I woke up on my birthday in a very old and very posh inn at St. Andrew’s by the Sea. We were ‘bumped’ from the retreat centre because they were one room short. So we suffered in a room we could never afford to get for ourselves and woke up rested and feeling blessed. Then we headed back to the pastors retreat we were attending at another beautiful spot called “Dominion Hill” run by Gary & Joy Best.
The retreat started Thursday and ran to Saturday afternoon but we were only able to stay until lunch time on Friday. We needed to leave by 12:30 so we could get back to the Island for the next retreat I was going to. The time we spent at Dominion Hill, however brief, was refreshing and full of insight and encouragement for us. It started with lunch the day before with old friends who live on the same Island we do but who we don’t really get to spend enough time with. That night we caught up with friends from around the Maritimes and we started talking about “finishing well” – not just in our roles as pastors but more importantly, finishing well in life.
On my birthday, we talked that morning about spiritual formation and our tendency to get stuck. Crisis, the retreat facilitator told us, is what comes to us to get us un-stuck. Unfortunately, he said, some of us get un-stuck and go backwards instead of forward, going back to the old familiar instead of launching out into the unknown and new.
Before we left I was given two gifts. First, the whole room gathered around us and prayed for us and shared little things they felt about us or felt God was telling them about us, things that would encourage us. And they did encourage us. Second, Joy Best handed me a card and a wrapped gift on our way out. The card had been signed by everyone and the present inside the box contained a very special hand painted plate and cup made by believers living in contested land that is regularly bombed by Israel.
Joy didn’t know it but I have been praying for these believers for quite a while now, ever since I learned of what they go through as they are bombed by Israel and hated by their own people for choosing Jesus over the more traditional Palestinian choice. For some reason I’m deeply touched by their plight as North American Christians tend to applaud the ‘right’ of Israel to bomb the hell out of the territory while our own brothers and sisters live their whole lives at ground zero. The plate and cup sit out now where I will see them a lot and that will fuel my prayers for my kin who live in the valley of the shadow.
When we left we jumped in the car and drove back to PEI. On the drive back one of my sons texted me and told me he’d posted something on his blog so I checked it out. He’d written some reflections on our relationship and some adventures we’ve had together. It was interesting to read about myself through my son’s eyes. He clearly thinks I’m a better man than I am and that inspires me to be how he sees me and to see myself that way as I live to get there.
One other thing, on the drive home my smart phone kept alerting me to new posts to my Facebook page. I don’t put much stock in virtual relationships but I’ve got to tell you that hearing a line or a few lines of birthday wishes from so many friends, old and new, meant a lot to me. A girl I had a crush on in high school, one of my best friends from those days, people I’ve grown up with, kids who were in my youth groups who are now adults and out changing the world, people who have shared Jesus with me and people with whom I’ve shared Jesus, family far away, a friend from England, it really meant more to me than simply “happy birthday”.
After the long drive and a crazy search for something that was there all along I got a ride at 5:30 to the resort where our retreat on Forgiveness was being held.
That night two different people, a man and a woman, both shared stories from their own lives that were real, raw and full of hurt. But their focus wasn’t on the hurt, it was on the forgiveness that got them past the hurt, the forgiveness that helped them move forward from their point of crisis rather than getting stuck or going backwards. They were living spiritual formation right in front of us and I was humbled by their stories, their choices and by the brutal honesty with which they told their stories, shared their pain and described their ongoing transformation.
Sometime during the evening I realized that the greatest gift on my 47th birthday is the relationships I share, the people God has brought into my life over the years. And I kept hearing this song in my head from the soundtrack of my life:
“I welcome the sun,
the clouds and rain,
the wind that sweeps the sky clean
and lets the sun shine again.
this is the most magnificent life has ever been.
here is heaven and earth
and the brilliant sky in between.
blessed is this life
and I’m gonna celebrate being alive.
blessed is this life
and I’m gonna celebrate being alive…” – Brett Dennen lyrics, “Blessed”