I had intended to write a recap of our wonderful mini-vacation, once Laurie and I returned from our long-awaited 3-day jaunt to Chattanooga. I suppose that’s still what I’m doing, though like our weekend, this post won’t be anything like I’d planned. There were going to be pictures and profound words of insight and encouragement, and maybe even a little bragging about our ability to plan frugal and fun trips. Instead, there will be less of all that, but no whining, I promise!
One of the reasons that marriage has been on my mind and in my writing so much lately is because I’ve been so looking forward to the “vision retreat” that my wife and I have been planning for quite some time. The plan was to leave the kid with some friends from church and spend three days in Chattanooga, TN, getting some much-needed R&R while leaving lots of time to discuss some specific plans for the future. Though we have an excellent marriage, and nothing that — in the world’s eyes — we would need to work on, we never want to become complacent or assume that our marriage doesn’t need work. I think most couples wait until there are problems to start working on their marriage, and by then it’s often too late. We refuse to be satisfied with a marriage that is merely problem-free. We want (and are willing to pursue at any cost) the BEST marriage, because that’s what God has called us to!
So our schedule for those three days was packed with fun activities, and long blocks of time to be spent talking. Sometimes talking over things on a prepared list of questions we wanted to answer together (regarding things like parenting style, church involvement, and personal needs/desires), but often just enjoying one another’s company, and getting to know each other through agenda-free conversation like we did when we were dating. Unfortunately, when push came to shove, my body refused to cooperate.
Wednesday afternoon I suddenly came down with some sort of illness. I’ll spare you the messy details, but it was as sick as I can remember being since I was a little kid. Thursday morning I attempted to attend the board meeting for Highland Rim Academy, but had to excuse myself as I was still pretty sick. I laid back down around 9:45 and didn’t wake up again until after 7:00 at night! Considering we had been supposed to leave directly from the board meeting for Chattanooga, that effectively wiped out the first day of our trip.
We decided to head to C-town anyway, because we’d already paid for the hotel room (another bigtime Priceline score, as we booked the downtown Marriott for less than a third of their regular rate). Laurie drove and I attempted to stay awake to talk to her on the drive. I also got to talk to one of Sequatchie County’s finest, who informed us that a taillight was out, but graciously let us off with a warning!
There had been a bit of a misunderstanding with the room when we ended up with two full-sized beds rather than the expected king, but this was a blessing in disguise since we both felt a little better having our own bed, given my condition. Separate beds isn’t what I’d recommend for most marriage retreats, but in this case it worked out!
Friday we were blessed with a much better day. Though I still had no appetite and little strength, we were able to enjoy a full day together. We decided to lump all of our low-mobility activities into one day, hoping to do a little more strenuous walking/hiking on Saturday. After riding the Incline Railway up beautiful Lookout Mountain, we chatted away a few hours overlooking the bends of the Tennessee River from Point Park, where some of the most pivotal fighting of the Civil War took place.
After lunch it was getting pretty hot, so we headed a few miles away to Ruby Falls. I love caves, and so I’d really been looking forward to this tour. For the most part, it did not disappoint! As far as guided, lighted cave tours go, this is one of the better ones I’ve done. The only problem I had with it was the super-cheesy music they played in the falls room. I suppose the idea was to make the water fall more dramatic, but I think it’s dramatic enough the way God made it! Take away the music, and it’s a first-rate attraction. I didn’t feel at all like I’d been suckered into a tourist trap by all the hype (anybody who’s driven on the Interstate within about 75 miles of Chattanooga has seen the “See Ruby Falls” signs every hundred feet or so). We did not, however, See Rock City. I was touristed out!
Friday night I decided that it would be worth the price I’d inevitably pay (and boy, did I!) to attempt to eat Italian food on a weak stomach. We’d heard all sorts of recommendations of Tony’s Pasta Shop & Trattoria, and didn’t want to have to miss out. So I enjoyed a really incredible chicken & spinach canneloni and a walk through the Bluff View Art District with my lovely lady. The Riverbend Festival was going on as well, so we were able to enjoy some free music and lots of people-watching opportunities over ice cream, before I finally succumbed to the demands of my digestive system and drove us back to the hotel.
Unfortunately, Saturday morning found me returned to a (likely cheese-induced) condition of discomfort which seemed impervious to any combination of Pepto-Bismol and ginger ale I could throw at it, so after brunch (but sadly no coffee) at Rembrandt’s, we headed back to Cookeville a half day sooner than we wanted. We took a nice long nap back at the house before finally going to retrieve the baby.
All-in-all, it was still a pretty great weekend. Sure, we didn’t get to do all the stuff we wanted to do, and we didn’t get all the way through our list of “vision retreat” questions, but maybe all the sickness was just a sign that what we really needed was simply rest, not another to-do list. In fact, one of the questions we DID get to on our list addressed our involvement in non-family, non-work activities, which is way too much. Some changes are certainly in order.
There are a few small regrets, of course. I regret missing out on walking, hiking, and reflecting at Reflecting Riding. I regret not sampling the finest of Chattanooga’s many coffee shops. Maybe most of all I regret the fact that Laurie spent the first three days she’s had away from the baby taking care of me. But I don’t really regret being sick. There’s really nothing like being sick when it comes to removing distractions from conversation, and reminding oneself just how independent one is not. How blessed I am to have such a wonderful wife to be with me in sickness and in health! How much more blessed that I have a God who supplies every need (Philippians 4:19)!
Nothing I do in ministry or in life will have any effect for the Kingdom of God if my marriage is not strong. God has stamped his divine imprint upon marriage as a symbol for the way that Christ loves His bride — the redeemed through all the ages which have been given to Him by the Father. If our neighbors, fellow church members, and — most importantly — our children do not see that we are absolutely united in every way by an unbreakable bond of love, then why should they believe us when we tell them of our Heavenly Father whose gifts and calling are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), and who showers undeserving sinners with grace and mercy? It is to this very God I give thanks for the blessings he has shown Laurie and me in the last several days and throughout our marriage. To Him be all the glory forever!