Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Differences Don’t Have to Be Hindrances

Leslie Basham: Gary Thomas says every couple should expect to face differences and challenges.

Gary Thomas: I think one of Satan’s biggest lies is: if you’re in a difficult marriage, it means you married the wrong person, or the marriage can’t get better.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe, for Monday, February 12, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, as my precious husband and I are now in our third year of marriage . . . can you believe it? Did you ever think you’d hear me talking about “my husband?” Sometimes it still feels just amazing. I love that, and I hope it stays that way!

Anyway, as we’re in our third year of marriage, I’m enjoying so much reading and learning from authors and books and resources that are helping me to “get” this marriage thing.

I’ve talked to people who have been married thirty, forty, fifty years, and they’re still growing, still learning. So we have a long way to go, but we’re loving it and loving what God’s doing in our lives in this season.

I’m really delighted today to welcome to Revive Our Hearts some new friends, Gary and Lisa Thomas. We’ll talk more about who they are and why they’re on the program today. But Gary and Lisa, welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Lisa Thomas: Thank you. It’s good to be here.

Gary: Thanks for having us.

Nancy: Gary Thomas is a writer-in-residence who serves on the staff and on the teaching team of Second Baptist Church here in Houston, Texas. He’s the author of eighteen books, including the best-selling Sacred Marriage.

Gary, normally when you do interviews like this, you’re on your own, because you author these books. But your wife, Lisa, graciously agreed to come in. Thank you for doing that, Lisa, to be a part of this conversation, because I think our listeners (mostly women) want to hear not just what your husband thinks about marriage, but what you think about marriage, too. So thank you so much!

Lisa: You’re welcome.

Nancy: Gary, I have read your books over the course of years. You have done so much to speak into the hearts of marriages and to give biblical perspective on marriage. And now that I’m married myself, two of your books—one of them quite recent—have become just a real great resource for me.

We’re going to talk about both of those books today. One is called Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage (and I want to talk about why it changes everything). And then another that my husband and I have been reading together this past year called, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage. It’s a year of weekly devotions for couples.

We’re going to tell you how you can get both of these through Revive Our Hearts. But I’m just interested in knowing, Lisa and Gary, how you guys first met.

Lisa: Sure. We actually met back in junior high youth group—eighth and ninth grade. We had a two-week “fling” at that time.

Nancy: Two weeks is a long time when you’re in junior high!

Lisa: Yes. It meant we sat by each other at church for two weeks, and then I broke up with him because we were going on vacation . . . and you just never know. (laughter) When I came back, there was another new girl in youth group, so . . . it was over. My family moved away, and we re-met in college.

Nancy: Wow! So what state were you living in when you guys met?

Lisa: Washington state.

Nancy: Did you move away to a different state?

Lisa: No, just an hour away, which at that time was forever away.

Nancy: So, Gary, did you remember her all those years? Did you have her in your mind?

Gary: Oh, absolutely! We stayed in contact. We even actually wrote a little bit and saw each other. Then she came for a college visit trip, and so I saw her and heard that she was possibly coming to the school where I was going.

Then the first year of college, what she would do was, she would borrow cassette tapes. Some of the younger listeners won’t remember what those were, but I had the best collection of contemporary Christian music!

Do you remember those stickers: “Buy four, get one free?”

Nancy: Right.

Gary: I had all the early people. So I would give her five or six, and she would return them one-by-one. She said later . . .

Nancy: So was this a strategy?

Gary: That’s what she said . . .

Lisa: More excuses to stop by his room and knock on the door. We ended up in the same dorm that year when I was a freshman and he was a sophomore.

Gary: It took a couple of years, and it was the most surreal experience! I was dating another young woman at our college ministry. I remember the first time I passed Lisa I was holding hands with this young woman (for maybe the first time).

I passed Lisa, and I felt guilty . . . and we weren’t dating! But there was just this sense of guilt.

Lisa: I had told my sister, “I’m going to marry him. I don’t know why he doesn’t know that yet!” (laughter)

Nancy: And how did you know?

