Sisters of Cookson Hills


A few years ago, several women who had served and lived at Cookson Hills together, decided we needed an annual “reunion.”  Each passing year, a few more joined us and we always have the best time of fellowship. For many of us, this is the only time we see each other, but you’d never know it. There’s an unspoken and sacred sisterhood among us. It’s best described as sistering. In the dictionary of construction, sistering is, “The reinforcement of a structural member by nailing or attaching a stronger piece to a weaker one.”  These women are all brave, gutsy and fierce; each woman embodies an unspoken “sistering.”

Until this year, we always met up away from Cookson Hills, but this year’s Sister Retreat happened on the very ground where our life stories had initially intertwined.  Being back at Cookson Hills reminded me of a day long ago when I was 12 and first arrived on campus. I remember riding to Cookson Hills, having just been taken from my mother.  God blessed me with the most beautiful gift of being raised by many of these women and then gave me the honor to serve with them in my adulthood.  

And now, so many years later, I’m gathered with some of these same women around a campfire on the back forty of the Cookson Hills thousand acre woods. The twenty of us spanned four decades of service. The first evening was met with stories, memories, laughter, and healing tears to soothe the soul. A lot of “life” happened between our visits. Children have married, grandbabies born along with the unspeakable, the loss of a child or grandchild.  We gather and share in these moments, unashamed as hot, salty tears flow with each story. The dark autumn air was crisp and stars danced above our heads, as if God was leaning in real close to listen. We praised and worshiped Him through song.  Sweet harmony came through each voice woven together. We found ourselves thanking God for this precious gift to gather with our sisters, this side of heaven.  

I’ve worked for several different ministries in my lifetime, but none have ever brought me together with other women like this sacred sisterhood. God allowed us to experience tender moments and brought light into dark, sorrowful places of our hearts.  

Saturday over breakfast, one former housemom told us about a little boy who lived in her home 40 years ago. She’d been praying for him over the years, wondering where he was, if he was happy and if life had treated him well. She loved him. The night before she had been visiting with one of the former school teachers when they realized the teacher had married the first cousin of this little boy. God allowed this housemom to know the small child she’d loved so much and prayed for so many times, had grown into a man. That tender sweet gift from God gave her mama heart peace, and gratitude spilled out of her eyes and down her bright face.  

As I walked back to my cabin late the last night, I stopped one more time to soak in the stars,  scattered like glitter. I drank them in, knowing when I returned home thousands of those stars would disappear due to the bright city lights. I stood with my face toward heaven, tears streaming down my cheeks from a heart full of gratitude.

God is a good father.  When I was a scared and lonely 12-year-old girl, he gave me a family. And now, my children have this family too.  In fact, my daughter is currently living with one of these women while she finishes up her senior year of college… she calls her “Grandma.” God is good. How could I ever ask for more?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Becky Shaffer is the Executive Director of Saving Grace and calls Northwest Arkansas home. She is a grateful daughter of the King, proud wife of Kent Shaffer, and a mama to many.