The weekend that changed our lives

A Marriage Encounter weekend not only revitalised Sandra  and David Thomas’ marriage, it’s given them a new job to do.  Sandra tells their story

In September 2005, my husband David and I, together with our sons Joe (now 14) and Sam (13), moved to Pembrokeshire. David had completed almost 20 years service in the RAF, and I had qualified as a nurse. Joe was about to start secondary school and we had made the decision to settle in one place to enable the boys to complete their schooling undisturbed. We were full of anticipation; our own home after many years of RAF quarters, exciting new career prospects and the wonderful Pembrokeshire coastline 20 minutes away.

The boys settled quickly into their new schools, and made some great new friends. We have an ‘open house’, and frequently can’t get in through the porch due to a pile of huge, stinky trainers!

However, my job as a full-time nurse on a busy medical ward left me exhausted, and David was unhappy. Working from home for a Human Resources consultancy didn’t suit him as he’s a gregarious, outgoing person who thrives on people contact. And when contracts demanded,  he’d have to spend large amounts of time away and missed family life like crazy.

The dawn of 2007 found me fairly despondent. I felt an urge to go on some kind of retreat – I truly believed that God had a job He wanted me to do, but simply couldn’t hear His direction in the midst of our chaotic lives. Additionally, David and I definitely needed and deserved some time to dedicate to our marriage! Our love for one another was never in question, but it can be difficult to maintain closeness when you hardly see each other!

Early in the New Year, I came across an article in Woman Alive that focussed on the relationships of a number of Christian couples. Following the article was an advertisement for a Marriage Encounter Weekend, an opportunity for couples to enrich their relationships by focusing on their vision for marriage, and learning communication techniques to enable a deeper, richer love for and understanding of each other. I mentioned the idea to David, who thought the idea of a weekend away together would do us good!

The advertisement gave three contacts and we chose the ‘Baptist Expression’ as we felt this In fact, would most closely reflect the way we worship. (There are also Anglican and Catholic weekends). The next available weekend coincided with our wedding anniversary! It felt like a good sign, so we decided to pay our deposit in faith, and then started praying for a child-care solution! Prayer was quickly answered, as my mum and step-father were available to come and stay with the boys.

As the weekend approached, I felt a mixture of excitement and worry – what if the weekend wasn’t our kind of thing? What if David really hated it? I’d feel responsible as I was the one who’d arranged it all.  In fact, David didn’t have much time to think about it as he was incredibly busy at the time, but he was looking forward to a rest together.

As it turned out, we didn’t even start the journey together, as David was travelling back from London on the Friday evening. We had a rendezvous in Sainsbury’s café at Bristol Parkway – how romantic! – and travelled the rest of the way to Gloucestershire together.

We arrived at dusk at Glenfall House, a beautiful building set in gorgeous grounds, owned by the Diocese of Gloucester and utilised for Christian conferences and retreats. Although we were a little late arriving, we received a really warm welcome from the ‘team’: a Pastor and his wife (Cliff and Gail Dunn) along with two lay couples, Malcolm and Gwenda and John and Betty. There were about eight other couples taking part.

The weekend was pretty busy with lots to take in and then time together as couples to do the exercises. It was hard work at times - so much for a rest!

As the weekend progressed, David and I began to sense a closeness and a love for one another that was deeper than anything we had experienced since those heady days when we first fell in love. It was so lovely to share our dreams with each other again, as well as sharing our fears, our reason for living, and our feelings about our relationship with God.

By the end of the weekend, we were truly, madly, deeply in love, and had a new perspective of where God is within our marriage, and where our marriage is within his plan.

The weekend culminated with an opportunity for couples to re-make their marriage vows before the Lord. Although always a believer, David has not been a practising Christian when we met and married, and I did not know the Lord for myself at all. For us it was therefore a first, and something we had wanted to do for a long time. Great, fat tears of love and joy rolled down our cheeks as we gazed into each others’ eyes and spoke those words with such love and passion! As we were each ‘born again’ when we accepted Jesus into our hearts, we felt ‘married again’ as we spoke those words of love and promise.

As the weekend drew to a close, the team shared with us how they were desperate for new team leaders, and explained that they were taking a sabbatical in 2008 as they waited on the Lord to send them guidance and prayed for new couples to show an interest. I felt that they were talking directly at me, but didn’t dare mention it to David. We had so much on our plates already!

We left Glenfall house feeling refreshed, our marriage revitalised and our hearts set on God. It was an idyllic evening for the drive back to West Wales, and not even the impatient idiot blasting the horn of his 4x4 could spoil our mood!

As the sun began to set, I plucked up the courage to voice my feelings. . . We’d had such a fantastic experience ourselves, I hated the thought of the marriage encounter weekends coming to an end close. To my amazement, David had been thinking exactly the same as me. We discussed the possibility all the way home, and decided to pray earnestly – God would make it clear if this was the way he wanted us to go.

Once home, we contacted the team members who had helped us to have such a wonderful experience and we also chatted with our minister. Everyone we spoke to was supportive and enthusiastic, and we soon had lots of people praying for us.

As we worked through the things we had learnt during our weekend, we continued to experience a deep sense of love and acceptance within our relationship, and made the decision to commit to Marriage Encounter as team leaders. We’ve since been working on our leadership material and have met with the rest of the team at the AGM.

We are so excited about sharing what we have experienced with other married couples in the future and, with God’s help, will be part of the team leading a Marriage Encounter weekend at Glenfall House for Valentines weekend 2009. We have also held an information evening at our own church and so far one couple have attended a weekend, and another couple are preparing to go!

We feel so blessed to have had this experience and even more so to have the opportunity to share it with other couples. It’s such an answer to prayer, as not only do we now know what the Lord wants us to do, he’s blessed us with a job that we can do as a couple.