Many of you have seen changes in our marriage. Since I started sharing bits and pieces of our testimony on my social media, in hopes of encouraging others, I’ve had countless emails requesting help, asking us how “we did it” and wanting direction or prayers. Before I give you the whole story, I want to share WHY we are sharing our mess with the world – because until you can fully understand our testimony, you first have to understand the tests we were going through.
Marriage in the Toilet
If you have ever seen a commercial for a cleaner, there is always a ridiculously dirty before photo that looks almost impossible to clean. Everyone knows we really can’t appreciate how “clean” something is until we see just how dirty it once was. The same goes for our marriage. While we had a pretty good marriage for quite a while, neglect allowed dirt to pile up. Like a dirty toilet, you really don’t know just how messed up it is if you just keep a “lid on it”. But, eventually, you have to deal with it, and when you finally lift the lid, you realize you have a filthy mess that appears to be impossible to clean up.
“But, with God, all things are possible” , Matthew 19:26.
Our Marriage Make-over
It All Starts with a BANG!
Many of you saw the posts in mid December in 2013 with news that Steve was a victim of an accidental firearm discharge. He was shot through both legs by a 40 caliber hollow point bullet. What you didn’t know is, this was perfectly orchestrated by God, down to the very second he was shot and what he was doing when he got shot. It was no accident. As soon as Steve realized he was shot, he knew God orchestrated the whole thing.
We had been really struggling the month before he was shot. He told me he didn’t love me anymore and believed in his heart that I would be better off without him, and he believed he would be happier without me. He tried to convince me of just how horrible of a husband he was, as well as how much he didn’t love me, by confessing everything possible. Years of lies, years of seeking his own pleasure as a result of years of unforgiveness and bitterness toward me.
Ironically, everything he perceived I had done to him over the years (neglect him, not love him and reject him), he was now actually doing to me. Granted, while I didn’t reject him or neglect him purposefully, Steve’s feelings of rejection and neglect were very real. I didn’t realize the level of his needs nor how neglected he really felt. I became quite a workaholic, and since I was working “for us” and we were working toward the same goals in many ways, working together, I didn’t realize how much I was neglecting him as my husband. I thought he knew how much I loved him and didn’t realize how much he needed reassurance, respect and intimacy. Bottom line, this wasn’t all his fault. I had a lot to learn, but by the time I realized it, the damage was already done.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9
I knew the man I was talking to was not the man I married. Scripture warns us about following our heart and I refused to believe the lies he was telling himself about not loving me. I knew good and well he loved me or he would have never gotten that hurt to begin with. He did indeed love me. He loved me SO much that it hurt him when he thought I didn’t love him the same way he loved me. He just didn’t recognize my love for him because it wasn’t packaged up in something he was familiar with. My love for him was that kind of agape love, the unconditional love. He never experienced unconditional love…until he heard my words that day saying, “I forgive you”.
I remember he looked at me after I spoke those words while I embraced him saying “I don’t understand that (kind of love)”. The truth is, he didn’t confess to save our marriage, he confessed because he thought I would release him and leave him. I wasn’t going to do that. I knew God wasn’t done with us yet. I knew the man that hurt me was just deceived by his own heart and selfishness. I knew for a fact God brought us together to begin with, and I fully believed God wanted to do a miracle in our marriage – not for just our benefit, but for everyone around us. I didn’t care what he had done, because honestly, he hadn’t been the man I married for several years. I knew that man was still there somewhere and I wasn’t giving up on him, because I wasn’t giving up on God.
Hearing the words “I don’t love you” are hard to hear. I had a decision to either believe it and get mad, or not believe it and believe he had not only deceived others, but himself. He needed to believe he didn’t love me in order to leave me. That’s the only way he could leave without guilt. I wasn’t going to give him that pleasure. I wasn’t going to release him, I wasn’t going to make it easy on him, and I was going to fight with all I had.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” Ephesians 6:13-17
“Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. ” Proverbs 28:26
Luckily, despite all of his confusion, he did know he shouldn’t make a final decision without God – so he started seeking, and seeking hard. He read and read and read scripture, looking for direction. He prayed and prayed and prayed, begging for relief and for answers. His first goal was to find peace. He had no peace living the way he had been living. It was making him so miserable that peace was all he really wanted.
The next thing he was searching for was release. He wanted to find somewhere in the Bible where it said it was OK to get divorced, but he kept coming up empty. After going away for a week to seek answers, he knew God wanted him to reconcile. The truth is, in his mind, he felt God’s request was for him to “try” to reconcile. He fully believed all God wanted him to do is try – and he also believed it would never work, but he wanted to be obedient so he could say he at least tried.
