Those Little Things — Reflections on Omaha: A Photo Essay

It was a retreat about big things,
God-sized things.
Dreams, to be exact.
Dreams that God plants in each of us,
designed specifically for us,
invitations to step out, step up, practice obedience.

But what I most remember are the small things,
moments of grace and beauty,
reminders that the God of big dreams is ever and always,
the God of the details, too.

As I told you last week, I almost didn’t get there. 

When I did get there, it went something like this.

A pinpoint landing on an Omaha runway, after five different attempts,
late in the evening of the opening session.

During those rugged 36 hours of trying to get there,
I had re-packed my bags to make the checked bag heavy,
the carry-on, light.
Instead of my usual flying outfit of sweat pants and shirt,
I dressed up a little, knowing the arrival time would
barely allow space to breathe, much less change clothes.

So I hurried off the plane, found my rental car, but lost my heavy bag, and took off
over 35 miles of Nebraska country roads,

arriving at the retreat center just after dark,

exactly in time to offer the first of my assigned contributions —
the closing prayer.
I jokingly asked everyone in that gathering space to tolerate
well the clothing I was wearing, as the rest of it was still enroute.

That outfit included the earrings at the top of this post.

If you know me at all, you know that I love earrings.
Love them.
And collect them, too. But that purple-pink color is hard to find,
and I remember how pleased I was to find these beaded ones.

Exhausted, I headed back to the hotel where I was staying,
after a brief run through a 24-hour Walmart to purchase
a few toiletries, something to sleep in, and a change of
underwear and shirt.

As I got ready for bed, too tired to see straight,
I realized that one of my beaded, purple-pink earrings was missing.
I looked through all layers of my clothing, my large purse and then
I scoured the car the next morning.

No earring.

Can I just admit to you that this loss made me a little bit teary?
I know, it’s just a small thing.
But sometimes, it’s those small things that trigger
the big emotions. My own fatigue played a large part in those tears,
I know that. But it was the missing earring that
somehow represented for me the deepness of that fatigue,
and the difficulty of getting to Omaha at all.

As I have made a lifetime habit of doing, I sucked it up.
I’ve gotten quite good at that over these years.
Quite good.
Generally, when I’m struggling, you’ll see only the topmost layer
the layer I can joke about, make light of —
because I’ve taught myself to . . .
rise above?
put a good face on it?
see the glass as half full?
avoid whining?

I don’t know all the reasons why, I just know what I do.

So I sucked it up, got up in time for breakfast, traveled back to the conference center,
and asked the Lord for eyes to see what I needed to see.

Here are a few examples.

Quiet moments of conversation, tucked away here and there,
faces intent and engaged, attention being paid.

Friends becoming sisters.

Earnest times of prayer and connection.

Brothers here and there, encouraging, serving, sharing.

Watching one of the most beautiful women I know turn like a flower toward the sun, time after time after time —
doing exactly what the Lord equipped and called her to do.
Thank you, Dee, for dreaming big and following hard.

Shared laughter, creative thinking through glitches.

Astounding leadership skills, gifted speakers and organizers.

In-real-life connections, arm-in-arm, heart-to-heart.

Beauty in abundance, from short to tall, from north to south,
from every single face.

The glory of a family farm as spring begins to peek through the earth.

The joy of women’s voices, preaching, teaching, leading, blessing.

The power of small symbols to tell big truths,
the simple act of writing out the roadblocks,
depositing them at the altar,

 entrusting them to the far reaches of an Iowa farm pond,
another small but concrete act of relinquishment.
These stones of heartbreak were tossed to the bottom of that pond
this weekend — they were read, remembered, prayed over and then
released by the hands of two generations of women of God.
Jennifer, Lydia and Anna Lee — we thank you.

Sunday morning arrived and still no luggage.
In that bag, I had packed Sunday-morning equipment that I could not access,
yet new friends helped to gather all that was needed,
all that was right.
This was my primary responsibility for the weekend,
to lead us all in a service of worship and communion,
to remember who we are,
to celebrate who we might become.

And again it is the little things that spoke most powerfully –
the bread, the cup.
And these stones of remembrance,
shiny and bright, reminders of how God
is in the business of changing the rocks of regret
into reflections of glory.

The bread was hand baked, tough but delicious.
We had to work a little to tear off our portion.
And somehow, that was a powerful small thing for me,
reminding each one who came, by name,
that the Body was broken for them,
and by them — a gift that must be taken
with energy and commitment.

