A Georgia retreat center offers hope for troubled marriages.
I’ve always been told—and have dutifully taught my kids—that it’s just plain wrong to colour on the finished walls of a house. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened a door inside an immaculately decorated home recently and found ink graffiti everywhere.
Curiously, the handwriting on these walls wasn’t anything like the crayon-drawn hieroglyphics that had landed me in time-out when I was a boy. No, these writings testified to the power of God to heal broken (or nearly broken) marriages. In a grand and glorious way.
“I came here whipped physically and mentally and left restored to God and my wife,” a Seattle man had written. “Glory to God! This place is holy ground.”
“We came as two broken, wounded, lonely hearts on life support,” another couple had scribbled. “With new hearts transplanted, we leave with a new consecrated life together as one.”
“From the darkness of dread, despair and desperation to faith, hope, fairness and love,” a Chicago couple had penned. “We pray the warmth we’ve found wraps and uplifts you with the blessings that flow from this special place.”
This special place is the WinShape Retreat Center, a remote getaway in the foothills of northwest Georgia. The center opened several years ago when Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy decided to convert an old dairy farm into a summer camp for kids.
When Cathy’s adult sons began imagining how the facility might be utilized at other times of the year, the answer was to use WinShape as a place to help couples build, renew and restore marriages.
Under the direction of Don “Bubba” Cathy and his wife, Cindy, the most remarkable programme at WinShape is probably “Couples Intensives” for troubled marriages. This four-day programme is based at Normandy, a special section of WinShape featuring beautiful two-bedroom townhomes.
Named after the place where one of the most pivotal battles of World War II was fought, Normandy is intended to be a divine metaphor. As WinShape sees it, couples facing great challenges often need to establish a beachhead, to experience a turning point that liberates them and gives them hope in the ongoing fight for their marriage.
To this end, couples in crisis often draw strength from the host couples and professional counsellors who minister to them at Normandy.
“If you can share your problems,” Bubba Cathy says, “your problems often don’t seem quite as big.” Especially if these problems can be laid at the feet of a big God who promises to draw near to anyone who responds to His love.
WinShape Marriage holds a wide array of marriage enrichment programmes, including:
• “Prepare to Last” for couples considering marriage
• “Courageous Hearts” for better communication and conflict resolution
• “Romantic Adventure” for couples who want God to enlarge their vision for how fulfilling marriage can be
• “Follow Your Heart,” an opportunity to unwind from the frantic pace of everyday life in a media-free environment. (That’s right, no phones, TVs, Internet services or other high-tech intrusions.)
WinShape’s programmes emphasize experiencing the presence of God—something that the retreat center’s extraordinary setting certainly facilitates.
Yet, interestingly, it isn’t just the setting or WinShape’s professional counsellors and mentors who encourage couples to experience the transforming power of Christ in their marriages. Some of this inspiration comes from the couples who’ve gone before—the couples who have been writing all over those walls.
The practice began several years ago when a WinShape official suggested that the folks staying at Normandy create a “guestbook on the walls” of the bedroom closets. Rather than simply signing their names and recording the date, however, the couples began writing powerful testimonies about God’s healing power and their renewed love for one another, often within hand-drawn hearts or other graphics.
The bedroom closets inside Normandy now look, at first blush, like something that ought to get a kid some serious time-out. Yet these closets house the most glorious collection of graffiti I’ve ever seen. The scribbled words suggest that WinShape is, in fact, a special place. And the handwriting on these walls serves as a testimony to the power of God to transform broken hearts.
William R. Mattox Jr. mentors aspiring writers through the World Journalism Institute.