Monday, September 30, 2013

Focus on the Family Couples Retreat - a Magical Weekend



Our friends Steve and Lisa asked us last Spring if we’d consider attending a Focus on the Family Couples Retreat in Colorado Springs. Knowing that it would 1) take place in the fall, during both boys’ football seasons, and 2) be fairly expensive for just a weekend get-away, including buying airline tickets to Colorado, and 3) require lining up grandparents and friends to care for our busy children, it took me about two seconds to reply with an enthusiastic “Yes!”



So last Thursday we boarded a plane at DFW with our good friends and headed for the mountains. In our more than seventeen-year friendship, this was the first trip we’ve taken together. I love the Hotchkisses, and I love Focus on the Family, and I love Colorado. And while I held high expectations of this past weekend, I absolutely undershot.



I felt like the entire weekend was one big treasure hunt, only I wasn’t even hunting. The unexpected treasures simply appeared: new friends, incredible stories, lavish meals, a gorgeous setting, rest, deep laughter, and the camaraderie of faith-filled friends. Some things I want to remember:

- Following Corbin’s (and Steve & Lisa’s) lead the entire weekend, not worrying about a thing. I never even memorized our hotel room number.
- Traveling with a couple we love. Grabbing Starbucks and snacks in the airport, flying, rental cars, exploring the hotel together - all a treat.
- Going straight from lunch after arriving to the Springs to Paul Batura’s office, and an amazing couple of hours with him visiting and touring Focus. For sure one of the highlights of my entire weekend.
- My luggage not making it to Colorado Springs - and then the comedy of errors that ensured because I’d borrowed the suitcase early that morning from my neighbor, so we didn’t even know what color it was to tell the TSA employee (dark grey or green? Lisa was right, of course), and then the bag had been checked in Lisa’s name, which was different of course than my name listed on the bag... it did make it to the hotel after all - in time for dinner!
- Staying at the Broadmoor. Goodness. Corbin and I had never been before - I felt a little like royalty. Royalty shrouded in rich historic chandeliers and draperies.
- Our first evening meal with Bo Mitchell and his wife, Gari. Such a funny, engaging couple who made us feel like we were reuniting instead of meeting for the first time.
- Meeting couples of all ages from all over the country - only one other Texas couple in attendance besides the four of us. And with only about 40 couples total, we felt like we really got to meet most everyone (no matter Bo’s comments of us being exclusive)
- Getting to hear Gary Thomas in person. All of his years of study combined with God’s spirit of wisdom - goodness. He opens his mouth and out flows firm, yet somehow gentle, Biblical wisdom. I fell in love with his teaching through his Sacred Marriage DVDs, but was even more impressed with his live presentation. Especially during a morning Q&A session.
- Walking through Garden of the Gods, watching and feeling the cold, brisk wind of a storm moving in, never running short of conversation with Corbin, Steve and Lisa. And of course, ColdStone.
- Visiting over coffee (and chocolate) late into the evening with Ken & Tina, a Focus couple. I was touched by Tina’s love for widows and those hurting from the death of a loved one. Most compelling was her story of a recent contact with one of her dad’s boyhood orphanage friends - just astounding to see the Lord weave these specific lives together over nearly a century.
- Watching Corbin’s shoulders relax. And then relax some more.
- Meeting staff couples - James and Carrie, Dale and Becky, John and Shelly, Ken and Tina, Kurt and Lori, Greg and Lisa.... and more. Wish we would have had more time with these folks, but I suppose there’s a good chance we’ll see some again.  And after all, we have all of Heaven.
- Karen Fullerton's work in arranging the weekend for all of us. So many details, made us feel appreciated and loved.
- Staying up late (in such a lovely setting, a setting we don’t have to clean!) talking with Hotchkisses - a nod back to our younger years for sure. That used to happen on a weekly basis working with college students, pre-kids for us, and now we rarely get that kind of time together. To have that for one night is a gift. But several nights in a row - opens hearts for deep conversation.
- Laughing with Corbin - a LOT. That may be the best treasure of the entire weekend.
- Lisa’s chocolate peanut butter rolls (she might say those are the weekend's highlight)
- Walking the lake’s perimeter at the Broadmoor. Just being in the splendor of that peace-giving setting.
- Luke breaking his foot Fri night during his football game... and managing to stay off it it all weekend with his parents in another state at a “relaxing” couples’ retreat. Always, it seems, joy and pain go hand in hand. And the Lord knows.
- Sessions that made me laugh so hard I cried my make up off (really thought I’d have to leave the room at one point with Greg & Erin Smalley - had no idea they were BOTH that funny), and then those same sessions producing real, good tears.
- Meeting with Terry Parker about his probate work. Touched by his generosity and ministry heart, his personal story, and his wisdom. Our 30-minute meeting quickly morphed into over an hour - and we stopped only to get to the evening meal. He was a real source of information for us, both with our finances and career guidance.
- Savoring many meals around round tables with amazing couples and amazing food (again - that we didn’t cook or clean!)
- An evening western meal at Focus headquarters - and when it was all over, Jim Daly pulling up a chair just to visit a bit. Meeting and visiting with his wife Jean. Had to just hug them both. What tremendously normal people with tremendously extraordinary responsibilities.
- Corbin laughing throughout the weekend. Hard laughing. Have I mentioned that??
- Bo. Bo knows.
- Bosticks, Andersons, Nowells and my parents taking care of the kids all weekend. Not a hint of worry on our part, but so deeply grateful. Especially Daboo taking the brunt of it all - not a break the entire weekend, and our kiddos loved their time with her.
- Even the airplane ride home. Hard to see that kind of a weekend come to an end.



If Focus on the Family’s goal of the these weekend retreats is to endear and educate couples around the country to the work of this ministry, they succeeded. If, however, a parallel goal is to allow couples an opportunity rest, relax into their marriage, laugh, and  build community with other Christ followers around the country, then that goal, too was surpassed.

I told several people over the weekend like I was at a long-awaited trip to Disney - just magical.  I kind of kept pinching myself, getting to meet and know all of these folks from Focus, and actually spending time at the Focus headquarters. This ministry has played into my life for nearly two decades now, and I don't go a week without listening to podcasts, consulting Plugged-in for movie and media reviews, reading Jim Daly's blog, and sending a Focus resource to a friend. These people we got to meet - these and many others behind the scenes- have influenced me deeply over the years. Like Disney can be for others, this was a magical weekend for Corbin and me. And in visiting with the couples, we were reminded that it truly is a small, small world.

So grateful for all those at Focus who made the retreat possible, for Hotchkisses for bringing us along, and for the mission of Focus on the Family in sharing the Gospel, defending the family, and promoting God's truth. Our lives and family are deeply touched through the outpouring of Focus on the Family.