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When I posted I Am New Parts 1 and 2, I had no idea that God would re-create me again through a life changing event the very next weekend.  But He did, and, once again, I feel obliged to tell you about it in the chance it might bring you closer to God.

In I Am New – Part 1: A Product of Secularity, I shared with you my semi-agnostic life style of the last three decades.  I explained how I tried to be a good husband and father by attempting to lead a Christian-like life, but in the absence of Christ.  After my conversion last year, I became more aware of a disconnect in our marriage. Because Christ had always been very much a part of Melinda’s life, but was a new phenomenon in mine, I realized that He had been our marriage’s missing common denominator.  

Although I believed our marriage was still a loving relationship, I noticed it had moved toward the all-too-familiar rut of complacency; of taking each other for granted; and letting things other than each other become the “first things”.  I felt I needed to try and make it better.

I have a framed collector’s print hanging in my office.  We bought it with saved nickels, dimes and quarters not long after we were married.  When it was new, it was vibrant with color.  I was looking at it a while back and I noticed how it had, over time, faded towards becoming monochromatic.  It didn’t happen all at once; rather, it lost its sharpness one day at a time. This struck me as an analogy for our marriage.  Had I taken the time to recognize its beauty on a daily basis, I might have given it more TLC and taken action to keep it from fading. 

Since I became active in our church I have made many new friends and I have observed several married couples who exemplify strong relationships.  They exude a closeness and connectedness with each other, and they appear to have the type of relationship one would want to emulate. As Melinda and I got to know these couples better we came to realize that many of them have something in common:  they are “Encountered Couples” – they have attended Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend retreats.

Without much discussion or input from Melinda, I decided to sign us up for a weekend in hopes that our slightly faded but otherwise solid marriage might become even stronger. 

We arrived at the retreat center on Friday evening, along with another dozen or so couples, and, similar to our Christ Renews His Parish receiving weekends, we didn’t know what to expect.  So, we went in with the attitude of leaving our hearts and minds open to whatever the Holy Spirit might provide for us over the next forty-five hours.  We were met by three couples and, to my surprise, a priest, who would all be presenters and facilitators for the weekend.

We turned our cell phones off and tried to forget about issues at home.  The purpose of the weekend was to strengthen our relationship by focusing on each other.

Through the course of the weekend the facilitators shared times in their married lives when they struggled. They modeled techniques for effective communication and opened our eyes to how we as individuals have unique personality types and how we each require slightly different styles of communication. 

During the talks and exercises I realized how our normal daily communicating primarily consisted of chit-chat, and facts and information about children, work, bills, and stuff – all kinds of stuff – much of which was of little significance.  I saw that we seldom talked about ideas and thoughts, about our dreams for the future, and our feelings.

We both discovered we had some sensitive items we didn’t like to discuss – little things that upset us, and personal things we didn’t want to share because of fear of disapproval, embarrassment, or fear of hurting the other.  In talking through some of these issues we discovered we were wrong, that we were actually very understanding and supportive of each other.  Because of this, we saw new possibilities for improved communicating in our relationship.

I read a quote from author Matthew Kelly’s book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy, in which he writes, “Love is a choice.  When we choose to love, our spirit expands.  When we choose not to love, our spirit shrivels”.  I thought I knew how to love.  But, after some serious dialoguing and attentive listening, I made the unfortunate discovery that I perhaps had the verb form of the word “love” mixed up with the noun form of the word.  Even though I feel tremendous love for Melinda I saw where my actions have not always been representative of that feeling.  I felt sorrow because I may have caused Melinda’s spirit to ‘shrivel’ by my actions, or lack thereof.   And, I was embarrassed because I had written and posted just last June an article entitled Love Is A Verb in which I claimed to have, in the last year and a half, learned the difference between the two.  I needed to think again.

I mentioned there was a priest among the presenters.  He discussed his “marriage” to the Church, the Catholic community that is the Body of Christ.  It was interesting to hear him reveal his struggle to feel oneness with the community; of how he finds it difficult to prioritize his time with the Lord, and his time as His representative to his parishioners; and how hard it is to be totally charitable without feeling the need for a little bit of selfishness. It was, in a way, comforting to know that even he has struggled with the same types of issues as us married folk.

I think his main purpose for being there, though, was to remind us that our marriage is not a contract, but a covenant, an unbreakable promise made to God and each other, of unity, intimacy and responsibility (including forgiveness).  He reminded us that marriage is a Sacrament, an outward sign of God’s love for us, and, having entered that covenant, it is our duty to love contagiously; to be life-giving; to lift up our marriage as an example of His love for all to see; and to use that love as a tool for healing within our union when it is necessary.  He helped us see that marriage is like a three legged stool:  the pair of us making up two legs and God making up the third leg.  Without all three the stool fails to function properly.

By the end of the weekend both Melinda and I accepted shared responsibility for allowing our marriage to lose some of its luster over the course of thirty-one years.  We agreed we needed, and wanted, to:  be more open with our feelings; get better at listening; have more trust in each other and be more trustworthy; and be a true “married couple” instead of sometimes being a couple of “married singles”. 

We want to take our marriage from good to great.

It’s been a little over two weeks since our retreat.  Melinda and I agree it was the best weekend we’ve ever had together as a couple.  Since the weekend, we have been rediscovering each other and restoring our relationship – that piece of art made and sanctified by God, but which we allowed to fade over time.  It’s been a joyful and beautiful re-union.

If you have not been on an Encounter weekend and you think you might like to learn more, please don’t hesitate to ask.  If you feel your marriage isn’t quite what it used to be, my guess is that, with a little help from WWME to get you pointed in the right direction, you can also rekindle the fire, the spirit, and the love which the two of you once felt for each other but may have since faded.  You deserve to give yourselves the gift of a Marriage Encounter weekend.

On the other hand, many of you reading this may have already been on an Encounter weekend.  If so, and you care to share an experience, please comment.  I would love to hear your stories.

God Bless you all