at the “Glass House” in Big Bear.
October, 14-16, 2011
I woke up from a deep sleep…tired from restlessness. Anh Thien, our driver, followed the path of twists and turns. With anxious anticipation, we were getting closer to our destination. The evergreens to our right, the mountains grew higher by the minute…each curve taking us deeper in. Then the unexpected happened, a sudden halt. With others, we waited for our turn to move on. Life is like this at times, sometimes a phasing out after such busyness, a moving with the flow, a longing unbearable, and then a stopping. Even with the aid of the GPS and all eyes on the road, wrong turns and illegal U-turns happened along the way, but we finally reached the “Glass House on the Ridge”. The minivan sloped downward to park. Unpacking our luggage, we greeted the cabin that will house us for the next couple of days. Yet the moment when we thought we’ve made it, the alarm sounds off, leaving us scrambling in chaos. Ok…it’s gonna take a minute, but we’re here…our Big Bear mini retreat getaway…
With the events of the day planned out and responsibilities in order, MK followed “Mom” Trang (ok Truong, she’s not only your “Mom”…LOL) in the kitchen. She was in charge of the food that will fuel us, body and soul, for the days ahead with a special ingredient that one cannot find in any store…sprinkles of love As I’m assisting “Mom” Trang, Trish waits patiently for me to explore of our new place.
In the pitch black wilderness and late of night, our other “half” comes in safely and tired. I can see the red in Theresa’s eyes, but happy that our friends were here. Like those many late nights we’ve gathered before in the comfort of Anh Chi Thien-Trang’s home, we sung praise to bring light to the reason why we were here…in gratefulness for God’s love, especially for our nhom these past ten years. This evening, our soul provider leaves us to ponder, “…and who do you say I am?”
Despite a restless night next to Tu-Nhi, I dragged myself out of bed. The “mornings” from our friends woke me up to another day. We began our day in prayer as we recount the blessings God has given us, Joe-Thuy for their kindness, our friends who could not make it (but are close to heart), our God…for the beauty and goodness of His creation and allowing us to have another day.
With Ky in charge of the hardest part this morning…morning exercise…we gathered on the deck. Reminding us to breathe in the goodness of the Lord, we couldn’t help feeling grand amid the spectacular scenery before us. Following his simple movements, we stretched our heads toward the blue sky (Our Father), down to earth (Son), right to left (Holy Spirit). Giggles broke our concentration, but with Ky’s personal assistant, Teddy’s lead, we were still able to cherry pick our way through…Father, Son, Holy Spirit…Holy Spirit, Son, Father. With another hardy breakfast by Mom Trang, we called it morning.
Theresa pulled out her homework, to catch up with her kids. Anh Ha was off to keep up with the time change. Everyone just relaxed, doing their thing.
By noon, we gathered with the Holy Spirit and Anh Viet’s guidance to reflect on the image of God. With my lack of art skills, I struggled to find the appropriate image of God. Should it be the one I’ve shared with nhom that night behind close doors, filled with pain? or the one that I always imagine, a peaceful, calming friend I can lean upon? or the kind Father? I sat there, frustrated. Like chicken scratch, I drew our “Lover,” who suffered and accepted physical pain and heartache as the one image of God whom I can most relate to most recently.
This afternoon, we went hiking. It was an easy walk alongside the path heading towards the lake. Our photographer in training, Teddy, captured the moments for us. Soon enough, however, with goal not in sight, we decided to head back. However, the easy path soon turned to a challenging uphill battle. Supermom Xuan demonstrated her ability to carry on with her two babies, but thank goodness, Anh Viet came to the rescue.
