The morning after the most amazing day I have ever spent with Jesus was the last morning of my silent retreat. I woke up, showered, tidied up the spaces I had used in the house, and then packed my bags and car for the long drive home.
Next, I drove to the Starbucks parking lot.
I planned to get a coffee before driving off the island and heading home, but before I officially re-entered civilization -- starting with something as simple as ordering a tall hazelnut latte from a Starbucks barista! -- I wanted to have my final session with my retreat director by phone. So I sat in the Starbucks parking lot for that next hour and filled her in on what had happened the previous day.
We were both pretty amazed at the story of what had happened between me and Jesus the previous day, especially because I'd had such an experience of struggle getting there. So for a while, we both just sat in silence with our minds collectively blown. :-)
It was so meaningful to me to have walked through those five days with her, to have in her someone who listened to my experience of the retreat as it progressed each day, who let it be whatever it needed to be, and then to sit with me in amazement at what God had done.
This is one reason I love soul friendships and also why I love having a spiritual director back here at home with whom I meet with on a regular basis: over time, these individuals learn the length and breadth of your story. They walk with you through your story and are with you in it and can then speak into future conversations because of what they've learned about the landscape of your heart and soul from having witnessed it.
Having a retreat director in Barb was kind of like that, too, but in miniature form. This dear friend of mine traveled the length and breadth and depth and height of that 5-day silent retreat with me, and it felt so meaningful to have her witness it and be amazed right along with me at what happened. She could be amazed at the heights because she had been with me there in the depths.
You know what I mean?
Toward the end of my time on the phone with Barb that day, I asked if she would mind my taking a few minutes to sit with the image of the woods again. I sensed that Jesus and I had returned to the woods at the end of our incredible day together on the low beige wall in the sunshine, and I wanted to see if that was true.
When I closed my eyes, I saw that yes, Jesus and I had, in fact, returned to the woods. We were walking hand in hand now, back on the path, and right in front of us was the final edge of the forest.
I didn't realize this retreat would land me at the end of the woods journey, but there it was.
Jesus and I came to the edge of the woods and stood looking out over a vast expanse of fields and hills covered in grasses for miles and miles. The sun was shining, and it was peaceful out there. I had no idea what lay ahead of us next, but I felt okay with that as I considered it. I knew Jesus and I would go wherever we were going together.
As we stood there, I noticed that I kept turning to look back at the woods . . . the woods that had become our woods over the course of the last few months, not just the woods. We had come so far in those months of walking and traveling together. From where I stood, looking back, I could see all the twists and turns we had taken, all the bends in the path.
I could see the place where I first came upon the woods and recognized God's invitation to enter. I could see where the woods began and I learned I had to say goodbye to my cohort. I could see the places where Jesus and I stopped to face one another and talk. I could see where I'd held the white cue ball of my ego, and also where I'd discovered the three humiliations. I could see the spot where I bowed and wept at the feet of Jesus and then spent five days in the grave. I could see, not too far back from where we stood, the place where I had given Jesus as much as I could and then got stuck at the last three objects.
So much ground covered between us, just the two of us, through those woods.
I never expected to reach the end of the woods while on my silent retreat. When I first entered the silence, I noticed that I sensed the end of the woods to be nearby, perhaps not too much further along on the path, but I had no sense or expectation of how long it would take me and Jesus to get there. I had lingered in some places on the path quite a while before taking new steps forward prior to this point. It could still take months to reach the end, for all I knew.
And yet here we were. Such gift.
For several days following the retreat, I held that image of Jesus and I standing at the wood's edge, looking out over the grassy hills and the expansive terrain beyond the forest of trees. It was a new country of sorts we were about to enter, and Jesus allowed me the time I needed to reflect on all that the woods had held for us and then to prepare my heart for a new journey.
Then we started walking into the hilly, grassy terrain ahead.
We walked together, sometimes side by side and sometimes stopping to talk or sit on a bench and rest a while. There was no urgency to this walking we were doing, nor was there any strong sense of destination. I still had a sense that eventually, at some point, we would land upon that village he showed me way back at the beginning of this journey. But for now, we just walked and talked.
Each day, we talked quite a bit about the posts I began writing for my Still Forming site later that month. I had made a commitment at the end of May to write a contemplative, reflective post each weekday in that space, and it has been such a joy to enter into the practice of writing those posts each day. The process always begins by asking Jesus what he thinks needs to be said, and so much of our conversations on the grassy hills beyond the woods in the months that have followed my silent retreat have concerned that online space and what Jesus wants to say in that space each day.
Some surprising things have happened since Jesus and I left the woods in May, too. I plan to share those stories with you here, of course. I also plan to continue sharing with you the ongoing process of discovering my life's work and vocation, of taking new risks, and of doing life with Kirk, the kitties, and with God.
I'm so glad you're here for the journey with me.
PS: In other news, I'm launching an online course in October called "Look at Jesus" and could not be more excited about it. It will be offered through my Still Forming site, and I'd love for you to join us! I'm posting an intro video over there later today, so be sure to check back in and preview it. (Doing a little happy dance over here regarding this big step!)