But here is the tiny thing that was perhaps the one thing that spoke to me,
just me — Diana —
most powerfully over the course of this rich, rich weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, I was too tired to stay for informal conversations,
and too old and infirm to even think about the ‘brave’ activities like zip-lining.
So I headed back to the hotel for a shower and a nap.

As I opened my car door, something shiny caught my eye.
Nestled on the floor of the car,
the very car I had inspected carefully for just such evidence,
was my lost earring.

It winked up at me, in the middle of my exhaustion,
in the middle of my constant anxiety about being enough
and doing enough,
and it said to me these words:
“I see you, Diana. I know you.
What was lost is found, sweetheart.
What was lost is found.”

And so I was.

Yes,  my bag eventually found me,
two days after returning home!
And as I unpacked all those things I knew I had to have to
do the job for which I had been called,

 I remembered again. . .
it isn’t the stuff that makes me who I am.
It isn’t the stuff that defines me.

I am a pastor.
I didn’t ask to be, I didn’t even want to be.
But I am.
And it is God who provides what is truly needed,
often through the loving generosity and creative ideas
that emerge from the people in my life at any given moment in time.
I am still unpacking, friends.
Still unpacking all my stuff.
Oh, the suitcase contents are long since stowed away,
but I am unpacking nonetheless.
And prayerfully asking, “What can I learn? How can I change?
Who am I now, and what dream are you asking me to own?”
I’ll keep you posted.
Today, I’ll join em’s prompt late and on Monday, I will add this to the links at Laura’s, Jen’s, Michelle’s places.

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  1. Oh Diana I love this. I loved meeting you. I miss all of you. Thank you for these glimpses. Bless you.

  2. Thanks for coming by, em. I miss everyone, too!

  3. I love the way God shows up in the little things. As if He’s saying, “I’m not too big to see you. I see you. I do.” Thanks so much for being part of the weekend, Diana!

    • Thank YOU for inviting me, Deidra. It truly was a privilege to be there. One regret is no decent picture of you. I think I’ll add the mediocre one I’ve got…

      It’s in now and this piece needed it. Because without you, there wouldn’t be ‘this piece,’ or any other wonderful memory of this time together.

  4. And this? It is perfect. Your weaving of story with images, your bare and open heart, revealing the truth of who and what you really are…all of this, Diana, is beautiful.
    Meeting you was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Omaha and one of the things that I had hoped would happen this side of heaven.
    This God we serve and love? He is gentle-hearted and full of compassion and I am convinced that he drew each person to Jumping Tandem for very specific and unique reasons. All of our experiences were different and some were much more difficult than others. But all of them were distinct threads in a tapestry that is still being woven. I am so very thankful to be hemmed in to the same piece of cloth as you, dear Diana.

    • Thank you, Holly, for your good words & your faithful encouragement. It was delightful to meet you – a high point for me.

  5. Tina/@teenbug says

    Oh my goodness. I got weepy reading this.

    It’s true. Those purple-pink bead earrings are usually the kind of straw that breaks the ‘trying-to-suck-it-up’ camel’s back.

    I love that you were reunited with it. I love that Jesus see all things.

    I love the imagery of the tough bread:

    “reminding each one who came, by name,
    that the Body was broken for them,
    and by them — a gift that must be taken
    with energy and commitment.”


    I hope I get to hug you in person someday. I just LOVE your heart!


    • Thank so much, Tina, for stopping by and reading and leaving such kind words. I look forward to meeting you in person someday soon!

  6. What a window into your experience; thanks for this. Thank you for your ministry, too. We have been found. Goodness.

  7. Oh how special Diana! Seriously. And one day I’m going to make it to one of those things. One day. Love you!

  8. Diana, this post, for some reason resonated like none other that I’ve read about the retreat. I WAS there in Spirit, tho’ not in body, because I’ve ‘known’ you all over this last year or so. I began to tear up when I saw your photos, as if I was sitting with a cup of tea and talking with my sisters and brothers; yes, I was there.
    And friend, what Jesus did in the hard, hard places you traveled over the river and through the woods and into Walmart and into the arms of your sisters who love you and your gifts….oh, it’s just overwhelming to read of our God’s goodness. The tears won’t stop flowing as I type this, not sure why. I guess I’m just amazed at the Father’s love and care for us, even our bright, shiny ‘little’ things like a not quite red beaded earring.

    Oh, I am blessed. (and I would have joined you in the nap, instead of the zipline-ing. Just sayin’. What were they thinking?)

