Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Our 2020 Trip to Tennessee

In the past, I've talked a little bit here and there about the Domestic Church, a Catholic lay movement from Poland. As part of our involvement with the Domestic Church, my husband and I took our kids on a weeklong family retreat (called an Oasis retreat) in Summer 2019. Due to our schedule, we knew that we'd be unable to attend a retreat in Summer 2020, and then the pandemic hit-so most retreats were cancelled. 


Another Domestic Church Oasis retreat was scheduled for the week of Thanksgiving 2020. It would be on the smaller side and have certain restrictions, but it would happen. We signed up, and then waited. The pandemic raged on, our lives continued in an unpredictable manner, and I told people that I honestly didn't think we'd actually get to attend retreat until we were there. This is 2020! Everything gets cancelled! The week we were supposed to leave, New Mexico closed down. I kept checking for updates in Arkansas (which we would drive through) and Tennessee. They both were still open. The retreat was still happening. We hoped, we prayed, and I tried not to panic. The day before we were supposed to leave, I began throwing clothes into bags. Would we actually get to go? I felt like Indiana Jones, racing to leave a room as the door slid down. We just needed to make it to Tennessee. Then, the state could close down. But not until we were safely in Tennessee, at the camp.

My husband recently discovered these at a local Korean grocery store.
They are SO GOOD. High in protein, not too sweet, and a perfect mix 
of peanuts and sesame seeds. They are now our go-to car snack. 

The Friday before Thanksgiving, we big our neighbors farewell and piled into the minivan. We drove all morning, stopping for a delicious lunch of shrimp quesadillas at a cute Mexican restaurant in Arkansas that my husband had discovered. Then, we pushed on, finally reaching Memphis, TN in the evening. The relief I felt was tremendous.  

We stopped for dinner at Casablanca, a delightful Mediterranean restaurant. I sipped hot cups of tea (it was made from ginger, sage, mint, and honey--SO GOOD!) and ate warm moussaka. We were the only customers in the restaurant, and it was nice to eat delicious food and let our kids walk around as they looked at the artwork on the walls. 

In the words of my husband, "It's like a Mediterranean stew!" 

The next morning, we attended a beautiful morning Mass and then made our way to downtown Memphis. When my husband and I studied abroad for a semester as college students (before we were married), we loved coming across cool Catholic sites--relics of saints, shrines, Eucharistic miracle sites, that kind of thing. As we we planned this short visit to Memphis, I began researching to see if there was a cool Catholic site to visit. Lo and behold, it is home to the National Shrine of St. Martin de Porres. The only problem was that the shrine was not scheduled to be open during our time in Memphis. Thankfully, the priest who runs the shrine graciously agreed to open it for us so we could make a brief visit.

That kind, elderly Dominican priest welcomed us into the tiny shrine and spoke about St. Martin de Porres, and showed us the different elements of the shrine: the gorgeous artwork, the first class relic of St. Martin, the altar and confessional. I have never had a particular devotion to St. Martin de Porres (though I did read a kids' book on him when I was young), but I was deeply moved by our short visit to this shrine. I stood before his relic, praying, asking his intercession for different prayer requests. I gazed upon a statue of St. Martin and soaked in the peace of this holy place. We spent less than an hour there, but it was a true highlight of our trip. 

When we left the shrine, we headed to Elmwood Cemetery, which is also in downtown Memphis. As we drove down the road to the cemetery, the landscape started looking very sketchy: abandoned buildings, trash on the sidewalks, that kind of thing. We were listening to music from my husband's phone, and suddenly music from Star Wars Rogue Squadron started playing, adding to the eerie atmosphere. All of a sudden, the road went over a bridge and we were in a huge cemetery. And it was beautiful. 

Our young boys scampered down the path as my husband and I walked among the crunchy leaves, under the sweep of Southern Magnolia trees. Strains of bagpipe music floated across the crisp air, and in the distance, we could hear a train rumbling down tracks. Especially since it was the month of November, we made sure to slow our steps and pray for the souls of those who have died. 

We were fascinated by all of the graves that looked like little bathtubs-we
finally saw this area and realized that the bathtub-like
parts were supposed to be used for growing flowers! 

It was a lovely way to spend the morning. 

I loved the vaults that looked like hobbit holes. 

After our fabulous time at the cemetery, we left in search of food. While some people may think us crazy for not getting barbecue (since Memphis is known for that), we were all in the mood for pancakes, so we settled on a cash-only local pancake place. The kind of place with a one-page menu, vibrant local artwork on the walls, mold in the bathrooms, and extremely inexpensive food. 

 I was the only one at the table who managed to eat a whole plate of
pancakes-not sure what that says about me haha!

Our tummies full, we finally set out on the final stretch of our journey. Supposedly, the trip from Memphis to the retreat center was only three hours, but it felt long, and I'm not entirely sure why. Other people on the retreat said a similar thing. But, in the late afternoon, we finally made it! 

The view from our front porch!

The next week was spent in a wonderfully peaceful rhythm: Morning Prayer, breakfast, a formation session for adults (which included a short talk as well as a group discussion about church documents concerning marriage, family life, and/or prayer), Couple Dialogue, and small group all filled the morning. 

A tumbledown, tiny chapel in the woods at the retreat center/camp. 

Then, we gathered with our kids for Mass at the outdoor chapel and lunch, followed by a long stretch of "family time" in the afternoon. Since the toddler very much needed a nap each day, "family time" usually meant that my husband and the four-year-old went fishing together, the two-year-old napped in the cabin, and I sat on the front porch of the cabin with the baby, nursing her and reading a book. It was really peaceful, and just fabulous. 

In the late afternoon, the adults had another session to pray a decade of the Rosary, learn about a different church or basilica (and discuss what we can learn about marriage from it), and pray Evening Prayer + Office of Readings. Then, we'd rejoin our kids for dinner and after that, on most nights, we'd gather in the rec center to hear a short vocation story talk, play, and roast marshmallows. 

One day, the toddler got up from nap extra-early,
so we went on a short family hike together.
Even though the toddler was VERY grumpy (he was starting to 
get a bad cold, plus he was over-tired), it was still nice! 

A common refrain among the attendees was that this retreat was a true oasis--a restful, peaceful break that we all desperately needed. A chance to reconnect with God, our spouses, and each other. It was a tremendous gift and blessing that we were able to attend. While the week following the retreat was hard, a friend pointed out to me that "this must mean the retreat was really good." And it was. We saw some beautiful fruits in our marriage and family during that week, and I am excited to see what God continues to do going forward! 

Our trip to Tennessee is certainly a highlight of 2020. On the deeper spiritual level, but also on the more superficial "fun" level. I had never been to Tennessee, and I really enjoyed our short time in Memphis. I would love to go back someday, especially since there were places we would have loved to see if we had time!  It was a great way to end the liturgical year and recharge as we entered into the season of Advent :) 


  1. What a beautiful experience for your family! I am so happy that you were able to have a retreat during this crazy year!

    1. Thanks for sharing in our joy, Lianna! We were all very grateful to the organizers for pushing through many obstacles to make the retreat happen. God is so good :)

  2. That really does sound like an "oasis" experience! What a great sounding movement and looks like a beautiful location. So glad it worked out for you!