RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) -- Perched precariously atop a tiny wooden tree platform 25 feet off the ground under a lush canopy of Blue Ridge Mountain forest, Sherry Taylor was about to jump into midair harnessed into a contraption akin to a giant slingshot.
"I hope it builds as much confidence in herself as I have in her," her husband Tim quietly commented, watching stoically from below as his wife of seven years faced her paralyzing fear of heights.
She had just handily crossed "Earthquake Bridge," a series of wobbly disconnected rope swings, and then bravely balanced her way across a log catwalk and a trapeze wire.
Tim Taylor didn't think his wife had another thing to prove.
She briefly considered taking a ladder to safety but then sprung off her roost into a free fall. She was greeted by deafening whoops of approval from shocked observers.
"I couldn't have done it without the Lord, that's for sure," the exhilarated petite blond exclaimed afterward as she melted into the waiting arms of her beaming husband. "It was amazing!"
Thirty diverse couples from across the country came for outdoor adventures and biblical inspiration at the second annual LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center Memorial Day Marriage Impact Weekend. The event was sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The couples also came to renew their relationships -- both with Jesus Christ and each other. The newly installed high ropes course, for example, requires trust and team-building, with a mate on the ground making sure the person above is safely tethered as they traverse the improbably suspended obstacles.
Starting with morning Bible studies, keynote speaker Scott Miller, pastor of Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind., related the physical challenges to everyday trials couples face.
With a mixture of humor and deep examination, Miller outlined the differences God created in men and women.
He encouraged them to pray, play and grow together in Christ, and then sent them out to experience "God's country" at Ridgecrest. Several chose whitewater rafting, horseback riding, hiking Ridgecrest's mountain nature trail or touring the many attractions in the picturesque Asheville, N.C., area.
"There are other marriage conferences focused on education or on therapy, but this one is specifically aimed toward recreation and spiritual enrichment," said Hal Hill, national events planner for LifeWay Conference Centers.
Unable to suppress a grin, participant Damon Patton of Tampa, Fla., shook his head as he watched his friend, John Napolitano, grapple his way to the top of the towering wooden climbing wall.
"It's not something you do every day," Patton smiled, describing the unusual trials as a great tool for fostering fellowship and marital trust.
Last year, Patton and his wife of 20 years, Lisa, rappelled down a cliff at LifeWay Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center's marriage weekend along with Napolitano of Sarasota, Fla., and his wife of 18 years, Marcel.
"It's rekindling all those things you forget to do once you have kids," Lisa Patton said.
Darrell Overbey of Yorktown, Va., said the beautiful setting and the physical and spiritual challenges helped him and his wife, Carol, rejuvenate their 18-year marriage and focus on finding common ministry goals within their church.
"We're coming back for the Fall Festival of Marriage," said Darrell Overbey.
Jim Bolen, a seniors' pastor and pastoral counselor at Savannah (Ga.) Christian Church, enjoyed the merciless ribbing from his friend, Tommy Bumgardner, as he conquered the climbing wall.
"I feel good I kept going," Bolen said breathlessly. "I did it really because of you all down here. It shows how encouragement really does work."
Watching Sherry Taylor confront her fears, Tim Taylor recalled his own fear four years ago after their twins were born three months early. Their tiny baby girl (now a thriving 4-year-old) survived, but their son died at six days old. Counselors warned the odds were against their marriage surviving the death of a child.
The second marriage for both, the Taylors began attending First Baptist Church in Malvern, Ark., at the request of Sherry's oldest daughter, who had lost a friend in a tractor-trailer accident. Soon, they accepted Christ as a family, another leap for Sherry, who was raised a Jehovah's Witness.
"It's made all the difference in our marriage," Tim Taylor, 36, said of their conversion. Now, at age 36, Sherry will be starting nursing school in the fall, with a goal to work in neonatal intensive care.
"Sometimes in our everyday life, as we're so caught up with children and paying bills and working, we forget that if we just let Him take care of it, these things would be so much easier," Sherry Taylor said. "I knew I couldn't do this stuff by myself. I totally put my trust in God."
The Fall Festival of Marriage events will be held Oct. 8-10, 15-17, 22-24, at LifeWay Ridgecrest (1-800-588-7222) and Oct. 1-3 at LifeWay Glorieta (1-800-797-4222). Call for more details or check online at www.lifeway.com/conferencecenters.
© 2004 Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.