    • Ah, Jody. You are so sweet!! I wish you could have been there – but if this piece helped you be there, then I’m glad. You must read Sandy King’s and Laura Boggess’s reports on the zipline thing. In my book, they’re crazy – but they’re also pretty wonderful. I have never been brave physically, but I’ve taken risks in other ways, I guess. And the sight of that earring brought me to tears, too, friend. Believe me.

  9. There are so many times that I don’t “get” God … but that sweetness that allows a treasured earring to be lost and then found … just at the right time. I just love that. And you!


    • I’m with you on all of that, Glenda – I don’t always ‘get’ God, either. (In truth, I wouldn’t want to ‘get’ God – God is way too big to be gotten!) But these little, surprising things grab me, too. I looked all around that car earlier that day, but didn’t see it there until I really, really needed to see it. Love right back to you, Glenda.

  10. ps. I love your pastoral heart.

  11. Big sigh…

    And this: rocks of regret into reflections of glory. I love my stone of remembrance. And I love how God did His thing His way with the willing.

    • Well, exactly this: ‘his thing, his way, with the willing.’ That’s the key, isn’t it? That willingness. Always need more of that.

  12. Diana, we were all SO blessed by your presence at the retreat. You held it together with grace and humor {and sometimes God uses the very same things we’ve used as our defense mechanisms} and you were wonderful. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents and the words of encouragement on Sunday. Blessings!

  13. Such a beautiful story! Incredible.

  14. Amazing. How I wish I was there, and will try to be there next year, from Oregon.

  15. Diana, I know you blessed so many people this past weekend. I am privileged to know you and to call you my friend.

    So, so glad you found the earring!

  16. I am so glad to know that your bag found you! I have been fretting over that. What a wonderful gift to see you again, my friend. Your message on Sunday was beautiful–I’m still thinking about some of what you said. And what grace you and Shelly modeled for us as you bent like the willow with that strong wind of lost luggage. Walmart never looked so good :).

    • Indeed!! I even have a few philosophical problems with Walmart and their employment policies – but when you’re stranded and in need of a few replacement items. . . well, it sure was handy. Thanks for coming by, friend. It was absolute gift to see you again. And that last lunch at the airport with you and Sandy and Dan?? Such a treat for me. I’m not a great solo traveler, so it was very nice to have ‘family’ around before getting back on a plane after the debacle of getting myself there. :>)

  17. And just how does one get invited into such a circle? What blessing!

    • Oh, Sue! Deidra Riggs has been advertising for this retreat since late last summer! I’ve put it out there on Facebook a couple of times and wrote a blog post about it last fall. It was open to anyone – up to 100 people and we would probably have squeezed a few more in. You would have been so welcome! SO welcome.

  18. Diana, what a beautiful expression of our weekend and glimpses into your very own heart. I think each one of us received something during that time–even if it came hard–that was just what we needed. Your prayers and the Sunday worship was so beautiful as He used you to bring us to the feet of Jesus…”Rocks of regret into reflections of glory.” How beautiful are feet of them who bring the good news… Thanks for sharing your heart.

    • Thanks so much, Sheri. I’m grateful you could be there and that you chose to come over here and leave such kind words!

  19. I love hearing stories about how God uses whatever we bring to him, however we bring it. And when all the trappings are stripped away, we discover he is all we need. Thank you for sharing this, and all the wonderful images. Oh, and I’m so glad God showed you where the errant earring was hiding. They are truly beautiful earrings!

    • I love telling those stories, too, Carol — but generally AFTER they’ve happened. In the moment, I’m not nearly so grateful nor gracious. :>) And it was the sunlight that showed me the earring — it had been dark when I looked earlier. So sweet — the minute I opened the car door, there it was right in the center of the strip in front of the driver’s seat, plain as day. :>)

  20. Love this. Love you. You are my inner circle.

  21. “I am a pastor.
    I didn’t ask to be, I didn’t even want to be.
    But I am.
    And it is God who provides what is truly needed,
    often through the loving generosity and creative ideas
    that emerge from the people in my life at any given moment in time.”

    Thank you for this. I have been struggling to find the words to speak to my calling, to speak to the position I find myself in at this season in ministry. These are those words and they brought me to tears. Bless you for this and thank you.

    ~ Cassandra from Renaissance Women

    • Thank you so much for letting me know that this piece touched you. It sounds like maybe you are in a similar place right now, so I bless you with courage and patience and the ability to see and pay attention to the truth that God is not done with you yet. The Spirit speaks to us always – if we just have ears to hear!!