Sunday, March 18, 2012

My mostly, almost...okay, kind of silent retreat

I've spent days trying to write this blog post. That is unusual for me, as my posts tend to be written in one sitting, and posted on the same day. But it has been a very busy week, with my nephews coming to visit and helping my daughter plan an 18th birthday party for her best friend. In hindsight, given the activity of the past week, the subject of this post seems all the more relevant.

Last week I met with some great people from my church, and we made plans to start a Bible study. While we were there, one fellow was talking about having gone on a silent retreat. I was intrigued. Of course, I have heard about silent retreats. My best friend was given one as a gift from her children and she loved it. The thing that intrigued me, though, was a thought that I had while he was talking. I wondered about the possiblility of doing a silent retreat at home.

Usually retreats are done at retreat centres, places that provide a room, meals, a chapel, beautiful, meditative grounds and other retreatish sorts of things. Still, if the point is to get away from the world and spend quiet, alone time with God, in quantity and well as quality, I should be able to do it at home. To be honest, my finances dictated that if I was going to do it all, it had to be at home.

I think the idea of a retreat appealed to me because I have been feeling a little unsettled lately, a bit scattered and disconnected. I've been having periods of nameless anxiety. My nerves have felt frayed, but with no clear reason. There are some things happening in my life that concern my future, and there is uncertainty about it all. Some of it is exciting, promising new paths and challenges for both Grace and I. Some of it may be painful. Most of it will be difficult.

I needed some time to focus and connect more closely with the One who holds our future in His hands. I've never tried to do any sort of retreat on my own before, but this felt like something I needed to do. I knew that if I needed it, then God would make it possible.

So He did. Friday night I announced to Grace and Madison that I would be spending Saturday in a silent retreat. I would spend the day in my room. I love my bedroom. It is a calm, peaceful, comfortable place. Every time I go in there, even just to drop off laundry, I think about how much I like being in it. It would be a perfect place to nestle into for a day of intimate time with God.

I told the girls that I would be trying not to talk for the day. Of course, I would be available if I was needed, but I was aiming for silence. Yeah. I don't think they thought I could do it, either. I put Grace in charge of answering the phone and door should the need arise, and prayed that the day would be an uneventful one.

It just makes sense that the first thing I discovered when I tried to be silent is how un-silent I am. I was communicating verbally before I even opened my eyes on Saturday morning. Jean-Luc came into my room early, as is his habit, and trilled at me. And I trilled back. This happens every day, as Jean-Luc starts the "getting Kelly out of bed" process at about 5:00am and continues until he succeeds. It usually takes a few hours. If I don't answer him, he stands on the pillow beside mine and pats me on the face until I do. It was at this point that I determined that a "silent" was aiming too high, and that I would try for a mostly silent retreat.

I spent the day cocooned in my room. I had chosen a book by Max Lucado, When God Whispers your Name. I had my Bible, an Oswald Chambers devotional called My Utmost for His Highest, a notebook and pen. I told God that I just wanted to be alone with Him. I told Him some things that were concerning me, and asked Him a few questions. He showed me some things about myself that I needed to know. He also showed me some things about Him that He needed me to know.

I did come out of my room occasionally, for bathroom breaks, food and tea. At noon I went downstairs and made soup for lunch, which Grace and I ate together. I couldn't just not talk to her while we were together, but I did try to talk as little as possible. I realized, as she talked to me, how often I jump into our conversations with advice, ideas and comments about what she is saying. It took a lot of effort to simply listen.

By early evening I was feeling that it was time to come out of hiding. I felt relaxed, connected to the Source and ready for the upcoming week.

Often, because of my health, busy weeks are hard weeks. I can't say that I sailed through physically, as my IC flared on Monday. It had settled down by the time the boys arrived on Wednesday, but the busyness still affected my bladder by the end of each active day. I don't think the retreat was a physical thing. It was to rebuild my mental and emotional strength by building up my spiritual connection to God. For me, the only way to transcend the physical struggle is to be empowered by God to greater levels of devotion to Him, and love for others. By myself, I would have been a bear. Not a silent one, either.

I would absolutely do it again. In fact, having done it just once has made the time I spend with God every day even more personal and...retreatish. Still working on being a better listener, though...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kony 2012 and Our Amazing Youth

Most of you are probably already aware of Kony 2012. If you've spent any time on-line and on social networking sites in the past few days, you've been inundated with pleas to watch and share the Kony 2012 video, as well as commentaries on why you shouldn't, such as this, and this.

Whether or not you agree that dealing with Jospeh Kony is something that we in the West should be addressing, or can actually do anything about, one thing is clear. North American young people are reacting to the crimes of Kony with outrage and passion. They want to do something. They need to do something. They care. And this makes me proud. For a generation that is routinely characterized as indulged and self-focused, interested only in the latest fashions, entertainment and themselves, they are proving to be refreshingly open to the troubles outside their own little worlds, and willing to do what they can to help.

