A Glimmer of Hope October 4, 2018 by Wheaton Bible Church
A Glimmer of Hope
It was a misdirected Frisbee that first brought Steve and Michelle together. Each was on a spring-break vacation in South Carolina—he from Illinois and she from Wisconsin.
No one could have guessed that their first meeting on that beach—triggered when a flying disc tossed by Michelle’s sister hit Steve in the head—would blossom into love and marriage.
“Even after we met,” Steve said, “we thought this would be just a ‘spring fling.’ But twenty-five years and three kids later, here we are.
“We were young when we got married two year later,” he adds, “and we kind of grew up together, buying our first house and having our kids—transitioning from a me to a we, then to three, and four and eventually five.”
Things weren’t always easy for the young couple—miscarriages, the loss of loved ones, seasons of financial difficulties, and other hard times—but they stuck together.
“When difficult things happened in our lives,” Michelle says, “we didn’t talk about them. We just kind of muscled through.”
“We rarely fought,” Steve says of those years, “and if we did fight, it generally ended up with one making the other laugh, and we would move on.”
But the busyness of work and parenting—and a tendency to take on a growing number of volunteer roles—began to take a toll on their relationship.
“I have a hard time saying no,” Steve admits. As a result, he found himself divided between an overload of volunteer responsibilities. “Then a few years ago, I took on a second job, and it seemed4I was never home.”
Looking back, Steve and Michelle can see how all the busyness was hurting their marriage, but at the time, they found it easier to ignore the issue. “We realize now that when you avoid issues—when you bury them—problems get bigger and bigger,” Steve said.
“I think my part of the problem,” Michelle says, “was that I always wanted to manage everything—micromanage, really—and plan everything in a way that we created the picture of the perfect family. I thought if we could make everything look good, then eventually it would all work out.
“Then there was the kind of surface-level communication we had,” she adds, “never really going deep or being vulnerable. We’d never really talk unless we needed to share some piece of information. And even when one of us was mad about something, we’d just harbor those feelings inside, thinking, I’m going to be mad at you, and I’m just going to hold it in and resent you.”
Compounding the problems for Michelle was how the growing distance between her and her husband coincided with a dry spiritual time in her life.
“Since I was very young,” she said, “I have known that God is my shelter in life’s storms. Although He may not stop the tsunami—and I may almost drown—He will guide me through it. But during the time that Steve and I were disconnected from each other, I also felt a disconnection from God.
“I was still going to church and doing what I thought I was ‘supposed to do,’ but it felt like I was just going through the motions.”
Michelle knew something was wrong, but she chose to ignore the warning signs, she says, keeping up the pretense of a happy marriage—especially to their children.
It was during a church service that Michelle realized just how lonely and miserable she was.
“I sat there thinking about how Steve and I were coexisting more as roommates than as husband and wife,” she said, “not communicating at all.
“I realized we couldn’t keep living like that,” she added. “I knew that divorce was not an option, but I wanted Steve to change. I wanted him to see things like I did and come around to my way of thinking.”
When she got home that day, Steve was grilling dinner, and she started telling him how sad and lonely she was.
“I told him I thought we needed to go to couple’s therapy—that we needed to talk more and that things needed to change,”
Steve agreed that they needed some help, and not long after, they began meeting with a counselor.
For Michelle, those sessions provided an opportunity to share her pent-up feelings.
“I was busy telling him what he needed to do, wanting him to know how he was making me feel and how he needed to change so I wouldn’t feel that way,” she said.
Little did she know that the worst was yet to come.
“When Steve returned from his next business trip,” Michelle recalls, “he told me that he was no longer in love with me. He said he didn’t want to be married to me anymore, and that our marriage was over.”
Michelle was stunned.
“To say that I was devastated is an understatement. Twenty-three years, three kids, a past full of memories, and plans for a future together—all gone. He was walking away.
While the words, Divorce is not an option echoed through her mind, the more real that bleak reality became.
“My world went dark,” she said, “and some days even remembering to breathe was difficult.”
The loss of her job not long after only added to Michelle’s despair. She had been flying across the country, California to New York, laying people off on behalf of her employer—and then she was laid off too.
Steve was in bad shape as well. He knew he wasn’t happy, and blamed that on Michelle. Experiencing deep depression and anxiety, he sought help. In the process, he says, “I learned a lot about myself, but it didn’t do anything to help our marriage.
“I was so focused on myself and all that was wrong with our marriage that I didn’t even think about asking God for help.”
Eventually, Steve and Michelle decided that they need some physical space, and Steve moved out. The idea that they would ever again be happily married seemed impossible, but they agreed to meet with a pastoral staff member at the church to see if there was any hope for their marriage.
“We had some really rough sessions,” Steve remembers, “and even after a number of meetings, we had gone nowhere.”
About the only thing they agreed on at that point was that they were struggling financially.
“We had a lot of financial crises at that point. A son in college, me out of work, and Christmas was coming,” Michelle explained.
Before she lost her job, she had been returning home from a business trip to St. Louis and heard Dave Ramsey on the radio, talking about money.
“Everything he said made so much sense,” she said. “Then the following Monday, I lost my job, and I had nothing but time, so I listened to his podcast.
“Then I went to his website to see if the Financial Peace University he talked about was available in our area. Wheaton Bible Church popped up as the best option for our location and schedule.
At lunch one day, Michelle brought the subject up with Steve.
“I told him I would like to take this class. ‘Even if we have to split households,’ I said, ‘we still have to raise our kids and take care of them.’”
The idea of getting some financial advice made sense to Steve, and he also agreed that it wouldn’t hurt for them to stay in touch by spending a little time together each week. So they signed up for the eight-week Financial Peace University.
