Tuesday, August 11, 2015

On the Value of a Personal Retreat

In the past few years as we have added more children and have more noise and interruption, I have found that it is essential for me to take Personal Retreats.  A personal retreat is simply carving out extended quiet space to hear the Lord, to gain vision for my calling, and to plan the rhythms of my dailiness in the season that I am in. More than just a stack of curriculum for my children and plotting plans, this is a time for me to listen, to reflect, to repent and to course-correct.  It is a spiritual and scheduling reboot for me.

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.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Weekly List, August 10

I absolutely adore making lists and the deep satisfaction of checking things off. Brain to hand to paper helps me to make sense of my life and my daily priorities. Many friends enjoy seeing my lists, so for now, I have decided to share a personal photographed list every Monday. In the early years of the blogosphere, there was something so interesting about taking a peek into someone else's everyday life. My weekly list will be a small peek into mine.

This week's photo is the rhythm of our new Morning Time for the next six weeks. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

What I Learned in July

It's already that time again!  The end of another month and for me, another prompt by Emily to think about what happened in my life this past month and what lessons were learned.  I love that she does this because it causes me to reflect and to pay attention and I am always amazed at the work God does (and how quickly I forget and move on?!).

1.  Mental Boundaries.  I probably need to write a longer, well-thought out post in this, but here's off the cuff.  When I scroll through social media, those words and images get stuck in my head.  I start obsessing on the negativity, the sadness, the pain, the anger...my sensitive soul easily absorbs the emotions of others, and it's really hard for me to turn off my mind from dwelling on others. It's an unhealthy others-centeredness, and God reminded me again that I must be Jesus-centered.  So in July, I hid a bunch of people on Facebook, started following a bunch of crafty women on Instagram and made my feeds (mostly) places that encourage and inspire.  Sometimes I think Facebook is a lost cause. I still show up there because if there is a platform that needs some gentleness, kindness and light, it's that.  I also decided to be DONE with obsessing about other people's lives and choices and theology, and instead, I need to focus on my own calling and my own work. Back to letting my mind dwell on Philippians 4:8 kinds of things....which for me include delicious meals, gardening, sewing, reading, adventuring, music, reflecting, walking, giving and encouraging. I have sewed more projects in the past few weeks than I had in 18 months. I focused on living a celebratory life and sought to make friends' and family's birthdays meaningful, and those choices fed me and healed me in so many ways. We have to guard our hearts and minds from the chronic intrusion of culture and drama and live the life that God has called us to...not someone else's.

2. Eternal Perspective.  I am still slowly reading Jennie Allen's book Anything and it has really been bringing me back to a concept that I learned as a college student and influenced me to live overseas and go into full-time ministry for years. The rememberance that this life is but a dot on a page and eternity stretches out like a long arrow out into forever and what I am investing in? The dot or the line? I see that once I settled into a home and had lots of babies, it's easy to get caught up in the here and now, personal comfort, and keeping up with what everyone else has or does. God has used this book to wake me up again to the important investments in life...His Word and the souls of people. I get so lulled into thinking I need the next cute thing that I spy on Instagram in order to feel happy and my life becomes apathetic and complaining and myopic.  Dwelling on heaven and the thinness between this life and the next always puts priorities into perspective.

3. Foyle's War on Netflix.  A great BBC series to watch with Mike is always a summer pleasure.  There is nothing better than crawling into my bed at night knowing that he and I have an hour and a half to watch an intriguing show with endearing characters.

4. Starbucks on Monday Nights.  My husband and I each have to drop different sons off at Boy Scouts on Mondays. So we have decided to meet halfway between the two locations to grab our favorite coffee (Grande Toffee Nut White Mocha 1/2 the syrup) and he spends time working and I spend time writing. Building in healthy rhythms of connection + work is so, so rewarding after years of babies and fatigue.

5. Personal Retreat. Every mama needs one.  I couldn't afford to get away for one this year, so I asked some friends that are vacationing if I could use their home for a personal planning retreat.  They graciously said yes, and I spent a day in their peaceful home thinking, reading, making many lists, and getting my head on straight! I really do believe that my life would run smoother and consistent with a quarterly retreat like this. I want to align my life with what I believe the Lord is speaking and I can't do that if I don't have some unhurried, uninterrupted time to listen.

6. Poison Ivy is the WORST. Enough said.

The Weekly List, August 3

I absolutely adore making lists and the deep satisfaction of checking things off. Brain to hand to paper helps me to make sense of my life and my daily priorities. Many friends enjoy seeing my lists, so for now, I have decided to share a personal photographed list every Monday. In the early years of the blogosphere, there was something so interesting about taking a peek into someone else's everyday life. My weekly list will be a small peek into mine.

