Matt and I have been blessed to provide close to 35 marriage retreats since joining the Army through the Strong Bonds Program. It is possibly our favorite thing to do. To see families drive somewhere away from their everyday life to reconnect brings us joy. We love to teach together, model new skills, be vulnerable with our own story, and watch couples find that spark. Our retreats are always working retreats. Much like my counseling style, I love to see people work hard on themselves and their relationships. I love to look across the room as couples look into each others’ eyes and find that spark again.
This year, I was humbled to be asked to be an Ambassador for the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. I have always felt a pull towards the Foundation as we have similar missions and values about helping marriages succeed. As my relationship with CKFF has grown, I have been blown away by their humility, integrity, and genuine love for the people they serve. Even as our talks began with how we could work together to serve military and first responder families, the staff expressed their desire to make sure my own family succeeded.
In the past 8 years that Matt and I have served military families as a chaplain family and counselor, I don’t think we ever asked whether or not we might need to be served ourselves. It is our calling. Even as we sigh in exhaustion from leading an event, the satisfaction that another family was invested in, confirms our desire to do it again the next day.
Two weeks ago, the CKFF offered Matt and I a chance to go on one of their Revitalization Retreats. These retreats are given to military and first responder couples who are nominated as needing a chance to reconnect in their marriage. Many of these couples struggle with PTSD, years of separations and stress, and little time to work on their marriage. Some may be on the brink of falling apart. CKFF grants these families that serve the opportunity to go away for a weekend and not work on anything heavy- simply to go and “be” with their spouse. At first, I wondered if simply “being” with their spouse was enough to turn things around, but as I found out- it is just as powerful as the hard work Matt and I recommend during the retreats we lead.
I felt guilty for accepting the Retreat from CKFF. I thought, there are so many more deserving couples in need of this opportunity. The past year has been a flurry of opportunities for me that few would ever get to do. Yet as the staff of CKFF reminded me, sometimes you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can care for someone else. Did Matt and I need a retreat? You bet we did. As we thought on it, every get-away but one in our 17 years was a working trip that we tried to turn into an opportunity to care for ourselves too. Weddings Matt performed, marriage retreats we led for others, we would throw in a date night. Even trainings for work we tried to claim as a vacation. Never had we gone somewhere just to be with each other.
The CKFF motto is “When one person serves, the whole family unit serves.” This is so true. We affectionately call ourselves #TeamWeathers and our boys have joined in the calling to serve other families. Marriage retreats are opportunities for the boys to serve in childcare. Our family has felt honored to be a military family and give back.
All of that, including moving twice in a year had taken a toll. A retreat like this could not have come at a better time. This year has felt like I had been the one deployed and Matt often sacrificing to be the flexible and available one while still sustaining his own job.
The CKFF Revitalization Retreat came with a flight for Matt and I to Charleston, SC. But what about our children? We had just moved away from family and did not have connections to anyone who could care for them for an extended amount of time. The answer? The CKFF flew my mom to our home as well as gave her spending money to make sure she had a great time with the kids. Amazing, right? We have always been able to offer childcare at retreats, but for someone to go to that measure to make sure our whole family was taken care of made all the difference for us to go with peace.
The staff, calling themselves “our concierges” for the weekend made themselves available to us the entire weekend. They asked us what kinds of activities they could plan for us. If there was something we wanted to do, I’d just call and “Poof!” they made it happen. There were many tours around Charleston we could have taken advantage of, but because our life has been so scheduled, we opted for lots of free time instead.
They scheduled amazing dinners we would have never asked for ourselves. Reservation made, gratuity already taken care of, and whatever we wanted on the menu at our fingertips. A couple’s massage topped it all off. Our hotel was flawless, with the freedom to order room service and not leave the room at all if we wanted. For someone who keeps the budget, it was an amazing feeling to have breakfast brought to the room where we could watch the news without the children interrupting and drink coffee before it turned cold. As glamorous as it sounds, it was hard to receive- we had taken the place of serving others for so long, it was humbling to be given such a gift.
We went for walks where we talked about all kinds of things- our life, our shared memories, our vision for serving in the future, the forgiveness we had shared with each other over the years, and we also had moments where we said nothing at all. Just holding hands, walking down the street on a Spring day. The newness all around us, reminding us that seasons change and everyday is a day to start again.
It seems we did so much more than that, and yet we tried our best to do nothing at all. Something so foreign to us that we actually had to work hard at it.
If all of that wasn’t enough, we were greeted with flowers when we got home. “We hope you had a wonderful retreat, Love the CKFF Team”.
For just a moment, it felt like royalty. Not that we felt entitled to it, but that we felt worthy of the kindness and service from someone else. All I can say, is that I have never felt more loved or valued by an organization that by CKFF and their staff. First, that they would even extend a retreat to us. We would never ask for it, but in the midst of our calling, they cared about our marriage thriving.
To be honest, I needed someone to care about that. In order for me to keep caring for all of you.
We didn’t feel just noticed or acknowledged. We felt seen. Truly seen for the sacrifice that we (and so many others) give every day. With tears in both of our eyes, we kept looking at each other in disbelief. People really care that much? It opened our eyes to truly see how powerful it is to just “be” with your spouse. Marriage is hard work, and should be. But my marriage already has to work hard. We needed the reminder that we must also make time to play or say nothing at all. That spark that was there in the beginning is just right under the surface. You may just have to simply step out of the stress of everyday life to see it again.
Thank you to the Chris Kyle frog Foundation and all those who have donated to make this and other retreats possible. You are changing lives, which change families, who then go out and save lives.
To donate to the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and make this posssible for more military and first responder families, click here.