Lisa: It was this almost sense of inevitability, like it just was going to happen . . . I don’t know.

Nancy: Can you remember, back then, what it was that was attracting you? What did you notice?

Lisa: Well, he is cute, obviously. I was all of eighteen at the time. He had a special relationship with God. He was fun. He had good music. (laughter)

Nancy: So there was a mutual interest there. How long did it take you to break up with that other girl?

Lisa: Almost a year.

Gary: About six months; most of the school year, probably.

Nancy: And then it was the two of you.

Gary: Yes. We’ve told our kids, you know those bracelets, “What Would Jesus Do?” When it came to dating we said, “What would Dad do? . . . and do the opposite!” (laughter)

Nancy: So, it’s not quite the story you recommend.

Gary: Our kids wouldn’t be getting together in junior high, like we talked about, but it was kind of a different time back then.

Nancy: Did you get married while you were still in college?

Lisa: I was. Gary had just graduated. I had a year left to go, and put that on hold while he went to seminary. We had our first baby, and I finally went back to school when she was two and finished up.

Nancy: Wow, so you guys were doing this young!

Lisa: I was nineteen, but I’d been through three years of college.

Gary: Almost twenty! You were three weeks away from twenty. (laughter)

Nancy: Listen, my mother married at nineteen. She had me nine months and four days later, and within their first five years of marriage, she had six children . . . by the age of twenty-four or so.

Lisa: That’s my mom’s story as well. She married at seventeen, and I’m number five, and she was twenty-six when I was born.

Nancy: Did you come from a Christian background, Lisa?

Lisa: I did. I initially grew up Catholic, and we always went to church, prayed together. And then when I was in junior high, my parents were invited to a Baptist church. It was very foreign to us at first, but they became believers there.

Nancy: So as you entered into marriage—you’re young, you’re not even quite finished with college yet—did you have dreams or expectations or desires? What was your concept of marriage as you entered into it? Can you remember that?

Lisa: Sure. Both of our parents stayed married. His parents have been married sixty years and mine were married almost fifty-five before my father passed away. So I guess there was the expectation that we would stay together.

My parents were affectionate towards each other; they worked together, so they were together a lot. I don’t know that they modeled exactly what I was looking for, but definitely they modeled the fact that they’d stayed together—commitment was important.

Nancy: Perseverance . . . going the distance . . .

Lisa: For sure, for sure.

Nancy: And Gary, as you went into marriage, what kind of dreams or expectations or hopes did you have?

Gary: We had a lot of them! That’s what we lived on! We didn’t have much money . . . it was just dreams and expectations. But we both pretty much majored in college ministry. So our thought was, What does God want us to do? That really was the first consideration.

We considered missions out in Indonesia. I ended up going to seminary, and then we got into campus ministry as part of that. But it really was, for me, finding a partner to find our place in God’s kingdom. Also, Lisa was so not-materialistic.

Nancy: Easily content.

Gary: Yes! I felt like we could go wherever God led us to go, because when you’re planning to go into that kind of ministry, you never think you’re going to be very secure financially.

And so, just her willingness to say, “Wherever God wants us to go, we’ll go.” And she did! I mean, when I look at where we first lived . . . Our first stint as a married couple was in a mobile home park, because a friend of the family volunteered it.

Then we stayed in a home where there were mostly women. We were in the basement, the women were up above. It was for the interns for our college ministry. Then there was just her willingness to keep moving.

I think where she’s really been such a blessing is that every time we’ve faced a decision the first question she asks is, “Where do we think God is leading?”

Nancy: Wow.

Gary: Not, “What does this mean for me?” or “What does this mean for the pocketbook?” but “How do we discern where God might be leading us?”

Nancy: What a gift that is to a marriage!

Gary: It’s beyond imagination, to describe what it was!

Lisa: I knew that there was something special about Gary, and I knew God was going to use him in big ways. Keep in mind, he was working for the power company when we got married. We didn’t have a lot.

Yet, I knew this. I knew—even before we were engaged—there was this sense that, “If you marry Gary, you need to be in a supporting role.” And I think that would be oppressive to some people or sound inferior, but I always saw that as, “Oh, that’s huge! Can I do that kind of thing?”

