By Shanna Kayla Ellis
Have you ever questioned who it is you are? Finding yourself sitting thinking about all the things in your life you have carried around with you, things that have had an affect on WHO you are or who you once were? Have you ever questioned exactly WHO AM I without all of that stuff? Do you like who you are…. What you stand for? You are not alone!
There are so many ways to go about trying to even attempt to figure that out. What exactly is it that I want out of this life? Is that desire worth it? Is that desire in life, helping me to become the best me possible?
Recently my best friend and I attended a Christian retreat. First one I had ever been to. I was nervous, scared to death. I didn’t know what to expect, I thought I knew exactly what I needed though ( I always know) and had been asking God to help me achieve it since the retreat was first announced last year, before being delayed by Covid. Good ole Covid! Stopping life in it’s tracks! It is amazing to me God’s timing though and how it truly is impeccable. This retreat happened later than first planned BUT it was as if, it was meant to be NOW, just for me! Just before arriving I asked myself an incredible number of questions, which were accompanied by like a bazillion thoughts. What if I do not fit in? What if no one speaks to me? How do I open up and participate with people I don’t even know, people who know so much more about faith than I do? What if they just straight up do not like me? What if I can’t hear the message God tries to send me?
I asked myself all these questions just to decide to allow myself to be open to whatever happened. To just trust that God would show up and I would hear him. BEST decision I ever made. I decided this was my chance to focus on myself, who it was I wanted to shine from within, who I am and what I stood for. I wanted to deepen my relationship with God. I thought I knew what exactly what it was that I needed to do while on this REFRESH retreat, since I always know and all (sarcastically). I did for the most part but how magnificent our God is! He showed up alright. It was as if he came down and sat upon my shoulder whispering in my ear.
Going back to when I arrived, the very first service. I recall myself looking around, being at the beginning of this journey, seeing all these women worshiping and HEARING God, thinking WHY can’t I hear him like they do? Will I ever hear him LIKE THAT? I stayed very reserved in the beginning, quiet and somewhat in a bubble, a safe distance from all of these Godly women who already knew how to speak to God and how to HEAR him. I was longing for that, even though I speak to him already and I THINK but am not quite sure that I hear him, and maybe I do just in a quieter manner. I felt this heaviness on my heart. I remember feeling in my heart how badly I wanted to be closer to him.
Even at this very moment as I sit here writing this…. where I felt this message was going when I started writing, God is having it come out differently. THIS time, NOW, I am okay with that, I am listening. He is in control. For those of you who know me well, this my friends is a huge accomplishment in itself. The first step to healing is admitting you have a problem … My name is Kayla and I have a “being in control of me” problem.
Now, we are dismissed for the night and going back to our rooms, I think about all I just saw and quietly ask myself, “Is this for me?” CAN I really do this? I instantly remember my prayer before starting to prepare for this journey. I prayed for and asked God to take away all this heaviness, I asked him to take away all this hurt, sadness, anger, disappointment and even resentment that I have been carrying around with me in my heart.
Reread that last paragraph….
“I instantly remember my prayer before starting to prepare for this journey. I prayed for and asked God to take away all this heaviness, I asked him to take away all this hurt, sadness, anger, disappointment and even resentment that I have been carrying around with me in my heart.”
I prayed and asked God to “take away” all that heaviness I was carrying in my heart. It was heavy ya’ll. It was like a boulder with a chain linked to my ankle. It was weighing me down, it was keeping me in one place, “stuck” it was affecting my reactions and my thought process. I was aware, I did not like it.
God showed up alright loud and clear. God answered my prayer alright. He answered in HIS way, he answered by having me FEEL all that heaviness away. He did not take it away, he flushed it out instead. Ya’ll I bought a package with several of those tiny tissue packs in it. I love those lil packages of Kleenex but if ya’ll are like me, every time I pick one up I think “really? This is definitely not enough for all my BIG emotions coming up out of me.” I remember thinking “God, this is not how I envisioned this going, WHY do I have to do it this way? This is not how I asked you to do this!”
Anyways, God decided how he was going to answer my prayer, by making me feel my way out of all that heaviness. I remember the moment that first tear warm and wet, as it made its way down my cheek and ya’ll, I swear if the tears weren’t visible on my face I promise, I was feeling them on the inside every moment from that first tear, until I left on Sunday. I went through at least four of the six packs of Kleenex that package contained. Now I did share one or two, but I promise you I am positive some didn’t ask because it was evident I needed every single one of them.
