I always say that every book I write, every retreat I lead, every workshop I present takes me to the next place I need to go on my spiritual journey. I never seem to realize that going in because I’m a little thick, and God needs to get my attention, and not always subtly. But I recognize it in hindsight, so I guess that’s something.
The past few weeks were no exception. As I prepared my presentations for the Christian Mothers’ Retreat in Syracuse, I found myself struggling to write the talks I needed to write and crying at times as I practiced the presentations on my favorite theme: “Broken, Beautiful and Beloved: Learning to See Ourselves Through God’s Eyes.” Because of some personal struggles, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d even get through the talks, but I just kept writing and reflecting and praying, hoping that at some point the Holy Spirit would kick in and I’d be OK.
As I spoke to the 20 women early on a Saturday morning and listened to their stories, I realized that I needed that retreat more than they did. Once again, I was exactly where I needed to be.
It’s amazing how the soul finds what the soul needs.
I experienced an even more profound example a few weeks earlier at a silent retreat, this time as an attendee, not as the leader. On the second morning, I wandered down to the dining room before 7 a.m., not realizing breakfast would not be served for another two hours. So I grabbed a mug of coffee and stared out the window at the peaceful, frozen landscape. In the yard, amid the many barren trees and evergreens, was one lone tree still covered entirely in leaves—dead, brown leaves, hanging ever so delicately yet ever so resiliently from its sprawling limbs.
As I sat there, mesmerized by this tree and its odd determination to fight nature, a breeze kicked up and the leaves started to flutter, at first just the tiniest bit and then more and more intensely. Because the leaves were so dry and light they fluttered in a way that was unlike the hardy, green leaves of spring and summer. Their twisting and turning made the entire tree appear to be covered in small brown butterflies, flapping their wings quickly and in unison.
I couldn’t help but smile, especially considering the fact that the previous night’s talk had been about reconciliation and butterflies and new life. Each of us was given a small foam butterfly as a visible sign of the interior freedom that is ours when we forgive others, forgive ourselves and let go of our burdens in confession.
Suddenly that tree and its dead branches became a symbol of hope and a reminder that even when our soul is entrenched in the deepest winter, the Spirit is fluttering through our darkness offering light and new life.
Sometimes the Spirit gets a little help from the saints as well. When I initially headed to Syracuse for the mothers’ retreat, I prayed to St. Thérese of Lisieux, something I’d never done before. For some reason, she popped into my head. I asked for a sign that she’d taken up my intention and, as we all know, roses are the typical sign people report receiving after praying to the Little Flower. A few hours later, I set down my bags in my room at the retreat house and opened the closet to hang up my clothes. There I was greeted by four enormous bouquets of red velvet roses.
The Spirit will always take us where we need to go, even if we can’t imagine how we’ll get there or what we’ll find. If we’re willing to follow, to trust that maybe we have a lesson to learn along the way, we just might discover roses in a closet or butterflies in winter.