Monday, July 27, 2015

On Doing the Small Things

There have been so many big happenings in our country this summer.  Shootings and Supreme Court decisions and flags and protests and all things heavy and confusing. My soul has had a difficult time processing all these events along with my own hurts, disillusionments, heartaches and questionings. The good is that I have gotten old enough and know myself well enough to make room in my life and schedule and days for margin and rest and renewal when these times come.  If I try to barrel forward when there is stress in body, soul, and spirit and neglect to pay attention, slow down and listen, then things inevitably get much worse.

When the Big Things in life start to demand my attention, I have found that doing Small Things keeps me grounded and discerning.  Big Things are when you have church disagreements, parenting problems, life decisions, betrayal, financial problems, death, change, transition, illness, spiritual struggles, relational strain, job stress.  These always come, and we are never immune to the toll that living in a broken world takes on us. The Big Things threaten our sanity, our spirituality, our well-being.  They shake us and rattle us and throw us off course. They don't seem to care about how frail we are, how depleted our spirits feel, and that our resources are limited.  We cannot control these Big Things. They will have their way.

What can we control? The Small Things.  I can get up each morning and make my bed and get simple, comfortable and pretty clothes on. I can feed a little one breakfast and tidy my kitchen. I can move the laundry forward from washer to dryer to hands to hangers in closets. I can open the Living Word and receive bread for my hungry spirit and water for my parched soul. I can reach out to friends and ask for prayer and for wisdom. I can read a stack of picture books to young children and talk to older children about life and goals. I can take a new mother a meal and mail a birthday package to a dear friend. I can snuggle up to my husband and receive his warmth and care. I can gather fresh flowers in vases to brighten our home. I can make beautiful things with my hands. I can plant seeds in soil and water. I can surrender myself to the Lord, His sovereign and good plan and to the dailiness of loving the ones in my path.

The Big Things always try to tell us that the Small Things don't matter. They try to paralyze and make us stagnant and myopic.  The temptation to throw up our hands and lose heart and drown in our miseries is strong. We feel weak, and we think that we are powerless in our lives. It takes tremendous fortitude to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep doing the next right thing, and to keep loving the person in our path.  There is a holy tension between a surrender that is waiting and trusting and open-handed and yet moving forward, living on purpose and with daily intention. An active trust.

As the Big Things have made a strong appearance in my life this summer, I have chosen not to fight them but to receive them as gifts.  The Big Things are painful but they always, always produce good and beautiful fruit in my life.  I certainly don't like it, but I also know that God uses pain in extraordinarily redemptive ways.  And when the Big Things start to become Bigger than God in my heart and soul, I promptly set them mentally aside the best that I can so that seeking God in the Small Things come first. God shows up in my heart with His peace and His light and His love when I am taking long walks, sewing quilts, preparing meals, changing sheets, folding towels, rubbing backs, setting tables, praying, writing, reading, stitiching.  When my hands get engaged, my heart calms and is able to hear and to discern and to trust.

May we not despise the Small Things where God is active and present and heals. Jesus walked around in fields and went fishing and fed people and celebrated weddings and touched strangers.  He did the most normal of activities in the midst of very Big Things that were happening and that we going to happen. He listened to God as He walked and as He talked and didn't rush to figure it all out and get to the More Important Things. Every small step was the Important Thing and so it is for us.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Weekly List, July 20

I absolutely adore making lists and the deep satisfaction of checking things off. Brain to hand to paper helps me to make sense of my life and my daily priorities. Many friends enjoy seeing my lists, so for now, I have decided to share a personal photographed list every Monday. In the early years of the blogosphere, there was something so interesting about taking a peek into someone else's everyday life. My weekly list will be a small peek into mine.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Summer Daybook

I can't seem to write anything that is coherent right now. There are just too many things that keep shifting and changing and happening that my brain and heart can't keep up and process it all well.  I do want to keep up the habit of blogging that I began, and just need to move past what I think my posts should be (thoughtful and clarifying) and just be okay with writing as-is (messy and more messy).

So in the spirit of Elizabeth's "gathering my thoughts" posts, I am going to share the current things in my life that I am doing and thinking on.  Nothing profound or necessarily inspiring, but where I am.