Many of the young people I know who are responding to the call to help stop Joseph Kony are already active helpers in their own communities. They have the energy, stamina and heart to do what is needed, and when they see the needs around them, they react. I have to admit, some of the reaction against the Kony 2012 movement has sounded distressingly like world-worn adults, shaking their heads at the idealism and naivety of young people who have yet to become jaded and discouraged by the sheer size of the issues involved, the duplicity of government officials, and the fact that this action is unlikely to completely solve the problems in the areas involved.

I hear a dull, cold note of discouragement trickling down, and I don't like it. You won't be able to solve the problems. You can't trust these guys, anyway. What about this, and that, and those things, and what these people say? Who's going to do this, carry that, pay for these, fix it all? You can't do it, they can't do it, no one can do it. Don't even try.

Invisible Children, the organization responsible for the Kony 2012 video and campaign, has written a response to their critics. It is worth checking out.

When I watched the Kony 2012 video with my daughter, we cried. Not because we are weak or easily fooled, or sentimental. It is not sentimental to weep for children who are brutally abused, murderously orphaned, used as sex-slaves and child soldiers. It is compassionate. It is human and at the same time, it is divine. We need to be proud that we have raised a generation of young people who care so deeply. We need to encourage them to read and listen to everything they can on the subject of Jospeh Kony and the Invisible Children organization, including the critics. We need to teach them to think critically, with intelligence and thoroughness, but without cynicism and scorn. If we don't think that Kony 2012 is an appropriate means of helping, we need to offer alternative solutions, so that the energy, passion and strength that our young people bring to the table will not be lost in a fog of discouragement.

Last week in our college Humanities class, we watched a BBC documentary called How Facebook Changed the World - The Arab Spring. It documented the incredible story of how a new generation of Arab citizens used social networking to try to bring down the tyrannical dictators that ruled their countries. We saw that the energy, courage and strength of people can make a difference, can accomplish what was once considered the impossible. I have to admit, I cried while watching it. I was especially moved by their successes. So much hope. So many possibilities. Such courage.

I want to encourage our young people to study the issues, think about the consequences of action, to count the cost, to pray for guidance, to be wise and thoughtful. And I want to do it in a way that leaves no doubt that I are so very, very proud.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings"

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:11-13

I woke up this morning feeling really down. Sad. Worried. Afraid. Wounded.

My thoughts kept returning over and over to hard words and accusations that have been cast at me in the past. Harsh words hurt. Harsh words from loved ones crazy hurt. And they linger. I know what they are. I know their intent, and it was not so much to hurt me as to justify outrageous, abusive behavior. The words meant that I deserved it. It is not so shocking, so ugly, so evil to abuse someone who deserves it. The words were never about me. They were about the abuser. I know that.

Still, some days those words feel like they have been permanently engraved on my heart. In my mind. There have been times when, in desperation, I have taken sandpaper to those words, scrubbing at them frantically until the pain stopped me. They are written too deeply. All I was got for my efforts was more words - crazy, drug addict, alcoholic, cutter. More justification for more abuse.

There is only one way to permanently erase these words. I need new words. And they need to be from someone higher than I am. I could tell myself that I am a good person, but what if I am not? Abusers tell themselves that they are good people. The most powerful deception in the world is self-deception. I need to hear it from a higher authority, someone who knows me better than I know myself.

Yesterday, I was going through some papers and I came across a few old sermons that I had written and preached years ago. One of them was called, "Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." It was from a passage in Isaiah. New words. My hope today is as it was then, to be a repairer of broken walls, a restorer of streets with dwellings. To live my life for God, in His service, doing His heart's desire. Bringing His restoration, His healing, His hope and love to my world.

It is not enough to simply try not to think of the ugly words. They need to be replaced with something better. Something true. So, today, I am a child of God, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a helper, a writer, and a Repairer of Broken Walls, a Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. I am flawed, but growing. My land make feel sun-scorched at times, but my needs are always met. There is life in the garden of my heart, my soul. There is Life in my spirit. I fall, but I get back up. I try. And because of God's love and mercy for me when I fall, every time I hit the gravel face-first I have more compassion for others who trip and fall.

Most of all, I am loved. Passionately. Eternally. Gracefully. Totally. Intimately.

There. That feels better.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Missing Mum

Mum and aunties - Mum is in the red sweater

It has been over four months since mum passed away. It still feels weird. I've gotten used to it in that I no longer feel startled or stunned by how quickly things went once we found out how ill she was, and how suddenly she had died. In a sense, I'm in the process of getting used to the utter oddness of her not being here anymore. I think that it may always feel odd. I just have to get used to the odd feeling.

I was thinking about her last night. I had just gotten into bed, and was snuggled down in the covers with Jean-Luc wrapped around my feet, keeping watch. This is often when I think of her. When she first died, I was usually marginally okay until I got into bed. Then the pain and loss would hit. There's nothing like crying with a CPAP mask on. I went quite a few nights without it, simply because it was bad enough to be mourning my mum. The last thing I needed was a CPAP machine trying to suffocate me in my weepy sleep.

