I grew up in the Methodist church. I was baptized as a baby and when I was a kid, church was something my mother made me attend on Sundays and religious holidays. Mom tried to get me more excited about church by getting me involved but even then I didn’t really get it and waking up early on Sundays was a pain.
I attended Catholic school from 6th to 12th grade. My family isn’t Catholic but my parents wanted to offer me a better education. (Can’t blame them for that!) In middle school, I attended Mass every Friday. I was involved in choir and handbells. Since I wasn’t Catholic, I tried to blend in at the services as much as possible. I stood, sat, and kneeled with my classmates but in accordance with Catholic teaching, I wasn’t allowed to partake in certain sacraments like the Eucharist or confession. (Though I did sneak Communion a couple of times. Shhh, don’t tell!) In high school, we attended Mass on special occasions but had “Religion” class every day. I was even taught by a nun my junior year. (She was obsessed with Star Wars and made us analyze the movies in religious context. It was… interesting.)
Needless to say, I’m very familiar with Christian ways – the Bible, God, Jesus, various saints, holy sacraments, teachings, etc. But I’ve never been particularly religious. I’ve never really known what it means to be a “practicing Christian.” I even denounced God for a brief time in my college years. That’s a time of my life that I’m not particularly proud of, but it is also the time I learned the most about myself. And I’m proud to say that over the past two years or so, I’ve finally reached the flat ground of that emotional rollercoaster. (Thank God.)
But I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason and what comes around, goes around. I’m convinced those beliefs are the only thing that helped me survive those emotionally tough years. Recently I’ve felt a tug to get back to the church.
Last weekend I attended a women’s retreat with Nana and the women of our Methodist Church at Epworth By The Sea on St. Simons Island, Georgia.
I have to admit that I was apprehensive about attending. I didn’t know what to expect and as someone who hasn’t had a great relationship with God lately, I was worried I wouldn’t fit in. But I was wrong on so many levels.
On the way to Epworth, we stopped for lunch at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. The grounds are covered in beautiful oak trees that have been alive for hundreds of years with moss draped limbs. It was a glimpse into the life of a Southern debutante – tea on the veranda, croquet on the lawn, old Victorian furnishings and colonial architecture. Lunch specials included Southern favorites like fried green tomatoes and shrimp with grits and food was served on fine china. Arrangements of red roses decorated the dining hall and large crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. I felt like I had stepped back in time.
After lunch, we hopped from Jekyll Island over to downtown St. Simons Island and browsed through the gift shops before heading over to Epworth. The stores were stocked with typical Southern accoutrements – nautical jewelry, monograms, chevron patterns, and pastel colors. My favorite stop along the strip was Go Fish, a store dedicated to the purchasing and selling of handmade goods from indigenous people of developing nations. The shelves were stocked with beautiful textiles, wooden sculptures, beaded jewelry, and colorful pottery. I’m now wishing I had picked up this beautiful statement necklace and the kiss covered giraffe. After a pit stop for fro-yo, we were on our way to the Epworth campus.
A little history about Epworth for those of you who aren’t familiar. Epworth by the Sea is named after the childhood home of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism. The campus is a Christian conference and retreat center overlooking the Frederica River. (Coincidentally, I actually visited Epworth about this same time last year for a wedding.) The grounds are covered in ancient oak trees, very similar to the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, and offers various amenities like lodging, a dining hall, conference centers, and worship chapels.
On Friday afternoon we settled into our room before heading over to the dining hall for dinner. Afterwards we went over to the conference hall to hear our speaker for the first time. Lori McCary brought the room to tears as she shared with us the story of her three adopted Chinese daughters and her walk with God. We shared communion in the chapel and wrapped the night up with small group discussions in our rooms. That night I got to witness stories of faith and humility, moments of despair and triumphs of victory, tears and laughter. As I cried, trembled, and stumbled through my own story, I couldn’t help but be proud of what I have accomplished in the last few years.
Saturday morning we woke up early for breakfast before a morning filled with more worship and testimony from Lori. When we broke for lunch and a few moments of free time, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to spend the weekend with such a great group of women. We finished up the afternoon with one last session with Lori and said our goodbyes to new friends and old before we parted ways and headed back to our regular lives.
Though I had barely spent 24 hours with these women, I couldn’t help but walk away feeling like I had become part of something greater than myself. I conquered fears and stepped out of my comfort zone. I’d created new friendships and nurtured ones that were already developed. But most importantly, I realized that my life has a plan and though I may not always know or understand the direction, I can rest easy knowing that there’s a reason for everything.