Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
Kris Camealy - Image (c) Lancia E. Smith
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Interview with Kris Camealy – Founder of Refine {the Retreat}

April 20, 2019

Lancia E. Smith

Kris Camealy plays many roles but among them she is a writer, teacher, founder and chief visionary for a gathering of women at a retreat called Refine. I know Kris through a circuitous network of friends and she is one of the most precious people in the world to me. If ever I met someone who bears the marks of the Kingdom of Heaven, it is Kris. Thoughtful, diligent, kind, gregarious, and utterly delightful, Kris wears a mantle of joy like no one else I know. It is my joy to share this interview with you. 


LES: Kris, what, from your perspective, makes Refine {the retreat}, well, Refine?  What is any different about this particular gathering than dozens of other beautiful retreats across the country?

KC: Refine is a soul exhale, a retreat in the truest sense of the word. When I think about Refine, my first thought is always its origin, which was ultimately, an act of (somewhat reluctant) obedience. I’ve been to more conferences than I have retreats, so I can’t make a fair comparison, but I know that I haven’t been to anything like Refine, before Refine. 😉 When I hear from the women who have attended Refine, they tell me they’ve been to retreats, but not like this one. They often cite the real space that is afforded during Refine for prayer and contemplation. They tell me that the relaxed atmosphere is immediately disarming. The incorporation of the artistic components, as tools for prayer, are deeply impactful on the women who attend. What feels different about Refine is the gentle yet persistent presence of the Lord during our weekend. Refine is often referred to as a “thin place”, and if you’ve ever experienced that liminal space where it feels as if heaven is actually touching earth, then you know that language feels too flimsy to accurately describe what it is to experience Refine.

LES: How did you happen to settle on Our Lady of the Pines as a location?

KC: The first year that I hosted Refine, Our Lady of the Pines was booked and had no availability for 2 years. I hosted the first Refine at a lodge in a state park here in Ohio. The next year, I didn’t host Refine. That first year was so deeply impactful, I knew that there was no way I’d do it again unless I felt like God was asking me to. In my mind, Refine was never supposed to be a “thing”. I never set out to build anything with it. It was purely a response to what I felt like God had asked me to do. Fast-forward a year, and people kept asking me when I was going to host Refine again. Refine came up so much in different conversations with people, that it dawned on me that perhaps all of these inquiries were nudges from the Holy Spirit. I’d actually forgotten about Our Lady of the Pines, until my friend, Christine came back from a retreat hosted there by her church, and told me that I NEEDED to see this place. A couple of weeks later, I drove out there to see it, and immediately knew that it was the space I’d been dreaming about.  

LES: Is there a story behind how it Refine was named? Has it lived up to that?

KC: Refine was born out of a string of small, painful acts of obedience. Before the retreat was ever conceived, I had been living through an intensive personal refining season in my faith. In that particular season, I was both singed and healed at the same time. God had leveled me in the hardest, most severely merciful of ways, and the scriptures referencing God’s refining fire had been my dearest companions during that season of soul-purging. When I came to the other side of that season, I knew that the refining work I had personally experienced was not a unique experience, but an invitation for all of God’s people. I understood the purpose of allowing God to refine us because I knew that I was absolutely changed by the searing of that season. I felt like God was asking me to invite others into this same place of willingness to be refined by His love. The name, Refine, was literally the only one that came to mind. I can’t imagine naming it anything else. It is a direct tie to its origin, Refine is the invitation to a deeper intimacy with our Creator.   

LES: Each year you have added new elements and enrichments to the Refine experience.  One of the beautiful new elements of Refine this year has been the creation of the Refine Journal. What inspired that and what are your hopes for it in the coming years?

KC: Refine is an organic thing—it is always changing a little bit, as the vision continues to be “refined”. This is one of the most enjoyable pieces of putting Refine together each year—I don’t know exactly what each year will look like until I pray through it, and consider the specific needs of the women attending that year. The artistic aspect of Refine, (the art room), has been an important element of Refine. Offering guided worship has also always been an important element of the Refine weekend. We’ve added poetry sessions, as well as workshops specific to writers. Private appointments for Spiritual Direction have also been added.

The Refine Journal is the newest element of Refine, and this was born out of both need and desire. The need, is that there are women every year who ask about scholarship funding for Refine. The very first year that I hosted, I received a donation from a fellow author, who sponsored the full fee for one woman to attend Refine. I realized then, that scholarships would be a helpful offering, if I could find the funding. Of course, finding the funds for that is not easy…the desire piece, was that at Refine, I have the privilege of seeing what incredible talent and gifting exists within the women who attend the retreat. They are a beautifully creative community! I wanted to showcase their art somehow, to make a space for others to see what I get to see every year. The desire to spotlight their work, and the need for scholarship funding came together to become the Refine Journal, which is a collection of art, photography, poetry, interviews, and essays from within the Refine community. All proceeds from the sale of the journal are now, the scholarship fund. The first year of putting the journal together was a learning year. Going forward, I have many more ideas and hopes for what it could be, as it is refined. (Wink).

