Obedience, Refine Retreat, Surrender, Worship

Reflections On Refine {the retreat}

Reflections On Refine {the retreat}

The climb up the slick black driveway to the crest of the hill works to draw the anxiety out. By the time the house comes into view, already, I feel lighter, my heartbeat slows with the hope and joy of arriving. It’s been a year, the journey to Refine.

It’s been a lifetime.

There are moments, even from childhood, that all lead to this one, slow climb up this particular hill, amid these particular pine trees—for such a time as this.


A few years ago, before Refine was even a dream, I attended a gathering of protestant women. It was intended to be a mixer, a get-to-know-eachother kind of evening, but when we played the ice-breaker game that required you to share something people don’t know about you, in order to guess who you are, I wrote on that tiny piece of yellow paper that I’d always wanted to be a nun. It wasn’t a joke. But as the reveal unfolded, a hand-full of those women burnt me to the ground with their comments about my “secret”. Their “why on earth’s” and “what an odd thing” comments scratched something raw in me. Their judgment passed without a blink.

I was serious.

And so were they.

I haven’t attended another “ladies mixer” like that since. I don’t even acknowledge them when they’re printed in the Sunday bulletin. Dreaming out loud is risky, the world is full of people too quick to dismiss, to dismantle, the hidden hope in your heart.

I’ve carried those scars a long time.

When I first heard about the Pines, the history of the space was nearly as captivating as the actual building and grounds. This place, a former home for the Sisters of Mercy—nuns. Their cloistered rooms feels like holy ground to me. The quiet simplicity feels like a cocoon, a space for becoming, for transforming.

In so many ways, the discovery of this particular place has felt like a wink from God, a private understanding between me and my Maker, who never forgets the longings of our hearts.

I’ve slowly been unpacking the weekend, thinking about how to share Refine with those who ask. People want to know, how was it? And I so very much want to tell you about Lindsey and the deer (a whole herd!), or Annie and the sticks, and the labyrinth, or Laura’s and my poetry reading that first night in the hermitage, or the ways that the enemy fought against this whole thing for months leading up to that weekend, driving me to a 2-week fast.

I want to tell you about how art unleashes pent up prayers in women and how color and glitter and old magazines morph into sacramental instruments when combined prayerfully on the pages of art journals. I want to tell you how one day stretched so slow that it felt like two and it seemed as if God repeated the miracle of making time stand still. I want to tell you about open doors, quiet hallways, prayer rooms and late night conversations, or about the wild ways God draws His women to Himself so specifically, so personally—but most of these stories aren’t mine. They belong to the ladies who said “yes” to the unknown.

I pray that one day, they will share them.

The pines, Refine

At the end of the weekend, after the truck was nearly packed and the ladies had slipped back down the black driveway towards home, I balanced an overflowing plate of cookies in my hands and crossed through the rain to the current home for the sisters. Advanced in years, they’ve since moved across the drive to a newer facility, complete with all of the accoutrements that women of their seniority require. The small gray-haired woman who opens the door for me lights up as she greets me burdened with cookies.

“I’m sister Mary Beth” she says. I introduce myself as she lifts the cookies out of my hands. I watch her turn towards the counter, all the while I’m fretting she will drop the whole huge platter that appears to weigh more than she does. She’s steadier than she looks to be. She tells me that she has just returned from the funeral of her best friend of 54 years, another sister, who tutored her through arithmetic classes when they were only girls. Tears form in the bottom half of her blue eyes, like tiny glasses of water as she speaks. I watch them pool and rise. I’m too raw and exhausted to hide my own, as I listen to her story. She tells me how they met, how they stayed in touch for a lifetime, and how she can’t really believe that she’s gone. I can’t hold back the dam welling in my own eyes, and the two of us stand there weeping at the sadness of goodbye.

It’s then that I remember a story I once heard about a family that lost a child, how they grew older and lived long in the absence of their baby, and how the years stretched slow and difficult always remembering her but never knowing her. But at the end of the story, when the parents have at last crossed over into glory, they meet their precious baby, and somehow, the time apart feels as if it had been just a blink. They’d lived 70 long years without her, but in that meeting in heaven, it was as if no time had passed. I tell this story to Sister Mary Beth, encouraging her that in a blink, she will be with her friend again, and the two of us stand there quiet in front of the cookies, marveling at the mystery of heaven’s promise of eternity.

“I’d never thought of that,” she says. “That makes me feel better.”

