Presenting With My Wife At Engaged Encounter

This past weekend, Sidney and I strengthened our marital vocation in the most blessed way. We presented at our first Engaged Encounter retreat. 🙏

Many of you know that Sid and I prepare engaged couples within our parish for marriage on an individual basis. But in June 2022, we joined another marriage-based ministry—Engaged Encounter. This is an international Catholic organization that stages weekend-long retreats for engaged couples. Our pastor, Fr. Jeff Lewis, invited us to join the Spokane Diocese chapter.

After a year of attending our Engaged Encounter monthly meetings and serving in support roles at the retreats, we timidly told our chapter’s leadership that we wanted to present at one. In June of 2023, Ric and Cindy Gaunt came to our house and planted the seeds for doing so. They ran us through what was expected, highlighted the presentations we would be responsible for, and provided us the materials to start preparing. We circled the March 1-3 retreat on our calendar!

We told our Engaged Encounter leadership that we wanted to present.

The next eight months passed quickly, with the latter half of those months heavily devoted to Engaged Encounter retreat prep. Sidney and I had to write our presentations, build slide decks, and practice! By the time this past Friday rolled around, although nervous, we were chomping at the bit to present.

The retreat took place at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in south Spokane. Although the quarters were a little cramped, I sure enjoyed having the time away with Sid.

Engaged Encounter retreats are presented by two couples and a priest at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center in south Spokane. There is a senior couple and a junior couple. We served as the junior couple and were paired with an incredible senior couple with 38 years of marriage under their belts—Joe and Natalie Schroeder.

Sidney and I at our Engaged Encounter weekend retreat. After months of preparing, we got to present!

Completing our weekend team was a priest who I had looked up to for a long time. Fr. Pat Kerst, who will celebrate his 34th anniversary of ordination in May, sacrificed a busy Lenten weekend at his home parish of St. Thomas More to serve at this retreat. As a boy, I would listen to him say mass at St. Francis of Assisi in Walla Walla while I sat in the pew with my grandparents. During my last couple years in Myrtle Beach I would listen to a podcast he contributed to. By the time I moved back to Spokane, he was the pastor at my parents’ home parish. Known for his personal and impactful preaching style, Sidney and I knew we would have to bring our “A” games to keep up with him.

We had 13 couples attend our retreat weekend, a healthy number for the current state of the Engaged Encounter ministry in eastern Washington. It was a lot of fun to meet these 26 soon-to-be newlyweds and learn about when and what church they were going to get married in. But after the introductions and the well-wishes concluded, reality set in: We now had to actually provide these couples with something useful.

Sidney and I were responsible for six presentations throughout the weekend. Using specific examples from our own marriage, we delivered talks on understanding oneself, communication, decision-making, unity, conflict resolution, and betrothal. The Schroeders presented on a host of other equally important marital topics while Fr. Pat provided his invaluable insight during each presentation. As a person who can get nervous enough just doing one presentation, doing a half dozen seemed pretty daunting. But with Sidney on my team and God’s abundant grace, it was much more of a blessed experience as opposed to a scary one.

Sidney presenting at the March 1-3 Engaged Encounter weekend while Fr. Pat Kerst and Joe Schroeder look on.

But the weekend wasn’t just about presentations. We watched videos, shared meals, and did activities. Confession was offered and the chapel was always open for prayer. On Saturday night, Fr. Pat offered mass. It was an intimate and beautiful way for our group to come together and celebrate the source and summit of Christian life.

It was gratifying to see the 13 engaged couples respond so well to everything we threw at them. Sidney and I really enjoyed getting to know the couples better as the weekend went on. We admired the overall humility, appreciation, and faith that was displayed. It wasn’t lost on us that they were giving up an entire weekend to sit inside the walls of a 1950s retreat house when they could be doing so many other things. Thanks be to God for their prioritization.

We had an incredible group of committed couples who brought plenty of faith and willingness to learn to the retreat.