He came back thinking he’d get instant peace as he acted in obedience, but he was wrong. He was more miserable than ever. While he might have had obedient actions, he didn’t have an obedient heart – at least not yet. He made it real clear that my track record proved I could never be the woman he needed and that repairing our marriage would be impossible. That’s when I found this scripture and I posted it on the refrigerator:
“I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27
I knew there was no way God would call him to be obedient without blessing his socks off. I knew as Steve continued to seek God’s will, and stay obedient (whether he wanted to or not), God would show off, and he did – but not right away.
A month went by while Steve’s spirit fought against his flesh. What I mean is, his desires of his heart, his selfishness was still at battle with submitting to the Lord and obeying him fully. Because he hadn’t fully surrendered, he remained in turmoil. This scripture explains why Christians can experience such turmoil and conflict in their heart like this.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-24
Because of his turmoil, he decided he needed to move out to seek peace, thinking he needed “space”. Over a couple of weeks he was in and out, completely torn and confused. He believed he was trying and I knew he was resisting full obedience. Thursday, December 12th, was the day I told him not to come home until he got his act together and I told him he hadn’t fully surrendered to God. Friday, the 13th he was shot.
Most people would have thought that being shot would be his wake up call but it wasn’t’. It wasn’t until 2 days later when I went to the ER because of severe stomach pain. They discovered I had a tumor that appeared to be attached to my ovary. This is when things began to change.
I went in for surgery at midnight. It was supposed to be relatively quick but, while Steve waited with my family in the waiting room, they realized something wasn’t right. Surgery was taking too long. Unbeknownst to them, the gynecologist had to call in a general surgeon because the gynecologist discovered the tumor was not attached to the ovary, but was attached to the appendix, which was out of his surgical field. While Steve waited, emotions flooded him. It was the first time he really thought about losing me forever.
Despite moving out, God threw us in a hospital room together. We both could hardly walk. Both of us lying there “crippled” Steve tells me a story he heard right after he got shot about the straying lamb.
The tale is about how a shepherd protects his sheep. When a lamb goes astray, the shepherd would break the lamb’s leg so he wouldn’t be able to run off and get killed. He’d break it in such a way it would heal well but he would have to fully rely on the shepherd to carry him. By the time the lamb healed, he would have gotten so close to his shepherd that he was know him, trust him, recognize his smell and his voice, and he would never leave his side. Steve realize that was what God was doing to us He was breaking us to save us.
As we were sitting in the hospital room together on the day I was to be released, Steve asked me, “what should we do now?” We both agreed it was obvious God didn’t want us to be apart. We didn’t know how God would fix us, but it was time to relax on our shepherd’s shoulders and just trust that he would carry us through this.
“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. “Job 5:17-18
As we healed physically, we worked to get healthy spiritually. We had a LOT of prayer time together, we studied the Word and did every Bible study we could do at church (Calvary Chapel Vero Beach) and took an in-depth marriage study called 2 Becoming 1. We knew the only way we could make good decisions is to make sure we were in God’s will. We had to focus less on us, and more on Him.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Steve realized that he didn’t have a marriage problem, he had a Christ problem. He had fallen away and he quit trusting the Lord several years ago. He trusted him with some things, but he was still holding on to a few things. He realized when things started going wrong is when he had given up on God and started trying to take control of his own life. The more he chased “happiness” the more unhappy he became. And now that he was chasing God, joy and peace flooded us both.
In many ways, like Christ’s resurrection, our marriage was resurrected. Our marriage died on Friday and rose 3 days later, a whole new marriage – a super natural, more powerful marriage. Honestly, we didn’t know what it would look like months down the road but we couldn’t deny God was at work. That’s when we found this scripture and on the tough days we’d remember this scripture and rest in knowing God was at work.
“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19
5 Steps to a Better Marriage
God is still in the miracle business. We are proof of that! Here are just a few things we have learned so far.
1. God will deliver us. Steve learned the difference between surrender & deliverance. He came across this text, “God doesn’t want to remove from me the possibility of falling, he wants me to have the freedom to choose not to fall. I have been praying self-righteously all along “please God take it away (so I won’t have to give it up). There was belief in God without surrender, but that belief availed nothing.” That’s when he realized that was what he was doing. At that point (he read this the day before I went to the hospital), he had been telling God “I will do whatever you ask, but…”. God doesn’t like “buts”. Steve was wanting God to do all the work and Steve also had some stipulations. God was saying, “I’ll deliver you, but you have to be willing to surrender all”. As soon as he realized this, he finally surrendered fully and God immediately delivered him.
