We spent the last three days at a spiritual retreat center in Montecito, California, and it was such a beautiful, refreshing time away. We both greatly anticipated the time we would spend there, especially since it was situated at the very beginning of our scheduled vacation. Three days of retreat seemed like such a fitting way to officially enter into a period of rest.
Over the next couple days, I'll be sharing with you some snippets from our time, the first being my experience walking the labyrinth on the property.
The first thing I noticed after I struck out on the path of stones that led to the labyrinth's entrance was that the path of stones was part of the journey. I had started out walking them quickly, anticipating getting to the official opening of the labyrinth, only to realize that I'd already begun the journey.
So I stopped, turned around, and went back to the beginning.
I stood for several minutes on the very first stone.
It was flat, firm, solid, and flanked by two tall stones on each side. I felt an immediate connection to Jesus -- the one who has been with me always. I often say that I don't have any memories of my early years that didn't include an awareness of Jesus being there with me. That very first stone stood for my entrance into the world, my very first years, and it was supported by Jesus -- firmly -- on both sides.
He has been my ever-present and firm foundation.
I gave thanks.
I continued along the opening pathway of stones in a slow and prayerful way, stopping every step of the way with both feet upon each stone, very mindful of the memory or moment or series of events in my first nineteen years of life that each stone symbolized for me.
I remembered my first communion in the Catholic church ... and gave thanks.
I remembered attending mass each Sunday, and also CCD classes in the evenings during the week ... and gave thanks.
I remembered three key events in my young, elementary-school-age life that marked and changed me in significant ways. These are difficult memories, moments I wish weren't there. They scarred me and fashioned much of the person I would become. But they also paved the way for my later formation, and they gave me a more compassionate heart for others who've been hurt. I gave thanks.
I considered my family of origin: large, Irish-Catholic, loud. So often I felt like an oddball, one lone and introverted girl sitting in the corner, reading her books. So often I felt like the silent observer, watching the interactions and trying so hard to learn the rules. This, too, formed me in ways I never realized it did at the time. It is still an area that intends to teach me more. I gave thanks.
I considered my parents: the people they are, the love they've always had for me, the ways in which their particular lives and stories formed mine. I thought of the ways I have grown to know and understand them better than I used to, and yet how they will always -- just like every other person on this planet -- be a mystery beyond my full knowledge. I gave thanks.
I remembered the new church we began attending when I was nine and the ways it taught me about Jesus, andI gave thanks.
I recalled my junior high and high school youth group experiences and how they, too, formed me deeper into the life of God and the church. I gave thanks.
I thought of my first real, significant relationship. I noticed the painful memories and yet how significant a portion of my story that relationship is. I remembered the healing work I have done regarding it, as well as the forgiveness work, andI gave thanks.
I remembered a particularly painful memory from my sixteenth year and honored the repentant moment that arose in me. I confessed my remorse. I told God how much I wished I could change that memory and that moment. I acknowledged that I couldn't. I accepted his absolution, andI gave thanks.
Then I came to the threshold of the labyrinth, the beginning of the maze that was and is my continual and intentional formation.
That threshold symbolizes the moment in my nineteenth year when I asked God to teach me about grace and about Jesus, and to teach me my need for both.
Ever since then, my life has been turned upside-down as he has been turning it right-side up.
It was rather momentous to step onto that labyrinth's path and then turn and look back at the place from which I'd come. All those moments. All those memories. All those misinterpretations of truth and of my worth and value.
Each one of them forming a piece of my inner life's work from that momentous point forward.
So I walked, and turned, and turned some more. And as I walked, I mentally walked through the years that followed that prayer at age nineteen. Nineteen ... twenty ... twenty-two ... twenty-three ... twenty-five. So many moments. So many memories. So many reinterpretations of truth and of my worth and value.
Occasionally, a turn in the path would occur at the same moment I was remembering a real turn in my story, and so I would stop in the midst of that turn and remember, and acknowledge, and give thanks, and then continue.
I recall reaching the outermost layer of the labyrinth just as my mental walk turned to the entrance of Kirk into my life.
I stopped at the corner of that outermost layer's turn and remembered: the early conversations by e-mail, the honest and frank admissions of where we stood, the deeply beautiful letters and gifts and cards sent across the miles, the phone calls and visits ... each moment of our courtship so deeply honoring and beautiful and true. I married an honorable man.
I gave thanks. Deep, deep thanks.
And then continued walking, this time with a noticeable lightness to my step -- a swing, almost, to it -- and a smile on my face. Our life together is a place where I've experienced the gift of being invited and encouraged to be myself. I have come more and more into myself in my life with Kirk. He has truly been God's greatest gift to me, next to Jesus.
I gave thanks.
And then I reached the final turn toward the middle. This is the place in my journey where I currently am: walking directly into the heart of Christ with every bit of intention and wholehearted love I can muster.
I reached the center, knelt down, and bowed to him.
An altar of rocks was there, and I knelt looking at it. My life, an offering to you, I told him.
And I gave thanks.