The Grace of Retreating

Today’s Grace post is going to be a slight departure from the types of posts that I’ve been doing.  Instead of focusing on a way that I’ve found Grace in situations in my life, today I’m going to focus on one way in which I have offered myself Grace in my everyday life. Because that’s a big part of what Grace is all about. Like I said in a previous post, Grace is a tender mercy, or more simply, a blessing, and it’s something that we can not only find in the events in our lives, but that we can offer to ourselves and others each and every day.

Over the last few years I’ve really made a point to make time for myself. I’ve set about deepening myself spiritually. I’ve done a lot of reading and watched a lot of documentaries and listened to many preachers. My life coach training was a part of that path of time for myself. It was self-improvement and learning how to be an awesome coach all rolled into one. I’ve done a lot of digging in to my past and have really discovered who I am and what I’m meant to be doing in the world. This past year specifically, in the work that I’ve done with horses (I’ll be writing more about that later if you have no clue to what I’m referring), I’ve profoundly reconnected with parts of myself that I had left behind for one reason or another (Talk about a blessing – it’s like meeting an old friend that you had forgotten you loved and missed so much.). Another thing that I’ve done for myself is to attend retreats. This is something that I hadn’t done since I was a kid – and then they were associated with school and the Catholic Church.

The very first retreat I ever went on I was 13-years-old. It was a one-day event and a thing happened there that changed my life (for the better). I honestly don’t remember most of what we did, but there is something about getting away and connecting with others outside of the norm that is deeply powerful. This thing that happened meant more to me than anything that had happened so far in my life. It was so big I still remember it. {I’m not telling, sorry – some retreat secrets must remain thus.}

The next retreat I went on was my senior year of high school. It was a several day affair put on by the Campus Ministry Department and was a much bigger deal and was MUCH more life changing on a lot of different levels. It was one of the first times in my life I remember really opening up and being vulnerable with my peers. Really being seen. It also opened my eyes to really see different people, outside of my usual groups of people, and hear their stories and hold a compassionate space for them. Again, it was amazing and life-changing.

When I was 19, I went on a backpacking retreat in the high sierras of California (I’m third from the left in that photo above). Seven days of backpacking with a priest and eight other individuals besides myself. We hiked and climbed and camped and sang and prayed and cooked our own meals out of food we trekked in. We even spent one night completely on our own. It was hard work and scary and awesome. I learned a lot about myself on that retreat. One of the things I learned is that I can hold poop for a REALLY long time.

As an adult I really craved that experience of retreating that I had in my youth. I wanted to get away and do something for myself that didn’t feel like “girls weekend away,” but that felt deeper and more meaningful to me. Something that would enrich my life and bring me back to my marriage as a better version of myself.

What I found was Brave Girls Camp led by sisters Melody Ross and Kathy Wilkins, the founders of Brave Girls Club.  Camp was amazing and life-changing. {Are you noticing a theme here???} I went in May of 2012 and it was actually what sparked the teeny tiny little fire that led me to coaching. But that is a story for another day.

Since then I’ve been on THREE other retreats!!!

Here are some of the reasons why I think that going on retreats is such a blessing – why I consider them offering yourself Grace:

  • Connection. You meet people. A lot of retreats will say in their blurb that you’ll connect with “like-minded” women and they don’t necessarily tell you what that means. Well, here is what it means from my experience with retreats; people that are willing to go deep and learn about themselves, people that are willing to take time out of their lives to offer themselves Grace and that KNOW they are worth it, people that know they have to put their own oxygen mask on before they can help anyone else with theirs, people that are ready to shake things up and make some changes. Those are the like-minded that will be on retreats. And you’ll connect with them there and hopefully remain in contact afterwards. I sure have.
  • Rest. Someone will cook for you. Someone will tell you where to go and what to do, even if it’s “go take a nap now if you want.” We don’t get a lot of that in our everyday lives. We don’t get to disconnect enough to not be worried about the bills or the children/pets or putting gas in the car. On retreat you get to rest. No TV, no internet. Just rest. You get to only be concerned about yourself. Nice, right?
  • Play. Lots of retreats offer crafting or art of some kind. This kind of thing really gets you out of your head and is also lovely for creating connection with the other retreatants. You can take lovely walks or hula hoop or dance or splash around in a pool, whatever feels like play to you.
  • Change. Lots of personal revelation happens at these retreats and it can really be the kickstart for life changes. Plus getting out of your life for a while and coming back to it as a refreshed, fully oxygenated version of yourself is its own kind of change and a very good thing.
  • New People. You’ll meet people from all different backgrounds and places in the world and they’ll think and believe different things from you and that’s fantastic. I absolutely LOVE to meet people that broaden my perspective of the world.
  • Circling. One of my favorite parts of retreating from the age of 13 on has to be the circling aspect of them. There is something very powerful that happens when women hold space for one another. Magic happens. Being a compassionate witness for another human being is a beautiful thing. It’s offering others Grace for sure, which is such a blessing to ourselves. See how that works?

