Online, it may seem that our business is everything to us. It may seem that all we do is go to photo shoots everyday and that all we talk about are weddings and photography. Yes, we of course love it and it's our passion to be in love with photography and our clients; however, there's something else that we love more and that's each other. Without our marriage, none of what we do would even matter and it wouldn't exist. We have vowed to never make work more important than God, our marriage and family and that's a good thing. We live in a world that tries to kill, steal and destroy the very thing that we value most, so it's our goal to fight for it everyday.
One thing that we began doing three years ago was to attend a retreat called, Connect. Craig has been following Zach and Jody Photography as long as I can remember since we even became a legit business. Well, about four years ago when he was watching one of their webinars one late evening, he yelled all of a sudden, "BABY! COME HERE AND WATCH THIS VIDEO!" I ran over right away... He played the promo for this retreat, and I found myself crying by the end of it. He asked, "Wanna go?" I said, "Are you kidding? Yes, PLEASE!" We signed up not knowing what to expect and not knowing anyone personally. This retreat began for husband and wife teams who ran a photography business together. Pretty specific, huh? It just made sense since Zach and Jody are giants in the photography industry. Well, it's now open to husbands and wives who run any business together. Although I watched the promo video, I went thinking that this retreat will somehow make our business better. I knew it was about marriage, but I was very excited to meet Zach and Jody and other photographers there and connect. Well, all those things happened, but not in ways I would have ever imagined.
Photographers from all over the country came. The first year we attended, we were only one out of two couples from Georgia. What's crazy is that it's in Rome, GA, which is only about an hour and a half drive from our home! I also didn't expect for the location of the Winshape Retreat Center in Berry College to be so beautiful. I couldn't believe we were so close and never have seen this place! Well, the week finally came and we finally got there. I have to admit that I was a bit star struck when I saw Zach and Jody for the first time. :) It really was like meeting a Hollywood celebrity for us and it took everything in me to not ask for an autograph. :) Well, that evening after dinner, we went into the worship center. Again, keep in mind that we didn't know what to expect... A couple band called, "Copperlily" and Zach Gray went up to the stage. The two guys each held their guitar and Stephanie approached the mic and began worshipping. It was the most simple, the most pure, the most anointed worship and the sweetest sound I have ever heard my entire life. I grew up in a church, so I've had my share of experiencing different worship bands, and nothing could compare to this. As they began leading us, it took me a bit to comprehend what was going on. In my head I was thinking, "Um... I love all this and this is great, but I thought I came to a photography conference? No? Um... anyone? What is going on?" After a few minutes of processing all the confusion in my mind, I joined in and had the most incredible worship service and really felt a touch of God during that short period of time.
After worship time, Zach and Jody went up as the first set of speakers of the retreat. From the moment they were up there, they immediately opened up to what they have been going through the past year in their marriage. Wow... I found myself in uncontrollable tears... It was incredible how they made themselves so vulnerable, open and honest. I couldn't believe it...
After the service, we all broke up into our small groups and talked about the message and how it relates to all of us. Even though I was still "warming up" to the people, it was easy to open up as well because everyone made you feel safe and comfortable. Because we were all living a very similar lifestyle professionally and in our marriage, it was very easy to relate and to understand what everyone was going through and what they were saying. Well, this happened every morning and evening... To see everyone dig deep into their hearts and lay it all down before Jesus was powerful. To come to a realization that we are all broken people who need Jesus every hour was humbling. To know that without Him in us and in our marriage, it's all nothing was a good awakening. Needless to say, it changed our marriage and we went again the year after... God rocked our marriage last year again and then this year came.
