Reconnected, Inspired, Empowered | CONNECT Retreat for photographers

Thanks to for the group photo!

Written by Amber -

Last week, Chad and I had the unbelievable opportunity to be at the very first CONNECT Retreat, a marriage retreat for photographers. Being with 42 other creative couples at the WinShape Retreat Center in Rome, GA is now the highlight of my year—we returned changed & motivated for the future, but even for the day-to-day. It was a unique chance to meet people we deeply admire in our industry, completely unplug from phones / internet, get to know others in our shoes from across the continent and worship Jesus with them, totally out of context from any kind of church setting. We love our friends and family, but we realize it's hard for them to understand us "Professional Creatives". Ha! Also, none of them have their spouse as their coworker... We definitely felt at home on this CONNECT Retreat. :)

The back story:

CONNECT Retreat was put on by our favorite people in the wedding photography industry, Zach & Jody Gray. We have incredible respect for them and have used their online advice and workshop resources to model our own business off of. Plus, we are inspired by their bold faith in Jesus. Zach & Jody didn't want this retreat to be about photography or gear or tips & tricks for working with clients. The sole purpose was to truly CONNECT—to strengthen your marriage, strengthen your business, unplug, and be in a space to meet other married photographers, all while praising & seeking the Lord.

They announced this back in December, two months after Chad had come home to work with me fulltime—perfect timing, right? That's what we said! We were SO excited... until we saw the price tag, that is. (Remember that part about Chad quitting his fulltime day job? Yeah... let's just say we were living on a pretty tight budget without any extras, regardless of how valuable they were.) Unfortunately, we had to let the idea go. We began hoping for something equally amazing to be offered in the future. About a month before the Retreat though, God totally blessed us like only He can—what was impossible in our eyes was made possible through a turn of events and we found ourselves booking tickets to go! WHAT?!??

We love road trips:

Chad and I would go on road trips every weekend if we could. We eat them up.... the scenery, the iTunes playlists, the conversation, the local food, the alphabet billboard games, and every part of the unplanned adventures. Leaving early Sunday morning, we drove 9 hours to Nashville where we got to spend the night with some dear friends of ours. The next morning, we drove the final 3 hours to Rome, GA.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with hugs by Jody Gray, Julia Woods and Katelyn (James) Alsop. Is this real life??! Seriously. From there we checked in with Zach Gray, Jeff Woods, Michael Alsop, Mike & Rachel Larson and others. I'm just glad Chad was at my side making me feel comfortable, because I was worried about an awkward star-struck drooling face with all those people in one place!

Looking around the beautiful, quaint WinShape Retreat center as we walked to our room, I wondered if I had jumped into a Mary Poppins chalk drawing. Then it hit me. All of it. The tears streamed.... I was so overwhelmed with what God had provided for us, and the Retreat hadn't even started yet. It's humbling to feel so spoiled by our Heavenly Father.

Here's what we learned:

1. Too often, we compare our behind-the-scenes to other people's highlight reels. 
The speakers made it very clear for all of us that even though we see lots of happy Instagrams & cheerful posts online about their amazing lives and grand successes, we're only getting the surface level. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like we do! They shared genuinely and transparently about some of the behind-the-scenes stories we didn't know about.... suddenly we all felt like equals; like we were not alone in struggles. Their honesty created a space where we were all willing to share with each other about our own stresses, shortcomings and failures. It was amazing how much we could relate to one another!

2. We exist to build God's Kingdom, not our own.
This concept was not new to us.... Anyone who knows us or follows what we do can tell that we are Christians. It's clear on our website, and hopefully in our lives. We wouldn't be where we are today without God's leading. But this concept was hammered home throughout the week. We have to continue to ask ourselves, "When I say / do / post ________ , whose kingdom am I building?" This world views SUCCESS very differently than God does, and it's super easy to get sucked into the hype. When we think about our business, it should really just be a front for spreading the gospel! As photographers & graphic designers, we are to use the skills we've been given to point others toward God. 

3. We want to be a couple that the devil fears.
We were reminded by the speakers (photographers and marriage experts) that our marriage is on display for all to see. The devil wants us to argue with each other, to say things we don't mean, to look stupid... Our failures bring him great joy. If we're honoring each other, serving each other, talking through our disagreements respectfully and treating each other with love, we're giving the devil something to fear... It's then that he's losing the battle. In the last 5 months that Chad and I have been working fulltime together, we admit that we've had more disagreement and tension than in all 5 years of our marriage. Of course we love each other and believe we make a great business team, but we're together 24/7 now in a very small space, working on the same things. Naturally we're going to step on each other's toes, but this doesn't give us an excuse to do so. We learned some ways we can be on guard for spiritual attacks in our marriage and to fight them—together—so that we can have a fruitful marriage that honors God and encourages others.

Yep, I'm certain I could go on for hours about everything we learned at CONNECT. If you'd like to hear any more of the specifics or additional nuggets of understanding we gleaned, we'd LO-VE to share them with you. :)

Although we're missing all of our new friends and the quiet week we had, we're happy to be home and ready to adjust our routines & attitudes to a "new reality". We've already been noticing differences in our relationship and in our business! I'm thinking the CONNECT Retreat will be a "must" for 2014, God-willing...