Our Branson MO Marriage Retreat

 

Me & Ray Branson, MO
Me & Ray
Branson, MO

Ray and I have been married for 22 years…and it’s been hell for both of us. If that offends you, I’m sorry, but that is the only accurate description of what we’ve gone through.

We’ve been to numerous marriage counselors and pastors throughout the years, to no avail. We’ve had years of betrayal, patterns of strife, unforgiveness, deep hurt, and hopelessness that things could ever change between us.

We’ve both wanted to divorce many times because it’s been so hard. Luke 1:37 says, “With God nothing is impossible,” but I think maybe Ray and I are a pretty good challenge for God!

From day one, Satan has tried to destroy our marriage because of the ministry and missions calling that is on our lives. I share about some of the problems we’ve had in my newest book, Promises In The Dark: One Woman’s Search for Authentic Love

We attend a home church (a small group at our friends’ home) on Sundays, and our friends there recently blessed us financially to attend a marriage retreat they had been to last year, I think out of sheer desperation for our marriage to be healed. It is time.

The retreat was taught by Roger and Laureen Traver with Mountain Top Marriage Ministry, and it was amazing! There were 7 couples attending this retreat.

The Traver’s marriage years ago was just like ours has been presently. They shared openly and honestly about their story. They are lovely, humble, powerfully-anointed people. 

Roger and Laureen were married in 1966. They were advised by a Christian counselor to get a divorce after Laureen became emotionally dependent on a man and committed adultery, and Roger was addicted to pornography and an alcoholic.

Roger and Laureen Traver
Roger and Laureen Traver

Laureen thought spending hours talking with this other Christian man would help her learn more about how a man thinks and figure out why her husband wasn’t meeting her spiritual, emotional, and sexual needs. The other man was always there, being polite, gentle, kind, and even praying for her.

In her book Overcoming Mountains of Fear, Laureen writes, “I enjoyed the friendship, the attention and eventually the sexual arousal I felt when I was around him. The deceptive trap was set. I took the bait and fell into an adulterous relationship with that Christian man. Satan used my own lust to lead me into deception.

They were advised by medical doctors to get a divorce after discovering Roger’s physical disability that caused them to be unable to have sex.

Through commitment, emotional and physical healing, obedience to God’s word, and a brokenness of self and pride, Jesus and the Holy Spirit turned their marriage into a victorious mountain top experience. They’ve brought healing and hope to troubled marriages, saving them from divorce, by teaching couples how to use God’s Word to have victorious marriages.

They began teaching a marriage group in their home in 1984, and now minister throughout the U.S. and in countries all over the world, teaching marriage seminars and using their own books, tapes, and teaching materials.

 

The marriage retreat

Before we left for the retreat, I had journaled and prayed the scripture Galatians 5:16-25, “But I say walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

In the first session, Roger shared this verse and he and Laureen repeated it throughout the seminar. For me, it was confirmation that we were there by God’s divine appointment.  Ray had actually met the Traver’s years ago, and they knew mutual friends of his from Gardner, Kansas. Another precious couple attending the retreat, Bill and Joanie, who are close friends with the Traver’s, also knew these friends of Ray’s well. Small world. Joanie and I instantly connected. I just loved her! My friends Vickie and Jane were there, to my surprise and delight. 

As the Traver’s shared their powerful marriage testimony which so closely mirrored our marriage, I knew in my heart that we were in the right place at the right time. This was God!

 

You have to do the work

After each teaching session, we had homework that we worked on together in our rooms. Exercises of repentance to God, forgiving each other, renouncing spiritual strongholds, tests on our love languages and spiritual gifts, keys to communicating effectively, and more.  

The truth is that marriage is hard work…especially Christian marriages! Christian marriages now have the same divorce rate as secular ones, which is a sad testimony to the world! 

Laureen & Roger teaching
Laureen & Roger teaching

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” – Matthew 5:13, NIV

Time is short before Jesus returns. Satan is actively trying to destroy Christian marriages and families.

 

The fruit

By Saturday night and Sunday morning, I was beginning to feel drained emotionally. Ray is an introvert-converted-to-extrovert, and loves socializing and talking with people. I love people, too, but I’m an introvert. Being around crowds of people for long periods of time drains me. I needed some quiet time alone praying to God, reading, and writing.  

Strife was also raising its head again between Ray and me. But through prayer, choosing the Spirit over the flesh, and the Traver’s help, we put strife down and finished the weekend strong.

The key is for us to continue to daily apply the Biblical and practical principles we learned to have a happy, fulfilled, strong marriage. Ray and I decided that we will attend their marriage retreat again, at least once a year. We have to stay alert and look out for the enemy’s evil devices. 

