A Silent Retreat Experience

On October 2nd, I drove four and a half hours west to St. Louis, Missouri to attend my first silent retreat. Although I had read the outline of daily activities, mailed to me months ago, I was still a little nervous. This was going to be an adventure.

When I arrived, I checked in and picked up my name tag and room assignment. I found out there were 81 women attending, and I was one of the 25 ‘first timers’. Each retreat participant got their own room with a private bathroom with shower. The room was about as big as a decent sized walk-in closet. If I put my suitcase on the available floor space, I wouldn’t be able to get past to the bathroom. First lesson in simplicity. How big does a room need to be? And the first of many gifts…I was on the ‘river side’ of the dorm, giving me beautiful views of the Mississippi River (and sunrises), and right next to a little alcove sitting area. I spent many hours there.

I had some free time until lunch, so I walked the grounds. Even though silence didn’t begin until after the first meal, my fellow retreatants were already sinking into the quiet. Adirondack chairs, arranged to view of the river, were filling up fast. And everywhere you looked were reminders of the gift of silence. From wall signs to floor mats.

The White House Retreat Center is run by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests. Although it is Catholic in spirit, all men and women of Christian faith are welcome. Each day begins with Morning Prayer, followed by breakfast and the first of three to four Conferences a day.

The Conferences are meetings of all the participants, to hear a talk given by the retreat director. This retreat was built around the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which I had heard of, but never studied.

After each session, we were given work sheets with a review of the main points of the talk, and questions to meditate and pray over. In the free time after each conference, you could choose to study the sheets, pray independently, take a walk, or even take a nap. We were told there is no ‘right way’ to proceed in the retreat. Wherever you felt call to go, that’s where God wanted you to be.

Spiritual directors were available by appointment, and a small library was open for our use. I found a book I really liked, called The Examen. The examen is a five step process of reviewing your day, compiled by St. Ignatius of Loyola. I only had time to read the first step “Gratitude”, so after I got home, I ordered the book from Amazon, along with the Autobiography of St. Ignatius.

I had a wonderful experience on retreat. I really connected with the themes of the talks, and the grounds were just gorgeous. So many flowers. So many monarch butterflies!

Keeping silence was easy for me. I think I could have stayed an additional day, but not more. I say that because of the study material given. For me, it was very challenging, with new ideas and questions to ponder several times a day.

At the last lunch before leaving, my table mates and I could talk, and it was fun to introduce ourselves, even though we’d seen each other for three days. (There was time to speak and visit after dinner until the 8 pm conference, but it was optional. I decided to keep silence.) We all agreed that somehow we all felt like family, even though we didn’t speak until the last day.

I definitely think I’d attend this kind of retreat again someday. It’s a unique opportunity to come away from the everyday and sink into silence and the presence of the Lord. It’s such a great renewal of spirit and relationship with God.

Who wouldn’t want that?

 

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Thank you for all the wonderful comments on my last post, and the entries for the Chicken Soup for the Soul giveaway. The winner of the My Kind (of) America is: Estelle Soger! Congratulations Estelle, and I’ll be sure and get a copy of the book to you 🙂

 

 

Yay! A Book Give-Away!

I am so proud to be one of the 101 contributing writers to the recently published Chicken Soup for the Soul book: My Kind (of) America. A call had gone out for stories about kindness, demonstrating that our country is filled with people helping people.

~

This is a book about hope and the true American spirit. It reminds us that a kind America is everyone’s kind of America.            ~Amazon.com

 

This is a book about Americans doing what we do best: being kind, compassionate, generous, and welcoming. That’s my kind of America.”    ~Amy Newmark

~

The book happened to be published on the same day I attended a luncheon given by Chicken Soup for the Soul’s publisher, Amy Newmark. She was in town for a conference, and so invited contributors living in the area to come together for a meal, to learn more about the Chicken Soup company, and to meet each other too.

A smiling group of Chicken Soup Writers!

Amy Newmark and Me

We all learned a lot about the company, and I met fellow writers that came from all sorts of backgrounds. A few were hoping to write their own book someday, but most just had a story to tell, and were excited to have a platform to share it.

I really appreciated the generosity of Chicken Soup Publishing, as well as the warm welcome from Ms. Newmark. She really made us all feel valued and special. And this is such a great moment for a book like this to come out. National News organizations are really good at telling us about the hard and tragic, but not so good about helping us to realize that people like you and me can make a big difference in the world. One act a time.

I would love to give away a copy of this spirit-lifting book. (I wish I had enough for everyone.) I really think you’ll love it. All you have to do to enter is make a comment on this post. That’s your entry form. This coming weekend, I’ll choose the winner.

