Artistry

You may remember my “once in a lifetime” trip to Discovery Cove two years ago.  If not, you can read about it at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/05/my-date-with-the-dolphins/ andhttp://www.terrilabonte.com/2017/05/school-of-dolphins/  You might also remember my second trip to Discovery Cove last year, when I returned to make sure it was as wonderful as I thought it was.  You can read about that trip at  http://www.terrilabonte.com/2018/07/discovery-in-the-cove/



I just made a third “once in a lifetime” visit.  It is time to stop kidding myself.  It is time to start calling it what it is…. My annual retreat to Dolphinland.

Some people go to monasteries or retreat houses for their yearly spiritual sojourns.  Not me.  I say there is nothing wrong with going to Discovery Cove to take spiritual inventory and commune with God.  I think God was definitely there. 

I spent a wonderful day frolicking with the dolphins, swimming with the rays, winding my way down a lazy river, wading past otters and marmosets, and examining the vibrant feathers of numerous bird species.  I also cuddled with a kinkajou, who stuck her arm in her mouth while I was petting her, much as a human baby might suck her thumb.  I faced my fear of rodents with long, scaly tails, when I interacted with a young three-legged possum named Ricky.  I also ate a lot of rice crispy treats and soft, hot pretzels.  I relaxed, rested, warmed my bones in the sun, listened to God, and prayed.  Maybe the most important thing I did was just observe.

The animals at Discovery Cove are real.  Of course, Discovery Coves busses them in from various places around the world.  Orlando is not even remotely close to a sea or a rain forest, so most of the animals I visited are not to be found in nature anywhere in the greater metropolitan area.  Ricky, the three-legged possum, was the exception.  He was a three-legged possum precisely because he was run over by a car in a local populated area.  My other new animal friends, however, were strangers in a strange land in Orlando.  That doesn’t make them any less real.  The plant life in Discovery Cove is also largely imported, but it is beautiful and lush and abundantly real. 

Spending the day at Discovery Cove forces me to forget the world I know intimately and enter the natural world the Busch Entertainment Company has built in the shadow of the Central Florida roller coasters.  The act of observing this manufactured natural world with all my senses frees my soul in a way that is as real as the surroundings.  Maybe this Discovery Cove natural world is assembled by human beings and maybe those same human beings are manipulating my soul to feel free in a way that isn’t quite organic.  I don’t really care.  Experiencing that world, losing myself in it, and imprinting it on my memory is very, very valuable.  And human beings may have assembled this magical self-contained world, but God created the components. 

So I refuel and retool- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually- during my dolphin retreat.  Something actually changes about the way I see the world.  I began to notice things that I never saw before because I was so incredibly present.  I was living in the moment and observing the moment and analyzing the moment instead of just getting through the moment and going on to the next one. 

For instance, after taking a last lap through the snorkeling reef, I settled myself on a quiet island in the middle of the reef.  I snuggled down into a rope hammock and closed my eyes.  I could smell the scent of jasmine.  I could taste the salt water on my lips.  I could hear breezes rustling the palm fronds, punctuating the impossible quiet of a theme park in Orlando. It was more than pleasant; it was healing.  I opened my eyes and noticed a cloud shaped just like the face of the kinkajou I snuggled earlier in the day.  I watched, fascinated, as the shape flattened and distorted and slipped away.  I also noticed colors.  If you had asked me to describe leaves before my retreat of observation and discovery, I would have told you that they are green.  When I looked around from my vantage point in the hammock, I saw many, many colors of leaves- greens and yellows and reds and fuchsias and pale pinks and oranges.  Also, did you ever realize that the sky is not sky blue?  In fact, the sky is not blue at all.  It is most definitely blueS.  I saw a swath of sky that melded sections the color of stone-washed denim and the color of Wedgewood and the color of lapis lazuli and the color of robins’ eggs. 

Maybe, in addition to enriching my body and soul, my dolphin retreat developed my senses, too.  Maybe my discoveries about color and perspective mean that I had a moment of artistic inspiration.  Maybe I was seeing the world through the eyes of an artist.  And God is a pretty amazing artist. 

How about you?  Where do you go for your spiritual retreats?  Where do you find God and do you think it is weird that I find him in a central Florida amusement park?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have an artistic day discovering God and yourself!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Me dolphin surfing with Thelma!



kisses for Thelma

Dolphin delight!
petting a kinkajou

So many colors of leaves!

Upside Down, Inside Out, and Sideways

I am not artsy-crafty. I don’t really cook. I don’t believe in ironing. I am about as far from extroverted as you can get.

So how did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess for my church’s Alpha course?

Alpha is an international program of interactive sessions designed to explore the big questions of life and faith.  It was originally intended to minister to people who would not necessarily identify themselves as churchgoers or Christians.  The target audience has expanded to include anyone who wants to feel more connected, passionate, and intimate about the Christian faith.  The program lasts for twelve weeks, meeting once a week.  Every session includes a shared meal, a video about basic concepts of Christianity, and small group discussions.  One of the significant hallmarks of the program is that it should provide a welcoming, low-pressure environment that organically encourages comfort, trust, introspection, and searching. 

The Hospitality Princess is responsible for making sure the room where the sessions take place is warm and welcoming.  This includes décor and table arrangement and all things environment.  She is also responsible for either cooking a meal for the Alpha guests each week or cajoling friends, relations, and people who owe her money to provide a meal. There is also the small matter of clean-up and laundering table linens after each session.  Then, there is the hospitality princess’ most important royal duty of all- welcoming guests, bonding with them, genuinely loving them, and allowing that love to be palpable. 

So, I’ll ask again.  How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?  It seems difficult to think how a person could be worse-suited for the job than I am.

