Marriage Panel: Truth and Hope for Hurting Marriages

Oct. 10, 2014 Leslie Bennett, Holly Elliff, Vicki Rose, Kimberly Wagner

Session Transcript

Leslie Bennett: Well, I can't think of any other ladies that I would want speaking into my life than these three ladies that are seated here at our panel. And they are so full of wisdom and experience. Each one has a very special personal desire to minister to you. So I'm just going to ask each one just to introduce herself and then just to share a little bit of her heart with you. So starting with Holly.

Holly Elliff: My name is Holly Elliff. I have been married to my husband, Bill, for forty-two years. He's a pastor in Little Rock, Arkansas. We have eight children and are working on grandbabies number eight and nine. So my life is full of a lot of things. It's also full of a lot of women that I spend a lot of time with who are walking through deep places. And that's why I have a heart for you today, because I've seen the Lord do amazing things in the hearts of women.

Vicki Rose: I'm Vicki Rose, and I'm so glad to be here with you and that you're here with us. I'm grateful for the opportunity to share with you what God has done in my thirty-seven years of marriage. If you saw the video earlier, you saw some. But it's been a long both pain-filled and joy-filled time of marriage. It's been a journey, and there's been every emotion in between. One of the things, and it was talked about earlier, is that talking about it brings it out of the darkness and into the light and an opportunity for healing. And that's one of the things I learned and has helped so much.

Our marriage has included five and a half years of separation, two children, and now we have two children both married and four grandchildren, two of which are in the back; my husband's drug addiction, alcoholism, and struggle with chronic pain; my own emptiness and looking for love in all the wrong places; and issues with our children. So we've walked through a lot.

But the greatest thing about walking through it is I learned that God in that process drew me so close to Himself. In that time, He revealed to me how much He loved me. The knowledge that He loved me so deeply and the strength that He's given me through His Word have enabled us to stay in our marriage and walk through it. And it's taught me, the longevity of it, has taught me how to forgive and love, and to love biblically, and basically to just trust that Jesus is enough. So that's what I really want to share with you today.

Kimberly Wagner: Well, I'm very excited to be here with you today. I'm Kimberly Wagner, but you can call me Kim. My husband and I have been married thirty-three years. Can you believe that, Holly? And the first twelve to fifteen were very difficult years, a very dark time the first twelve. I am so grateful and thankful for the power of God and His grace and mercy that He stepped into our situation, and He broke both our hearts. He changed our hearts.

We loved the Lord. We loved His Word. But we didn't love each other very well. And so today, if you're in a very dark and hopeless place, I just want to tell you that God delights in restoring broken lives and marriages. And even if you never see your marriage restored or come to the place that you desire, God is able to meet with you in those deep places of sorrow and difficulty in those storms. And He is able to be your Bridegroom.

Leslie: Amen. Yes. Thank you. If you want to learn more and read more about Kim's story and Vicki's story, their books are for sale in the resource center. Fierce Women for Kim and Every Reason to Leave, Vicki has authored.

Let's begin in the right place, which is what is God's definition of marriage. And I'm actually going to read a quote from a study that is yet to be released, but will be released in 2015. It's True Woman 201. Did you know that was coming? True Woman 201: Interior Design. It's a study of Titus 2.

So I'm quoting from that. "Marriage is created and defined by God in the Scriptures as the sexual and covenantal union of a man and woman in lifelong allegiance to each other alone as husband and wife with a view to displaying God's covenant relationship to His blood-bought Church. Marriage is a temporary, earthly, God-ordained institution that points to the eternal heavenly union between Christ and His bride."

So, Kim, now that we have God's definition of marriage, can you expound on why marriage matters in the bigger picture of the gospel and address maybe some of our wrong thinking about marriage?

Kimberly: I'll start with the wrong thinking. I know that pretty well, because I went into marriage thinking, Oh this is just going to be a great fifty-year date. We're going to just have a lot of fun, and he's going to be all really crazy about me. And I really went into marriage with selfishness and self-centeredness as my default position. And I think that's pretty common, don't you?