Nancy: And it seems like it’s brought you joy as a couple, and as a wife. It seems that this hasn’t been limiting, but really freeing to use the gifts God’s given you.

Lisa: Sure! And on the other side, I was able to stay home with the kids; that was a big priority for me. Gary made that happen by working really hard and being able to live without a lot of things.

Nancy: I think that whole thing of contentment . . . I know sometimes I’ve had friends whose children are on the young side and saying they’re thinking about marriage. The parents will ask me, “Are they too young to get married?”

One of the things I have said is, “If they both really love the Lord, if they have their parents’ blessing, and if they’re willing to live on little, then I think it’s not a bad idea.” That they know where their hearts are, where their heads are headed, and that their lives are really committed to Christ and want to serve Him together.

If you don’t have those things straight, then probably whatever age you are, it’s not good to get married!

Gary: I agree! We just about grew up together. I mean, I was twenty-two, Lisa was almost twenty, and so all of those life issues we faced. What I love is that there’s literally nobody that could ever even begin to replace Lisa!

She was there for college graduation. I was there for her graduation. Then there are all the kids and every community we’ve lived in and what-not. The notion of becoming one really defines who we are. There isn’t really a life apart from each other.

Nancy: And yet, it takes time to get to that place where you work that out, because you bring differences into marriage. I don’t know about you guys, but I know about Robert and me, there are differences in just in so many realms. Our listeners have heard me say he’s an early-morning guy; I’m a late-night gal. Our personalities are different. Our backgrounds have a lot of similarities, but also differences.

Can you remember early in your marriage when you started to discover what some of those differences were in your case?

Gary: Food was a big difference. I was just a junk food junkie when we got married: Cap’n Crunch, Big Macs, pizza, and ice cream were my four food groups through college.

Nancy: And how did you feel about that Lisa?

Lisa: You would think we would have figured this out, but we actually lived in dorms and college campus housing up until we got married, so we didn’t go out a lot. So I kind of knew it. My dad, my brothers, they made—you know—happy eating noises.

They were happy with whatever my mom made; they ate whatever it was and relished it . . . I guess is the word. I just assumed he would do that. And then we got married it was like, “I’m not eating that!” or “What is that?” Or he’d want to go to McDonald’s, I mean, like, “What am I going to eat?”

Gary: That was one of the first issues in our honeymoon. We were probably two or three days in and it was around noon. I said, “Honey, I’m hungry. Why don’t we stop at a McDonald’s and get something to eat?” And Lisa was horrified, saying . . .

Nancy: “That doesn’t qualify as an eating place.”

Gary: “But they don’t have anything to eat there!” And I point at the sign: “Honey, over two billion people have been served here. Somebody’s finding something to eat in this restaurant!” But it was nothing that she would consider food.

It was one of those classic differences that, for me, eating is a chore. I don’t like being hungry, so I eat to not be hungry. For Lisa and all of our kids . . . I’m the only one that’s not a foodie in our family, so I’m thankful that God gave her three kids who are foodies so that they could enjoy it so much.

Nancy: So that they can share that joy with her.

Lisa: Right! We’re excited to be hungry so we get to eat again!

Nancy: But different things qualify as food in your book.

Lisa: Yeah, for sure!

Gary: I’ve come her way—quite a bit—more than I ever would have dreamed, which is good. She said to somebody that she thinks one of her goals in life is to help me live longer to serve the church.

Nancy: So you’re on a little different diet. Just getting older just affects how we have to eat, too.

Gary: Oh, for me, yes!

Nancy: I enjoyed all the fast-food drive-throughs until I turned thirty and started just feeling yucky—so that affected the way that I eat.

I think people who have read your books, Gary, perhaps just assume that because you write these books on marriage, they sell a lot and they help a lot of people, so maybe there’s this subconscious assumption that you guys just always had it together; that you have this ideal, picture-perfect marriage. But there really is no such thing!

