Life over the last few months felt like a blinding rollercoaster of emotion, scheduling, and overwhelm with a fairly significant case of vulnerability whiplash. Three full days of travel back to Malawi punctuated it, which gave rise to the exhausting let down after the previously prolonged surge of adrenaline. So by the time I found myself in my own space an ocean and continent away, all I wanted to do was bolt the door shut, disconnect from any outside human interaction, and simply sink into the silence.
So I did. Well, mostly. I sank in to the freedom and rest of retreat. I read Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Retreat earlier this summer, at the recommendation of Emily P. Freeman, and I soaked it up like a sponge. Little did I know I would be gifted with this past week as a sort of retreat. It was a pause for solitude, silence, and space. I didn’t strictly follow any schedule, but I did generally make time for getting back to my morning and evening routines. Nothing startlingly exceptional happened, but I discovered a unique gift that those days of quiet offered me: the gift of simple enjoyment.
An Enchanting Reverie
On the plane, I watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (the 2017 version) and liked it well enough, but it actually reminded me that The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross had been on my summer reading list. I never got to it over the summer, but during our layover in London, I happily discovered that the audiobook was available on my Libby library app. On our next flight, I found myself with still too much jet lagged energy to sleep, so I pulled out my sewing and started listening. In no time, I was utterly captivated. The unique first person perspective, beautiful expression, and delightfully unfolded plot all wrapped up in the enchantment of a fairytale kept me listening long after I should have gone to sleep.
Once we landed, the formidable task of resettling into our home began. Days consisted of readjusting to the unpredictability of our electricity and water supplies, clearing off hefty layers of dust from the dry Malawian winter season, and unpacking our 200 pound allotment of luggage like it was Christmas morning. But, in the evenings, I got lost in the enchanting story of love and longing, growth and vulnerability, and, ultimately, beautiful redemption. As I sat and stitched, it gently eased my otherwise weary mind and soul.
But, such is the way with an enthralling book. The hangover inevitably follows. (For all you lovely, properly bookish folks, is there an actual term for this? I feel like there must be.) I didn’t want it to end, even though it had such a rich, soulful ending. So as a means of prolonging my wistful reverie, I plunged headlong down memory lane by downloading the 1991 animated version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Still not satisfied, I turned to Netflix which afforded the opportunity to then rewatch the 2017 version I’d seen on the plane only days before. Finally, I found the 2017 soundtrack on Amazon music which made the immersion complete as I worked to make things feel like home again.
As I uncovered furniture and pulled things from their cupboards, the point of it all came as a another gift. Letting myself sink into that simple, unhindered enjoyment of the purest kind buffered the jarring sensation that normally accompanies my times of transition. Getting lost in the beauty of the writing and the story was like a kind parachute letting me drift slowly back into reality, rather than a catapult hurling me back into it, arms and legs flailing.
I don’t think I could have planned for it this way, but I’m incredibly grateful for how it played out. I feel like Jesus pulled the parachute cord for me. I sensed He saw my aching, disheveled heart, and answered it with kindness.
A Quilted Rose
So as a reminder of these sweet days of retreat, I stitched my own little quilted EPP stained glass rose. It is a nod to the 1991 Beauty and the Beast classic and a tribute to the delight of being seen and loved as I am, no matter the state.
I can happily report that I have officially emerged from the house. I am returning to proper routine and responsibility but with a deep sense of refreshment. In truth it wasn’t the book or the walk down memory lane or the enchanting fairytale. It was the freedom to enjoy. To rest. To create. To recalibrate. To be still and silent. To stop frantically running around long enough to really see the kindness and love in Jesus’ eyes looking at me. To sink deeply into being seen and known. It closed a chapter for me in order to open the next with renewed joy.