The Metropolis of Atlanta Family Life Ministry put together a special Pan-Orthodox retreat called Manna From Heaven for single mothers (whether through divorce, widowship or unmarried) and their children at the Diakonia Center in Salem, SC the weekend of October 16-18th, 2015. It was hosted by Paula Marchman,and Fr. Gregory Georgiou and sponsored by a generous grant from Leadership 100.
Honestly, I was a little hesitant to attend this retreat, but I thought it would be good for me and my children. As we embarked on our journey on Friday afternoon, our car broke down in the middle of I-485 in rush hour traffic. It was a terrifying experience because people were skidding around us when the traffic finally started to move. A nice gentlemen pulled us off of the road and jumpstarted the car enough to get us to safety. We had to tow the car and it was almost 8:30 p.m. before we arrived home.
As any mom knows, being a mom in and of itself is not an easy task. There are so many things you must juggle to make sure everything goes smoothly. Motherhood is a tiring, but joyful experience. On this Friday night, after the day’s activities, I had completely lost my desire to go. I was exhausted, frustrated and wondering if this was a sign to stay home. I asked my children what they thought. My eleven year old said she had lost her joy about it but my youngest (9 yrs.) said she still wanted to go. My mom suggested that I rent a car. Renting a car at $64.00/day is not exactly in my budget, but I did it. I have to say that the car alone was worth the trip! It was such a smooth drive and not taxing in the least. In all seriousness though, I know it was because of the prayers from the group.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon and were greeted by Edna King who said to let Paula know we had arrived. Paula has such a grace and love about her. She said the group had been praying for us and anxiously awaiting our arrival. She said they now felt complete. I could see the peace and joy of the Lord in her eyes and she was so gracious. I was immediately at ease.
Ease is not something I have felt in the last two years of my life. Divorce is never easy and IT has taken a toll on all of us. I don’t like to speak about it as it is embarrassing and I feel vulnerable and like a failure on many days. For those of you who have been through this difficult time, I know you understand the struggle and my lack of desire to be with other people when I would rather crawl into a hole. For a mother especially, you want to shield your children from every thing that would make them uncomfortable or insecure. It took real determination and perseverance just to “make the drive down”.
The girls were excited as we unpacked our bags and headed down to go canoeing with the rest of the group. It was their first time canoeing and they thoroughly enjoyed every second of it and also making new friends. After canoeing we changed clothes and headed to a Vespers service lead by Father Gregory which was a perfect way to end the day in peace and reverence.
Following Vespers we headed to the new dining hall for dinner. As we gathered around the table we had fun, light-hearted conversation. The children gave a presentation and we read scripture. After dinner, we bundled up and walked down to the lake for campfire singing and s’mores. What a great time of fellowship where someone would hum a few bars of a song and we would all guess the song and then sing it! As we retired to our rooms, Paula suggested the children play some games by passing a ball and answering questions if you caught it. She played Uno with the children as we watched. They laughed and had so much fellowship. Although we could have joined in, it was a blessing just to watch.
On Sunday morning we awoke to the beauty of God’s creation. There was a chill in the air and fog lightly touching the lake as we walked to Matins. After Divine Liturgy, we were treated to a delightful brunch of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted and the best cheese grits as well (I don’t even eat grits) and skewers of chicken and fruit. The meal was just as delicious as the one the night before.
Since we arrived late and missed most of Saturday’s activities Paula and Edna helped the girls with a special craft. We all participated in creating our very own family icon box. Because we were short on time we did not get a chance to hike around the lake and meet the animals but we definitely plan on coming back next year. They have horses and sheep that graze around the lake.
As I said earlier, this is not a trip that I was looking forward to, but God really answered the group’s prayers for us. The trip down was relaxing and fun, and we were able to stop along the way and see some sights. The return trip was equally relaxing and didn’t even feel like we were in the car for three hours. We were refreshed and have no regrets.
I had not been to the Diakonia Center since 2005 but it is definitely not the same place as it was before. They have built a new dining hall and the grounds have changed as well. What a blessing to be able to spend time with your children and enjoy that time instead of worrying about all of the details. It was such a peaceful experience that I will never forget and I encourage every single mom to attend next year.