Hopefully, you've had the chance to read yesterday's post about my trip to the UK. Today, I'd like to pick up where I left off--at the halfway point of the trip.
Wednesday, May 16th - This was the first official day of the retreat, so early in the morning, we waved goodbye to our converted police station in Matlock and made our way toward the Hayes Conference Center in Swanwick, England. We arrived early to make preparations and set up the conference room where the retreat would be held. By lunchtime, most of the ladies had arrived, and a time of sweet fellowship (and many introductions) began. After lunch, we had a meet-and-greet, at which point all who were willing dressed up in pirate costumes (except for one crazy lady who dressed up as a giant parrot). It was too much fun to describe and such a blessing to see everyone put aside their burdens for a little while and have some good, clean fun. After the meet-and-greet, most of us changed into our "normal" clothes, and we had dinner. Our evening meeting began at 7:30 and included songs, skits, some heartwarming stories of those who were standing fast for their beliefs and the Bible study, taught by yours truly. With the theme of "Stand Fast, Me Hearties," I planned my lessons to revolve around the story of Paul's shipwreck in Acts. Over the course of the retreat, I discussed how to stand fast when the storms of life were raging, and my points were arranged as "Sailing the Seven C's." (I'll share more of this with you in another post.) I was informed that there was no time limit for my lesson during the evening services, but because it was already late and everyone was tired, I had planned to keep it to thirty minutes. I thought I had done well until Tennille let me know that I had actually spoken for fifty-seven minutes. Oops! I'm worse than most preachers! However, most of the women said they had no idea I had spoken that long either, so I guess I wasn't boring them. After the meeting, some of the women came up to share their burdens with me, and it was after 11:00 by the time I returned to my room.
Thursday, May 17th - Breakfast was served at 8:30 in the morning, followed by a morning session, which again included songs, stories and a lesson. I did much better on time and actually finished ahead of schedule. After this session, we broke for morning tea and returned for another session mid-morning, which was very similar to the morning service, continuing with our theme of "Stand Fast, Me Hearties" and "Sailing the Seven C's." After lunch, we had free time to fellowship with one another until dinner at 6:30, so some of the ladies decided they really wanted me to see the town of Bakewell. So, five of us loaded up and made our way down the road a bit to a charming little town. While there was much to see, the main goal of our trip was to visit the many "charity shops," which is what they call thrift stores. Being a thrift store lover myself, I was only too happy to visit shop after shop, browsing through their many goods. One of the precious ladies even slipped away from the pack and bought me a Bakewell tart, which I later discovered was delicious, and I am still craving another one at this point in time. Thanks, Sue! Before long, we had to make our way back to the conference center to prepare for dinner and the evening meeting. Once again, the time together was precious, and a sweet spirit filled the room. There was laughter and a few tears, but it was all glorifying to God. I'm not really sure how long I spoke that night, but I do know it was VERY late by the time I got in bed. Jason had driven up to join me that night as we planned to leave immediatly following the meeting on Friday. Strangely enough, when he arrived, he discovered a friend whom he had gone to church with when he lived in Florida over twenty years ago. Yup, two friends from Florida met up nearly twenty-five years later in England. What are the odds? Anyway, we stood chatting in the hallway of the conference center for a couple of hours and finally made it to bed after midnight.
Friday, May 18th - Once again, breakfast was served at 8:30, and from there, we made our way to the conference room for our final meeting. To be honest, it was a bit sad, and there were many tears and quite a few hugs (yes, Mary, I'm talking about you!). We ended our retreat with testimonies of how each lady had been blessed and how refreshed and renewed we felt. Though many were still bearing burdens, there was a peace and joy that had been missing earlier in the week. It was difficult to say "goodbye" to so many precious ladies, but thanks to social media, I'm able to keep in touch with many of them. As soon as we had said our farewells, Jason and I packed up and headed out to do some sightseeing. Our first stop was Nottingham Castle, which disappointingly has been turned into a giant museum. It was interesting but not really all that we had hoped it would be. Still, we were able to learn a few things, take some cool pictures and "hang out" with Robin Hood. After that, we visited Ashby de la Zouch Castle, which was probably one of my favorite outings. It is a ruined castle, but there was still enough intact that we could explore the tunnels and even climb the towers. And yes, I did climb the highest tower, all 98 steps of it. The best part is that there wasn't anyone else visiting at that time, so we had the entire place to ourselves. We had a blast! We left there and made our way to The White House at One Another Ministries, who had willingly and freely offered us a beautiful place to stay for the remainder of our trip. Upon arriving, we met up with Marie, the administrator of the ladies' retreat, and her husband, Hutch, who took us out to dinner and then on a quick tour around the area. From there, it was back to the White House for some much-needed rest.
