Tag Archives: respite

Wandering Through the Woods

Weston Woods Watermarked

He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.  (MarK 6:31 NRS)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to lead a retreat in the country.  We were a small gathering, but every person arrived with a sense of needing respite and renewal. Each left refreshed, armed with new tools of self-discovery and a sense of community.

The first day, with dry weather and an open afternoon, allowed time for exploration of walking paths on gently rolling hills past ponds and hay fields.  I came across a little worn path, Weston Woods.  My curiosity got the best of me as I stopped off the main, well-groomed trail and began meandering through the woods. Up and down I went, past creeks and the remains of bonfires of the past. The other paths were recognizable, carefully explained to me by my host.  But this path was unfamiliar and rugged. The solitude embraced me, my mind wondering all the while, “Why am I on this path? Should I be here? What lies ahead?”

The tracks of the deer put me at ease. The lasting impressions of their sturdy hooves in the soft soil told me I was heading someplace familiar to many, if not to me. The trees were so thick that I couldn’t see very far down the path where I was headed, but I trusted the ones who had gone there before to guide me. The reward for my patience revealed itself in an open meadow with one spectacular and ancient oak holding court in the center. How wonderful are the works of your hand, O God! Such beauty tucked away as a jewel awaiting discovery. The peaceful shade under its wide branches echoed to me Christ’s words, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourself and rest a while.”

My journey as a special needs parent reminds me of my time in the woods.  It was a world I entered by stepping off the familiar path of parenthood that I had expected, that one reserved for “typical parents” and for which I had carefully prepared.  I found myself wondering, “Why am I on this path? Should I be here? What lies ahead?” Even as I felt a little lost, I trusted the trailblazers who had gone before, following along in their footsteps. Moments of loneliness and shadow giving way to beauty and joy, discovering anew God’s promise that all of creation is beautifully and wonderfully made. My role is to trust and follow and allow the journey to unfold.

Guiding God, Thank you for leading when we cannot see the way. Thank you for renewal when we feel tired. Thank you for surprising us with beauty in unexpected places.  Amen

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Caring for God’s Holy Temple

Young Woman Relaxing At Mountain View by Feelart

My lungs were burning, longing to take a breath, but I couldn’t.  I was taking part of in exercise in a room full of people and we were told to hold our breath, so hold it I would.  I started seeing little dots!

At recent retreat spiritual director Cindy Serio of MOSAIC Ministry had us sit quietly and practice a deep breathing exercise she learned from Joyce Rupp.  We began breathing at the rhythm that she dictated. Breathing in and holding, breathing out and holding.  She led us into longer and deeper breaths with longer periods of time in between. At first the exercise was soothing, but as the pauses between breaths got longer and longer, I began to grow uncomfortable.  As a runner, I have pretty good lung capacity, but I found it challenging to exhale and keep my lungs empty for as long as she required.  As the pauses grew ever more exaggerated my oxygen-starved body grew very uncomfortable. Try as I might, I just needed air. I chalked it up to a recent round of the flu and pneumonia, so I cheated and inhaled just a little. Who would know? Then I had to do it again. I marveled at Cindy’s lung capacity and felt like a failure as we finished the activity.  Afterwards, Cindy asked who needed to breathe in before she prompted us.  Everyone in the room raised their hand. Cindy said, “Good. You each showed compassion to yourself. It is hard to offer compassion to others when you cannot offer it to yourself.”

Isn’t it interesting that I felt like a failure for needing air?  Air!  A basic bodily need and I denied it to myself simply to keep up with everyone else. Taking care of our bodies is one of the most basic of needs we have and yet all too often we shove it to the back burner.  There is just too much going on in our lives.  Maybe when things are less hectic… Consider Paul’s words to the church in Corinth.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (1Co 6:19-20 NRS)

We glorify God when we take care of ourselves!  When I look it that way, taking time to care for my physical well-being isn’t an indulgence. It’s a gift to God.  I can’t keep up with the pace God sets for me in ministry if I am sick and run down.

