This one is a veritable Life Boat, not just a Life Preserver.  Thursday morning (day after tomorrow) I will get in the car and drive a little over five hours on the Interstate through the Flint Hills and on into Oklahoma to St. Francis of the Woods Spiritual Renewal Center.  I will stay over two nights and return Saturday afternoon.

What about Mary Ann???  Mary Ann will have a great time while I am gone.  She will have our Daughter, Lisa, all to herself for that entire time.  Hopefully. our Son, Micah, and family will be able to join the party at some point.  Lisa is flying in from Kentucky as a gift to both Mary Ann and me, so that we can have a break from one another.  Admittedly, 24/7 does wear on both of us. Our Son-in-Law, Denis, will be serving as both Dad and Mom to the girls for the time Lisa is gone.

I have described St. Francis of the Woods in earlier posts.  Lisa provided the opportunity to go some months ago.  While I am at St. Francis, I will walk for hours, read, meditate, all among beautiful wooded paths and open fields.  The Renewal Center includes a 500 acre working farm.  There are only three cottages in the part of the property on which I will be staying.  The cottages are not in sight of one another, so it is not unusual to see no one for hours.

Maybe my love of solitude is the result of being the youngest of five children by so many years that I was raised almost as an only child.  I spent much of my childhood outdoors by myself.  I loved it.  I don’t really remember ever feeling lonely when I was outdoors in a natural setting.

I will take with me a very small three-legged stool strapped to my backpack so that I can stop to sit and read.  I will read some Scripture, a book on Spiritual Formation, and a book titled Quantum Physics and Theology, written by a Theoretical Physicist who later in life became an Anglican Priest.  I will carry my binoculars and look for birds and other wildlife.  I will watch the sunset from a wonderful spot on a hill that provides a panorama to the west stretching for miles.

I will probably sleep for many hours.  At this point, it is quite an unusual experience to have uninterrupted sleep.  I have checked the weather forecast for Coyle, Oklahoma (the nearest town — very small).  The weather is predicted to be partly cloudy, in the low to mid 70’s during the day and the upper 50’s at night.  That would be hard to beat.

One treat that may or may not materialize is a visit with a very good friend who was a member of the congregation I served in the Oklahama City area.  As a physician attached to a University Hospital, his schedule might not allow us time to talk.  I ministered to him and his family as his wife battled terminal Cancer.  Actually, we ministered to one another as we dealt with the Parkinson’s at the same time.  We spent hours at Ingrid’s Deli early in the morning a couple of times a week processing our experiences.  We haven’t seen each other in over thirteen years.

Since there will be no computer access at St. Francis, there will be a few days break in the postings here.  The only electronics at the cottage will be the portable CD player I am taking along.  By the way, there is a fully equipped kitchen including a microwave and, gratefully, a coffee pot.  I will bring some of those frozen leftovers from the freezer.  Cereal, fruit and granola bars will fill out the meals.

As I have continued this series on a Caregiver’s Life Preservers, I am wondering what Mary Ann would consider to be her Life Preservers.  I am not sure our current capacity for communication will provide the answer to that wondering, but I may just ask anyway.

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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.