Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Afternoon Tea - Creating places of refuge for the storms of life

A summer's respite on the deck...
Recently in the midst of a day when the cold rain falling outside filled the house with a damp chill, I was looking out the kitchen window and thinking how the day was so... blah.

I sighed and thought how at times life could be... and the first word which popped into my head was frustrating!   Now, I'm not sure why but that made me laugh out loud.  For of all the descriptions I could think of, it was not one floating around in that area of the brain where words wait for a landing place.

But it spoke great Truth.  Perhaps it came from a winter which seems to never end or a budget that will not stretch or the sinus headache or simply that feeling one gets when one's energy level is not up to the day's demands.

I needed a vacation.  Preferably someplace where there was sunshine and warmth.  A beautiful garden would be lovely.  Not to mention a buffet of my favorite food.  And great coffee.

I tried to read and that didn't work.  I was too tired to wrap an apron around my waist and get lost in a recipe.  Frustrating was indeed the description of that moment.  But finally I settled with ear buds nestled in place and the sound of Puritan hymns set to modern arrangements miraculously coming from the iPod the size of an eraser.  Peace.

That afternoon got me thinking of the different ways through the years I've learned to find a place of rest... a respite in the storms of life.  As I pondered the subject, there came a realization that I have created ways to both escape from the stress or run to a place of peace.  Let me explain...

Places of escape in the storm's of life...

Books and lovely magazines:
As you are aware if you have read this blog longer than say... five minutes... I have a lot of books.  Many I have read but there are also a number of titles on the shelves waiting for their day in the sun (so to speak).  Just having them ready and waiting brings joy as only another true bibliophile can understand.

But there are also books that are on shelves that are solely there for places of refuge.   They are the old friends of my library.  Safe friends.  Friends with pages that draw me in and give me a gentle hug and take me away from whatever life is throwing my way at the moment.

These are the books I may keep near to peruse, such as Susan Branch's lovely A Fine Romance.  A few contain wise words from literary mentors such as Edith Schaeffer or Madeleine L'Engle.  There are a handful of women and men who have a talent for reaching my spirit and sharing about Him in such a way that peace prevails.

But most are friends found within the pages of novels by Goudge, Stevenson, Miss Read, Jan Karon, and many other authors that have created people who have become dear friends.  I come back to novels in the way my more musical friends listen to the same symphony over and over and over.

I don't purchase magazines like I did when they were inexpensive.   My very favorites are those which arrive on the shelves quarterly and cost as much as a paperback book.  They are saved up for and even then carefully perused before making the purchase.

But they are in the budget for this very reason... they are mental vacations for the weary mind.  Unlike the days when there were multiple magazines stacked and quickly perused, these are stored carefully in magazine racks or on bookshelves and returned to over and over.

The Bible, of course
The most important book to run to is the one that He wrote for us.  It goes without saying but it is of vital importance to have a version you love and can understand.  I am a reader of the Word and not a theologian.  I started out with a KJV but was gifted with a Living Bible translation as a fairly new Christian and it changed the way I looked at the Word of God.

My every day Bible is an NIV and I don't care what anyone says about the translation, it speaks best to my soul and that is what is important.  On our shelves we also have many other translations including an ESV (that I like a lot), an Amplified Bible, The Message, The Living Bible, and a variety of study Bibles.

I do not run to music as a respite in the storm as often as some friends like to do.  But I certainly find peace from favorite songs and musicians.  My taste is eclectic and includes all types of music from contemporary Christian to bluegrass to country to pop... all forms that are not defiling with words that send my mind where it ought not to wonder. 

And the type of music playing at the moment is more dependent on what I am doing instead of my mood.  One would be more likely to hear bluegrass on the CD Player in the kitchen, John Denver on the walking trail, and classical while resting.

The decorating of rooms
I once wrote a blog post about decorating as a form of spiritual warfare so you knew somewhere on this list there had to be a place for beauty in the home.  It is both a running to form of peace as well as escaping from stress.

For instance, in winter's darkness I spend a great deal of time in the living room.  It is decorated in such a way that is warm and cozy and when one lights a candle... quite inviting in that season when light is hard to come by.

My kitchen is a place I run to on cold winter's days when something in the oven, a soup simmering on the stove, and the bright colors found in that room bring a bit of warmth and summer's color into a world that is shades of black, white, and gray.

While in the heat of summer, I much prefer the family room with the large windows looking out on the deck and both trees and flowers to enjoy.  My study is a new place of refuge, decorated with a lifetime of collections... made cozy with thrifted furniture and favorite art.  It is also a warm weather treasure.