So what are some basic ways to care for our bodies?  Below I have a brief list of options.  Look it over and note down the ones you already do, the ones you would like to start, and the ones in which you have no interest.  The goal here is not to make you feel guilty. Rather the goal here is to find where your interests are and focus your energy there:

  • Get adequate sleep
    • I will go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual three nights this week
    • I will schedule one sleep-in day once a week
    • I will take a nap or lie down while my child naps
    • I will remove distractions from the bedroom (TV, iPads, laptops, pets, etc.)
  • Eat a balanced diet
    • I will keep a healthy snack in my car, purse, desk, etc.
    • I will read an article on nutrition and make one change in my diet
    • I will drink less soda
    • I will try a new food
    • I will reduce caffeine intake
  • Drink plenty of water
    • I will grab a travel cup of water every time I head out the door to run errands
    • I will try a caffeine free tea or mineral water (no sugar, no caffeine)
  • Exercise
    • I will walk one mile three times this week
    • I will sign up for a class (yoga, pilates, walking or running group, Crossfit, etc.)
    • I will do some stretching on weeknight evenings before I go to bed
    • I will sign up to run/walk the local Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning and then train to do it between now and then
    • I will do 25 sit ups every day
  • Take time to relax
    • I will soak in a hot bath for 20 minutes after the kids are in bed
    • I will put my feet up and read a magazine
    • I will sit outside and enjoy the sounds of nature when I need a break
    • I will lie down and rest for 10 minutes
  • Seek Medical Help as Needed
    • I will get an annual flu shot
    • I will see the dentist
    • I will get an annual physical
    • I will get a mammogram
    • I will see a doctor as needed

These are just a few suggestions.  I’m sure you can think of others that are the right fit for you.  Looking over the list, the ones that you marked that you already do, give yourself a pat on the back for doing those.  Look over the list of ones in which you have no interest.  Perhaps consider those for another time, but if they aren’t a fit for you don’t beat yourself up about it.  Now look at the list that are things you would like to do.  Pick one and make an intentional plan for the week.  Write it down and post where you will see it as a reminder. Maybe this week you will choose to walk a mile three days of the week. Perhaps next week you will choose to schedule a sleep in day.  Whatever it is that appeals to you, make an intentional plan each week to do something that takes care of your physical well-being. Learn to take care of God’s holy temple by building it up with one brick at a time. You’ll be stronger for the journey ahead.

Check back next Wednesday for the next part of this wellness series, emotional self-care.

Holy God, what a gift it is that you live inside of each of us, filling us with your strength and peace.  Help us find the time and energy to care for our bodies which are wonderfully made by you. Let our bodies be your temple, your holy dwelling place giving honor to you. Amen.

Young Woman Relaxing At Mountain View

Image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Take Time to Take Care

Alarm Clock

As special needs parents it is so easy to put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. We give for our children, our spouses, our friends, our jobs, our churches, our schools.  There are so many needs and they are so pressing and urgent.  At times it can be a struggle to be enough. Compassion, like any muscle that is over-used, can tire and be stretched too far.  Compassion fatigue is the inability to continue to offer care at the level previously provided.  It is hard to continually offer compassion to others when we do not even offer it to ourselves.  When you reach the point where you cannot see your way to the bottom of your to do list, does self- talk criticize that you can’t do it all? Do you drive yourself to dig in and do yet more?  Self-compassion is the recognition of your own need for help, nurture and respite.

I think as Christians some may feel they are called to give selflessly and endlessly, but the Bible models for us self-compassion and self-care even in the midst of caring for others. In Matthew 14, John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Mat 14:13-14 NRS). Jesus tried to set aside time for himself, perhaps to mourn the death of his cousin, perhaps to move farther from the reach of Herod, perhaps to avoid crowds drawing attention to him. But the people have heard where he is going and they race there ahead of him.  His opportunity for respite turned into an opportunity for compassion and healing. When the evening came there was no food.  His disciples urged him to send the crowds away so they could get food in the local villages.  Instead, Jesus multiplied the five loaves of bread and the two fish and fed them all.

So where does the self-compassion and self-care come in?  Isn’t this an example of self-care gone wrong with life interrupting and taking away the chance for respite? Here is the rest of the story, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:22-23 NRS). Though Jesus’ plan for respite was interrupted, by the end of the day he made time for it.  He took care of the pressing needs of the crowd and the disciples and then sent them both away so that he could be alone to pray. Was this to recharge spiritually?  Did he rest while alone to recharge physically?  Did he grieve for John during his time of prayer, processing emotions of loss?  Scripture does not tell us. What we do know is that Jesus offered to himself the same compassion he offered to others.  Being both human and divine, he knew his human limit and made self-care a priority, even in the midst of tremendous pressure. It may be easy to think the needs of our families are just too much for us to take a break, but could the needs of our families really compare to the needs and expectations laid on Jesus?

Taking time to take care of ourselves doesn’t mean we are weak, selfish or incapable.  It means we are human and the same need for compassion that we see in others is a need that we have too. Over the next few weeks I will post a short series with practical ideas for physical, emotional and spiritual self-care that can fit even into the busiest schedule. I hope that it will be a blessing to you so please check back next Wednesday.

“Ringing Alarm Clock” image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net