And so I was more focused on getting love than giving love. And then when I didn't get the type of love or attention that I thought I deserved, then I would punish my husband in different ways.

Rather than having that focus of Christ-centered love, and just as Leslie mentioned in the definition, being more focused on God's glory and the fact that God put this marriage thing together. This was His design and plan in order that the world could see that beautiful love relationship, a reflection of it between Christ and the Church like it talks about in Ephesians 5. You might want to check that out later.

But I know that God delights in displaying that, but so many times we're not focused on that. And where God really opened my eyes to it, Leslie, was in the Titus 2:5 passage, where it says we are to love our husbands so that the Word of God will not be blasphemed. The King James Version says "blasphemed." And that just simply means that when we are not displaying loving kindness, grace, mercy, forgiveness, humility, graciousness, winsomeness to our husbands, then we are not showing an accurate picture of that love relationship between Christ and the Church.

I desire for people to look at our marriage and say, "There is a God. I knew you before, and I knew the marriage you had before. And I've seen God transform. I've seen the power of the living God at work." And then God is glorified. Did that answer your question?

Leslie: Yes, it did. But I'm going to push you a little bit on something you said because, "I punished my husband in certain ways." Now aren't you all dying to know what is she talking about? Are you talking about withholding sex? Are you talking about not speaking to him? Are you talking about being resistant?

Kimberly: Plus . . .

Leslie: Call us out on this, Kim. We need to be called out on this.

Kimberly: Plus, we can just with a look. Like you know that "you must be an idiot" look that we can give? And that just crushes a man's spirit. Here he's trying to lead out, trying to step up to the plate, and we say, "You want to do what?" And I think so often we open our mouths without intending to but in a destructive way. And in an emasculating way when we need to begin our day . . .

Ladies, if you want to write this down, Ephesians 4:29. We need to begin our day putting a guard around our hearts and mouths and purposing and asking the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to be able to "let no unwholesome word come out of our mouths but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment that it will bless and give grace to the listener." So if we do that in communicating with our husbands, it's going to make a valuable difference.

Leslie: Yes. Thank you, Kim. Holly, when a woman finds herself in a marriage that's hanging on by a thread, how does she first counsel her own heart in order to gain the right perspective?

Holly: If you're like me, you don't trust your own heart very much, because Scripture says we need to counsel our hearts according to the Word. And so what I have to do if I'm struggling in my marriage and I know that it is not honoring the Lord like Kim just said, then I have to take my heart, my attitudes, my desires, and hold those up to the Father. And say, "God show me anything here that does not look like You."

Because regardless of what my husband is doing. . . . Vicki shared a tremendous testimony about that this morning. But regardless of what my husband is doing, I need to start here. And so I need to counsel my heart according to God's Word. And look first here and say, "Father, what do You desire to do in me that's going to impact my marriage?"

Leslie: We can't change a person. We can't change our circumstances. But we can ask God to change us and to show us how to glorify Him in our marriages no matter how tough they are so that we can display His grace and His love and His peace in our marriages. How do we cling to God's sovereignty, Holly, in our marriages?

Holly: You know I've discovered in forty-two years of marriage, let me just tell you that if you're sitting here thinking, Well, she's married to a good guy. She's married to a guy who loves her, who's a perfect man. There is no perfect man. There is no perfect woman. We are all sinners apart from the enabling work of God in our life.

And so in any marriage there is struggle. In any marriage there is adaptation, and there is change, and there are deep places that have to be worked through. There are no simple marriages. In forty-two years, I am not the same woman that I was when I got married at twenty. And my husband is not the same man that he was when we got married. So God morphs that and changes that.

And so what has to happen then is that to see my marriage in the way God wants me to view it, I have to climb up into the threshold of heaven a little bit and look at my marriage from God's perspective and say to Him, as Joni said last night, "Father, You show me what will matter in eternity." Because about 98 percent of what we wrestle with will not matter in eternity. There are only a few things that will matter-who God is, who we are, do we look like Jesus, are other people coming to know Christ because of the evidence in my life?

