This month I really wanted a space surrounded by nature. My spiritual director told me about a local Methodist camp that offers a cottage for a great rate. The online photos do not do it justice. Upon entering I felt giddy delight and relief. But I feel relief with each of these retreats, no matter the location. 😉 I used to go to a local retreat center but it closed down. Walking onto that property I would feel like a kid in a candy shop. It is hard to put into word why such reaction would rise up in me.
Perhaps it is that I am an introvert and the silence and solitude is very restorative to me. (though I believe there are rich gifts to anyone who tries it)
Perhaps it is the history of the retreat center- a former convent so I think of all the prayer and service to God there.
Perhaps it is the well kept grounds that highlight God’s splendor through his creation.
But as I ponder the why, I think it is because I have been invited. There is this sweet invitation before me to rest and delight. Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Invitation to Retreat (I tried a few times to add a link but to no avail. sorry, google it) says that when one feels the need to get away- it is God inviting you to get away.
So I show up to this invitation today at this lovely cottage in the woods over looking a lake, eager to receive the many gifts that God has for me. This 24 hrs. away feels like a special gift to open. I used to only open this gift when I felt desperate. So I’d go many months leaving the gift unopened. I can recall a couple of the desperate times where I told Jeremy I needed to get away. One time was the week before we were to go to court hoping to get guardianship of our youngest. That was also the same week we were packing up our home to move into a 2 bedroom apartment for an unknown amount of time while we waited for the right house to buy. Other desperate times were during ministry burnout, anxiety raging seasons etc.
But today I show up today(thankfully) not in a place of desperation. I certainly looked forward to this time. I purposely planned it a day after Jeremy returned from a 4 night away trip with friends. I figured I would need the space, silence and solitude. The soul needs those 3 things to thrive. I have learned the soul like a timid animal only comes out of hiding when we are still and quiet. This is also a nugget of wisdom I have learned from Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Invitation to Silence and Solitude. She is like my mentor/spiritual director that I have never met. 😉
As I arrive I try to pay attention to what gifts my soul needs. I decide to take advantage of the glorious sunshine on this chilly day. Just days ago it had snowed so I get to experience this cottage/cabin in a lovely time. I decide to walk around the lake that my cottage overlooks. There is a bench facing the setting sun. I sit there soaking up its warmth while I practice 20 minutes of centering/contemplative prayer (contemplative outreach has a fabulous app to guide me). There is a not another soul in sight or earshot so no one will see me nod off 2 twice during this peaceful meditation.
I return to my cozy, warm cottage and decide of course it is a good time to enjoy some Haagen Daaz Caramel Cone ice cream. This sweet treat is followed up by some guac, of course. Like Pooh bear, with my full tummy I curl up under a blanket on the couch an take an hour nap. I wake up and decide a bag of microwave popcorn sounds delightful. I think how I am grateful to find this in the pantry. This then leads me to create a note in Evernote titled, “Our lakehouse and/or Airbnb”. I have a dream of owning a lovely place to return to yearly to vacation with our family. We would also love this space to allow others to use. Our family has been blessed by so many free vacations. Friends and strangers have allowed us to use their magical places for free. There have been so many years, pretty much most of our married years where vacations were not in the budget. But God would surprise us through generous people who loaned us or paid for our stays. Here is just a sampling of God’s kindness and faithfulness to our family:
- Oceanfront condo in San Diego (free for the whole week, did this several times)
- our friend hosted us for a week/loaned his car in Grand Cayman
- 2 story cabin in Maggie Valley, mountains in NC (free for a whole week, did this 2 years in a row)
- 2 bedroom condo in Saint Martin’s (hello!!!, an island- free for a whole week)
- 2 nights in stunning Hotel Salviatino outside of Florence, Italy (like all the rest- FREE!!!)
- an apartment in Orlando, Flordia (for a week!!!)
It is literally mind-blowing that we have received so many generous gifts. And this is just vacations. There are cars, furniture, etc. So it is easy to see why when I think of God, the word “faithfulness” comes to mind. Not only has God been faithful in providing our needs but also above and beyond our wildest dreams. This is why the Scripture, Ephesians 3:20 is one of my life verses. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
How did I get on this tangent? Oh yes, my dream of owning a vacation property. I would love to bless others the way that we have been blessed. I would love to let friends, family, and those in non-profit work use the space to rest and have fun. I also think it would be cool to own a camper/rv that could be shared with others too. I have crazy dreams and it does not hurt to dream.
I have enjoyed typing this post up as I sit looking out giant windows watching the sun set. Seeing the sun reflect off the lake makes me think of 2 suns like in a Star Wars movie. The sun is now gone and I only see vague tree forms as the night sky settles in. This place has a deck with rocking chairs and white Christmas lights that line the deck. The lighting in here is adjustable and I keep them low to give me that cozy hygge feel. 6:30p.m – time for guac for dinner.
