A very good friend of mine went on a Christian retreat last weekend. Her husband had attended two weeks prior.
It's a very exclusive kind of place, where you have to be 'recommended' by someone who has been, in order to go yourself. You have to hand over your cellphone and your car keys, and you don't know what the program is. You sing before you eat, you can't speak after bedtime and the following year, you have to volunteer your time, in payment for your stay the year before.
She said she had a wonderful time. That she laughed a lot, she cried a lot and she felt closer to GOD than ever.
I've been to a few retreats.
I once attended a year-long women's study, where we had 4 different weekend retreats. It was wonderful and it made me long to do it on my own. So, from then on, I would take 3 retreats a year.
I had a special place, in Pembroke, Ontario, at a nunnery. It was called the Marguerite Centre. It was a nunnery, then a hospice, then a retreat centre, and then a hospice again. I would always manage to plan my weekends away when there wasn't anyone else there, except for a few nuns in a different wing.
Imagine having your own room, with a tiny little bed, a closet, a sink with two different taps, and a desk with a chair. Outside of your room was a long hallway in each direction, filled with doors to other rooms. There were about 50 rooms to a floor, and it was two floors. The main floor held a few offices, a gigantic cafeteria, a library with antiquated computers, a front office and a dark living room.
At seven o'clock every evening, the office personel would lock up, and I had the entire building to myself.
On the very first night, I was slightly afraid. I locked my door and put the chair up against it. But there was no reason to be afraid. GOD was always there.
My weekends would involve eating food, sleeping about 15 hours per day, and reading my specific GOD book for the weekend. In the evenings, I would flake out in the large lounge with the tv on low for background noise, surrounded by popcorn and hot chocolate, my laptop, and the cool tile beneath my feet. I loved it there. I rested there. I would write, talk to GOD, watch the sun set over the river, drink hot chocolate and tea. It was ideal.
The Marguerite Centre closed two years ago. And my heart broke.
Last November I decided to try an Airbnb in Pembroke. Surely I would find the same rest, the same beautiful sunsets? The host seemed very artistic and her guests wrote rave reviews about her. The bedroom had a large bed that looked out the window and it was tucked high up in the house. I was so excited. I had emailed her many questions and she didn't really answer all of them, but I tend to ask a lot of questions, so I didn't think anything of it.
I arrived at 3:45, just fifteen minutes earlier than she told me to. The house was adorable. The gardens were stunning. I knocked on the door, ready to apologize for being early, but there was no answer.
I waited contentedly in my van, feeling my heart rate slow down peacefully, and my body became heavy as I knew the first thing I would do when I unpacked, was nap for a few hours.
Four o'clock came and went.
I figured maybe she was was in the shower when I had arrived. After all, her car was in the driveway, and she wasn't expecting me so early. So I knocked again. I noticed shoes lined up in the hallway and a purse sitting on the chair by the door. She had to be home. Didn't she?
I knocked again. I walked around the back and peeked into the kitchen windows. The kitchen counter was covered in filthy dishes and so much...junk. Surely she must have been expecting me? At this point, I needed the washroom, so I called her again and left a message saying I was just headed over to the grocery store.
I drove away at five, wondering if maybe she had a heart attack. Or was very ill. Women don't leave the house without their purses, right? I found a store and used the facilities and then my phone rang at 5:30.
"Yes, I am home now. You can come over."
Oh dear. This was not a friendly voice.
I arrived and knocked on the door, a big smile on my voice, slightly worried. She opened the door, and a very grumpy face just stared at me.
"Well, come in, then."
I stepped inside. "Hi, I'm so glad to meet you, yourhouseisbeautifulsorryI'mearlyI'mveryexcitedtobehere..."
"Aren't you bringing in your things?"
"Um, I thought I'd look at the room first?"
She showed me the living room, where I could sit and write if I liked. She showed me my bedroom, which was absolutely adorable. She showed me the beautiful bathroom. We walked back downstairs and she began cleaning her kitchen counter.
"I brought some of my own food. May I put some in the fridge?"
She glared at me and then looked at her gigantic stainless steel box. "I don't have a lot of room in my fridge for your food."
"Ok. I can keep it in the cooler, I guess. Can I put some fruit on the kitchen counter?"
She sighed and threw her dirty dishes into the sink. "I don't really have a lot of room."
I grabbed my large cooler from the van and carried it in. "Where should I put this, then?"
She pointed at the living room. "Tuck it in there, out of the way."
I tucked it into the corner. What on earth was her problem? I opened the cooler to give her the gift I had brought her. In her bio, it said that she loved to cook, was a good cook, and all of her guests loved the food she made them. "I have brought you some heirloom tomatoes from my garden. And some eggs from our chickens. I only have eleven though."
I put them on the counter and went upstairs to unpack. Should I be staying? Maybe she's having a bad day. Maybe something happened and it's none of my business. I went downstairs to leave for a walk. She was sitting at her counter, one of the tomatoes sliced on a plate and she was eating it with a knife and fork.
"What kind of tomatoes are these?"
So we had a conversation. We talked about tomato plants and processing them, and then we looked up tomato pureeing machines on the internet. She had finally stopped glaring at me. I decided to go for my supper.
I came back at 7, to find her sitting in her chair, drinking wine. "Ok, I'm going to bed now," I said. "I'm pretty tired." We discussed what I did and why I was on retreat.
I slept well, considering.
In the morning, I went downstairs at 8, wondering what I should do for breakfast. Her bio stated that she made breakfast for her guests. She was in the kitchen, dirty dishes on the counter, and dressed to go out.
"I have yoga. I like yoga."
I looked around the kitchen, wondering where I would make myself some food. She motioned to her backyard. "I have put the toaster outisde if you want to use it to make yourself breakfast." There was a little toaster on a side patio table, plugged into the outlet outside. No cutting board, no plate, no knife, no glass.
And then she left.
Well, you can imagine how I felt at this point.
I suppose I could have called her out on it. I could have asked her what her problem was. I had paid for two nights and three days, but I had to get out of there.
I quickly packed up all of my belongings and threw them into the van. She wasn't back yet. She told me to just go out the front door if I were to head out. She wasn't worried about locking it.
I scribbled a note and thanked her (why?) and taped it to the door. I had said I had to get home, some personal matters were pressing.
She sent me an email later, and rather condescendingly said that she knew I wouldn't stay as she knew I felt guilty about watching her clean her kitchen.
Well, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. I wrote her back, explaining my discomfort and whatnot.
Now, during this insane time, I was commenting on facebook everything that was going on. It was too amusing not to. My dear friends were sweet enough to tell me to call her out on her ridiculous behaviour. That I should write a very horrible review of what happened when I visited.
Oh, how I wanted to.
I had scrimped and saved for a year to pay for a 4-day holiday, to be with GOD and just rest as I normally do. I hadn't had a retreat in two years!
But I could not get angry.
I had two weeks to write my review of my time on the Airbnb website.
She had written up her review about me as a guest. I would not be able to see what she wrote until I wrote something.
So I did.
I wrote that it was a very nice house, the bedroom had a lovely view and you could even eat outside if you wanted to.
No vindication. No meanness. I didn't write what I wanted to.
Well, you can imagine what she wrote about me.
I have no idea how I got onto that story. I wanted to write a post about how important retreats are, how important it is to get away and spend time with GOD. And then this story came out. I guess my point is that life is not what you expect. That sometimes people are really crazy, even though they get good reviews.
That mean people shouldn't change who you are.
That we all need a good laugh.
Jenn Kelly is a writer still looking for a good retreat centre. Maybe she should open her own. But make breakfast for those people who attend.