In the fall of 1998, I was traveling in a car to attend a marriage conference. As we drove the hour to the hotel, I was sewing jingle bells on the matching clown costumes I was assembling for my three children.
From the outside, my life looked organized and adorable—my sweet children were getting handmade outfits sewed with love by their mother. My youngest child had just turned a year old and family life was bustling with all the responsibilities of parenthood. Yet, parenting was the least of my concerns at that moment.
My husband, Steven, was not especially excited to attend this marriage conference. We were pretty broke, and the conference cost money we didn’t really have. He thought a big seminar was unnecessary, and the added travel expenses didn’t help. But because I asked to go, he agreed to make the effort. The same conference was going to be in our own city the following year, but I did not feel like we should wait a year. I knew my husband was experiencing a crisis of faith, and his despair had been rippling into every corner of our marriage. To me it felt urgent to get help.
The financial cost was one challenge, but the emotional rollercoaster was bigger. As the conference speakers shined the light of the gospel into the corners of our relationship, the time away provided space for us to process together as a couple. Alone in our hotel room, we confronted the hard issues we had been successfully avoiding. We spoke to each other with conviction and through tears. I felt empowered to use my voice and confront my husband about the direction he was drifting. He had questions he didn’t dare ask, and I encouraged him to find answers. We were both able to acknowledge our failings within our relationship. It was less a quiet romantic getaway than an overdue emotionally draining time of honest conversation and discerning a path forward.
Together we chose resources to take home for helping one another in our spiritual growth. We returned with a plan for my husband to pursue his doubts and figure out what he believed. We made a commitment to God, with the witness of our friends, to work together on our marriage and draw near to God in the process. We had a hill to climb, but a commitment to making the journey together.
Little did we know how pivotal this weekend would be in our lives. My personal focus shifted from being a picture-perfectionist mom to a nurturer of faith. As Steven wrestled with God over his doubts, his study for answers helped him discover more deeply the historical truth of the gospel. He even enrolled in a Greek class so he could understand the Bible better. Our paths to seminary degrees and ordained ministry began on that hard weekend.
As we shared the workbooks we brought home with couples at our church, helping others find spiritual growth in their marriages became a passion for us. After leading small groups, we eventually took on writing, speaking, and offering seminars of our own, a project that eventually became Family Fire, one of ReFrame’s English ministry programs. We are blessed to see how God used the messiness of our conflict to grow something beautiful.
We have now been married for 35 years. We have grown together, side by side, through the ups and downs of life. Our personal circus has grown, as two of our children are now married, and all our children are still clowning around. I recently threatened my adult kids that I would make them recreate that photograph in clown costumes. As we celebrate our anniversary, we give thanks for all the ways God has been at work guiding our lives, even through life’s valleys.