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Retreat

It won’t always be this way – that’s the message God wove into the fabric of my life each summer of my youth. Summer camp in the Texas Hill Country established a pattern of retreat in my life long before I knew anything about spiritual practices. I thought I was just going to summer camp. But each withdrawal from the mad world taught me the same thing in a different way; it won’t always be like this.

Painful divorces and parental alcohol abuse – it won’t always be this way.

The suffocating guilt and shame over the war with food and body image – it won’t always be this way.

Insecurity and always questioning my okay-ness – it won’t always be this way.

From an early age, I had an inkling that the world was simply not supposed to be like this, between our deep heartaches and our longings that cannot be satisfied here. Even my glimpse of Eden – those sacred two-week windows each summer – didn’t fix any of these things for me, but it was through retreat that I was transformed. I encountered the Living God and read the pages of my Bible for the first time. In this set apart time and space, I drew near to a God that loves me more than I can understand.

Fast forward 20 years and I still retreat to seek the Lord in the same place where He pursued me and captured my heart. I married a man who also has history with this place, so we’ve been taking our children out there each summer since our oldest was 5-months-old.

We have retreated there individually, as a couple, and as a family over the course of our marriage and I am grateful the life measuring stick this place provides.

Like God, it doesn’t change.

As a marker, it reminds me that one day my baby will be toddler and then a little kid; he will sleep through the night, and eventually jump off that big rock into the Frio River. Through the good of fat baby thighs and the hard of colic and neurological diagnoses, I’d see again and again that this won’t last forever. Even if it lasts forever on this earth.

Retreat is beautiful, but it isn’t everyday life.

I carved out a piece of last fall to dive head first into retreat during real life, pursuing this spiritual practice in the midst of carpool, meal prep, and laundry.

Nothing renews me like nature, so I sought retreat in this city of plentiful offerings. A solid morning here, ten minutes there, miss a day, then double-up the next day.

Life. Retreat. Life. Retreat. Life.

And again, as my children lost more teeth and their newest struggles came into focus (turns out those sleepless nights weren’t behind me), I remembered that life has seasons, just like nature. I visited the Barton Creek Greenbelt like a personal sanctuary, watching it become bone dry.

Rocks moved from one visit to the next and leaves turned (in breathtaking colors on the branch, then dying, then crumbled underfoot). Each day, there were more changes everywhere I looked. Had I taken for granted the things I see every day? And the more I paid attention, the more I noticed. About the world. About myself. About God.

The smells changed. Even I changed – inside (noticing more of everything from the leaves clapping their hands to plants I’d never noticed before) and outside (wait, when did I get that forehead wrinkle?).

Life is hard, but it’s beautiful and it’s worth the hard.

It will be desolate for a while and it may hurt, but change will come. Winter always ends. The green leaves will return, the water will flow once again, and colorful flowers will bloom, bringing the whole place back to life.

Just like me.

Because where my bones were like tree branches with no life – where I was broken and drained – the seasons finally shifted. And in the process, my roots grew even deeper as I continually returned to the Source.

And I learned that it’s at my emptiest that God can fill me most.

Weary, rested, sorrowful or glad, retreat is a daily spiritual practice, as I return to the God of all comfort each morning. I run after the One who whispers in my ear that, for better or worse, it won’t always be this way.

- Brittany Williams