Recently a friend, my mom, and I drove several hours and 446 miles to meet my sister-in-law and attend the Iowa-Missouri Women’s Retreat in Des Moines, Iowa.

It didn’t start out well. The drive seemed to drag on. Half the time we couldn’t find a decent radio station. And food on the road? Let’s just say we were glad to get those tiny meal tickets for the weekend. We arrived in Des Moines on a Friday afternoon to road construction, limited parking, and–after walking 3 1/2 blocks to the hotel with our luggage in tow–we were going to be late.

I will be honest and admit I was annoyed at this point. Yes, the 3 1/2 blocks was through an air-conditioned skywalk. Yes, the hotel check-in process was speedy. The staff was kind. Women’s Retreat check-in was simple and friendly, and I was still struggling when I slipped into the Early Bird session…late.

Excuse Me, Where are You Going

Don’t worry, I won’t list my schedule out, session-by-session. But, the early bird session did help me get into a proper mindset for the weekend.

Where are we going? Where are we in God’s story? What are we doing here? Questions that even an annoyed person can ask and glean something–from myself, and from God. The speaker told a story about an ex Neo-Nazi turned human rights activist–Frank Meeink. I may not have gotten to hear the beginning of the talk, but Frank’s story was moving. In fact, it moved me right out of my annoyance over the parking situation. From there, the weekend only looked up.

Not Your Mama’s Sabbath School

I haven’t attended adult Sabbath School since sometime in 2012. Since then I’ve either gone with my kids, or taught children’s classes. I haven’t exactly missed adult Sabbath school, so I was tempted to skip it. I was hungry! I was sure I couldn’t focus on any kind of sermon or message while thinking of brunch afterward. Boy, was I wrong!

Lindsey Gendke led Sabbath school. The author of Ending the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression got right down to business, telling her intimate and painful story to a group of strangers. I encourage you to watch the video and pick up her book, especially if you struggle with depression or know someone who does. It’s available at the Adventist Book Center and completely worth it.

Lindsey’s story was compelling and easy to listen to (you can tell she was a school teacher and is at ease at the front of the class), but it was the message that struck the heart. Share your story for God’s glory! No matter how real or dark your story is, God can shed light! He can make things new. He can use your story to help others. That’s all there is too it. There is a process of moving from dark to light, from hidden pain to public praise (because God healed you!), from shame to joy, but it’s possible. Praise God! Lindsey discussed ways to move from pain, through the process of healing, and finally to action. I left Sabbath school surprised and fulfilled. Here was this young person (my age) speaking at Women’s Retreat! Sharing her dark and painful story, nitty-gritty and all!

Plot, Theme, Action…

I cannot say enough about the programming this weekend. Every session I attended was insightful and moving. Leaders shared their testimonies, painful pasts, hardships, loss. One session in particular stands out because I kept waiting for the speaker to shed a tear as she spoke about her many losses: divorce, the death of a child, family issues, wayward children. I expected her to cry for herself, her experience. It wasn’t until the end of her session that she got emotional. It was when she praised God that she got emotional, when she shared about answered prayers, restored relationships, and an enduring hope in Jesus. Thinking of Lindsey’s story from Sabbath school, I considered the road she had to take to get to that smile, to tell us this long and sad tale, and point it to Jesus.

Watch videos from the 2017 Iowa-Missouri Women’s Retreat

As a writer, I often think of things in terms of plot sequence. When you’re writing a story, you have to keep the reader reading. When you’re telling a story, you have to keep the audience listening. You can do this by using some literary devices like themes, motifs, and action. Imagine a thread pulling the story taut from start to finish, keeping pages turning, keeping people on the edge of their seats as they listen. This weekend the thread that pulled all of these women together was Jesus. The music, sessions, activities, speakers, and ladies in attendance were pulled together by Jesus. Our eyes were opened to Him through each experience, and opened to each other through Him.

Somewhere in our small group, church, conference, division, and world-wide organization someone else is hurting. Someone has a broken family, a broken marriage, a history of depression, illness, sin, and heartache. Someone has been abused, feels lonely, and doesn’t think they belong. We’re all in the same place at the same time because the thread that joins us is Jesus. We are His story. Our story is one tapestry of pain. Life on earth will be filled with it, but we must be a part of God’s story. We must move from darkness to light for His Glory.