RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–As instructors demonstrated safety harnesses for the challenges of the ropes course, Karen Quigg said she felt as if she was part of the “Amazing Race” reality show rather than a marriage conference.
“Amazing Race meets Amazing Grace” might better describe the Marriage Impact 2008 retreat at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina combining outdoor adventure with an inner focus on improving marriage through biblical principles.
Quigg and her husband Chris of Lynchburg, Va., have been married 18 years and have five children ages 7 to 16.
“I wasn’t sure exactly what we were getting into here,” Karen Quigg laughed. “But I was encouraged that he initiated it. It’s really good to see your spouse doing this. It builds that love and respect.”
The chance to go whitewater rafting on the French Broad River or take advantage of other outdoor activities in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains region meshed well with the spiritual focus of the Memorial Day weekend gathering.
“Marriage is something you have to work at constantly, kind of like a love bank,” said Robert Wood of Clermont, Fla., who celebrated his 10th anniversary with his wife Freddi at the conference. Having taken cruises for their past few anniversaries, the Woods were intrigued by the unique combination of Bible study and play.
“It sounded like something that would enrich us and not just be fun,” Freddi Wood said.
“Last year we loved it,” said Kathy Craven of Mebane, N.C. She and husband Ronnie attended the 2007 sessions at the invitation of a friend, and in turn this year invited two couples to come along.
“[T]his is what we were looking for -– something that directs us how we can grow in our marriage. All the subjects -– financial, sexual, time -– you can kind of get in a standstill,” Kathy Craven said of Bible studies led by Dan Seaborn, founder of the Winning At Home marriage ministry based in Michigan.
Seaborn, who coauthored “The Necessary Nine” with Peter Newhouse, led the couples on a fast-paced and entertaining examination of nine marital principles, on such topics as financial security, physical attraction and building “spiritual fusion.”
“One of the reasons [a marriage] goes out is because of our differences,” Seaborn said, using a candle analogy. “The world calls them irreconcilable differences. We try to ‘win’ — and the whole time we think we’re winning, we’re snuffing it out.”
Seaborn challenged the couples to rekindle that flame and step out of their comfort zones not just in their outdoor adventures but for spiritual growth and intimacy.
Starting off one morning with a hilarious game of laser tag and doing military crawls through twisted wild rhododendron were one thing, Kathy Craven said. But her fear of heights had her skeptical about the high ropes course and its zip line from one side of the course to the other.
Knowing that the weekend was about facing overwhelming challenges and trusting God, Craven decided at least to give it a try. For several minutes she stood hesitantly, tethered to the zip line’s treetop perch. Those who watched quietly in suspense from below gave a resounding cheer as she zipped by.
A little dazed but smiling, “I said, ‘God, be with me,’ right before I stepped off,” Craven said.
“I’m really proud of you,” her husband Ronnie said, still awed that his wife of 22 years overcame her debilitating fear of heights. “It really is a leap of faith.”
Andrea Higgins is a writer based in Raleigh, N.C.