I wouldn’t trade the experiences that I have had at retreats over the past couple of years for anything in the world. I’ve been blessed with new and deep friendships and I’ve been witness to magic. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried bucketfuls of tears. I’ve sung and I’ve listened. I’ve eaten well and really, really bad (in the best way). I’ve been at the ocean and in the forest and across the Pond. And in all of this I’ve offered myself Grace in the sweetest of ways.

This is the seventh of 31 {or more} posts that I am writing on the topic of Grace. Please leave a comment any time about what Grace means to you or if you have any questions for me about Grace.

I am pleased to announce that I have only ONE spot left at my retreat being held in March of 2015. Click here and indicate your interest!

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I Was Asked To Leave {On Getting Kicked Out – The First Time}

My brother and I were talking one day and during the course of the conversation I said, “…when I got kicked out of the house, blah, blah, blah…” He was really upset with my phrasing. He said that was a harsh way of putting it. I wasn’t really sure what to say to that except that it felt an awful lot like being kicked out. And that’s really all that matters — how it felt to me.

I was 19 and it was the summer before my second year at UCLA. I was getting ready to house sit for some friends at church and on this particular Saturday afternoon I was rushing to get to church early because I was part of the evening mass choir and I was running late. I asked my mom to iron a blouse for me and I darted into the shower. When I came out she hadn’t ironed the blouse and some powerful words were exchanged. I say powerful because in the 19 years previous, nothing like it had ever been used between us.

I called her a “bitch” and she slapped me.

I finished getting ready for church and left the house. When I got home that night my dad said, “You’re getting ready to go house sit for the Roehls and I suggest you use that time away to find yourself a new place to live.”

Okey dokey then. As previously alluded to, up until that point in time my parents had never had a lick of trouble with me. Because of my childhood I was terrified of drinking because I didn’t want to be out of control in the way I had seen my dad be. I didn’t stay out past curfew. I didn’t hang out with the “wrong” crowd. Didn’t date at all. I was the designated driver when my friends wanted to go to parties. I was going to school and had been on the rowing team. I was trying hard. I was a good, good girl.

So hearing my dad tell me that because once I had gotten upset and called my mom a bad word, I was being asked to leave the premises was really hard to take. I was devastated. I’m actually crying now just thinking about it. I felt so betrayed. Like I was trying to live up to my part of the bargain and they didn’t. I had one year of college under my belt and it was not feasible to work and go to school at the same time, so college was finished for me. I was heartbroken on so many levels.

But, I did what I was told and found myself a place to live.  There were two young men in the Young Adult Group at church, Air Force Academy graduates, who were looking for a roommate in their house a couple of blocks from the beach in Hermosa Beach. Ideal. I felt safe being with them and I was closer to the beach than I’d ever lived.

I had gotten a job as a file clerk in a law office as a temporary, part-time thing over the summer and had to go and ask Marsha, the supervisor, if it could be a permanent job. They agreed to keep me on full-time past the summer and so everything was set. One of my friends, Todd, had a truck and he moved me into my new digs.

The guys were excited because they thought having a female around meant that I would do the chores. They were swiftly disabused of that notion. I loved that they were older and worldly and cooked and kept a clean home. I learned a lot from them and will forever be grateful to them that they took me in when I really needed a home. I know that they were disappointed in me, I didn’t cook much, clean much, or even keep my own room picked up, but they were absolutely terrific to me in spite of that.

I learned a lot about money management during that time. It was my first time having a job because my parents always wanted me to focus on getting good grades and wouldn’t let me work while I was in school. So previous to this experience I would ask my dad for money and he would give it to me. Or not. But I had never worked for money and never had to budget it. I now had to get a checking account and establish credit and pay bills. There was no asking anyone for anything.

I’m so grateful that I had that year-long experience living with Mike and Jeff a few blocks from the beach. It taught me so many things that helped me to be able to survive all of what followed in my life up to this point.

