FamilyLife Today®

Barry and Pam Abell

with Barry and Pam Abell | March 29, 2013
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Money can't buy happiness. Hear the compelling story of Barry and Pam Abell, an upscale couple who seemingly had it all, until they gave it all up for a rich relationship with Christ and each other.

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  • Money can't buy happiness. Hear the compelling story of Barry and Pam Abell, an upscale couple who seemingly had it all, until they gave it all up for a rich relationship with Christ and each other.

Money can’t buy happiness.

Barry and Pam Abell

With Barry and Pam Abell
March 29, 2013
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Bob:  Barry Abell remembers when he first started having spiritual questions, and he remembers that he had no idea where to go to get those spiritual questions answered.

Barry:   I had tried to search out a Christian in New Jersey who could explain to me Who this Jesus was—what this book, the Bible, was—where it came from, could I trust my life to it? And for the first time in my life, I began to question whether I was—I always thought: “I’m an American, born and raised in New Jersey. What else could I be but a Christian?” So, I began to do a strange thing. I began to read the Bible and began to see who Jesus said was a Christian and who wasn’t.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today on Friday, March 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Barry Abell had no idea what he’d gotten his hands on that day when he opened his Bible—the living, active, sharp as a scalpel Word of God, in the hands of the Great Physician. Stay tuned.  

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition—the Good Friday edition—as we prepare, this weekend, for the celebration of the Resurrection. You think about the resurrection of Jesus and the fact that we have forgiveness of sin because Christ was raised from the dead. We have a hope for eternity because Christ was raised from the dead.

But there’s something else we have; and that is, the promise of transformation—the promise that God will do, in us, a transforming work—that He’ll change us from the people we are to the people we were created to be. We are hearing a story, this week, from friends of ours, Barry and Pam Abell, who speak at our Weekend to Remember®marriage getaways. You guys—by the way, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.

You guys have already shared with us about your own story—about your marriage, how you attended high school together, you began dating the summer after your senior year, got married about three years after that; right?

Pam: Yes.

Bob: You have two children. Barry, you were working on Wall Street, as an investment banker; is that right?

Barry:  I was a municipal bond trader.

Bob:  Okay, trading in municipal bonds. Your work schedule turned up the heat. At home, the heat was getting turned up by your oldest son, Mark, who had ADHD. All of a sudden, the two of you had drifted into isolation. That’s where you came to a point in your marriage—you were on vacation—and it was Chuck Colson who was instrumental in leading you to Christ; right, Pam?

Pam: Yes. He didn't know it at the time; but he wrote a wonderful book, which I read. It changed my life.

Bob:  The book was the story of his own conversion called Born Again. Barry, you read it that same weekend and kind of yawned; right?

Barry:   Well, I thought it was a good book on politics.

Dennis:  You didn't hear the spiritual message?

Barry:   Not even a sentence.

Bob:  But you began to see a spiritual message in your wife's life, following that weekend.

Barry:  I felt I had a new wife. She had a peace and a joy in her heart that hadn't been there before. I think she was very wise that she didn’t try and “sermonize” me or lecture me; but she was a witness—an example, to me, of what God can do in a person’s life.

Pam: However, he would—as I’d leave for my own Bible study—he would go: "Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord! Have fun, dear."

Dennis:  Was he mocking you?

Pam:  Well, in a cute kind of way.

Barry:  Yes.

Dennis:  Oh, you were mocking her? 

Barry:  Oh, yes.

Dennis:  Really? You didn't respect her faith, even though her life was changing in front of you?

Barry:  Well, she had volunteered for everything else in the world. I just thought this was one more thing.

Pam:  “Just give her time, she'll get over it.”

Barry:  But I did want to find out Who this Jesus Christ was—Who could change somebody's life.

Dennis:  What would you say to a wife, who is married to a man, who is totally disinterested?

Bob:  Well, not just totally disinterested; but a man who is saying, as you leave for your Bible study, "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Have fun, dear." That could be—were you discouraged by that?

