My Little Duke

sligo

Lay a really good table.

Faith, TravelSteph Duke1 Comment

A few months ago I felt a burden on my heart to create a space for women to encounter God. It was a no-brainer where this space would be ... Hill House in Sligo. 

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This season has been one where I've been trying to be obedient to what I feel the Lord is leading me into. It hasn't been easy. I've felt conflict in my spirit over finances, my marriage, motherhood and my ability to be any sort of useful vessel for God to use. But God has been faithful. If he places something on my heart and confirms it over and over again, it's a very simple choice for me to make. Do it. 

So when I got in touch with a few girls about a Spiritual Retreat in Sligo, I shouldn't have been surprised at their responses.

Yes. Yes. YES. A million times YES.

This time, this space, this place where exactly what was needed, at exactly the right time for these women, and also for me.

I needed to be brave, to step up and to lead, regardless of my own feelings of inadequacy. I had absolutely no need to doubt because God so graciously confirmed this weekend in the most incredible ways. But as usual, I let my own fears run riot in my mind, instead of focusing on what I was called to do and just getting on with it. 

And the other girls, well ... it took such courage and commitment to agree to come away for the weekend (they didn't even know each other) that I wanted to ensure that they felt right at home. God's promise was to "provide peace" (Haggai 2 v 9) at the retreat and he had prepared a place especially for each of us. All we had to do was show up.  Typical me wanted to be Martha again, to do all the stuff! Yet in all my striving and panicking to ensure the girls were well-fed, pampered, relaxed, encouraged and equipped, I was reminded that any work or ministry for God must begin from a place of total surrender. Once I let go of "self" and handed everything to God, I had no need to strive, no need to panic. This was all God's idea. I needed to accept that anything I brought to the table was not in my own strength, but from a servant heart, completely reliant on God. With open hands and a compassionate heart I prepared for the retreat.  

I spent some time alone with God a few weeks beforehand on a solo retreat to Sligo and got lots of the biblical prep done then. Our focus verse was Romans 15 v 13. 

Lettering print by Megan @growingracelettering

Lettering print by Megan @growingracelettering

In His goodness, God connected the pieces of the puzzle together so beautifully during the weekend. The places we visited where timely reminders of Paul's prayer to all believers and God's presence was tangible wherever we went. God was interested in the tiniest details of this retreat and I could feel His guiding hand even as I planned the itinerary. Amazing. 

Practically, I was able to provide the girls with their own lake-view room, bedlinen and Neal's Yard treats to enjoy.

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The girls also received some stationery bits n' bobs too!

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On arrival at Hill House on the Friday afternoon we all took time to get settled, unpacked and grab a cuppa. The living space has a stunning view of Lake Loughanelteen - such a wonderful way to begin to rest and unwind. 

The view of the lake from the living area balcony

The view of the lake from the living area balcony

After a cuppa, the sun made an appearance so I took the girls for a quick tour of the space. Hill House is part of the larger West of Ireland Centre that belongs to my in-laws. The area spans 55 acres and is tucked safely away beneath the mountains - a truly unique place to escape and retreat away from the hustle and noise of our busy lives. Knowing the surroundings meant that the girls could take time to explore and enjoy the tranquil surroundings whenever they wanted to.

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We enjoyed some time chatting and relaxing before it was time for me to get the dinner on - Mango Chicken was on the menu! I am still super grateful that Denby Pottery very kindly gifted some dinnerware from their beautiful Studio Blue range. What an absolute treat! Laying a really good table was made easy with such stunning pieces. 

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There is something really special about good conversation around a table isn't there? We chatted, ate and chatted some more, so much so that time was nearly away from us and we had lots more planned for the evening! 

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Following dinner we enjoyed a brilliant brush lettering workshop by Megan from @growingracelettering. Megan expertly shared her talents and tips and we soon got into the swing of it. I may or may not have gotten quite competitive by the end!! This was such a lovely way to bring Friday evening towards a close. Megan regularly hosts lettering workshops if you live in Northern Ireland and fancy trying your hand at it. I was surprisingly hooked by the end! Check Meg out on her instagram for her next workshop dates. 

See my  IG  story highlights for some live video footage!

See my IG story highlights for some live video footage!

