I’ve always been an introvert, a wallflower and a loner. Group activities give me anxiety, especially groups of women. So when I decided to go to the Splendid retreat in 2016, with a group of 37 women I’d never met, I was excited and terrified.
I’d been “friends” with these women for years in a safe, supportive group online, but I’d never met them in person. What if I didn’t fit in? They knew my story, but what if, in real life, I was different. Self defeating thoughts raced in; I’m weird, I’m shy, my life is a mess, I have secrets. How did I belong with these women I so admired? Women who I thought, for sure, didn’t have problems like me. I thought I was the only one, which is the worst thought of all. Soon I’d learn that you are never the only one.
I expressed my concerns to a friend who said I needed to talk to Ticcoa, who had experienced anxiety before going to Splendid. Ticcoa said the most wonderful thing that I will never forget. She told me I was wanted there, that I had a place at the Splendid table, my place was set and I just needed to show up, pull up a chair, and lean in. Since then, I know that “leaning in” is more about leaning into love and friendship, of other women, and of Jesus, than just a meal at a table.
From the day I decided to go to Splendid, until 9 weeks later when I got there, it seemed like everything was against me going. So much hardship and heartache. I grasped on to the one thing I knew to be true, that God wanted me there, and that my life would change for the better afterwards. But better doesn’t always mean easier, and I would have to give up the control I was trying so hard to maintain in my life, surrendering it all to God.
Heading to the airport, I felt a great weight lifted off me as I left my stressful life behind even for a few days. I had no idea what I was walking into or how much it would change me. When I arrived at the retreat I met Jenni, my roommate for the weekend. I’d never met her before. She gave me a bracelet in the shape of a key that said “believe”. I believe, I thought, help my unbelief.
The location of the retreat was beautiful, by a lake at which I’d spend many hours by myself praying, crying, and journaling. There were no rules really, but the the Splendid Team had put so much work into planning events for us all. From worship and testimony, small groups, and classes to learn about authenticity, abiding in God, restoration and friendship. Friendship was the hardest thing for me because I believed so many lies about myself.
I’d not read my Splendid journal until very recently. What I read sent shivers down my spine and tears from my eyes. I wrote things like “no one likes me; no one wants to”, ” I’m not a good person, I’m alone, I’m a burden”, and “why would I ever tell anyone else about my secrets; please help me God”.
Then I learned about restoration, and how it comes from a breaking down of the old so God can rebuild to a point that was even better than the before. I learned about how God’s peace was so much bigger than the hole in which I’d dug myself. God’s love was bigger than all those lies, and if I would surrender to Him, love would win.
The most surprising thing I read in my journal from Splendid was that my prayer had changed. For a decade prior, I’d been praying that God would give me and my husband something to change our lives for the better. I was focused on the healing and not the healer. At Splendid my prayer, as written in my journal, changed to “God, I want to be closer to you. Please heal my life and my husband’s life, no matter what it takes. I surrender control to You.”. Whoa, “where did that come from?” I thought, reading it months later.
I know now that it came after deep prayer and a rising up of the Holy Spirit within me, while new friends held my hand and prayed silently for me.
That was a big surprise prayer for me. Giving up the control I had so purposely, and not so winningly, managed for years, thinking I could do it alone. I didn’t realize that God’s idea of healing would be very different than my idea. God’s ways aren’t always easy or fun, but necessary to move you in the direction He has already forged. I made up my mind to surrender to Him and willingly allow the Holy Spirit to lead me. I decided to get out of God’s way. Not only in my life, but in my husband’s.
Six days after returning home, I left my abusive marriage. Not because I decided I wanted to; I was scared to death leaving behind a decade of everything I knew. But God was pulling me towards a better life. I felt it in my bones. I was shaking inside as I left. Sometimes God shakes you to let you know you need to get moving to more firm a foundation. Soon after that, I quit my 20 year addiction to opiates and am now 6 weeks clean. Best of all, I’m discovering just how splendid and lovely I truly am.