Some live the resort life. We live the retreat life.
Our children have been raised in the context of full-time vocational ministry. In other words, we are retreat-ists. In fact, our youngest son to remember his short life based on hotel stays. In reference to his fourth year of life, he will say, “That was the year we stayed at the Maxwell Hotel and the other hotel with the nice hot-pool.”
While it sounds quite fabulous, this life of retreat and camp hopping can be wearying to ministry mommas. The process of packing up a house, loading up a car, driving a motley crew of kids to a retreat full of college students, and living in a cramped hotel room is not as sexy as it may sound.
In addition to fast food meals and late bedtimes, our trips always include tears, throw up from car sickness, sibling squabbling and miscommunication as a couple. Like clockwork, I can anticipate that about midway through the trip, I will begin to wonder what in the world we are doing there. Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay home? Why can’t we be hanging out with people our own ages?
Yet, semester after semester and year after year, I find myself sitting on yet another stained hotel carpet, attempting to keep my loud children down to a whisper while also trying to sing one chorus of my favorite worship song.
We continue to do this because God is worthy, but also because it gives us opportunities to model and to marvel.
A large majority of our college students do not come from in-tact homes. They have never seen loving discipline or healthily broken relationships between parents and children (I say healthily broken because there is no perfect family). They have often never seen parents providing both love and structure, laughter and training. While we do not do these things perfectly, even in our imperfections, we have a chance to model a family who repents and returns to the Lord, crying out in desperation for His strength and perspective.
Most of our students hold to one of two polarized views on marriage and family. Some believe a husband, children, a dog and a white picket fence will complete them and end their exhausting search for meaning and wholeness. Others, having seen and experienced great pain and brokenness in marriage and family, have vowed that they will never trust someone enough to marry them and will never bring children into such a broken world.
When we show up yet again to another conference or retreat, we are presenting ourselves to God as a tool that may help to right-size both. Those thinking marriage and family is all trips to Disneyland, obedience, sunshine and rainbows will see a healthy dose of things coming apart from our family. However, those who are coming from the other end of the spectrum may be offered a healing window by watching me apologize to my children or seeing my children run trustingly into their father’s arms after he gives a talk.
Lest you think that we attend retreats only for what God can do out there in them, I want to let you into what God does in here in me at some point during every exhausting retreat.
This past weekend, while I sat shivering in the rain while my children swam happily in the hot tub, I began to wonder what in the world I was doing with my life. Then, I looked up and saw a student that came to faith a few years ago having a gospel conversation with a freshmen he has been getting to know for months. They alternated between throwing balls with our boys and talking about eternal things. While they were doing so, I know that my boys were eagerly praying for this particular young man to encounter Jesus. I was able to do the same as I sat there seeking cover under a thread-bare hotel pool towel.
The next morning with bellies sore from too much junk food and eyes struggling from not enough sleep, we sat crouched in the back of the rally room. After having just frantically packed up the room and loaded the car, my mind was already half-way home. However, I got to listen to my sons belting out their favorite worship songs unashamedly from the back of the room. My eyes filled with tears of gratitude (and exhaustion).
I was reminded that when we are faithful to show up at these countless retreats, God is always faithful to show up as well. This past wet weekend, for a moment, He enabled me to marvel once again at the gospel that makes dead people alive. What a joy to have my children present when people are spiritually reborn.
Tired ministry momma, keep on keeping on. There is much modeling and marveling to be done!