Sunday, November 13, 2011

Engagement retreat... a success!!!!

So after posting my 7 Quick Takes on Friday, I realized (at the midst of my engagement retreat yesterday) that I never changed my settings so that everyone could see my blog. I still had it set so only my sister could see it. It's fixed now, though. Before I go into the absolutely amazing weekend we had, I made a decision about sharing my blog. I've decided that I will just "pick and choose" which people I actually know in person can read my blog, but, otherwise, anyone in the world is free to read it. I'm hoping it's a place to give inspiration, to get help/advice/stories, and just somewhere for me to chronicle the most important parts of my life. Having said that, it will include a lot of super personal things about my body including things many people would find TMI and, honestly, I wouldn't want them to read. For example, if I write a post about doing NFP and my trouble tracking cervical mucus changes... I don't really want my future father-in-law or someone I know through work to necessarily have that information. But there are certain friend and family I don't mind sharing that with, since they can choose whether or not they want to read it. If people I don't know are reading it, it doesn't bother me.

On to our weekend. I knew that our pre-marital retreat would be special (I was hoping, anyway), but I had absolutely no idea just how much of a life changer it would be for us. I hesitate to let the stories flow, because this entry would be so long. At the same time, I feel like a summary doesn't really do it justice. I wish I could write about every single aspect!

We arrived at The Avila Center in Durham on Friday night. Google maps said it would take 40 minutes, so we left 90 minutes early to allow for traffic and because I'm an early bird. Once we started GPS in the car, it said 1 hr 7 min (which is insane since Durham is like 30 min away). PLUS there were like 3 wrecks along the main road we were on. I was so antsy, because I hate being late and really didn't want to miss the beginning, but thankfully we got there with just a few minutes to spare. We were really surprised when we got there. There were 5 engaged couples, 2 presenting couples, and 1 couple evaluating the weekend because they currently teach the day session and are interested in switching. I thought there'd be like 100 people there! The vast majority of couples choose the 1 day, but with only 4 weekend retreats (and 3 this year since the summer one got cancelled) I was really surprised. It made me nervous being in such a small group, but I knew it would turn out to be a good thing. The Avila Center is beautiful, set out in nature with cabin like amenities. Simple and really sweet. You can tell it's made for smaller groups; I just didn't know that until I got there. The room we spent most of the weekend in had a wood burning stove (that we used most of the time except the afternoons) and padded, comfortable rocking chairs in a big circle that we sat in. So unexpected and I loved it! Friday night was a bit bland. There were cool parts, like everyone getting a Bible and discussing how marriage is presented in various verses. But the wife of the main presenting couple was a bit hard to follow, both because she had an accent and because she is brilliant (a mathemetician) and would sometimes go above my head. So that night, I went to bed hoping for more the next day. Speaking of bed, they put the women in the cabins with super tiny bedrooms, each with one twin bed, and dorm style bathrooms (two bathrooms/showers for the hall)... and the guys in big rooms with two twin beds and jack&jill bathrooms! What??? It so should have been the other way around!

But it was all worth it when I had time to kill Saturday morning. The nuns rang the bell for breakfast at 8, but I got up at 6:45 so I wouldn't have to worry about waiting on a shower and being late. Of course, this meant I was ready by 7:20! Each room had a door that led to the hallway, and another door that led to a long back porch, with a really beautifully crafted wood chair at each back door. I went out there and sat down in the 28 degree weather and my breath was taken away. No, not from the cold. From the view of the woods, changing leaves, prayer gazebos in the distance, amount of benches placed throughout the property for reflection, the prayer labyrinth (which we did and loved!), and mostly the life sized Crucifix set under a huge tree with vibrant red leaves that the sun was shining right through. I was awed into silence, which doesn't happen much. I sat for a bit, and then walked around taking some pictures until Steven came. We had breakfast in the dining room, family style. Then the fun began. Saturday was one of the most important days of my entire life, and of our relationship.