Zoe's  IG  story :) 

Zoe's IG story :) 

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By the time we had finished our lettering prints it was almost time for bed! I'd originally planned for some pampering for Friday night but saved that for Saturday evening instead. I was definitely optimistic about timings during the weekend! I'll know that for next time! 

Before bed we had a short group session and I shared a little of my heart behind the retreat and what we would focus on over the coming days. Then we concluded day one with worship, no better way to end what had been a beautiful day. 

On Saturday morning the girls could wake up and grab breakfast any time before 11am. It was home from home - just work away in the kitchen and make whatever took your fancy. We had pre-organised to each bring some groceries, so there were lots of breakfast options!  I was up early getting some prep in for our morning group session. Although I knew what I wanted to say, God kept downloading fresh truth that I wanted to make sure I articulated correctly to the girls. 

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That Denby bowl though! 

That Denby bowl though! 

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What a lovely breakfast enjoying the peace and the view! By this stage we were all feeling rested and relaxed. It was now time to get ready for another group session before heading out for the afternoon. Saturday's session started with a really beautiful time of worship, followed by a short teaching time. We learned about living in overflow and the importance of being a conduit for Christ - an open-ended vessel that allows God to continually flow in as we continually pour out. More importantly, we discovered that when we operate our life in overflow we can change the landscape around us. Thank you Charlotte for your wisdom in this.  

Zoe spotted this while out shopping on Saturday afternoon. I just love how God gives us visual reminders that He's near and He's interested in our everyday. We studied the dandelion and propagation just a few hours before! 

Zoe spotted this while out shopping on Saturday afternoon. I just love how God gives us visual reminders that He's near and He's interested in our everyday. We studied the dandelion and propagation just a few hours before! 

Then it was time for lunch! I took the girls into Sligo town to Kate's Kitchen to eat and then for a few hours shopping. I let them loose while I enjoyed a coffee and some prep time in my favourite bakery. 

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Kate's Kitchen, Sligo

Kate's Kitchen, Sligo

The retail therapy was followed by a trip to Glencar Waterfall. The whole Glencar area is breathtakingly beautiful. The landscape and scenery are just incredible - well, well worth a visit, and the waterfall itself is a hugely popular tourist spot. I've been numerous times now, but this time felt really special. Once again, there was a real sense that God was near - the air was cool and crisp and we stopped and savoured the moment.  

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Awh. These girls!

Awh. These girls!

There was only time for a quick stop back at Hill House to freshen up before heading out to another one of my favourite spots - Rosses Point. We enjoyed dinner at The Driftwood, followed by a beach walk, before returning home for a cuppa and some pampering! It was Neal's Yard mini facials and head massages all round!

Rosses Point

Rosses Point

Sunday morning was another slow morning. We were so relaxed by this point that we decided just to do our group session in our pyjamas! God began to tie everything so beautifully together and we spent time being ministered to, taking communion and praying together -  just worshipping at the feet of Jesus. It will be one of those special times of encounter that I don't think I'll ever forget. 

Still in our pyjamas at noon, we set off for our mountain walk! Yes, in our pjs! Having this scenery in the back yard of Hill House still blows me away. Views of 'The Sleeping Giant' on one side and Lough Gill on the other. From the top of the mountain you can even see the sea stretched out in the distance!

Zoe taking in the view of 'The Sleeping Giant' - half in Co. Leitrim, half in Co. Sligo

Zoe taking in the view of 'The Sleeping Giant' - half in Co. Leitrim, half in Co. Sligo

Stunning views of Lough Gill

Stunning views of Lough Gill

Jesus, sweet Jesus

Jesus, sweet Jesus

Our final stop before our retreat came to an end was Strandhill. The girls were especially excited to visit Shells Seaside Bakery, Cafe & Little Shop after hearing so much about it! It certainly did not disappoint. We made a quick stop after lunch at Hill House and Strandhill was absolutely buzzing ... there was jazz playing on the bandstand and the sun peeped out from behind the clouds just long enough for us to drink our coffee and watch the surfers. This felt like the perfect way to end our weekend!