Refined Women

LES: What kind of women are drawn to Refine? We seem to be an unusual lot. Who is Refine actually for?

KC: We are an interesting bunch, aren’t we? I think the women who are drawn to Refine are looking for something. I think they are spiritually hungry, curious, and tender. The women who gravitate towards this space are creative and passionate and generous. Refine draws a lot of Enneagram type 4’s, though certainly not only 4’s. Refine is intended to be for every woman who feels led to this community—whether they’d call themselves creative or not. I get messages from women all of the time who say, “I’m not an artist or a writer, but I feel like I should be at Refine,” and my answer is always, “Yes!—then you should be here!” There really is room for every woman—it is not just for people who call themselves an artist or a writer. There are no prerequisites at Refine.

LES: The theme for 2020’s Refine is Pilgrimage. How do you see that theme working in the lives of the women who will be attending Refine 2020?

KC: I am so excited about this theme, because Refine has always been a personal pilgrimage for me. The women who have come to Refine in the past have experienced this as well. It is a fitting theme as we look forward to celebrating Refine’s 5th year. One of the interesting aspects of Refine is that almost no one attends only once. Our return rate is high. As I look at the registrations already rolling in for 2020, I see women intent on coming back in part, because of the theme of Pilgrimage. I see them willingly taking the next step of their journey with God. A Pilgrimage is a refining process. Along the way, we come face to face with ourselves, and with God and if we surrender to it, we are changed. We do not return as we have come. I don’t know what that looks like for each of these women, except to say that, I see the Holy Spirit guiding us all back to share in the feast after the journey of these next several months. I can’t wait to hear the stories of the women who make their way to Refine in 2020.

Roots and Fruit

LES: What sings to you in your depths, Kris, about Refine? Why does hosting this event and nurturing it all year long pose such a persistent passion for you? What has been your greatest joy in creating and facilitating Refine?

KC: Refine brings me deep joy because I have the privilege of watching God move up close. The presence of the Lord around this event is so palpable, that I struggle to articulate how deeply it moves me. I am passionate about Refine because I know how profound it is to be transformed by the relentless, refining love of the Father. I want more than anything, for others to “taste and see that the Lord is good”, in the same ways I have enjoyed His goodness. It makes me weep to think about the pleasure and promises of God fulfilled in this weekend. God touches every woman who attends Refine, even those skeptical and fearful of the weekend. God is so generous, so tender, so kindly persistent in wooing us. That sings to me. The grace of God’s mercy is too sweet to resist. My greatest joy in facilitating Refine is bearing witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the women who attend. I get to see lives literally changed. It’s astounding and deeply humbling to behold.

LES: How has work you do with Refine influenced the flavour of your home life?

KC: The work of Refine is challenging. There are numerous moving parts that no one sees, that all have to work in order to make this weekend what it is. Balancing the work and my responsibilities at home can be difficult in certain seasons. The older my children grow, the more I am trying to include them in the work around Refine. They are coming to understand its importance, and because the work fulfills me, I think I serve my family better emotionally speaking. I have made a conscious effort to include the artistic elements of Refine in my home, particularly as it relates to my children. They’ve been introduced to art journaling, because of Refine. My husband is generous and plays a huge roll in both supporting me in my work, as well as helping me navigate the technical aspects of building and maintaining Refine.

LES: Has shepherding Refine changed you at all over the years in ways you would not have changed without it? Does all obedience produce this effect or is there something unique to Refine that does this in you?

KC: I believe that shepherding Refine has changed me. Whether or not I would have experienced that change by another way, I can’t say. This is a place I wrestle with as it relates to the sovereignty of God. I believe that if we are prayerfully seeking the Lord’s will, we will not miss what He has for us. I believe that when we prayerfully pursue Him, when we plant ourselves in His Word, He leads us along the way that we should go. We are ultimately changed by our relationship with God. We can’t help it. His love is transformative. I do believe the changes are a result of obedience. I only know what I have experienced, and that is that Refine (for me specifically) has affected every aspect of who I am and what my faith looks like. Might God have chosen another way—perhaps. However it might have unfolded, I know the importance of obedience. I know the impact it has. I have lived countless seasons of disobedience, and eaten the sour fruit of that toil. I have some suspicions about why God specifically called me to Refine, but I’m still praying through that, and even so, His “why” doesn’t matter as much as my response to His invitation does. My obedience in the work of Refine is a response to God’s love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15)”. I love God, and so I cannot refuse Him. I don’t want to refuse Him.  

LES:  What is your deep satisfaction in stewarding and managing Refine? What are points of sacrifice for you in this effort? Do you ever regret what it costs you to do this?

