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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles

Defining, Pivotal, Life Changing Moments

As my mind processes all I want to share I’m just going to let it go. What comes out is whatever comes out.

Lately as I’ve been on Facebook (FB) I’ve seen a number of posts from newer friends recalling where they were ‘this time last year’ or ‘this time two years ago.’ And I smile, and I get it, and I, too, think of the latter.

Oh to be able to open my  mind and play for you the movie I see. I think of the lyrics to Big Daddy Weave’s “My Story” (https://youtu.be/1TKAN-nAsu8) – hope that wouldn’t let go, hope that wouldn’t give up, life that isn’t mine, the kindness of Jesus that draws me in, victory over the enemy, freedom won for me, life overcome the grave, of grace that is greater than ALL my sin. I see all that in the movie in my mind.

Probably 15 years ago or so I wrote something I named ‘An Open Letter to the 10 Most Influential People in My Life.” I mailed it to each person and heard back from some of them. Up until that time I identified my 5 years at Kanakuk as one of the most pivotal times in my life. I had only been a believer 3 years and had never been discipled so to be in that environment was beyond description. I am still in touch with many of the folks I came to know while there.

Quite frankly since then I am hard-pressed to elevate anything

as ‘pivotal’ or ‘most influential’ to my life. There have been times that are special but nothing that reached that ‘life changing’ level….and that’s not a phrase I throw around a lot. Others do. I do not. It needs to be P-R-E-T-T-Y monumental to get that label from me. Meeting my kids through Compassion International in 2004 was one such milestone. That was LITERALLY my lifelong dream come true.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since I wrote that letter. I think it ended up being 8-10 typed pages single-spaced. A lot of life has happened….the good, the bad, and the ugly made beautiful….and there’s a lot of life going on now. For many years I have felt like I’m floating along – not quite aimlessly but not with much purpose past just doing whatever needed done. I was living for the Lord but the zest and enthusiasm had dwindled.

Then in the last 8 years God has been hammering in my life. There were a lot of unresolved issues in my life of which I was unaware. Unresolved issues like to stay hidden.

But they were beginning to take their toll on me and I need to do something about it. I just didn’t realize what I was inviting into my life. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better” certainly rung true. Or as my counselor said early on, ‘This is an angry process.’

There’s that word. Those who have known me the last 2 years know my history with that word.

My feelings toward that word and so much more that

God wanted to do in me began to change. I just didn’t realize how big it really was.

It started with a scroll through FB one day. I saw this announcement about a movie based on the life of Rich Mullins called Ragamuffin. I knew right away that I wanted to see that movie. What I DIDN’T know is what God wanted to do in me through it.

I saw the movie the first time with my mom and about 8 friends from her church. It was a hard watch. I think I perfected the ‘wipe a tear and don’t let anyone know’ move. I was in a daze for a few days afterwards. And then things started to happen. I jumped on the bandwagon and got involved with Color Green Films in helping find other venues to show the movie, even helping get it into a prison. Later that year when it came out on DVD I watched it with family a couple different times. Each time I got a different message. In short I was learning to embrace grace for the first time in my life. I was beginning to believe that maybe, just maybe, it could be true for me.

And then in the late summer came the announcement about Ragamuffin Retreats. I was drawn to that like a magnet. It took a while until I got with God’s program. I was holding out because I was also hoping to visit some friends in Nashville and I couldn’t do both. As time wore on and things transpired I finally signed up and started ‘shaking like a leaf.’ One of the retreat team members later described it as a ‘Hail Mary’ for me to believe that God – and His kids – could actually love me and that I was loveable.

One of the cool things about the retreat is that a private FB room opens up for participants and team about 2-3 weeks before the retreat. The idea is to allow for the awkward ‘getting to know you’ phase to work itself out so we can hit the ground running once we get to the venue. I was shocked at the openness with which folks shared their stories and felt the pounding in my heart to do the same. It took a few days of the room being open before I

finally succumbed to God wooing me to open up. One morning at 4am I sat at the dining room table and pounded out my story to a room full of strangers. I remember saying ‘gulp as I hit post.’ My legs were shaking and bouncing and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. Yet something seemed so right about it. The rest of the day was full of ‘checking in’ on FB to see what folks were saying…Would I be rejected? Would I get pat answers? Would they just give a ‘thanks for sharing’ response and go on to another post full of less drama and pain? To my relief – that is the only word – none of those fears materialized. I was shocked with the responses and encouragements. It gave a glimmer of hope.

That first retreat was powerful beyond belief. I spent 6 weeks prior to the retreat getting ready with my counselor, lowering the walls and just trying to prepare and work through the fears which were almost stifling. One thing that really prompted it all was something my brother Scott said after his release from prison….he was straightforward and honest with folks when they asked where he had been. If ANYONE had reason to be coy it was him. That challenged me. I remember looking at my counselor through pained eyes of defeat saying ‘I just want to be authentic.’ And so it began. Tell a counselor THAT and they have a lot with which to work!

