(This is the first post about my experience at the monastery. There will be at least one more.)
Months ago, my friend Jennie asked me if I would be interested in going on a writer’s retreat with her. A little background is required here. Jennie and I met each other because our boys were on the same soccer team. She was the reason I did the first NaNoWriMo challenge (the month I wrote my first novel). Our boys have become fast friends and so have we. When she asked, I thought it was more of a hypothetical. I think it was around when I turned 40 which made me proclaim all kinds of craziness. Go on a writer’s retreat, even though you’ve never published a word? Sure! Why not?
She explained more as the months went by that it was a weekend retreat at a monastery, a SILENT retreat. She started to ask me more specific questions about when I could go, would the weekend or week work better. At this point, I realized she was serious. So I made a commitment to go. This was the bravest leap I’ve made in a long time. Yes, a weekend trip like this was harder to muster the courage for than becoming a foster parent. Years ago, when I was unattached and young and should have been brave, I had a dear friend ask me to take a cross-country road trip. I chickened out. I didn’t want to make that mistake again. I wanted to experience something new.
The Monastery hosts silent retreats for anyone and everyone. When you arrive to check in, you pass this piece.
From the moment we entered and were greeted by Father Seamus, we were indeed received with kindness and hospitality. Father Seamus sat in his full monk attire, at an unassuming front desk. He asked our names and told us that they never ask where people are from or why they are there. They don’t expect to know if you are a believer, a catholic, an atheist. He said we were welcome to attend as many or as few daily prayers as we’d like. He cracked a few jokes about no one keeping track and you don’t get “extra points” if you attend all the prayers. He was charming, sweet and inviting.
We had arrived right before the 12:15pm prayers so we decided to attend those and then attend our first silent meal. There were signs posted about where silence was expected. For the most part, Jennie and I both respected this, only daring to giggle and laugh from time to time when we were alone in the elevator. I can’t speak for her but I felt the silence needed to be kept in order to get the full experience of this weekend.
I didn’t do a lot of research on the monastery or the monks before arriving. I had clicked on their website (in 2016, even Trappist Monks have a website). I really had no idea what to expect. We were given keys to our very basic accommodations. We had our own rooms and were told that visiting in one another’s rooms was discouraged. Everything about the weekend lent itself to solitude and silence.
I had everything I needed to survive. I had brought my laptop, camera, phone and plenty of books to read. Because I didn’t do a lot of research and planning, I didn’t have many goals for the weekend. I didn’t think I had an agenda. However, we had just gotten our full approval to become foster parents so I did think “I should have my phone on, just in case…” I also had quite a bit of school planning and researching that I needed to do online so I thought my laptop would come in handy. I was hoping to be able to roam the grounds and practice using my camera, instead of just being an iPhone photographer.
So, really, I did have an agenda. I felt a small twinge of panic as we drove closer to the monastery and my phone did not have service. About an hour away from the monastery, I could no longer use the maps or send or receive texts. For the rest of the weekend, the only time I could receive or send texts was when I was in the retreatant house library. It was the only location that had Wi-Fi and their hours were limited. So now I had no phone to distract me and a computer I couldn’t use in my room. Then, soon after going for a walk and snapping some great pictures, I realized I’d remembered fresh batteries for the camera but had forgotten a memory card.
I had wanted to have an unplugged, silent, peaceful experience and God was setting me up for just that.
(This is the first post about the silent weekend with the monks. More to come!)
Yesterday it finally happened. I was enjoying time with my children and a couple of great friends at my parents’ pool. We were just about to pack up and come home and get ready for church and my phone rang with a local number I didn’t have listed in my contacts. It was DCS Placement! I quickly walked to a quiet spot and held my breath while the lady gave me the details. I told her that I needed to talk with my husband and I would call back as soon as I could. The catch? Chris is in Guam. That’s a HUGE time difference (14 hours to be exact) and he was trying to sleep. It was early morning hours there. She told me that she would continue to try and find a home and then she would call me back if/when she did. I told her I would call her back as soon as I was able to speak with him.
Chris and I had agreed that we would not take a placement without first discussing it and getting a “yes” from both of us. While I waited the 3 or so hours for us to be able to communicate, I prayed like crazy. For any placement, I want our family to be THE place that God would have the child be for the time they need us. I am not so concerned that the child will be a good fit for us, rather the other way around. I want God to be able to use our family, church family, friends to minister to that child. He has to be in control or this whole thing will be a train wreck.
Before I could get Chris on FaceTime or via text, DCS called back. They had found the little girl a home. I was so thankful. Thankful that she would have a place to sleep and more than thankful that God handled the situation better than I would have. In fact, if Chris had been a phone call away, which he almost always is, I would have probably relied on my own logic and arguing to get him to say yes. I don’t know that he would have. We’ve prayed and planned and know that 0-3 years is the age range we feel equipped for right now. But I am a good debater. And Chris, well, he’s a big, ole teddy bear.
