Darling Magazine: "A Darling Recap: Our Nashville Retreat"

It has been two months since my first Darling retreat, yet the magical experience lingers vividly in my memory. When the magazine asked if I would put words to those memories, I was honored (and intimidated). Would I do it justice? Could I possibly convey the power of this story -- one full of serendipity, mindfulness, vulnerability and connectedness? The more I reminisced, the more the magic of those moments spent in Nashville shone through. I hope you, too, will be transported.

Here, my first piece for Darling magazine -- a recap of a beautiful experience through a writer's lens.

(Photo courtesy of Lindsey Grace

Published May 12, 2017

Colorful East Nashville set the backdrop for Darling’s third creative retreat (my first!), where Urban Cowboy B&B set the stage for an unforgettable springtime gathering.

Set in a redbrick historic Victorian mansion, the appropriately funky country-themed guesthouse opened up its eight eclectic – and absolutely rad – retro suites to our group of more than 20 women from across the country who descended on to the Cowboy’s comfy lounges for three days of introspection, reflection and connection centered on “The Power of Story.”

As we arrived and checked in, we were cheerfully greeted by the loveliest hosts (Sarah DubbeldamKara Elise and Ruthie Lindsey), given name tags and a glass of bubbly and led to our stunning rooms, which we would share with a roommate (or several, in some cases) – a closeness that while potentially awkward at first ultimately added to the spirit of sharing, learning and truly connecting with one another.

Also adding to the spirit of connectedness was the encouraged unplugging from all things digital. Shortly after checking in, I set my phone to airplane mode and didn’t look back. After exchanging hellos, mingling and easing the first-day jitters, we settled into the gorgeously set-up dining room, where a decadent, freshly prepared family-style dinner by The Public House set the tone for the evening – warm, colorful and enriching– while Kara led a curated discussion that had us all open up with one another. After all, openness is a critical protagonist in the power of story and this was just the beginning.

It was post-dinner that Rebekah Pahl opened up our hearts with her joyful singing, as we all gathered around her in the lounge and soaked up the very best of Music City, lyrical storytelling and womanhood. I felt all of my hesitations and my expectations melt away with every note from her guitar. I was present.

In my journal, I described the evening as “magic” and what followed was nothing short of it. As Ruthie shared her incredibly brave and inspiring story with us, the room stood still. To hear Ruthie share the magnitude of her journey in person and in such an intimate setting was an invaluable gift (one I’m still holding so close more than a month after this moment).

“Speak from your scars, not your wounds,” she reminded us, immediately filling the room with hope. In the most genuinely beautiful demonstration of her truth, she made her way around the room, handing each one of us a Giving Key and telling us, “You are so loved. There is so much hope for you.”

The message on the key? Hope. And just like that, within hours of arriving to Nashville, my heart was filled with hope for this retreat, for this time to cultivate my story, to feed my passion, to create beauty through words. As my roommate and I got ready for bed that night, seemingly speechless but also restlessly inspired, I realized, “I still have two more full days of this feeling!”

Day two began early with an optional invigorating Buti Yoga session at Hot Yoga East Nashville, who so generously hosted our morning workouts in their fabulous studio, relaxing our bodies and mind for the days ahead. As we grabbed our nutritious homemade breakfasts, we reflected on the previous evening, then settled into our first session with Sarah. She shared her incredible journey to Darling and led us through a small-group writing exercise that had us all go from complete strangers, just a few hours before, to emotionally co-navigating the same wavelength of self-discovery.

While time was set aside in the afternoon to rest, many of us teamed up on walks around the neighborhood, talked more closely and journaled together. At dinner (another delicious spectacle by The Public House), there was a shared sense of unity, an acknowledgement of the serendipity tying all of us together.

The insanely talented Amy Stroup serenaded us and allowed us all to join her on a beautiful rendition of “Landslide” before Ruthie sealed the night with a powerful reminder of the importance of finding the good in our story and re-crafting our narrative. If the first day’s spirit was one of magic, then the second day was a combustion of vulnerability and connection on a level I never expected.

The third day began with hot yoga, an energizing breakfast and a focus on beauty and joy. In the loveliest mashup of “Florals + Story,” Bonnie Kate shared her courageous story and her conviction in choosing joy, always, as she led us through a succulent/floral crown workshop. There is just something about getting your hands dirty that grounds the heart.

Just like that, we were ready for a photography workshop with Megan Cencula-Tutt, who reminded us of the connective power of the lens and the essence of truly seeing, before cutting us loose around the neighborhood to capture each other’s portraits. With our new photos (and some newfound confidence) in tow, we had the opportunity to explore Nashville for the remainder of the afternoon, which was a treat in itself and another unforgettable shared experience with new friends.

That evening, we all became too painfully aware that this would be our last dinner together, and the conversation became one of complete gratitude, with all of us sharing something about each other around the table.  There were laughs and tears and hugs – in many ways, it felt like the end of a really amazing summer camp in the most profound way. We also soaked up Jillian Chapman’s live music by the fireplace.

Later, Kara captivated all of us with her immense knowledge on “The Language of Self,” as we explored personality types before capping off the night with a full-blown dance party that had us all jiving and laughing way past midnight.

On our last morning, after breakfast, Sarah led us through the importance of creating our personal mission statements and finding empowerment in overcoming personal obstacles during a casual, yet poignant, conversation about stripping the power of failure from our lives – a bold send-off message for all of us. Just before lunch, as we all said our goodbyes, the connections made over the long weekend were palpable. I think I speak for everyone in this group when I say that we all walked away with a deep sense of belonging and purpose.

This Darling Creative Retreat was an undeniable testament to what happens when women allow themselves to share, open up, look within, connect, get their hands dirty, play with wildflowers and explore not just their surroundings but their stories. The power of story – what a gift it has been.

I will forever be grateful to Darling, Sarah, Kara and Ruthie for the lovely space they so thoughtfully created, and to the tribe of strangers who, in this same season, dared to unearth their stories – each unique and beautiful – and simply showed up.