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The Amazing Marriage Adventure: Liz and Ryan Bower’s Quest

This is a quest case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Liz and Ryan Bower are wedding photographers who believe in the marriages they document—and not just that first special day. They noticed that champions who might share the realities of life-long partnerships seemed to be few and far between.

They decided to hop in an RV and find true stories of loving marriages to share from every state of America.

Introduce yourselves and your quest.

We are millennials, story-tellers, wedding photographers, and dream believers. Most of all, we believe in helping to create amazing marriages that stand the test of time.

Our love of love dates back to our teenage years. We were high school sweethearts with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion to live a more meaningful life. So we started a photography business, Liz and Ryan. Six years later, and after 100 weddings captured, we realized there is a lot of hype surrounding weddings, but not a lot of hype surrounding marriages.

This eventually led to our quest: The Amazing Marriage Adventure. For 2015, we are living in an RV and traveling the U.S. to document at least one married couple’s story in all 50 states. Along the way, we’ll host couples’ coffee-shop meetups to encourage community and truly open the lines of communication in celebration of marriage.

Our dream is to change the conversation from “Did you hear who is getting divorced?” to “Did you hear about their amazing love story?” It is certainly audacious to say out loud, but we want to eliminate the divorce rate and will do everything to inspire amazing love stories in the meantime.

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What inspired you to take your quest?

It was a series of events and defining moments. A few months before we got engaged, Liz’s parents separated after 25 years of marriage. It rocked us to our core and got us thinking about how we did not want to wind up in that position.

A few years (and hundreds of wedding gigs later), it became clear to us that while there is tons of hype surrounding weddings, there is very little hype about marriage. That really got to us. We felt like there had to be something we could do to change the way people think and talk about long-term love.

I knew there had to be a way for us to use our talents, but I wasn’t sure how.

This became a regular conversation Ryan and I would have, with my heart unfolding in frustration and Ryan doing anything and everything to try to fix it. He wanted us to be totally happy and fulfilled.

One day after church, we sat in our car in the driveway, having this conversation again and the idea of the Amazing Marriage Adventure just sort of happened.

Can you share a an amazing love story you’ve heard recently?

We met up with Taye and Derrick in Atlanta, Georgia. They are two former drug dealers who turned their lives around. Once seen as two teenagers tearing the community apart, they are now ministers serving that same community to build it up.

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Taye and Derrick in their neighborhood.

Taye and Derrick blew our minds and hearts. They brought us into their neighborhood and showed us the incredible transformation that has happened in their lives.

Okay, we have to know more. Do you have another story or two?

A few months after Taylor and Jesse were married, Taylor was diagnosed with a rare form of peritoneal cancer. It wasn’t exactly the life they were imagining starting together.

Taylor and Jesse.

Taylor and Jesse. Read more about their story at takesoncancer.tumblr.com.

Despite this curveball (which they are clearly knocking out of the park), Taylor and Jesse remain one of the most positive couples we’ve encountered. They are full of courage and support—so much so that during our interview, I found myself looking to them for guidance (when given the circumstances, this should have been the other way around).

Another favorite story is Emily and Kristine. A year after meeting, a tap on the shoulder started their love story.

They were engaged for 21 months before tying the knot. We asked why:

A lot can happen in that amount of time. We had several friends get engaged and then married, as well as friends who got pregnant and had babies. During that time it seemed like our wedding day would never arrive, but looking back we appreciated the time to plan, prep, and enjoy that time in our relationship and lives.

Then there was Andrew and Katie. They met in Kindergarten and were the king and queen of the playground, only to lose touch for a decade before being brought back together by MySpace. When we went to meet them, we found a surprise: Andrew, a Navy officer, had been deployed unexpectedly.

Katie and Andrew.

Katie and Andrew.

We asked Katie how in times of separation she kept her marriage strong. Her response was beautiful:

We have our own secrets. We have our own life that not everyone knows about. You can be as public on the internet as you want and share things away, but at the end of the day when you are snuggling in bed after a long week – that’s something that only you two can share and only you two know about.

Back to your quest. What kind of challenges does living in an RV present? How have you overcome them?

The whole first month on the road was full of RV-related issues.

After we said goodbye to our home and officially departed to our first destination, the check engine light came on… only 10 miles into our trip. It put us in a limited start situation (meaning we could only restart the engine ten times before it would stop working). We had to take it to a dealer immediately. Considering we were so excited to get on the road, this felt horrible.

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A common sight: Ryan poking around the RV engine.

