Dawn and I met in August of 1986 and were married by December of 1987. We were “sick” in love. So “sick”, we couldn’t breathe enough of each other’s air. We were both still in college at the time. I can remember the two of us staying out till 5:00 in the morning on the rooftop of the Music Department at Georgia Southern College. We skipped sleep and classes just to be together.
We married in what is commonly known as the “in love” or “limerence” phase of a relationship. At the time of our wedding, we were both working part-time, making $3.35 an hour. We were so in love, I quit school and thought we’d live off of love and the fruits of marriage (if you know what I mean). That lasted about 6 months…
By December of 1989, our first child, Hannah, was born and the “limerence” had begun to wear off. I began to see Dawn for who she truly was and she began to see me for who I truly was.
Our relationship was at a point that I didn’t enjoy her nor did she enjoy me. In fact, we began to question whether or not we even wanted to remain married. Yet, we both knew we were Christians and there had been no infidelity between us, so from what we understood of Scripture, divorce was not an option.
In addition, Dawn knew her dad’s philosophy of marriage was, “If he ain’t beatin’ on ya or cheatin’ on ya, don’t come home. Stay in it and work it out.”
We were desperate. So much so, I can remember lying in bed at night praying, “God, I know divorce is not an option for us, but death is. Please kill her!” The odd thing about it was, I didn’t realize that Dawn was lying on the other side of the bed praying the same prayer!
During this whole time we continued to live by a promise we had made to one another. That promise was simply to attend at least one marriage enrichment event a year to strengthen our relationship. In the third year of our marriage, we were at a marriage event in Titusville, Florida under the direction of Pastor Peter Lord.
While there, Pastor Lord challenged each couple to find a quiet place separate from one another and ask the Lord to give them a “vision for their marriage.” In other words, ask God to show you why He brought the two of you together. So, Dawn and I followed suit, but really didn’t expect to hear any type of impression that would be earth shattering.
Dawn went and sat under a tree and reluctantly asked God to give her a vision for our marriage. What she sensed Him saying was, “Get your financial house in order and begin developing your ministry to married couples.”
What was so odd about that vision or impression was that it was far from our present reality. We had always struggled financially and there was no apparent end in sight. In addition, she was leading in pre-school ministry and I was teaching Sunday School and leading worship.
Neither Dawn nor I thought much of that experience at the marriage conference at the time. We politely filed our supposed visions away in our notebooks.
Though we didn’t know how to do it, we were both desperate for change in our marriage. Individually, we began crying out to God to change us. God heard and began changing us.
Dawn and I began to make our way back on the road to healing and redemption of our marriage. Eventually, we started sharing our story with other struggling couples.
Sharing our story publicly led to us teaching marriage Bible studies, which led to working with couples one-on-one, which led to leading marriage conferences.
As we began preparing for our first out of town conference, Dawn began looking through her notes of marriage material, as we were both eagerly searching for what we were to say that weekend.
As she skimmed through her notebooks, she came across this statement – “Get your financial house in order and begin developing your ministry to married couples.”
It was then that we realized God had been working years before. All along through our marital journey, He was preparing us to become “fruitful in the land of our affliction.” God was in the process of taking our relationship that was once selfish and ugly and was beginning to use it for His plans and purposes.
Fruitfulness in life most often comes out of our greatest affliction and misery. God uses the pruning that comes from these afflictions to bring forth growth and fruitful work in our life.
Most people are ashamed of the challenging experiences from their past and just want to leave that pain in their past. Yet, that tends NOT to be God’s economy. God’s desire is to leverage the pain of our past for His purposes. He chooses to use the hard story of our past for His glory.
What is your story? What has been your greatest misery? What has God restored in your life? Can you see how God may want to use your story for His glory? Are you willing to share your story with someone else?
God tends to use what He has restored in our life as a means of restoration in someone else’s life. If you’re married, has God restored your marriage from a hard place to a better place? If so, He may want to use your story as a means of restoration for someone’s marriage. Has God helped you overcome an addiction? If so, He may want to use your overcoming victory as a means of restoration of someone else’s life. Have you overcome financial struggles? If so, maybe God wants to use you as a guide for financial freedom of others.
Don’t live in shame of your past. Embrace it for God’s purposes. If you will, God can cause you to be fruitful in the area(s) of your life where there once was affliction.
Are you willing to be used by God in the “land of your affliction?” If so, what’s the next right thing to do?
Pray this prayer: “Father, my life is in Your hands. You know my story. You know how You want to use me. Open my eyes and my heart to Your plan. I am a willing vessel. Use me for Your Kingdom’s sake. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”