My Favorite Saturday of the Year February 9, 2017
My Favorite Saturday of the Year
There's one morning out of the whole year that Dawn anticipates like no other. It's even better, she says, than waking up on Christmas!
That special morning for Dawn, and for a growing number of her closest friends, is the Saturday morning, usually in March, when the Women's Ministry of Wheaton Bible Church hosts A Morning with Him.
For three hours on those special Saturday mornings, two hundred or more women take a break from their normal weekend routines. They set aside to-do lists, shut off phones and tablets, and get away from distractions to engage in intimate conversation with God.
Scattering all around our church campus, women find quiet places where they can allow God's spirit to speak into their hearts and minds.
A Big Commitment
Dawn had been attending our church for just about a year when she heard an announcement about A Morning with Him.
"Three hours on a Saturday seemed like a big commitment," Dawn recalls, "but I turned to the friend who'd first brought us to the church and said, 'Should we do this?'"
As she asked that question, Dawn had no idea how much she would one day come to treasure that once-a-year special Saturday morning that would propel her along a spiritual journey that had begun in her childhood.
A Unique Journey
Dawn's parents, one Catholic and one Lutheran, mostly avoided any conversation about matters of faith in their home, possibly out of deference to each other's beliefs. But Dawn is thankful for members of her extended family who reached out and introduced her to God.
She also points to the unusual circumstances that led to her enrollment at a faith-based elementary school after being expelled, as a first grader, from the local public school. How, do you wonder, might a first grader get expelled from school? In Dawn's case, she had grabbed the hand of a teacher who tried to spank her for misbehaving. Dawn's mother had told her teachers had no right to spank students, so Dawn resisted, and the school—siding with the veteran teacher—expelled her.
"My parents had no choice but to put me in another school," Dawn said. And at that school she learned more about God and came to see her need for Him.
"At the age of seven," she says, "I learned about Baptism and decided on my own that I wanted to be baptized." With her parents' permission, she was.
"I think my faith has been like a light bulb that was turned on in childhood and then, as life went on, has gotten brighter and stronger," Dawn said. "My relationship with God was strained in my teen years, but the light never went out."
Even so, it wasn't until Dawn's children neared adulthood that she realized they had not been raised in church and knew nothing about God. She wondered how she had allowed that to happen.
When she discovered K-LOVE, a radio station that plays Christian music, she says, "I found the songs so encouraging. As I listened, I felt so calm, and my moods leveled off. And in the words of those songs, I was hearing about my need for Jesus.
"Over the years, I was never completely away from God, but I had never completely understood my need for Him."
That was about five years ago, and it was around the time that Dawn first came to Wheaton Bible Church. "Some believing friends invited my husband and me to visit here," she said. "They knew we rode motorcycles and told us that this church has motorcycle parking right in the front.
"We were hooked!" Dawn says. "And I found a home."
Since that time, Dawn has sought out a number of places to connect and serve in the church, inviting friends to join her at Alpha, serving in one of the support ministries, and joining the women's Place4You Bible study. But while she's enthusiastic about each of those experiences, she saves her highest praise for the springtime Saturdays when she has participated in A Morning with Him.
While the program has been slightly different each of the four years Dawn has been part of the event, the purpose and structure have remained the same.
"When you come in," she says, "there's a beautiful buffet of light breakfast items. So you have a snack and then sit down together for a short time of introduction and worship as a group."
In that opening time, the women hosting the event explain the plan for the morning and provide materials the participants may choose to use over the next three hours. Usually in the form of workbooks, the resources include readings, thought-provoking questions, and other guided activities. While the host team provides a number of helpful suggestions for how women can use their time, each participant is free to decide what her "morning with God" will look like.
"Some of my friends," Dawn says, "choose to bring their Bibles to read. But there are also books, and readings with response questions. And some years we've had meaningful hands-on activities you can do as part of the morning or can take home and do later."
