The first speaker of the retreat was an Arizona local named Alison Oertle. As a wife and mom to several littles, she shared insight on the retreat’s name, “Beauty for Ashes.” Historically, ashes were used to demonstrate a state of uncleanliness – a state which is so easy to fall into in a world corrupted by sin. If someone committed a sin, he or she would cover themselves in ashes to show that they were unclean.
The relevance of this today is to strive to be in a state of spiritual beauty: to not be weighed down by the ashes that we may have covering us. One woman’s ashes may not look like the next woman’s, but we are joined by the fact that we are all sinners and in need of a savior.
As her talk went on, she encouraged us to attend confession if we hadn’t been in a while, and to attend even if it hadn’t been a long time. ‘God’s mercy is free’, she stressed, and we need to be open to receiving it.
After her talk we were instructed to turn our chairs around to form a small group with the women near us. In that group we discussed questions which focused on sharing the ashes in our lives and ways to make them beautiful. I must say that it was a very powerful session and just an excellent reminder that God is always there to love us and that there is no ash in our life too big for him to make beautiful.
Once our small group time ended, we said grace and ate a yummy lunch consisting of sandwiches and salad. The weather remained delightful, and I sat at an outdoor table with a table of ladies, most of whom I hadn’t met yet.
One of my favorite parts of the retreat was hearing women’s stories! At our lunch table, we had women from all backgrounds, and yet we were all at the retreat for the same reason: we were attracted to the idea of a weekend filled with prayer, fellowship, and community. We shared relationship stories, facts about our families, and hobbies that filled our spare time. I really hit it off with a preschool teacher who shares my mother’s name, and it was just so fun knowing that we all belonged to something greater than just the retreat. 🙂
After an hour or so spent mingling with ladies and checking out the sponsor’s table of goodies, the emcee announced that the afternoon sessions were starting, so I was ecstatic to go hear Heather Anderson Renshaw speak on the topic of marriage. Not only is Heather a hilarious radio host and blogger, but a few months ago, I was assigned to be Heather’s prayer partner through Blessed is She, so it was so much fun getting to meet and see this woman I had been praying for!
She spoke heavily on how as wives we are called to love our husbands to heaven. Being a newlywed without children, I found some of the ideas difficult to relate to, but the deepest theme, that my job is to help my husband get to heaven, was definitely a good reminder: after all, who doesn’t need a reminder every now and then!
She went on to share that humor is something that her and her husband deeply appreciate and connect through, and it made me think of my husband and how we also share a humorous relationship to keep things light. Prayer was also discussed and women shared difficulties they’d encountered when trying to pray with their husband. Difficulties such as he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t know how to, or we don’t have time to pray were bounced around the room and others shared what was working well within marriages to find that time and desire to pray.
This is one area that I have honestly felt blessed beyond belief about with my own marriage as Matt and I have prayed together each day since we were dating. Now it wasn’t always organic and it didn’t always sound like beautifully scripted prayers, but it was always an attempt for us to grow closer together and closer to the Lord. A few women at my table were amazed that we read the readings together each morning and pray for just a few minutes each night. It’s something I’d recommend to anyone reading this and something I will always cherish about our relationship. Okay, enough gushing…:)
Heather was filled with so much energy and was an outstanding speaker, and it made me that much more excited to attend the next talk on raising children in a secular world.
This talk which I am completely gapping on the name of the speaker was done by a wife and mother of several children that she had home schooled. She shared some awesome insights into how to “protect” children without smothering them, how to set boundaries and rules, and how to discipline. Her perspective was great as I am honestly genuinely curious in how mothers can serve as not only mothers but as sole educators, so it was refreshing to hear how she managed juggling everything!
The biggest take away I gleaned from her talk was to just do your best. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to parent: there is only love and trying your best. Mistakes happen in parenting just as they happen in any other part of life, so her best advice was to learn from mistakes and to keep moving forward.
Once this talk finished we had about 30 minutes before Mass to either pray a group rosary, grab a snack, or to simply absorb the day. I decided to wander and chat with a few new ladies, and a few minutes before Mass started, I snuck back into the main hall to have some quiet time.
The priest for Mass was incredibly vibrant, and he delivered an amazing homily on the Gospel about the “casting the first stone.” This gospel which so deeply reflects our natural human tendency to judge others was a great reminder getting ready for Holy Week that our own sins are what nailed Jesus to the cross. As I sat in the front row, I had the chance to see many faces walk by me on the way back from communion which made me feel so happy to be surrounded by so many Catholic women!
After more praise and singing following Mass, we ate another amazing meal – this time pasta, salads, and last but not least, doughnuts for desserts! I had no idea there would be dessert, so I honestly pigged out a little on the pasta, and just as I was throwing away my plate, someone announced, The doughnuts are here! – talk about a delicious treat! 🙂
Coming out of a slight food coma, I found my energy to attend the last session of the night: another talk by Heather to be concluded with adoration.
She delivered yet again another incredible talk which focused on how to use the high from the weekend to continue glorifying God. I thought it was a totally applicable topic as I know that “retreat highs” can fade real fast, and I wanted to keep the fire going once I got back to Minnesota. The story she shared is one that I will never forget. Long story short, she had once attended a retreat and thought that it was going to be a silent retreat. Excited for the chance to simply be, she was horrified when she realized that not only was it not a silent retreat, but that the first session of the retreat was one in which attendees had to hold an object and share what that object made them think about.
She thought that her object resembled a broken heart and she shared that she was honestly going through some difficulties at that time which seemed fitting. Even though she had attended this retreat to have silence, the Lord gave her some clarity as she shared these difficulties and made her first real attempt to let go of these struggles. Oofta, talk about good stuff, right?!
Once her talk ended, the crew came up and set the scene for adoration which was if I have to be honest, one of my favorite parts of the retreat! Now I have been to adoration many times, but this was the first time where the priest has walked person to person with the monstrance holding the blessed Sacrament, so I literally had a few seconds where Jesus was right in front of my face!
And as if that wasn’t cool enough, the priest also encouraged us to grab his hem if we so desired to further represent God’s healing power through his mercy. When I grabbed his hem as he was standing in front of me, tears just started falling! I honestly didn’t know what I was crying about, but it was a crazy amazing experience I will never forget!
After the priest ended adoration, we sat in silence for a bit before the emcee came up to wrap up the retreat. Jenna, the founder, was introduced and said a few words and we all applauded for her as it was thanks to her “Yes” that the retreat and Blessed is She came to be. Once she wrapped things up, I said goodbyes to my new friends and sadly watched as the main hall started transforming from a beautifully decorated calm retreat center back to the space it had been before.
I had the feeling I do when I leave a wedding or family gathering: happy that I was able to attend but sad that I had to leave. But the good news is that even though the retreat ended, Blessed is She continues today, and hopefully there will be another retreat in the future which women can attend and grow together in faith and fellowship!
I’d love to hear any other stories from retreat attendees if you happen to be reading this! Hope you have an amazing Tuesday! 🙂