My flight was delayed and I was a day late in my arrival. Voxer messages of prayer, encouragement and jokes came pouring in from those waiting for me at the Lodge at The High Calling Retreat. When I finally arrived, I slipped in quietly into the room not wanting to disturb the speaker whose session had already begun. But, that didn’t matter to my friends waiting for my arrival.
Springing from their chairs they ran and greeted me with hugs that could heal a travel-weary woman and make the struggles to arrive worth the effort.
This is what it must be like to walk through heaven’s gates.
Laity Lodge in the hills of San Antonio, rests above the Frio River. If I could, I would pack my cloths and greatest treasures and go there to never return. Though they call it the hills, to this girl from South Alabama and flat cotton-patch fields, they look like mountains, accessorized with a scarf of blue-green river around its base, fringed with copper-colored Cyprus trees along the edge.
Anticipation grows as the miles between us lessen, as the reunion of friends draws near. This place feels like a family reunion with your favorite cousins. And, for many of us, our cousins are, for the most part, our first understanding of friendship.
This place feels like home.
Walking into my room, my roommate is not around but has left a gift on my bed wrapped in blue tissue and a sparkly mesh bag. I refrain from tearing into my gift, wanting to wait for her to be with me. Jen and I met last year, but did not have much time to get to know each other. She was the most delightful roommate and I hope to room with her again some next year.
She and I walk the trails taking pictures of the Cedar trees wearing the autumn coats for show before blanketing the ground for winter’s rest. Slender branches once thick with foliage now bare and raised to the heavens as if in worship.
We talk into the early morning about hopes and plans until sleep wrestles us soundly into peaceful sleep.
In the three o’clock watch my eyes flutter wide because my soul awakens me with singing – a song without words, but no less a song. Lying on my side, I face the windows whose sashes are open to welcome in the outside. The stars seemed to have gathered close, as if watching us sleep. More small lights in the sky than I have ever seen and it seems they have gathered near our windows. The one who learns to trust the Lord says the stars sing in the night sky, and the prophet tells us the Lord sings over us in our sleep.
Perhaps my soul has heard it all and is joined in with the choir.
It’s not just the topography, but also, the people of Laity Lodge and those in attendance, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. This is a place where story is of great value and those who come understand the audible and written treasure are wealthy by listening.
They know that story has the ability to bind us together, and heal open wounds and set the listener free. A place where even our photographs of, and with each other tells us stories of zany fun, and photo bombs, new friendships forged and long-standing friendships, fortified.
In this place, we “get” each other.
I pull up Facebook to see pictures posted from our weekend and to relive the moments of our togetherness. In the mix of paddleboats and selfies of hugs, my daughter posts a picture of her children, my grands, having fun.
Then all the Technicolor of the weekend fades to black and white, and my heart leaps for joy at their images and runs salty from the corners of my eyes.
The hills are a small taste of heaven and it is in my blood. But, my family is my blood. They are my everyday life, my moments of breath that give me life. I’ll share the stories of the hill country of San Antonio with my family, and my love for Laity Lodge. Maybe those stories will penetrate the vessels of their soul and send them seeking the high-country near San Antonio.
For now, Laity Lodge will be my annual retreat, and solace for my soul this side of heaven.
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