The “Find Rest, My Soul” retreat held July 30 – August 1 at The Prayer Center at St. Christopher was designed to create a summer space where participants could come away for rest, prayer, and reflection. What we had not planned was that the retreat would draw three family members who came away together, from three generations: grandmother, mother, and daughter!
Ann Shower, Beth and Kaiti Kirby from Servants of Christ Anglican Church in Gainesville, Florida, leapt at the opportunity to retreat together – before the school year kicked into high gear, sending Kaiti off to Agapé Year in Pittsburgh with SAMS missionaries, Nate and Erica Twitchell and Beth back into the classroom as a teacher of preschoolers with special needs. Kaiti’s younger, pre-teen brother, Aidan, claims much of this loving family’s year-round care as a child with autism. Ann lives with her daughter’s family to assist with Aidan’s care and supervision; her prayerful presence centers this family as they spiral out in all directions. These three women eagerly embraced a late summer retreat from the swirl of their family life.
Their stated desires for this retreat: to rest, to be rather than do, to listen to God, to lay down the daily challenges that come with caregiving – even for a short time. They offered reflections on their retreat experience after returning home:
Beth: “The Find Rest retreat was the most relaxing weekend retreat I have ever attended. Most retreats have a busy schedule of talks and events, with a little free time. This retreat focused mainly on rest, with a rhythm that would start with a meal, a session of Scripture/teaching/prayer that was high quality but not lengthy, and then an opportunity to process/pray/have quiet time/rest until the next meal. This was a perfect end to a busy summer/prelude to a new school year. The intergenerational aspect of our retreat sort of happened by accident but was a bonus! Having both my mother and my daughter at the retreat with me was an awesome experience, and it certainly made our sharing time able to go deep quickly. St. Christopher is a wonderful place with welcoming staff and a beautiful campus. There were definitely “God moments” throughout my time there, some as a result of the program and some that simply happened. I look forward to visiting again!”
One of those God moments for Beth happened as she stepped inside the small prayer room to kneel before the cross during Compline. Since Friday afternoon she had carried a rock with her, symbolizing the weight of the burdens she carries in life. She was ready to hand over her burdens to Jesus by laying them down at the cross. When she placed her rock at the foot of the cross, she noticed another stone there, one with a cross inscribed on it and a scripture on the opposite side: “I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). God tenderly spoke to her through that word, assuring her that God sees how she has poured out her life in caring for her son and that her call to ordained ministry would one day find fulfillment. That prayer stone went home with her to be kept as a reminder of her God-encounter.
Ann: “The experience of rest was what I most needed and I have come away actually rested in a very deep and meaningful way. The beauty of nature, the peace of candlelight, the presence of the Holy Spirit – all contributed to the deep rest I experienced. The second blessing of this time was having my daughter and granddaughter with me. How wonderful to be away from the daily life of hurry and worry, to enjoy each other and for all three generations to experience this together! It is a memory I will keep forever!”
Kaiti came away with new insights into challenges faced by her mother and grandmother as they stretch slim resources of energy to care for the whole household. Since the retreat, Ann and Beth have noticed Kaiti pitching in to help more with Aidan’s care and with everyday chores. Although Kaiti has participated in many parish and diocesan retreats, this was her first “adult retreat” and she expressed gratitude for everyone’s personal sharing that recognized and included her as an adult.
Kaiti: “Sharing a retreat with my mom and grandma was really cool. It’s not often that I hear about the things they’re struggling with spiritually — usually I’m coming to them with all my questions and problems! It meant a lot to be able to share that time of openness with them, and also to enjoy God’s presence with them. I always love spending time with them away from the craziness of the house, and this was the perfect opportunity. Going into the weekend I didn’t know that it was just going to be the three of us, so it was really nice having that intimacy.”
Ann sums up their retreat experience with this invitation: “I highly recommend an intergenerational retreat for any families who want to simply enjoy God together and enjoy one another in a new and vital way.”
By The Rev. Dr. Sandi Kerner, Chaplain, The Prayer Center, St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center