Drained, we took our turns for siesta. WOW…I have never ever felt so relax and refresh at retreats like this before. With experience from different retreats, for the first time, I took my time and didn’t bother with busyness. I actually relaxed and embraced not searching for God, not busy serving others, but to just be…
By 5 p.m., the guys and I rushed to Saturday mass. Crossing our way across the lake to end up at a small church with scattered parishioners and a “one-man stand.” The Deacon’s homily caught my attention. He referred to Steve Jobs’ commencement address, “If you look in the mirror each day and ask yourself, “Do you like what you do?” and if too many days you don’t, you should change your job.” The Deacon goes on to say, “Same, too…each day, you should ask yourself, “Do you like your faith? Again, if too many times the answer is no, you should do something about it.”
We returned to “Mom” Trang’s delicious Thai hotpot and wine that evening. Everyone pretty much had their fill and was ready to pass out, but we managed to pull together another meeting despite our fatigue (or too relaxed state of mind? :P). In praise and quiet reflection, we attentively listened to one another to discover God’s dream for nhom. It is then that Truong opened up, asking for prayers.
We parted ways to do our thing. I happened to drop in half-way through the movie, 50 First Dates. What caught my attention was how the character Adam Sandler played, so patiently, day by day, proved to his girl that he loves her. Despite her inability to remember the relationship they’ve shared, each day he reminded her. It was such a cute, beautiful, yet simple love story. Then another movie, Extraordinary Measures, portrayed the story of a Father, who goes against all odds to save his children from a deadly degenerative disease. In the end, he and his partner, a stubborn scientist, found a cure that saved so many lives, even til this day. Simply inspirational, a true story to learn from, and worth staying up until 4 a.m.
Our Sunday was packing up, last minute everything time. Everyone jumped in to do what needed to be done. I returned home, tired from lack of sleep, but fulfilled from a relaxing weekend getaway. To be honest, by the time I came home, nothing seemed different. The retreat was simply relaxing.
The following day, Chi Trang asked me to share my mini retreat experience. Actually, I was nervous because I did not feel anything had happened that became a life changer or experienced any “a-ha” moments during the retreat.
However, with the passing hours as I reflect back, the Holy Spirit guides me back to the question, “What is your image of God?” …and this Tuesday morning, it hit me, during his reflection, Anh Viet read something to the effect, “…and we were created in His likeness.”
The image of God I struggled to find was not a far-fetched idea or imagination, but rather, each one I personally grew to know during our retreat…Anh Thien, Chi Trang, Teddy, Trish, Xuan, Tu-Nhi, Anh Viet, Theresa, Anh Ha, Truong and Ky. Anh Thien, with his calm demeanor and humor, brings laughter and cheer to those around him…Chi Trang, a Mother figure, full of love, always showing how much she cares…Teddy, with his innocence and quiet focus, capturing the moments around him…Trish, always being friendly and frank with no hesitation, yet patient and open to possibilities…Xuan, demonstrating the unbelievable strength and love of a Mother, who always put her babies first…Tu-Nhi, her crying out as we should be dependent on God…Anh Viet, as Ky mentioned, a “spiritual director” who always seeks to know Him more…Theresa, quietly responsible and taking part in helping whenever she can…Anh Ha, tired as he was, he still came along with his humble presence…Truong, being reserved, yet honest with himself and grateful for every bite he takes…Ky, one who partakes in being a “child” of God and making those around him, young and old, feel young at heart…
These are the images of God I so seek…His existence amongst us. The “Lover” that patiently reminds us each morning, each day when we may have forgotten, that He loves us and longs until we remember Him as in the 50 First Dates. He is also the Father, who would not give up on His children in Extraordinary Measures. To adapt Deacon’s sharing, I would ask myself, “If I look in the mirror each day, is it God I see? and His reflection in those around me?”
Although I’m a late bloomer, I am thankful for the “Fruits of Life”…for the love we all take part in and share. Thank you to everyone who made it possible…your fruits of humility, love and generosity. Although, at first it seemed simply a nice getaway…upon reflection, God is ever present in each and every moment of our lives. It shouldn’t take a retreat to see so, but MK is a slow processor. So to answer, “What is God’s dream for us?” Simply, be…