Today is the first day this spring we have been able to meet on the deck.  There is a dramatic change in the feel of the experience when on the deck rather than in the downstairs family room.  At 7:30am the birds are fully engaged in noisy and boisterous activity.  In that setting we have been buzzed by hummingbirds heading for the feeder.  A Cooper’s Hawk has come crashing through concentrating on its prey, oblivious to coming within inches a ducking head.  Rabbits have come by the deck with little fear of being so close to people.  Hungry birds have ventured to a feeder no more than a couple of feet from the head of one of us.   

The smells and the sounds, the sun and clouds and trees and gently blowing breezes calm the spirits of our little group as we begin with a few moments of silent meditation.  Our silence has as part of its nature the sounds of nature, as well as car sounds, mowers, dogs, airplanes, whatever else that happens to be going on during those moments.  The sounds of nature seem to dominate. 

We refer to our group as a Spiritual Formation Group.  The Group began many years ago.  I am not sure how many at this point — maybe seven or eight years.   The size has ranged from four to six members.  There are just a couple of us who have been there from the very beginning.  There are five of us at the moment.  It meets at our home since I need to be on call for Mary Ann’s needs.  The group emerged at a time in the life of the Congregation when there was a special emphasis on starting small groups. 

Our goal is to incorporate what we believe into what we do moment by moment each day — the ordinary.  We seek to support one another in disciplines that increase the likelihood of our finding the strength to live meaningfully no matter what comes or how fast it comes. 

It is no small order.  This morning in the course of our conversation, I had a chance to do some more processing of yesterday’s emergency trip to the Dermatologist to re-sew stitches that had been torn out of Mary Ann’s shoulder by a fall, stitches intended to close the gaping hole left by the removal of a skin Cancer.  I should add quickly that after a restless night, a painful morning this morning, she slept four or five hours.   She is doing well at the moment, down for the night (hopefully). 

Our group has a covenant that includes confidentiality.  Any specifics will reflect only my thoughts and comments.  The rest will come in general terms. 

Caregivers need a support system!  We cannot do this by ourselves.  Some of the support comes in the form of help with tasks, companion care for Mary Ann, food, all sorts of tangibles.  The support that is to be found in a Spiritual Formation Group is the nurturing of the spirit, the center of being from which deep personal strength comes.  From that deep well of strength is drawn the power to endure, even thrive, in the face of adversity. 

My approach to talking about Spiritual Formation is intended to reflect two elements of my intentions for this Blog.  One intention is to reflect my own spirituality, since that is how I manage as a full time Caregiver.  I am a retired Lutheran Pastor.  I have a deep faith rooted in a very specific understanding of Who God is and what God has done.  My relationship with God is created and sustained by a fellow name Jesus Christ.  I make no apology for that faith. 

At the same time, this Blog is not a parochial piece intended exclusively for folks who happen to share my faith.   The most basic element of my faith is the unconditional love reflected in the Christian Story (a true story).  That love has no bounds.  I am very comfortable framing the truth in humanistic terms, scientific terms, philosophical terms.  I feel no need to defend my faith or force feed it to others — witness to it, yes.  It is a part of who I am and how I cope. 

I will seek to do so and enjoy framing the deep well of strength in a way that is accessible to people who have another spirituality or no spirituality at all in their view of reality. 

In our group, we always use a book of some sort intended for use in a spiritual formation small group setting.  We are currently using book in a series of Spiritual Formation Guides produced by Renovare (http://www.renovare.org).   The chapter we were doing today is titled “Being the Good News.”  Our conversation revolved around the question, “…how do you seek to act as the good news in the world?” 

This morning my need as a Caregiver was to process with others what had happened yesterday, the fall, the broken stitches, the dripping blood thinned by Plavix, the emergency trip to the doctor to be resewn.  I needed to process it so that I could face the harsh reality that had I been beside her I might have prevented it, that I had not been calm and cool and collected, sweet and nurturing throughout the experience.  I needed to affirm what I had done that was appropriate to keep Mary Ann safe, to get her the help she needed, to care for her during and after the trauma.

The conversation in that small group, the processing, helped me to reframe the experience in a way that allows me to accept my failings, celebrate the good, and see the possibility for change. 

For those who don’t have a spiritual dimension as part of their worldview, having a small group option for processing experiences is equally important.  The goal is to reframe what has happened in a way that gives it meaning.  Seeking to become more fully human is not only a help to your Loved One but a help in your own survival.  Each event is an opportunity for growth.  That growth can lead you to a better quality of life as you become more able to get past the reactive primitive brain impulses to thoughts and actions that are both sensible, humane and life affirming. 

Caregivers need a healthy, well-balanced support system.  A small group, in my situation, a Spiritual Formation Group, can help provide the deep source of strength needed to endure whatever life throws our way. 

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