When they returned for their final counseling appointment at their church, they told the counselor that they saw little hope for their relationship, but that they were going to take a financial class together.
Before they left that session, the counselor asked if he could pray for them.
“He prayed that as we were attending the classes, God would give us a sign that would bring us back together,” Steve recalls. “But honestly, I did not have a lot of hope.”
Financial Peace University
When they came to the Wheaton Bible Church for the first Monday-night class, Steve and Michelle were directed up the stairs to where their class would be held. On their way they walked past the room where the Re|Engage marriage-care program met at the same time.
“I saw the Re|Engage sign,” Steve said, “and all these couples walking in, and the first thing I said to Michelle was, ‘Don’t even think about it!’”
They soon fell into a Monday-night routine, beginning with family dinner, then Steve and Michelle would head to Financial Peace. Each week they walked past Re|Engage, then up the stairs to their class.
“Over those weeks,” Michelle said, “we worked on a joint financial plan, because technically we were still married. I wondered if that was a moot point. But each week, Steve invested time with me doing the homework and coming to class.
“But we weren’t really resolving anything,” she adds. That reality was confirmed to Michelle in a conversation with Steve one night after class. In that conversation, he told her in no uncertain terms that he saw no future with her.
“That night, I reached a turning point,” Michelle says. “I gave up control and gave the whole situation to God.
“I realized that I couldn’t control the future, so I began to focus on my kids and make each day the best day it could be, doing what I needed to do to get through that day.
“I changed my focus from my relationship with Steve to my relationship with God, and after that, whenever I was troubled, I let it go to Him, counting my blessings, thankful for my health, my kids, and for the ways my basic needs were being met.”
Even though Steve was convinced he was done with his marriage, he agreed to continue in the Financial Peace program, doing the work and going to class.
Over the Monday evenings that followed, Steve and Michelle began to get acquainted with Jesse and Yadira, a couple in their small group that Michelle describes as “really fun and loving.”
“We’re all talking about our money and sharing our stories, and Jesse and Yadira were always so happy, and of course, we’re miserable,” Steve added.
“I’m sure they could tell that we weren’t happy,” he said, “so one day they shared that they had been ready to get a divorce—that they had contacted their lawyers—then they went to Re|Engage and it totally turned them around.”
The cheerful couple told Steve and Michelle that they had gone to Re|Engage to figure out their marriage, and now they were at Financial Peace to try to figure out the money part.
An Answer to Prayer
“I didn’t say anything to Michelle at the time, but that’s when it totally hit me,” Steve said. “This was the sign that our counselor had prayed for—that this particular couple was in our group and that we were having this conversation. I thought to myself, God wants me to do something here.”
A couple of days later, Steve brought it up with Michelle.
“I asked her, ‘Do you remember what they said? Do you think it would be all right if we asked them about it?’
“That’s when Michelle’s mouth dropped open,” he said.
Michelle could hardly believe what she was hearing. “Keep in mind that Steve had moved out at this point,” she said. “We weren’t even living in the same house, so, yes, I was more than surprised.
“It was a small glimmer of hope, but it was all I needed,” she said. “I talked to God that night, thanking Him for giving me a second chance to see healing in my marriage.”
Of course, Jesse and Yadira were happy to talk about their experience at Re|Engage and about how their relationship had changed as a result.
“We had a great conversation,” Steve said, “and as soon as Financial Peace ended—the next Monday night—we went to Re|Engage.”
When Steve and Michelle started Re|Engage, they were still separated. And suddenly they found themselves in a table group that included both newlyweds and couples who had been married for many years.
“It was a great mix of people, and a great dynamic for the group,” Steve said. “Really, we could not have been in a better group.”
Even so, Steve and Michelle didn’t say much at first, so in their early weeks in Re|Engage, the rest of the group didn’t know they were separated.
Then came a lesson on forgiveness. “It was a hard one for us, but that lesson was a game changer!”
As they did the homework assignment that week—and as they talked with their group about forgiveness as God demonstrates it—things began to change for Steve and Michelle.
“After the lesson on forgiveness,” Steve said, “we talked a lot that night, going over what the Bible has to say about what forgiveness really is—and what it isn’t.
“We took a big step that night toward forgiving each other for things in the past and finally putting some negative things behind us.”
As the weeks went by, Steve and Michelle moved more and more into a new kind of relationship, and as they ended their Re|Engage journey, they were amazed to see how far they had come.
“I used to get really upset about so many things—silly things. Sometimes I think I would just be looking for something to be mad about. But now we talk things out in terms of what we learned at Re|Engage about forgiveness and humility and grace.
“I realized that I had not only taken our marriage for granted, but I had also taken God’s role in my life and in my marriage for granted as well,” Steve says.
Steve and Michelle agree that they are now much more intentional when it comes to resolving conflict. “Now we actually deal with things instead of burying them,” Steve said.
“We work together to make decisions,” he adds, “and we ask God to help us. Without Him, I know we would not be together and would never be where we are today.
“Early on in Financial Peace, I would read the verses in our lessons, and they left me cold. But now, those same verses make total sense to me, and God’s place in my life—and in our marriage—is so much bigger.”
“Back when we were meeting with our counselor,” Michelle says, “before we started Financial Peace, we weren’t even sitting at the table together. It’s incredible now to see how far we’ve come!”
These days, Steve and Michelle enthusiastically recommend both Re|Engage and Financial Peace University to other couples they know.
“It doesn’t matter which one you take first, there’s a common theme, and really, one reinforces the other,” he said.
“Financial Peace University,” Michelle says, “brought God into our finances, and Re|Engage brought Him into the center of our marriage.”