This past weekend, a group of nine nurses gathered at Whispering Winds. Friday night was essentially a party, a time to relax and have fun together. Saturday was a more reflective time, an opportunity for sharing and contemplating ways to allow ourselves to be renewed physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I joined the nurses for some of the partying Friday evening. Most of the nurses had a Catholic background. Some were ex-nuns. As the director of Whispering Winds, I was jokingly asked to be the “mother superior” for the group. That was quite a stretch for a Methodist turned Lutheran. I interpreted the role following the model of Jesus’ friend Martha rather than following the more usual Protestant stereotype of what a mother superior must be like. I did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen after enjoying drinks, appetizers, and a wonderful meal with the nurses.
This was probably the noisiest retreat we have ever hosted at Whispering Winds, but without a doubt, God kept her word, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” [Matthew 18:20] These nurses needed the opportunity to unwind, relax, and share their concerns among themselves. They needed to take care of their own needs rather than focusing only on the needs of others. Based on the comments of the nurses as they left, this 24-hour retreat had re-energized them. (If any of the nurses want to provide their perspective on the weekend retreat, please feel free to comment on this blog.)
As I reflected back on this nurses’ retreat, I thought about lots of different groups who have gathered at the farm, both when the farm was known as Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast and now as it’s known as Whispering Winds Retreat Haven.
The group that rivaled this weekend’s nurses for noisiness called themselves the “Nutty Knitters.” They were a group of 12 women who used to get together when they were high school students to knit scarves for the soldiers fighting overseas during World War II. Sometime in the 1950’s or 1960’s they started getting together for a week during the summer every year. In 2001, they came to Country Comforts for their annual reunion. About half of them lived in various places in Wisconsin. The rest flew in from all over the country – Washington D.C., Florida, Texas, Colorado, and California. When they came to Country Comforts they were in their retirement years, and they all had fascinating life stories to tell.
For breakfast they insisted on everyone squeezing around the dining room table together so that they could all be involved in every conversation. Throughout the day they explored Cambridge and surrounding communities. Usually in the late afternoon they’d gather around the piano and sing golden oldies. In the evening some of them played cards till midnight. Every morning, we found an empty cookie jar. We had promised to keep them supplied with homemade cookies, and they kept us to our word. We baked a different kind of cookies each day.
Along with the aroma of cookies baking in the oven, the house was filled with the love shared by the Nutty Knitters. The woman who flew in from Florida was suffering with advanced stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease. She could no longer eat, and could barely talk. But she made it clear that she wanted to be together with her life-long friends one more time. Throughout the week, each woman spent some one-on-one time with her. Even that was a joyful experience, with so much love filling the house.
Another very memorable reunion happened several years ago. We welcomed two separate groups to the farm on the same weekend. One group was four sisters who had grown up on a farm in central Wisconsin. They were really excited about having their reunion in a similar farmhouse. The other guests were three girlfriends in their thirties, high school classmates who now lived in different cities. They were getting together to remember old times and renew their friendship.
The four sisters arrived first. Since they were so interested in the farmhouse, I took them on a little tour of all the rooms. When we walked into the upstairs guest room, one of the sisters gasped. She walked over to a coffee table book that illustrated Wisconsin farming practices from the early twentieth century. We displayed this book that had belonged to my dad in that room to honor our farming heritage. The sister picked up the book and said, “Our father wrote the text of this book.” The sisters all gathered around the book and paged through it, remembering their father writing the detailed descriptions of all the paintings.
While the sisters were looking at the book, the doorbell rang. The three girlfriends had arrived. I greeted them and led them upstairs to their room. I explained what the other women were so excited about. As I was about to introduce them, one of the girlfriends looked at the book and said, “I know that book. My uncle painted all the pictures. I remember watching him do it when I was a little girl.”
I’m sure God was chuckling over this “chance meeting.” The two sets of guests were delighted with the connection and spent a wonderful weekend together at the farm.
We have hosted all kinds of gatherings at Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast and Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. Family reunions are often scheduled for significant birthdays, like turning 90. That’s usually the age when people become quite proud of their age and begin to brag about it. Friends and families have also gathered here when coming to the area for a funeral. The farmhouse is a comfortable place to be together and share happy memories. Writers groups come to write in the seclusion of their own rooms during the day, and then get together for the evening in the living room to share their progress and to support each other. A group of teachers regularly comes here during long weekends to plan summer vacations to explore the world. They’ve been to China, Africa, and South America. Some senior groups combine a few days here with an evening at the nearby Fireside Dinner Theater.
The farmhouse has a long tradition of being a place for friends and family to gather for all kinds of reasons. My special reward for being the “Martha-style mother superior” who welcomes all these guests into our home is being able to witness God’s love showing up in hundreds of expected and unexpected ways.
A special thanks to the nurses this past weekend for inviting me to blog about their retreat. That prompted me to reminisce about so many of our wonderful guests over the years. What a blessing!