So that perspective then, removes. . . . If you make a list of what you think matters in your marriage right now, and then you take that list and you walk into the threshold of heaven and say, "Father, here are all the things that I don't like-about my husband, about myself, about our marriage, about our circumstances." And you hold that up to the light of eternal perspective, a lot of those words will disappear. You know those little sheets, the plastic sheets that you can write on and then you pull up the screen and it all disappears? That's what will happen is that we will realize.

It's like watching Joni talk last night, sitting in her wheelchair after all those years of being a quadriplegic and saying, "Father, I have absolutely nothing to complain about." A lot of that will go away when we just lift it to the threshold of heaven and say, "Father, give me Your eyes to see this from Your perspective."

Leslie: Vicki, there was a point in your marriage when you decided to do it God's way. And you shared that with me. And I can only imagine that at that time you had everybody telling you, "Vicki, get out. It's time to leave." So when you had every reason to leave and you're probably getting the counsel to leave, why did you choose to stay and what truth did you hold onto?

Vicki: It started with the Word of God. As Holly was just saying, you have to hold things up to God's Word. So I started reading a One-Year Bible through every year, and that's where my understanding about marriage came from. And really two Scriptures solidified it for me.

I was thirty-five years old when I accepted Christ. And a lot of stuff had gone down before that. You can read all about it in the book. A lot of stuff. I didn't know the Lord. And when I came to the Lord it was very clear to me.

I had had a goal for my life. I had achieved all those goals, and my life was a mess. It was falling apart in every way. And I didn't really like the person I was. I wasn't content in any area. So when I came to the Lord, I had this desire to do things His way because my way had clearly not worked.

And these two Scriptures solidified it. Malachi 2:15-16: "Has not [the LORD] made them one?" Meaning a man and his wife. "In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 'I hate divorce,' says the LORD."

That was the first one. And then Mark 10:7-9, Jesus says, "'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

And so when I heard those read to me by a counselor who in fact encouraged me to leave, I thought, That's not what the Word of God says. And I wanted to align my life with the Word of God, as I said, because the other way hadn't worked.

When I married in 1977, I had vowed before a God I didn't even know, like Mary Magdalene. I had vowed till death do us part. And I really thought my husband and marriage was going to fulfill all my needs. Again, selfish. I thought he was going to take away all the childhood hurts that I had never dealt with. And that's not what the Word says, number one.

God's Word says, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" not my happiness or my husband's. And so I really had to make a choice at that point. And the choice that I made I am very grateful that God led me to make that choice to seek His kingdom first, not my husband who wasn't created to fulfill all that longing.

And the reason that is so is because only God satisfies. Only God satisfies. It says it in Psalm 145:16: "You open your hand," meaning God. "You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." And so I wanted to look to God to be satisfied. I wanted to become content. And I prayed, "Lord, please make me content," because nothing was.

And then finally, it says in Exodus 19:5: "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession." And throughout the Old Testament over and over God says, "If you obey me, I will bless you." And so that was my desire. That became my desire to obey God so that I would receive His blessings. Part of it was still selfish, but part of it was right.

So it's from God's Word that the truth about God's view of marriage is found. And it's also from God's Word that I received the strength to walk in what He's asked me to walk in. And so every morning I know exactly where I'm going. I'm going to my One-Year Bible to October 10, today. And I know where I'm going to be, and no matter what passage I'm reading God can speak to me there.

And today's One-Year Bible in Jeremiah 15 he says, "When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart's delight" (v. 16). And that has become truth for me by reading and reading and reading.

So the strength to walk in what God's asked me to walk in, which was to go back to my marriage which at the very beginning didn't seem like anything I wanted to do, has been again, a joy-filled and a hard-filled journey. But I'm so glad that we're together. I'm so glad we have our thirty-seven years of marriage.

Leslie: In the time that I . . . did you want to say something, Kim?

Kimberly: Praise the Lord.

Leslie: Yes. Amen. Praise the Lord. I was just going to ask you, Vicki, because in the time I've come to know you, one thing I've learned is you've become a prayer warrior through all of this. And I would love for you just to speak to how you really battled for your marriage in prayer.

