Personal retreats don't just happen. We have to prioritize this need and not minimize the fruit that can come from a time like this. We must discuss this need with our husband, put it on the calendar, and keep it there. I have used websites like Hotwire and Priceline to book nice but frugal hotel rooms. I have borrowed a friend's family cabin in the mountains. Two weeks ago I asked some friends who were on vacation if I could borrow their living room for an entire day. Even carving out half of a day at a local coffee shop or in a library study room is better than neglecting to have the time at all.
A day or two before my retreat, I think through books to bring, music to listen to, podcasts to ponder and also gather snacks, notebooks, Bible and planner. The books I choose are ones that will refresh my perspective on homeschooling, books that will encourage better habits and time management, and books that remind me to take care of myself as I pour out to others. Of course I can't read all of these in such a short retreat, but I plan to sit with them to read important points that I have underlined in the past or particular chapters that resonate with my current season.
When I arrive at my destination (usually on a Friday evening), the only expectation I have for that evening is rest. I am always wound pretty tight from living in constant stimulation and from the heroic feat it is to pack and leave a house of six children. So I have learned that it takes time for my soul to unwind and that my number one priority must be physical, emotional and spiritual rest.
When I wake in the morning, I eat breakfast and drink coffee and fight the urge to move fast and strive to make the retreat "perfect". I simply surrender the time and am grateful for it. I start my time by turning on worship music, reading the Bible and journaling all my current emotions, fears, anxieties and struggles. Receiving a proper view of how big and caring and faithful God is helps me to enter the time of pondering and planning in a state of peace and trust. Planning from peace offers greater clarity and wiser scheduling decisions and a perspective on what's actually realistic.
On my last retreat, I began by playing Jennie Allen's worship playlist on Spotify called Summer and also spent time meditating on The Liturgist's song Vapor. I read almost the entire book of A Mother's Rule of Life, and it renewed my perspective of the goodness and greatness of my vocation and the need to work hard and trust God and rest well. I pondered the first chapter of Sally Clarkson's book Own Your Life, and her words brought me to a place of surrender with my current season and was an invitation to live out my days with joy and an eternal perspective. I listened to Lisa Grace Byrne's WellGrounded Life podcast on Sacred Scheduling which helped me be intentional to plan daily, weekly and monthly habits of self-care in order to refill my well so that others have something to draw from.
It's also important to realize that after 60-90 minutes of deep thought, taking a break to clean or to walk is needed. Our minds need rest and can return to planning and reflection without fatigue if we take regular breaks. We nurture body, soul and spirit on personal retreats. Healthy snacks, delicious meals, naps, and walks are all rejuvenating. Sometimes I bring along knitting or crochet and allow my mind to rest while working with my hands. Many times in those moments when we are not purposefully focused with our minds but instead are engaging our bodies, clarity to a problem suddenly arrives. I keep spiral notebooks at the ready for these eureka moments and write unedited whatever may have come to my mind.
After all that worship, reception of information and vision, and gentle movement plus nourishment, I sat down with my calendar and Lara Casey's Powersheets. I revised my ten goals for the next three months and made sure that they all aligned with the things that I feel most called to invest in (that's my 2015 word!) I also looked at the calendar for the fall and tried to plug in dates for things that we love to do each year like apple picking, camping, and hosting a Fall Potluck. I thought through my daily schedule and wrote out a rhythm for each day. I wrote down our evenings and put the scheduling puzzle pieces together of extracurricular activities, a mid-week Sabbath evening, date night, and hospitality. The goal was to create on paper a picture of what my daily intentions and focuses need to be which gives me clear purpose, meaningful margin, and clarity of the boundaries of what I can realistically say yes and no to in this current season.
I also did many Brain Dumps of lists into my notebook. A list of all the upcoming financial obligations we have. A list of items I needed for my daughter's birthday. A list of things I want to craft and to give to others. Christmas giving ideas. Books to read to my children and possible topics to be explored with them. Any and everything that had been floating around in my brain and needed to be captured on paper in order to give my brain space to breathe and be at rest.
If you like to process some of what you are learning and gleaning with others, then plan to grab lunch with a friend and/or dinner out with your husband in the middle or end of the retreat. I did both and it was refreshing to share my reflections and receive their input. I usually end my retreats by resting and journaling some final prayers and thoughts. Then I usually hit up a few thrift stores for fun!
There is no perfect way to take a personal retreat...only the one that resonates with you and fills you up and meets your spiritual, emotional and physical needs. I encourage you to see if you can carve some time before the end of the year to step away, press pause on life, and listen and receive God's heart and care and purposes for you. This is the most beneficial way for me to walk my path sustainably and well.