Last night, in the warm and close darkness, I realized how much I wish that I had had more time with her. Mum died on a Monday, and the Friday before she died, I had spent the day alone with her in her hospital room. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the last day of wakefulness for her. That evening, she went into a coma and never woke up again. If I had known, I wouldn't ever have left the room, for the whole day. If I had known, I would have watched her while she was sleeping instead of reading my book. Of course, I didn't know. I am not berating myself. I'm immensely grateful for that day. I don't think that there was anything else I would have said to her if I had known. I did know that she was dying, and I treasured every moment. My "ifs" are about wanting more. Maybe what I want is not to change that day, but to have it back again, to be with her again. It is hard to let go.

I feel the same way about my final good-bye, after she died. We were in the hospital room with her for quite a while after she died. We sat around her, talking, crying, even laughing. The kids got a chance to see Grandma, that she was there, and not there at the same time. When we left the room, and I was alone with her to say good-bye, I didn't want to leave. It was time, I knew that. There was no battle within me, no struggle about leaving. Just a deep sense of longing to stay. Leaving made it final. For me, leaving her there was the most acutely painful thing that I have ever done. Again, I don't even know that I want that time to have been longer. I just want it back.

I am so grateful for my memories of Mum, and even of those difficult times at the end. I have Mum's picture in the living room, on a cabinet that I inherited from her. A few weeks ago, Jean-Luc climbed up onto the cabinet, where he knows he is not allowed, and peered at over the top of the picture at Grace and I, who were on the couch. His chin rested on the top of her picture frame. I saw him, and pointed out to Grace what he was doing. We laughed, both because he was being cute and because Mum would have hated him that closer to her. She couldn't stand cats.

Ah, memories....

Friday, March 2, 2012

Some really neat people with really neat blogs!

So, it's a snowy Thursday, the beginning of March. We're all familiar with the whole "Lion, Lamb" thing. I'm just glad that March is finally here.

I went out into the wild. white weather to do a few errands, and came home very grateful for my big, solid boat of a car and with a return of the angina. So the rest of the day will be quiet. Hopefully.

Which leads me to a wonderful blogging idea that a smart young friend of mine brought up recently. She suggested writing a blog entry about our favorite blogs(other than our own, of course). To be honest, I think that this is such a good idea, it should be a regular feature. While I may not agree with everything I read (and fervently hope that no one just blindly agrees with everything I write, either), there are many gems of wisdom and humor and life in the voices of these writers.

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things....blogging things, that is.

Hands down, my favorite is my daughter, Grace Stevenson's blog. While Grace is a profound and thoughtful writer, this blog leans more towards representing things that she enjoys. I, as her mother, love the pictures and quotes that make up the aspects of her personality that she wants to share with the world. She is interesting and funny, as well as having a deep, intuitive spirituality that is based on a faithful, loving, honest relationship with her God. What can I say? I am her biggest fan, and a wildly proud momma!

I am also really enjoying a blog by another young woman, Amber, called "The Ups and Downs and All Arounds of 20" . It's a fairly new blog, and already Amber had lit up the page with her cheerful, friendly personality. Those who know her can almost hear her giggling as she writes. Amber shares about her loves, especially her new fur-baby, a Siberian pup named Dutchess, her life at work and school, as well as the many things that go through the mind of a 20 year old young woman moving forward in life and love.

Then there is this lovely blog called "A Pot of Tea and a Biscuit" Need I say more?

"Razing Ruth" is written by an extraordinarily honest, brave young woman who's journey is leading her out of a strict, oppressively controlling fundemantal Christian family and church. Her story is heart-breaking, and incredibly inspirational. She is courageously real about the consequences of being raised in a dysfuntionally sheltered and controlled environment. Her insights and stories, as she makes her way through college, work and relationships are sometimes painful but I am always left with a deep respect for her strength. You'll find yourself cheering her on, and looking at your life with a little more gratitude.

"The Chronicle of Wasted Time" is anything but a waste of time. Alyson is a incredibly gifted artist, and that alone makes her blog worth checking out. Her writing is simply wonderful icing on an already delicious cake. I especially love the posts where she kindly shares her process with us, so that we can catch a glimpse of how much work and attention go into getting the vision from the artist's mind to our eyes. Wonderful.

Lastly, one of my favorite "Jesus" blogs is "The Jesus Virus". There is just so much to think about, so much to challenge the way I think and live my life, and more importantly, the way I allow Jesus to live His life through me. I love the author's authenticity and transparency as he shares stories from his life, and he encourages his readers to do the same. I have new blog entries sent to my email account, and enjoy being challenged and encouraged with every entry.

This list is in no way complete. I think I may try to write a post like this every month. It's a great way to promote the blogs that I enjoy, and to share some of the great stuff I get to read every month.

Who knew there were so many talented, interesting people out there? :)
My Zimbio