I once told my daughter that I had lived here over eight years and still not painted the walls in my bedroom, even though I don't like the lemon-lime color.  I don't spend enough time there to think much of it.  She told me that is because I have no small children at home from which to escape into the respite of one's bedroom.  Good reasoning...

Art, pictures, and things that hang on the wall
I wrote long ago about the Eureka moment I had of the importance of artwork in my home.  It was while briefly visiting the home of a woman I worked with for Concerned Women for America.  I wondered why her home seemed such a place of peace for me.  I realized it was her use of rather large artwork on the walls.

Since that time, I budgeted for good artwork in the affluent years (although none very expensive), asked for inexpensive prints for birthdays and Christmas, and found lovely items while thrifting.  I even love beautiful calendars (gifts this year from my friends Deanna and Linda).

I also have a lot of photos throughout the house, all of family members who are much loved like my parents, children, and grandchildren.  I once had a very nice portrait of my in-laws hanging in the hallway but I realized it did not bring peace to my husband or to me.  So I used the nice frame it was in for a studio portrait of my kids when young and placed my in-law's photo in a box with other pictures.

As I did so, I prayed my photo would never be one that would bring pain to my children or grandchildren.  I doubt that would happen.  I make great cookies.  That, like love, covers a multitude of sins.   ;)

Outside places
Like most people, I adore gardens and beautiful spaces where one can feel the warmth of the sun and the coolness of a breeze.   I find contentment on the walking path just a couple miles from our home and the park "in town".

To truly enjoy peace in these places, I had to accept the limitations of reality.  My veggie garden has to be kept small or it would become a burden instead of a blessing.  Most of the flowers I grow these days are in containers or mixed within the veggies... for simplicity of care.

Even walking on the path for exercise has had to be slowed down a bit if it is to be enjoyed.  And I learned long ago that when one has a chronic illness, one is more likely to do something if it is simple and enjoyable and easy.

In the past peace was found on trails in various forests and at the beach on Lake Michigan.  There have been towns where I've found great peace from their quaintness and beauty.  Some people live close to art museums that bring great joy to their heart.

Coffee shops and diners for mini vacations
As long as I can remember, when I need to go someplace to get away from it all, my favorite destinations have been coffee shops or diners.   Both provide a place of refuge.  The coffee shops in my area (the one near campus, Starbuck's, or Panera) are places where I don't know the people but can find an escape and good coffee.

In the past, there were diners where the employees knew I needed cream and Splenda for my coffee and not to allow more than two refills.  Good people.  Good places.  I would stop by at such a time that one could read and write as long as one wanted for it was not busy and people were not waiting for a table. 

Doing instead of going...

Sometimes what is important for finding peace and relaxing is to get taken up with something that keeps us busy.  Women, especially, have known that delight which comes from having something to do with their hands.

Many people I know take great delight in the planning of their garden from ordering seeds in January to preparing seedlings in March to planting in May (in our area of the country) all the way to autumn's harvest.

It should come as no surprise if one's theology tells them man was created in a garden.  For the love of growing things is in our very DNA from the beginning.  Sometimes I let my imagination go to that day there will be a world with no bad bugs eating my veggies or mosquitoes.  I can't imagine why there would be mosquitoes on the New Earth.

I am one of those odd people who, when under great stress (like when one of the guys was an hour or more late getting home), will at times throw themselves into cleaning.  I actually like the process of bringing a house from clutter to sparkle and I make a priority of cleaning and organizing while at my highest energy level.

You know if cooking is a source of stress relief if you read cookbooks like novels and books by fellow foodies are underlined or highlighted for later review.   Although the everyday preparing of meals can be enjoyable, I'm especially talking about those times we get immersed into a recipe that takes our attention and we forget what may be going on in the world outside of our kitchen.

Sometimes when in this frame of mind, we can imagine setting the table and serving loved ones with the results of our chopping or stirring or assembling... and in that kitchen we create magic (Narnia magic, of course).

Sewing and Needlework
Of course, even if this post is already quite long... I cannot forget the wonders of hobbies such as knitting and crochet and needlework of all kinds.  Not to mention the sewing of quilts or the creation of garments for many people.

Once again, the beauty of creativity and the peace it can bring comes from the One Who created us.  We are made in the image of a Creator so it makes sense that doing so brings great peace... in the same sense that he or she who grows food or flowers is doing so in the image of their Creator.

There are many ways we can find peace in this troubled world if we think through ahead of time what works for each of us.  I've mentioned those which take priority in my own life but there are even more to choose from... painting, sketching, writing poetry and prose, watching excellent movies, fixing cars and pruning bushes, working with clay, creating mosaics from broken china... and the list can go on and on.

