Saturday, September 22, 2007

Minnesota Musings 1

My dad asked me how the flavor of women at the International Falls retreat compared with a similar retreat I spoke at four years ago, in Georgia.

I knew there were a number of differences but I couldn't put my finger on the main one until I recalled a conversation with my cousin Loretta, who had come to the retreat all the way from Kalona, Iowa and who has adopted two boys. She asked me how Steven was doing, and I mentioned the ongoing task of convincing him that he has a mom now. For instance, if he gets hurt he'll bandage it himself rather than tell me about it. And Loretta said, "Ah, he's a survivor! I have one of those too."

That, I decided, is what many of the women were as well: survivors. The Georgia women four years ago had an aura of establishment, tradition, gentility, graciousness, and wealth. The Minnesota women had much more of a sense of upheaval, change, scrappiness, overcoming difficulties, and poverty. In short--of surviving.

There were stout Russian Mennonites from Manitoba, missionary women from way up north, farm wives, women who only recently joined the Mennonite church and were coping with opposition from their families, and many others.

The theme of the southern retreat was joy, and the weekend was a lot of fun, which was fine because I think we needed that at that time. The northern theme, in contrast, was Trusting God's Promises, a heavier subject that meant that I was bombarded during break times with story after story of suffering and tragedy. Of course I was happy to listen, since one of the purposes of my talks was to convince the women that they each had a story to tell. But by the end, the collective weight of these women's experiences felt very heavy. Losing a child, abandoned by a husband, severe health issues, terrible abuse, and on and on.

However: an equal theme was God's goodness, and these suffering women had the most astonishing stories of God's faithfulness and grace.

I also heard many adoption stories that still make the backs of my arms prickle when I think of them, they were so unquestionably miraculous.

The women in the South had pretty much all fit into a fairly narrow slice of the Mennonite spectrum. Not these in Minnesota. There were local evangelical women from town, the Russian Mennonites as mentioned, ex-Hutterites, Beachy Amish, conservative Mennonites. And, since we often categorize Mennonite women by their head coverings--there were white caps, veils of all shapes and sizes and colors, scarves, and no head coverings at all.

At both retreats I felt welcomed, embraced, listened to, ministered to, and affirmed. There's something powerful about 300 Christian women getting together. Lots of good memories.

Quote of the Day:
"I hated my dad for 28 years. It's so nice to not hate my dad any more."
--one of the women, sharing her story during testimony time

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