"If you're not a self-starter, there are a lot of really helpful ideas for you," she adds.
Finding a Place
After a short time together, the participants are dismissed—with a request that they refrain from conversation until the group reconvenes at the end of the morning. Each woman then heads off to find a place where she can get alone with God.
Options include going to one of the rooms that have been prepared, some totally silent and others offering a background of quiet music or the sounds of the seashore. Some participants seek out a quiet corner and settle on the floor. Others find a seat in one of the worship centers.
"You can just kind of wander around," Dawn says, "and see what calls to you. There might be a comfy chair with a blanket set our, or chairs set up around big tables. On a nice day, some people go outside to sit or walk the path around the property."
Dawn has tried out several settings, and while a couch one year offered a relaxed spot for her to read her Bible and reflect on what she was reading, she has found that sitting at a table in a room scattered with other women, works best for her. "I like to have my things set out on the table in front of me," she says.
Once each woman finds her place, she can either stay there for the entire time or, when a bell chimes at intervals throughout the morning, she can choose to move or to start a new section of the material.
Dawn describes the morning as very peaceful. "Typically," she says, "I would be cleaning my house or walking my dog or doing other things that I need to do on a Saturday while I'm off work," she says. "I never take three hours off without having something I need to accomplish. Even if I'm doing a Bible study, I have an agenda."
"What makes these mornings special to me is that I'm giving up control. It's complete surrender."
Alone with God
Dawn has come to trust the women who plan the event to provide a format God can use. She points to a morning when she came holding on to a secret—an issue she had kept to herself.
"I had this small debt that I couldn't figure out how to pay. I had overspent. I laugh now, because it was a ridiculously small amount, but I had worried about it for weeks, trying to figure out how I could make it go away," Dawn explained.
The debt, from a clothing purchase she hadn't told her husband about, embarrassed and troubled her.
"As I went through the workbook they'd given us that day, I came to the question Have you ever had to ask God for help? All I could think about was how I had kept trying to figure out how I could chip away at this debt. What I could do about it. And it hit me that I had never asked God to help me with it."
"For the first time," Dawn says, "I could see the sin in it—not in the spending but in allowing it to grow in power as it was hidden, and how it had come between me and God. I'd allowed something into my life that the enemy could use to say, You're irresponsible. You never should have done that. You're on your own. You'll never get that paid off. He threw at me everything anybody had ever said to me about my spending habits. All those negative things came flooding back and were just killing me.
"That year, we were invited to write down on a card a sin that was troubling us, and when we came back together at the end of the morning, we could take that card and actually nail it to a cross, thanking God for forgiving us.
"Writing that down was so freeing. Acknowledging where I'd made mistakes. Asking God for His help. It was very moving for us to experience what it means to be forgiven, how easy it is to just ask."
That moment, one of many Dawn has tucked away over the years, helps explain why she is so eager for other women to experience what she has through those special Saturday mornings.
"Those three hours, once a year," she says, "help shape my understanding of what God wants for me, where things are broken, and even where things are working. He speaks to me. There's always something for me to learn."
The After Party
At the close of the morning—when other women might be headed home filled with memories of what they discovered in the quiet time alone with God—Dawn and a number of her friends head off to write another chapter of their Morning with Him experience, a time to unpack together what each one has learned as she sat with God in silence and solitude.
This circle of friends has grown bigger every year. "It's been amazing to have that extended experience with them, each of us taking turns talking about it. We'll go around the group and say 'The best part for me was . . .' or 'Something I'll never forget is . . . '
"After a morning of focused time with God, it's awesome to be able to be vulnerable and to have a safe community around you," she adds.
"This is the best gift this church gives me personally, to help me grow in my relationship with God. To me, it's so grounding and so profound. It's all about Him and what He has to say to you."
Reflecting on her experience over the years, Dawn says, "Those days kind of break you down in a very healthy, good way—the way God wants us to be broken, like soil that has to be broken up so seed can take root."