Amber and Jason Groves believe the best way to connect is to disconnect. At Refuge Ranch, their idyllic retreat nestled among the oaks and cedar groves of Buffalo Gap, guests can do just that.
Refuge Ranch was born out of what Jason describes a “deep dive” he and Amber took into their lives around the beginning of 2017. It was during this time when the couple, who were in their 40’s with three children, asked themselves one of the most important questions of their marriage – “who are the 50-year-old Jason and Amber?”
A Couple’s Dream
Jason and Amber met while students at ACU and have been married 20 years. Jason said they used the solitude and peace of their Saturday mornings to “talk and dream and start getting to know the older version of ourselves and think about what those people look like.”
While a time of introspection and curiosity, Jason also described those months as a “tough season.”
“It was a challenging time, what I would call a valley,” he said. “We were living our lives in such a hurry and were stressed and driven by the next thing and the next thing after that. It seemed like there were never enough hours in the day.”
As he and Amber continued to prayerfully take stock of their lives, they looked around only to discover they weren’t the only ones for whom this “grass is greener” mentality had clouded what was truly the essence of marriage and family.
“As we started looking around we saw other people who were also disconnected and whose marriages were also struggling because their priorities were in the wrong place – God was making it clear to us that we needed to refocus,” he said.
As their discussions continued, the idea of Refuge Ranch evolved before their eyes.
“We love the outdoors and camping has always been special to us and our kids, and as we talked about it, we realized we were painting a picture that is now Refuge Ranch,” said Jason. He said the idea was to use their own property as “a mixture of a city park and state park and a national park where anyone can just show up.”
Jason said people can do as little or as much as they want and each guest sets the pace and tone of his or her visit.
“We want people to have fun and in the process maybe even discover the eight-year-old version of themselves. There are cool things to do, but just as important, there are things not to do – this is supposed to be a refuge from stress and the constant barrage of technology,” he said. “So, if you want to come out and just chill in a hammock that’s great, or if someone has had a stressful day and wants to throw some axes, they can just show up – all you have to do is say ‘Yes.’”
Outdoor Date Nights
A unique feature of the Ranch is Marriage Date Nights.
“It’s easy for people to get distracted by everything going on outside their marriage, whether it be technology, jobs or what have you, so we wanted to create a place for couples to disconnect from all the busyness and connect with each other,” Jason said, adding that the experiences are personalized for each guest. “Our date night experiences are centered around food, music and experiences and through a series of conversation prompts each couple is given the chance to dream, reminiscence and share.”
One of the Date Night experiences, the Progressive Picnic, allows couples to enjoy a thoughtfully organized evening.
“When people register they are asked a series of questions so that we can get to know them as a couple and personalize their evening just for them,” said Jason. “When they arrive each couple gets a picnic basket, a blanket as well as an envelope with instructions to guide them through the dinner.”
The Date Nights are limited to 25 couples, which allow for tables to be spaced far enough apart so that guests feel like they are the only ones enjoying the beauty of their surroundings. There are different stations in the woods for each customized meal course and a new personalized envelope at each course with instructions.
“At the salad course there might be a trivia game, with questions pertaining to the year a couple were married. Then at the next course they get another envelope that comes with a paddle and a dry erase marker. We give them a list of questions and one spouse answers on the back side of the paddle and their partner has to guess the answer,” said Jason, who added that couples sometimes end up in “some pretty hilarious disagreements – like ‘when was our first kiss?’”
During the next course guests touch on more serious topics, such as what they appreciate about one another and their hopes for the future.
Forever in Love
All the couples bring their own special touch to Date Nights, but two in particular stand out to the Groves. At a recent event, one of the guests included a young wife and her soon-to-be deployed husband. The couple had received the Date Night as a gift from a friend and Jason promised that upon the husband’s return the next event would “be on the house.” Another couple, who got married at Refuge Ranch, returned for a Date Night and their table was place in the same spot where they exchanged vows.
The Groves say they measure success in stories like these and feel they’ve achieved what they set out to do when people leave “reconnected, inspired, appreciated and knowing they have a purpose.”
And as for the 50-year-old Jason and Amber?
“We created Refuge Ranch to help people connect to each other and learn a little about themselves, and through that we have also reconnected as a couple and gotten back to what is really important in life – so we have a lot of optimism about where we will be in 10 years.”
To learn more and register for your Date Night visit www.myrefugeranch.org/calendar.
Amber’s Tips for a Romantic Date Night
Theme it Up
When planning a memorable date, think about the feelings you want to cultivate. This becomes the anchor point for everything else. Do you want to focus on reminiscing together… being adventurous… or perhaps being playful? Choose your theme, then allow ideas to bring the experience to life!
Reminisce: Plan a date remembering when memories were made and future ones to come.
Adventurous: Create time together centered around adventurous activities, Amazing Race-style!
Playful: Design an experience doing things you enjoyed in your youth, like putt-putt or laser tag.
Be intentional with every detail. Find a way to make the invitation playful and have extra flair! Look for a unique way to ask your spouse out for a night of fun.
Ideas to get you started:
Reminisce: Take an old picture of the two of you and invite your spouse using the picture as a card. Ask them to meet at one of your favorite spots.
Adventurous: Create an Amazing Race-style envelope with a note inside to invite them on an adventurous scavenger hunt.
Playful: Place an item that might be used for the night, like a golf club or nerf gun and attach the invitation.
The food is a fun way to reinforce the theme and foster the feeling you want to enjoy together.
A few ideas to help you begin:
Reminisce: Think of a fun place that holds a special memory or food you may have enjoyed early in your relationship.
Adventurous: Choose food you’ve never tried before or be adventurous in the kitchen.
Playful: Take a progressive dinner approach that includes a variety of favorite courses, then pack them into a picnic experience at a park or in the backyard.
The theme is picked and you’ve invited your spouse on a thoughtful date with food to remember. Now what? It’s time to focus on the details! What’s the small thing you know they love or something they mentioned in the past? Be intentional with your time and thoughtful in the design. Rather than having dates that are a series of moments, turn them into unforgettable memories!
Reminisce: Take a trip down memory lane and give clues to places that are meaningful to your relationship. You can take a drive to those locations or visit them with pictures. Bring mementos and reminders of moments gone by.
Adventurous: Through a series of clues, travel to different places in the area with fun tasks to complete together at each spot, Amazing Race-style! Cultivate laughter and remember the joy of being together.
Playful: Grab your food and gear, then head out for a game of mini golf. At each hole, be intentional and share some playfulness by answering a pre-written fun question or playing truth or dare before you putt!
Dating your spouse is about being intentional with your time together, just as you did when you first met. Be thoughtful to love them well in this moment, just as much as when you were trying to win their heart! Have fun and be creative! They chose you, so remind them all the reasons why!
By Molly Hill
Photos Courtesy of Refuge Ranch