So go ahead and make a comment, and we’ll see who ends up with a free copy of the book!

 

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A Time To Be Silent

I am going on retreat this week, and I have to say that I’m both excited and nervous. I’ve never attended a silent retreat, so this will be a new experience for me. There will be talks to attend, and time for all to come together for prayer, so I’m thankful for a little structure in the quiet days ahead.

Participants are not allowed to have computers or iPADS or internet, so I will be silent on the web and social media too. Please know that I will keep you in my heart when I pray, and I’ll look forward to sharing the experience with you when I get back.

In the meantime, I saw this quote on Twitter, and really liked it, so I thought I’d share.

See you in a week, with a Chicken Soup for the Soul book give-away, okay? It’s a date!

 

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Why Don’t You Fly?

Have you noticed that some birds would rather walk than fly?

Well, maybe I should say ‘hop’. Driving down the street, I notice a robin staring me down from the pavement ten yards ahead. As I quickly approach, the bird starts hopping to the curb. I can’t help thinking, “Why don’t you fly?”

Later that day, out for a post-dinner stroll, a bird stands in the middle of the sidewalk in front of me. Suddenly, he turns and starts hopping like crazy, thinking he can outrun me or something? “Dude!”, I think, “Why don’t you fly?”

I’m sure there must be a biological reason for the hopping thing. Soaring through the air looks easy, but it must take a lot of energy and effort…maybe that robin in the road was just plain tired. Or hurt. Or conserving energy.

Ok. I get that. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to fly either.

Have you ever turned down a Friday night invitation to go out with friends, because what you really wanted was a PB&J and a nap? A week of work, mixed with evening projects and volunteering, has snatched away your last ounce of energy. Maybe your friends won’t understand why you can’t blast yourself off the couch, but you know. It’s what you need to recover your strength.

And it’s not only physical exhaustion that can slow us down to a crawl (or hop…). Being emotionally hurt also vaporizes strength. People around us hurt feelings and slam hearts with even the smallest of criticisms or slights. Ugh. It’s awfully hard to fly when life keeps weighting down our wings.

There’s a time and a place for everything; there’s a time to fly and a time to walk. And ‘walk time’ doesn’t mean it’s impossible to fly anymore. It just means that for now, we need some rest. Our bodies and souls sing quietly in harmony: “Not now. Rest. Be at peace.”

If I try to take off now, I might not have the stamina. Rest might feel indulgent or selfish, but believe me, it isn’t. Sometimes, being grounded is the most important place to be.

Maybe you’re at a place in life where flying seems impossible. Whether you’re tired, hurt or waiting for the next great thing to come along, you know for now, the ground is going to be your primary mode of transportation. People might ask you, “Why don’t you fly?” Just be patient with them, and don’t let those words push you to do anything before you’re ready.

Just tell them that you’re officially grounded for the day. Maybe they’d like to join you? You might invite them to slow down too. Why not grab a coffee at the outdoor cafe, or sit on a park bench together and enjoy the breeze?

No flying today. But who knows? Maybe tomorrow you’ll be soaring again among the clouds. That sounds so good.

But you know, for today…grounded sounds perfect too.

 

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Photo credit: Turdus-migration, Slava-Bowman, Ben-Etienne, Frankie

 

Resistance Vs. Courage

How often do you get an up-close look at the rewards of courage and the futility of resistance?

My husband and I like to watch a television show called ‘The Profit’. Marcus Lemonis, a very successful businessman, meets with small business owners who are facing bankruptcy or failure. He offers the owners his own money and expertise to save the companies. The deal always includes a clause that states he is in complete control. Of everything.

 

Basically he teaches the business owners how to run more efficiently, market their ideas on a wider stage, and even change product packaging. Everything about the company is fair game. He knows how to make a promising product take off and become very successful.

In the beginning, all the businesses are excited and hopeful about Mr. Lemonis, his money, and his ideas. But as the new process rolls out, some stand stunned as warehouses are cleaned out, formulas change and balance sheets are scrutinized. It’s a life changing moment. Will they see the project through to success? Or will they push back, angry that the beloved brand is morphing into something they don’t recognize anymore?

I recognize that ‘change is hard’. I understand how new ideas become overwhelming.

But it always surprises Mr. Lemonis. He’s convinced that his new ways will succeed, so he’s just baffled by owners who fight him on basic business decisions that make 100% sense in the marketplace.

Resistance. Why do some entrepreneurs make all the changes easily, while the others balk at even the smallest suggestions? From what I’ve seen, the ones who can adapt to change and new leadership, are the people who are humble and courageous.

