Providing a Safe Place

So I’ve been spending some time de-converging: sharing my experience with others, treasuring the connections I’ve made, tying up loose ends, dreaming about what’s to come, pondering about what in the world just took place. Driving home my two friends/roommates asked me how I was feeling and what I thought. My response: “I don’t know. I really don’t know what just happened. But I do know that it was *good*.”

It wasn’t until closing that I realized all the “bad” things that could have taken place. Which, if you know anything about melancholy personality types, is not typical of a melancholy: we tend to anticipate all possible outcomes, preparing for the worst. Think about this:

Women:

  • From multiple denominations
  • From multiple backgrounds
  • Of different ages
  • Of different places in life
  • Of different styles of life
  • Coming from churches that either affirm, condemn, or ignore their call to lead

Coming to a conference

  • With no speaker
  • At a hotel with an onsite brewery/winery
  • To share their journeys.

Dude, that could’ve gotten ugly, with theological debates or denominational issues or cranky spirits. But for some strange reason/blessed move of the Spirit, I didn’t even think about the possibilities. Folks came together in a beautiful spirit of receptivity and respect, listening to one another, contributing to the conversation, blessing and affirming and worshiping. The Holy Spirit came with power!

The only time I realized what could have happened occurred during our last gathered time. We sat in a circle, holding a candle, and as we passed the flame, we shared two sentences about our experience during the weekend. I heard of number of:

  • “I normally hate women’s gatherings, but this was a place of healing!”
  • “I would rather have a root canal than go to a women’s gathering, but I feel so welcomed.”
  • “It took a lot of assurance for me to believe that this would be a good thing, but this was such a safe place!”
  • “I love Christ, but in general I find myself not loving His people: many are mean, hurtful, hypocritical. But this has been wonderful, and I truly feel blessed to be here.”

And I realized: wow, that used to be me! I’ve never been one to congregate with the women. As a kid I tended to wrestle more than play with dolls. I’d much rather hang out at Powells than the mall. Mother and daughter events gave me the heebie jeebies (not because of my mom, my poor mother who never got to do those cause I’m such a punk: it just felt like way too much estrogen in one place to be able to think straight). But somehow that’s changed. Folks asked me where I worship: “Well, I attend Newberg Friends, but the Sunday morning gathering isn’t so much my thing. But there’s a fantastic area Women’s Bible Fellowship, and that I feel is my church body.”

Other comments I heard:

  • “I realized: I’m not crazy!”
  • “You have been such a safe place for me.”
  • “I feel loved, respected, wanted, affirmed here.”
  • “I really, really, really needed this.”
  • “Thank you for being present with me.”

A couple of years ago, that’s what I would’ve found myself saying. I was aching for community, feeling the void of trying to go it alone. How quickly I forget where I’ve been . . .

But I don’t want to forget. I want to remember those hard times, the journey I’ve taken to come to where I am. I want to continue to connect with people on the same journey, to share in their lives (whether over a few days, a few hours, or over the long haul), to speak words of blessing and affirmation and healing to them, to create a safe place for them to find refuge and refuel and head back out.

One of our mixer activities was called Speed Converging in which the leader shouted out a question, we had one minute to share an answer with a partner, one minute to listen to their answer, and then find a new partner. One of the questions was, “If money and resources weren’t an issue, what would be your dream job/occupation/way to spend your time?” Now, I knew about these questions ahead of time, and yet I still didn’t prepare any sort of answers. But what popped immediately to my mind in the moment was this: “Own a retreat center where I could stock a library, bake, and offer spiritual direction/friendship: a safe place for folks to find refuge and direction and resources before heading back out on their journey.” While I seriously doubt owning a retreat center is in the cards anytime soon, I do feel called to continue to provide to spaces, to foster relationships with others who are hurting and in need of friendship and healing, to facilitate a safe place for individuals and communities.

Interesting what comes about from converging . . .

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