Connect Retreat 2015 | Freedom in love

When Chad and I said "I do" at the altar 7 years ago, unfortunately there was no Magic Relationship Wand waved over us that ensured a perfect marriage from that point on. "Happily ever after" is something we have to work at daily. We make appointments each year to ensure we have clean teeth, a good bill of physical health, and a well-maintained car. Since our relationship is even more important than those things, how much MORE important is it for us to have a marriage check-up each year? That's why this was our third year in a row attending the Connect Retreat (a marriage retreat for couples in business together).

In order to get the most out of this Retreat, we do our very best to truly "unplug" from social media and from photography. Although we did swap photo shoots with other photographers one night, most of the photos in this post are quick snaps from my iPhone. These are a few of the image highlights & content takeaways we'd love to share with you from our experience.

Our road trip this year was only 7 hours long from NC, compared to the 16+ hours from WI the last couple years. We love driving across the country, but it was an added bonus that we could explore a scenic route of our new home state. Soon after arriving, we began meeting the other couples—kind of like adult summer camp. Ha!

The WinShape Retreat center is owned by Chick-fil-a and located in beautiful Rome, GA in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It's a gorgeously renovated dairy farm sitting on 26,000 acres of wildlife preserve at the Berry College campus. We walked the campus trails and hiking trails during free time, enjoyed breakout sessions from amazing speakers we admire, soaked in main session topics, ate gourmet meals and connected with other couples. This retreat was as much about relaxation as it was about marriage & business information.

Zach & Jody Gray, Jeff & Julia Woods, Michael & Katelyn (James) Alsop, and Nathan & Jenni Oates rocked our worlds with all of their amazing content. It was tough to boil it all down to four major themes...

1. Hug the cactus.

When you write out the storyline of your life, you'll see connections all over the place from your past to your present. Usually tension in present situations is merely a symptom of something more deeply rooted in your past. Don't be afraid to peel back the layers and face your past—healing begins with awareness. "You have a trauma in your past, therefore you try and control it in your present, which creates chaos in your future—then the cycle repeats," Zach quoted Jenni telling him. When you experience tension, lean in to God—when you're ready, he will equip you to face whatever it is. It might feel like you're hugging a cactus, but in that healing, freedom will be felt.

2. You are due for some upgrades.

Upgrades in life come when you handle the things under the surface of your marriage and business. Those things may be dysfunction, pain, loss or general tension, but they cannot be self-medicated by social media, overworking, disconnecting from people, bad habits (drinking, eating, overexercising, etc.) or unhealthy escapes (pornography, sleep, etc.). Jenni shared that God often uses pain to reveal what you're missing in a fully functioning relationship with Jesus. It's like God says, "I'm pointing to the area you need an upgrade in." When you awaken to a more full relationship with Jesus, freedom will be felt.

3. Release assumptions and expectations.

"Men need to be needed. Women need to be cherished." Don't forget that we're created differently, with different needs and different perspectives. Conflict can never come from just one person... Honor your spouse by meeting them where they are, planning together, and by creating a healthy environment for work and life. It's impossible to be angry and curious at the same time, so when you begin to experience anger toward your spouse, get curious about why the situation has come up. Get to the root of it together, free of false assumptions or unfair expectations.

4. Your purpose in life is to advance God's Kingdom.

Katelyn & Michael shared some really great reminders about our purpose on this planet—to take the gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth and to show God's love to everyone you meet. Just because you don't work at a church, doesn't mean you have an excuse not to be ministry-minded. Chad and I LOVE the opportunity we have to walk alongside our couples and families through photography—it's something we don't take lightly. When you love your clients well, freedom will be felt.

Chad and I were privileged to design the Husband / Wife retreat t-shirts this year! The concept was a group effort with Zach & Jody and Michael & Katelyn, and we're pretty happy with how they came out.

During group activities at WinShape Wilderness, the ideas of teamwork, trust and security in relationships were reinforced by experiential learning. SO fun! Chad and I laughed as we had to come up with a secret language to lead each other around while blindfolded—except only the blindfolded person could talk!

Another highlight of this trip for us was Wednesday afternoon when Julia Woods met with Chad and I. She encouraged a personal project we have going and gave us some wonderful direction. She's been incredible in our lives over the last couple years!

On Wednesday night, many photographers swapped photo shoots with one another. We had the opportunity to photograph two couples, which I'll be sharing later this week. Also, we can't wait to see the images that were made of us! All 46 couples then enjoyed a dinner under the sky at one giant table together—it was beautiful!

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the whole week—in my opinion—was during the times of worship to Jesus through music. We all praised God and rededicated our marriages and businesses to him, first and foremost—shoulder to shoulder with other industry leaders doing the same thing. It's not often that industry peers have this opportunity! We LOVED getting to meet Tim and Stephanie Skipper of Copperlily, who graciously lead us in worship all week with Zach Gray. WOW—talk about talent!  

Such special connections to sweet friends—old and new—were made this week. We were especially inspired by Jesse and Nelli Boone, who made a cross-country move with their family and business (from Ohio to Montana) on the exact same day we made our cross-country move. We discovered that we had all been in our previous cities for 11 years, too. We definitely understood each other on deep levels and look forward to remaining connected in the coming seasons. Life is definitely meant to be navigated in community with others. How sweet!