Last weekend was a Mother-Daughter weekend away at the Oregon Coast. The mother? Our church. With her three 'daughters' - churches that have been started in neighboring communities over the past few years. Three groups from our congregation have branched out and become healthy, thriving congregations in their own right. Friday afternoon ladies from all four churches joined together. A reunion. And new friends. It was almost as if we hadn't been apart. Joyous greetings and big hugs were the order of the day. We travelled for about two hours to a wonderful conference center to spend time away from the routines of our lives. Away from the noise of the world in which we live. Time to 'retreat' in order to 'advance' and return home renewed. The lodge was the center of many activities and comfortable motel-style rooms that would be 'home' to some of us. Lodge Room 11- my place to land. Briefly, ever so briefly.Across the 'bridge', through the doors and registration. Check in. Find out who has arrived. Give hugs. Make ourselves at home.The surroundings were beautiful. True Pacific Northwest beauty. I couldn't wait to move into my room, grab my camera and get outside to explore. My camera stayed with me through the entire weekend. Giant trees loomed high overhead.Recent winter storms with higher-than-normal winds had broken and toppled many trees. Most of the trees had weathered the storms and remained strong and tall. And majestic. A lot of trees had strangely 'fun' above-ground root systems that produced the most interesting nooks and crannies. If I were a kid I would have crawled in, under and through many of them. At times I wondered if a critter would wake up from a long-winter nap and emerge right in front of my eyes.Carefully placed paths and sidewalks led through the beauty of the woods. All around us forest textures fascinated me. Moss and ferns grew everywhere. Even on tree limbs overhead. Spring has arrived at the Oregon Coast. She was quickly unfolding her colors for our enjoyment. All around us breathtaking signs of Spring assured us that winter had passed. There were feathery forest flowers. . .
Delicate pink blooms on fragile-looking branches. . . Red rhododenrons beginning to appear. . . Sweet little pink blooms on shade-loving ground cover. . . Stately pink rhodies in full bloom. . . And a carpet of brilliant blue on the courtyard wall just outside the chapel. The weekend was filled with times of fun and laughter. Wonderful music and times of worship. An inspiring speaker challenged us to be sure that our attitudes and words and actions were pleasing to God. And that they encouraged and lifted up our family and friends. Sprinkled throughout the schedule were times for sharing and visiting with friends old and new. There were quiet places scattered along the pathways and in solitary spots and at the edges of meadows. Places for conversation. Or contemplation. Soul-searching. Prayer. And quiet thought. During one time of quiet conversation with a few friends we looked up to see that we were being watched. Carefully. Cautiously.What did this weekend mean to me? Relationships. Sweet, meaningful relationships. They were the real beauty in the woods near the beach. No storms can destroy them. They will last. Now and for a long time. Special moments will always remain in my memory. And special people. Friends I have known just a little - now friends I hold dear to my heart.