The Marriage Retreat this year was much different than last year in many good ways. Some of this is funny, some is poetic, and some is spiritual, because, well, that’s the point of the retreat.
I packed for the retreat the night before, and Hubbin has repeatedly asked me not to pack for him, so whatever, I didn’t. I packed most of what I could the night before, because I had to work the next day an hour in the opposite direction of the already 90 minute away location. I worked, got off a bit early, grabbed a few things from home, and set on my way.
Hubbin was already in The Middle of Nowhere, where the retreat was, so I met him (and our table group) at a restaurant close by. We ate and arrived at the retreat, which is a motel-type conference center that is about 50 miles past any civilization that you would be comfortable stopping at. No television, no cell service, just…y’all. It’s stunningly beautiful there, though, and they have this phenomenal Chef named Cody that makes THE BEST food ever.
The poetic part comes where I realized that at the last retreat, it became apparent that when I came home, I was going to have to quit my job. And this retreat started at the end of my first week of my new job. Talk about full circle; we realized how good God had been to us through this time, and it made it all the sweeter. Surrounded by the friends who had become family in such a short time, nestled in the woods with no communication to the outside world, we basked in the glory of His works.
And all was wonderful…until later that night.
Hubbin asked me where the shampoo was. Oops…home, I suppose.
Then where the conditioner was. Oops again.
Then I looked for any toiletries; I’d forgotten them ALL. No soap, no shampoo or conditioner, half my outfits, no contact solution or glasses (if my optometrist reads this he will kill me), no toothbrush. This “close” weekend was looking…not so close.
Luckily, I don’t pack for Hubbin (now we see why), so he had a toothbrush. The room came with a bar of soap; nothing else. I screamed in horror when Hubbin said I’d need to wash my hair with the bar soap.
UM, I’M SORRY HAVE WE MET?! I DO NOT WASH MY HAIR WITH CHEAP BAR SOAP AND CAN YOU EVEN DO THAT ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! (I don’t waste time on punctuation when I am horrified, y’all)
That night we talked for a long time, mostly because the WiFi didn’t reach our room and there was no television, but also because there was a lot to talk about; how life had changed from the last time we were there, and how last time when we had arrived (toiletries in tow), we had no idea how our lives would change.
And the next morning, I got up and whimpered when Hubbin confirmed that toiletries were limited to bar soap, and I begrudgingly got into the shower and washed my hair with it. It worked, but when I got out, I swear it looked like I’d stuck my finger in a light socket. I grabbed for my brush.
BUT IT WAS AT HOME. WITH THE REST OF ALL MY STUFF. I did bring my hair dryer and a hot air brush (insert eye roll), and our lovely friends/next door neighbors had a brush I could borrow. Hubbin lovingly lent me his toothbrush, but I surmise it was more for his own comfort than as an act of service for me.
After some team building exercises that included me dancing blindfolded up a hill of mulch in my Guess riding boots, it was free time. And Hubbin’s idea of free time is different from mine. My idea of free time on a kid-free weekend includes a NAP. Hubbin? Included hiking. Up here.
I was annoyed and not feeling well, but obliged mostly because I would have pretty much been the only one that didn’t go and that’s not very nice. And I kid you not, it was a near 70 degree hike the entire time. I’m not sure how far, but I assume at least 450 miles each way.
I climbed and climbed, and said there wasn’t a single, solitary view that would be worth this, we live near the fricking Peaks of Otter for the love, WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO THIS, IT’S PRETTY WHERE WE LIVE!
And then, we hung a right and saw this:
It was stunning; breathtaking. I gasped at the sight, and it made the entire hike worth it (even falling three times on the way down). It was a wonderful experience with Hubbin; through the last few months, we have seen and felt the beauty and glory of God, but this was just a stunning reminder; a poignant display of how far we had come. How we had overcome obstacles that had once seemed impossible, to reach the beauty that God had waiting for us. The hike was not just a hike, but a symbol of the last six months for us. We conquered.
That wasn’t the only time we learned not only how far we had come, but how much more work we had to do; things we hadn’t quite sorted through as well as we thought but had to face, plans for how we would show our daughters what God wants for marriage, and how by taking the time for us, we can do that.
More than anything, I learned that there isn’t a single solitary bad decision I can make that God can’t use to glorify Him, including my recent fall off the non-smoking wagon (I know, don’t even start, it’s ridiculous). Through that, I bonded with another wife that smoked that I otherwise may not have even talked to. And even within the last two weeks, she’s made a major impact in my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful to Him.
It also allowed me to finally put them back down where they belong. I had made another poor decision, and God used that to glorify Him in a way I would have never seen coming. And because of that, I was able to say “Last time we were here, we left a lot of junk here. This time, I’m leaving this here.”
Not that quitting again hasn’t been insanely difficult, or that I haven’t slipped. Starting a new job and quitting smoking are not good together, and struggle I have, don’t get me wrong. But I know that I have overcome much worse, much more destructive strongholds, and for that, I am grateful for the grace that only God provides.
And that’s the Fall Marriage Retreat.