Fall’s a-flying

Stephen and I went to our very first marriage retreat the weekend before our 14th anniversary on 10/14. We have been talking about attending one for a few years now, but we finally made it happen … and boy, was it worth it!

“Love is blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener!”

These “getaways” are aimed at Christian couples, from newlyweds, to folks whose marriage just needs a tune-up, to some who are even on the brink of calling it quits. Stephen and I fell in the middle category, so we chose break-out sessions that met our needs for enrichment.

Here we are on day 1 of our LIfeWay Marriage Getaway @ the Ridgecrest Conference Center, near Black Mountain, NC.

The themes were varied, but the overarching message of the weekend is that God designed marriage to be a celebration and reflection of His love for us. So, why would we willfully want to degrade this beautiful gift that God has given us?

After all, God is the Creator of diversity. It’s a declaration of his handiwork, so we need to affirm the differences between a husband and wife (which can so often be the cause of marital stress), instead of condemning it. Of course, this can be difficult sometimes, as a man and woman’s nature are oftentimes seemingly so at odds.

But God created us to have unique roles that reflect the divergent aspects and characteristics of Himself, so those differences which can divide are actually assets, not burdens and stresses. And harmony in marriage will result from embracing our complimentary variances.

Check out Zeke and Gabriel’s serious-to-terrified expressions just before riding the Haunted Train on 10/24. Don’t worry … they survived unscathed, and declared it to be “awesome!”

As author Gary Chapman put it during his session: “Each of us has a primary love language. Seldom do a husband and wife have the same, and by nature we speak our love language.

“So, we must learn to speak their language … (and) if it doesn’t come natural, it’s an even greater act of love. Love is something you do for the other person, not for yourself.”

“If I have all faith, so that I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” — 1 Corinthians 13:2

But for a spouse to do this effectively, he or she must get right with God by first utilizing the Fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

And by opening ourselves to God and His abundant strength, we can grow in dealing with our own flaws and sins, which then filters into our marriage and our treatment of our spouse. In short, it’s a heart issue. Like our pastor at Mercy Hill always says, true Christ-like behavior works from the inside out.

Zeke & Stanley admire “Turkey” the pumpkin. Don’t ask me … Gabriel named it.

The even bigger news of that weekend was that Stephen and I renewed our vows. Some of you may recall that we went way out of our way to exclude God from our very atheistic wedding, with our vows being more about each of us separately and what we brought to the table, and less about our union.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” — Ecclesiastes 4:12

Our old vows were so much about self, instead of selflessness … hopes, instead of heartfelt promises … feel-good notions, instead of serious submission to one another … a 50/50 arrangement, instead of a devotion of each giving 100%.

Houston was originally going to be a “medieval zombie executioner,” but it eventually morphed into just a good ol ‘zombie. Scary!

In retrospect, it is so clear that God has always been with us, even back during our hostile-toward-Christianity days. And this just seemed like the perfect opportunity to publicly renew our commitment to one another by attesting that Christ is our foundation, and that through Him, we can win “the race.”

“Let us throw off everything that hinders & the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” — Hebrews 12:1

But how do we train for this race mentioned in Hebrews? Well, by being intentional in our love for Christ and for our spouse, and then we can achieve oneness in our relationship. But we must remember that marriage is a marathon, and each day is just part of the worthy and fulfilling quest.

Zeke & Gabriel are Steve from Minecraft. Great job on your homemade costumes, boys!

Gabriel and Zeke celebrated their 6th birthday on 10/16. Since this was a Thursday, we got together with some of our fave homeschool families, including crews from CC and church, as well as our wonderful homeschool neighbors, Shawn, Dixie, and Milton.

We started off at Putt-Putt for miniature golf and video games, and then hit Chick fil-A, where we took over the outdoor seating area for feasting on chicken and chocolate cake on the gorgeous fall day with which we had been blessed.

That night we had a sleepover with the twins’ buddies, Jackson and Alex. Gabe and Zeke had a blast during every part of their big day, as did I, since I was pretty doggone diligent about planning as low-maintenance and stress-free a day as possible.

Gabriel was the only Amigo brave enough to strike a pose w/ this huge skeleton & Mommy. The guy inside the costume explained that he crafted the long arms out of pool noodles and wire … so cool!