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I'm still a little overwhelmed by the whole experience if I'm honest. I felt called to lay a really good table for God. To provide a space and a place that welcomed others to come and enter in to God's presence. The table (literal and metaphorical) was and is, representative of God's presence, a place of ENCOUNTER. And as I've typed this post I've been reminded once again that I'm back where I began ... back at the place of surrender. I bring NOTHING to the table, except all that has been given to me by God. Any of my giftings, abilities or passions have been mercifully given to me and I am THANKFUL. And I have never been more aware of stewarding them well.   

There has already been interest in another retreat ... at this stage I have two possibilities:

1. Come Undone (spiritual retreat)

2. Escape to the West (non-spiritual retreat)

The finer details (cost/date) are yet to be finalised but if you are interested in either retreat, or have any questions, please email me  on steph@mylittleduke.com. 

On a final note I must thank my wonderful in-laws for allowing us to use Hill House and the girls for bravely joining me on this West of Ireland adventure! There is a whole lot more Sligo to see ... we barely scratched the surface ... 

My Sligo Solo Retreat

Faith, Motherhood, TravelSteph DukeComment

I read a while ago about a ‘Solo Retreat’ and was instantly intrigued. There was something about setting aside intentional time for resting and writing in God’s presence that appealed to me – deeply, in my heart.

A few weeks ago, while in Sligo with family, I knew that if I ever were to be brave enough to book a solo retreat – I’d do it in Sligo. Several recent trips here have confirmed to me that this is a place where I can and should write. It’s a place that feels like home, but doesn’t come with the baggage that I associate with my own house. I love my home – don’t get me wrong – but when I’m at home I see everything that’s ‘unfinished’, everything that ‘needs doing’ and everything that can and will distract me from sitting down and writing.

There are lots of these same issues in Sligo, but I just don’t think about them here, and they definitely don’t distract me. I accept these same imperfections, yet at home they constantly play heavily on my mind and I can’t settle until I tidy, or clean, or do laundry … and I could keep going! Perfectionism is something I’ve always struggled with and it’s something God and I are working through. But a conversation with Matt just a few days ago helped me be brave, make the move and arrange my very first solo retreat. Practicing obedience is brave and I’m slowly learning how to live a life in surrender and obedience to Christ.

My room for the night

My room for the night

Hill House, Co. Sligo

Hill House, Co. Sligo

Financially, coming to Sligo for 24 hours doesn’t cost me a lot as I’m blessed to be able to use my in-laws accommodation at Hill House free of charge. The only cost is for fuel for travel and if I were to eat out while here. But obviously there is a personal cost – leaving my daughter and husband. If I were to write a pros and cons list I’d be at it all day and never make a decision. Phoebe and her Daddy enjoyed quality time together and I too, enjoyed my own quality time: uninterrupted and undistracted time to be productive, to hear God’s voice and to come home rested and grateful; more able and equipped to be a better mum and wife.

So what did my solo retreat consist of? For me I needed three things:

  1. Quiet
  2. No distractions
  3. Time

I was in desperate need of quiet time to process the myriad of thoughts and ideas swirling endlessly round my head. And I needed somewhere with no distractions. No bums to wipe or juice to refill, no-one yelling ‘Muuuuuummmmmmy’ every 5 minutes. I also needed time - a good, decent chunk of time to sit and process said thoughts and ideas. 10 or 20 minutes when I can grab it just isn’t working for me. Not when I’m in a season of hearing frequent downloads from God, trying to navigate these new waters of being ‘self-employed’ and figuring out what the future might look like for my family including how the heck I might ever make any money again!

I packed my little suitcase, filled my water tank in the Twingo and set off for Sligo - armed with my bible, laptop and several journals. I knew I was doing the right thing but that didn’t stop me feeling anxious about leaving Phoebe and even more so about spending the night solo! Yet, deep down I always knew I was never really ‘that’ far away and if I needed to, I could race back down the road to home.

The journey down felt strange, but good. I only had to think about myself. What did I want to listen to? No nursery rhymes or music picked by Matt. My choice. I pressed play on a series of podcasts I’d been meaning to listen to and didn’t look back. I devoured several podcasts – all very timely, affirming and encouraging. I started to feel more at ease and as I crossed the border and the landscape began to change, I felt peace.

