Connecting you to God’s work through Cru
One couple's roller-coaster marriage helps bring others to Christ.
Scott and Sherry serve as the marriage and family pastors at their church, but their resumé should disqualify them: addiction, adultery and divorce. Yet as they tell their story, the Jennings’ honesty invites people to wonder if they, too, may be rescued from shame and disappointment to taste the redemption of Christ.
Daniel and Bethany had attended the Jennings’ church and stumbled upon their story while trudging through their own marriage. “I kept thinking about the Jennings’ testimony, and I wondered if maybe our marriage could change,” Daniel says. He notes that Scott and Sherry said that God had to “change each of their hearts; I wanted to know how that happened.”
Similar to Daniel, Scott began isolating himself from his wife early on in their marriage. In order to avoid Sherry’s controlling demands at home, Scott escaped to the local fire station as a volunteer fire fighter. There, he buried his emotions first in alcohol and, later, in another woman. Between Scott’s anger and unfaithfulness, and Sherry’s bossy attitude, the couple finalized their divorce in 2005, on their 14th wedding anniversary.
Daniel and Bethany were headed the same direction after 12 years of marriage. Instead of addressing their enormous difficulties, they lied, yelled and retreated from one another. “We kept a happy, partying facade, but our marriage was falling apart,” Daniel says. They began throwing around the idea of divorce monthly at first, but it soon became commonplace. “We couldn’t afford a divorce, so we stayed married because of logistics,” Daniel says. “We decided to stick it out until the kids were out of the house.”
When Daniel first met with Scott, he described Bethany’s terrible behavior. Scott listened, but encouraged Daniel to take responsibility for himself and to focus on strengthening his own relationship with God.
Consequently, Daniel and Bethany agreed to attend FamilyLife’s® The Art of Marriage® conference. Bethany resented being dragged to something because Daniel wanted to “fix” her, but Daniel didn’t poke and nudge her to listen up during the sessions. Rather, they each listened and learned—for the first time—that God cares about their marriage, and about each of them individually. They knew they both had their work cut out for them: Daniel began meeting with Scott regularly for marriage help.
Besides one-to-one meetings, the Scott and Sherry often speak to large groups as volunteers with FamilyLife. Scott towers over Sherry’s petite, 5-foot-2-inch stature, and his gregarious, booming voice contrasts with her soft-spoken, demure presence. While Scott speaks, Sherry stands at his side, staring up at him affectionately. And when she speaks, the audience leans forward to catch her every word. They aren’t simply citing Bible verses or joking about how opposites attract. Rather, Scott and Sherry speak explicitly about the unhealthy patterns that destroyed their marriage.
Steven, their only son, was 10 when his parents divorced. Now 18, he remembers, “I knew my parents were trying to patch things up, but I hadn’t realized the severity of what’d happened between them. I didn’t realize how much of a dirtbag my dad had been to my mom.”
Scott spiraled deeper into self-destruction after their divorce, recalling, “I knew I’d have to give up running my own life and running from God, or I’d eat a bullet.”
Confronted with Jesus while listening to a Christian radio program, Scott had to make a decision about Him: “I was in a deep hole, and Jesus didn’t just throw me a rope; He climbed down there with me. I decided to submit myself to Christ to the very last fiber of my being.”
Within a couple of weeks, Scott and Sherry began their process of reconciliation. They even attended a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® conference as a divorced couple. Through much work and many conversations, Sherry decided to move away from every trace of Scott’s former life in Connecticut, and she joined him in North Carolina, where he then lived. They remarried each other in 2007.
Attending church with his wife in North Carolina, Scott noticed the only “marriage ministry” available was a divorce-care group. “I looked at that and thought, Man, that’s reactionary,” Scott says. “Our church needed to do something proactive and preventative for marriages, too.”
Scott and Sherry started telling their story in front of the congregation, and folks began approaching them for relational help of all kinds. “It’s not unusual to speak to people who have nowhere to turn,” Scott says. “They have no one to tell them that the rescue, redemption and saving grace of God is there for them, no matter what they did the night and week before.”