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

Ray, looking glass at Branson mountains
Ray, looking glass at Branson mountains

The Traver’s also offered a parenting class Sunday afternoon, taught at the gazebo outside by their great worship leaders Mike and Dawn, and Roger and Laureen met personally with Ray and me an hour in their room for counseling and prayer. They are both extremely prophetic and discerning, listening carefully to the Holy Spirit and hearing His voice. They spoke the truth to us in love.

One of the things Roger said to Ray which deeply impacted him was that he is a warrior. Warriors don’t give up, even to the death! Ray repented to me in front of everyone in the room for giving up on our marriage and on me. Another thing Roger said which really impacted him is that Jesus didn’t go around praying for people; He went around HEALING people. He listened to what God said and then He did it. 

Mike and Dawn, Retreat Worship Leaders
Mike and Dawn
Retreat worship leaders

Mike and Dawn said this group of couples had made worship easier. They thanked us for being worshippers of God. They were humble servants and led beautiful worship during the weekend. There was a sweet presence of the Lord there.

worship
worship

 On Monday morning, Roger and Laureen and everyone in the room prayed for each couple, giving them encouraging prophetic words. The Holy Spirit’s presence was there, working powerfully among us. 

Ray and I left the marriage retreat with softer hearts that had been touched by God’s love and forgiveness, greater intimacy, and rekindled hope. It was a much needed break and time away from the daily routine. We had such a fun, and relaxing time. 

 

Pictures from the retreat

The mountains and lakes in Branson are beautiful. 

Branson, MO
Branson, Missouri

 On the way driving to Branson, you see mountain cliffs beside the highway. This reminded me of childhood summer trips to my grandparents’ house. When I was growing up, in the summertime for about 1-2 weeks, I’d go to my grandparents Gentry’s country home in Forsythe, Georgia (near Macon). I knew we were getting close to their beautiful Victorian house when I saw the red clay cliffs along the highway. 

Cliffs, Branson, MO
Cliffs
Branson, MO

 We ate supper at a cafe in Branson, where they had a Friday night special on ribs that had been smoking all day. My husband loves to eat. He is a meat man, so this made him happy. 

smoked ribs
smoked ribs

We stayed at the Bradford Inn in Branson, MO. It has 34 rooms, each with a different design and decor. Ours was called The French Room. “Very pink,” Ray said as we first walked into it, LOL. The room is painted pink with Victorian furniture.

Bradford Inn
Bradford Inn, Branson
The French Room

 It was wonderful. The bathroom has a jacuzzi tub for two. This was one of Ray’s and my favorite parts. So relaxing. We felt spoiled, and are so thankful to our friends for making this happen! We dream of having a jacuzzi in our own home one day.

jacuzzi
jacuzzi

There’s a little patio outside the room with 2 chairs, where Ray and I drank our coffee in the morning, admiring the beautiful view of the mountains. This was one of my favorite things that we did together. This made me happy!

patio
patio

Here is a view of the Branson mountains from the top level of the inn. 

view of mountains
view of mountains

I’ve been craving the beach lately, wanting to take a pic of my painted toenails in the sand...so I improvised, taking a pic of my toes as I relaxed in the big, comfy chair in our room. Yes, I am easily amused. 

my painted toenails, relaxing in the chair
my painted toenails, relaxing in the chair

Ray and I ate in the public dining area the first morning, and in our room at the little antique table and chairs the next 2 mornings. Included in the price of the Bradford Inn’s stay is a delicious breakfast each morning.

The B&B’s owner cooks the breakfast himself. You tell him how you want your eggs cooked and what you want with it: cereal, oatmeal, waffles, sausage, cinammon rolls, coffee cake, biscuits and gravy, fresh fruit. This was definitely Ray’s favorite part. 

Ray loved the breakfast!
Ray loved the breakfast!

The biscuits and gravy and sausage were SO good!

biscuits, gravy,  & sausage
biscuits, gravy, & sausage

On Saturday afternoon, we had “free time,” where we were supposed to do a homework assignment and then go on a date alone…no double dates.

Ray and I were on a strict budget for this trip, so our date was at Steak and Shake, LOL.  They had a special double cheeseburger with fries for $4.99. We are planning to go out for a steak dinner this coming payday. But Steak and Shake’s cheeseburgers and fries were good, and we had fun.