The topics for the day were honesty about sex before marriage, communication, and finance. In the first one, a fairly newly married couple gave a talk about how their decisions before marriage have affected them. They talked about what society teaches man and women about sex (women are there to please the man, instant gratification, men using love to get sex and women using sex to get love, etc.) and how toxic that is on marriages. They talked about personal experiences they had before marriage and almost a recovery process they had to go through, which for them included not having sex for 2 months before marriage (from the day they went on the weekend retreat until marriage). After each session was a reflection time for couples where you could go anywhere on the property. We chose a bench and Steven asked me what I thought about the lesson. I think I started crying right away. About a month ago, I asked Steven if we could stop having sex until we get married. It had been weighing on me for a little while, and I just had this feeling it was what we should do. I didn't approach it well, and he didn't react well; I dropped it. So anyway, I started crying and I told him he knew how I felt about the lesson. I had prayed the entire walk to the bench we chose that God would help him to see it like I was seeing it. Steven immediately, with no hesitation, said he would be ok with us not having sex. I told him I didn't want us to stop because I wanted to, but because WE wanted to and because it was what was best for our relationship. He completely agreed and said he had never thought about things the way the speakers presented it. He said that, growing up, the Christian belief wasn't really discussed in the baptist church... it was just to protect yourself if you do it, but that you shouldn't- point blank. I told him that the reason I had sex with him the first time in our relationship was because I felt like, from past experience and hurt, he might think I was a tease if I didn't, or might not stick around if I didn't do it eventually, etc. Of course now I know he isn't that kind of guy, but I didn't know that back then, and I told him I hate that that's what our sex life is based off of. I want our sex life to based purely off of intimacy, love, and God's plan for us.... not because of sexual impulses we claim to not be able to control etc. He said he thinks it will be really good for us to learn self control and to practice intimacy in other ways. I cried more, but this time out of relief and happiness. I'm not sure I've ever felt closer to him. We talked about practical aspects of how to help ourselves, since we are living together and about the need to communicate with each other and not shove anything under the rug. It will be a tough 5 months, but we also think very rewarding.

The communication and finance talks were really helpful... REALLY helpful! We talked about the dysfunction patterns we each have and found out our love language (his: quality time, mine: physical touch) and how that plays into a relationship. For finances we talked about what was valuable to each of us, helpful ways to budget, etc. It was somewhat basic, but also needed and even fun.

After dinner, I wanted to go to reconciliation because I wanted to get the pre-marital sex burden off my shoulders. Steven asked if he could go. I told him I honestly wasn't sure but would ask the priest when I was in there. The priest said yes, because he is in RCIA and has been baptized, he could go. I was floored and ecstatic that Steven felt the same way I did with the need to become free from that; amazing for someone who just recently started this whole process. When he walked back there, I had to fight back the tears. It was beyond words to see him head back for his first Catholic sacrament. The priest couldn't have been any better for it; he spent time with Steven explaining the entire process and helping him through. When Steven came back, he said he felt like a weight was lifted off. It's exactly the feeling I get after reconciliation, but I honestly thought he'd be too nervous/anxious to get that from it the first time. I was so happy for him. We had mass afterward, with an awesome q&a session with the priest following that, and then a cheese and whine social.

This morning, the talk was on sexual honestly within marriage. It was powerful. The talk was about how sex should never be because one person wants pleasure, and should only be spontaneous once we've learned not to have sex purely because someone is turned on, but because we are both really excited to have sex with one another. I know it seems obvious, but I can count a number of times where I did it as, what I felt was, an act of service for him and maybe he can count one or two times vice versa. But we agreed with the Church's viewpoint, that it should always be a uniting activity and not something where one is doing it for the other. We also had a couple come talk about NFP, which we were already planning to use after marriage. I asked the lady at the end if any instructor could teach it to me, or if I need to see someone special because of having PCOS. She told me to email her and she would set us up with an intro course, that the Creighton model is perfect for us, and that I am in luck living in Raleigh because there is an OBGYN who supports NFP that works with people with PCOS. I was SO relieved. After it was over, Steven and I went and sat in one of the prayer gazebos for our last reflection before we left. We had talked about me staying on the pill until we could afford for me to see a naturopath after we get married, since it would keep the symptoms at bay until then. But we decided that since we will have help before we are married from the dr (we didn't think we'd find a doctor willing to work closely with us on NFP and PCOS) then what better time than the present? So I won't be taking the pill anymore and yes, I am terribly afraid of the acne that comes with PCOS, but I'm hoping I can help it naturally over the next 5 months and have it at bay by the time we get married. If not, it's a sacrifice I have to make for knowing I'm doing the best thing for my body and my relationship. We are going to go ahead and learn the Creighton model and begin charting so we have it down when we get married. Yep, there's a chance we won't be able to have sex on our honeymoon, but we decided after 5 months... what's one more week? I'm just hoping it doesn't coincide!

So, now you get why I say it was a life changing weekend. We have come back from the retreat different people and I can't tell you how much I praised God this weekend for his choice of a husband for me. I have prayed so much over this past few years and I have been so blessed that it blows me away... first for someone to love and to love me, then when I had Steven, for him to consider becoming Catholic if it's what felt right to him, then after that point when God put the notion in my head for us to quit having sex, I began praying for God to give Steven that wisdom, and once that happened, you better believe I will praying for strength and grace these next 5 months! I will always look back on this weekend and be so thankful for the effect it has had on our relationship.

I have a lot I want to say about support/friends regarding our decisions of the weekend, but clearly I need to save that for another post!!!

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful weekend that was. I was moved to tears.