Vicki: Again, it's God's Word. And using His Word, praying it back to Him. When we started out, the most important part was praying for Billy's salvation. It started with our children praying morning and night at bedtime. And then I asked everyone I knew in Bible study. I called prayer hotlines, and I would fill out these little cards in the church we would attend in the summer-Bill Rose's salvation. Three years later I was able to fill out a card that said, "Praise God for Bill Rose's salvation." So we prayed for three years.

And basing that on, it says in 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." And I would pray that back to God. "Lord, Your Word says this is what it says. So I'm crying out to You based on Your Word." And I know God answers and has answered those prayers.

After Billy accepted Christ, the battle intensified. And I might add in this last year of the book and all this stuff going on, the battle intensified even more so. And that's when talking to Nancy one day, she talked about battle verses. And so I went through and printed up several verses for myself that I read when I wake up in the morning. I cling to these pages. I carry one in my pocket book.

Things like Exodus 14:14: "The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."

And 2 Chronicles 20:12: "For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you."

And then one of my most favorites, 2 Chronicles 20:15: "This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but Gods.'" And I just want to say that there is a battle being waged against every single Christian marriage in this country and world. And if we don't stand up to fight it, we will lose the battle. And the battle is won through prayer and the Word of God.

And some of the ways I pray now is, "Lord, You've called me back to this battle. To this marriage, rather." [laughter] Sometimes it's both. But "Lord, You have called me back to this marriage and the battle is Yours. And I am weak and I cannot fight it. And so Father I am crying out to You. Please show me what to do. Please do not let any unwholesome talk come out of my mouth but only what is useful for the building up of others according to their need that it might benefit those who listen. I pray, Father, please help me not to roll my eyeballs at my husband, because it's so disrespectful."

And so the Lord has led me to pray about everything, because He answers those prayers especially when they're His Word. Because the Word says, "When you pray according to my will, I will hear and answer."

Kimberly: Vicki, I saw some women trying to scribble down some of those Scriptures. Would you mind repeating those? I challenge you to do the same thing-to dig into the Word and find battle verses, or I also call them faith marker verses, and begin a journal just filled with those verses that you can go back to over and over.

Vicki: Journal. Great idea. And I guess one other thing I would want to tell you is that as I'm praying for my husband this is one of my greatest tools. It's called Praying God's Will for My Husband by Lee Roberts. It's just a little tiny book. But it has Scripture sorted in like attitude, condemn, confidence, emotionally upset, faith, fear, God's love, grief or hurting, strength, tempted, troubles. And you can see, I've marked it up.

We have to be praying for our husbands. First of all, if we're not, nobody else is. And if we don't encourage them, then who will? So by praying God's Word for them . . .

Leslie: The author again, if you would, the author.

Vicki: Lee Roberts. Praying God's Will by Lee Roberts. And my Scriptures were Exodus 14:14, 2 Chronicles 20:12, and 2 Chronicles 20:15. And by the way, I'm still doing this. There's not an end point. It's lifetime. We are called to lifetime marriage and lifetime prayer for our husbands and our marriages.

Leslie: And we're not to carry this burden alone or battle alone, are we? So can any of you all speak to just the value of who can you ask to pray and how does that work if you're a pastor's wife or you know, your husband's on staff at a church? And can you speak into that? Because I don't think a woman should walk alone in this.

Kimberly: Absolutely not. That's what the Body of Christ is for. And Holly was my truth-speaking friend, one of them. I had a couple. Nancy was one that I could just call when I was seeing things from a very negative perspective and say, "Speak truth to me. I just need you to speak truth to me right now."

But choose your friends wisely that you do that with. It needs to be a friend who is confidential. It needs to be a friend who is biblical savvy. She knows the Word, and she is willing to love you enough to speak hard truths to you when you need to hear them in a gracious and encouraging way.

Holly: I would say I agree totally with Kim. But I would also say it is critical for us to understand the sovereignty of God and the grace of God, because those two things are going to give us balance that we can't gain any other way. And so understanding God's sovereignty means that I accept His Word. And so when I pick up my Bible like Vicki and I have those promises, then I know they're true.

