I was in Georgia last month for the annual Pursuit Community conference. It’s the third year that I’ve spoken, but I’ve never written a recap.
Because I never really know what to say.
Last year, the theme was hope. I spoke on the very last night. And wept my way through it. On stage. In front of 150 women. I spoke from a place of raw vulnerability. Telling a story that I was still struggling to recognize the glory in. We were quickly coming upon the one year anniversary of the day that my life started over without my best friend. And that night, God had me share the story of her journey. And the kind of hope that intricately and intimately anchors you. Surely and steadfastly. To the Presence behind the veil. The kind of hope that clings tightly to you when you just can’t cling anymore.
The kind of hope that engraves the words of David on your heart like an ancient tattoo:
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
This music video (well, the teaser of it) was recorded right before I took the stage and became a weepy mess:
Last year, I wept my way through my night talk.
This year, I spoke in the morning. First thing in the morning, without an entire day ahead of me to prepare. And God whispered in that very distinct way that He does. You wept for the night last year. And this year, you will share your joy in the morning.
The theme for this year? Joy. And I shared about how my verse for the last five months has been Psalm 30:5.
…weeping my endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
In so many ways, the women at this conference were on this journey with me. The first year I spoke was just weeks before Shawna died. The second time, I was still reeling from her loss a year later. The third time, I spoke from a place of healing. And restoration. Not that those moments of grief don’t sneak up. They do. Oh, how they do.
Last week kicked off the very first week of Treasures of Darkness: Maui Edition. Fifteen women gathered on our little lanai that my husband graciously turned into an outdoor living room. And I mean that literally. He took all of the furniture from the living area of our 500-square foot ohana and moved it outside. He lit tiki torches. And plugged in lamps. And I arranged pillows and lit candles and put out snacks. And the women gathered. And I sat back and saw the beginnings of the fruit of this study.
Last night, we gathered again and talked about the first week of homework. Day three of week one teaches on bitterness and unforgiveness. And Exodus 15. And bitter waters made sweet.
Week two is all on prayer. And as I introduced next week’s homework, I had to entirely neglect the introduction that’s written in the study. Because the timing of those women sitting there in my yard was too coincidental. Too meticulously planned for a random start date in October.
Yesterday morning, I poured my coffee. And sat down at my usual morning perch. Trying so hard to not be aware of the date and yet all too aware of the fact that this is when Shawna went into hospice. And November is coming. And I flipped back to my prayer journal from one year ago. And read the same words that the girls studied this week, in an entirely different context.
They studied the Greek word for bitterness in Ephesians 4:31, and then hopped over to Exodus to read the story of the bitter waters made sweet. But they didn’t look up the Hebrew word.
I did. Last year.
The bitterness of death.
Sad and sorrowful.
Sadness, a bitter or weeping cry.
A bitter lamentation.
While they studied the kind of bitterness that grows in your heart against someone else, I talked about the kind of bitterness that isn’t directed at any one person. The kind that comes after tragedy. Or a life circumstance. Or something so beyond your control that you just have to walk through it. And the date is forever in your mind.
And I read the same journal entry that I shared in this blog post. And I shared my heartbreaking and very holy experience with prayer and the privilege of praying my best friend into heaven. (Another story for another time.)
And I cried. And I beat myself up inside because I’m tired of crying. That season is over, right? Then I got up this morning. And in typical weeping-endures-for-a-night-but-joy-comes-in-the-morning fashion, I thought about last night with a clear head. And tear-free eyes. And God pointed to my little pool of water. Look at it, He said. So I did.
The water isn’t brackish. It’s sparkling and clean.
The bitterness of the grief is gone.
The grief itself is still there. That pond will always be there. Because God didn’t take the waters away in that story in Exodus. He just cleaned them. Sweetened them. Kept them there, and removed the bitterness. And then the Israelites journeyed on to twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees and they camped there by the waters for awhile. My story sounds very similar to that.
Last night, Josh and I talked about perception. He gently observed that maybe how I am perceiving this upcoming anniversary is no longer the perception I should have. To date, the anniversary has been sorrowful. But she’s experiencing the glory of heaven that we can only dream about. And that should be celebrated. I resisted his point last night. But this morning… I’m hungry for the sweetness.
Here’s a peek into this year’s Pursuit Community Conference.