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Women's Retreat 2015: The Experience

"Alice," you ask me, "how does an annual Presbyterian women's retreat work?"


You all drive to the retreat center, which doubles as a home for retired nuns, and sign up for your room (everyone gets their own room/bathroom). The retreat center has three floors, and if you don't want to be disturbed by the noise from people staying up late, you should get a room on the third floor. In my case, I sign up for one of the precious third room floors despite the fact I am well aware I will be one of the noisy staying-up-late people I am apparently trying to avoid.

My church partners with another church from a close suburb of Chicago, and has for 31 years. We see these women every February, and our two groups make up somewhere between 50 to 60 people. The average age is about 45, but there are people there from ages 29 to 88.

After checking in, dumping your stuff and putting sheets on your bed, you wander downstairs, saying hello to people and then wandering back upstairs because everyone else seems to have a purpose down there and you are aimless. There's a cushy rocking chair in your room with a view of Lake Michigan that you forgot to take a picture of because A) You are an idiot and B) Your phone is in airplane mode for the weekend and you forget about its use except as a clock.

The first night, there is soup, because ladies and soup, amirite? And there are so many KINDS of soup! And all the dipping bread you could want. Ah, it is a magical time. 

allll the ladies with crockpots, Ariana

Then we meet our retreat leader, have the first session, eat snacks and chat. Friday night's pretty low-key. 

The retired nuns serve breakfast from 8 to 8:30, so everyone pads down to the dining hall in their slippers and eats. I go overboard on Cheerios because I don't buy them at home. There's encouragement to mix it up a little, so you sit with some women from the other church. Then off! Off you go to the morning session, where you are either talked to for an hour, or broken up into small groups to get to know other ladies and share.

The rest of the day is lunch (same dining hall, same padding down to it), afternoon session, and then! There is always a craft: last year we made soul collages. A buffalo figured quite prominently in mine. This year you could decorate paper cutouts of people because our theme was body and mind wholeness. 

Craft time is also super-awesome-relaxing-fun time. A lot of people take naps. Some people walk down to the lake, because Lake Michigan is appx 20 feet from the retreat center. This year a big group walked to the lake, then at someone's insistence, everyone held hands and leaned back to look at the sky. Then we all started moving in a circle and singing Hava Nagila, and my amazing friend Rebecca said "...there are times when I realize we're doing exactly what people think we're doing on these retreats."

A smaller group of women walked further down to the lake and stood on what's normally a beach, but is currently covered by snow & ice. I ended up lecturing on Frances Willard, because WHY WOULDN'T I. 

I mean, I have my own name tag

There's another session in the evening, then there is Saturday night revelry. Saturday night is usually people's favorite because it's when everyone eats snacks, drinks wine, and sits around & chats. This year we had a dance party. PICTURE IF YOU WILL, 20 ladies moving in a circle to The Loco-Motion, and then an 85-year-old joining in and getting really into it. We ended on Dancing Queen. It was pretty much all you could hope for.

Sunday you pull yourself out of bed, go to breakfast again, then have morning session, followed by a worship service we plan ourselves. I'm in the music group every year because I'm on the planning committee. Then! we eat a meal that mainly consists of pita bread & hummus (so, what I eat all the time anyway) and then head out. 

Ah! I have neglected one of the mainstays: my Cheez-Its picture. This is probably the most useless tradition in my life, including the one where I dance to Back in Time every fall Daylight Savings Time, but the way this came about was six years ago, I was on the retreat and missing a VERY IMPORTANT EPISODE of Battlestar Galactica where Roslin & Adama kissed for the first time. So I called my friend Kory from a corner of the main room, clutching a box of Cheez-Its and making her tell me everything that happened in obnoxious detail. I was photographed with said box and then it...became a thing. Thanks, Battlestar.

So! Women's retreat 2015. If I could make you all go next year, I would. No internet, no TV, just a bunch of ladies talkin' about lady things. It is the swellest.


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