Maybe it’s Lori’s Chocolate Chip cookies (see yesterday’s post) doing their anti-depressant wonders.  Maybe it is having an almost normal (for us) night’s sleep.  Maybe it is reading yesterday’s post in the morning — late in the evening it is easy to become pensive and full of self-pity.  Maybe it is the dramatic contrast of all that we in our household have compared to the pain and suffering of tens of thousands in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake.  Maybe it is just getting tired of hearing myself whine.

Whatever it is, I need clarify for myself and any who follow this blog, that what I am feeling in regard to my change of circumstances from Senior Pastor of a large, thriving congregation to the full time primary Caregiver of my wife Mary Ann is just experiencing to the full the dynamics that come along with any major change in life.  There is a letting go of the past and settling in to a new set of present circumstances.

What I am experiencing in letting go of the past has nothing to do with the congregation from which I retired.  In fact, if anything, the wonderfully nurturing and loving people, the caring and competent Staff that actually served as my primary support group during the very toughest time trying to work full time and care for Mary Ann, the generosity of the Leadership of the congregation, the Volunteers (as many as 65 of them at one time) who stayed with Mary Ann all the time I was working away from the house (sometimes staying with her when I needed time to work at home), the Volunteers who have continued to stay with Mary Ann at times for a year and a half now since I retired from being their Pastor, the huge cadre of people there who threw the most fantastic party imaginable when I retired, all of that kindness just dramatizes the contrast between that part of my life and this part of my life.

Would it have been easier if they had all been mean and ugly to me?  I suppose in one sense it might have made me want to get out of there.  I have often reminded people who were hurting after the loss of a loved one, missing them so much, that their pain is a sign of the depth of their love for the one they have lost.  In that sense, I am grateful for every moment of gut-grieving.  It validates the value of the years of service in the church.  It reveals the depth of love for so many over the decades.  It is one way my gut reminds me that those years were good years.

Then, there is the truth of the matter.  No one asked me to retire.  There was plenty of reason as I struggled to do justice to the ministry and give Mary Ann the care she needed, for the leadership to say to me, “Don’t you think it is time for you to retire?” Instead, they said, “What can we do to help?”  I am the one who chose to retire.  It was without a shred of doubt exactly the right thing to do for me, for Mary Ann, for the Congregation and for the Lord who granted me an easy and certain decision-making process.

My struggles now are just the living out of that decision, the living through of the transition from one career to another, one identity to another.  What the whining in these posts reveals is the ugly underbelly of a very ordinary, flawed, self-absorbed, sinful (the Biblical word for such things) somebody going through that transition.  On the positive side of it, I am convinced that the journey will be completed more quickly and completely by allowing the ugliness to emerge without sugar-coating it — naming it for what it is.  That way it is less likely to sneak up later and cause some unpleasant and unexpected consequences — at least that is the hope.

I have always marveled at the enormous power and generosity of God to be able to and to choose to use people like me to actually do stuff to accomplish God’s goals on this clump of dirt on which we all live.  As those of us in the business know and will (hopefully) admit, most of what God does is not so much done through us as it is in spite of us.

Mind you the recognition of what I have been doing recently in these posts, and my own charge to “get over it” does not carry with it a promise that I will no longer whine and complain.  Why on earth do you think I am writing this blog!  It is so that I will have a place to whine and complain.  What I do hope and pray is that what I am experiencing and my reflections on it, the processing of the feelings will provide some bit of comfort to others who sometimes think they are going crazy, can’t go on any longer, are the only ones feeling that way, aren’t as good and nice as they should be, are failing to meet their own expectations.

What I hope is that other Caregivers who read this will understand that they have a harder job than anyone who hasn’ t done it realizes, that what they are doing has as much value as anything anyone has ever done no matter how important it might seem in the public forum, and that their lives have a depth of meaning they might never have found without the privilege of caring for another human being who needs them and whom they love deeply.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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Tonight I am anticipating a three day retreat from Caregiving.  It will begin as soon as the car is loaded and on the road in the morning.  I will travel between five and six hours on the Interstate to get to a place that has provided respite and renewal to me off and on for almost twenty years.  

I will tell you some of things I look for in a Retreat, some of the things I do, but what is more important is for each of you who serves as a Caregiver to find a place that renews your spirit.   What provides you with respite and renewal is likely to be much different from what does it for me.