The most important is to remember there is a Friend who understands everything and anything we are going through.  Whether the frustrations are simple or the trials are overwhelming.  You never walk alone.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post so much! I appreciate your simple way of looking at life. Bless you, and thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

This post reaches out to me as words of a kindred spirit. Recently on the Maud Hart Lovelace discussion list (the Betsy Tacy books) we had a discussion about what books would be on a list of books we had reread at least five times. And about people who cannot understand why on earth anyone would want to reread any book. I know you understand this, and I think many books and some music and nature and art can all be havens for my soul, especially when troubled. Indeed for several years after Paul's illness and death I couldn't seem to settle down to reading anything serious and authors like D.E. Stevenson and Goudge were a great comfort. A home should be a place of refuge for those who live within it. We all need to create this.

I read The Jerusalem Bible most often, though I have several copies of The New American Bible which is what was always given out at womens' retreats I attended. I am so happy for you that Christopher and his wife live near you. I love having Alice and her family near, and miss Emily and hers, though I can visit fairly often. Sorry for the long ramble!

Anonymous said...

Agreed! Every single paragraph resonated with me.
Every one.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this lovely and timely post. I felt like we were sitting in your living room with tea of course, you sharing your thoughts with gentleness and kindness.

I will be saving this to read over again.

Lori in PA

Judy said...

I think there are times so tumultuous in our lives that the safety of the familiar is vital to our emotional health - there is special comfort in them when the exude a quiet and gentle spirit.
A lovely post taking us through some of your refuges.

Vee said...

Oh it has been the most frustrating of days and so I have enjoyed the "life can be frustrating" post and some of the remedies you use to restore equilibrium. One can not forget the importance of prayer either. Yes, I vastly appreciate the recognition (and sympathy) that life can be just plain hard over the "count it all joy" messages usually given.

Kim said...

Beautiful post. Thank you. I needed these words.

Anonymous said...

This post resonated so much with me. I have what I call comfort books, music, even TV shows and movies. They don't fix anything, but like a hug there is comfort in them.

Everyone should have a hobby that brings them comfort. Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, Wonderful post!! I can relate to almost all of it. (Sad to say, cooking is not something I particularly enjoy, however!) I've enjoyed your last several posts, but haven't had a chance to comment. Life has taken a busy turn, just lately. The NIV Bible is the translation I use most often too. I got a Reach Out New Teatament (Living Translation) when I gave my heart to The Lord as a teenager and the Bible came alive to me as never before! I practically underlined the whole thing! I have basketfulls of favorite magazines I can't bring myself to throw away. I'm glad I've kept them, as I have dug them out from time to time to enjoy again. I just got a call from a local used bookstore that they got in a Miss Read book I haven't been able to find anywhere else. Oh Boy! Well, I could go on and on! Thank-you once again for sharing. It's so nice to find a kindred spirit. I wish we were neighbors!
Hugs and Blessings,
Laura C. from WA

Deborah Montgomery said...

Thank you for this post Brenda. I am having a rather blah day, too much winter, gray days, eating carbs . . . but you remind me of the great comfort we have within our reach here at home, and the many things the Lord provides us with. I just finished Elizabeth Goudge's Scent of Water. Beautiful. One other thing I love as an escape/retreat is a good nap :)

rebecca said...

What a wonderful topic and post!
I so agree.
My mind is still a little mushy with (less than before) pain meds, so I can't really think if there's a thing I'd add to your observations...right now I AM luxuriating under a very soft Sherpa throw given me by a friend. I feel like I'm the winner on the old Queen for a Day show :)

Karen Andreola said...

During hard times of stress, when I'm not feeling naturally congenial, I like to be immersed in a good story and revisit the familiarity of my "safe friends" just as you say.

Today, a stroll around the garden gave me a delight because the sky was blue, the air mild, and while the weeds are still dormant - and don't need worrying over - the crocuses are out, pretty purple and white.

I remember reading how you like to clean when stressed. A sparkling clean bathroom gives me a feeling of real accomplishment in my day.

I find needlework to be such a lovely unhurried activity. It helps me unwind. To stitch in a sunny room makes this not only practical (on the eyesight) but a pleasure. I follow the sun through the windows of the house, in every season of the year. Therefore I can relate to your mention of this -- as well as so many of your other observations.

Karen A.

Anonymous said...

I came late to this post but thoroughly enjoyed it. You do have a way of writing that is very enjoyable to read. Pam