Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Part 9 of series: Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God
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In my last post I was telling the story of my first visit to Laity Lodge, the retreat center in the Hill Country of Texas that I had heard so much about when I was a boy. As I mentioned before, on the way to Laity Lodge, which lies twelve miles north of the tiny Texas town or Leakey, and about a hundred miles west of San Antonio, I was struck by the surprising beauty of the Hill Country, a far cry from the Panhandle Plains I had mistakenly thought represented all of Texas geography.
My First Visit to Laity Lodge
yes-drive-river-laity-lodgeOnce we turned off the highway onto the Howard E. Butt Foundation property, we descended into a canyon, and soon approached a lazily flowing river. The sign pointing toward Laity Lodge included a surprising direction: “Yes! You drive in the river.” Our host, my friend Dave Williamson, did as the sign said, and turned left into the Frio River. The river, which was only a few inches deep, provided a handy “road” on which we drove for a couple hundred yards.
Leaving the river, we entered the grounds Laity Lodge itself. I was captivated by its quiet beauty. I’d been to dozens of retreat centers in my life, yet I couldn’t remember one that radiated peacefulness in the way of Laity Lodge. Soon my wife and I were sitting on a balcony outside of our room, enjoying the calming beauty of the Frio River (as seen in the photo to the right).
river-black-bluffOur weekend at Laity Lodge was delightful. The grounds, as I’ve mentioned, were inspiring. The food was delicious and plentiful. The Lodge staff was unusually hospitable. My sense of Laity Lodge’s uniqueness was compounded when, in his welcome to the retreatants, Dave explained that they were free to attend all sessions and activities . . . or not. “If you need a nap,” Dave said, “take a nap. If you want to go on a hike, go on a hike. We believe God has an agenda for you, but at Laity Lodge, we don’t have an agenda for you.” Even though I was the speaker, the one whose messages Dave was inviting people to miss if they wanted to, I loved the feeling of grace and freedom he conveyed. Laity Lodge was truly and gloriously unique.
A Providential Visit in 2007
Since my inaugural voyage in the Frio River in 2001, I returned to Laity Lodge as a speaker again in 2003. My wife, Linda, was so appreciative of the retreat center that she attended a retreat there in 2005. Both of us deeply valued the ministry of Laity Lodge, and looked forward to future visits. Neither of us, however, ever imagined that we might end up working in this ministry on a full-time basis. But when Dave asked me to speak for a retreat there in 2007, we were glad to be returning to Laity Lodge.
In God’s amazing providence, that retreat occurred on February 16-18, 2007, the week after I delivered my “wineskins” sermon. Given my new conviction that I needed to be open to the possibility that God had something for me beyond being the pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, and given Laity Lodge’s previous interest in me, I wondered what my new openness to God meant in this situation. I knew that Laity Lodge had hired a marvelous new Director, but was still seeking an Executive Director. I decided that I would not bring up the issue of their search, since I was not seeking a new job and didn’t want to misrepresent my intentions. But if Dave were to bring up the issue, then I’d be honest about what had been going on in my life.
The Ball Begins to Roll
Indeed, Dave did bring it up, though in a light-hearted manner because he respected my previous wishes. “So, Mark,” he said with a sly smile, “are you ready to come work for us as the Executive Director?” I told him I didn’t have a quick answer to that question anymore. Thus we began an extensive conversation. I told Dave where I was in my life. I shared my question of how best to be a steward of my gifts and let him know what had been going on in my life because of my recent sermon on wineskins. I told Dave, much as I had told Paul, the man from the East Coast church, that I wasn’t looking for a job, and that I couldn’t imagine moving my family away from Irvine. Yet I added that I knew I needed to be more open to God than I had ever been before. “If your people want to talk with me on this basis,” I concluded, “then I’ll talk to them. But I don’t want to mislead anyone about where I am in this process.” Dave said he’d share what I had told him with the people involved in the Executive Director job search.
A few days later I heard from Laura, the person overseeing Laity Lodge’s search. She said she would indeed like to talk with me. And so began a process that I had never sought or wanted, and that led to a place I had never imagined. I didn’t get to that place quickly or easily, however. The process was a long and often painful one. Indeed, the decision about whether to join the staff of Laity Lodge was the hardest one of my life, and the hardest one my wife and I have ever made together.
In my next post I’ll say more about that process, and how it relates to the enigmatic will of God.

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