Two arrows facing each other on an old, carved-up set of doors. As I snapped the photo, I thought it was a fitting image for the weekend: a marriage retreat. Like the arrows, we were focusing on each other. We had our heads together, thinking about our future as empty nesters, and our hearts together, too, wanting our marriage to be all that it can be.
In part one of this post, I talked about why we almost didn't go to the marriage retreat. It was a question of time. (Isn't it always?) We're right in the middle of one of the busiest times in the life of a family: our high school senior is graduating in a few weeks. But the marriage retreat was clearly the best place for us to be last weekend.
In this post, I'm going to do something a little different. As always, I'll share glimpses of the beauty that I saw and experienced, but I'll also share some of what I learned in the hopes that it will help you, too. In addition, I'll list a few things I'm planning to put into practice right away.
The retreat was sponsored by Family First, a nonprofit that helps people love their families well, and WinShape Marriage. WinShape's retreat center, just beyond the Berry College campus in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, provides the perfect backdrop for a marriage retreat. Formerly part of an old dairy farm, pristine white brick buildings with red tile roofs offer comfortable, inviting spaces to relax and reconnect.
The natural, peaceful setting is filled with beauty, with trails to hike and sites to see. We explored the grounds during free time Saturday afternoon.
The Old Mill Wheel, built in 1930, is one of the largest operational, wooden overshot waterwheels (meaning, the water flows onto the wheel from above) in existence. At 42 feet in diameter, it reminds me of a ferris wheel. You can get a sense of its size by looking at the door in the stone building on the left. (We happened upon another old waterwheel at a waterfall a few weeks ago if you'd like to check that out.)
After seeing the Old Mill and listening to the sound of the stream, we walked over to Swan Lake where the water was tranquil and a swan glided by just in time. I love enjoying the beauty around us, and sharing it with my husband is one of my favorite things to do together.
Around the corner and up the road, we found this: a curvy path leading up a grassy hill to the beautiful Frost Chapel.
This view made me ask myself: What path are we on in our marriage? Where does it lead?
Those are good questions for any married couple to ask at anytime, but they are top of mind for us and our marriage right now.
So, here are three things I learned at the marriage retreat that I can put into practice right away:
1. Speaker and best-selling author Gary Thomas gave us a new vision for what marriage could be. He taught about the topic of his latest book, Cherish. Traditional wedding vows include the phrase "to love and to cherish" but few people spend much time thinking about what cherish is. Gary says it means to "hold our spouse dear" by "protecting them, treating them with tenderness, nurturing them, going out of our way to indulge them (at least occasionally)." When we cultivate an attitude and a habit of cherishing our spouse, we find ways to showcase them because we want others to see their worth, too.
Most of us aren't good at cherishing. It requires humility and intention. We may feel that our spouse doesn't deserve it, and the feeling might be mutual. Or maybe we want the spotlight for ourselves. But to transform our marriage, deepen our joy and fulfillment, and make it more of what God designed it to be, Gary encourages us to start cherishing our spouse and see what happens.
Mart appreciates when I do things for him, so one way I'm going to cherish him is to be more prompt to do those things rather than sometimes putting them off.
2. Benjamin and Kirsten Watson were our second speakers. Benjamin plays football for the New Orleans Saints, but he and Kirsten don't let football take over their lives. Their focus is on God first, then their marriage, then their family of five children. They told us about an image that sums up marriage to them: a triangle, with God at the top and the husband and wife on each corner at the bottom. When each spouse is moving closer to God, they automatically are growing closer to each other.
So, I am going to continue growing as a follower of Jesus and supporting Mart in doing the same.
3. Marriage therapist Shawn Stoever told us that vision is intentionally taking your marriage where you want it to go. "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). Shawn gave us a long list of words from which to choose the core values of our marriage, words like authenticity, harmony, fun, generosity, service, respect, trust, adventure. Mart and I each chose several words that we want to use to both describe and inspire our marriage.
I'm going to schedule a time with him in June (after graduation!) to sit down and talk more about our core values and come up with a vision statement for us. (As a brand strategist, he loves things like core values and vision statements, so I'll earn extra points for that. Ha!)
And a bonus #4: Mark Merrill, founder of Family First who sponsored the retreat, shared a profound quote from Leo Tolstoy that quickly became my new favorite: "Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself." Mark pointed out that if we want to make our marriages the best they can be, we each have to be willing to change ourselves.
I have to be willing. And as someone whose first marriage ended, I will do whatever it takes to make this one truly last forever.
Regardless of where you are in your marriage, let me encourage you to find and attend a marriage retreat like this one. Check out WinShape Marriage, for example; they have several scheduled for this year. It will be well worth your time.
If you are struggling or feeling discouraged in your marriage, I am not a counselor, but I am a person who takes prayer seriously, and I'd be honored to pray for you. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be assured that I will keep your request confidential.
Thank you, again, to Family First and WinShape Marriage for a weekend filled with beauty--from the setting to the messages to the people we met and the time we had together. We absolutely loved it. Thank you.
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