In the 15 years I’ve travelled the road to Sligo, I’ve never once stopped being captivated by the landscape. It’s no wonder Yeats’ found inspiration from this Western isle of Ireland. The ruggedness, the contours of the mountains and the wild coastline all create a special kind of magic I’ve only ever felt here. And as I drove the country lane towards my retreat I stopped for the first time at a lake I’ve passed hundreds of times on route to Hill House. There was no toddler who ‘might wake up’ or husband to ask to ‘pull over’ – it was just me - I took the opportunity with both hands to pull into the lay-by and press pause on this moment in time I was never going to get back.

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I can totally see the appeal of solo travel! There’s such ease, speed and a wonderful freedom to explore. Having major life regrets right now! How did I get to 30 years of age and not try to see more of our planet!? Anyway, I stood lakeside in awe of the view and savoured the silence. This was why I did this. Thank you Lord for allowing me opportunity to press pause and enjoy your presence.

After arriving I took some time to make a plan of action and settled myself with my laptop and journal. It felt good to be productive and enjoy writing in a slightly calmer environment! At tea-time I took a drive out to the coast for something to eat (I’d driven up through lunch so was needing some sustenance) and enjoyed some good food and planning by the sea, followed by a nice fresh walk. I wasn’t as productive in the evening as I would have liked (I never am), but took the opportunity to get an early night and a luxurious uninterrupted sleep.

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Shells sea-side bakery & cafe

Shells sea-side bakery & cafe

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Strandhill

Strandhill

I have to admit that waking up naturally is a pretty nice way to wake up - something that just doesn’t happen to parents of small children! I’m usually jolted awake by a toddler poking and prodding my face, telling me she’s ‘soooo firsty Mummy!’ My solo morning schedule started with a blissful breakfast and worship. This is the way all my mornings should start. Are you like me – full of good intentions but never the follow-through? If every morning started the way today did, my world would be a better place. I’ll not be expecting a blissful breakfast, but breakfast and worship has got to be achievable! Time spent with the Father is never wasted time and like any good relationship, it is so good to talk.

Time was moving on quickly and I’d planned to do some studying and writing at my favourite little French bakery. I’d enough Euros to buy me an hour and a half to sit in the sun and do some much needed prep for a very exciting event that’s coming up. Fuelled by a chocolate cruffin and coffee, I set to work and enjoyed a really productive session - time, once again, where I felt God close, speaking to me as I studied His Word and put pen to paper.

Le Fournil

Le Fournil

Next up was a swim! I had allowed myself time to go to the beach if I’d been productive at the bakery, and what a sweet, sweet reward. The sun had begun to peek out of the clouds as I parked the car and dawned my swimwear. The beach was almost empty and I plunged into the water with a thankful heart. God you are so, so good to me. The sea was cold and clear, the air salty and fresh. The sun even stayed around just long enough to allow me 10 minutes to lay down and dry off. Total and utter bliss. This simple act is something I completely took for granted before I had a child. I savoured every single second on that sand before heading back home.   

I got back in the car with salty skin, sandy toes and a full heart. Even though I didn’t achieve everything on my list, I received everything that I personally needed and more. I queued up the podcasts and began the drive home, thankful and excited to see my family and implement some new processes into home life that ensure that I can be the best mum and wife that I can be, and live a life worthy to be called a follower of Christ.

Rosses Point

Rosses Point

I swam in this water - beautiful Rosses Point 

I swam in this water - beautiful Rosses Point 

So would I recommend a solo retreat? Yes I would. It’s not the sort of thing that will suit everybody. It will certainly look different for you than for me. But I can 100% assure you that it was needed for me, at the right moment in my life. It was a time of preparation, evaluation and consolidation of what has gone before and where God is leading me to in the future. I needed this time to be Mary, not Martha. All my life I’ve tried to live a Martha lifestyle when I need to be more like Mary. Will I do another solo retreat? Yes I think I will. Not for quite some time I’m sure, but it is definitely worthwhile.

Have you ever been on a solo retreat or done something similar? I’d love to know where / how / why! Is a solo retreat something you would be interested in doing? Perhaps a small group retreat is of more interest to you? Please get in touch as I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email me at steph@mylittleduke.com if this is you!