About a year ago, my dear friend and partner in matters of the Spirit, Jennie Capezza, called from Florida. She was asking for prayers and that I consider coming to help facilitate a Speaking to Sparrows retreat for young women. It didn't take long for her to receive my, "yes." It was an opportunity to minister, to listen and share, to learn and grow on some very important topics.
Beautiful high school sophomores, juniors and senior young ladies dove into issues, some more difficult than others, having to do with body image, self worth, relationships and more. It was a wonderfully fruitful time together.
Strange for me, was the fact that I was the oldest person present. Even the priest who came to say Mass under the giant oak tree at Lake Aurora was younger than I. The oak tree, most obviously, was not. It provided a glorious umbrella of Spanish moss, which moved with the Florida breeze and provided shelter from the sun as we shared together in the celebration of the Mass.
As I tuned my guitar in preparation, I struggled some to settle myself. My head was foggy. Thirty minutes before Mass began, I stopped by our cabin to freshen up a bit. The cute little day bed where I had slept the night before called my name and I made the mistake of lying down. I fell hard, fast asleep. I awoke to the sound of Jennie's voice.
"Julie, are you awake?"
I shot up like a dart. "What's going on?!" I shouted in a whisper, "What's time is it? What's next?! It's not Mass is it?!"
Softly, she replied, "It's Mass."
I tore out the door, hair disheveled and my belt hanging out. Jennie and some of the girls laughing behind me. She told me later I had sleep marks on my face. Nice. I grabbed my guitar and music from our meeting space and scurried to the giant oak. There I was... blurry... but instantly blessed by the gift of nature, an amazing group of women, a priest who knows how laugh and the presence of God. Not a bad ending to an unexpected power nap.
We were there to explore body image, self worth, relationships and more. I had committed that morning, in a small way, to walking the walk; no make-up all day. Those of you who know me, know I don't wear much. The little I do, however, makes a big difference in how I feel, about myself, in public, especially after a long winter.
The girls were being challenged to not care so much about the quality of their selfies. One of the adult chaperones had stood before the group the night before and spoke about her own issues with photos and social media. A beautiful woman, she shared adorable pictures of herself with her children and admitted that what she sees in those photos, rather than their love and joy, are the crows feet around her eyes and the condition of her thighs. I could totally relate. A healthy self image can be hard to keep, especially in this age of endless photos, filters and countless mediums in which to share. It’s so much easier to see others as beautiful. Perfection is truly a lie. We were born this way and at what point do we just rest in and appreciate the truth of it?
A long time ago God gave me a revelation about loving others the way God knows they need to be loved. Since then, I have tried to make that the first prayer in my heart with every encounter.
As the retreat came to a close, I heard it a little differently. I felt God saying, “Love YOURSELF, the way I know YOU need to be loved.” I'd been coming down pretty hard on myself lately and God knew it.
Everywhere I’ve been, everything I’ve done, mistakes I’ve made, battles I’ve won and lost, it all matters and comes into account. God has been there right along and understands my every choice and decision, every word which has come from my mouth has been heard. We are all works in progress. I have earned every uncomfortable moment, every age and sun spot present on my skin. Every wrinkle and scar could tell a story. I think I’ve got pretty nice legs but it’s the spider veins I struggle to accept. It’s all me… and it is ALL OF ME whom God loves.
When Jennie called, about a year ago, I knew I needed to come. In the weeks before, I questioned the necessity of my being there. I am thankful God’s voice was louder than the temptation to back out. I powered through and left many an issue out of my hands, not an easy task for me, especially during a difficult time. So glad I listened beyond my fears and control. God knew where I was supposed to be and the choice I made, made all the difference.
There is more of this Florida story to tell. For now I must move on to the restaurant we own, which has been closed due to fire damage since March 16th. It will all come together and we will be back in business… soon I hope. In the meantime, God blessed me with the gift of this retreat and the lovely women who attended. I leave here inspired and grateful. We have been exposed to truth. May we carry it out into our lives and the lives of those around us. May we love others the way God knows they need to be loved and ourselves as God loves us.
I will be true and faithful. I will show you constant love and make you mine forever. I will keep my promise, and you will really know me then as never before. I am the Lord, your God.