 

Understanding the grace of God enables me then to unload what is going on in my life into the hands of my Father who is big enough to take care of it. We are not. God did not build us to carry those things.

I have a friend. I'll call her Beth. And we have talked for years and years about her marriage. Her husband's counselor said to him, "I have never seen a marriage still together that has been in ICU this long." And her husband is a closet alcoholic, a very successful man. They have six kids. It is tough, tough, tough.

The other day she called me, and she said, "Okay, I just did a crazy thing." And I thought, Oh my word. She said, "No, this is a good crazy thing." She said, "I just went and had a wedding ring tattooed on my finger." And she said, "I'm going to die with that wedding ring tattooed on my finger."

Three months later her husband also went and had a wedding ring tattooed on his finger. Is their marriage settled or easy or calm? Absolutely not. I got a text from her at midnight last night about ways to pray for her.

But having someone who knows you well enough to come alongside, lift your arms when you are struggling-whether it's at 6 a.m. or midnight or whenever the struggle is going on-a network of friends who will speak the truth in love to you is critical. And so be careful about, you know, the little kid's thing. "Be careful little ears what you ear." Be careful about who is speaking into your life, because it matters a whole lot.

Leslie: Holly, you touched on something about a husband who's living in sin. So Kim, if you could just talk to us about what does biblical submission look like when your husband is living in sin? Are we passive or what do we do? How does true love respond to that?

Kimberly: I had a woman contact me for counseling a few years ago, and she was thinking that biblical submission meant that although her husband was abusive to her and her children, she was to allow that because she was being submissive. And that is so unbiblical because Galatians 6:1-2 tells us that if our brother or if another is caught in sin, we're to come alongside them and gently restore them.

So Matthew 18 also has some guidelines for one who is captured by sin, who is practicing a sinful lifestyle. Now that can run from being a rude, unkind person all the way to pornography addiction and homosexuality and gambling addiction. And so when you see that going on in your husband's life, first of all, it's so important to pray.

Let me just summarize it this way. If you go to KimberlyWagner.org there is a resource on there under the resource tab. If you click that tab, there's a resource that says, "Guidelines When Confrontation is Necessary." So maybe look that up, and there are several steps on that with Scriptures.

Leslie: Great. While we're speaking about sin, we have to search our own hearts as well, don't we? So Holly, what are the traps? You all have already mentioned several. Are there any other traps that come to your mind as far as traps that we can fall in as women, as wives?

Holly: Oh, there are a few, yes. You know a lot of those have been touched on in this conference already. If we are being ruled by our emotions, we will be in trouble because we want to protect ourselves first. It's the opposite of the way Christ operates. If we are listening to lies instead of truth, then we will be in trouble. If we have any goal other than looking like Jesus, we will probably not be pursing God's will.

Leslie: Write that down.

Holly: So you know, that's the bottom line. It's a hard one. When my friend called me at midnight, she told me something that had happened. And I said to her, "You know what, Beth? The very safest place for you to be is properly lined up with your Father in what He desires. Because anywhere else leaves you open to the enemy. But if you are properly lined up with the Father, even if your husband is over here, if you are properly lined up with the Father, then you have some guarantees in your life. You have protection from the Father. You have wisdom from the Father. You have the ability to love, which is beyond yourself ."

I cannot love my husband. I can just tell you that right now. I cannot love my husband in my own strength. Where that comes from is from the Father who is love living His life out through me, which gives me ability I do not possess to love my husband with the love of the Father. And that is eternal. It will not run out. It will not stop. I can access it at any point.

You have apps on your phone when you look for something. You know, where's Starbucks? If you need to love your husband, God has an app for that. I mean He does. It's all through His Word. It is available. It is inexhaustible. And that is where your hope comes from. That is your hope. That's what kept Vicki going in those tough years, is knowing that God Himself is enough even if she didn't see change in her husband right away.

Leslie: There are a lot of moms in this room I can see. And how do you counsel a woman that is living this out in front of her children and has to still contend with just the dailiness of life and yet being under such great pressure. Can you encourage her?