It taught me that I could support myself. That I didn’t need anyone. That I could stand on my own two feet without anyone taking care of me. That was huge. And what a gift. What a blessing. What Grace to know that I could be totally self-sufficient if I needed to be. I really and truly didn’t NEED anyone.

I’m not sure that I can underscore that notion enough. I think after having the childhood that I did, being so afraid all the time – of everything – that having the knowledge that I could really and truly do it on my own without having to rely on anyone else made me feel very, very safe.

From then on, anytime I dated anyone I knew that it was truly a choice. I could live with them or not. I could stay or leave. I did not NEED anyone but myself. I could always make it work on my own. I could always take care of myself. What freedom there is in that!!! Even if I wasn’t always making good choices, I knew deep down that the choice was there. That I was strong enough to be able to make it on my own.

So in that one situation – my dad “asking me to leave” home at 19 – that one situation that forever changed the course of my life, for better or for worse, I find Grace in the fact that I learned self-reliance and self-ability.

That I knew that I was enough all on my own.

Grace, indeed.

This is the sixth of 31 {or more} posts that I am writing on the topic of Grace. I’m writing about what Grace means to me and the ways in which I’ve found it in my life. Please leave a comment any time about what Grace means to you or if you have any questions for me about Grace.

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Rant of Appreciation

Today my Grace post comes in the form of a Rant of Appreciation. Yesterday included a harrowing drive to the coast of England from Somorset. I was driving, which I’ve done before on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road. I usually enjoy it. It’s like a puzzle. And a challenge. Can I remember which side of the street to drive on and which side to execute a turn onto? But yesterday we were driving on the tiniest of winding, cliff roads (driveways??) going up, down and around with insane people hurtling themselves toward us as though they were attempting suicide. When we finally reached the hotel I sobbed. All of my pent up fear and anger came bubbling up and I let it out. I vowed then and there that I wouldn’t leave the hotel until Tuesday, sacred sites be damned. When I informed Wayne of this he said, “Okay.” No judgement. No grief. No whining. Just, “Okay.” He’s amazing. After calming down a bit, I told him I’d be willing to go to Tintagel, if HE drives and I can keep my eyes closed.

I’m writing this now on my phone while we are driving on the teeny tiniest of roads (even for one car!!!), as we navigate having to share it with people. At least they have the broadest grins on their faces. That helps. It’s all fun and games. Wayne is thrilled and I’m trying not to look.

So back to the Rant. Yesterday I felt awful and my body needed to cry and I let it. I expressed it. Today I have a bit of a “woe is me” hangover that I want to shake off. Hence, the appreciation. I’m looking for the Grace. So here goes:

I love my husband.
I love heated towel racks.
I love the ocean and craggy cliffs.
I love good food.
I love that we are on this amazing vacation.
I love England with all its sacred wonder.
I love gulls.
I love British children with their sweet little accents.
I love tea and biscuits.
I love warm clothes.
I love the sun.
I love cars with heated seats and navigation.
I love my daughter.
I love the internets that allow me to keep in touch with her while I’m a continent away.
I love my mom who is watching over the dog I love so much.
I love pink houses.
I love civilized cocktail hour.
I love the rain.
I love my friends.
I love getting to do work I love.
I love taking pictures.
I love fall and beautiful, colored leaves that do just that.
I love A roads.
I love comfortable shoes.
I love when people love that you’re from America and want to tell you all the places they’ve been in the States.
I love wild horses.
I love bleating sheep.
I love the countryside.
I love street signs that look like flaccid penises and make me giggle.
I love red telephone boxes.
I love that my husband can make me laugh so hard at just the right time.

Deep breath in. Let it out.

And, good.

This is the fifth of 31 {or more} posts that I am writing on the topic of Grace. I’ll be writing about what Grace means to me and the ways in which I’ve found it in my life. Please leave a comment any time about what Grace means to you or if you have any questions for me about Grace.

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Jolene Marie

When I was born I had an older sister, Jolene, and an older brother, Ron. When I was two and a half my sister passed away. She had a brain tumor that, even though they caught it late, was operated on and successfully removed. What she ultimately died of was pneumonia. Back then they didn’t get patients up and walking around or breathing into spirometers like they do now. They just let you lie in bed and recover. And sadly, she didn’t.

