Head noise can sometimes go this way:
“I need to get away. I am so stressed.”
“I have no time to myself.”
“I am pulled in too many directions.”
“I just need some peace and quiet.”
A retreat can be a necessary balm for a balanced life.
A retreat is a way to step back, to take refuge from daily life and schedules, tribulations and trials.
It is an opportunity to restore the physical body with good food and rest, and learn about how and where God is present in life.
Aug. 12-14, Tracy Dereszynski, director of adult and family ministry at St. Francis Borgia, Cedarburg, paddled down the lower Wisconsin River in Spring Green in the Madison Diocese, with nine women, their daughters and Chris Lodl, who served as Dereszynski’s co-guide. The daughters ranged in age from 12 through their mid-20s.
“It was great to be here solo,” said Lodl, who helped guide the canoes and kayaks along the waterway and through the steep bluffs, broad floodplain and numerous sand bars.
Traversing the lower Wisconsin River is an idyllic location for a retreat that has some historical significance as well; around the time of Jesus – at least perhaps as early as 100 A.D., according to “Archeology,” a publication of the Archeological Institute of America, the first intercontinental trade network developed.
Hopewell Indian traders, who originated in Ohio, brought copper from Lake Superior, shell from the Gulf of Mexico, mica from Georgia, obsidian from Wyoming and flint from North Dakota, through the Wisconsin River.
In her role at St. Francis, Dereszynski did more adult education and family catechesis, but only a little family ministry. She wanted to expand her programming to include events and activities that would reach sections of the family.
“So mothers and daughters this summer, because getting an entire family of three, four, five or more members to commit to a weekend retreat would be nearly impossible, but smaller segments of a family are totally doable,” she explained. “This retreat was for women to take time away for themselves and be with the daughters, granddaughters or friends. It was a time to unplug from the world around them, including their phones and other electronic gadgets.”
As an avid kayaker, Dereszynski wanted to share her love of paddling with other women.
“Paddling is such a wonderful activity, very low stress and you get a completely different view of the world from a canoe or kayak,” she said. “This was the first time I offered this retreat, but I have been on two other paddling and camping retreats with youth.”
The women spent Friday night in a hotel in Spring Green so they could get to know each other and get one good night’s sleep before hitting the water and camping on a sand bar, something Dereszynski said everyone should do at least once in their life.
The women took part in activities and conversations to help them connect with each other, and also participated in morning and evening devotions in the hotel gazebo.
“I wanted the women and daughters to get away from their normal lives and experience the wonders of the world around us, spend some time in prayer individually and in community, and share that experience with their daughters and friends,” she explained.
Saturday morning, the group paddled 18 miles from Mazomanie to Spring Green. Dereszynski created portable and water resistant prayer card packs to clip to their backpacks that they used for a variety of prayer experiences, as well as conversation starter questions.
“We paddled, went swimming, camped and prayed together,” she said. “And, of course, we shared s’mores on a sand bar.”
Appreciating the scenery, peacefulness and camaraderie, Jenn Baynard said she enjoyed the experience of camping on a sand bar.
“God really wanted me to be here,” she said, adding, “We woke up in the morning and there was a misty fog on the river. It was so peaceful.”
Colleen Wigh agreed, “It was nice to be away and have no complaining. I enjoyed spending time with my adult daughter and sleeping on a sand bar.”
Dereszynski said she hoped the retreat served as an opportunity for mothers, daughters and friends to share prayer together.
“I hope that sharing the experience of being on the water and traveling with as little as you can for a couple of days would open up a door for communication in their relationships,” she said.
Having time for reflection, building friendships, enjoying nature and having a Communion service on the beach seemed to be the greatest memories for the group of women.
“I really enjoyed seeing the shooting stars while lying on the sand bar,” said Kim Miller. “This was the first time I’ve ever had Communion on the beach.”
An unexpected twist in the trip was meeting a group of men on a retreat of their own and sharing the sand bar with them.
“The group of guys came over with an ‘olive branch’ of a stir fry,” laughed Dereszynski. “Paddling creates a unique community as everyone is literally ‘in the same boat,’ as we are living with little, living in the same elements and taking a journey down an unpredictable river.”
Next year, Dereszynski is planning a one-day paddling retreat for mothers and daughters and a weekend of paddling and hiking for dads and daughters.
“It was such a great trip and a great group of beautiful ladies,” she said. “And one thing that happened is that there was a ton of food that seemed to come out of nowhere. There was so much left over that it was like the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes.”