Come wander in your words at a Haven Writing Retreat in 2018
You don’t have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker who dearly longs for your voice.
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Every year I give my blog over to my Haven Writing Retreats alums for a week or so, and ask them to write on a theme. This year it’s this question: What is your haven and how do you show up for it?
My Safe Haven
Susan B. Clarke
For the longest time, I believed my safe haven was literally a place called, The Haven, a personal and professional development center on Gabriola Island in British Columbia.
In 1984, I arrived on Gabriola for a five-day program called Come Alive with my sister Penny. At the time, I was dealing with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I was considered terminal with a projected lifeline of three months.
My sister had heard about Come Alive and wanted to spend some time with me before I died. We hadn’t been close for many years, and a friend of Penny’s suggested Come Alive as a way to bridge the gap.
I didn’t come to The Haven to heal. I came to say goodbye.
However, during those five days, I witnessed a way of relating and being with people I’d never known was possible.
The program leaders encouraged us and the 22 other participants to show up more fully. We were invited to breathe deeply, speak honestly, and listen with a commitment to consider a different reality than our own. Finally, the leaders asked us to be responsible for our choices.
On the last morning, the leaders of Come Alive and founders of The Haven, Doctors Ben Wong and Jock McKeen, invited their friend Father Jack, a Roman Catholic Priest, to lead a healing circle for me.
When Father Jack walked in wearing his robes, the crowd erupted. People were outraged with and resentful of the Catholic church. I was stunned at their vicious reaction.
Father Jack responded, “I hear you and agree with the anger you feel towards me and the church. Let’s talk about it. I will listen.”
People vented their rage and betrayal in a heated conversation lasting 40 minutes. It was not a polite or ‘respectful’ process. It was loud, angry, and intense. At some point, though, there was a palpable shift. I could tell people felt seen and heard.
As someone who wasn’t Catholic, but who had experienced significant trauma at the hands of a church leader, I was blown away by the raw, real dialogue I had just experienced.
People decided to stay to be a part of the healing circle, during which I, as the recipient, felt a visceral shift in my very cells. To this day, I believe witnessing and sharing in that level of vulnerability, honesty, and real dialogue was what turned my life around.
So, I had a good reason to believe that The Haven was my safe haven. I even moved there for 14 years. To be honest, I was fearful of leaving, but I did. Now, thirty years later, I’m part of the faculty, leading the Come Alive program.
I no longer believe my safe haven is a place. Yes, I love all I learned there. However, my safe haven is now inside of me. It’s my ability to create moments, spaces, and relationships, where I and another can show up real, raw, and honest.
It isn’t easy to get there sometimes.
It can be messy and ugly.
It can be painful and intense.
However, the willingness to go through the mess is for me the only path to ‘safe.’
I have my safe haven with my partner CrisMarie. The work we do at thrive! is helping people bring more of who they are to everything they do. Even our book, The Beauty of Conflict, is written to help people find their safe haven beyond ‘right doing and wrong doing.’
After four and a half uninterrupted years of pregnancy, infant-nursing, or both simultaneously, I devolved into two boobs and a uterus. I was a 34-year-old diaper changing milk-trough. Tinny jingles from light-up plastic baby toys ran on repeat in my head (in three different languages!) while my rich inner narrative life suffocated, unable to breathe under the heavy cloak of exhaustion.
When my youngest baby was about six months old, she settled into a non-negotiable daily rhythm: she woke up at 5:00 each morning, and spent the next 45 minutes nursing, cooing and cuddling, before heading back to her crib for a long morning nap. My sleep deprived body clawed at the opportunity for more rest, but I swear, my three-year-old son and 20-month-old daughter could smell sleep settling back over me, and instinctively got up to prevent it. They shared some sophisticated method of keeping me knackered. Day after day, I faced my littles sleepy and resentful. My weariness coupled with their dependence forged a version of myself I hardly recognized. I became mentally disorganized, raging, fully enslaved to my overwrought emotions. In short, I was not nice.
In time, I recognized an alternative staring me in the face, presented in the tiny package of my baby’s morning rhythm. It was the negative space all around my beckoning pillow. Instead of clambering for shut-eye, I stayed awake after putting my littlest down for her morning nap. I began my daily practice of filling up on a precious hour of aloneness.
During this time, I could drink at least one entire cup of piping-hot coffee. I could re-engage in a set aside spiritual practice of prayer and scripture reading, and I could breathe and rev up for the day ahead, the day of very small people needing me in the most basic and fundamental of ways. As a result, I faced my day energized, ready for the job of being their world. I took fewer talon swipes at my babies since I was filled enough to actually enjoy them.
Miraculously, I made it through the sleepless years, and so did my babies! Now those kiddos are ten, nine, and seven. They still need me, but not in the same ways. The youngest is still a morning person, but she no longer drives my daily rhythm.
However, I still rise for my precious morning practice, which over the years has birthed many powerful realizations about God, about the world waiting for me beyond my door, and about me. I continue to get up during the 5:00 hour, relying on an alarm that I almost always respect, even if I’ve gone to bed too late the night before. I show up morning after morning, because each quiet daybreak is a deposit into my reservoir, equipping me to be morning light in a dark and tired world, to face the hours ahead with joy and hope. Each morning is an investment in me, one where I take time to breathe, pray, listen, meditate, and load up on my morning fuel: caffeine. This discipline, this time to bring my thoughts before God and listen for his, is my haven, offering me what others might find on a beach or in a favorite garden. The location for my haven has varied over the last seven years, but it always looks about the same: me in my jammies, steaming hot coffee, my dog, my Bible, and a comfortable place to sit. This is my haven, my port, my refuge, my anchorage, my filling station.