Fast forward several years and I was about to turn seven, the age Jolene was when she passed, and I was terrified that I was gong to die too. It made perfect sense to my six-year-old brain that females in my family die when they turn seven. I was petrified to go to sleep, even going so far as to try holding my eyelids open with toothpicks that I had snuck from the kitchen cabinet at night. If my eyes couldn’t close, I couldn’t sleep and therefore, couldn’t die. It was very clear to me.

At six I was a nervous wreck.

Thankfully, my parents made the decision to put me into therapy and didn’t just tell me to get over it. It was a kindness that means so much more to me now than when I was a child, but even then I knew I was receiving a gift. I was blessed with the most wonderful woman as my therapist. Mary and I met weekly. She let me make myself hot tea and put as many sugar cubes in it as I wanted. I liked it very, very sweet. I felt so grown up and special. No children I knew drank hot tea. She also brought in pomegranates and let me pick out the seeds and eat them during our sessions. It was nirvana. Mary created a very safe haven for me to go and tell the truth and be held and be heard. I was a lucky girl.

During our time together she brought in an anatomy book and carefully explained to me about the tumor my sister had, where it was located, and showed me on my own body where it would be if I had one. She explained my sister’s symptoms and asked me if I had any of them. I didn’t. It was such a huge comfort to know that because I didn’t have those symptoms, I likely didn’t have that tumor and I wasn’t, in fact, going to die.

It was really incredible and life-changing stuff.

There are a couple of amazing and Grace-filled parts to this story. The first is that I learned very early on that  therapy can be such a gift. That having a space to tell the truth and be heard is invaluable. And I became person that for my friends. I had one friend tell me that her parents were getting a divorce. NO ONE’S parents were divorced at that time, in our Catholic school community, and she didn’t want to tell anyone. She told me. I don’t know if it’s in my DNA or if it’s because I was blessed with Mary, but I have always wanted to create that space for anyone that needed one. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t.

I also learned about self-care during those sessions with Mary. Self-care can be really simple. It can be pomegranates. And it can be hot tea with as many sugar cubes as you want.

Grace is that simple. Grace is safe place to be, a person to listen and hear. Grace is hot tea and pomegranates.

This is the fourth of 31 {or more} posts that I am writing on the topic of Grace. I’ll be writing about what Grace means to me and the ways in which I’ve found it in my life. Please leave a reply any time about what Grace means to you or if you have any questions for me about Grace.

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Hail Mary, Full of Grace

I’ve written a couple of posts on the topic of Grace and I thought that I would define exactly what it is that Grace means to me.

I was raised Catholic and for those others of you that were, the title of this post will ring very familiar to you. It’s the beginning of prayer that Catholics say around the rosary. The first line of it is, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you.”

Free and Unmerited Favor

If you look up the word Grace in the dictionary you’ll find that most of the definitions are religious in nature. “The free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

Favor of God seems to be a prevailing meaning of the word. I like that definition. I’m a believer in God or Spirit or the Universe or whatever it is that you want to call That Which Has Always Been and is the Creator of All.

I love the idea that we all have access to FREE and UNMERITED favor. And I believe it wholeheartedly. We don’t have to do a single thing to be worthy of favor or blessings. We don’t have to earn them. We just have to be and that is enough. Do you believe that? I sure do.

But Grace is not only for believers in God or Christians. Grace is for everyone. Grace, by definition is not something you have to earn, which means you don’t need to believe IN anything in particular in order for it to be available to you. It’s that whole “just be and that’s enough” thing. Grace and blessings are available to everyone.

Tender Mercy

My definition of Grace as I apply to myself and others is a Tender Mercy.

Offering Grace both to myself and others is a huge part of my life. I have called myself before the “Queen of Self Care” and to me that’s what offering myself Grace means. How can I be kind to myself right now? Especially when I’m beating myself up over something, which I am wont to do. How can I offer myself tender mercy? How can I show myself kindness? Grace?

Offering Grace to someone else is all about extending myself in love and kindness to make someone else’s life better. It can be as simple as telling someone what I find amazing or beautiful about them. Or it can be giving people my time and attention when they need it. It’s one of my favorite things to do. 

Hail All of Us, full of Grace. Because we are. Filled with blessings and filled with unmerited love.

This is the third of 31 {or more} posts that I’ll be writing on the topic of Grace. I’ll be writing about what Grace means to me and the ways in which I’ve found it in my life. Please leave a reply any time about what Grace means to you or if you have any questions for me about Grace.

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