Our lives with our teenage daughter might have taken another turn if I had made a different decision, a decision not to accept an invitation to a weekend retreat called Outback America. And that one weekend changed our lives.

It was fall with cool nights, falling leaves and crisp clear days. Our family was busy with the usual things. We have three kids, and in 2005 our oldest daughter Morgan was just entering high school. For many parents, the first few years of high school can be traumatic and emotional, especially with girls. My wife and I could see the warning signs coming with Morgan – nothing major, but she wanted to be a little more independent and was making some questionable decisions in her social life, especially in the choice of boys she had hanging around the house.

And So We Went

That invitation to Outback America came at a time when I was extremely busy at work. I tried to use that busyness as an excuse to dismiss going because the weekend frankly seemed a little strange, but my friend ended the invitation by saying, ‘”Jesse, this will be one of the best things you could ever do with your daughter Morgan.” That statement stayed in my mind, but the deal was sealed when I came home to find Morgan sitting on the couch. With a boy. And they were only using one cushion! So I accepted the invitation to spend an Outback America weekend in Sylacauga with her.

When I first told Morgan we were going on a camping adventure, there was no pushback or questioning. I figured she was either not listening, or she thought there was still time to get out of it. Three weeks later, we packed the car with sleeping bags, toiletries and camping stuff. But as we pulled out of town, the realization hit Morgan – she was about to go camping with her dad for the entire weekend in a place she had never heard of with other dads and daughters she did not know. For the first 90 minutes, the conversation went something like this:

“Dad, we have a great relationship” (we did), “so let’s just stop in Birmingham and have dinner at the Summit. We can get a hotel room and shop. It will be a great bonding experience. Come on, Dad!”

“Yes, Morgan, that all sounds good, but they are expecting us, and we are going.” Once we passed the mall, things got pretty quiet for the next two hours.

The silence continued until we arrived. We were late since I had worked longer than I should have, but isn’t that what busy people are supposed to do? They quickly escorted us to a big tent filled with other parent/teen pairs who were all singing and worshipping like I had never seen or experienced before.

Unexpected Experience

At the time, I was an elder at our fairly conservative church. We still played the organ and sang from the old hymnal books, so when we entered this big circus tent with a full-on contemporary worship service, I was taken aback and not sure what Morgan’s reaction was going to be. I think she was thinking the same thing, trying to gauge my reaction. Not knowing what else to do, both of us quietly joined in worshipping God through praise and singing.

Throughout the weekend there were talks about life purpose, dating, parenting, wounding and forgiveness. There were practical exercises done as teams and as parent/teen pairs. It was an incredible weekend, a game-changing weekend. It was a weekend that has altered the landscape of my family. God used that weekend to transform me as a man, a husband, a father, a son and a friend. That weekend, Morgan claimed her faith in Christ as her own.

As they headed back to Huntsville, Morgan turned to me and said, “Dad, I never knew that Jesus wanted to have a personal relationship with me. How did I miss that going to church all these years?”

I didn’t have a good answer for her. At that point in my life, I went to church, read the Bible when I got in a jam mostly, and served people because that is what I thought being a Christian was all about. I guess I knew a lot about God, but I did not really know God, and there is a huge difference.

So I told her I wasn’t sure how we missed something so fundamental and simple as being in relationship with our Creator. We decided to start that very day.

Seeing The Difference

Since that weekend almost 10 years ago, Morgan and I have both continued that relationship journey with the Creator. Let me tell you, it has made all the difference in the way we live and love others.

Since then, I have seen God use the ministry of Outback America to transform lives, save marriages and give new life to God’s children. It is a safe place for people to get away in an undistracted environment and evaluate their lives while working on their relationships with God and the loved one they came with – parent, teen or spouse.

Now I leave you with the same invitation that I could not shake: Come to Outback. It will be one of the best things you have ever done with someone you love. It is so worth it. Your adventure awaits!