If, as the dictionary suggests, a festival means "an occasion for feasting or celebration" then this past weekend was certainly aptly named! One of my special desires for this furlough year was to have the opportunity to attend a Christian marriage conference with my husband. Another special desire was to be able to get away alone for an extended period of time (hopefully an entire week) for our 15th wedding anniversary.
God graciously allowed us to fulfill and combine both of these desires when we learned of the Festivals of Marriage Conference held at a Christian retreat center in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Thanks in huge part to my sister's and brother-in-law's willingness to trade childcare (we will be watching their kids for a week in December) we were able to schedule the time away and locate online a rental cottage close to the retreat center. Next came the rental car (as our van would be needed to ferry nine children around!) and a long, but doable 10-hour drive from Delaware to NC.
It was delightful to arrive at our home away from home in the dark of night and find a warm fire flickering in the gas fireplace, and to sleep long and comfortably until late morning. The conference began at 2 o'clock on Friday afternoon, with the first of four breakout sessions taught by husband and wife teams. All the breakout sessions and the general sessions were extremely well done! The "big names" among the conference speakers included Dr. Gary Chapman; Drs. Les & Leslie Parrot; Mark Merrill; and Steve & Debbie Wilson.
At one of the early breakout sessions we were reminded of the differences between husbands and wives. The speaker asked us to simply consider how differently we each prepared for this conference, with most wives putting hours of thought into clothing choices, lodging, etc. while husbands basically planned for gas in the car and the drive to the conference. Pedro and I looked at each other and laughed because this was definitely true for us! But what blessed me so much at this marriage conference was how, from the moment it started, my husband was fully engaged and motivated to apply what we were learning to our relationship with one another.
Prior to our trip we had teased our kids that Mommy and Daddy were going away on a "smoochiversary." (We love to hear them shriek "ewwww!" and cover their eyes!) So it was hilarious to us that in several of the breakout and main sessions, the speakers asked husband and wives to do just that. In fact, after Saturday night's general sessions there was a symbolic vow renewal ceremony for all 600+ couples present. We couldn't help but giggle at the sound of that many lips smacking and sort of wished our kids could have been there to see it! :)
But by no means was the weekend all seriousness; in fact, on Friday night we were regaled by a comedy trio after the general session and split our sides laughing at some good, clean jokes. On Saturday night we enjoyed a concert by a previously unknown-to-us Christian group and were truly blessed by the lyrics of many of their songs and the testimonies shared.
It was in the final moments of the conference, however, that we shared the most precious time together as a couple. It was then that we were asked to pray for one another: first the husband praying over his wife, then the wife over her husband. What a beautiful reminder of the gift God has given us in one another! We were reminded as the conference began, "Do you realize how amazing your marriage is? You chose this one person over all others!"
Which is why this Festival of Marriage was truly "an occasion for celebration." Of God, Who designed marriage; and of the one He gave me to share life with - my husband.
God's way works - and it is joyous and good as well.