That first call came at 3:30pm. When she called me back about 5pm and said “we found her a home,” she was sure to reassure me that they would be calling again. At 8pm, as we pulled into the garage from church, they did call again. This time for a boy, the same age as Foster. I knew I had to say “no”. But that “no” was more heartbreaking than the first call. Thinking of my amazing 12 year old and his friends. The ones who are so full of life, humor, confidence, ideas and insecurities being taken out of their home and placed with strangers? It’s enough to keep you awake at night. Foster said, “I need to start building a room on the house so we could take kids like that. It’s not fair.”
I completely agree with him.
*This post is a follow up to my Social Media Fast post, if you’d like to start there.
I decided to move on to another area of my life that has been weighing me down (literally). My eating and my exercise habits (or lack thereof). I have approached these changes with a totally different attitude than I ever have. I am only drinking water and black coffee, no more sodas or tea, creamer or Frappuccinos (evil Starbucks). I was consuming a lot of sugar and crap through what I was drinking and I wanted to see if the same amount of self-discipline that allowed me to quit social media would also be there while I quit eating desserts, eating after 6:30pm and drinking sugar.
As with the social media fast, I quickly realized that this was going to be more of a psychological battle. The first challenge? Becoming obsessed with a number on the scale. So many experts out there will tell you not to worry about what the scale says. I don’t have a specific number in mind, but I do have a range I’d like to be in. And I have to make that my goal because I can’t see my own body for what it is.
When I look at myself it is all subjective. My number on the scale may be 50 pound less than the person next to me, but I still see and feel that I am too big. I know everyone may not have this problem, but I’d venture to say the majority of American women do. We are not usually pleased with our bodies, no matter what we say or project. There is a certain amount of my “give a damn” that broke when I turned 40. But I am human. I’d rather not be buying bigger sizes of clothes. I’d rather be comfortable in a swimsuit. I’d rather not look 6 months pregnant when my youngest child is about to turn 5.
So my motivation initially to make diet/exercise changes was to lose weight. But just like with the social media fast, I quickly realized with every day that passed that I was sleeping better, having fewer headaches and fewer mood swings. It’s funny how much and how long we justify our bad habits. I have had so many sweet friends over the years try to give me advice on how to better care for myself physically. Drink more water. Walk or run. Cut out most sugar. Don’t eat late. Eat more veggies. Don’t eat out.
And I appreciate every moment they took to try and help me. Unfortunately, what comes easier to some, comes very painfully to others. I DETEST exercise. I didn’t say that so plainly for many years, but it’s the truth. I didn’t play sports as a kid, the opportunities weren’t afforded me to even try. By college, my roommate was a runner and exercise science major. At that point I was about 120 pounds and thought exercise was a) BORING b) quite uncomfortable (with all that sweating) c) pointless. Then my mid-20’s hit and along with it came 5 babies in a less than 8 year span. And I grew all those babies. Like I gained all the weight and have all the stretch marks (making me regret the belly button ring I had in college).
Along with the eating changes, I do want to start walking. The three oldest kids will be running cross country this semester. I’m hoping to walk while they are practicing three times a week, IF Parker and Jonah will cooperate and walk with me.
Here’s to hoping I can continue to establish good habits, feel healthier and lose a few pounds. Without having to eat a skinny person.
Sometime in June I listened to a podcast that discussed Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The podcast resonated with me. I often feel distracted by all the social media apps on my phone. I have turned off notifications, deleted apps, hidden people that annoy me. I realized that I was spending way too much time and putting way too much emotional energy into these gathering places. I needed a break. I have very important work to do and I was tired of being distracted and not being able to put full energy into it.
I made the decision to quit all social media for the month of July. I didn’t announce it. I just deleted 6 apps off my phone and haven’t been on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat for the past month. How has it been? 99% glorious and 1% irritating. I have realized a great deal about myself and my relationship to social media (and my phone) in the past month. For the first 6 or 7 days I found myself still mindlessly picking up my phone where I would stare at it and cycle from checking the weather, to looking at photos of my kids, to checking my email. I’d put it down after a minute or two and have to face the fact that my pacifier wasn’t giving me the instant gratification it gave me before.
The 1% irritation? I was trying to have a garage sale and I needed to hop on Facebook so I could announce that. It was a waste. I shouldn’t of even spent those 5 minutes. I made $30 at the sale. The other irritation is a genuine need to acquire information from our homeschool group or church youth group. Many of today’s groups use social media as their first and foremost mode of communication. Which is understandable. The latest statistics show that about 91% of people use Facebook on at least a weekly basis. BILLIONS of people.
What I have learned about myself is that it will be better for me to leave social media(especially FB) off my phone. I am on my computer at least once a day if I feel I “must” check it. I may have to restrict myself to certain times I’m allowed to check it. It’s too distracting.
Two weeks after starting my social media fast, I felt a different kind of peace and strength. My mind felt much more clear and focused. I decided to take that peace, strength and focus and apply it to another area of my life that needed attention. More on that in the next post.