I smile a weepy smile and hug her small frame. “Oh”, her words trail off. “I thought you were coming to mass with me” she says. I tell her that I have to go, that my retreat is over now, and that I have to return to my family. She re-introduces herself and sends me off with a wave into the rain.

Bellbrook hermitage, Refine

Refine {the retreat}

Over the weekend I thought about my childhood dream of being a nun. I thought about its roots, and all of the ways I never really entertained it as potential reality. The desire for convent living for me, was never about living simply and cloistered from the world. God didn’t call me to such a life. The desire to live as a sister is symbolic. It’s a dream to live with wholehearted devotion and the intentional pursuit of intimacy with the Almighty before all things. It was a hope, a want to be so deeply connected with Him that my whole life revolved around responding to His whispers. This weekend, it became clear to me that in many ways already, without the habit, without the seclusion, I have taken my vows and am learning to live this way, to live fully surrendered to God’s purposes for me.

Last weekend I found myself in a space I had always wanted to inhabit, doing what I’d always wanted to do. I met God there in the quiet spaces of Refine, in the faces and stories of women who like me, hunger for more of Him.

In the hushed hallways, and reflection rooms, around tables and in worship, He brought us to a place of abundance.


To learn more about the next Refine {the retreat} visit this link.



  1. Oh Kris this is so beautiful!!! You took me right back to that amazing place. 🙂 I think it’s about the sweetest thing ever that you wanted to be a nun! My mentor was a nun for three months! I’ll have to share her story with you sometime. 🙂 Thank you for this heartfelt post. I’m still struggling to find words what that weekend meant to me. What a gift from God to all of us. ❤️ Blessings to you my friend and thank you for saying yes to God with Refine, your writing, and most all for being a “sister” to All of us. Xo

    1. Kris Camealy Author

      Thank you for these sweet words of encouragement. It was a gift to meet you there, to see your sweet smile, and to know how much we have in common–that story about your detour had me smiling and giggling to myself. Good thing Caryn was by your side and not me. We’d have been a disaster of impatience. 😉

      Thank you for saying “yes” I look forward to hearing more about what it was like for you–and if the words never fully come, that’s ok too. Sometimes, that’s even better.

      XO, sister.

  2. Kris, I can’t tell you how much the weekend meant to me! Your pictures bring me right back to these breathtakingly beautiful (and holy) surroundings and I pray the memories of ReFine 2017 stay with me forever. Thank you for your obedience to the Lord and for the sacrifices you made in order for us to be able to come with open ears and hearts to hear from Him. I love you, your heart, and your shining Jesus countenance.

    1. Kris Camealy Author

      Caryn Caryn Caryn…how much I love you. I am so humbled that you came all the way from CA, that you chose Refine for this year. Praying still that God would BLESS you and continue to encourage you mightily in the things He has called you to. LOVE you!

  3. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Kris, this was especially meaningful for me to read, because I just returned from a women’s retreat on the Isle of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. My heart is overflowing, like yours, but I’m also sensing, like you, that there are some mysterious encounters with God that are nearly impossible to convey, and that your life will never be the same again because of them. I love that you understand the need to retreat…. not to conference (I’m contorting that into a verb)! Surely, conferences have their place in our Christian growth, and I’ve attended and spoken (and sung) at them. But we likewise need times that are spacious and gracious and where God can meet us in a more secluded, slowed ambience. It sounds as if this is what you and He created for women at Refine. I’d love to know more about it, as God begins to unfold all the blessings in your heart. I appreciate your soulful heart and desire to be refined and used by Him at every turn. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Kris Camealy Author


      Thank you for these words. I love a good party, and have many times, enjoyed a good conference, but lately, I feel much more drawn to the quieter seclusion of retreat. There’s beauty in the hiddenness of it, the slower pace, and the rest afforded to body and soul. I am glad you understand. I can only imagine the sweetness of your Scotland retreat–I pray you treasure the gift of that experience forever. Amazing!

  4. Annie Barnett

    Tears in my eyes, friend. So grateful for you and for this weekend, and all the sweet sisters there, and mostly, the gift of God’s presence there (and here!). Love hearing your heart, here.

    1. Kris Camealy Author

      ((hugs)) I m so glad you were there, Annie. I LOVED seeing you after so long, and having the chance to hear a little about how God moved in your own heart. What a beautiful, bountiful gift. LOVE you, friend. So much.

  5. Every word echoes with a holy reverence. So beautiful, Kris. I’m grateful for our poetry reading! And all our time together. You have such a gift for hospitality, friend. Love you.


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