Other RV challenges have included a software glitch, a screw in a back tire, a split in a front tire, a fried wire that didn’t allow our keys to work, and a storage compartment under the coach that leaks anytime it rains, meaning we aren’t able to travel in bad weather at the moment.

This is all frustrating (to say the least) because RV issues distract from the mission of the Amazing Marriage Adventure. Really, the only way to deal with issues such as these have been to increase our capacity for patience and flexibility.

Have you experienced any non-RV related challenges?

Learning a new work/life balance. Trying to simultaneously explore the world and do the work we set out to do is hard.

We are running our photography business from the road, developing Amazing Life Together into a non-profit, photographing/filming couples, and trying to create community along the way. That is a lot within itself.

However, we are also seeing parts of the country that we have never been in before. There is a constant pull between wanting to be present in the location that we are in and taking the time to get the work done.

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We found ourselves putting pressure on ourselves to get out there and do it all, but the reality is, we need to give ourselves grace. This is certainly a work in progress, but we are learning to be ok without feeling the pressure to “do it all.”

Rather than make seeing the country a “once in a lifetime” adventure, we’ve changed our mindset to release the pressure. So, we’ve started a list of places we want to revisit sometime on vacation.

How much do you expect the Amazing Marriage Adventure to cost?

We’ve estimated the whole trip will cost around $45,000 (which doesn’t include our budget for the non-profit we’re working on, which is close to $50,000). However, we firmly believe when you are passionate about something and feel the calling in your heart to serve others, God will provide and we will figure out a way to make it happen.

To pay for it, we’ve made personal sacrifices, lowered our expenses as much as possible, and renting out our home. Oh, and we ran an Indiegogo campaign to help offset the fuel portion of the costs.

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Have you received support from others? What kind?

We are blessed to have an amazing set of family, friends and strangers who have supported us in big ways.

One huge means of support are emails. We keep a bunch in an “Encouragement” email folder. Here is a clip from one of our favorites:

Oh my gosh! You are both such an inspiration and I try every day to make sure I am being a better wife than I was yesterday….Thank you for pushing us all a little harder to not just dream our dreams but to actually live them. You can stay at our house anytime you are close and need a break from the RV!

-Lindsey

And this next one is an email we received from one of the couples we filmed in Baltimore. About 3 weeks after we filmed them, Albert (the husband) passed away.

I will never be able to thank you enough for your beautiful tribute to Albert and for becoming a part of our lives...It took me a while to convince him to even do the interview and then one day out of the blue he said to me, ” Giovanna, are we ever going to answer those written questions, or what?” That’s when I knew he wanted to do the interview and we worked on the questions together and we were like giddy kids all night because those questions took us to a place we hadn’t been for a while. I don’t know whether you will publish our story but your interaction was what we needed.

PS: After our interview, that’s all Albert talked about. You made him happy. Thank You.

– Giovanna

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Albert and Giovanna. Albert passed away a few weeks after this photo was taken.

Do you have any advice for someone starting out on an RV-based quest?

Write down why you’re going and place it somewhere you’ll see it often.

Ryan’s parents gifted us two pillows. One has the Amazing Marriage Adventure logo, the other a personal quote that spoke to us when we were acting on making this quest a reality. These pillows are perfect daily reminders as to why we’re here and what we are trying to do.

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Have an internet plan.

Fast, reliable internet is pretty much non-existent on the road. We use our phones as hot-spots and have found that Sam’s Club parking lots and Starbucks are usually the most reliable “free wifi” locations.

You can park overnight for free at Walmart and Cracker Barrel.

This comes with a con: water is limited to 30 gallons at a time and electricity is limited to the capacity of our batteries since there are no hookups. But it’s also an overcome-able challenge to save our resources, especially for the price.

How do you maintain such a consistent sense of positivity?

(Ed note: never once in our correspondence has Liz sounded anything but can-do, even when relating under-happy stories.)

It isn’t easy to stay positive, especially on a day full of roadblocks, and getting sucked into the negative attitudes that surround us in this world is miserable.

Being positive is something I’ve had to cultivate. Ryan and I believe happiness is choice, and we remind each other of this when one of us is down.

Another positive factor are the people we’ve met. Hearing their enthusiasm about our adventure and this mission fills us up with enough joy and positivity to make it to the next state and to meet the next amazing couple.

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Trinity and Chris, married 5 years. “Communication is key to all success.”

What did we miss?

Our guilty pleasure is watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. We have not missed a season since our dating days together back in high school when the show first started!

What is next?

We’re on the road now through the rest of the year!

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Keep up to date on Liz and Ryan’s quest at their site, Amazing Life Together, on Twitter at @AMZLifeTogether, and on Instagram @AMZLifeTogether

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