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This year, Dave and I have committed to quarterly retreats - solo retreats, during which we are free to do whatever we want or need.  It is hard to make these happen, and requires sacrifice on both our parts.  On Monday, Dave spent his day off with Everett so that I could get away for the day. My goal on a retreat is to quiet my heart and make space to listen.  I want to be unhurried, unscheduled.  I want to be gentle with myself.  I want to rest.

Today I offer you a photo review of my retreat on Monday. I spent the day at the home of some good friends who were at work all day.  Their home is beautiful, peaceful, and private - important ingredients for me in a place to rest.

I packed the trunk of our car with all kinds of things: art supplies, comfy clothes, snacks and books.

I began, as I often do, with a cup of tea and a blank page in my journal.  I stared into space more than I wrote.  I prayed, offering God my day.

I took a really long nap on this awesome couch.

At this point, I realized that I'd forgotten my ukulele at home, and I knew I'd regret it all day if I didn't run home to get it.  The last thing I wanted to do was get back in the car, but it was a beautiful day, and I drove with the windows down.

I had a mid-morning munch.  Not quite lunch, too substantial to be just a snack: crackers, brie, seeds and dried fruit, cucumber, apple slices, and a chocolate truffle.  Instead of reading as I ate, as I often do, I just enjoyed the flavors and textures.

I wrote a little more in my journal and doodled a bit.

I sat in silence for a while.

Then it was time for a little ukulele.  I'm not very skilled at it yet, but I like to play so that I can sing.  The song I sang most that day was "Glory to God Forever" - particularly these lines:  Take my life and let it be all for you and for your glory.  Take my life and let it be yours!  Those words grew into a theme for me that day - a theme of open hands.

I sat down with my journal after that, and a page out of an old book I had stuck into it a few months back slid out.  I decided to create a poem by negation - by covering most of the words on the page, I would write a poem with what remained.

I started the process, and then it was time for more sustenance: leftover butternut squash risotto (heavenly!), toscano cheese dusted with cinnamon, cucumbers, persimmon, a cup of spiced cider, and, of course, chocolate truffles.

At this point, I also managed to knock a wine glass off the holder on the wall, resulting in twenty minutes of sweeping and vacuuming and an apologetic text message.  Things don't always go as smoothly as I wish they would.

After eating, I worked on my poem, painting it with watercolors.  This is what it looked like:

It reads:

What was this ache?SerenitySerenitySerenityCaught in a long pause

I wasn't sure what it meant when I wrote it, but I do know that I feel caught in a long pause in several areas of life right now.  And that word - serenity - popped up in quite a few places on Monday.  It was even in the description of the tea I was drinking.  I seek serenity in the waiting of this season.

At this point, I decided to go see a movie.  I had looked up movie times the day before, and there was one I thought would be entertaining, even though it got terrible reviews.  I love going to movies by myself - I don't have to worry about whether or not anyone else is enjoying the film, I can just get caught up in it.  As I drove the ten minutes to the theater, I wondered, Is this more distraction than I want today?  It sounds restful, but maybe another two hours of quiet would be better.  I was already there, so I walked into the theater.

To my surprise, the movie I had looked up was not playing at the time Google had told me it would, and there was nothing else I wanted to watch until evening, when I wanted to be home to put Everett to bed.  So I hopped back in the car and headed back to my friends' house.

I sat outside and watched the light change.

I went inside, made another cup of tea, and read a novel for a while.

I played some more ukulele.

I prayed.

Serenity, serenity, serenity.  These words were my prayer, as again and again, I turned over my life to God with open hands.

Retreats are not always what I expect.  Often, there are detours, like trips back to retrieve things I forgot, failed attempts at movie going, and broken wine glasses.  Sometimes, I come away with a word or an image or something to reflect on in the weeks to come, and sometimes I come away with nothing clear.  Regardless, these times of stillness are "tuning time" - time to tune my ears to the frequency at which God speaks to me.  Times like these open me, and I am more aware of the presence of the divine in the world as I go about the following days.

Before Monday, it had been a long time since I'd had a retreat day.  It's not easy to make them happen, whether you're working a full-time job, are in school, have small kids, or all of the above.  Sometimes it's simply the fear of so much unstructured time alone that is too hard to overcome.  Times like these must be fought for.

They are worth the fight.

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