The place I will go is called St. Francis of the Woods Spiritual Renewal Center.  To go there requires no particular Spirituality.   There I will find complete solitude.  The cottages are very comfortable and very few.  That there are very few cottages is the reason for my expectation of solitude.  There will be no agenda to follow, no meal times to honor.  It will be in complete contrast to the Caregiving Role that is done entirely in response to someone else’s needs. 

There is a beautiful, ornate, Orthodox chapel there for those who appreciate that environment.  There is a library filled with books intended for those seeking renewal.  St. Francis includes a five hundred acre working farm.  There are pastures and woods, a chicken house filled with clucking hens and crowing roosters.  Fresh eggs can be purchased — the honor system – get a dozen from the fridge and leave the money in the basket.  There are paths carved out in the woods, with the occasional bench.  There are areas with no paths, filled with wildlife to be surprised as you come into sight.  There is a small remote field a decent hike’s distance across a trickle of a creek, maybe a mile and a half’s walk away from any of the cottages.  It is surrounded by woods with only one path for a tractor to reach it for any planting or cutting of hay.  That is the spot that touches my spirit and renews me. 

The drive there is a vital part of the experience.  The music CD’s are carefully chosen to help me transition from activities and attitudes that fill my days at home (and at work when I was still working full time).  That time allows me to be prepared for the hoped for renewal time on the Retreat.   The return trip is often a powerful time, since, with an uncluttered and rested mind, solutions to problems often emerge, decisions can be made with clarity.  For me,  a two night stay with travel there on the first day and travel back on the third day is the most effective pattern for renewal.

On the Retreat itself I will carry with me a couple of books that provide me with the spiritual tools I need to stay grounded and grow in learning how to quiet myself so that I am receptive to renewal.  I will bring a couple of books on Quantum Physics, since, while I know very little and struggle to understand them, I find them to enlarge my perspective in a way that excites my spirit.   I will take with me some good binoculars and a spotting scope given to me by my Son.  I will engage to the fullest extent my senses will allow, every dimension of that holy space. 

I will do some journaling periodically as I sit on the three legged stool that I strap to my backpack, or one of the benches if it happens to be in the right place at the right time.  The journaling tends to take me to a place of perspective on my life’s journey.  When I am on retreat, I have a chance to move out of reactive mode.   I can rediscover my center of being as a single individual in a magnificently huge universe.  I can look from a distance at my relationship with Mary Ann, with the caregiving that is a part of our relationship.  Without fail, my love and commitment to her has been renewed on those retreats, the spiritual strength that sustains me has been renewed and enlarged. 

Self-care is not simply an optional task among the many that come with life’s challenges, especially for those charged with the care of another human being.  Self-care is what allows the possibility of being of any use to anyone else, especially the One for whom you care. 

I suspect the question that first comes to mind for many Caregivers is how on earth it is possible to find time to go on a retreat.  Who will care for my Loved One while I am gone?   How will I afford it?  It will only happen if you accept that your self-care has priority.  If something is needed badly enough, we find a way to do it.  We need to eat.   We find a way to do it. 

I went on these retreats when I was working full time and caring for Mary Ann full time when not away from the house at work.  There were some Volunteers who developed the confidence to be a part of the crew who stayed with her when I was gone.  Our daughter and her family chose to move to town to help us out for a couple of years.  During that time, she took one or both of the nights I was gone.  My daughter and her family have driven ten hours to visit this week, encouraging me to take this three day Retreat during part of their stay.

There  are some local organizations that for a charge (one charges $150) will come overnight for a twelve hour shift.  There is a local facility that will provide residential care for an overnight, again, for a charge.  When I began going to St. Francis, the suggested donation was $6.00 per night.  Now it is up to almost half the cost of a night in a motel — a bargain to say the least. 

Your task is to determine what it is that would allow you to disengage for a time from the stream of demands coming your way, what activity would be renewing to you.  It is not impossible to do.  It may is terribly difficult, but it will never happen unless  you decide it needs to happen, it is worth doing.  Do it once or twice and you will understand why it needs to happen.  Take each obstacle to doing whatever renewal activity would be meaningful one at a time.  Do not allow one of the obstacles to sabotage the whole idea.  Reframe the nature of the retreat if need be.  That may mean finding a B&B an hour away instead, or a friend’s vacation home, or the farm still owned by a family member. 

Self-care is not one option among many for a Caregiver.  It is precisely what is needed to do the very task you are called to do.  Love the One for whom you are caring enough to take care of yourself.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.