Besides becoming acquainted with the couples preparing to be married, it was a complete pleasure to bond with the other members of our team. Collaborating with the Schroeders was extremely rewarding. They supported us immensely through our first weekend and we learned so much from the presentations they gave. The marriage that Joe and Natalie live out is one that Sid and I aspire to emulate. To share the stage with Fr. Pat was a thrill. Like I said, I have spent my whole life watching him and listening to him. But those nearly 34 years in front of congregation after congregation has surely not inflated his ego—Fr. Pat is as humble as they come! It was so special to see that up close.

This was our March 1-3, 2024 Engaged Encounter weekend team. What a pleasure it was to present with the Shroeders and Fr. Pat Kearst.

As I write this after allowing the weekend’s adrenaline to wear off and the significance to sink in, I just feel blessed for the opportunity Sidney and I were given. Thanks to Fr. Jeff for inviting us into the Engaged Encounter community, Ric and Cindy Gaunt for giving us the opportunity to present, Joe and Natalie Schroeder for teaming up with us, Fr. Pat for leading our weekend team, and everyone else in our EE chapter who so warmly welcomed us. Special thanks to my wife for being the best presenting partner ever! And, of course, praise to God for the grace to undertake such an intensive but worthwhile ministry. We can’t wait to present again. Don’t Blink.

2022: Bittersweet

Reflecting on 2022, I categorize it as a bittersweet year. And I think for the purposes of this blog post, I need to start with the bitter portion for a few different reasons. 1. Bitter comes first in the word. 2. It is good to get the bad out of the way first. 3. The “bitter” of 2022 came at the beginning of the year for us.

So, let me be candid. In January, our family battled COVID. Later that month, as we started to regain our health, we received the devastating and unexpected news that my Aunt Nancy died. Those two events, including their ripple effects and a few other unfortunate developments, kind of put the writing on the wall that 2022 probably wouldn’t be our year. However, we persevered and ended up salvaging what seemed like a doomed 52 weeks.

My Aunt Nancy’s death in January kind of got 2022 off to a rough start.

After we made it through February, things started to look up. We found ourselves in Lent and I think that period of reflection and fasting was just what we needed. A joyous Easter followed and then many good times ensued. Sloan and her cousin, Johnny, played an entertaining t-ball season that brought my family together a couple times per week in the spring. Summer then arrived and our kids were outside every day playing with the neighbor children in our cul-de-sac. Fall brought a lot of change as Sloan started kindergarten, Sid returned to work, and Beau got his first taste of daycare. Now, as we conclude 2022, winter made its appearance in a rather grand way with subzero temperatures and plenty of snow. But this arctic weather can’t freeze the love and thankfulness we have in our hearts.

Sloan enjoyed a successful t-ball season in 2022.

I think our theme of the year might be improvement. I took New Year’s resolutions seriously in 2022 and pledged to become a more competent cook and consistent reader. Sidney will tell you I improved dramatically in the kitchen. As for reading more, a subscription to our local newspaper and the completion of many novels covered that goal. Sloan made and followed through with Lenten intentions, an amazing and admirable task for a 5-year-old. Sid set a goal to return to work in late 2022 and ended up landing the perfect job.

It was fun to read a lot in 2022. I polished off numerous novels throughout the year.

Speaking of that job, it brings us to the second theme of the year—transition. After 2.5 years as a stay-at-home mom, Sid re-entered the workforce in a new career. She accepted a position with Traveler’s Insurance this past fall. Between the job offer and her first day of work, we spent time setting up the infrastructure needed for a dual-career family. This meant enrolling Beau in daycare, purchasing a second car, creating enough “office space” in our home, and synchronizing schedules. Yes, it was a little stressful, but now we are a well-oiled machine pursuing our respective professions while our kids are thriving at their own pursuits.

We enrolled Beau at St. Paschal’s EduCare in Spokane Valley and he loves it!

