On marriage, connecting and chasing dreams | CONNECT Retreat 2014

Written by Amber -

WOW. Chad and I are feeling incredibly refreshed and inspired this week! Last week, we spent the week in sunny Georgia (where pretty spring does actually exist!) on a marriage retreat with other couples running photography businesses together. It was the second year this CONNECT Retreat has been offered at the WinShape, and also the second time Chad and I were able to attend. 

We carpooled from Wisconsin with Maison Gustke and Caleb Engel (who are engaged to be married this August!) all the way to and from Rome, GA. This made our trip, hands down! We became instant friends, sharing so much about love & life. We laughed together, prayed together, talked shop a bit and made the very most of our 24+ hours in the car. It was quite a blessing to share the experience with them!

Last year around this time, Chad and I had just begun working together full-time, as Chad had only been home about 5 months. We were in desperate need of some advice on how to be married while working together, and vice versa. (You can read about our experience from last year's Retreat here.) We applied SO many great lessons to this past year and consider ourselves a whole different couple this year. It's been an amazing new adventure (of course all good adventures include ups and downs...). We were anxious for more coming into CONNECT 2014.

This year, here were our highlights:

1. We value marriage

Yes, we shoot weddings as part of our living, but we know first-hand that a marriage is more important than a single wedding day. We deem it "wise" to go to the dentist a couple of times a year to check up on our teeth and we go to the doctor to check up on our health, so shouldn't we also go to a marriage retreat and/or marriage counseling to check up on our relationship? The nuggets we learned about keeping our love strong and our relationship alive are invaluable—they'll refresh and propel us through this next year. Plus, "unplugging" from responsibility, distractions and media for a week with your spouse to focus on each other and have fun? Priceless.

2. CONNECTing is important

The "husband-and-wife wedding photography team who loves Jesus" genre tends to be a little sparse (or quiet?) in our area. We're even pretty slim on the "I work with my spouse full time from our home" department. Words can't express how important and meaningful it is to spend extended time with couples who can relate on both. Instant family! Like-minded community and outside perspective are of utmost important for our souls. I truly believe that Jim Rohn quote that says, "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

3. Dreams are worth chasing

Jeff and Julia Woods opened up the first session of the retreat by reminding us that God is the inventor of all dreams. Psalm 37:4 (NIV) says, "Take delight in the Lord,  and he will give you the desires of your heart." We are called to delight—to be made complete—in the Lord. We are called to dream, risk and create. So what are we waiting for? Zach and Jody Gray reminded us that "the pursuit of success should never become our purpose." They quoted Neil Anderson saying, "What you do doesn't determine who you are. It's who you are that determines what you do." So who are we and what are we doing? Michael and Katelyn James Alsop used honest, personal examples to prove the need for healthy work-life balance. They said, "We rest from our work, and we work from our rest." So what is throwing off our rhythm? We've already got a whole list of goals and dreams written to help satisfy these questions and we're raring to take action! :) 

Here are some of our other road trip & retreat highlights in photo form...

 

Road trip stop #1 was Nashville. Love these iPhone pics of some of the lights on Broadway. We had so much fun with Maison and Caleb, as well as with Jamie—one of Chad's close friends from elementary & high school. She lives near Nashville now, so she showed us around. Dinner at Honky Tonk was a blast!

Arriving at the WinShape in Rome, GA is always breathtaking—even in iPhone pics! It's a retreat center owned by Chick-fil-a that feels like a slice of heaven, renovated dairy farm buildings and all.

I really did "unplug" for the week, including leaving my camera in my room most of the time. BUT, I did enjoy waking up a little earlier Wednesday morning to capture the pretty dawn light. The 75° air, chirping birds, gorgeous architecture and serene setting just ooze of peaceful delight...

Every session began with a time of worship as we all centered our focus on Jesus. These amazing speakers (the Grays, Alsops and Woods')  had great content for everyone regarding our spiritual lives, marriages and businesses (in that order!). So thankful for each of them.

This year, one session of the Retreat was for five couples (who attended last year) to share—in five minutes—the one thing that impacts their life / marriage / business the most. Chad and I were humbled and honored to be selected. We got to use this opportunity to share about our intentional, daily focus on listening prayer and its effect on our lives. We've chosen to make God the "boss" of our business, and so we spoke on that very topic. 

