Sister Care in Ontario, Oct. 3-4, 2014

By Martha Smith Good, New Hamburg, Ontario

In her opening remarks, Rhoda Shenk Keener, co-leader, said her daughter asked her to describe Sister Care. Rhoda responded, “Sister Care is helping women find their own healing so they can help others find their healing.”  With this theme as the foundation for the retreat, Rhoda and Carolyn Holderread Heggen, taught women how to find healing for emotional, physical, psychological and sexual abuse wounds.  Four themes became foundational for input and discussion.

“Claiming our identity as God’s Beloved daughters,” means “we honor all of who we are.” The Samaritan woman at the well discovered her own worth through her encounter with Jesus.  Jesus, in being truthful about her life, removes the mask behind which she hides. He in turn is truthful with her about his identity.  A quote from the manual states, “When we have unresolved core issues and unhealed spiritual or emotional wounds, it takes tremendous energy to keep them contained and suppressed as we go about our daily living…..Unhealed parts of our story keep us from being an effective healing presence for others.”

“Caring for Self and Others,” examined how the nurturing and care giving nature of women can lead to exhaustion unless appropriate boundaries are maintained. Women tend to see their own needs as secondary and often give without “refueling.”  We were encouraged to enlarge circles of care to avoid burnout and learn how to set appropriate boundaries.

“Compassionate Listening” to the the wounds of others is a restorative power enabling the wounded to find healing. Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”  This means listening without judging. It is to put aside our own needs and concerns for the moment and simply “be there.”  Compassionate listening does not require saying the right words, but being a comfortable, caring presence.

“Transforming Loss and Grief” concluded the retreat. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Two women shared stories of loss and grief and how they found healing through family, friends, and their congregation.  Loss and grief can be healed, and hope restored when compassionate listeners offer support and care.  Grief and loss are journeys to be made in the company of a supportive, caring network.

A working manual was given to each participant and women were encouraged to take their experience back to women’s groups in their congregations.

The empowering element of the retreat was the vulnerability both Carolyn and Rhoda modeled throughout the retreat. Both are very skilled in “being” the material they presented.  They are both trained counsellors whose own healing has given them a heart of compassionate caring.  The combination of light hearted and serious demeanor in telling their stories was a gift.  The blessing we offered to each other as we joined in pairs, to anoint our faces with water symbolizing compassion for our own tears, and then to anoint each other with “living water” as a blessing to go forth to find healing and to offer healing was the crowning touch.  May it be so!

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