See Youtube video

Oct 16, 2016 By Norris Burkes

On the first weekend of October, I led 11 military veterans and their spouses into the Sequoia National Park for a marriage retreat. We came to accomplish three things: plant, laugh and love.

Our retreat was hosted by the environmental group Nature Corps. Mark Landon leads the organization that routinely brings corporate groups and low-income youth into the national parks to support important conservation projects. Normally, participants make a contribution for the opportunity to participate in these personally enriching “volun-tours.” However, thanks to a generous grant, our weekend was free for veterans.

The retreat began Friday night with a catered dinner and brief introductions. We rose the next morning to chilling temperatures and hiked through a forest of mighty sequoias to spawn new ones. Under a cathedral of majesty, our lives and our intentions seemed dwarfed as each couple used a posthole digger to plant several new trees.

Landon asked his own pastor, Dayn Mansfield of Vintage Community Church, to conclude the morning of planting with an inspirational thought.

Mansfield asked us to kneel beside a sapling we’d planted. In a prayerful moment, he had us recall the day we “planted” our marriage.

“But we can’t just plant and forget,” he said. “Like these giant sequoias, we must work hard to grow a strong marriage.”

Landon had planned dozens of these reforestation tours, but this time his mission was replanting more than trees. He was helping to replant marriages affected by multiple military deployments.

As for me, you might say I’d come for a laugh. I say that because I was leading the retreat with a military-focused curriculum from called “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” by Mark Gungor. During four 90-minute sessions, we played and discussed videos of Gungor’s stand-up humor on marriage.

Gungor kicked off the laughter when he warned the audience that “One hundred percent of divorces start with a marriage.” The nervous laughter began in the second session when Gungor told wives, “If you want him praising the Lord in the morning, put a smile on his face tonight.”

The humor may fall flat in newsprint, but the audience often erupted with so much laughter that it was sometimes difficult to hear Gungor. It was a healing thing to hear these warriors laugh, but even more healing to see their love rekindle toward their spouses.

On Sunday morning, during our last session, our group assembled on Beetle Rock overlooking a monumental valley and each couple faced each other in a wedding posture. Then we began something Gungor calls the “Reset Button Ceremony” where each person publicly asks their spouse to forgive them.

The husbands recited their lines that began:

I’m sorry for not always being the kind of husband I should be to you.

For not giving you the attention you deserve.

For being too caught up in my own world instead of “our” world.

For demanding too much and not giving enough.

For not loving you like I should.

Please forgive me.

With your love, your support, your patience and your prayers, I will strive to be the kind of husband God expects me to be.

The lines recited by the wives differed by only three lines in the middle.

Honey, I’m sorry for not always appreciating all that you do.

For not always being the lover I know you need.

For not always believing in your hopes and dreams.

Again, the lines might not translate well on the printed page, but on the cool morning rock, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The replanting had begun.

– If you’d like me to be a part of our next marriage retreat, write me at [email protected] or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715.