First QLR women’s retreat reflects beauty, self-love

June 21, 2017

At the Women’s Retreat, three winners of the Strawhat Decoration Contest show off their prizes for creating the most beautiful, the most creative and the funniest hats. Photo by Nancy Green.At the Women’s Retreat, three winners of the Strawhat Decoration Contest show off their prizes for creating the most beautiful, the most creative and the funniest hats. Photo by Nancy Green.

By John W. Coleman*

“You Are Beautiful!” was the constant affirmation offered to those who attended Quality of Life Retreats’ first all-women’s retreat in April. But the subtext of that uplifting theme was simply to love oneself.

There were 10 first-timers among the 23 women who attended the requested women’s retreat April 3-6 at the Washington Retreat House. And from the moment they arrived, the theme of beauty was evident everywhere—in the table decorations, Communion service and festive dinner; in the cards, candles, gift bags with make-up samples and red silk flowers each received; in the handmade fleece blankets given by women at Linden-Linthicum UMC; and in the straw hats retreatants decorated to win coveted prizes.

“We wanted them to feel special and to know that someone cared about them,” said the Rev. Nancy Green, retreat director, who had help from five retreat staff. For some that was, sadly, an unfamiliar feeling.

“Several of the women were trying to break away from abusive relationships, and some were struggling to stay away from drugs” said Green. “They found a lot of mutual support and encouragement in our small groups. Some members told others about women’s shelters and drug recovery programs that had helped them.”

One woman had just learned of her HIV status in the past week, said Green. “She needed that support right then, especially to learn how others had shared the news of their status with family and friends and what to expect.”

They learned even more from two featured presenters, both longtime medical professionals in HIV/AIDS treatment and self-care, whose compassion and candor connected well with the women. QLR board member Ella Curry, RN, a former Clinical Specialist at Georgetown University Hospital with 28 years in the field, shared key HIV-related legislation coming to Congress this year, including research funding and access to affordable health care. Dr. Curry discussed lobbying efforts by AIDSWatch 2017, assuring the women of the advocacy being done on their behalf at all levels of government.

Dr. Mary Young, a recently retired Infectious Disease Specialist and Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, devoted 32 years to research and care of women with HIV, including a study of the AIDS virus’ natural history in women’s bodies.

Spending two hours at the retreat, she also answered many questions and reviewed three decades of insights about the virus, various medications and patients’ changing circumstances and behaviors. She stressed to the women the importance of taking their meds consistently.

A teacher and retired pastor, Nancy Green began planning the retreat as she always does: by praying for a theme. “I prayed a long time, asking God, ‘What message do you want our women to hear?’ His answer was ‘You are loved.’

“When things aren’t perfect in our lives,” she explained, “we often feel we’re not loved or worthy to be loved.”

The women, coming from the Baltimore area, Washington DC, Virginia and New Jersey, were diverse in their backgrounds—including a transgender woman—and in their age range, from their 20s to a few in their 60s. Planners sent invitations to health departments and HIV-service agencies all over the region.

“When can we do this again? We have to do it again,” was the frequent feedback many offered at the retreat’s end, said Green

Everyone was excited to be at an all-women’s retreat, and there was “lots of laughter and tears,” she recalled. “The dynamic was so different. I think they felt they could be themselves, discuss their own issues and not worry about impressing anyone”—especially the men who usually outnumber them at coed retreats. “Some said they’ve been waiting, even praying a long time for this kind of a retreat.”

John Coleman coordinates Communications for the Quality of Life Retreats Board of Directors, which celebrates the ministry’s 30th anniversary in 2017-2018. This article appears in the Spring-Summer 2017 issue of QLR’s newsletter, Celebrate Life!