Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Tribute to FamilyLife

Last week Mike and I had the amazing opportunity to go to Cabo for a FamilyLife marriage conference. We don't travel very much so the fact that the whole thing came together in such a short amount of time was surreal. With 10 days out, Mike said he thought we should go -- which meant I needed to scrounge up a birth certificate, get a new passport and arrange care for our three kids and our three pets. I had no idea it was possible to get a passport so quickly, but we managed to have that turned around in about 48 hours. My mom and several friends helped out with the kids and pets in varying capacities, and we left knowing all were in wonderful care.

The hardest part of going on vacation is organizing the schedules of whoever is not going with you. (More on this later in the week.) So once we finally sat down on the plane we breathed a sigh of relief -- and promptly fell asleep.

It is hard to know where to begin to describe these four days in our lives. The accommodations and service at the One&Only Palmilla were beyond description. The food and setting were spectacular. We had a date night dinner on the beach at tables lit by tiki torches, we lay on the beach in hammocks beneath a thatched roof gazebo and we listened to music by the immensely talented Jonah Werner. But as much as all of that was a part of our experience, it was actually the least of it.

Mike and I had the opportunity to attend our first FamilyLife Weekend to Remember nearly 12 years ago. At the time, we had only one child and one dog, and the conference was at a local hotel in Houston with 1,000 of our closest friends. We were fresh from a four-month quarantine after our daughter's life-threatening illness, and we needed a weekend to reconnect.

This time, we were several thousand miles away with 20 other couples, along with FamilyLife co-founders Dennis and Barbara Rainey, vice president Bob Lepine and others from their amazing staff.  Although our family has changed tremendously in the last 12 years, the mission of FamilyLife has not. In fact, it grows more relevant with each passing day: To effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.

Dennis, Bob and Barbara all spoke to our group and reminded us of the basic truths of marriage and of life. Through our sessions and subsequent application projects, each couple had the time and platform to tackle tricky issues we try to set aside at home. I can only speak for us, but I know that Mike and I are reticent to talk about things that are bugging us because who wants to ruin a perfectly good evening? The great thing about a FamilyLife conference is that THEY bring up all the stuff you'd rather not mention, but that you will benefit from addressing. We had application projects on differing communication styles, wrote each other love letters (it sounds hokey but who doesn't want a love letter from their spouse?) and even had a project on managing conflict. (Hmmm ... it occurs to me that, in a vintage conflict avoidance move, we have yet to complete that project. We'll do that tomorrow. No, really.)

We are big fans of the family. We know that many marriages and subsequently, families, are hurting. We know that while divorce was not part of God's original plan, we live in a fallen world. He hates divorce, but no more than He hates sickness or murder or a million other things that have seeped into our lives. I have some friends that I love dearly who have been through the pain of divorce. Guess what? God loves them much more than I do, and He has a perfect plan for their lives. He has a perfect plan for all of us.

As I mentioned, there were 20 couples who attended the conference all invited by our good friends Vince and Patti. We didn't know many of these couples on the trip when we arrived, and I regret that we still hadn't met everyone by the time we left. We made new friends, though, and we thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with some old friends, Carrie and Sparky Pearson. We wish they lived closer because WOW did we laugh a lot.

Many of the families that were represented in Cabo were in much different places in their lives than we are. Several couples had kids in college or just out, a few had younger kids like us, and fewer still were further down their marriage path -- one couple had been married for 45 years. Everyone started the weekend in a different place, too -- for some, it was a time of polishing the already honed surface with some lemon Pledge. For others, it was a time of getting out the medium grit sandpaper and smoothing rough areas that had worn badly through the years. At the end of the weekend there was a time of sharing, and one spouse stood up to say that when they arrived, their marriage had been a D-.  But they were encouraged by what they had learned, by the tools they had been given to rebuild what was once there.

FamilyLife will be hosting several Weekends to Remember this year. Go to http://www.familylife.com/weekend  to find one near you. Or, if you don't feel like you can take a weekend away, maybe you want to be a part of  the "Art of Marriage" video event that Mike and I will be hosting. The "Art of Marriage" takes all the great info from a Weekend to Remember and breaks it down into six weekly chunks -- covering topics from isolation to communication to leaving a legacy. We don't have all the details figured out yet but let us know if you would be interested in participating.

So, I just want to say thank you to Dennis and Barbara, Bob, Bill, the Metzgers, the Maurers, the Reidys, the Steegers and the whole FamilyLife team for pouring your lives into this mission. Truly, you gave us all a weekend to remember. May you be blessed beyond measure.

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