Some events mark time better than the rest. High school graduation, marriage, the birth of a child, a grandchild, special birthdays-
-21, 30, 50, 65; our society as a whole marks these particular milestones.
Others you have to identify along the way.
For me one such milestone occurred at a copy machine at Brentwood Christian School in Austin, TX, where I first thought about how it might look to host a "renewal" for women in ministry in various regions all around the world. Jeanene Reese and I had longed for such spiritual renewal in
our younger years of ministry and had often spoken of some kind of retreat, but until that day in October, 1999, I had never considered going somewhere away and honoring women on a worldwide basis. Thus, that day at the copier--strange as it might seem--became one of the turning points in my life and marked the beginning of what is now Come before Winter.
The renewal for Central America at Roatan, Honduras, marked itself as such a milestone--a baton-passing exercise that has forever established a high standard for transition and Come before Winter's future. Arlene Kasselman of Amarillo and Brooke Hollingsworth of Austin led the equipping while Janie Hejl of Austin and Joyce Blake of Indianapolis directed the prayer program and Prayer Reading groups. Batons passed smoothly and with precision, yet invisibly. Not once did I witness a moment in which a receiving runner stood out above the rest; not once did a runner deliver a baton with anything other than joy. We were a team, and that is the miracle of our partnership together. Once again, the victory was not about us--any one of us, but it was supernaturally God's gift to all of us.
One particularly astute young missionary came to me near the end of the week and affirmed this feeling for me. "You know," she said, "I have been watching you while Brooke and Arlene teach." (I had not known.) "I was wondering," she went on, "how you must feel with them up there, teaching when you have done it for so long; I mean, it's your thing. But every time I looked, you were beaming! It was as if you were giving birth." Then, for the first time ever, I praised God for what Barry and my parents have called my transparency--"Honey, everything you think is written all over your face!" I really did feel like something wonderful was being born!
After the renewal, Arlene said to Jeanene and me, "I kept wondering how it all felt. I know you are proud of us, but there must have also been some sadness, wasn't there?" I searched my soul, expecting to find that piece of the puzzle that did seem likely to be there, but I could not: "Not so much," I said honestly, shaking my head in a bit of wonder. "Not so much!" Though I can hardly take credit for Brooke and Arlene's gifts, I was as proud as if they were somehow our babies! I was jubilant!
I wish I could find words to describe what I witnessed; this feeling was not uncommon among us; I think we all knew we were participating in some life-giving process. On the airplane on the way home, Lisa Gould said, " I am wondering if every CbW team is this cohesive or whether this one is unusual." I thought. "No, not unusual," I said; "All our teams have been pretty cohesive. What made this one so special is that we were witnessing something we had waited to see for a very long time, and I think we were all a bit giddy because of it." Without a doubt, we witnessed transformations we have prayed over and worked toward--all without losing the cohesion and balance we have been blessed to receive.
As a result, I continue to ponder the fluidity and celebration that marked this team and its roles. I would like to bottle it and store it in the cellar--to ensure in every way possible that what occurred during the Roatan renewal can become part and parcel of CbW's transitional tradition. Certainly the CbW stance on surrender--giving up yourself to make others look even better--contributed. Yet the excitement and celebration we all felt, seeing Arlene and Brooke at the front, leading with such grace and ease, remains in my mind's eye. It actually brings tears to my eyes now. I could not see one ounce of pride in anyone, no jealously or competition--everyone beamed and applauded and/or gushed like school girls.
At the pre-retreat for the Indonesian and Fijian renewals in 2006, I had said to the teams: "By the time we finish the next curriculum (Psalms), I do not want any member of the Leadership Team to be a required presence on any team. Now five years later with three renewals in Psalms yet to be completed, we have just finished the first renewal totally taught by Come before Winter's next generation. Lord willing, we will wrap up the Psalms curriculum next March. What makes my heart even fuller is the knowledge that CbW's next curriculum in Exodus is well on its way to completion. It is the brainchild of... Brooke and Arlene--and it is wonderful! I can hardly wait to unveil it in June, 2012, in New Zealand.
Though we have long said that our teams are so competent that any member could likely pick up another's role, given half the chance, the Central American renewal required us to live up to that "boast!" In Roatan, Mariana Long was the only one of the 12-member team who was doing a job she has regularly performed. Jeanene Reese led worship; I served as administrator. And might I just brag a little more in regard to what the Lord did? The women who stood at the front and led knocked the ball right out of the park! They were just amazing, and their presentations were balanced, insightful, companionable, personable--just fantastic--polished, in fact! As one half jokingly told the another in our post renewal processing: "You complete me!" It was so true.
Father, you are just too good! Your timing is perfect; every time!
I want to thank Janie Hejl, a behind-the-scenes guru if there ever was one, for studying registration applications long enough to become intimately acquainted with our participants before we even met, matching them with team members who might best bless their lives. I received affirmation after affirmation of her effectiveness in this task. During the renewal, she and Joyce led the prayer reading group, directing participants in lectio divina, the centuries old practice of spiritual reading.
Mariana Long directed the now popular artistic reflection class in pastels, and Sara Holland juggled duties as diverse as leading reflection in motion then video-graphing, and working as assistant worship leader and assistant administrator. New team members Lisa Gould of Coppell, Texas, Missy Gray of Amarillo, and Sandy Ferguson of Austin worked in their roles of Gifts and Celebrations Coordinator (Lisa), counselor (Missy), and director of on-site registration and assistant to art reflection (Sandy). Frankly, it was hard to remember this was their first trip. It felt as if they were not only part of this team, but had been with us a very long time. (This phenomenon is a reason Suzy Jeffrey--who could not make this trip--says that at Come before Winter renewals, we all live in dog years; that is, each day represents several weeks, at least!)
Danita Jackson of Beijing, China, picked up the leadership role of Missionary Ambassador with ease, moving back and forth between the participants and the team, providing a broad perspective of wisdom and companionship for both, and thus blessing the renewal and the ministry at large in ways no one else could.
Participants regularly make note on their evaluations regarding the team's unity; they often write that what they most learned is what it looks like for a group of strong women to submit to one another out of love and a common goal. Come before Winter has taught me that such submission is not only something to hope for, it is a hill to climb, a battle to win in each heart. We cannot measure ourselves by one another; such a practice regularly ends in disappointed hearts that require attention--and serving on a renewal team allows no space for distraction. We have a job to do, and God sends the hearts and gifts he knows we need to complete our task. All we need do is get out of the way and watch him work. And, oh my! He does!