My Lake Tahoe Fellowship Retreat Memories

By Barbara Hiura 
Have you ever attended this retreat? It’s been around for over 40 years. I remember every year, I would see the bus pick up some 20 of our church members on an early Sunday morning but I was never motivated to attend…not when I was working and certainly not when I retired. I just thought it was for our (ahem)…“older” members. I also thought “do I really want to be sitting in heavy duty Biblically focusedl workshops all day, every day for five days?” Nooooo! This was my first year attending and WAS I EVER WRONG! I really mean WRONG, WRONG, WRONG with erroneous assumptions. Fact is… this retreat was unexpectedly awesome, fun, and yes…spiritually uplifting.
First you cannot go wrong being at Lake Tahoe, in the serenity of the Sierras, with clean air filling your lungs with just that hint of pine being part of your daily sensory experience. The smell alone is captivating and you know you’re closer to God just because you’ve escaped the busyness of daily life. This gave me a chance to hear God’s voice inviting me…to be closer. No pushing, no loud voices…just whispering: ”Open your heart and mind to me.”
So yes, this was first and foremost a rather selfish experience, because it was about me…me finding God’s richness in my soul. And with that clarity… it was about being open to building community through relationships. I was enticed by my peers, Bev, Jim and Barbara M. (my roommate) to attend. Now all three are leaders of this LTF Retreat. There were 49 of us, with 14 newbies from four different churches, Blaine Memorial UMC, Berkeley MUC, Sacramento UMC and Wesley. I am thankful. You wanna know why? I now have an ever-larger family who have embraced and welcomed me.
This retreat offered transformation and my soul was shaken and my spirit awakened. I was asked to give my own faith journey and revisit a time when I first heard Jesus speak to me…a time when I took him as my Savior and felt God’s presence in my life. What that did was force me to remember my birth and renewal. It was emotional and I was visibly shaken and vulnerable.
And then, there was Rev. Karen Yokota Love. You would be so proud of her, now 10 years into her ministry. She led us on a pilgrimage, but not an easy one. We talked about those “unspoken” topics like “growing old”, the huge one called “GRIEF,” and leading us out to being grateful and experiencing God’s Grace. What an exciting dynamic speaker she is and I like her style and presence. I love her and we reconnected. For me, an immediate bond which touched me in my heart. This was a private moment of reaffirming love and renewal. We need that personal experience and open-armed welcome from others. I can truly understand why this retreat has been going on for decades. It’s like getting a “fix” of the God’s love drug.
We took Rev. Karen’s daily messages into small group discussions to further explore these tough topics. For each who attended, this is an opportunity to open up and express one’s relationship to God through life experiences, both difficult and pleasing. And I was allowed to express how Jesus lives in me. Not easy when aging and grief are part of our life experiences. But the stories each told opened avenues for relationship building in a very deep and spiritual way. Spending time in a small group, we bonded as brothers and sisters. In that circle of love, I felt safe and comfortable to share my inner most thoughts and feelings.
The last day, we had a memorial service led by Decon Mike, for those who went to God this past year. It was a beautiful solumn and reverent service honoring loved ones with spoken word and candlelights. While this highlights grief in our hearts, it opens us to the showering of God’s love and our future heavenly future with him.

Workshop Fun
We had fun!!! And I mean collaborative fun. I enjoyed all the workshops… trying to find Polaris though a straw (John Firebaugh), eating mochi dango (Allyn and Jan), making a movie (Iphone, Mac or tablet) about God sightings (Dale Kaneko), washi paper card-making (Marilyn Murata), learning to line dance (Gloria Imagire), or making an origami heart out of a dollar bill (Judie Kanemoto). But what was most important was we did these activities together. There was the guffaws of laughter piercing the room when trying to line dance and then there was the little chit-chats while crafting as we connected to one another through stories. In the end too, we finished product to take home…”make and take” as Barbara M would say. In all this activity, there was love.
Early in the week, we experienced hands-on me massage workshops, like Wow, with total relaxation from Bobbie Ueunten’s Feldenkrais to Joy Nakamura and Ben Hashiba giving all who wanted a 10 min., neck and back message. What uptight bodies we have. Talk about preparing us for exploring out spiritual life. If this is paradise, more please. We are thankful for all who shared their gifts and talents with us.
I am thankful for my Wesley family for their guidance and showing me the way. For my roommate Barbara Mulford with whom we shared stories, our life experiences, and did we ever have some hearty belly-laughs. IThat’s good for your soul, you know).
As a first timer, I got a gorgeous Lakeside view. What can be better than that view to wake-up to every morning? I am thankful to my rehearsal gals (Bev, Mary, and Barb) practicing music for the talent show. I am thankful for meeting Mary Nakamura from Sacramento UMC, for sharing her enormous talent with me. It was a blast and I haven’t used that term since my college days. Oh, and I got to play golf at a beautiful scenic lake Tahoe Golf Course.

My Take-Away
What’s important to me was experiencing the whole process, this week in Christian Fellowship, rather than finite end-points. Rev. Karen’s messages were about process…aging, grieving, gratitude and grace. End points are in God’s time. But as we experience life, I hope to be more intentional in being welcoming, and being thankful…not just to God, but for the people around me and to my increasingly larger family. Family is important to me especially now as I rattle around alone in my overly large house and the importance of my Christian family is huge.
While God was everywhere in Lake Tahoe and we were touched by God almost at a point of a kind of God sensory overload, it is my intention to continue putting God’s love and grace given to me into practice in my daily life. I look forward to next year because I wish to continue growing with my new family. To all of you, think about joining this this great group of UMC fellows in Lake Tahoe. It can be transformative.
LTFR is part of Northern California Japanese Christian Church Federation (NCJCCF) Thank you to the LTFR leadership team: Jim Mar (Moderator), Advisors: Roy Takeuchi, Its Yokota and Phil Yuki, Barbara Mulford (Secretary), Deacon Mike Friedrich (Spiritual Advisor), Warren Uesato (Vice Moderator), Beverly Acuna (Program Coordinator), Jill Kanemasu (Treasurer) and Lori Lee (Registrar). Let’s not forget Joanne Kumano for preparing coffee for early risers and tending the treat table which kept us sated the whole week.