during the weekend. Guilt threatened to smother my peace until I remembered something. There are times in life we are the givers—the hosts, the planners, the inviters and leaders; but other times we are the receivers—the guests and the invited ones. This is the push and pull of community.

I showed up, ate food prepared by others, drank in deep conversation, sat by the warmth of another person’s fire, and snuggled in a bed I didn’t make. And I resolved to receive every bit as a gift from God, as if Jesus whispered in my clogged-up ears: “Other times, you will give, Leslie, but this time, just let me love you.”