Steak & Shake cheeseburger and fries
Steak & Shake cheeseburger and fries

 There’s lots to do in Branson, including the zipline which looks really fun and the National Tiger Sanctuary.  As I said, we were on a very tight budget, but we did amuse ourselves taking pics by this elephant. Some other people were there, and took the pic for us and we returned the favor for them. 

me & Ray by elephant Branson, MO
me & Ray by elephant
Branson, MO

The healing power of prayer

One of the most powerful times during the retreat was Monday morning, when the Traver’s and everyone prayed for each other. I knew we were going to pray for each other at this retreat (our friends had told us this ahead of time, since they went last year), but I didn’t know it would be this powerful! God is so good!

Below from left to right are the senior pastors of the non-denominational fellowship The Barn in Kansas City, MO, Todd and Vickie Bennett, Jane and Jim, and Charlie and Veronica. Charlie and Veronica have 7 children and were extremely entertaining the whole weekend, laughing and sharing transparently about their sex life and their marriage. Their openness brought great freedom to this retreat. 

prayer time for couples
prayer time for couples

The Traver’s are Spirit-filled Christians and teach on the spiritual gifts, and encourage others to use theirs so there is an atmosphere in their meetings for doing that.

Todd, Vickie, Charlie & Veronica praying for Jane & Jim
Todd, Vickie, Charlie & Veronica praying for Jane & Jim

This awesome couple praying below, Mark and Kim, have been in ministry for over 20 years and are in transition, about to move to do missions work in East Africa. 

prayer
Kim and Mark praying for Dawn & Mike

Praise God! Ray and I were able to pray not only for each other this weekend, but also for other couples, using our gifts and giving them encouraging, prophetic words. If you don’t know what your spiritual gifts are, you can take online tests here.

If you’d like to learn more about the spiritual gifts, two resources I highly recommend are The Gifts and Ministries of the Holy Spirit by Lester Sumrall and Step Out and Take Your Place by Krista Dunk

Not everyone at this retreat had been taught about the spiritual gifts and were a little uncomfortable. Sometimes God will take you out of your comfort zone to lead you into a more mature, deeper relationship with Him.

This marriage retreat was such a blessing and I’m so thankful that Ray and I were able to go and renew our marriage. Please pray for us as we work on applying the Biblical, practical principles and tools we learned about at this retreat.

We know that Satan doesn’t want our marriage restored and that he’ll be up to his old tricks, so we have to stay alert, pray and read the Word together, and fight Satan together. He is our enemy, not each other.

Ray and I have a calling from God together to the nations and need to fulfill the purpose God has for our lives. We also want to leave a godly legacy for our children and grandchildren and be an example to others of God’s love, forgiveness, and power. 

me and Ray, Branson marriage retreat
me and Ray, Branson marriage retreat

I highly recommend attending the Traver’s marriage retreats, whether you are a newly married couple, have been married for several years and just want a tune-up, or your marriage is on the verge of divorce and you need a Divine intervention.

Ultimately only God and you and your spouse can heal your marriage. Marriage is really about your relationship with God – obeying Him.

Are you willing to obey? (Am I?) Are you willing to do what it takes and die to self, so that your marriage can be a beautiful picture of Christ and the Church? (Am I?)

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121:1-2, NKJV

hills/mountains in Branson, MO
hills/mountains in Branson, MO

 

 

 

 

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Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey

Grey sleeping cat -"Image courtesy of  [papaija2008] / FreeDigitalPhotos.ne
Image courtesy of [papaija2008] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net/
Today after I bought groceries and returned home, I was feeling fashionably cute and comfortable in my leopard-print blouse, short black skirt, black tights, and tall black boots and am thankful that temps here in the midwest aren’t still below zero after the “polar vortex” winter storm suddenly hit the U.S. Yes, I was finally outside, breathing fresh air!

As I walked on the short sidewalk leading to the steps of our back door, I noticed the icy sludge that crunched under my boots and immediately thought how different the weather conditions here are compared to the intense humid heat in Kenya, where Ray and I recently traveled to speak at a conference.

What a contrast. I began musing how life itself has so many contrasts. Shades of grey, even among people.

The saved and the unsaved. The rich and the poor. Men and women (Mars and Venus). The married and the single, widowed, or divorced.

Even in marriage, there is such stark contrast. An eternal covenant, a man and a woman uniting and becoming one flesh, such happy memories of their children and grandchildren. But also a lightning flash moment of intense pain and rage, when a single betrayal causing overwhelming hurt threatens to unravel and annihilate 10, 15, or 25 years of marriage.

Contrast like this is difficult for me to understand. Why isn’t it just one way or the other? It should be so much simpler, either a happy marriage or an unhappy marriage. A satisfying, beautiful life or a miserable, unhappy life. Black or white.

