Women and Networking: Why women NEED retreats

Up until two years ago, attending a Christmas Tea was a regular thing for me on the first Saturday of December.  The Friday before, I would show up at church with boxes full of china and table decorations and join the other table hostesses in decorating my table that friends and family would join me at the following morning.  Then Saturday, I would show up early to make last minute adjustments and eagerly await the arrival of the women. 

But not this year. I didn't even realize it was tea weekend until I started seeing posts about it on Facebook on Friday.  I felt a twinge in my heart, missing the women and the festivities of gathering together for something distinctly "woman." I felt self-pity tugging at my heart, sighing with sadness that I wouldn't be attending. I felt the nostalgia of Christmases past swell in my heart.

I allowed myself to grieve the moment, the memories, happy ones for sure, of many Saturdays of Christmas Teas. And then I stopped because the beauty of the moment I was about to enter into was amazing and I didn't want to miss a single drop of joy that was waiting to be poured out. Nor did I want my walls of self-protection to rise up in an attempt to protect my heart from the risk of opening up to a new group of women.

You see, although the road of the past two years has been painful, confusing, daunting, and a tad bit scary, it has been overflowing with amazing connections and open doorways that I wouldn't have imagined possible just a few months ago.

After registering that it was the weekend of the Christmas Tea, another realization quickly became apparent.  No, I wasn't at the church on Friday, preparing for Christmas Tea on Saturday morning.  I was at the Every Heart Has a Story retreat, an entire weekend that had been prepared just for me to find space for hope and healing to continue to grow and flourish.

And, while it was with an entirely different group of women from this new season of life I've been in, I was ready to keep moving in this new direction, grateful for all of the past Teas I'd had the privilege to host and be a part of, but now embracing these days ahead of me.

My heart almost swooned with gratefulness to God. You see, I still almost daily grieve the losses that have occurred since the great shift a little over two years ago, but I am also increasingly aware of the expansion that is happening in my life, sometimes at breakneck speeds. He knew this weekend would coincide.  He knew I'd feel sad.  He knew I'd need hope.  He knew.  Oh, how He knew.

I took my place at the registration table next to Sydney and Liv, both of whom I had just met.  We chatted it up, having an immediate connection in our spirits, and enjoyed the next hour welcoming women to the retreat.  Some were nervous, having signed up without really knowing anyone.  Others came in excited and bursting at the seams.  And a few, like me, came in cautious, yet hopeful, because deep down we all knew that we had something in common that was waiting to connect us.

Janet and Lori called us together, welcomed us, and set the tone for the retreat: "Every heart has a story to tell and yours is no different.  Have fun, make connections, and be ready to have your heart nurtured and cared for this weekend."  

I don't know that those are the exact words that came out of their mouths, but that's what happened over the course of the weekend.  Because Janet and Lori had poured their hearts out in creating the retreat, they created space for us, in turn, to pour our hearts out to one another and receive the blessing of other women validating and embracing our stories.

On Saturday morning, I looked out over the room filled with round tables and women, much like the room at church would be set up.  We weren't taking tea together with china and dainty sandwiches and other delicious delicacies, but we were being served equally tantalizing food for our hearts and souls. We laughed and cried together as Janet and Lori set the precedent for vulnerability and authenticity by sharing their own personal stories with us.

Then Saturday night happened.  It's great to sit around a table together and share stories.  It's AMAZING to sit in a circle on the floor in pajamas, play silly games, laugh until our faces hurt, learn trivia about each other that we wouldn't have thought to talk about in a more formal setting…and yet it was that moment, at least for me, when the laughter flowed and the walls were down and the women were more fully present than ever before that the gift of the retreat landed squarely in our hearts.  Here, we were, women of all ages and from all walks and stages of life, unified by the love and acceptance and joy in the room.

All of that laughter and reindeer dance offs and funny stories helped set the stage for Sunday morning where vulnerability and authenticity were off-the-charts present as seven beautiful women shared from their hearts and gave us the gift of their story, creating a space for us to receive deeply and to say "yes, me too." Even those stories that went unspoken, those that are still raw and unformed, were gifts in the room in all of the women attending. 

The flow of love continued as we circled up again, not in pajamas this time. But the pajama party had done its work and our hearts were expanding, our sisters' stories intermingling with our own.  We shared through smiles and tears our favorite moments as the retreat inevitably came to a close.

It's hard in one single post to express what happened in my heart during the Every Heart retreat as I'm certain the story is far from over.  I'll be unwrapping gifts from that time for months to come.  I know today I am waking more confident, seeing how God has orchestrated the last several months for me, even choosing a crazy busy time of year to bring me to a space that was slow and savored to the last drop. 

EVERY WOMAN needs a retreat. 
Every woman NEEDS a retreat. 
Every woman needs a RETREAT. 

I'm so grateful to have gathered with these women who I now can call friends who know parts of my story as I know parts of theirs…because I am the richer for having taken the risk to show up, be present, be vulnerable, and be authentic.  We are all better for doing that together.  We are all stronger and more determined than ever to share our stories as the opportunity arises.

And the really great news is, if you missed it this year, it's definitely happening next year. It will be bigger, more women will come, more stories will be told, and more hearts will be nurtured and comforted and held. Every Heart Project coordinators Janet and Lori actually have a whole line up of heart-sharing events designed to empower women in their relationships with each other. I hope I'll see you at one of them.

I encourage you to create space in your life for these encounters other women. Find a group of women who will challenge you and yet provide a safe place for you to be vulnerable and authentic with your story.  You'll be so glad you did.