That first retreat was one of very significant break through. I couldn’t stop smiling for weeks. Folks noticed a difference. Something inside me started to change. I went from broken and feeling like I was too screwed up for God to reach me…that everything in the Bible was just out of reach

for me –  to knowing I AM was, is, and always will be right in the middle of my story. I started to realize that I have a story – a worthwhile story – that is worthy of being told. And beyond that I started to BELIEVE that God just might want to use my story to encourage and challenge others and draw them closer to Himself.

Did you catch all that? In a matter of a couple months I went from fearful, sheepish, doubting, and almost writing off all hope to KNOWING and experiencing that I am loved and loveable! I went from barely being able to sit still or even breathe out of fear in sharing my story to coming to grips with my story to the point of believing God might want to use my story in the life of someone else. So I started writing my first book: This Much I Know. Little did I know God was just getting started.

Between 2014 and 2015 there was growth but there was pain. I went from not allowing myself to feel emotions to letting them out which was huge and powerful in so very many ways. I was finding a level of freedom I had never believed I’d find. But then 2015 was full of actually having to FEEL those emotions,

figure out what that meant, and learn how to deal with them. That was draining and painful and gut-wrenching. I’m so thankful for a very gifted Christian counselor and my Ragamuffin friends who encouraged me along the way. By then they knew me and loved me….as I was….not as I thought I had to be. That ‘Rag Room’ was a life saver for me.

Then in summer 2015 it was announced that Walking Stick Retreats was formed and would be continuing a retreat program separate of Color Green Films. I was in. The same team that did the teaching for the 2014 Ragamuffin Retreat (minus the folks from Color Green Films who were working on their next movie) was coordinating the retreat. That’s all I needed to hear.

In true form – as to be expected – God continued His healing touch in my life in 2015. As my emotions had been awakened and I was learning how to FEEL those emotions and not shut them off by giving in to my eating disorder, etc., I was spent. I was done. I had little emotional energy left and it showed. I arrived at the 2015 retreat ‘lost’. As one of the retreat team members said, ‘maybe this weekend you’ll be found.’ I just said ‘I hope.’

free

Right from the first session God was pounding and there was a battle going on. It lasted until Saturday night…pretty much the entire retreat. While I had finally acknowledged one particular traumatic aspect of my story in 2014 which opened the door for a flood of emotions, those emotions were still being regulated and there was still much to let go of – to mourn. When there has been a death one cannot move on until one has grieved properly.

I have shared on this blog what God did in my heart at the 2015 retreat. https://wordpress.com/post/bebold7.wordpress.com/477

Shortly after the 2015 retreat God put His finger on the ‘next thing’ He wants to heal. He has more than His finger on it now. He has His entire palm on it! I am having to draw from all He’s brought me through thusfar to again tell myself He is trustworthy, He is good, and He loves me. It is MOST CERTAINLY a work in progress! I haven’t yet garnered the courage to tell anyone – not even the retreat friends – what the specific issue is. Not that I have to, and that is the joy of ragamuffins.

They love me, they pray for me, and they don’t feel they ‘have’ to know. If I choose to trust them  with this sacred stone they are blessed and thankful, and if I don’t, they still feel blessed and thankful.

So at this point in my life I would say the last 2 years have been the most pivotal point in my life. I am a changed woman. Things I never DREAMED could become reality in my life seem like they have now been there quite some time when it’s really only been 2 years. It’s all still very new and still VERY much a process. But I have friends who will go on the journey with me, sometimes just sitting in silence and sometimes supporting me as I get the courage and strength to take yet another step when I am weary from the journey. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!


The 2016 Walking Stick Retreat is in 5 short weeks. I have noticed many folks who will be attending start to turn their focus toward that weekend….that sacred place in the hills in PA….that ‘place set apart’ which is Camp Christian. For me it is returning to the place it all started as that was also the place of the 2014 retreat. This year’s theme is ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is….’ as we look at various parables and what it means to have the Kingdom alive in our lives. I have no idea what God may do or how He will do it. It may be much less dramatic than the last 2 years….or it could be that those 2 years were just a warm up to get me to this point. I don’t know. I just know though I still struggle I will be at a safe place with safe people….and right now I’m just focusing on staying open to whatever the Lord may want to do in me and prayerfully through me. And it’s not too late to join in….go to http://twentyfirstcc.org/retreats for more information and to sign up.

Read more ‘pivotal moments’ from Jenn at http://jennfreeatlast.com and Leisa at http://life4inga.blogspot.com

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