When I heard about Alpha at our church’s ministry fair, I was interested.  I read somewhere that ministry is the place where a person’s skill and passion intersect with a need of the people of God.  When I was working, I taught leadership classes on a fairly regular basis.  I loved it and I was quite good at it, if I do say so myself.  From what I understood of Alpha, the approach and techniques sounded very similar to what I employed in my leadership classes.  The content and objectives were different, but the overall strategy seemed similar.  In both situations, the idea is to help people explore important questions.  Both experiences try to grow understanding and confidence in an environment that encourages trust, openness, and experimentation.  I volunteered to help with Alpha.  I thought I could assist with facilitating small group discussions or something like that. 

During our initial Alpha team organization meeting, our administrator mentioned that we needed someone to take care of the hospitality aspects of the program (Hospitality Princess is my self-proclaimed title).  When he described the less tangible needs, like transforming an institutional parish hall to evoke comfort and coziness, my mind harkened back to more of the techniques I used when teaching the leadership classes. He also described some of the more tangible needs, like providing meals.  The closest thing to providing a meal I ever did when teaching leadership courses was supplying the occasional box of donuts.  I didn’t want to subject our guests to my weaknesses, especially one as profound as cookery.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to avoid volunteering if I was the only one willing.  I said I would coordinate the hospitality elements, if no one else wanted to do so.  I explained the limited skills I brought to the table, and disclosed the areas in which my talents were subterranean. 

No one else volunteered.

Fast forward several weeks and I am in the midst of the Hospitality Princess revelries.  Despite my many deficiencies, things are going well. Let me tell you about it.

I am not artsy-crafty.

While I will never be artistic, I relied on my prior experience to create what I believe is an appropriate environment.  When I was working, I had this theory about décor for classes and celebrations.  I called it The “Essence Of” Theory. Instead of obsessing and spending a lot of money trying to create specific effects, I made do with the “essence of.”  Hospitality didn’t have to look like what I had in mind, it just had to evoke that idea.  For instance, if you can’t have champagne in a federal government workplace, you can have sparkling cider to make people think “champagne” and “celebration.”  If you want to decorate a room to suggest a beach theme, it might not be practical to import sand, but you can place buckets and shovels strategically on a beige bedsheet in a corner of the room.  I once taught a lesson about the qualities of a good leader.  Part of that lesson involved an analogy from the Wizard of Oz.  My colleagues and I acted out part of the story.  I played Toto.  I did not wear a dog suit, but I arranged my hair into two scruffy ponytails sticking up out of my head. I didn’t look like a dog, but I was the “essence of” Toto and I evoked the associations people had with The Wizard Of Oz. 

I don’t really cook.

During session three of Alpha, I cooked dinner for over 50 people and no one needed a trip to the emergency room.  Not even me.  I have another dinner planned in a couple of weeks.  My bar for success for that meal is that I once again avoid poisoning anyone.  I have reasonable confidence that I will meet that admittedly low standard. I do intend to declare victory.  I have individuals or groups signed up to handle the other ten nights of dinners.  I am certain that these meals will prove much more satisfying to everyone involved. My role will simply be to support these folks in their food preparation efforts and applaud. 

I don’t believe in ironing.

I found out, to my relief, that the tablecloths beneath my non-poisonous dinners are permanent press.  I’ve laundered the tablecloths several times.  They seem to come out of the dryer clean.  There might be a few suspicious wrinkles, but they smooth out when I put the cloths back on the tables for the next session.  One could argue that I really don’t need to launder all the tablecloths every week.  However, if I didn’t bring the tablecloths home to wash, I’d have to hang them in the linen cupboard of our parish hall.  There is a specific, origami-inspired technique for folding the tablecloths over hangers.  It terrifies me. 

I am about as far from extroverted as you can get.

Here we have it.  Nothing has changed on that front.  I am still about as far from extroverted as you can get.  I do have an overactive sense of duty and a genuine heart for people.  As a result, my extreme introversion sometimes takes a back seat to showing people how much I value them.  I am still incredibly introverted, but I see it as my job to make our guests feel welcome and comfortable.  I am still incredibly introverted, but I honestly want our guests to feel loved and wanted…wherever they are in their journey.  If I do not engage with them, they will never know what is in my heart.  Such engagement is sweet, but also takes a lot of energy out of an introvert.  I am still incredibly introverted, which means I am incredibly tired.  On the other hand, things seem to be going incredibly well. 

So, I’ll ask again.  How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?  All other considerations aside, how did the person with the highest level of introversion get to be the person whose most important task requires the highest level of engagement? 

I still didn’t get it.  Then, our rector’s wife and my friend, Sunny (some of you might remember her from my post at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2018/05/growing-grown-ups/) told me about something she experienced months before Alpha started. She said she had been praying about the program and wondering who would be willing to coordinate the hospitality elements.  It had been on her mind and on her heart for days.  Then, one night, she felt that God was just telling her “Terri will do it.”  She knew nothing about my background.  She didn’t even know me very well.  She just felt that God had the whole thing sorted.  I would be the Hospitality Princess, no matter how unlikely. No one ever mentioned this to me until several weeks into the program. 

How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?

I think I am beginning to understand.  Something our rector said in his sermon last week seems to apply.  God does not call the qualified.  He qualifies the called.  It seems that God is qualifying me- turning me inside-out, upside down, and sideways.  And so, the reinvention continues….

Have you ever had an experience that you believe is God “qualifying” you?  Tell us about it! Please leave a comment to share your perspective.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a hospitable day!  And be a princess (or prince) if you are so inclined!

Terri/Dorry 😊

herbed chicken
Alpha decor