I sense, as I’ve read your books, that you’ve learned a lot of. . .I mean, of course, the Word of God is where we go for our counsel. . .but a lot of your understanding of God’s principles of marriage has come out of the laboratory of life and your own marriage.

So can you tell our audience that you do—or don’t—have this perfect ready-made all-put-together marriage?

Gary: I couldn’t have written Cherish back when I wrote Sacred Marriage, and I don’t think I would write Sacred Marriage today. Sacred Marriage came out when we had been married fifteen years. It recounted how God uses difficulties and struggles and challenges.

We had a very difficult first year trying to figure out how this thing works! We were so young, and I was so selfish. I knew nothing—really—about being an adult, much less about being a husband and then a father.

Then there were all the financial pressures and what-not. I think Sacred Marriage was sort of what held us together—this isn’t easy; it’s harder than we ever thought it would be, but God was changing us into different people.

Nancy: In fact, you’ve written that your writing of Sacred Marriage . . . Was that your first book? Or your first book on marriage?

Gary: It was the fourth book, but first book on marriage.

Nancy: And then, I’ve read that it came out of some pain and hurt in your marriage, the principles, the understanding you had in that book. Is that accurate?

Gary: Absolutely! Yes. That’s why I said I think it would be harder for me to write it today. We’re in the sweet season, empty-nesters. I don’t know that marriage has ever felt quite as easy as it is now.

I mean, you’re still having the normal issues of marriage. But I don’t think I could have dreamed of Cherish when I wrote Sacred Marriage. It took a while to get there. So we’ve sort of seen the full journey now—thirty-three years of marriage and the years that we’ve faced.

Nancy: And only the Lord knows what lies ahead, and how the Lord is preparing and equipping you for whatever that later season of life and marriage might look like.

Gary: What I think our marriage can tell people is . . . I think one of Satan’s biggest lies is: If you’re in a difficult marriage, it means you married the wrong person or the marriage can’t get better.

And I think we’re a testimony that God can take you to an entirely different place; you can have an entirely new marriage with the same person! You do grow as individuals, but I think you change your mindset. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (see Rom. 12:2).

When we just started to look at the world through the sacred marriage lens—how God could use it to help us grow, and shape us, that there was value in the struggles and challenges of marriage—that turned us into different kinds of people and that created a different kind of marriage.

And so, I think we can give people hope. One of the most sobering moments of my life . . . I think Lisa and I were about at the lowest point of our marriage, and I overheard her telling her mom something disturbing. Her mom said, “Well, are you guys going to make it?”

And Lisa said, “I don’t know.”

Nancy: Lisa, how long were you into marriage, approximately, then?

Lisa: Probably four years, I think.

Nancy: So, early on. And what were you feeling at that point?

Lisa: I think that I just hadn’t expected things to be so hard, and that I felt like Gary was just kind of a little bit checked-out because I wasn’t appreciating him. We had a little one at home, and that was taking up way more time and energy than I’d expected.

I hadn’t really learned to appreciate some of those differences you talked about. I resented things like . . . Just for example, both of our fathers fixed everything! (I remember one repairman in my entire growing up years.)

And I would be like, “Gary fix this! Gary, this is broken!” You know, “Hey, the dishwasher . . . the car . . .” And he has no fix-it bone in his body!

Nancy: That’s my dad’s genes, right there.

Lisa: And it’s like, for some reason, I couldn’t be like, “Oh, that’s not him. He has these other amazing gifts.” It would be like, “What’s wrong? That’s what a guy does!” So just different resentments and feeling like, “Get over your past hurts; I can’t fill those up,” and almost resenting that.

Gary: I think our expectations, too, were so different. Because her dad was self-employed, right after we got married, we came back from the honeymoon . . . I’m working at a local public utility reading electric meters. This was in Washington state.

It was a beautiful day. She called me at 1:00 p.m. She said, “It’s such a beautiful day. Let’s go for a bike ride. Can you come home?” I’m mystified, because I grew up with a dad where you worked; had two jobs sometimes.

Nancy: You stay on the clock.

