Monday, January 9, 2012

Make a Commitment to Seek Personal Renewal All Year Long!

Dear Friends,

 My hands gripped the steering wheel as my mini-van cut through the ranch-strewn countryside of eastern Oregon.  I was escaping to a retreat center in desperate need of rest and restoration.  It had been nine months since we packed up our lives in East Asia and returned to the U.S.  After 18 years of Asian life, our move back to the States was not a return “home,” but a painful uprooting for our family.

As I drove my mind raced with doubts and guilt: “I don’t really need to do this: What kind of mother leaves her family for a week with an empty refrigerator?  I should have brought them along; they need it too.”

But as the miles passed, the rural landscape, and the quietness began to work magic.  I already felt calmer – and hope was building in me that God might use this time away to restore me.

Heading home five days later, my mind was still busy, but with thoughts of a different type.  As I thought of my husband and children, I was able to pray for them in a deeper, more trusting way than I had for a long time.  My heart for ministry, which had been numb, was waking up.  I broke the nine-month musical silence and sang praise songs in my van.  All at once, as I maneuvered curving mountain roads, I realized that I was refreshed.  Creativity and energy and praise were returning – and hope had been restored.

The road to recovery

My five days at a retreat center was just what I needed.  But how did I even know that I needed to get away?  And in all my numbness and weariness, how did I ever manage the energy and commitment it takes for a mother of three to escape?

I’d love to say that it was my wisdom that made me schedule my three recent personal retreats.  The truth is that I was weary to my core and unable to take any action to help myself.  Caring brothers and sisters saw my condition and made a diagnosis: emotional exhaustion and possible burnout.  God was gracious to give them a care plan to restore me back to emotional health ─ a personal retreat.

Rest for my soul

I wanted to quiet myself long enough to hear God’s voice, so I took my Bible down to the creek-side bench at the Inn.  My weariness was so deep that all I could do was open it up to the Psalms.  I remember how I read a few verses, only to have my eyes blur over with tears. During my three days there, I did my part by showing up on that swing with God’s Word in my lap, asking Him to restore me.  And He did!  One of the greatest burdens I carried with me on that first retreat was the deep disappointment for my daughter Claire and her college admissions process that year.

A top student, Claire nonetheless was finding one door after another closing to her, leaving just one door open at the local university.  My quiet time on that swing allowed me the chance to pour out my frustrations to God.  Later, as I dozed next to the stream, His gentle voice spoke to me – “Claire needs roots.” I was able to walk away from that three-day retreat with thankfulness for the scholarships to the local university – and feel a huge burden lifted.

Nurture from nature

I spent days full of walks, bike rides, hikes, meals out, and a good novel.  My walks were leisurely – mostly on the way to the small-town diner where I ate comfort food three times a day.  But the springtime greenness and brilliant blue skies helped me rediscover both the beauty of my home state and the value of quietness.  I cruised my van slowly down the country roads, marveling at the landscape.  On one drive down in the canyon, a bird burst into song just as I drove past; the beauty of it and a sense of God’s love brought tears to my eyes.  

This was physical restoration, after almost two decades of urban life – where instead of mountains, construction cranes rose above the horizon at every turn, and instead of the serenade of songbirds, the blare of taxi horns and yells of teaming life were what assaulted my senses.

The healing power of nature was just as important in my second and third retreats, but I felt more energetic and was able to be much more active riding more than 50 miles of bike paths.

Resolved to rest

As I climbed into the small back-country plane to leave my last retreat – feeling energetic, rested, and hopeful – I resolved not to wait until my weariness calls for emergency measures.  I am determined to make this a lifelong habit – to take time out to seek solitude, rest, and renewal.  To come to Him and let Him give me rest.  Matthew 11:28-29 days, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…. You will find rest for your souls.”  What about making personal retreats a lifelong habit as you begin this new year?  Your soul will thank you!

Denele Ivins


  1. Just to have the strength & faith when opposition rises up to tempt me to bite more than I can chew. Yes, I need to be strong for our youngest son & hold my ground. I remember this educational rabbit trail in years gone by. And even now wish I could of gone with a lighter dose of educational stuff, steering clear of the foolish public school jargon. And focused more on God's teachings to strengthen him for the future God desires for Asher. Thank you for praying dear family in Christ!
    "This is the LORD's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity." ~Psalm 118:23-25

  2. Thank you, Denele. This was the encouragement I needed to put away my rationalizations (yes, my family at home with the empty fridge) and sign up for our church's upcoming women's retreat.