Last week, Dylan and I spent some intentional time with other Christian married couples who run a business together. While you may think we would be spending time working on business stuff, that was the LAST priority you’d find at Connect Retreat. The retreat is held at the WinShape Retreat, which used to be an old dairy farm in the heart of Berry College that gave students the opportunity to work. Now, Winshape is owned by the Chick-Fil-A dynasty and has a heart for working in GOD’s will for successful, strong marriages.
Before anyone starts to worry about Dylan and my marriage (because we’ve already gotten the “Oh no! Are y’all ok?!?” speeches), please know two things: 1) EVERY marriage has it’s faults (including being luke-warm, staying at status-quo, plateau-ing instead of going for the peak) and 2) there are STRONG people that go to the gym. They go to make themselves better and to learn how to push themselves farther from other people in the same walk of life. We chose this conference in November. We had just gotten back from the Blink Conference and were approaching our five-year wedding anniversary. As we were deciding if the Blink Conference would be something we wanted to go back to (and, yes, it’s great for photographers!), we decided that we wanted to spend time doing something bigger than our craft. We’re not the best of the best wedding photographers – FAR from it – but we know our mission with wedding photography is MORE than just documenting the day. If that WAS our end goal, then yes, go to another photography conference and learn how to be better (and we probably will at a later date because I ALWAYS want to be learning how to be better). However, our mission that calls us to photograph weddings over other specialties is to show others that marriage CAN be great. We’ve seen broken marriages (my own parents divorced when I was 5 (they did remarry each other a few years later, but that’s a whole other story)) and we see weekend after weekend the heartache split families go through being forced to see each other at their child’s wedding. Our first priority is to show others that marriage is a great thing that GOD created for us! Our mission includes creating a tangible memory in the form of photographs that couples can look back to when they hit a wall in their marriage or come to a point where they start to second guess if it’s worth it. The photographs we create, hopefully, remind them that the joy FAR outweighs the woe and that, yes, marriage IS in fact WORTH IT! We want them to look back at one of their BEST days when they’re nearing one of their worst and CHOOSE to say YES to each other and to their marriage and to their children. Knowing these goals that we have for our business, we wanted to go to a conference that empowers us to empower others. We knew it had to focus on bigger things than just taking a pretty picture. We found the Connect Retreat during that conversation. It was sold out. We prayed about it and decided that if GOD wanted us to attend, a spot would open up for us. A few days later, Zach and Jody emailed us letting us know that we were next on the list and that they had a spot open up! We knew GOD wanted us to be there and we’re so very thankful for the opportunity HE created for us!
We flew to Atlanta on Monday for the first day of the retreat. Since we arrived an hour early, we explored some of the GORGEOUS property of Berry College. Did you know they have a Quidditch Team?!? Where my Harry Potter fans at? We didn’t even begin to see all 27,000 acres, but know that if we had to go back to college for round 2, we’d go here. It’s just so beautiful! Once at the Retreat, we were greeted by the speakers for the week who wanted to hug us all! Of course, being another Harry Potter fan, Amy of Amy and Jordan won us over. We got checked in and met our small group for dinner. We LOVE our small group! They are ALL in the same walk of life as we are, so it was a HUGE blessing to be able to connect with them on such a different level than we can with others. Our entire small group was made up of mostly newlyweds who did not have human babies, yet, and all of our husbands were working part time within the family business and have a full time job outside of home. I immediately felt connected to them and truly wish that they all lived closer! Michael Alsop did a fantastic job of grouping us! Our small group is who we got to connect with after every night’s speaker (and who we just wanted to be around, truthfully). After Monday’s dinner, Zach and Jody kicked off the marriage retreat with some personal insight into cycles that couples get in and how to look for the underlying reasons things really bother us. Every time we’re frustrated with each other, it’s because something deeper from our past is at play. So much good information was shared that we’ve already put into practice AND shared with probably everyone we’ve spoken to since the conference. After our small group shared with each other on a deeper level, we went to game night and completely lost. Our group, which had decided to TOTALLY check out of life for the week, left EVERYTHING in our room. Well, the game night was “give me that” where you have to produce a specific item to get points. We got zero, but still loved each other and laughed about it.
On Tuesday after worship, Katelyn James and Michael spoke about transformation. While powerful, one of the resonating themes was that we can’t change lives unless we allow GOD to change ours. After the first session of the day, couples are given time to discuss what you’ve learned, go bike-riding, or nap or whatever. You’re given free time as a couple.
After lunch, we had an experimental activity. As all the week’s events were, this is completely optional. Couples are welcome to participate or welcome to hang out by themselves to refresh with time away from home. While it could have been scary, it was mostly fun! The first activity was “dancing with scissors.” The game was to play rock, paper, scissors with your spouse against another married couple. You both had to play the same thing or you lost. It required communication. If you won, you got to dance your way to another couple, so it required you to be a bit silly. Dylan and I were the retreat photographers on Tuesday, so we got some fun shots for others.