Unhappy couple
Unhappy couple

Why is there mixture? Why is there grey?

I am and have always been a very black-and-white thinker. Right is right; wrong is wrong. With me, there’s not a lot of “grey” area. My mind often runs AGV Italo-train fast, cleaving like a thick piece of raw steak thoughts, ideas, and people into neat, precise categories.

I love those short black boots; those beige dress shoes are ugly.

Mexican food is my favorite meal and I could eat it every day; beets are gross and disgusting.

Sandi Krakowski greatly inspires me as a woman entrepreneur; Lady Gaga really knows how to market and loves her fans, but she is offensive and ridiculous.

Black or white. No shades of grey.

He loves me; he loves me not.

She stays; she’s leaving. 

Loves me, loves me not, loves me
Loves me, loves me not, loves me…

Yet without the grey, without contrasts and mixture, there’s no room for grace – God’s grace and our own grace…grace for us to receive, grace for us to extend to others in return. God, I am so deficient in grace; help me.

God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. – Ephesians 2: 8-9, NLT

Grace means to get something that you don’t deserve ~ God’s unmerited favor. Mercy means that you do not get a punishment that you deserve ~ God’s compassion. (Resource: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/20-inspirational-bible-verses-about-grace/)

Everything isn’t always divided so cleanly, like a man chewing on a pork chop until only the bone remains, without even the fat.

Compartmentalizing all of life (even God’s word and people) into either black or white categories is much simpler and easier for us, but it’s devoid of grace, which is like color to an artist’s canvas.

Copyright 2012 Leah Jones
Copyright 2012 Leah Jones

Ansel Adams preferred and became famous for working with black and white photography, as he felt color was distracting and could divert a photographer’s attention away from achieving his full potential. But color makes a room, an outfit, a painting come alive.

Grace is the vibrant, beautiful color that brings us to life. And sometimes that color is grey.

Not everything is black and white. Not everything fits neatly into categories.

Life has contrasts. Life has joy. Life has pain. A woman in labor will cry, scream, and even rage at her husband or coach to go away and leave her the #?! alone. She will say she just can’t do this anymore; it hurts too much. But when that beautiful baby is born, she laughs, kisses her little one, and is filled with joy at the most beautiful baby in the whole world. (My babies certainly fit this title!)

 

mom and her baby
A mom and her baby

Marriage and family are filled with precious, happy, good memories. There’s also pain that stabs unexpectedly and instantly, and this is the grey area, the contrasts, the place that gives room for grace to abound.

John testified about Him and cried out, This was He of Whom I said, He Who comes after me has priority over me, for He was before me. [He takes rank above me, for He existed before I did. He has advanced before me, because He is my Chief.]
For out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received [all had a share and we were all supplied with] one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favor upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift. ~ John 1: 15-17, Amplified Bible

We ponder many perplexing things in life, like why there are so many starving people in the world, why women and children are being trafficked globally more than ever before as sexual slaves, why innocent people are tragically hurt or killed, why governments become corrupt, why sick people aren’t always healed. Ultimately the 2 questions we are asking in our hearts in these situations are:

  • Why do bad things happen?
  • Does God know or care about this and is He still good?

This week on Facebook, I was shocked and horrified to read the status of one of my “Facebook friends” – a woman I’ve never met in real life and don’t know very well, except by her face and her usually positive, encouraging posts. This is what her status said:

My daughter died.

Oh my God. Her daughter was having emergency surgery and that is all I know now. I don’t think anything could be more difficult or horrible to go through. Words are simply inadequate for a situation like this. The last time I checked, she had hundreds of comments (including my post), saying we were praying for her.

Why? Why did this happen? I don’t know. Shades of grey.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know one thing: God is love and God is good. He’s not like people. His ways are far above ours. (1 John 4:8; Isaiah 55: 8-9)

Jesus on cross
Jesus on cross

And He longs to shower us with His grace, comfort and strength, and wants us to become overflowing fountains of grace to others.

Grace supplied from God…in the heart-wrenching, painful shades of grey. Grace we give to ourselves and others…in the shades of grey. 

Man and woman embracing
Image courtesy of [David Castillo Dominici] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Difficult, agonizing lessons so that we might be molded into His perfect image. The Man of Sorrows.

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

The suffering servant,

So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. John 13: 4-5, NLT

The only Son of God, who was accused, tortured, bled and died for you and me so we could know and be with God forever. The ultimate Grace Giver.

Now Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV

What are your thoughts on this? Are you a very black and white thinker, too? This week think about those areas that are “shades of grey.” They are opportunities to study grace. Leave your comments below.

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