One church member was having an affair, warning his wife that he’d be leaving within the year. When he and his wife met the Jennings in person, the husband remembers, “Sherry knew everything about me, but there was not one bit of judgment in her eyes.”
He and his wife attended The Art of Marriage Event and began meeting with Scott and Sherry occasionally. He was looking for forgiveness for all that he’d done to his family through his addictions and adultery. He remembers, “I was in a really dark place. But Scott jumped in the hole with me. He put his arms around me and said he’d help me. And the hole just got shallower until we could just step out of it. Scott knew that I could be the husband and father my family needed through Christ.”
Similarly,Daniel and Bethany wonder at the recent changes in their marriage. “We don’t throw around the word ‘divorce’ anymore,” Bethany says. “I may be so angry at Dan one day or not understand why he’s doing something, but I know those frustrations will pass. My husband is God’s greatest gift to me and, at the end of the day, Daniel will be right here with me.”
Daniel agrees: “We see how God worked through [Scott and Sherry]. He can heal broken, destroyed, divorced people.”
Scott and Sherry offer hope for them. “Scott and Sherry say they fight like cats and dogs some days,” Bethany says. “Knowing that they’ll always be working on their marriage doesn’t make me feel like such a gigantic failure when we fight.”
Although Daniel and Bethany aren’t running to sign up as marriage and family pastors like Scott and Sherry, they are realizing that what Scott says is true: “Just being married is ministry.” And recently, they’ve found themselves the unlikely leaders of a Bible study of seven couples. “If someone had told me a year ago that we’d be [Bible study] leaders, I would’ve told them they’re crazy,” Daniel says. “We thought that if our marriage was a mess, we were screw-ups. People don’t get help with their marriages because of that shame.”
Daniel and Bethany didn’t tell anyone about their crumbling marriage for 12 years. But now when tensions rise or conversations blow up, they seek out the advice, prayer and camaraderie of other Christians without shame. “Just as [they] touched our lives,” says Daniel of Scott and Sherry, “we want to and can touch others’ lives if we’re willing to be transparent like they are. It’s about the hope of Christ. It’s not about us—and Scott and Sherry say the same thing.”
You can contact the writer at email@example.com.
>Often, we can clearly articulate how someone else needs to change, but Scott and Sherry ask, “How is God changing your heart in this situation?” Are you willing to humbly ask Him to reveal any subtle sin and unbelief in your own life first? God knows and cares about you, too.
The purpose of marriage is not our happiness. Rather, it is God’s glory. When a friend of mine proposed to his wife, he quoted Psalm 34:3: “O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together!” He was proposing that they could exalt God’s name more beautifully together than separate. But, our fallen nature has broken our ability to have healthy relationships inside and outside of marriage. A relationship between two people cannot thrive when they’re each focused on their own hopes, dreams and desires. This is most evident to me when my wife, Mary Ann, and I get into conflict. Usually, I want her to do things my way—and vice versa. That’s when I think marriage is about me and my happiness. But when we remember that our marriage belongs to God, we can stop and ask ourselves, “How can I seek my spouse’s good before mine, and die to myself?” I’ve spent my life as a “grace-receiver” from God. But I have to learn how to be a “grace-dispenser.” I must remember that my wife, like me, is a sinner on whom God has lavished His grace. God’s response to my wife’s sin is forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ; but my response is lashing out with law and justice. That’s not a gospel approach. Dispensing grace is not natural or easy, because our flesh is at war with the Spirit. When we walk by the power of the Holy Spirit, He reminds us of the sufficiency of Christ and pushes us toward one another with grace and forgiveness. God has shown me much grace, and I magnify God when I die to my flesh and overflow as a grace-dispenser to her, and vice versa.
Bob Lepine with Rita Wright
Editor’s note: Bob Lepine is a teaching pastor at his church, author of The Christian Husband, and co-host of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally syndicated radio program.