We were separated into 8 groups, no longer with our small groups so we got to meet more people to finish the rest of the activities. Our group was hand-cuffed to our spouse and asked to walk down a hill. At the bottom of the hill, we had to get free. The lesson here was that the first couple to figure it out could help the others. In business, we sometimes think of EVERYONE as competition, but, in reality, they are the ones that can help us out and the ones we can learn from. It’s ok to ask for help. The same goes for marriages. It’s ok to ask others for help and learn what’s worked for them.
After that, we were blindfolded and separated. We had to find each other making an agreed upon animal call. Dylan and I were bears, so if you hear us making “Rawr” noises at each other, just know it’s our own special version of Marco Polo!
Our next game was to finish a picture. One of us could look at the image for 30 seconds and had to use only words to tell the other one how to recreate the same image. The other one could only build the image and could not ask questions. Here, we learned that it is a GREAT thing to communicate very specifically what you want from each other and what your expectations are. I’m happy to share that we did get the image made and had chosen our roles correctly.
After that came the ropes course. Luckily for me, the girl who doesn’t love heights, but jumps off the cliff anyway, it was only a foot or so off the ground. Here, we had to cross a cable wire to get to each other in the middle. Dylan and I tried to cheat… I mean, think outside the box! Dylan is super strong and I can balance ok. So, we tried to just have me cross the entire wire while Dylan held the slack out. It was working until the group leader said we BOTH had to meet in the middle. Here’s our best attempt. :D
I do love that we thought outside the box to try to reach a solution that worked for us, specifically. That was my take-away: play to each other’s strengths. Other things learned or reinforced was that having a group of supporters is ALWAYS a good idea. There were times when we could have fallen, but our spotters made sure we stayed on track. Two couples from our group of 5 (who could participate) made it to the middle. One of them were “outside the box thinkers,” as well, and went backwards, using the tree for balance. The game was called “give and take” – there was so much slack in the line above that one of you had to pull the slack out as the other moved forward and then switch. It was fun! Dylan and I wanted to try, again, but ran out of time.
The next morning, we took our group picture! 64 married couples attended this year’s retreat. While originally meant for photographers, the retreat has now grown to include all married couples in a creative business together. There were pastors, musicians, coffee shop owners, rental company owners, stand-up paddle boarding company owners, fitness trainers, videographers, insurance agents, stage builders and others. (Shout out to Allen Adams for the group photo!)
We thought the shirts this year were pretty cute! Dylan’s says “You think I am wonderful, you should meet my wonder woman!” Mine says “You think I am super, you should meet my superman!” You’ll probably be seeing us in matching t-shirts soon! :D
Amy and Jordan shared their hearts about the will to prepare, not just the will to win. They also spoke on re-aligning your priorities because, often times, what you WANT your priority list to look like isn’t where you’re actually spending your precious time. Dylan and I are so guilty of this and really enjoyed their speaking. (Photo Credit below again goes to Allen Adams.) After lunch, we were given options for break out groups. We went with Amy and Jordan’s topic about how to win with money in your marriage and your business. If you’re interested in that, check out Dave Ramsey! The other option, which we’re SO hoping someone will swap notes with us on, was Katelyn and Michael’s topic about seeking GOD’s will about making big decisions. We were SO torn on these two as they’re both areas we want to grow in and can apply to life today!
That night was date night! Everyone got dressed up for dinner outside. It turned into a race against the arrival of the storm. After dinner, since most of the couples attending are photographers, we did photo swaps, naturally. Our small group stuck together and took turns taking pictures of each other. Here is a favorite of one of ours! I think Katie, who runs a coffee shop in Virginia, took this one for us! Thank you, Katie!
That night, Jeff and Julia Woods, spoke about turning off shame within your marriage. I don’t think I can even summarize this one. They did reference “The Soul of Shame” by Curt Thompson, if you’re interested.
The next morning, we were blessed, again, by the music of CooperLily, who had led worship all week. I currently have their music playing as I write this blog! Then, people were able to share their own testimonies. Some testimonies, Dylan and I needed to hear, as they reminded us just how truly blessed by GOD we are and to enjoy this time of abundance we’re in.
At breakfast on that last morning, someone asked us if we would “continue” this conversation once we got home. Dylan and I both had the most puzzled looks on our faces. To even hint at that we could have finished the conversation in that week away is completely crazy. HA! Yes, we learned an absolute TON of information and have already put some of those nuggets of wisdom to use in our marriage. If you’re looking to strengthen your marriage or draw closer to GOD, you should really check out The Connect Retreat. Dylan and I may try to interject nuggets of wisdom into conversations from now on, we’re so excited about the information we learned and just want to share it! It’s too good to not share it.
– Mylah Renae