Good food is a gift to me here at this retreat. I never cook on these times away. I enjoy the ease of prepared stuff. But for some, cooking a homemade meal would be restorative. For me, easy and simple are gifts.
After dinner I read til bedtime. My girls and I are rereading Redeeming Love before we go to see the movie in a few days.
I woke before the sun came up. Post 40 yrs. old even sleeping feels like I did a marathon. So took a hot shower to soothe my muscles. I got bundled up to go out and watch the sun come up. The silence, the snow, the orange glow on the tops of the trees- glorious!!!
Returned inside to write in my gratitude journal (something I am trying to start my day with). Next I practiced lectio divina (reading the a small passage of the Bible, paying attention to what gets illuminated/stands out). For me it was the end of verse 19 of chapter 1 in the book of Ephesians. “… the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him- endless energy, boundless strength.” I looked up extravagance: comfort, luxury, treat, extra.
Yes, Lord!!! You have been so extravagant towards us. You have given us so much. If we never had another gift from you- what we have is so much more than enough. It is way beyond. It is extravagant!!! Your love and care for us is mind-blowing. You have not been a genie in a bottle granting us our every fancy. But you have been steadfast comfort and support providing for our needs and often our wants too. You have blessed us with opportunities to serve as youth pastors and now church planters. We feel far more blessed than those we hoped to serve and love. Our cup overflows with gratitude. Who knew the rich blessings that come when you follow the leadings of the Wild Goose. The places we have been! The people we have met!!! The innumerable gifts we have received as we have done our best to love and serve. Utter extravagance is the perfect phrase for it. And the buck does not stop there. God’s love is utterly extravagant and his blessings will follow us into the next chapter of our story.
Writing is a gift I get to open while away on these retreats. I find it is one of the only sure times that I write. I have the space and margin to do so here. Writing is very restorative to me. I believe it is just part of the way God made me. I love to use the written word to encourage and lift others up. My hope in sharing these retreats, is that others would try it out and be blessed. One day I will make the space to write more than once a month but right now I am full-time mama and homeschool teacher. 😉 I could force it to happen but by saying yes to writing now, I would be saying no to others things that I feel I need to do. One of my goals for this retreat is to dream and plan the last 5 months of homeschool for my 6th and 8th grader. I normally would not want to bring “work” to do here but this is important to me and I really needed the space and silence to think through the last bit of our homeschooling journey.
Our youngest came into our life 4 years ago this month. He was almost 2 years old. I began to feel the nudge/invitation to bring my 2 middle kids home to homeschool them. I took a few months to lean in, pray, pay attention to confirm this invitation I was feeling. I named our school, Divine Spark. For me this invitation was about allowing my kids to find joy and delight in learning. I wanted them to have fun. I wanted our family to have time to do what they love like time for Joy to bake and Isaiah to play. We were spending hours a day in the car with 3 different schools/carpool lines etc. The kids would get in the car grumpy which made the long time in the car that much more difficult. I also wanted them to have more time to form connection/bonds with their foster brother. I wanted to help them grow their friendship with God. Shortly into this homeschool journey I felt nudged to invite Joy’s best friend to join us and then her sister would later join our crazy crew. We had so much fun together. This was what I hoped for.
I had started a journal to record my hopes and dreams for our school. It was a place to record quotations that inspired me. Here is just a sampling:
- “…lighten the load… the biggest mistake… is overcomplicating things. After all, curriculum is NOT something you buy. It is far too robust to be purchased online or checked off on a set of lesson plans. It is a set of encounters that form the soul and shape the intellect. A stack of books. Hours of reading. Poetry. Long walks outside. Bike rides. Library visits…” – Teaching From Rest.
- Plutarch said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Amen!! A divine spark
- Socrates- “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” Yes I have wanted to cultivate awe and wonder of God and his creation.
- “Homeschooling is not the second-rate version of education…It is an enlightened choice for parents who desire a slower, more intentional way and want their children to thrive as life long, passionate learners.” – Wild and Free
- “Childhood… It’s a time to be cherished, protected, and perserved… they get only one childhood. So let’s make it magical.” (For some being in school is magical like my oldest and youngest and even myself. I LOVED school!!!)
All that to say I want to spend time dreaming of what our last few months together could be. I believe I will be sending them to school next year so I want this time to be special. Some where along this journey I let fear decide what we were doing. I let other people’s fears dictate Divine Spark. I bought expensive curriculum out of “should” instead of feeling invited into it. I watched as dread set in for my kids instead of the delight that once was there. I finally realized that peace was not reigning. It felt like drudgery for me because I was leading out of “oughts”. “Courage, dear heart” – I can teach them and lead them. No one has pondered and prayed more on their homeschooling than I have so I need to take courage and lead as I feel led.
I have a few hours remaining here at this cottage so I want to go plan our last few months of Divine Spark.