2. Nothing is wasted. Every hurt, every mistake and every failure could be used for God’s glory. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28. God wanted to use our mess and turn it into a message. That is why we are sharing our story. We would have NEVER dreamed we’d be so happy, but just like that clean toilet, you’d never really fully appreciate our happiness, unless you knew just how messy we once were. God wants to clean up every marriage and every life. He did it for us, and we are living proof He can do it for you.
3. A happy marriage is a faith-based marriage. Most marriages are based on a 50/50 relationship. I do my 50% and he does his. This is a recipe for disappointment and disaster. No one can ever know if the other person is doing their share, and we always feel like we are doing more than our share. There’s really no way to accurately measure a 50/50 performance based marriage. However, a faith-based marriage is a marriage completely based on faith that God will do HIS share. I no longer put my faith in Steve to make me happy, I put my faith in God and that he will work through Steve and our marriage for His purposes. I no longer do things for Steve to please Steve, but because it’s pleasing to God. As a result, I don’t get disappointed if he doesn’t notice my efforts because I know God does, and Steve can also rest in knowing he is pleasing the Lord even if I seem unappreciative or oblivious to his efforts.
4. Marriage requires grace. Steve often says my forgiveness to him was an illustration of Christ’s forgiveness to us. We, like Steve, may not have been deserving of love and forgiveness, but that is a picture of grace. God extends us grace when we mess up and we are to extend each other grace when WE mess up. Sadly, we put too much faith in people. We treat our spouse like a Savior, expecting them to make us happy, fix all our problems and make our life right. That’s too much pressure to put on a person. We are human and we are going to let people down. How can we expect others to extend us grace if we refuse to extend others the same type of grace. The sooner we realize that, the easier marriage is. When Steve told me “if you mess up, it’s OK. I’m not going anywhere”, it was SO freeing to me! What an amazing feeling to know Steve was going to love me, and I was going to love him, even if we fail. That is grace.
5. Marriage was never designed to make us happy. This sounds depressing to someone who is searching for happiness, but God designed marriage to make us holy (pure). How? Easy! Think about it this way. No one knows how to push your buttons like your spouse. When alone, we may never discover the areas of our life and personality that need work. Our spouse is an instrument that God uses to expose our weaknesses and selfishness so that we can grow. If we run every time we don’t get our way, we are not letting God grow us in those areas. Marriage teaches us how to live to serve others, to love unconditionally, to control our tongue, to deny our own selfish desires, to work hard, to persevere and to trust God. There is no greater instrument than your spouse.
Also, our marriage is a picture of our relationship with God. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) and “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” A healthy marriage teaches us just how much God loves us, and how we are to love each other. Ironically, the more you allow God to work in your life, the happier you get. So while marriage wasn’t designed to make us happy, it is a bi-product of a marriage striving for holiness.
I have so much more I’d love to share, but that would fill a book, so I’ll have to stop for now. What I’d like to leave you with is this. We didn’t have to go through what we went through to get where we are now. That was a choice. The same way the Israelites traveled in the wilderness for 40 years to do a trip that should have only taken 11 days, is the same reason it took us 7 years to get through our wilderness – we were not listening to God’s voice. “The Israelis traveled 40 years in the wilderness until the entire nation—that is, the warriors who had departed from Egypt—had perished because they hadn’t listened to the voice of the LORD” , Joshua 5:6. As SOON as we both started listening to God’s voice, the blessings started pouring in.
You Have 2 Choices
“We have 2 choices when confronted by Christ. We can exhibit our understanding of the truth about sin and willingly give Him control of our lives, letting Him lead us to freedom. Or, we can ask Him to leave, thereby proving our ignorance of this truth and confirming our need for the kind of extreme consequences that are necessary to put us in a posture of readiness for change.” Bob Coy
Some people quickly respond to the Lord when he speaks to us, others have to get shot first. 😉 Either way, God will bring you right back to the same place you started, faced with the same questions: Will you accept the truth about your sin and let Him lead you to freedom? Or, do you want to take another lap in the wilderness until he proves your ignorance and just confirms your need for extreme consequences necessary to get you ready for change? We pray you don’t have to learn the hard way like we did, but we do pray whatever your route is, you end on your knees before Jesus because that is the best pace to be – and that’s when all the excitement begins!
Below is an audio recording of a live testimony we gave to a couples group locally. Warning – they asked us to speak the whole hour so it’s long. I hope it really encourages you, touches your heart, and changes your life and marriage – no matter where you are! Please take some time to listen to this with your spouse. Whether you are going through a tough time now, or to prevent you from making some of our same mistakes. I pray it grows you closer to each other and the Lord. XOXO