Humble people realize they don’t know everything, and are open to new ideas. If there’s a expert ready to teach, they’re ready to learn. It’s not that they value themselves less, they just understand that we can learn a lot from each other. The business owners who lack humility see any suggestion as a personal insult. Instead of studying a new idea and looking for the value in it, they feel ‘ganged up on’ and devalued. Pride tells them to resist any change and reject whoever suggests it.

Humility lives hand-in-hand with courage. It’s a good thing to listen to correction, but it’s an even greater thing to adopt the new direction and implement it. It takes a brave and determined person to step out into something unfamiliar, trusting in something that’s never been done before.

Resistance vs. Courage. Resistance wants to live in the same place, doing the same thing. The hope of success is never enough to take the leap because it’s too comfortable to stay planted.

I never thought much about why we enjoy watching The Profit. But now I think it’s because we have a ringside seat every week to the epic battle between Courage and Resistance. Humility vs. Pride.

It demonstrates that if a small businessman can succeed in life being humble and brave…well…maybe we can too.

 

 

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Vacation Is Fun! But Is It Holy?

This summer was a busy one, full of fun adventures and time away.

We visited my son and his family on the west coast, took in a few baseball games, and saw my man James in concert too.

We also spent a week with my daughter and her family in Michigan. This is the third summer we’ve rented a home together; enjoying the beach and pool, strolling the farmers market, visiting wineries and hiking to lighthouses too.

The grandchildren are ages 5, 3, almost 2 and two months. They all needed supervision, and have attentions spans that vary from thirty seconds to thirty minutes. It’s activity and action from sunup to bedtime. So did I squeeze in a little prayer time while I was away? Honestly, I didn’t. (Well, there were those ‘on the fly’ prayers, but nothing formal.)

I spent the days playing dolls, coloring, swimming, and looking for shoes (not usually mine, more often a grandchild’s!).

Vacation time together is so much fun. But is it holy too?

One morning, we woke up to a steady rain. Uh oh. Being outside kept the kids moving and having fun, so – what should we do now?

My son-in-law located an indoor water park about 45 minutes away. Sold! Lunches were hastily made, children squeezed into their suits and shoes slipped on feet. Out we went, ready for adventure.

We got to the pool, and wonder of wonders, it wasn’t crowded at all. Too good to be true! Yeah well…it was. The doors didn’t open for another hour and a half, which is roughly ten years to a five year old.

We fed the kids lunch to pass the time (fifteen minutes of it), while looking on-line for a nice park to play in. (It wasn’t raining then.) Let’s just say it took longer than it should have to find one, but it turned out great. Fun on swings and slides for the kids, while the baby snoozed in the stroller.

An hour later, we were whooping it up at the water park.

Was this a holy day?

Well, what is holiness but a denial of self, serving others and a desire to bring joy to someone other than myself?

~Mom, Dad, Papa and Nana didn’t need to be entertained on a rainy day, the kids did. 

~Lunches were made, not for our benefit, but for theirs.

~We drove for twenty minutes looking for a park, not because any of the adults were dying to conquer a jungle gym. But the grandchildren were.

~On the way home, we visited at not one, but two Dollar Stores to find that toy Granddaughter #2 just ‘had to have’.

Honestly, I can’t think of many activities that embody holiness more than a family vacation. That whole week was a prayer; planning, serving and loving those little lives.

I’ll bet your summer was holy too. Just look back and see how many times you brought peace to chaos, or made someone else smile.

Holiness isn’t always found on your knees. Sometimes it’s waiting for you in water sprays, smiles, crayons and campfires…and S’mores!

 

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Life Lessons: Taught By a Toddler

Many years ago, we had an eighteen-month-old foster daughter who was the sweetest little girl you’d ever want to meet. We took her into our family when she was three months old, just a little bundle of potential, but already I could tell she’d be a loving person. And always ready for fun.

She loved to play dolls with my five year old daughter. They were inseparable really. It was heartwarming to see how well they bonded, which made my toddler’s behavior one day so unexplainable.

She normally woke up from naps with a huge grin and a hug for mom. But not that day. She was grumpy and quick to dissolve into tears. Even the offer of her favorite snack wouldn’t lure her into a good mood. What’s going on?

No fever. No new teeth popping up. Hmmm. I was really hoping it wasn’t the ‘terrible two’s’ making an early entrance.

After two days of this, the whole house was tipping to one side. None of us could figure out what was wrong. Our little girl’s once booming appetite continued to nosedive, right along with her attitude.

