The other day, I read in a grief book that when we are grieving, we need lots of tender loving care, and it’s okay for us to give it to ourselves. Because, after all, who knows what we need better than we do?
Not so long ago, I would’ve thought this was selfishness.
Now I know better.
Now I know that taking good care of my needs and myself is honoring and valuing God’s creation.
A person made in His image.
One way I’ve been taking gentle, compassionate care of myself is by carving out time, as much as I need, for respite. The Oxford Dictionary defines respite as “a period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.”
Respite is Biblical. Jesus took breaks from the difficulties of His life to be alone with the Father (Luke 5:16). Other times, He encouraged the disciples to take a respite (Mark 6: 30-32). This time of rest and renewal helped Him deal with grief, strengthened Him, and empowered Him to continue in His hard work.
Grieving is difficult, unpleasant work. It vies for my thoughts, both sleeping and waking, with its ever-constant presence. And it wears me down unlike anything I have ever experienced before.
While grief is normal and necessary for healing, sometimes I just need a break from the sadness.
My sweet sister-in-law was the first one to help me realize I desperately needed a respite.
“We’re going to Gibb’s Gardens!” she informed me. “Bring a good book and plan on staying for the evening concert.” She picked me up, and we made the two-hour trek. The gardens are indescribably beautiful, one of those things you need to see to believe. We meandered slowly around the grounds, just taking in the beauty and the coolness of a perfect fall-like day. We laughed, we enjoyed meaningful conversation, we lounged on the grass and read, and we ate chicken salad on cranberry-walnut bread as we listened to the peaceful melody of a local band.
Calm, quiet, restful-it was a day of just what my soul needed.
Recently a sweet friend filled our freezer with meals. Another friend brought over homemade chicken enchiladas-the best I’ve ever eaten, I think.
Now usually I love to cook. My mom taught me, and it was something we often did together. Trying new recipes and perfecting old ones, all while feeding the people I love, is a source of pleasure.
But not since Mom died.
After spending a great deal of my summer napping twice a day, only to wake up and sit on my back deck for hours at a time, I simply haven’t had the physical or emotional energy to work and then come home and cook.
Cooking had become a dreaded chore. And these precious friends knew it. So they offered to help.
And instead of turning down their generous offers, I swallowed my pride and my fear of being perceived as needy, and I let them take care of me. A break from cooking that I think all of us need once in a while.
Last weekend, Dad and I decided to drive to Asheville and fly in a hot air balloon.
We’d been talking about it for a while.
Three years to be exact.
We just hadn’t bothered to get it on the calendar.
Mom and I had been planning a beach trip for the last week in July.
A trip I’d been meaning to take with her for years but had never gotten around to.
An opportunity I’ve now lost forever.
If there is one lesson I’ve learned from losing a person so close to me, so cherished, it’s that life is short and relationships are precious. Whatever else is competing for my attention, I must stay focused on the most important things-the family and friends I love most.
Prioritize them and put them first.
Do what I say I will do.
Make sure they know how loved and valued they are.
So I decided to schedule this balloon trip for my Dad and me and make it happen.
Time to spend together, just us.
Hot air balloons fly at sunrise. The winds are calmest then. We launched in a large field in front of a white country church, the mountains and hills towering over us, the valley below shrouded in fog. There is something magical and intoxicating about stepping over and into a small wicker basket (four feet tall at its highest point and no more than five feet wide) attached to a huge, colorful balloon.
There is also something a little scary about it because…
I really don’t like elevators. Anyone who knows me well will tell you elevators make me nervous. I’ve embarrassed a few of my friends by “freaking out” in a hot, overcrowded elevator. Once I even pointed at the weight capacity sign and asked the last people who got on to get back off. I wish I were kidding.
I especially dislike going up in glass elevators that are attached to the outside of a building. Maybe I read Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory too many times as a kid, but I always feel this irrational fear that the elevator will keep speeding up and crash right through the top of the building. Also the feeling of leaving the ground and ascending rapidly, the earth falling away beneath me, leaves me light-headed and woozy.
I’ve ridden elevators to the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, The Westin in Atlanta, and Willis Tower in Chicago.
But I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed the ride.
I called one of my brothers the day before the balloon trip.
“Do you think going up in a balloon will feel like an elevator?” I asked nervously?
“I don’t think so,” he replied confidently, in that way only a person with a better grasp of physics than me can. “The ascent should be gentle and gradual, so I don’t think you’ll feel it.”
Still, as I stood in that balloon basket and imagined riding in it thousands of feet above the ground, I felt a twinge in my belly.
I even wondered what my dad would do if I hopped back over the side and bailed.
Then I reminded myself that I control my fears, not the other way around. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and that God knows the number of my days (Psalm 139:16). I find such comfort and reassurance in these truths. I’m not saying this gives me license to try any crazy, stupid stunt I want, but it does help me to take reasonable risks in my journey to live from a place of knowing I’m completely loved.
So I settled myself and found a place to hang on.
We gently lifted off the ground, first just a few feet, then a little more, over the top of the church, the other balloons, the trees. Far from the quick upward jerking of an elevator, there was only an occasional, almost imperceptible shift in the basket that quickly stabilized. The movement was less than that of plodding along slowly over flat ground on horseback.
As a little girl, I had always imagined floating just above the treetops in a little bubble, much like Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Or soaring up into the clouds in a hot air balloon like the wizard himself.
The experience was just as I’d hoped.
We floated freely along with the wind currents, bobbing gently up and down.
We dipped into the valleys, and then rose over the mountains.
Other than the bark of an occasional dog (apparently they don’t like the sound of the gas burner), we were surrounded by silence.
I was overcome with the quiet, the stillness, the solitude, and the breathtaking grandeur and majesty of creation.
We landed just as gently as we had taken off, easing over a rooftop and setting down softly in a stranger’s front yard.
This weekend my respite will be baking. Maybe I’ll even decorate the house for the fall.
In a few weeks, I’ll take a quiet weekend trip to Highlands with a few intimate friends, just in time to see the leaves change and enjoy the cooler weather.
I’ve realized that right now, I need to take good care of myself.
I need to set time aside for the activities I enjoy.
I need to spend time with the people I love and need in my life.
Maybe you weren’t faced with the unexpected death of loved ones this summer. But I’m willing to bet you are weighed down by the burden of difficult circumstances.
The list goes on and on.
If you need respite, I encourage you to give yourself permission today to find your respite.