Holly: Yes. You know I mentioned a minute ago the grace of God. When Romans 5 talks about the grace of God it says, "the grace in which we stand" (v. 2). And what that means is just like God shines a spotlight. If we're in a dark place, you put on a little miner's cap; you have light just right where you are.

So if we learn to be women who walk in the grace of God, then every time we need to take a step, there is grace. And grace is God's power and enabling, which comes through the work of the Spirit in my life. I don't have to generate it, but I can access it. But I don't create it. It's His. And I say, "Father, would You give me grace in this moment to speak the right words, to love my husband, to say the right thing, to make the right choice."

And so I have to learn to become a baggage handler. It took Joseph seventeen years in a prison to learn this concept. But you know it's interesting. There are some Scriptures about that that are so true. Scripture talks a lot about being a baggage handler. Let me just read these to you.

Psalm 55:22 says, "Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will not allow the righteous to be shaken."

First Peter 5:7: "Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you."

And you know what that is? It's the picture of a wrestling match. You know, picture Sumo guys, well not too much. [laughter] But anyway, Sumo guys on a platform. And it's the picture of lifting your enemy above your head, lifting your circumstances above your head, twirling that opponent around. . . . Now this is not something you do to your husband, okay. [laughter] This is the circumstance. Twirling that opponent around above your head, and then casting him on the mat. When Scripture talks about casting your burden on the Lord, that is the picture.

When I let it go, it's not mine. It's His. I cannot accomplish that. But God is huge. He is huge. And as long as He is in the picture and He's in charge, then even if my circumstances are not completed yet, God is at work in my husband and in me. So He is accomplishing His purposes in me by His grace being active in my life.

Leslie: Amen. He's working in our husband even when we don't see it. We might not see the evidence of it right now, but we know that He is working and doing thousands of things that we can't just see on the surface. We can't even conceive.

Where does a woman go when she needs help? When they're at a juncture and need to maybe turn to others? What other sources are there out there for help for her really from any of you all? And is it ever too late to ask for help? What's the one thing they don't want to do is to maybe not ask for help, I guess.

Kimberly: Well, yes, you need to bring it into the light. We've talked about that. But there are some great resources. I don't know if you've accessed those onReviveOurHearts.com, the 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge. So many women have found that helpful.

And just pulling up some of the transcripts there and reading through or listening to the programs by just washing your mind. You may say, "I don't have a truth-speaking friend like Holly to call." Well, you can call Nancy. [laughter] Go to ReviveOurHearts.com and you can pull her up every day and listen to her speak some truth into your life.

Holly: Kim mentioned a minute ago Matthew 18. You know, God has put in place a system that allows us to be shepherded. And so if you have a husband who is not shepherding you, God has put. . . . In Matthew 18, it talks about increasing circles that you draw in when you're in a tight place.

So if your husband is abusive, that doesn't mean, you know, he's mean at the end of the day and you're tired of him. But if your husband is abusive, then you broaden that circle and maybe go to a church leader. You know, your church is there. I hope you're in a biblical-minded church, a scriptural church, because God intended for that to be a covering, a spiritual protection for you even if your husband is not there. Vicki, do you want to speak about that and just the covering that God offers us?

Vicki: And I was going to add to that. There's godly biblical counseling. Many couples go to counselors, but we have to go to a biblically-based counselor as a couple. But yes, the church is a covering. You can go to your pastor. I've spent lots of time with my pastor's wife and just ask for prayer and/or intervention if necessary.

Kimberly: Well, and I've encouraged women to just within their network of friends or hopefully within their church to pray about and seek out an older, further along, spiritually mature, godly couple that she can just start inviting over to dinner. And just hang out with them some. Let her husband be exposed to what a God-centered love relationship/marriage looks like. And hang out with them some.

But the steps Holly mentioned of walking through a situation with a sinful husband with your church, that's in that resource that I mentioned earlier on the website. And also, I really encourage you, if you are not in a biblical church that would be serious about coming alongside you when you need help, go to God about that. You need to be, because if your church leadership would not step in to aid you in walking through and dealing with sin issues, then they are being no friend to you. And you need to be in a biblical home. Also, we have civil authorities as a resource if our husband is breaking the law.

