Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shepherd's Canyon

Toni and I are thankful for the eight day “Shepherd’s Canyon”* retreat we completed Friday morning. I’m convinced it was God’s will for us to be there with counselor-leaders John Johnson and Barbara Brunworth.

The invitation for the retreat came via email on July 21—the day after the July ELC/Cokato** church council meeting. As I think about those days in July—with the council meeting, the “Shepherd’s Canyon” invitation and the suggestion*** that came the next day—as I think about those days in July I can see how it was all divinely engineered. And that divine engineering is even clearer now that we’ve completed the retreat.

So what went on? We were certainly well cared for and well fed! Thanks to friends who helped pay our way, and thanks to the many churches and other donors who support Shepherd’s Canyon, we were able to join two ELCA pastors and one LCMC pastor at Thrivent’s Heartwood Conference Center and Retreat for eight days of learning, friendship, counseling, conversation, rest and recreation.

Heartwood is located as its name suggests—out of the way in the heart of the northern Wisconsin woodlands. It’s not too far from the Namekagon River, so on our day off (Wednesday) we went canoeing for three hours. While at Heartwood, we did some hiking, played some tennis, and generally spent time together as husband and wife.

The retreat couldn’t have come at a better time. The stresses that led up to my resignation and the uncertainties that follow have been challenge enough—but we’re also facing the change of life that happens to everyone when children grow up and move away.

For the first time since 1987 Toni and I don't see at least one of our kids coming in the door every day. Our kids have moved on: Naomi and Jonathan are in Minneapolis and Daniel is in Moorhead.  Not only do we miss having at least one of them around, this transition time means we end up focusing more one each other—on the good and not so good qualities we each have and the ways our personalities have interacted over the years.

Having time together at the retreat just as the school year was beginning, and benefiting from the expertise and companionship of other couples and Shepherd's Canyon counselors: It was all was just what we needed at this particular moment. I’d like to give something similar to every couple—especially at this time of life.

Each morning (except Wednesday) was spent in “group.” John and Barb led the four couples in getting to know one another, telling the stories that led to our coming to this retreat, and learning about spiritual and practical topics: truths about change, pain, conflict, resilience and stress, emotional affairs, toxic behaviors in a marriage, and keys to joy and happiness. Barb gave us guidance to be used on a prayer walk and in private couple conversations.

Afternoons were spent in individual and couple counseling sessions. All of the couples dug deep and dealt with significant issues. I believe we all grew stronger in our relationships with one another and with the Lord. Each evening John led us as we read and prayed through the Joseph story (Genesis 37-50) and the account of Jacob wrestling with the Lord (Genesis 32:22-31). Between times we sang and ate—a lot.

Right now Toni and I are with her parents in the Hayward, WI area. After celebrating her mom’s birthday Saturday, we’ll head toward home on Sunday, stopping for worship in Grantsburg, WI on the way. After that we don’t know what will be happening. We’ll meet with friends about what is going on in Cokato, we’ll move some furniture to the house our daughter Naomi is renting with some friends, Toni will return to her work as a massage therapist as we seek the Lord’s will about our future.

We and the other couples now have renewed hope and readiness to look toward the future. We thank and praise Jesus, our Good Shepherd, for his wondrous care every day, but especially now as we have experienced His Holy Spirit was at work in and among us at the Shepherd's Canyon retreat.  Thank you Lord Jesus, for your work in the lives of Shepherd's Canyon founder Dave Anderson, retreat leaders John and Barbara, and for the other couples who accompanied us for the last eight days.


    * The retreat was advertised for church workers who “have exhausted their best and seek renewal.” It came about through the work of Dave Anderson, a pastor’s kid who saw first hand, in his childhood home and in his own life work later on, the special stresses that come upon church workers and their families. I think every pastor could benefit from a retreat like this, especially in times of transition. Some of Dave Anderson’s ancestors were founding members of ELC/Cokato, and he has relatives who are still members there. Dave and his wife Barb are now members of the AFLC, the “Association of Free Lutheran Congregations.”

    ** ELC/Cokato is Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato. ELCA is the nationwide denomination, the “Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” LCMC is another denomination: “Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.”

    *** The “suggestion” I referred to came through two different Christian friends who had not talked with each other—the suggestion was that perhaps it was time to seek some way for the ELC/Cokato church and I to amicably separate. After conversation and prayer the day that suggestion came (July 22), I made a phone call that eventually led to the Tuesday, August 5 “transitional support agreement” with the ELC/Cokato church council and then, subsequently, to my resignation.

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