All kidding aside. I received many lessons and experiences on this retreat. I received many answers. The one that keeps being brought to my attention, “Obedience is not comfortable.” Whew, isn’t that the truth. Lord, I hear ya loud and clear!! I am listening. I was very uncomfortable in the beginning. I heard God speaking to me. I heard him speaking to me from the first hour in arriving. He told me I needed to share my story/testimony. It was so loud. I kept saying to myself it wasn’t a good time. Ya’ll I had a bucket of reasons why I couldn’t do that. His message regarding this not only didn’t go away but it got louder.
I pushed on. I did not sleep well that night. I had so many things on my mind. SO many questions. I played the message given on that night over in my head. It was cloudy and cold but the sound of the waves were so calming in the midst of the chaos within my head. I found myself grasping on to the peace of being at the beach, hearing the waves, peace it brought me. Through the discomfort I was feeling I chose to trust in him and know that he had a plan for me and that it would come to light before this retreat was over. I took a mental note of all the release that was taking place.
God is so amazing. I remember getting ready to hear the next message thinking about my favorites that deliver messages and how I relate to them. Ya’ll the messages that hit me most came out of NOWHERE! I have a huge respect for all of our group leaders but NOW, Now, it is even greater. I have been humbled by this experience.
A profound message I received during this experience was about how we package God up in this neat little package to look like we want him to, so that he is less scary and more “comfortable and familiar” to us. Yep! Right here…. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an arrow over my head pointing down to me like a cartoon or something. Right here, I am guilty as charged. I will never forget this message. I will keep reminding myself how important it is to see him as he is, NOT how I am comfortable with. I for years had this false sense of “well people perceive him differently” “THIS is how I perceive his word, so this is what I am going to believe it means.” I am guessing I don’t need to tell you how that worked out for me. Lol…. Then as if he was trying to finish me off right then and there, Wow! Sometimes he is pretty pushy. I mean SO pushy, imagine my reaction when he dropped this bombshell outta Aimee’s mouth… girl, she said” I want y’all to write two questions down…. Ready? Number one, “What freedom am I living without because I don’t like how God wants to do it”? Yeah that right there. Y’all it was all I could do not to ugly cry right there in front of EVERYBODY. Then came the second….. IS IT WORTH IT? JESUS! Did you have to do that???? I said “ I surrender” “dang!”
God continued speaking to me through this whole experience. Dang, he was working overtime. Still sitting there with my tears and my packs of Kleenex… Message after message. I was in awe of how these ladies prayed for others, how they prayed to our heavenly father there in that room. A couple more experiences that had a profound effect on my was during one of the worship sessions… I chose to sing and just to think about how to connect with God because I still was completely clueless and in awe of those that could. I remember asking myself if that was really how it worked, how did they know he was present.
One of the leaders came over and asked if she could pray with my friend and I and we quickly agreed. She said she felt led to just come and pray with us. She prayed for my friend and I was trying to be polite and mind my own business, but then joined in my head stating my own prayer for this precious friend I consider family. Then it was my turn. This woman said “I don’t really know you, but I see that God has a plan for you” “He has placed a dream in your heart” I am probably not quoting one hundred percent accurate, but it is the condensed version of what I recall.
Boy…. Did she really know that? How did she know that? I have had a dream on my heart for a long while. I have told myself a gazillion times why I feel it is nothing but a pipe dream and I have lost my mind. I have asked myself why I thought I could possible be capable of that dream. Then I just settled with, that it was just that, just a dream and moved on.
It was coming time for our free time and out of nowhere… one of the leaders steps up to the front and explains how she is going to stay back and conduct an exercise and if we want to participate we are welcome to, no pressure, we didn’t have to participate if we just wanted to observe we could. She went on to say this exercise was…. (ya’ll get ready for this) this exercise was to help us learn how to hear GOD! SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! Yes Lord! You HAVE my attention! It was like he was plucking the very thoughts from my brain saying “ uh huh, I am going to show you! You are NOT in control” so OF COURSE I was staying. I was so excited. I had a couple of thoughts, One, all of you who know me will chuckle, Y’all know I am a woman of many words…. Well would y’all believe I asked myself “What if I don’t hear anything?” “What if it becomes my turn and I have not a word of a message to give my number?” See the way this worked was, we all took a yellow number which was the number of a person your message God gives you is for… then a pink number which is your number so when someone reads your message meant for you, You would know it because they would say your number after the said message.
