First Free Rockford’s Women’s Retreat, “Closer,” starts Friday evening, Oct. 25, and ends at noon Sunday, Oct. 27. The site is Fox Valley Christian Action’s Riverwoods Family Campus near St. Charles. Register here. Registration deadline is this Sunday, Oct. 13.
We spoke with retreat coordinator Brandy Pardee.
What has your own spiritual journey looked like over the past few years?
I got to a point where I had been doing all the things that were recommended for a Christian to follow Jesus. Good things. Serving regularly, attending church regularly, doing a Bible study. Heck, I had my Bible degree. I married a pastor. All those things. But at the end of the day, I didn’t see lasting and real transformation.
Over a period of time … I finally just said, I’m still angry. I’m still prideful. I still go on this cycle all the time, trying to repent or do better. I get caught up in my own pride and performance and ego. There has to be a different way. If I’m supposed to do all these things, and this is how they make me feel, I don’t really want to do them.
I also saw a disconnect among Christians. What we were supposed to act like — deeply caring for and loving one another and actually walking it out — wasn’t happening. We’d go to church and I’d come home angry and sad. I felt worse, and more shallow and unseen.
So after my oldest son, Teigen, was born, and I was changing diapers and tired all the time, I just said, God, if you are really alive and active and if you are who you say you are, you either need to show yourself or I’m ready to peace out. This isn’t worth it anymore.
So what happened?
A big, defining verse for me then was in Luke Chapter 1, where it says of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Ultimately I just started to filter everything through a new lens: If he really is this, then I either choose to live this way and believe it, or not. So we just continued to press into living what we felt like were the ways of Jesus. That led me to become part of a spiritual formation community. I went on four retreats over the course of a year. Ultimately the Lord showed himself. He is alive and active, and he began to take me to those deeper places to breathe life and security in me for just being loved. I realized I don’t have to serve or do another thing for the rest of my life in order for God to love me.
What were those retreats like?
Authentic, transparent community and mentors. We could go deep and talk about what was really going on. The retreats were about new or deeper ways of looking at who God is and what it looks like to walk that out with the Spirit. And then embracing so much more of a contemplative posture: solitude, silence, stillness.
Some of it was just practice and encouragement from people to just sit and linger. I’d pray something like, I’m just going to sit here and I’m asking you to make me more aware of your love. And maybe that was my prayer for a whole week. Over time my eyes started to adjust. I could see it. He was just moving all of that great, true, biblical head stuff into my heart.
What’s your hope for this upcoming Women’s Retreat?
We want it to be a time where women can come and encounter the Lord, encounter others and just have space for the weekend to be exactly what they want or need it to be. Maybe it is just a great, soaking time through worship and being in the Word.
It’s so great to get away from normal routines, habits, pressures, expectations … what we know as familiar. That might feel a little uncomfortable or even a little shaky or risky, but I think it helps open us up to being aware of things that we’re not normally aware of — like the Lord’s voice or presence.
What might be transformational about the weekend?
Knowing that I am not only fully known, but also fully accepted and loved. If I were just fully known, that would feel really risky and produce shame or guilt or fear. But the fact that I am fully accepted, while being fully known, grounds me in that deep place of being rooted and grounded in his love.
It’s about embracing both of those and opening yourself to God’s truth and his presence. That’s very different than just trying to attain Bible knowledge or perform as a Christian. It has allowed me to be real with my shortcomings – my ego, my pride, all of those things that I am not proud of. But it’s also allowing me to come into his gentle tenderness where he meets me and ultimately says, I love you so much right now, where you are, but I’m not going to leave you right there. We’re going to keep walking that out.
Register for the retreat here. If cost is prohibitive, scholarships are available!
Floral illustrations by Emily Anderson, 2019.
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.