“I am looking forward to this weekend,” I said to my husband back in late May. Before he got a chance to ask the question I read on his face – or at least I thought I did – I answered: “These events are well planned, I want to be with other women, and I like the theme of the retreat.”
He needed this explanation because most of the time I procrastinate when travelling; putting off packing, checking every room in the house too many times before leaving, and needing that one more cup of coffee when I should be backing out of my driveway. And I never forget to mention that I would rather stay at home.
Don’t get me wrong. I like what I am doing, even work trips, but usually I like them afterward, when they are done. I like being at home. You can call me a house mouse.
The theme of the retreat was Joy in the Journey. I realized that I needed some joy in my life, and promised myself to keep an open mind.
I did not know the keynote speaker, Joanne Goodwin, even though she seemed to be somewhat famous. She was described as a dynamic speaker who makes her audience cry and laugh and was referred to as Canada’s own “Barbara Johnston”, a name I didn’t recognize either. It did not matter as I don’t believe in publicity hype any way.
Joanne Goodwin was what the advertisement promised and even more. She did not give a presentation or a lecture, and she did not preach, although her love for God came through clearly in everything she said.
She sounded like a stand-up comedian, but her purpose was not to make us laugh. Laughter and tears were by-products of her open and honest storytelling.
Through deep depression and a bipolar diagnosis to a daughter addicted to drugs and then her own cancer diagnosis she remains convinced that suffering has not the final say.
Even though I haven’t gone through exactly the same challenges in my life, it was easy to relate to what she shared. I dare to say, I was not the only one who felt that way.
“We should be looking out for each other. Find people who are going through things you are going through and support each other and pray for each other,” she said, encouraging us to use our pain to make other people grow.
Since the ELCIC made a commitment to promote right and renewed relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples within Canada, the Eastern Synod women have invited local indigenous women’s groups to their retreats to teach and build relationships.
This year they invited Strong Water Women, a drum group from Fort Erie. On Saturday the group spent the morning with the ladies telling their stories about healing and empowering others and the women’s role in Indigenous communities.
The group members also led several workshops. Join in the Circle was a time to get to know our indigenous sisters through music, drumming and interactive story/telling. Wampum Beading gave participants a chance to contemplate when and where they have had or missed out on joy in their journey, awakening to their own stories of self and others.
There was also a round table discussion where, along with some of the Strong Water Women, our similar issues as spiritual and faithful women were explored. The health challenges common to all women was also up for discussion.
The worship leaders for this retreat were Rev Karen Kuhnert, St James, St. Jacobs and Bette Rempel, Faith, St. Catharine’s. They were able to weave the theme and the context seamlessly together so that the worships became an intrinsic part of the whole program.
Pastor Karen, if you didn’t know, is a walking encyclopedia. She is able to fill you in with historical facts at any moment. We were blessed to learn about our neighbouring First Nation communities as well as the value of archives as a natural part of an introduction to morning worship.
Another highlight of the retreat was the Saturday evening “Red Shoes Banquet”. Everyone was encouraged to wear red shoes, or decorate their shoes with red. Red shoes were a symbol of celebration, a chance to have a bit of fun and to put a smile on everyone’s face. But even if you didn’t have red shoes or any shoes at all, you would have belonged. They know how to make people feel accepted.
Did I find joy? My faith was strengthened and my burden felt lighter and I hang on Joanne’s words: “Love with passion, become a fanatic in loving people. People don’t care how much you know about God, they care how you love.”