Y’all I was in a panic of sorts. I was terrified I would hear nothing…crickets. So I sat there a minute saying “ OKAY God, Imma need you to cooperate and not make me look stupid as I feel in front of all these people. The music started and ya’ll it was like, Mic drop…. There it is. Like the first two notes of the song. I was like what? That’s IT? That is the message? I said, “God that is lame.”” That is generic and could cover anyone in this room.” The word bright came to mind…. Followed by “ Brighter days are coming” “The darkness you feel will fade.” Really God? Really? So I sat a couple seconds and I got a second sentence, short and sweet again. “ One day at a time” “With me.” I surrendered and said “Okay God” I know everyone that knows me, Knows I have to have the last word and I was spinning in my head at this point. Anyway, We all shared what God gave us as a message clueless as to whom it was meant for until the number was revealed. My number, Ya’ll my number was one and I was the next to last person to receive my message. Yep… as ya’ll know IT WAS KILLIN ME. I was guessing, even shed some tears here and there feeling like “lord that message HAS GOT TO BE FOR ME”….. NOPE! Well, finally my message came. Y’all that message BROKE me do you hear me!!! Now I know why he saved it…. it was so accurate; it wasn’t all nice either y’all. I am so thankful for that message. It spoke to me about my original direction I thought this story was going…. about me being ok with who I am, not being who others want me to be to fit in. LOL, it was like God laughed and said, “ no silly, this is what you are writing about today.”
Y’all go figure, God used my favorite speaker to give me my message too! I guess he thought I would listen harder.
The next message was just as profound ya’ll. It was like it was getting better and better. I didn’t know if I could take much more. The leader stood up there and BAM! There it is…. Her title was “ It ain’t about you, it’s about this one thing.”
Y’all stop laughing….. to paraphrase what the message was about or how I received it is that it isn’t about us, getting what we want or how we want. It isn’t about us getting to where we want with him, our way. It is unmistakably about living for him, through him and doing what HE calls you to do, uncomfortable and all. SHOOT y’all, it was getting deep. I am probably finishing my second pack heading into the third pack of Kleenex… Y’all she said, “if we miss this one thing, NOTHING else matters.” I don’t know about y’all but I think my mouth fell open right then. The light bulb came on Y’ALL.
Then next leader, another message…. a beautiful one which she claims wasn’t a message but y’all if it wasn’t a message it sure slapped me upside the head and said “shut your mouth” It was through her brokenness and vulnerability that God’s words and message to me became as clear as I have ever heard anything in my life. It was now he said “girl you gonna share your story and testimony, you feel me?’ Still I wasn’t feeling how he was telling me I was going to do that.. We will get to that in a minute, stay tuned.
I felt my heart rip in two for her, with her, at that very moment. I have felt what she described. I have experienced what she described. I KNEW I was all in at that moment she left that stage. I knew what I had to do. So after she was done and left the stage and we took a break I walked over to her and very straight to the point looked her square in the eyes and told her I needed to speak to her before we left this retreat. Y’all this was Kayla’s way of following God’s directions. 😊 Well the opportunity hadn’t presented itself once again, and I was becoming frustrated. I had attempted to reach out to her on a couple other occasions before this retreat. I had read her book “Prayerful Prey” by Stephanie Holbrook, Y’ALL it’s on Amazon, go look it up right now and buy it. I promise you’ll never be the same. It is a Christian abduction thriller, but it will redefine what forgiveness means to you, I swear.
Moving right along. We continued until the last speaker gave her message. I didn’t want to miss a thing so for her message I wrote the scripture numbers she gave, I did not want to miss a thing writing. The one little message I was able to jot down and not miss something important was “Be alert, Be present” Yes Lord. Someone else quoted Charles Stanley “I was so busy serving the church, I had no time to talk to the lord.” Wowzer! The message Kitty gave and this quote, put it in my face AGAIN, that we are so focused on this world and what we THINK, our responsibilities to it are that we don’t fulfill our true priority, GOD. We do not MAKE the time to talk to him ENOUGH. We do not risk feeling stupid and uncomfortable to bare ourselves to him, which is completely ludicrous now thinking about it because HE ALREADY KNOWS what is in our hearts. My message from him PROVED it.