Outside my window:

Temps are back up near 100 which means my daily afternoon walk must be done by 10 am otherwise it's unbearable.  We have spent more time at the pool this year than any other year (older children and not being pregnant/having a baby/toddler changes everything). We have lots of baby Silkie Bantam chicks walking around the yard and it's the truly the sweetest.  I got out into my neglected raised beds, weeded them all, mowed and I planted some pumpkin seeds.  I find such tangible hope in a packet of seeds...that life will bloom despite all the areas of our lives that seem to be dying.

Listening to:

Normally I love having a lot of podcasts going but just like I have had to curb the non-fiction books, I have also had to put boundaries on the podcasts.  Just too much information-overload that ends up paralyzing me and making my mind too cluttered.  I did however listen to Todd Henry's Accidental Creative podcast titled "Your Collective". It was only 12 minutes but gives lots of ideas on the types of community we need to do our work well. My current music is a lot of Josh Garrels and Damien Rice's song Trusty and True.

Clothing myself in:

The Dottie Angel Frock that I made. Also, my "uniform".  V-neck t-shirts, necklace, yoga skirt and flip-flops.  It will always be my go-to.  I haven't found shorts in years that fit me right or are the correct length.  When I went to Holden Beach on vacation in May, I actually found some shorts at Walmart that fit perfectly.  Chino, upper mid-thigh length, cute patterns, and $10.  Those are my second uniform.


I am currently setting down most non-fiction and allowing my over-active mind to find rest and escape through fiction.  Reading fiction is like watching a movie for me...both allow me to get caught up in a story and find my own personal connections (or not) and offer me a reprieve from the details and scenarios of my own life.


I have been slowly reading the book Anything by Jennie Allen with a group of women in my church. My spiritually idealistic nature wants God to call me to big things...I could sell everything and head overseas if that was His call.  I find it much harder to realize that my surrender, my "anything", is to be continue to be faithful in my home and to homeschool over the long haul.  I really wanted God to release me from homeschooling and to give me work that feels better, more emotionally comfortable, but He has made it very clear that this path is my current vocation.  I would be lying if I didn't say that I have been angry about this and frustrated and disillusioned. But I wake up and say, "Yes, Lord. Not my will but Yours be done."  And I walk this path out by faith and with my eyes on Him and not on what I think my "rights" are.

Carefully cultivating rhythm:

I am choosing to get enough sleep this summer.  Rest is so vital for health in spirit, soul and body. It's the best self-care, and I am thankful for a husband who knows me well and tries to make sure that it happens for me.  After neglecting meal planning for six weeks and consuming way too much pizza, I sat down and made a July meal plan and starting looking at cookbooks again as a way to inspire me back to homemade, fresh foods. In learning, we continue to move slowly forward in math, phonics, audiobooks, library trips and field trips. Potty training and babysitters have been in the mix this summer which is awful (the former) and amazing (the latter).  Mike and I have gotten strict about going on a weekly date night which has never been a part of our 18 year marriage.  Our rule is to keep it FUN and not heavy or about the kids. It's the best new habit of the year.

Creating by hand:

I am rather good about drawing boundaries in my life with time commitments and not over-scheduling. What I am not good at is setting mental boundaries with who/what is taking over my brain.  I can get a bit obsessive about people's problems and about people's needs which is kind and compassionate when under the power of the Holy Spirit, but toxic when it's done from a savior mentality.  Choosing to create is a very tangible way that I can keep my mind guarded and focused and productive because it requires concentration and creative thinking. It allows me to push other's issues aside and ushers me into the present moment.  I am currently committed to hand embroidery and sewing as ways to take care of myself, bring beauty into my world, and give meaningful gifts.

Keeping house:

June/July are always decluttering months and slowly dusting and purging our learning spaces (dining room!) The crazy thing though is that in a large family, everything gets so dang dirty/messy and cluttered so fast right after you feel like you cleaned.  We've got a serious "lived-in" look going on over here. My house is so worn and weathered after 10 years of living, birthing, and homeschooling here.  Maybe instead of "lived in" I could rephrase that as "loved in".

Crafting in the kitchen:

Shrimp tacos.  Lots of fruit. Rainer cherries are the summer candy of choice.

Giving thanks:

Mike. My daily Voxing with two dear friends. Psalm 121. Friends who show up with poison ivy cream and Krispie Kreme donuts. Breakfast and lunch dates with women.  My sewing machine. My maltipoo Lily. My king-sized bed.  Books. Little boys as superheroes.

Planning for the week ahead:

I'm not. Soon my life will be filled with plans as schooling gears back up in August and the calendar gets full and we begin the momentum towards the holidays.  For now, I choose rest and slow summer with lazy days and quiet evenings.