If I remember it was fall of 19…well it was a long time ago. Julia and I had been married about eight or nine years and we had been going to the Open Door Sunday school class at First UMC of Marietta. It was the class I didn’t want to go too and the church I agreed to go to so I could stay in the background. To my memory we had been hounded all summer to go to “Marriage Encounter”. Everyone said that it would “change our lives”. Well I didn’t really want my life changed. I was doing pretty good. I was finally in my dream job. My marriage was OK and I loved my daughters. What more did I need? Nothing as far as I was concerned. So why should I agree to go to some “spiritual weekend” where they were going to dissect my marriage. NO THANK YOU! Well, the pressure kept coming, and Julia kept saying that she thought we should do it. She said it would “help us”. I didn’t really believe ti, but finally I agreed so that all the noise would stop. I figured that I had seen all the religious stuff anyway. I couldn’t think of anything that would break down my walls.
Boy was I wrong! We went into the weekend and the first thing we had to do was remove our watch. This was before cell phones, and there was to be no communication with the outside world for the rest of the weekend. This was Friday Night and the weekend didn’t end until Sunday afternoon. There were probably at least 30 couples there at the hotel. We all met in a conference room and were all handed bound notebooks. Then we began to hear four couples talking, no reading talks, about the most intimate details of their lives. The subjects were sex; finances; fear; and God. The talks were unbelievable. I couldn’t imagine ever sharing at that gut retching level. The reason they read them was because they wouldn’t be able to tell them in the detail that they had written them. We would hear a talk, then go back to our rooms and write what our feelings were about the talks. It was all about our feelings. They said, “feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are”. Then we would have to let our spouse read what we had written. The we had to dialogue on each others feelings. The hard part was not judging, but accepting their feelings, even when they were so different from yours and they didn’t make sense. For a guy who likes to “fix” things, this was very hard. We pressed on, sometimes having breakthroughs, sometimes winding up in arguments. This was definitely not what I had expected, and I could see it was having some impact on our marriage.
Then came Saturday night and the last subject of the night was God. There were four couples, three lay couples and one clergy couple. The clergy couple read the talk on God. For some reason it hit home with me. I saw God as a rule maker. One who makes us do things we really don’t want to do. I was turned off to religion from what I had seen in my teenage years at Ben Hill. I didn’t want to have anything to do with God. I wrote these feelings out for the first time in my life. Julia read them and we cried. Just like I am crying now as I write this. She accepted these feelings, feelings that I had been unable to accept. It was her love; her acceptance of feelings that I didn’t even like that opened the door to my healing. After we had talked, she had a suggestion. Why don’t we call the clergy couple to come to the room and talk me through this. I agreed, and we called the couple. They cane and we talked for a while. I told him my background and that for years I was always at the church for everything. I finally focused “the question” to him. I said that I can go to church, and I can love God but I son’t want to go to Sunday night service or wed night service. Do I have to go? He gave ne the one answer that set me free. I don’t think any other answer would have allowed me the freedom to be where I am today. I can hear his words tonight. “Tom, if you don’t want to go, don’t go. Just do what you want to do. God knows you and he will show you.” FREEDOM! I had never seen it or really experienced it. You see, as I was growing up, it was my dad’s salvation and religion that I had accepted. I had never come to the point of really accepting my own.
That night and weekend changed my life and our marriage. Julia’s love is what allowed me to share my deepest darkest fears. Things were never the same after that. That was really the beginning of our spiritual jopurney together. We were asked to be a presenting couple for marriage encounter. We had to write talks and then we were the ones reading our deepest darkest feelings. That was our first ministry together. It started a pattern that lasted for our entire time together. We were always pressing on together. Well, almost always. That’s another story for another time. But this marriage encounter weekend set us ablaze. The funny thing is, we still didn’t know about Holy Spirit yet. There was so much more to come.