Photo credits: Top left by Photographs by Sabrina, lower left by Maison Meredith Photography, right by Katelyn James Photography

Lower right photo credit: Allen Adams Photography There are so many places to walk around and enjoy nature and good company at the WinShape. We met Allen and Carol Adams at CONNECT last year and have kept in touch. This free time with them was so special!

Lower right photo credit: Allen Adams Photography

There are so many places to walk around and enjoy nature and good company at the WinShape. We met Allen and Carol Adams at CONNECT last year and have kept in touch. This free time with them was so special!

Lower photo credit: Allen Adams Photography This particular moment that Allen captured for us is very meaningful to Chad and I. We are incredibly inspired by Jeff and Julia Woods—their love of Jesus, passion for listening prayer, success in business, experience in marriage, helpful advice, and general encouragement & wisdom. During this lunch, we shared one of our personal projects with them and their reactions and responses were invaluable. It was a true honor and defining moment in our lives!

Lower photo credit: Allen Adams Photography

This particular moment that Allen captured for us is very meaningful to Chad and I. We are incredibly inspired by Jeff and Julia Woods—their love of Jesus, passion for listening prayer, success in business, experience in marriage, helpful advice, and general encouragement & wisdom. During this lunch, we shared one of our personal projects with them and their reactions and responses were invaluable. It was a true honor and defining moment in our lives!

Photo credit: Katelyn James Photography

Wednesday afternoon was quite entertaining! We spent plenty of time outside learning ways to work together and work as a group. Trust, communication and roles were common themes. I absolutely LOVE these shots from Katelyn of Chad and I playing "Serve and Protect". As our group launched a sponge ball at me from all angles, Chad had to protect me by blocking them all. As we rotated back and forth, soon, there were two balls being thrown!

Photo credit: Melanie of Studio Elle 

We also took turns at the low ropes courses practicing patience, timing, communication and trust. Experiential activities like this are a fun way to approach these topics and learn about ourselves and each other. Priceless! 

Photo credits: Left four are our iPhone selfies, the right is by Maison Meredith Photography

Wednesday night was Date Night! We enjoyed getting all dolled up for each other. Thanks to these fun photos from Maison, I'm finally convinced that we do clean up pretty nicely... ;)

Small groups are a big part of the CONNECT week. We get a chance to process through what we're learning and share pretty deeply while swapping feedback and advice to one another. I want to introduce you to my new family, from left to right, Kelly and Loni Langan, Josh and Danielle Menning, us (duh), Maison Gustke & Caleb Engel (engaged!) and Sabrina and Ben Fields. I love them!

Photo compliments of Studio Elle & Katelyn James Photography

Photo compliments: Upper from Studio Elle & Katelyn James Photography, lower from Bella lei Couture 

The two lower shots there feature our small group from CONNECT 2013—all of us returned! Reunion pic. :)

We're so thankful for Zach & Jody Gray and their hearts for the Lord and encouragement / teaching to others. In addition to dreaming up this CONNECT Retreat, they've inspired so much of the way we run our business. What a blessing to get to spend time with them in-person for a few days and swap hugs!

We're so thankful for Zach & Jody Gray and their hearts for the Lord and encouragement / teaching to others. In addition to dreaming up this CONNECT Retreat, they've inspired so much of the way we run our business. What a blessing to get to spend time with them in-person for a few days and swap hugs!

On the last morning, couples get a chance to stand up and share what they learned over the week and what God is doing in their life, business or marriage because of CONNECT. It was neat to hear from Caleb (engaged to Maison) as he thanked all of the couples they had met for showing them what marriage can look like and how to work together in business.

On the last morning, couples get a chance to stand up and share what they learned over the week and what God is doing in their life, business or marriage because of CONNECT. It was neat to hear from Caleb (engaged to Maison) as he thanked all of the couples they had met for showing them what marriage can look like and how to work together in business.

One of the highest points of CONNECT is definitely hearing from couples who experienced complete transformation and restoration in their marriages because of what God taught them during their time there. There weren't many dry eyes in the house during this touching moment of prayer over one particular couple. Amazing! 

One of the highest points of CONNECT is definitely hearing from couples who experienced complete transformation and restoration in their marriages because of what God taught them during their time there. There weren't many dry eyes in the house during this touching moment of prayer over one particular couple. Amazing! 

We can't wait to see this community in person again next year!

We can't wait to see this community in person again next year!