I am thinking of the story of Jacob, fleeing from the wrath of Esau, and his restless night of visions in the place he would later rename Bethel. God met him there in a dream of angels traveling up and down a stairway and made great promises to Jacob in his time of need.
Many years later God called him back to Bethel, and Jacob said to his family, “Let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
Both times he set up a kind of pillar and poured a drink offering (whatever that is) over it. An ancient way of marking a significant moment. Maybe like journaling or blogging today….
And now here I am at my own little Bethel. A Christian retreat center not far from my home, but far enough to be a place and time set apart for God. I have a comfortable bed, and a pillow instead of a rock. I make no altar or pillar, but write in my spiral notebook, read my Bible, and sing worship songs with the help of my iTunes account on my phone.
I’m here because it’s almost the New Year (the beginning of a new school year!) and I realize how much I need God to do this. I’m going to pray over every detail and ever person in my family. I’m going to refuel my tank, reconnect with God, plan my way to success, make lists, and get my year on track. I’m here to work.
Which just goes to show how little I really know about my life and why things happen.
I’m actually here to Revisit Bethel.
Eight months ago I came here in a time of desperation right after Christmas. I had been sick for a month and was finding everyday life responsibilities and pleasures exhausting and impossible. I had no plan, except to get my hands on God and get help. It turned out that I was the only person in the retreat center that night because of an ice storm, which only added to the drama of my experience. It was God underlining or italicizing the event for me. I guess it was like a vision of angels in its own right. (You can read that blog here ZOMBIES OR JESUS.)
And something happened there. God met me in his own quiet uneventful way. And my life took a turn.
So I sit in my little room and begin with a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate. Here I am again, God. And as I listen to the quiet, it all comes back. I remember eight months ago and I begin to think of all that’s happened since then.
God has changed my retreat agenda. Not so much about Lists…but Listening.
This Psalm comes to mind: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God….” Psalm 40.
And I worship…. What else is there to do?
That little December retreat eight months ago put so much in motion…. I look back with Holy Wonder.
Since then one of my daughters graduated from college and took a dream job. She is working full time in Christian ministry with at-risk children. No small answer to prayer. She accepted the position three days before her graduation day. All had been murky….until it was clear.
My two youngest children are now enrolled in a private Christian school. Which sounds like just a bit of human form filling out…. But after 18 years of home schooling, this is a major life decision that would have only happened by an act of God.
And I started to write a blog. Something I felt I could not do for several years. But God gave me what I needed to Speak. Just a small side exercise for me, but a little like making pillars and altars in all the places God has taken me.
Sure, there are a lot more questions that need answers…but this is a start. And enough to know I’ve been heard.
So God brought me back to See. To Remember. To Make Note.
I walk around the retreat center and think, that’s the bench I sat on looking out the window very late into the night praying. Or – there’s the step in the chapel where I scribbled my thoughts to God. And – here is the room I hunkered down in and read my Bible quietly searching for Him.
No stairway to heaven. But – oh my! “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”
So retreat-making is going to be part of my future. Just a small part. Maybe I’ll be going through some sort of trial. No doubt…. Or embarking on a new venture. Or maybe just remembering. Revisiting the haunts of God’s sweet company. And praising him.
“Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” Genesis 35: 3