C.W. (The Journey Retreat)

My journey actually began many years ago, long before I heard about the Motherless Daughters Ministry. It began the day my world turned upside down. I was thirteen years old when I went to wake my mother up only to find that she was on the floor and had died of a sudden aneurism at the age of forty-five. That is the moment I began to turn my back on God and my world changed forever. I was lost.

I was in eighth grade and it wasn’t just my mom that disappeared on me. My brother left for college, and my dad worked the night shift. I suddenly found myself very alone, nothing was ever the same again… so, I blamed God. I was so angry at Him. ‘How could there be a God when I was going through all this pain and heart ache?’ I often wondered.

As I waded through the dark and stormy waters of life without my mother these last thirty years, I do believe God kept trying to throw me life rafts. I just wouldn’t grab on, or even notice them until they were already drifting away. I was drowning, barely able to catch a breath before the waves of darkness swallowed me again, and again, and again.

Through each of life’s milestones I was without her. Through each additional loss, traumatic event, heart ache, I was without her. The pain tucked itself away deep inside of me. That scared thirteen-year-old girl curled up inside of me too, afraid to come out. Afraid to face the truth of life that people you love die. People you love will leave you.

God was persistent though. The Father I turned my back on had never turned his back on me, I just didn’t know it. He tried one more time, dangling before me this new lifeline, The Motherless Daughter’s Ministry, The Journey Retreat. This time when he threw the life raft, I was truly on the brink of giving up.

Although I told myself I was fine, that I didn’t need to go, my mom died when I was thirteen, it’s been thirty years… “I’m over it.” (I really did say all that to myself). However, something inside me took notice of the chaos building within me. ‘Maybe this is what you need,’ a small voice whispered inside my head. Perhaps that scared thirteen-year-old girl that had been hiding in the darkness, was finally willing to peek toward the light.

Every excuse ran through my mind of why I should not go, but God was crafty and had thrown so many different signs my way that I couldn’t deny His hand was making this happen. He also knew that despite the darkness I suffered in alone, or maybe because of it, I did have a propensity to not want to disappoint. If I commit, I’m going to see it through and there was a friend going to this retreat as well. She didn’t know my story yet, but I told her I would go so I felt compelled to see it through.

I never realized the weight I was truly carrying inside me until I started my car in Knoxville, Tennessee and began the journey to Cincinnati, Ohio. I was alone, for the first time in a long time I did not have the distractions of daily life fighting for my attention. This trip was about me. About me, my mom and my past.

I barely made it out of town before I had to wipe the sweat from my palms! You see, I was born and raised in Cincinnati. I spent all the years I had with my mom living in Milford, Ohio and Anderson Township. So, this journey to the Motherless Daughter’s Retreat was not only and opportunity to check out what the ‘journey to healing’ might be about, but also an opportunity to go by my childhood home, my school, and even my mom’s grave.

As I meandered through all my old stomping grounds, reminiscing along the way I had no idea that a thought would be planted in my head to visit my old church. My mom was the one that always ‘made’ us go to church, in fact we went to almost every church activity, but when she died, we just never went back again. I had never even considered that to be a place I would want to visit.

I decided to listen to that inner voice telling me to go by my old church. I pulled in the parking lot and my racing heart and I just sat taking it all in. I imagined all the live nativity scenes I was a part of, the cook outs, the easter egg hunts… all of them with my mom by my side.

I forced my feet out of the car and up to the door of the church, rang the bell and waited. When I stepped through the threshold of that door something happened, a wall crumbled, a dam broke inside of me. Tears from the thirteen-year-old girl hiding inside of me poured out. One of those soul cleansing ‘ugly’ cries. (If you know, you know.)

This journey to healing had taken me to a sacred, safe space, the first place I found God. Where we built our foundation and it felt like He had been waiting for me there. This was my church. This was where I left God and where I would begin to find Him again.

I was crying so hard the poor woman that let me in probably thought I was crazy. But no, she was calm, caring, and listened. A dear friend would later tell me that God had likely prepared her for a visitor that day. I remembered everything about that church, it was a piece of my childhood heart and soul that I had completely forgotten about, but God knew. He knew that in order for me to continue on my way to the Motherless Daughters Ministry retreat I had to visit the roots of my fractured relationship with God, I needed to lay my anger to rest. I needed to let those tears fall.

With my swollen eyes and lightened heart, I headed on to Milford to Greenlawn Cemetery where my mom, and several other family members are buried. I had not visited her grave more than three or four times in the last thirty years, always finding an excuse not to go. But this was beginning to feel different. This was beginning to feel more important, like this trip, this retreat just might be the window to the breath of fresh air I have been seeking.

I planned enough time to actually sit and talk to my mom before I had to check into the retreat. I pulled out a camping chair I had in my car and I sat… and I talked… and I cried next to her headstone. I told her all the things I could. My fears, my failures, my daughter, my marriage, my proudest moments. Tears, anger and heartache poured out of me. I was broken. I was on the verge of giving up, but was willing to make the effort for one last glimmer of light that was shining about two miles away at the MDM Journey Retreat.

Walking into the retreat was incredibly scary. These people were all strangers (except the one friend I knew). A woman walked up to me in the parking lot and she offered me a hug, an introduction, but it was also a lifeline into the sea of comfort and unconditional support that I was about to unknowingly dive into.

One introduction after another soon led to a large room with sixteen people, but the fear and anxiety ebbed away with the realization that these were my people. They were all dealing with mother loss, every single one of them. It wasn’t until they began to share their own stories that I fully felt the connection with all of them. The facilitators and volunteers provided an example of how to shine your light in the dark, an example of bravery and courage so that we too could begin to write and share our stories with one another.

The Journey Retreat was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, but it was also one of the most amazing and best experiences of my life. Sharing my feelings, my story, the life events that have been so difficult I didn’t even realize they were still tucked away inside of me. This retreat was challenging while also loving and compassionate. It was soul searching with a dose of laughter and friendship I have no doubt will last a lifetime.

I walked in meeting strangers, but I left with sisters. Sisters I never knew I needed, but they are now a part of my soul forever. I knew this retreat would be a journey home, to my home town, to my mom, to the feelings of my past. But what I found was that this was my journey Home. Home to my loving God that in retrospect had never ever left my side.

He stood by me through the storms with His hand upon my shoulder until I was ready to step forward with Him by my side. He shaped the world around me and placed people in my path along the way and when He knew I was ready He made the push to take me the rest of the way across that threshold into the healing arms of the Motherless Daughters Ministry.

I arrived filled with doubt, drowning in rough waters, but I left a water walker. Blessed, cleansed, broken yet remade. I left with fresh new eyes and a new perspective on my life and the way God has been working in my life for many years.

I will forever be grateful for the Motherless Daughter’s Ministry and the renewed hope, the renewed life and sense of community they have given to me. I used to think I could not have a strong faith because I turned my back on God for so long. But now I think, maybe those with the greatest trauma, the greatest heartache and sorrow might just become the ones with the strongest faith.

I may not be an avid church goer, but my ‘church’ often comes through music, through lyrics that speak to my soul. If I were to pick a song to sum up the Motherless Daughters Ministry Journey Retreat it would be Ellie Holcomb’s, ‘I Will Carry You’.