That Friday, Gramsey and Papa came to visit. They took care of the boys — thanks a million, y’all! — so Stephen and I could attend Poker For Preemies. This is an incredible annual fundraiser that helps raise money for premature babies, and special-needs and sick kids in our area.

It was an incredibly delightful evening, specifically because we got to hang with our great pals, Meredith and Greg (who happen to help organize the event). In addition to paying for our way into the gala, our awesome friends also hooked us up with starter chips for gambling. Mucho gracias, y’all!

The only gambling we did was Texas Hold ‘Em, but it was sooooo fun. I even won a hand! So, Stephen used all of our surplus chips, plus some additionally purchased chips, to enter a cool gift-basket raffle, which he then won. The odds were in our favor for sure!

Granny & I get prepped for a full night of spooky shenanigans & ghoulishly good times. Thanks for making Halloween so grand, Granny!

And did I mention there was an open bar, our local cigar guy doled out complimentary stogies, and we took a cab home?! Yep, we had a rockin’ wild night indeed!

Stephen and I took the kids to the Haunted Train in Burlington on 10/24. It was a short ride, but particularly sweet since Zeke didn’t get to ride the Halloween Train at the Transportation Museum some three years ago due to his fairly common tantrums back then. (If you recall, he didn’t get to go trick-or-treating that year either. Poor dude.)

So, this year’s jaunt was of especially significant to Zeke, who can finally say he has ridden a festive fall train. And it’s also a big deal across the board, as it was just a nice way to celebrate both his and his bros’ increasingly mature behavior. Way to go, 3 Amigos!

While @ the park on the twins’ birthday, Zeke masters swinging one high-wheel to the next — a feat that seems to impress onlookers Alex & Gabriel.

This was probably our most chill Halloween yet. We didn’t do any church trunk-or-treats or drive to any faraway locales to get candy. We stuck to our neighborhood, took a brief half-time to drop off the tired folks (Zeke and Granny), and then headed out for round 2 with the late-night adventurers: Houston, Gabe, Stephen, and I.

Dare-devil Gabriel even went up solo (with Daddy) to “the house with the bloody heads,” which the kids and I had been bike-riding to during the day as preparation for this All Hallow’s Eve night. Oh well, maybe next year, Houston!

Since they are bolting for a more Southern home this Friday, we have been trying to spend as much time with the J-Crew as possible. I recently had a girls-night out at a swanky tapas bar with Christie and her good pal, Tricia.

Some of our giddy birthday posse @ Chick fil-A on 10/16: (from L to R) Tyrnan, Houston, Jackson, Gabriel, Zeke, Eli, Briggs & Knox.

We also celebrated Asher’s 8th birthday; Houston partook in a last-hurrah sleepover; and then Stephen and I went out with Christie and Logan and their kind community group earlier this week. And I am crying just thinking about their move because Christie is so much more than a friend.

I joke to her, saying “Whose coattails am I going to ride on now?!” But it is the truth; she is my mentor in her faithful walk with Christ and her passionate call to homeschool her fearless threesome.

Christie is funny and smart, genuine and self-less, and always giving and grace-filled. She is authentic, never putting on airs. Her honesty, realness, and forthrightness are such rarities to behold in this age of pretend and plastic.

My great pal, Christie, & I in the only pic of the two of us in existence. Funny thing about that is that she & her hubby are professional photographers … memory-card-erasing slackers!

She is a lifelong-learner who is thoughtful, inquisitive, and opinionated, but not easily offended. Christie is also a person who is amazingly open-minded and ready to hear new things or just old things from a different perspective. Seems oxymoronic to possess such diverse traits in our coarse culture.

But that is precisely why she will be so missed. Thank you for making me a better person, Christie, and for welcoming my brood into the fold of your incredible family’s adventures these last three fun-filled years. May God bless y’all in the Holy City!

By the way, I’m in the market for a new best bud. So, if you enjoy a good intellectual challenge, like discussing controversial topics in a civil manner, love the Lord (but still say the occasional curse word), have a penchant for ’90s music, and consider the TV show “Portlandia” brilliant (hint hint: Tricia!), message me.