Gary: And I’m, “What do you mean!?” She thought I was being selfish because I wouldn’t leave work on my first full day of work because it’s such a beautiful day to go for a bike ride!

I thought she was being selfish because, “I can’t just leave this job!” We just had no idea, Nancy, about life—much less marriage—because we were so young!

Lisa: And we weren’t super-practical as far as money skills and all of that kind of thing. We didn’t have a lot of outside support. We were the first of our friends to have kids, so I think we just felt pretty alone.

Gary: I’m a man of extremely limited talents! (laughter) I’m glad the writing thing worked out—and the speaking—because nothing else would have provided for our family. But it took so long for that to take off. I think that put stress on Lisa for so many years.

Nancy: So your mom says to you, “Are you going to make it?” And you’re not sure.

Lisa: I’m not sure.

Nancy: I think, for so many couples—we’ve both known them—they wouldn’t have made it. They would have checked out and said, “This can’t work!” And what you all have done through your learning of these principles, learning to live them out, growing together through the hard times . . . and then, Gary, you writing about it . . . you have given hope.

We have people listening right now who are thinking—whether it’s four years or forty years into their marriage—I don’t know that we can make it. What would you say to them?

Lisa: I think if you are committed to receiving God’s love, and knowing that all your needs are met there, it frees you up a lot to pour out your love for the other one and to not give up on what God can do.

Nancy: Not give up on what God can do. That’s really the message of your books, Gary.

Gary: Yes. Well, I think, obviously, I don’t know that I can make it. I always say it has to be that we can make it, and “we” being three. Throughout marriage, I’m more convinced than ever of just the power and presence of Jesus in a marriage—not as a theory but a daily reality.

My relationship to Lisa is based, in part, on her relationship to her heavenly Father. My commitment to love her and serve her is based on the empowering Holy Spirit that moves within me. Our ability to forgive each other and show grace comes straight out of the work of Jesus Christ.

I think the deeper people go into the Lord—again, not just spouting religious clichés—but preach the gospel to yourself everyday so that you can give the gospel to your spouse. That’s the story and truth and forgiveness of Jesus to yourself, and then you can give it to others.

To me, that’s been the lifeline, and that’s what’s helped us go deeper and deeper. God wants your marriage to succeed. He’s crazy about your spouse; He’s crazy about you. The more you go into Him, the more He helps you get closer together!

Nancy: Well, that’s the message of hope we want our listeners to hear this week, and that’s what Robert and I are learning early in our marriage. One of the things that has helped us is this book that you’ve written, Gary, called Devotions for a Sacred Marriage: A Year of Weekly Devotions for Couples.

I love these! They’re short; they’re just a few pages. Mine is highlighted as we’re walking through this. There are fifty-two of these, and we read these aloud—just about one a week. As I’ve read this I’ve thought that I would love every listener who’s married to have a copy of this book.

I want to challenge you over this next year to use this devotional. I have a friend who’s in ministry—a couple we were with recently. They said, “We’ve been through this book twice. We love it; we’ve read it together.” It’s been such a blessing to them. It’s being a blessing to Robert and me right now.

That book, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage, is available as our way of saying thank you when you give a gift of any amount for the ministry of Revive Our Hearts this week. Just let us know that you’d like a copy of Devotions for a Sacred Marriage.

And then, also, we’re making available Gary’s latest book Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage. We’re going to be talking more about that this week. It’s available in our online store at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Be sure and join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts as we continue this conversation with Gary and Lisa Thomas.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, talking with Gary and Lisa Thomas. To get a copy of Devotions for a Sacred Marriage, call us at 1–800–569–5959. You can make a donation of any size and get the book—and help keep Revive Our Hearts coming to you each weekday. That’s also where you can order the book Cherish online, at ReviveOurHearts.com.

It’s very easy to focus on all the flaws in your spouse and wonder why they can’t be like someone else. But that would mean comparing the worst of your spouse with the best of someone else. It’s not an accurate comparison.

Tomorrow, learn how to leave those comparisons behind and cherish your mate. Gary and Lisa Thomas will be back on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to give your marriage hope! It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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