Leslie: Vicki, can you encourage some women here that are in a marriage that has been troubled for many, many years? God doesn't promise us that He is going to deliver us out of that situation. But He promises His presence and His love and His peace. Can we just talk personally to that lady?

Vicki: For us, we feel very blessed because of the longevity of our marriage. We look at each other, and we say we have history. And we do. We have a lot of history, some better than others. Because of that, because we've both persevered, not just me, but my husband's also persevered. He has to live with me. We have a deeper trust, I would say, in each other. Not that either of us is perfect or not that everything is perfect. But there's just the knowledge that we're both willing to persevere.

We made a commitment to each other back when we first got back together that no matter what we faced, we drew a line in the sand. We said, "No matter what we face in the future, we're going to work through it. We're going to stay together." So it's not an option to divorce. It's not a word that we use. And that's really important because that has given me the freedom to be honest in difficult times. And it's given him the freedom to be honest in difficult times.

And that's very important. Otherwise the issues just keep getting shoved under the rug more and more and more, and then there's a blowup and it seems like it is beyond repair. And that's when so many people, so many marriages will walk away.

And our confidence isn't in each other, either. It's in the Lord. He is the One who gives us the strength, who has given us His Word, has given us the tools through His Word to walk through the things that we face. And God has walked with us. It's not just the two of us. A three-stranded cord is not easily broken.

Joni talked about it last night. She said she wouldn't trade walking for the closeness she has with the Lord. That was a powerful moment when she shared that. And I can say the same thing. I thank God for what we've walked through, because otherwise I would not know the Lord, know the closeness and the sweetness of journeying with Him. I think the greatest treasure for me is really understanding the depth, the real depth of God's love for me. And to really remember that my husband isn't God, nor am I. But he can't give that to me. That can only come from the Lord.

And so also, seeing the power of forgiveness at work over and over and trusting. Obeying God to forgive and then trusting Him as He walks us through the situation. And that's been incredibly powerful and keeps us free of any unfinished accounts. So again, we're not shoving things under the rug.

Other blessings, our children, both now adults, both married, both walking with the Lord. And that verse from Malachi said "godly offspring." And God has blessed us with that. And four grandchildren. I mean the blessing of sharing in that together. I never imagined twenty-three years ago when we walked back into our marriage what the blessings that would lie ahead would be. Standing at two high school graduations as a complete family. Two college graduations as a complete family. Two God-honoring weddings as a complete family. That's a gift from the Lord. And then the birth of four grandchildren.

So all of that has given us this heart-level friendship that we have, my husband and myself, is deeper and more intimate each year because we've shared in the joys and the trials both. And watching each other grow in the Lord and become more of who God's created us to be. That has been a gift-not always easy-but a gift.

Seeing our children grow up and love Jesus. I mean as I look at my past and realize that God has done that, I'm in awe of God. Sharing again, in the beauty and joy of grandchildren and sharing life and ministry together now as we can come alongside younger couples and have great joy in doing that. And caring for each other as we age.

It says in Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." And we know that God has rewarded us richly.

Leslie: Amen. When promises and trust have been broken, forgiveness can sometimes seem like impossible. Holly, can you get us started on how do we even begin? How do we even begin to take those first steps toward forgiveness?

Holly: Well, like I said, it took Joseph a long time in prison to learn that lesson. We take steps toward forgiveness by keeping short accounts with our Father. And so what that means is every moment that I'm in His presence, I have the freedom then to take whatever's in my hands. . . . I was looking at Joni's hands last night. My mom has Alzheimer's and she is less and less mobile, and her hands are now permanently clenched, one of them.

And if I pry her fingers up, I can straighten them out. But it's painful to her. I was looking at Joni's hands last night. She can't straighten them anymore in her own strength. But God our Father can take whatever is in our hands and turn it for good if we will release that to Him.

