Diary of a Retreatant: The Horses

*This is the fifth post about my experience at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, on July 22-24. Links to the first four posts are below.

Diary of a Retreatant: Showing Up
Diary of a Retreatant: Hike to the Statues
Diary of a Retreatant: Saturday Morning Sunrise
Diary of a Retreatant: Father Carlos

This one is long.

After lunch on Saturday, Annette and I walked over to the visitor’s center and gift shop to poke around and get some sunshine our faces. We talked a bit, which felt nice, and afterward parted ways again. I went back to the library and wrote until 4:30 p.m., until my rear end was sore and I was tired of being indoors.

At first I thought I’d go for a run, but then the thought of wearing my running shorts (emphasis on short) made me feel insecure, like there would be just too much leg showing around so much modesty. Instead I went for a quick walk in what I was wearing.

I have no pictures from this walk because I took nothing with me. The woods across from the Abbey are vast with lots of overgrown foliage, and the paths are minimally maintained. About 15 minutes into the walk, I felt vulnerable to all the things I could not see, and thought, “No, this isn’t wise,” so I turned around and went back. I showered, went to Vespers at 5:30, then supper at 6 p.m. – Kielbasa, sauerkraut, broccoli and cheese soup, salad, fruit.

That night, Annette and I sat in the talking dining room. We swapped stories about what we’d done that day and I told her all about Father Carlos. We laughed and joked, which felt so good after being quiet for two days.

A funny thing though – after we were done, I was ready to go back to the silence. I missed it. I wanted to return to my purpose of being there, which was to finish my book. So I grabbed my laptop again and went back to the library until the WIFI turned off at 9:30.

Again, back in bed for the night, I couldn’t rest. What a cruel reality it was to learn that peace of mind is not something that can be absorbed simply be breathing in the same air as people who possess it. I felt calm, yes, but not at peace. As soon as the lights were off, I sorted through all the conflicting emotions of my writing career – 22 years in journalism, 0 years as a published author. It matters, it doesn’t matter. Write for myself, write for the literary agent. I know what’s true: I should write for myself. But what am I to do with the dream of being published? Why have these stories come to me if I’m to do nothing with them? 

Somewhere in between these thoughts, I fell asleep.

Lauds was at 6:45 a.m., then breakfast at 7:15. Oatmeal again. Back in my room, I considered going back to sleep. You could do it, I challenged myself. You can go right back to sleep. You have all day to write.

So I laid down. Immediately I poured over the last chapter in my mind, knowing I had just a little way to go until I could be completely done with the first draft. I thought of a specific character, and suddenly realized, She has more to say.

I jumped out of bed, grabbed my laptop, and went back to the library.

At 10 a.m., Sunday, July 24, I sat at a table in the library, Annette just a few chairs away, and I typed the last sentence. I finished. It was done. Editing was next, but still.

The second novel was done.

My body vibrated as I sat there, eyes darting around the room. Here I am in a silent library, in a silent retreat center, in a silent monastery, and all I want to do is scream.

I quickly ran back to my room and pulled out my cell phone, breaking a rule I’d made for myself. I texted Chuck that I’d finished the book but could not scream – obviously! – so, here you go “AAHHHHHHHHH!”

He replied that it was exciting, but it wasn’t the same as hearing his voice, as hearing my voice tell his voice that I’d reached my goal.

I laid down on the bed, nerve endings on fire, fidgeting. Mass was at 10:20. I could go, but I could also meet God in the woods. I could take my camera (and my phone for safety) and I could burn my energy there. So that’s what I did.



Frederics Lake

Spider haven

I walked and smiled and took photos. I glanced at the map here and there so I knew whereabouts I was. I felt glorious, free, like I could run a marathon. Silently, I thanked God, I thanked Him over and over again for the weekend. I thought about my characters and how flawed and lovely they all were. I thanked God again.

And then, around the bend, out of nowhere, I saw the horses.

Horses by surprise

Friends, can we just take a moment here? There are no advertised horseback riding stables in Trappist, or New Haven, the closest city to the monastery. There is no horseback riding at the Abbey. There was no information at the retreat center about this being an option.


But then again, I did.

Did you know that I’ve been researching horses and competitive riding since the start of last year? Did you that I went to Franklin, Tennessee, in March 2015 to interview a farrier and spend time at a stable? Did you know that horses are a foundational part to the background of my book?

When I saw these horses and the strangers that were riding them, I knew they were there for me. I felt that they were there for me. 

My gift from God

As soon as they passed, I broke down and cried. There, in the middle of the woods, not 30 minutes after finishing the book, God saw fit to reach down into my tiny world and say, “I see you, and I love you.”

As silently as possible, I wept.

Sunshine through the trees

I kept walking but I no longer watched my direction. I took turns and curves and kept crying. HOW AM I THIS LOVED? I could not process it.


An hour later, I was still walking through the woods. I was still in a state of euphoric gratitude that I could not manufacture on my own.

St. Enochs stone house

The Hermitage

I checked my phone – it was nearing noon. I’d been walking for nearly two hours. Lunch would be served at 12:30, and I was a pool of sweat. If I didn’t get back in time to eat, so be it. I still had protein bars.

The walk home

By 12:10, the Abbey came into view. We would be leaving in several hours, but in that moment, I could have stayed forever.

The Abbey from the road



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