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A Weekend Renewal

Shalom House, Montpelier, VA
This weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a "Transformation Retreat." It was a weekend getaway for persons infected with HIV, and part of a series of other retreats and programs by The Renewal Projects, an organization in Richmond, VA. The experience was amazing, unforgettable, life-changing, and any other word you could think of to describe a simply beautiful weekend. We didn't have a large group, which at first seemed to be a bit of a bummer. But, it turned out to be the thing that made the experience that much better for myself, and I hope for the rest of the people who attended.
My room during the retreat

There were no televisions or radios. Our rooms were simple. The only lights outside were those lining the sidewalk from the two cabins we stayed in down to the "Shalom House" where we had our group meetings and activities, as well as our meals. The food was great, too!

We practiced meditation and got to exercise every morning. There was a memorial service where we got to write the name of someone we have lost to HIV/AIDS on a piece of rice paper and float it into the lake in honor of our loved one. And the best experience for me, was a drumming session with a beautiful lady named Bettie, who not only could beat a mean drum, but knew the history of the drums and shared her knowledge with us as she taught us songs about the earth, the wind and the water. On our last night, we burned our burdens in a "camp fire" and sang songs accompanied by guitar. 

The roof at Shalom House
There were men and women, Black and White. I hesitate to say young and old, because I think I might have been the youngest person there at 31, but I am glad I got the chance to spend time with people who have more experience and wisdom than I do, because I want to learn how to continue doing a better job of navigating this thing we call life. If anyone can help me do that, it's people who have already been where I'm trying to go, and have done the things I'm trying to do.

I fell in love with this tree on day one
I think the most subtle part of the weekend, but still very inspiring, was the time I got to spend with mother nature. I love the outdoors, and I had forgotten just how beautiful the spring time is here in Virginia. There was a tree outside of the room where we spent most of our time during the day, and for four days it seemed to have an inexhaustible amount of flower petals that it freely gave to the wind to blow across the deck and the lawn, only to move your eyes from the tree and down to the lake beyond it, and then the trees beyond that. At times it was difficult to pay attention fully to what someone was saying, because it was so easy for me to get caught up in the life outside. The trees coming back to life after a long and cold winter reminded me that even I can come back after a long and cold time in my own life. There were bees, frogs, even bats. The weekend reminded me that I'm a country boy at heart, and I need to take time to remember and revisit that as often as I can.

Artwork by local students for us
I came home with a lot of gifts and crafts and trinkets of my trip, and I will treasure them all because I got to know the people who made or gave them to me, and that's what will make them special. I laughed, I cried (more than once) and I know I made at least one life-long friend, and that's "friend" in the truest and most sincere meaning of the word. I got to broaden my mind and my heart, and I got to see goodness and kindness in people that I might have made a snap judgment about or avoided a conversation with had I encountered them in my normal daily routine. To think that I almost changed my mind about going lets me know that this was one of those predestined times in my life, and that God's will made sure I was there.

Our quilt, #143
I'm still the same guy, flaws and all. But, I do think that this weekend has changed me in a very subtle, but important way. It's given me a reference point to move forward from, and tools to use on that journey that will keep me centered and strong. I will never forget anyone in that group, even those that I think talked too much. And I hope that I can see them again at a retreat in the future. 

If you are reading this and are interested in learning more about participating or supporting this organization and project, go to .


  1. Just read the blog bro. Beautiful! I know the retreat is very meaningful for me, and seeing it through your eyes remind me just how much bigger life is and how connected we are. Thanks for expressing that so wonderfully.

  2. Fantastic reflection Benn. I didn't get a chance to share my information with all, but here is my website address. Stop by and submit contact info if you'd like.


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