KC: I always say that the path to Refine, or, the Pilgrimage to get to the weekend is where I walk most intimately with the Lord. I have to. I cannot—nor should I—build the retreat apart from Him. For me, the deepest satisfaction of stewarding Refine is this intimacy that I experience as I walk with the Lord in the preparation. But there is a shadow side to the intimacy. The road to Refine isn’t all mountain top experience. There are many valleys that must be crossed before I cross the threshold of the retreat. I lose sleep. I battle fear and doubt. Often times, I wrestle uncomfortably with God and with myself. The managing of Refine is always refining me. It’s lonely, private work and there are aspects of it that must remain private. Leadership is lonely. The financial risk associated with something on this scale is a heavy burden. I don’t regret the cost (emotional, spiritual or financial), but I know that I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t feel absolutely called to it. Refine is not a hobby. It is purely an act of trembling obedience. The satisfaction I most savor, is when we gather both at the beginning and end of the retreat, and I can visibly see the work of the Holy Spirit in the faces of the women. I know what they looked like when they entered that first afternoon, and I see how they leave to go home—utterly changed. In the work of Refine I feel what Olympic gold medalist, Eric Liddell said he felt when he ran, the “Lords pleasure.”

Fingerprints and Faithfulness

LES: How do you mark God’s fingerprints on Refine? How has He proved Himself faithful in this?

KC: When God whispered the idea for the first Refine to me, I knew less than nothing about planning a public event. I was so afraid, and so doubtful through every step of that process, that I was literally sick to my stomach for weeks at a time. But every perceived and real obstacle I faced in the process, God overcame in such stunning ways that I couldn’t help but see His fingerprints on it. From bigger things like providing unexpected scholarship donations, to providing enough coffee (free of charge!), to directing Refine back to The Pines, to providential phone calls that have come in spaces where there is no cell coverage, to softening hearts in ways that only God can do, it continues to be this way with Refine. God meets every single need that comes up around this event, every time. I always know that there is no part of Refine that hasn’t first passed through God’s hands. It’s stunning, actually. I am constantly slack-jawed at the ways God meets every need—above and beyond. His generosity around Refine, and the women who attend absolutely astounds. I keep a record of His acts in my journal. It is important for me to make note because even with His faithfulness, I will forget. I will fret and doubt, and the record helps set me straight. He is faithful beyond my imagination.  

LES: Because the numbers of attendees are limited by virtue of what is available at Our Lady of the Pines, Refine cannot grow larger each year in terms of larger gatherings with an increasing return of alumni. How then do you mark growth in the Refine community, knowing that the boundaries are defined by those limits each year?

KC: I am grateful for the limitation of the physical space of The Pines. I think it would be tempting to expand because the desire to attend is growing. But to make Refine bigger, would mean a loss of the intimacy of a smaller gathering, and that’s not a worthwhile sacrifice. The growth is something I am having to prayerfully navigate, so that women who long to attend, can find their way to Refine. There has been talk between myself and my team of potentially hosting two events a year, but I am still praying through that. I don’t know yet how I will navigate this, but I trust that the Lord will make it clear in time.

Future Forward

LES: What is your vision then for Refine itself going forward?

KC: I see Refine continuing to evolve as it grows. I want to hold to the core vision, which is to make space for creative women to be refined, revived, renewed, rested and restored, but what that will look like each year I am sure will vary. Refine is always shaped according to the specific women who register, which means that it’s never the same thing twice. This is important to me, because I think it’s how God deals with us—specifically, intentionally, and never from a worn-out playbook of repeat processes. God is always doing a new thing, and my vision for Refine aligns with this idea.

LES: What do you long for the legacy of Refine to be? Is there a word you would want people to associate with Refine (besides the obvious, of course, of Refine itself)?

KC: My prayer is that the legacy of Refine would be one of hope and restoration of God’s women. So many women who attend Refine leave healed in one way or another. The ripples that must go out from 40 women being restored and renewed in their faith and in spirit are immeasurable, and that in some way, is the legacy of Refine. The work God does there touches far more than the women who attend. These women go back to their communities and live into what God has done for them, and others are impacted. I think the word I’d love to see most associated with Refine, besides refine, is hope. 1 Peter 1:3 describes Jesus as our living hope, with this hope, all things are possible. Again, and again, Refine proves to be a space where all things are possible. Of all of the things Refine continues to be, it is a place where Hope reigns. 


Three books recommendations for Pilgrimage :
A Long Obedience In The Same Direction (Eugene Peterson)
Jaybercrow (Wendell Berry)
Absolute Surrender & Other Addresses (Andrew Murray)
Three practices to deepen listening:
• Regular and extended fasts from social media/news/noise
• Intentional, private prayer time, to be spent completely alone.
• Taking regular retreat. (Quarterly or yearly—whatever you can manage)

The images of Our Lady of the Pines, Cups, and Feast are courtesy of Kris Camealy. 

Images of Kris Camealy, Christa Wells, Refiner’s Rose, Praying, Refine Shell, Refine Women are (c) Lancia E. Smith and used with glad permission for The Cultivating Project and Refine {the Retreat}.

Kris is offering Cultivating readers a 10% discount to attend Refine 2020!

The code is CULTIVATING2020.

Reserve your room here!


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