Phyllis welcomes everyone with words of encouragement: “We asked you to do this because we consider you to be strong; you’re trying to follow God and be faithful. Your speaking to each other is going to be extremely helpful . . . other women will be grateful to you.”
Lynette, our facilitator, opens with the 3rd verse of Psalm 49: “My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the utterance from my heart will give understanding.” She offers another version of the second phrase: “my heart-seasoned experience of life.”
This is what Among Women is about: speaking honestly to give understanding. Lynette explains that the first retreat is likely to be “very quiet and polite,” because everyone is just getting to know each other. To speed that process along, she breaks the women up into inner and outer circles and has them rotate from partner to partner, discussing topics that she announces every few minutes.
The topics: Describe a thing of beauty; talk about what you really like to learn about; tell your partner one thing that annoys you or that you are passionate about; share a story from your childhood; what’s one thing you want to do before you die; talk about anything you want to.
The women are willing, but their body language is telling: they stand with their arms crossed in front or their hands folded. Slowly, as they get used to the routine, the volume goes up. Louella and Martha, the two widows, hold hands and laugh; their laughter is surprisingly uncontained.
Sabrina can be heard above the din during the bucket list discussion: “So now I’m going to have to do it, because I told you!”
Sharing a happy memory from her childhood, Carla describes traveling on family trips in a crowded car, with someone sleeping on the floor, on the seat, and on the window ledge! She laughs: “How safe was that!” But she has “really good memories about seeing both coasts and both oceans” that way.
When the women regroup, they share what they learned. Perhaps the most surprising thing was what Louella has on her bucket list: skydiving!
Connections made: Carla and Sabrina discovered they have mutual friends; Elnora learned that she and Naomi had “similar childhoods”; Mim says she and Louella “both made apple butter when we were children.”
Lynette asks the women to write down everyone else’s name and then write their very first impression of each woman, even if it was negative. “This is confidential,” she says. They won’t have to share this with anyone, although she may ask them to look at it again during the third retreat (coming up in April).
The women dutifully sit and write in silence.
When Lynette asks if anyone has a first impression that’s already been changed, Mim says, “I thought I knew Louella, but things changed in the car on our way out, when I learned that she loves firecrackers and wants to skydive.”
Now Lynette asks everyone to come up with a few names of women in their situations: “Think of some people who are in that place with you – people in your congregation, people in your community.
“There may be times when you feel intimidated to share. I want you to have a broader calling . . . you are here representing a whole bunch of women. Remember those women out there and for their sake, speak up – even if you don’t want to do it for yourself. Sometimes you may have to say, ‘I’m going to go to that next retreat and I’m going to do it for those women.'”