During the past 16 years of being a mom, I’ve often day dreamed about a time when I could run away by myself for a few days. I’ve longed to get away, sleep in and just have time to think without having to worry about anyone else.
A few weeks ago, I realized I actually had the opportunity to do just that. Our youngest daughter was going away for the first time for two nights at summer camp. My husband needed to work from home anyway because of some construction work happening at our house. And our oldest son now drives, so I felt comfortable leaving him and the two middles home for a few days.
I’m taking a leave of absence from work during the month of June, so it seemed like a good idea to go off on my own and have a personal retreat.
I have always wanted to drive around Lake Michigan and take photos of the many lighthouses that line the lake. I’ve seen most of the lighthouses on the Michigan side, and since our youngest was going to camp in Wisconsin, I could take the opportunity to see the Wisconsin side.
Suddenly, with a vision of 48 hours of my very own, I started to question whether this was really what I wanted to do.
My introverted self was in a war with my extroverted self. (Believe it or not, I’m one of the few people I know who lands right in the middle of the introvert/extrovert test.) Would it be refreshing to be alone for two straight days? Or would I go crazy from loneliness?
It seemed a little too self indulgent. I mean, could I really spend the money to rent a hotel room just for me? And was it fair to leave my husband in charge of the other three kids when he had a lot going on at work?
Then, there was the problem of food. I rarely eat in restaurants because I am on such a restrictive diet. Would I be able to find anything to eat? And what if I got sick while I was away by myself?
The night before I was supposed to leave, I went to bed without packing. This was a crazy idea. What was I thinking?
But I woke up the next morning, knowing I needed to just go. Who knows when I would get a chance to do something like this again.
I quickly downloaded a book on taking a personal retreat, since I wasn’t even really sure how this was supposed to work. I figured out how to get Siri to read it to me, and listened to her computerized voice attempt to read to me while I drove. I picked up some tips from the book to get me started, and then decided to figure this out on my own.
Here are a few things I experienced during my personal retreat:
1. I decided that when I got to each lighthouse I would spend some time reading, praying, journaling or just reflecting. I brought along a journal, and I wrote down whatever came to mind. I prayed that somehow the lighthouses would literally give me direction in the hard places in my life.
2. I kept my journal simple. Hey, this was my first time doing this, so I didn’t want to make it too hard! I wrote between one and 10 sentences at each lighthouse based on my experience there and my personal reflection. I was amazed at the things God brought to mind in that quiet space.
3. I also listened to an audio book and a few podcasts as I drove. The first podcast that I listened to was from my favorite health show, “The Model Health Show.” The podcast host was interviewing his guest about a health topic, and at the very end he asked if the interviewee had any advice for the audience. His advice was, “Take a personal retreat.” WHAT?! I also listened to the book, When Breath Becomes Air. This book was so impactful as I reflected on time and making the most of my life.
4. I realized that the reason I almost talked myself out of going on the retreat is because it’s hard to be completely alone. I walked among groups of people visiting the various lighthouses. Many of them were laughing and joking or taking selfies along the way. I thought about how these people might see me. I wasn’t surrounded by my kids, goofing around, making me feel important because I am their mom. I didn’t have my husband walking beside me, making me laugh. I didn’t have my job to give me any sense of identity. I wasn’t surrounded by friends or people I love. This experience gave me a new perspective about who I am when I’m not defined by other people or what I do. Ohhhhh…. so many deep thoughts about this one.
In the end, the experience was amazing. I loved the freedom that I had during those two days. I wrestled with some tough stuff that had been on my mind. And I also loved the experience of visiting the lighthouses without anyone complaining or urging me to hurry up.
Here were a few other highlights of my trip:
I visited 12 lighthouses, and I loved how each one was so different. One was surrounded by thousands of pelicans. I have never seen so many pelicans in my life. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a pelican fly, not to mention hundreds of them flying all at once.
Each lighthouse is constructed in a unique way. Some were connected to homes on the shore. Others stand on their own in the water.
I got to experience a range of weather and lighting that also made it an amazing experience. It drizzled. It poured. I saw a rainbow during sunset. I saw an incredible sunset in the middle of the rain. I saw several lighthouses in bright sunny conditions.
Getting to each lighthouse also was unique. Some were right in the middle of older neighborhoods on the northeast side of Wisconsin. As I traveled in Door County, some were actually difficult to find. Who knew you could hide a lighthouse in the middle of an island? I got to walk across a shallow part of the lake to get to one.
Others were planted next to a pristine park, giving guidance to sailboats.
When I look back at each of these photos, each lighthouse brings back such specific memories. I’m already looking forward to my next personal retreat.
What about you? Have you ever gone on a personal retreat? What was it like? Do you love lighthouses? I would love to hear about it in the comments section.