I’m in day 11 of my homespun soul care staycation, a restorative journey for body, mind and spirit weaved in and out of my day to day life. I see this open-ended self-care adventure as a body pampering, wisdom-giving, faith-building, joy-seeking, branch-pruning incubator, with God as my Shepherd leading me beside still waters. It’s also an inner pilgrimage of sorts as I prepare for hearing God’s call during a transitioning in my career and preparing for an impending empty nest when my son graduates high school next spring. (sigh)
Such intentional self-care – the benefits of feeding our body healthy foods (yes, I’m drinking green smoothies everyday), nature walks, daily practices of calming our minds, silent retreats and deepening our lives with God – offers multifaceted benefits we can’t always realize in our routine lives.
On day 1 of my staycation, I had carved out an hour to sit by the lovely community pool tucked in a cul-da-sac under a circle of palm trees in our neighborhood. How lucky, I had the place all to myself. Opening Thomas Merton’s book, Life and Holiness, I read, “an activity that is based on the frenzies and impulsions of human ambition is delusion and an obstacle to grace. It gets in the way of God’s will.”
How often we live from frenzied minds and impulses, rather than following the true guiding of the spirit where true vitality and joyful living is born.
I wanted more to know the will of God leading my life.
By day 3 I’m irritated, with a flurry of allergies and weariness. The following days I’m more rested and purposeful – releasing worries and concerns, praying more deeply for God’s will. I realize, of late, my mind stuck in a rut, seemed to spin round and round like a tire stuck in mud. Giving myself walks on the beach, nurturing activities like baths and sipping tea while journaling felt hard. I only offered myself the smallest nurturing gifts like reading for hours in the evening stretched out on the couch, which I never do, worth a million dollars.
I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint. – Jeremiah 31:25
By day 7, I’m more aware of people around me, my intuitions as sharp as a magnifying glass. I’m taken aback by jealousies and competitiveness between high school theater parents in my community, noticing how such human tendencies are microcosms of world wars, culprits suffocating joy, love, and peace. I pray for these people, the world, for transforming my own flaws, removing planks in my own eyes before trying to remove splinters from the eyes of others.
By day 9 I’m realizing motherhood burnout is real. Resisting another chore, making another meal, driving, driving, driving, I’m experiencing care-giving, housekeeping, food shopping, cooking overload. Healthy frozen dinners will suffice this week.
I also know my overload is nothing compared to the caregiving of others in much more demanding positions.
Return to your rest oh my soul. – Psalm 116:7
Jesus, the ultimate caregiver, often went to quiet places to rest.
And so, I pray more deeply until light breaks through like dawn. A shift happens, my mind more free and awake, is less foggy, more receptive for God’s will, for noticing God’s grace all around me.
God’s grace is sufficient.
I return to trust in the words of Jesus, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
One of my day 11 staycation activities included a long, early morning hike today with my husband at Daley Ranch, a 3,058 acre conservation area just 20 minutes from home. Refreshed from fresh, sage scented air, the quiet of the mountain and it’s vast green beauty, I felt held in Sunday’s arms. On the beginning of the hike, I picked a bunch of sage. It’s fragrant, dusty, desert scent, reminded me of our early years as parents taking frequent, peaceful hikes in the sage filled Santa Barbara mountains, our then toddler son with his wild brown curls peaking from under his tropical printed surfer hat, in a backpack on my husband’s back. We loved hiking, but hikes have been rare these past years. The hike this morning helped us remember who we once were, and are. We stopped often along the trail, thanking God for these moments together, of our love sometimes buried under toil and stress, of the beauty of the landscape.
Yesterday, instead of our planned staycation activity of going to the desert, we changed plans when we heard the fall desert weather was over 90 degrees, treating ourselves to a local day spa – a delayed celebration for our 20th wedding anniversary. Eight hours pampering our neglected bodies with spa delights — eucalyptus steams, saunas, hot tubbing, soft, healing music in the background – soothed over-barraged senses. My husband enjoyed hot tubbing with other men, each daring the other to dip in the neighboring ice cold tub, while I relished in reading a good book, soaking in unusual solace, and frequent trips to the sauna and steam room.
My heart warmed watching my hard-working husband stretched out like a beached seal on a comfy lounge chair in a white terry cloth spa robe, sipping lemon water infused with green tea extract, a spa special, relief oozing from inside – out his weary body.
In the finally purge in the steam room, I realize soul-care isn’t always about neat, pretty pampering. Soul-care God’s way sometimes means lifting the lid off of our pain, being receptive to God’s miraculous healing in order to become more Christ-like. This may mean facing submerged parts of ourselves in steam rooms. Even on my glorious spa day, pain showed it’s face.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you
– Isaiah 49:1-
Almost unbearably hot eucalyptus scented steam jutting from jets, settles it’s heavy layer upon my skin, penetrating deep into my pores. Droplets of steam sink into hidden places like tiny submarines in search of sunken treasures. A weighty sweat pours out invisible toxins, along with emotional pain from somewhere deep and intangible.
I think of Jesus healing Mary Magdalene of seven demons. I think of my mother, afflicted with mental illness, it’s impact on me, the fear and shame, tiny traumas and huge tragedies. But, I’m ready now, God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle. I’m ready to face this old layer of wounds buried in my soul like sediment rock, the fossils of pain imprinted in the hollows of my heart. I’m also ready for God’s supernatural healing, opening the way for new life.
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
Pain sweats from my pores, big aches dripping onto the wooden bench. Dying.
Breathing hot eucalyptus fog deep into my lungs settles my soul into a resting place.
By the end of the day, with our minds like ducks swimming on a quiet, mountain lake, and bodies limber and loose, we showered, slobbered on fancy spa lotions, got dressed, and then strolled holding hands through the resort’s town square under elegant palm trees glistening with white lights above. A band on the restaurant’s patio played easy rock music as we stopped to sit on a rock wall watching pregnant moms running after toddlers, young couples dancing, lights twinkling, stars beyond shining, awakened to the utter beauty of these simple glistening moments.
Joy lives all around us under stars, in our neighborhoods, in our midst– it’s only our minds, our stresses and worries, and the demands of the world that block our views.
Incubated within a soul-care staycation, I felt God in my every breath, in the warm California air on this beautiful night, in my husband’s hand I held, in the shining eyes of the tiny baby in the stroller, in his sweet, pure smile, in the kiss the little toddler gave when I bent down to her size, in the happy Shih Tzu puppy surrounded by children.
Although I’ve yet to venture on a silent day retreat seeking to deepen an intimate relationship with God, and to continue the unfolding care of my, mind and spirt, joy peaked from behind the curtain of my soul care staycation today, and I’m feeling the blessings.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.- Psalm 23:6
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