Saturday, May 19th - We allowed ourselves to sleep in a little, and it was the first night since arriving in the UK that I had slept more than six hours. My body was really starting to feel the fatigue, but there was still so much to do, so we hurried along, and headed out toward Wales immediately following breakfast (which Marie had provided). The drive to Wales was incredible and breathtaking! We made our way to the southern part of Snowdonia National Park and took part in an attraction called King Arthur's Labyrinth. The journey is completely underground (and cold!!!!). We began in a boat, floating through the dark caverns and listening to the stories of King Arthur. A few minutes in, the boat landed, and we made our way on foot, snaking through the caverns to different displays where the stories continued to unfold. There were giants, dragons and great battles. It was too exciting for words, especially for this lover of Arthurian legend and all things medieval. After that, we grabbed a bite to eat and then did another attraction called The Lost Legends of the Stone Circle. This was a maze full of various displays, each of which told you a legend. The goal was to find each of the displays within the maze, listen to the stories, and answer questions based on each story on the quiz sheet given at the beginning of the attraction. Once complete, we turned in our quiz sheet and discovered we had gotten all the answers correct. We each won a gold medal. I know it sounds a bit corny, but it really was a lot of fun. After that, we did some souvenir shopping in the village and then called the Downey's to invite them to dinner. We wanted one more opportunity to see them before we left. Dinner was very enjoyable, and we, once again, had a great time of fellowship.
Sunday, May 20th - Remember the friend from Florida Jason reunited with on Thursday night? Well, it turns out that she and her husband are missionaries in northern Wales, and they were going through a tough spell. So, we decided to try to be an encouragement to them and drive three hours Sunday morning to attend their church service. It was well worth it! Once again, there were very few in attendance, but the spirit and fellowship were sweet. We left there and made our way over to two more castles in the area, Conwy and Caernarfon. Each of these was unique in its own way, but both of them were amazing. Because everything closes very early in Wales (5:00), we weren't able to spend a lot of time at either castle, but we made the most of our time--even skipping lunch--to be able to see and do as much as possible. We explored every tower and tunnel we had time for, and I can't tell you how many stairs we climbed in those few hours, but I do know my legs were feeling it by the time we were done. After grabbing a meal of fish and chips, we headed back toward the White House and packed up our stuff, knowing we had to leave early the next morning to make our way to Manchester Airport.
Monday, May 21st - I won't bore you with too many details, but we arrived at the rental car agency around 8:30, turned in the car, then hopped the bus over to the airport. Shortly after 11:30, the boarding began. Though the flight was nine hours long (and seemed much longer), it was probably one of the smoothest flights I'd ever been on. When we arrived in Atlanta, we had to go through customs and then security. This took FOREVER, but fortunately, we had a long layover, so we didn't have to worry about missing our flight to Greenville. We finally arrived in Greenville around 8:30, pleased to see my Mom and our pastor awaiting our arrival. By the time we picked up our luggage and got home, it was probably close to 10. Our reunion with Barnabas was precious. He whimpered and cried because he couldn't get enough of us and couldn't decide who he wanted to see more. We spent a while loving on him, then went to bed with his 85-pound body snuggled between us.
And now, several days later, I'm still struggling to get caught up on my sleep and get my time orientation back on track. I've also been trying to get everything unpacked and put away while striving to get back into the groove of "normal" life. I cannot describe what a blessing the trip was and how much it impacted my life. I learned so much and met so many wonderful people. It's so hard to move on, but I know God has a work for me to do here, and I'm ready and willing to pick up where I left off.