SO as if I wasn’t completely humbled and stripped of any ounce of control I felt I had, Kitty spoke about luggage we pack and carry around or hide in our closet, attic or basement and instead of unpacking it we just grab ourselves a smaller suitcase and justify that we are carrying less, knowing full well its in ADDITION to what we have “outta site outta mind, hidden wherever our hiding place is.
When we came in for her message I noted a pile of rocks on the stage and wondered what she was going to do with them rocks. Well…… this was it y’all, this was the moment that Aimee’s question “ what freedom was I living without because I didn’t like how God wanted to do it?” Now this next exercise ….Kitty says, “ I want y’all to get a fresh page in your little book and write this down,” What obstacles/battles did you survive that you still feel pain from, areas you still need closure from?” Right then I broke, what ever else was left IN ME, broke in that moment. I am serious y’all…. I wrote down quickly and easily the sexual abuse I suffered from my biological father, then being thrown away by his family, then the rape in high school, the failure of my first marriage and all that included, the hurt I caused my bonus dad who is my dad in every way that matters and my mother, names of people I considered friends, that I hurt, then the list went on and on…. I started thinking “dog gone it all, I am gone need more paper!” I AT THAT MOMENT, realized how much baggage I had been carrying with me ALL THESE YEARS and even though my journey had allowed me to do a great deal of healing, I was still carrying it WITH me, it had taken up residency. Then she told us to fold that paper around our rock and before we left this retreat, we were to go out to the ocean and throw that rock WITH ALL the battles/obstacles attached to it, into the ocean and we would walk away free from it. NEVER to pick it up again.
I sat there with this long list and the significance of this list…. All that was on it, and the part it played in my life. I opened another pack of Kleenex y’all because as Kitty opened up chairs for us to come sit in and let them pray over us, I sat in my chair I sat each session in and looked down into my hands… the rock I chose, with the paper now formed around it secured with a rubber band took shape of a heart. Plain as day. There it was. My best friend saw it too. There it sat, my heart, in my hands, God spoke to me and told me, my issue wasn’t that I wasn’t willing to heal completely from all the battles/obstacles in my life. My issue was, I had no earthly Idea WHO I was WITHOUT all the things listed on that paper. I had been a product of all the things listed on that paper for years, all the things people said about me. Now suddenly the fear of throwing that rock with that list wrapped around it in the ocean,was one of the scariest things I had ever been faced with. Wow! I sat with that for a good while. I was broken as broken could be in that very moment. I asked God in my head, “God what do I do now” it was at the moment I stood and made my way to the chair to ask for prayer. I knew Kitty would hear what prayer I needed. She did, boy did she. I sat in the chair and looked at her straight in the eyes and said” I have absolutely no idea who I am, once I throw all this in the ocean.”
I went out to the ocean that night, thinking I was going to throw my rock, “my baggage” in the ocean. I had convinced myself I was going to throw it and be better, more comfortable not seeing where it landed, just content that it was gone. Y’all God said “no child, your not ready” so I took my rock back to the room with me, safe in my jacket pocket. I decided Morning light was when I was going to the ocean, it was when I was going to unload my baggage and go home lighter, “refreshed” and I was going to do it in the light of the sunrise, so I could watch it as it went and see undoubtedly where it landed NEVER to be picked up again.
God is real y’all. He is so good. He is faithful. He IS ALWAYS there. You just have to be ready to receive his message. Sometimes, we think we are ready to hear him when indeed we are NOT listening, close enough. Our heart is not his yet. He came to me during that retreat and I for the first time was absolutely positive I HEARD him loud and clear, with no ounce of doubt.
The next day.. during sharing over breakfast I stood up and I shared the profound impact of all I have received, and all I had been given the opportunity to hear during that retreat. I shared some of my story. It wasn’t until I came home, that I surrendered completely. I then shared my story openly. I had finally understood that is isn’t about me, It is about this one thing….Jesus. He died for me, he forgave all my sins, he is carrying all those battles on that piece of paper in the bottom of the ocean. It is now that I am free. I am his.