Where to begin? Well, first off let’s celebrate the fact that I’m starting this post mere days after arriving home, not weeks or months. I debated waiting for the professional pictures to arrive, but realized I would just use that as an excuse to drag my feet and this post would never be written. So here it is, in all it’s glory, with my lovely iPhone pictures (and probably a few that friends sent me and I’m sorry if I’m not crediting). I do have a couple of sneak peeks from the photographer, I’ll make sure to credit him for those.
Flame Fest. This was our second year attending, but the third year of the event. It’s really hard to describe what it is in words. In the simplest terms, it is a marriage retreat for firefighters and their wives (or husbands, as we do have some female fire fighters in the group) put on by Fire Fighter Wife. In more complex terms, it is a time when I get to see my friends that I have been communicating online with for the past 3 years. It is a time for men who value marriage and family as well as, or more than, their career to connect. It is a time for marriages to be strengthened through workshops and activities (like the touch a truck competition). It is a time for brothers from across the country to meet and immediately get each other, though different, they have common ground. It is a time to laugh. It is a time to cry. And it is a time to leave with stronger friendships than you could have imagined, and text conversations keeping them going.
We left on Wednesday morning, bright and early (4 am!). But it was worth it because we got to meet up with one of our favorite couples for the long drive from Columbus to West Virginia. We also met up with another family who we spent time with last year. Dinner with them was the perfect way to start the trip, because truly this weekend was about relationships.
We came in a day early because I had meetings. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I am an advisor for Fire Fighter Wife. It was an honor to be asked last fall, and this time with the other advisors really make me feel like an integral part of the team and our dream. That three hours left me more energized and excited than I could have ever imagined. It was the perfect way to start the retreat. Later that day we had a captains meeting (Matt jokes about how I made captain before him, and he’s not surprised. hehe). It was fun to see all the ladies who pour so much time and energy into the sisterhood. Who share the same goals of wanting to see marriages thrive. Afterwards, Matthew and I went on a run, which was supposed to be quick but ended up being almost four miles because of a few wrong turns. It was great though. The perfect time for us to connect and I was able to debrief about my meeting.
The captains sent their love to the ladies back home!
That night we were put into “crews” at dinner and we came up with a name and slogan. I loved having assigned seating, because it made us branch out and meet new couples. Plus Matthew got to show off his mad art skills and we laughed a lot with our Twerkin Chaplain! Later that evening we spent time with a large group of people in lawn chairs outside our rooms (we were in “Suites” that were really like little eight condos outside). It was fabulous to connect with friends old and new over hard cider and wine and brewskis (everyone had a different preference) and laugh. Boy did we laugh. I need to laugh more, and this trip definitely reminded me of that!
the Dancin’ Chaplains
The next day Matthew and I joined 555 Fitness for a little workout. 7 am was really early after our 2 am bedtime, but the workout was totally worth it! It was a partner workout called “343,” in honor of the fallen firefighters in 9/11. Between you and your partner you split 100 pushups, 100 situps, 100 squats, and 43 burpees, with a little run in the middle of each set. Nothing super crazy, but a great way to start the day and get our blood flowing. It was also fun watching the couples workout together. The guys were super encouraging of their wives.
The rest of that day was filled with speakers and workshops. Dan and Lori shared their story, what makes their marriage work, and where FireFighter Wife came from. I always love hearing from them and seeing their passion. Chief Bobby Halton shared about his time in the fire service and what it means to be a firefighter wife. Rhett Fleitz and Willie Wines spoke about PTSD and suicide and how to help your brother. It was well done and reminded us of the changes that need to happen in the culture of the fire department. There was a marriage panel with couples from the group that shared what their marriages really look like and how to help them thrive in the fire service. The afternoon we had a couple of breakout sessions. First we had a massage workshop, which gave us hands on experience in giving each other a back massage. It was fantastic. Secondly we heard from some of the guys with NFFF (National Fallen Firefighters Foundation) about planning for a LODD, not the most pleasant topic, but definitely something we need to think about.
That night was the ball. Oh the ball. Last year I opted for formal, so this year I decided to go semi-formal. That and I never found the formal dress that I pictured in my mind. haha I love any occasion to dress up, especially when all of my friends are looking so fly! This years ball was a recommitment ceremony as well. A bunch of the couples had the joy of renewing their vows, and they exchanged new Qalo rings. We got Qalo rings too (yay for the thin red line ones)!! I loved taking both selfies and formal pictures with my friends, as well as dancing the night away. We sat with our #calipartycrew, had a no cell phone rule at our table, and laughed a lot!
The lovely advisors, all dressed up!
We are under that arm taking a picture. haha
Mandatory bathroom selfie
These two, Katelyn & Sean, have become fast friends. We are at similar places in our lives / careers, and they are just awesome. So glad we finally met!
With Dan and Lori, after the ball wound down!
the #calipartycrew lookin fly!
with the Fleitz’ and the Bevers’ who we spent some quality time with last year
After the ball wound down, we headed to the fire pit to continue the party. Comfy clothes mandatory. more laughs and jokes ensured. I’m pretty sure we stayed up until 2 am again, which made out 9 am workout pretty brutal!
The workout was fun, but Matthew and I both got stung by bees, and that was not fun! We survived though! Haha The rest of Saturday was filled with free time and then Touch a Truck. The California Girls sent sunglasses for our picnic that day. They were the perfect little touch of Cali for everyone. We decided to go through the activities (forcible entry, wall breach, and going up in the bucket) together as California girls. We had a blast. Then there was a couples competition (forcible entry, wall breach, and running and then spray the hose) for time. Matthew and I were the first and only team to finish under a minute. I was amazed. I mean, I knew I was getting stronger, but I seriously doubt my own skills. I was sure everyone would be faster and work harder than us. The feeling of victory when we finished was amazing, especially once we heard our time. It was awesome working together with Matthew to conquer something. We need to do that more often!
This photo taken by the Beves
Willie (aka THE Iron Fireman) wanted a picture of me in his gear. I was honored to use it!
That night we had a barbecue and then more time by the fire. More sweet time with precious friends. And lots and lots of laughs. Also I somehow got roped into singing amazing grace, accompanied by a guitar and banjo. I was way off key for the first verse, but then found my groove. I wasn’t too keen on the idea at first, but it really was the perfect way to end the evening.
That next morning was full of more goodbyes and lots of pictures. I was so blessed to connect with women whom I love so deeply but hadn’t met in real life yet. It was hard to leave, but I know the connections run deep. We caught the four hour ride back to Columbus with Dan and Lori and it was perfect. We were able to discuss the weekend as well as our future.
Matthew and I left more connected than we have been in a very long time. We were able to get away and just talk. We made new friends that encouraged and refreshed us; and are at the same stage of life so we can challenge and comisterate with each other. I feel like we left a big weight behind when we got on the plane in California. A weight that I didn’t even realize I was carrying. I’m so glad. It’s been a bit of a challenging season. I know that this next year won’t be easy (paramedic school, anyone?), but I feel like we are at a much better place going into it. In short, I’m so blessed to be a part of FireFighter Wife and that we were able to experience this together. Oh, and the guys were so excited that they started the 24/7 Commitment Honor Guard to continue encouraging one another in their career and their marriage, just like Fire Fighter Wife does (24/7 Commitment is the newly formed non-profit that runs Fire Fighter Wife).
And guess what? Next year we are having a retreat in California, so many of you who couldn’t come because of costs can join us! Will you come to the California retreat next year? How about if we change the name so it doesn’t sound so… well…. yah. 😉