How do you tell a story that's epic?! (It is to us, anyway.)
Five years ago we entered the empty nest stage of our lives. We were looking forward to it with great anticipation. We gave it our all in raising our three kids and were highly anticipating time for us which we never really had starting out because we (by choice) had children right away (with no regrets). Our family was a tight knit group. We loved each other and enjoyed each other's company. We were close. Our kids had the perfect upbringing. Our family was perfect. Then it imploded.
To make a very long story brief, our two youngest kids were both diagnosed with bipolar disorder 30 days apart. Both were a very long way from home at the opposite ends of the states. We could write a book about all the struggles, trials, grieving, pain and more pain our family endured over the past five years. Multiple mental illnesses, ten near-death experiences, six ambulance rides, multiple car crashes, having to find MIA children, three long term hospital admissions, psychotic, manic, hypomanic, depression, deep dark depression, bulimia, starvation, alcoholism, drugs...You name it, we've likely experienced it with two of our kids. The family that "had it made" had so much to hide—and hide it, we did.
We shared very little with those around us thinking we were "protecting our kids" especially living in a small town. It was extremely isolating. For the longest time we were in survival mode and stunned. At first, we clung together and cried out to God. He's always been with us but damn it's been difficult. He's always been right there but we still had to endure the trials and pain and grief. He's always been with us but it didn't always feel that way.
Our marriage had changed. I had changed. We both had changed. Not for the better. Our marriage was struggling to survive. We handled the stress of everything differently. We hated each other and what this had done to our relationship. Just another casualty of mental illness. The past year of our marriage has been horrible—and the kids aren't even at home anymore! They are adjusting. They are learning to manage and healing slowly. But us: we were suffering as we continued to grow apart. A Crossroads “healing group” led to a second one that lead to marriage counseling as a final cry for help. And God showed up.
Marriage counseling was life changing, as were the healing groups. It ended just around the time we signed up for Couples Camp. We were both eager to go do something fun. It has seemed the only time in the past five years we have done "ok" has been when we've been off the grid, dirty and doing our "business" in the woods. No distractions, no 911 texts. Just each other and God. Couples Camp did not disappoint.
We were excited about going. We were excited about the people we met in our group. We went. And it was awesome! Doing the camp thing was fun and right up our alley. But the most special and awesome part was how my husband and I were healed. During couples Wine Time my husband looked in my eyes and for the first time ever and told me I had inner beauty far more valuable than he ever realized. He often tells me I'm beautiful, but never this way. He told me he needs to forgive more. Only God could do that! I admitted to putting our children first over him in our marriage over the past five years and asked him to forgive me. It was an honest honest start to a start over. We worshipped God together and held our hands in the air together (something that the "chosen frozen" don't regularly do). We invited God in wholeheartedly to heal and restore and do whatever He wants in this marriage.
The absolute best part was Sunday morning renewing our vows together. No showmanship because everyone else was doing it. For us, it was the real deal. My husband had tears in his eyes and I, surprisingly did just what I did on our first wedding day. I smiled nonstop. It felt amazing. When we walked away and had a chance to speak in private, we both mentioned that this was something we had always talked about and with no family present, just a tent full of mostly strangers but who were the body of Christ. It felt like it was the perfect time. God knew that, too. God is so good. God is so faithful. He is so trustworthy. He is so patient. God's timing is perfect. We have left Couples Camp re-dedicated to one another, united as one like never before. I am for my husband, my husband is for me and God is for us both. We will make it.
Our empty nest has finally begun.