So whatever hurt you have experienced, whatever disappointments you have experienced, whatever challenges you have experienced really should not belong to us. They should belong to our Father, because He is the One who is built to carry those things. And so what happens when I forgive is I pull out the suitcase of God's grace, which I didn't create but He gives me. So I pull out the suitcase of His grace. I was teaching on this one time, and a lady say, "Honey, I don't need a suitcase; I've got to have a semi." [laughter]

We pull out the suitcase of God's grace and whatever is in me that I cannot forgive, I can turn to my Father and say, "Father, this does not belong to me. I'm going to make it Yours." And then I take that stuff and I put it in the suitcase of God's grace, who is the One who is big enough to walk me through that and handle that. And I close that lid, and I tote that thing out to the curb or to the foot of the cross and I say, "Father, this is not mine. It is Yours."

When my father-in-law left my mother-in-law, he was a pastor, after forty-three years of marriage, married a woman twenty years younger, the age of my sister-in-law, and walked away, it sent ripple effects out in a lot of directions. We had to run to the Lord and say, "Father, we don't even know how to forgive this. We don't even know what to do with it. It's way too big. It's too hard to carry."

Some of you in this room are carrying stuff that is way too big and way too hard to carry. And God did not build you to do that. That is His. And so we have to learn to open our hands, hand it over, and say to our Father, "God, You are big enough to lift this off my shoulders. And I don't want it any more. I want to hand it over to You, because that's where it belongs."

And that's when I then can walk away from that baggage free, as Joni was talking about last night. "I am free." She is still bound in that wheelchair, but she is free in her spirit and that is where God longs to set us free and that brings Him great joy. And what it does then is open my mouth so that I can share the goodness of God even in the midst of my affliction. Joseph said, "You meant this for evil, but God means it for good." And He will bring great good out of it.

So as your children are watching that. . . . I say to women all the time, "You know what, when you go to your grave, you want your kids to be able to say, even if your marriage struggles for years and years, 'My mom learned how to get to Jesus.' And what spoke out of her life was the fact that Christ ruled." And even if her husband never turns, her children are hearing the voice of Christ through their mother. And it makes a difference in the ripples that go out from that moment.

Leslie: Thank you. When we pack our suitcases tomorrow, ladies, we're going to do exactly what Holly has advised us to and bring that illustration back to your mind.

Kim, would you be willing to close us? We're out of time. Would you be willing to close us? But you all have shared so much wisdom, and I think a couple of the panel members can stay for a few minutes if you want to speak to them individually. But let's thank them before we pray. Can we thank them for pouring into us truth and hope? [applause] Did you get truth and hope? I did. Pray for us, Kim, if you don't mind.

Kimberly: Father, oh, You are so, so good to us. I thank You for the truth of Your Word that You've given us that does lead us, gives us light and understanding. There are so many different individuals in this room, but Your Word has truth that applies to each heartbreaking situation.

And I just ask, Holy Spirit, words of truth that have been uttered today and will be in the rest of the conference that Your Spirit has used in different women's lives in this room, I just ask that You would bring those truths back over and over and over again in the coming days as they go back into their normal routines, some of them into very dark situations.

Would You fill them with hope? Would You give them grace for . . . like Holly said, a truckload full of grace to go back with them into their situations? And at times when they want to revert to self-centeredness or self-pity, selfishness, would You turn their hearts? Holy Spirit, would You turn their hearts toward Christ?

And we thank You, Lord Jesus, that because You have forgiven us, You have given us the grace and the ability to forgive those who have harmed us and hurt us. So if there is any woman that You're bringing to mind something that they have not let go, something they're holding on to, some root of bitterness, some resentment, would You give them the grace to when they either leave this room or when they return home to make those things right? To just go and say, "I need to ask your forgiveness."

And You have promised to pour out Your grace on the humble, and there is nothing more humbling than just admitting that we're wrong, confessing that and asking for forgiveness. So I pray for Your grace for these women and that many, many marriages in this room will be restored, will be used for Your glory, that people can see these marriages and say, "There is a living God. There is a living God." And we praise You for that, Lord Jesus. In Your name I pray, amen.

Leslie: Thank you, ladies.