The sermon that day focused on the institution of marriage. Pastor Doug Foss talked about lifelong commitment … about oneness … and reconciliation.
As Jan Blessing and Chip Winnard sat together and listened to Pastor Foss’ message that morning at Hope Advent Christian Church in Lenox, Mass., their minds wandered to their first marriages.
Jan says that she was drawn to her first husband’s pools of brown eyes and brown, shoulder-length hair. She noticed how his hair curled in the back and recognized his gentle spirit. Being a musician herself, she was impressed that he had a Fender Precision electric bass guitar. The man had been interested in Eastern spirituality and once decided that he didn’t want to be a husband or father anymore. He had planned to desert the family and become a Taoist monk.
Like Jan, Chip’s first marriage was anything but Christ-centered. Chip met his first wife when she answered his rock band’s ad for a singer. When she auditioned, he instantly fell for her big blue eyes, long blonde hair, and beautiful voice. He was awed by her song-writing talent and could tell that she was open to new things. He says, “She had a style all her own.”
He also describes his first wife as a feminist to the core who always sought what was best for her life. He says she had itching ears for new philosophies and was unanchored spiritually. And like Chip, she had been heavily into yoga, meditation, and eastern philosophies.
As you might guess by now, Jan and Chip had been married to each other. They had been divorced for nearly five years when Pastor Foss finished his sermon that day. He told the 300-plus people that he wanted to show them a real-life example of reconciliation. He called Jan and Chip to the front of the sanctuary and asked them to share what God had done in their lives.
Until that morning, most in the congregation had assumed that the Winnards were married. After all, they attended church together with their three children. But most didn’t know that Jan and Chip had divorced in 1995, after 14 years of marriage. When their oldest son, Nick, went to live with Chip, the two younger children moved into an apartment with Jan.
Wearing a light blue dress that had belonged to Chip’s mother, Jan stood in front of the congregation that day and talked about how Christ had changed their lives. Chip’s hands shook as he stood by her side and told about attending a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway and hearing, for the first time, God’s plan for marriage and God’s plan for his life.
And then to almost everyone’s surprise, Pastor Foss proceeded to remarry Jan and Chip—in front of their three children … in front of Chip’s parents … in front of the entire congregation of Hope Advent Christian Church. That Sunday morning service of February 6, 2000, was one to remember … and quite different from what Jan describes as their “very liberal Christian/Buddhist ceremony in May of 1981.”
Before Chip and Jan publicly read a marriage covenant that they had received from FamilyLife, Jan says, “I remember Pastor Foss saying that Christ is the third part of a three-fold cord in marriage. It was a very powerful morning, for sure.”
A brave confrontation
Jan says she and the children began attending Hope Advent Christian Church a few years after her divorce. “Chip began of his own accord to join us there from time to time. When Pastor Foss found out that we weren’t married, he bravely confronted Chip about his involvement with Buddhism/Taoism. In 1998 Chip and I began going to Pastor Foss for some couples’ counseling, and during one of those sessions, he handed Chip a FamilyLife brochure. He said that the Lord had laid it on the heart of someone in the congregation to come forward and pay our way to one of those weekends. It was pretty miraculous, really.”
Before attending the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway in April of 1999, Jan spent a lot of time in prayer. She says, “A big part of me didn’t really want to reconcile with Chip at that time. I had charted a life apart and I was moving in that direction and he was moving away in his direction.” Jan says that she was relatively content with life then and “pretty happy in my little apartment. … But when I prayed and talked with my pastors, I knew it was the Lord’s will to go [to the Weekend to Remember].”
As the conference unfolded, Chip soon recognized that their conflicts had a lot to do with the fact that they “didn’t know how to do marriage. We didn’t know there was a plan for marriage—that it was a divinely appointed institution. We had grown up in a liberation movement where men and women were supposed to be alike.”
Other than sexual differences, the Winnards had thought that men and women were basically the same. Chip says, “Jan and I didn’t realize that men and women thought and communicated so differently. We didn’t understand that men and women were created by God with different roles according to the divine plan.”
Jan had spent her life trying to be independent—doing things by herself. She had never heard anything taught on marriage and family. She says: “My heart leapt for joy to see that there is very clear direct instruction for married women in the Bible. I had no clue up to that point that there was instruction like that. I was thrilled. It was like finding a treasure chest.”
The gospel presentation during the Weekend to Remember was a real wake-up call for Chip. Until that time, he had believed an “all roads lead to Rome religious philosophy”—that all religions are much the same. For years he had been interested in spirituality and religion, and he says, “The conference made a lot of sense to me in light of all that I had read and understood … it sort of brought everything together and I realized this was what I had been looking for all the time. But it took a little while for all of this to settle in for me.”
Three months after the Weekend to Remember, Chip clearly understood that Christ is the only way to heaven. He was certain, he says, “that I really needed to make this change—that everything I had done up to this point was causing discord and difficulty. When you feel like you have a firm foundation in your worldview and then find out it was built on a foundation of sand, that’s unsettling.”
Then one evening in July 1999, as Chip was visiting Jan in her apartment, he told her that he was ready to make some spiritual changes. He received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior that night.
A firm foundation
Chip and Jan believe that they are married today because of the way God worked in their first Weekend to Remember. Jan compares her two marriages to Chip as “life and death. Our first marriage was not in Christ. It was two people trying to glue themselves together without the glue. Jesus has definitely made all of the difference. When we first married we did not have a united goal; we didn’t have a sense of purpose. Now we both know that we exist to glorify the Lord, and to offer hope and encouragement to others when they find themselves in situations as seemingly hopeless as ours once was.”
She says, “As I’ve focused on Christ and His Word … I’ve learned the duties and responsibilities of a married woman and that there’s a blueprint for marriage. Before I was looking for a vision of what marriage and family looked like and coming up with nothing. I was stabbing in the dark.”
Jan describes her marriage today as filled with a sense of purpose. She says that, as her second husband, Chip is a man who takes his duties to his home and family very seriously.
She says, “Prior to the conference and coming to faith in Christ, Chip had no concept of what a husband and father should look like as I had no concept of what a wife and mother should look like. It’s definitely like two different people. … We pray together every day. … We don’t argue any more the way we used to. If there’s a problem we’ll express it and talk about it always with the understanding that we’re seeking God’s will as a couple. It’s no longer about him trying to push his ideas on me or me trying to make him go along with my ideas.”
Chip describes his second wife as one who has “steadiness and belief in the Word of God. She knows how to encourage her husband instead of compete with him.” He says that his marriage to Jan today is one where they have “a sense of building the home and family, realizing that God has given us a ministry together. We are still individuals, but we are now much more ‘completers’ than ‘competers.’”
Instead of being tossed and turned with every new fad and philosophy, Chip and Jan’s relationship today is built on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. Although they still make music together, their days of rock bands playing in bars and nightclubs are over. They now make music to the Lord with their three children—Nick (22), Jess (19), and Gaelan (17). They find great joy in explaining what God has done in their lives and marriage, sharing how He has transformed their once broken family.
Jan and Chip love to tell people why their marriage is better the second time around. And when others hear their story, they know that nothing is impossible with God.
The Winnards would like to express their appreciation to Pastor Doug Foss of Hope Advent Christian Church in Lenox, Mass, and also to Pastor Joe Ricci of New Hope Ministry at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Albany, NY. Jan and Chip are very grateful that God worked through both of these men to reconcile their marriage.
You can read more about the Winnards at www.winnardfamilyband.com.
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