On the lighter side of things, the third unique theme of the year was recreation. With COVID no longer canceling races and preventing groups from gathering, we made up for lost time. As mentioned, Sloan was an MVP on the t-ball diamond. I participated in two Spokane signature events—Bloomsday and Hoopfest. Sid and I played on our Young Adult Catholic softball team and messed around and played some flag football. I braved an icy course to run a turkey trot 5K. And, of course, Sid and I maintained our daily workouts at Snap Fitness.

On May 1, 2022, I ran Bloomsday after more than 20 years elapsed since I last participated in the event.

Although the above three themes were new this year, the same three values I touch on every year were more relevant than ever…

It sure was a great year to belong to a strong, supportive family. My Aunt Nancy’s death brought the extended Reser family together under less-than-ideal circumstances, but the way we supported each other could not have made me prouder to be a Reser. Throughout the course of the year, we had so many fun times with my parents, siblings, and their families—cookouts, holidays, games, and special occasions never get old. Sidney’s parents visited us in April and her mom returned in November to help with the transition. Finally, our nuclear family stood strong this year. Our “Fab Four” battled sickness together, enjoyed many meals at Red Robin, read 500 bedtime books, bounced at Spokane’s best trampoline parks, and so much more. We visited Charlotte, Dallas, Walla Walla, and the North Pole. Sidney and I made additional trips to Hawaii and Montana. With Sloan growing emotionally and Beau developing conceptually, the overall love in our household grew.

We had many memorable family moments in 2022.

When things seem dicey, especially at the beginning of the year, there was no better way to catch some respite than by turning to God. In 2022, we continued to grow in our faith by doing tangible things to nurture it. Sidney and I joined two ministries together, both marriage-related. We became mentors to engaged couples on track to enter the sacrament of holy matrimony and we joined a somewhat similar ministry called Engaged Encounter. The latter is an organization at the diocesan level that holds weekend retreats for engaged couples. Additionally, Sidney taught Catholic Summer Camp and I joined the St. Mary’s men’s group. Our Young Catholic Adult group thrived as our numbers grew exponentially and we became busier than ever. Whether it was attending our bi-weekly meetings, hosting the bishop for dinner, or playing softball (among other things) it was a blessed year for our tight-knit group.

Our Young Adult Catholic group surrounds Bishop Thomas Daly (center, with hands in pockets). Also pictured is Fr. Jeff Lewis (back row, tallest person in photo), the leader of our Young Adult group and the man responsible for making our visit with the Bishop happen.

Career-wise, you already know about Sid’s successes. As for me? It was the year that a digital marketer like myself moved from behind the screen to in front of it. Our social media and digital triumphs landed me some speaking engagements. I presented to the WSU President’s Cabinet, I spoke at our internal marketers and communicators conference, and I traveled to the Washington D.C. area to present with a few of my colleagues at the American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Ed. I had the opportunity to lead our social media strategy when it came to big-time collaborations with companies like Boeing and SEL. Our savvy EM marketing director allowed me to assist with new digital strategies as we aimed to reach prospective students. Our social media program earned a top 25 ranking out of 300+ schools. Other small victories came along that would not have been possible without the talented team I work for.

I had numerous speaking engagements in 2022, but none more important than my presentation with colleagues at the American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Ed.

But you know what I count as the biggest “success” of my job? That at the end of the day, that is what it is—a job. My boss is adamant about a healthy work-life balance and if it wasn’t for that grace, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate as much on the family and faith components that are the utmost importance to me. So, as I close the door on 2022, I do so with gratitude. The year wasn’t smooth sailing, but at least I had the blessing and support to navigate through it while concentrating on the important things.

The years always turn out great because I share them with these three (photo courtesy of Nicole Lynn Photos).

Sidney, Sloan, and Beau…you three are the best! Let’s make 2023 great. Don’t Blink.