Day three arrived. So did the answer to her sudden change in personality. I walked into her room to get her ready for the day, and noticed some random red spots on her tummy. Looking a her back, yep, same thing. Holy Cow. This child has the chicken pox.

Of course she’d feel crabby. My five-year-old had her own case of it two weeks before, and I just figured that our toddler dodged it. Yeah well, not so much.

Whenever I think back to that morning, I’m reminded of the saying, “You never know what people are going through.” I thought my toddler was just acting out. Little did I know she was beginning her battle with that hidden virus.

I’ve encountered salespeople who were rude, short-tempered, or just downright dismissive. I’m sure you have too. It’s very easy to get offended, or to be tempted to respond in kind. “How sad that people can let their negative emotions pop to the surface so easily,” we think. “Why can’t they just look at the bright side of life?”

But now I understand a little better. How do I know what that rude salesperson is facing in his own life? Flat tires. A failing relationship. A rejection letter in response to an application. These are only a few of the reasons that could have reached into his life and tipped the scales toward bitterness.

Maybe that person is really suffering today.

And whether it’s true that the crabby, impatient people we meet are facing hardships or not, I can still respond with calm and patience because I’ll just never know. I think it’s much better to treat someone with kindness and think the best, than to get angry and think the worst.

Our foster daughter sailed through the chicken pox, and went on to be the happy little girl we knew she was.

That gives me a lot of hope. Who knows? With a little kindness and patience from me, that sales clerk might make a fast recovery too.

 

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Dear Friends, I’ve decided to take the summer off from blogging. We have some trips planned, and family visits too, so I know it would be hard to keep up here. I hope you all have a restful and blessed few months, and I’ll see you back here in September!

I may still post on the Facebook page for the blog from time to time, so I hope to see you there.

 

Hiding From God

I don’t know about you, but to me, some days are just harder than others. Every line I’m in somehow has the longest wait. My car is in the shop. Again. (No kidding, it really is in the shop for the second time in three months. Oy!) I get tired and cranky from all the disappointments and broken plans, and all I really want to do is sit by myself, close my eyes, and hope Calgon takes me away.

Life is like that. Plans change, rain falls and stuff breaks. Like the time I was cooking some ground turkey in the deep sauce pan, and somehow managed to drop the glass lid onto the floor. My kitchen floor is ceramic tile, so guess who won that match-up? Shards of glass exploded out of the lid, sliding all over the kitchen floor. Sigh.

Or the time I was playing at my friend’s house when I was in grammar school. After a rollicking game of badminton, we threw down our racquets to head to the house for a snack. Not looking where I was going, I stepped squarely on the racquet handles, cracking two of them clean through.

When bad things happen, it makes us all want to step into a concrete bunker, close the door, and hide from the world. The thicker the walls the better. No one can get to us there – and we can’t possibly break anything in there either. Surrounded by our thick walls, we’ll be safe from disappointing anyone, especially ourselves.

Setbacks in life can not only make us want to hide physically, but spiritually too. We know we shouldn’t get so frustrated by life, but somehow irritation has become a default button. We don’t want the Father to see us this way…so we hide. Feeling too mad or sad to pray, barriers begin going up around our souls. Maybe now we can mope in private, unseen by anyone, including God.

But there’s hope for anyone who find themselves a prisoner of emotions. Just as a father calmly sits down next to his child sulking in the time-out chair, our heavenly Father quietly walks effortlessly right past our defenses. There is no wall or fence that can hold him back from his beloved child. To him, we are his cherished little ones, and no mere concrete barrier will keep him from us.

Even if we are tightly wrapped up in our emotions, he can set us free. Our Father comes to sit close, to wrap us in his embrace, and to start pouring out his healing love and renewing grace. Finally free of negative feelings, we can leap into his arms.

It’s such a comfort to know that although we may try to hide from God, he has no interest in us staying hidden. As long as we want to be his, he won’t hold back.

He comes without delay, his tender devotion ready to soothe and heal. And then, we can begin again, wrapped in the light of his love.

 

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Photo credit: Abigail Keenan, Toa Heftiba, Bible pictures

So Many Choices

A new day dawns 365 times in a year. I don’t know how old you are, but if you do the math, it’s not hard to be impressed. So many days. So many new beginnings. So many choices.

Some start each day with a groan and the snooze alarm.

Some start with the certainty that they will be amazed and gifted.

Some dread the new day, some revel in it.

But one thing is certain. We all have the honor and privilege of opening our eyes and activating our power of choice. All day, the events and circumstances of our lives call us to decide the best course of action. From the moment the alarm sounds in the morning, to the last prayer on our lips as we drift off to sleep, we decide how we greet and treat this day.