This year was a little bit different.... We OF COURSE wanted to go, but we just felt so physically tired and mentally drained and we just wanted a vacation with no agenda. Ideally, we of course wanted to attend both, but trying to figure out how to make arrangements for the kids for two weeks, the money and time that had to come with that was all too overwhelming. So, we figured that maybe this year, we could just take a sabbatical trip by ourselves. As soon as we made up our minds, we went online to see where we could go and just relax... :) Well, we had a problem in that we had already bought the tickets to the retreat! Every year when it got close to the retreat, we noticed a handful of couples always trying to sell their tickets, so we were so sure that we would sell ours. We tried and it didn't work... then we put our price down lower, it didn't work... we tried EVEN lower, NO ONE bought it. We were so bummed... But in that moment of disappointment, I felt God saying to me, "I'm a good father to you and a good father always gives his children what's good for them and what they need." We knew that God wanted us there... He knew that this retreat would be far better for our souls than a vacation for this season in our lives. You see, I didn't 'feel' like working on our marriage. As much as I want to and know we need it, it's still 'work', you know? And no, that doesn't mean I don't care.... I do. Of course I do! I just didn't want to do it "now"... I wanted to do it 'later'. But, I was just so tired from work and the daily responsibilities that never seem to end. I just wanted a break! That's it! But, my Father always knows better and I had to just trust Him. Well, as much as my flesh really still wanted to go on "vacation", we went to the retreat because at this point, we had no choice but to because I already put money in it and I wasn't getting anything back. Looking back, even that was all of God's plans. #sneakyJesus :)
In all the years I have followed Jesus, he has never been wrong. He has never disappointed me in any way... He has always, always, always kept His promises. Well, He was right again... Yet again, this retreat was incredible. It was life changing AGAIN! He touched us and our marriage AGAIN! This year, the theme seemed to revolve around "building a new". Now, how many of you need that in your marriage? Instead of picking at all the little and big things from the past and all the little and big things of what's wrong with your marriage now, how many of you would like to just start over and begin again? Well, God revealed a lot to us... although Craig and I seem to communicate well and a lot since we work together, sometimes because we see each other 24/7, many assumptions can easily be made as well. A few things that we didn't even realize we were going through or were even thinking about came out during this retreat and it was amazing! One evening after the service, Craig said, "Let's skip small group because I want to talk to you." If you know my husband, he talks a lot.... to the point I honestly can't relate to many women who have husbands who 'don't talk much'. They say that women speak how many times more than men in a day, but in our household, my husband speaks more words than me. Like a lot more... :) But, that doesn't mean everything is communicated. We may communicate a lot regarding our work, children, and just everything about life, but sometimes the deep conversations that need to happen don't unless we are in an argument. Because he initiated a deep conversation, it meant so much to me. Remember our gems blog? From there, you may remember that my husband is a Sapphire and it is very difficult for Sapphires to get serious, so I knew this was a BIG DEAL! And although I'm such a rule follower and don't like "skipping" anything, I didn't say anything about not going to small group and followed his lead. I can honestly say that it was the most incredible conversation we ever had since we got married. As my husband opened up with tears in his eyes about how he wants to become a better husband and shared the plans on going about it meant the world to me. It was as if he proposed again... I will never in my life forget it.
If you ask anyone who has gone to this retreat before, I know that they will tell you that the Spirit of God is strong in that place. You can feel it, touch it, it's just all around you. It is very special and we can't express how thankful we are to have found such a place. It has been such a precious resource to us... for our marriage which in turn affects our children, our business and everything else in our lives. We know that the foundation of who we are is God and that when we are right with Him, our marriage will be in a good place. And when our marriage is good, our children will be good. They will be blessed. God is a God of order... He tells us to seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. It's true... So before goals for our business, before the next marketing idea, before the next wedding is booked, before our kid's next sports event, before thinking about where the money is going to come from, before we worry about any sickness, the Kingdom of God is what we seek because "as for me and this house, we will serve the Lord."
This blog may have made Connect Retreat sound a little intense. Sorry! We get some serious marriage business taken care of there, but don't worry... there's a TON of fun too! The endless laughter while learning, connecting and making friends are priceless. There are fun group activities scheduled as well as things you can do alone with your spouse all around the campus. Want to go in 2018? Make sure to click the link and register! They really fill up fast. For us, hm.... who knows what 2018 holds, you know? Maybe after this year, God will 'grant' us our 'vacation'. :) We shall see... God always makes life interesting and unpredictable, so I'll just leave it up to Him and be content in the unknown.
We are forever grateful for all the speakers, leaders and dreamers who have put this retreat together and made it happen. Thank you for teaching and reminding us of what matters most.
Hope this has encouraged especially those of you who are married to always make time for your spouse and to keep your marriage healthy. Marriage is great, but it takes work to keep it great. Something this retreat has made me realize is that we all have struggles... don't be afraid, don't feel alone and don't feel ashamed. We have been there too. But you know what? You're brave, you're NOT alone and there's no shame in whatever you're going through and that's the truth. Remember that we are all broken people who need God and each other. Winshape Retreat Center has many other groups that you can attend other than this one! Go to their site and if you have never done anything like this before, we hope and pray that you do because really, it will take your marriage to another level.
With much love,
Craig and Unchong :)