When the end of the day does arrive, in our quieter moments, the just-lived day unfolds before us, playing in our heads like a sports highlight reel. The questions of ‘what happened today’ and ‘how did I respond’ find an answer in short bursts of memory that begin slowly, but then pick up steam. Soon, the choices made and the results of them wash over us like an ocean wave.

The good decisions, the victories and generous acts performed, those are the comforters. Faced with helping ourselves or our neighbor, we activated the grace in our souls to create moments of heaven on earth. Not only did joy come to the ones we served, it came to us too.

But not every choice was a good one. As much and as hard as we try, falling short of the goal to make healthy and loving decisions for ourselves and for others…well…it happens.   We are human, armed equally with grace and weakness. Not to mention short attention spans in the spirituality department. So sometimes weakness wins out, and remembering those moments is anything but comfortable.

Finally, before heading off to bed, we are faced with the biggest choice of the day.

Are the mistakes we made today allowed to cling to our weary minds, flooding the soul with waves of sorrow? Or can we instead challenge ourselves to learn from the less-than-our-best moments, ask for forgiveness, and then allow the mistakes to sink into the ocean of mercy that is God?

Until we can make peace with ourselves and God and perhaps whoever we hurt that day, tomorrow will not dawn full of promise. Instead, it will find us waking with souls filled with the heaviness of regret. That’s no way to begin a day.

We all have the grace of choice, and can begin each day with joy and wonder. Yesterday is gone, and all that should be carried forward now are the lessons learned from it.

Wiser and more understanding, let’s be on our way in this new day, ready to make better decisions. May we never forget or refuse to gratefully accept the renewed mercies of God.

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Beheld and Beloved

Today I am excited to share this space with my blog-friend, Jean Wise. Jean and I have been connected through our blogs for several years. She always has wonderful ideas and thoughts to share, and is a prolific writer. 

When she asked me if I’d be interested in swapping blog posts, of course I said ‘Yes!’ This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, but I think you’re going to like what you read. Say hello to Jean!

~

I took an online class last year on creativity. One assignment was relatively simple. Find a photo of yourself when you were young, for the purpose of rediscovering our childlike sense of wonder and creativity. We were to ponder that child and answer the questions: What do you see when you look at her? What creativity inside of her made her shine?

I never expected to experience a deep transformation from such an easy project.

As I dug through the musty box of old photographs, I stumbled upon two black and white pictures of my dad and me. I sat back in the chair with my shaking hands gently holding these forgotten memories like fragile treasure. My heart overflowed with tears.

In the first one, we are laughing, check to check. I could almost hear the giggles and delight of just being together.

The second photograph, Dad cradles me as a baby. Our eyes only gazing on the other as if no one else existed. His protective hands holding me. A sacred moment captured on grainy film.

As I pondered those photos, I experienced such a tremendous sense of being deeply loved. The power of that moment overwhelmed, yet healed me. I was no longer the one holding the picture; I was the one being held.

Anthony DeMello wrote, “Look at God, looking at you…and smiling.”

I experienced God’s smile that day.

We have this wonderful God who sees us. Whose eyes never leave us. Who continually watches over us in love and delight. God wants to be with us and have a relationship with us. He wants to hold us in his arms. God behold us as we behold him.

To behold is to look at something deeply. This word mean to “hold” it carefully and deliberately in our attention. It involves stopping, being still, really taking the time to see something as it is.

God sees us as we are and loves us all the more.

I struggle with the idea that God delights in me and loves me unconditionally; after all who am I, but a mere flawed human and he is God.

Beholding slowly transforms us. Our inner mirror is cleansed to reflect God. We become what we gaze upon.

After being pulled into that photograph and drenched in loving memories, I know I am a beloved child of God. That day God’s heart touched mine and my misconception of not being good enough, not worthy of his love, faded.

Behold and Beloved. That old photograph revealed a glimpse of heaven. I beheld his smile, his love, his presence. I rested in God’s behold and become beloved.

I gazed at God and felt his loving gaze in return. And I was changed.

May you experience the awesome love of God and be held in His gaze.

 

 

Jean Wise is a writer and speaker at retreats, gatherings, and seminars. She has been a spiritual director since 2006 and works as a Deacon for her church. She is an RN, who retired from the health department after 26 years to concentrate on a speaking and writing ministry. Since then she has written numerous books which are available on amazon (healthyspirituality.org/amazon) and writes on her blog at healthyspirituality.org. She lives in northwest Ohio with her husband, enjoying their empty nest.

 

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