Pam:  Not really because I didn't catch the vindictiveness in his voice. I knew he was mocking, but he had a smile on his face. So, I just sort of—I don’t know, it just didn't bother me that much—but I was discouraged that he wasn't more interested, but I wasn't disheartened—discouraged but not disheartened.

Bob:  What would you say to a wife, who is living in a situation like Pam was living in?

Barry:  The only way I’ve ever seen it work is where a woman, or on the other side, a husband, lives a life that becomes envious to the person who doesn’t know Jesus Christ—where they can look and see a life change in front of their eyes. When you live with somebody, it’s very easy to pick that difference up. It’s one thing if it’s a neighbor, who you see once a week or once a month; but when you’re living with somebody every day, those changes become very obvious.

Dennis:  And so you’re picking a fight. She won’t fight in the same way she’d been fighting with you in the past.

Barry:  Well, nine times out of ten, when we would have a problem—and usually, they were my fault—she would come to me and ask me to forgive her. I was completely dumbfounded by that.

Bob:  That had not been the pattern a few years earlier?

Barry:  No, Pam could duke ‘em out with the best of them. [Laughter]

Bob:  So your conflicts changed. Pam, let me ask you about that because the conflicts—Barry was still picking fights the way he used to pick fights. You weren’t responding. Was it a conscious effort to hold back on the old patterns; or was God just doing such a work in your heart that you didn’t even have to think about it—you were just responding in a godly way?

Pam:  I think both. There is a tendency, sometimes, to fall back into old patterns; but I think, the majority of the time, I was just sort of overflowing with Christ’s love for me. I was just so excited about Him being in my life and not feeling alone with any problems. It was because of God’s unconditional love for me that I really found it much easier to love my husband and to love my children in a more unconditional way.

Dennis:  Pam, what would you say to that woman, or for that matter, that spouse—who’s married to an unbeliever—someone who is not interested?

Pam: Well, just keep praying. Don't preach. Just keep living your life as Christ lives His life in and through you. Just seek constantly—daily—His wisdom, and His strength, and His Spirit to just be who He wants you to be.

Bob:  You know—there are some wives, listening, who are saying: "I've done that for 20 years, for 25 years. I don't think that's going to do any good. I've done my best to live a godly life. I've prayed for my husband. He just seems completely turned off to the Gospel. I feel isolated. I feel like I can't share intimacy, at the deepest level, with my husband because we don't have that in common."

Barry:   This experience has shown me that the—and it might sound self-serving—but the answer is to get somebody to a FamilyLife marriage conference. A marriage conference changed my life—hearing the Gospel. I think there is no better way—non-threatening way—for a person to come—either husband or wife—to hear the Gospel in a fun, fun weekend.

Dennis:  Actually, what I thought you were going to say, Pam—was I thought you were going to say is, "Pray, live the life, and then invite your husband to a romantic"—

Pam:  —Weekend to Remember.

Dennis:  —a Weekend to Remember—because that's exactly what you did.

Pam:  Yes, that's exactly what I did.

Dennis:  You drug him there.

Pam:  I drug him there. It was six months out, and I suggested we go. He really just thought: "Well, to keep peace in the family, I'll just agree, and I'll just go. Between now and then, I'll get out of it."

Dennis:  Okay, Barry, so what did you think, at that point? She's taking you away on this marriage conference—

Barry:  Well, I had every belief that I'd get out of it. This was in January. She asked me to go Memorial Day weekend. I figured, you know, for peace in the family for six months, I'll say anything; but, come Memorial Day, I knew I would get out of this.

During that period of time, after Pam had invited Jesus into her life, I had tried to search out a Christian in New Jersey who could explain to me who this Jesus was—what this book, the Bible, was—where it came from, could I trust my life to it?  Unfortunately, for me, I couldn't find anybody.

About that time, a friend of ours from Washington, DC—Becky Coe—came to stay at our house for ten days, as a houseguest. She was a committed Christian. Every night after dinner, I would ask her these questions: “Who is Jesus Christ?  Where'd the Bible come from?” She did her best to answer those questions. At the end of ten days, when she was saying her goodbyes, she came to me and she said, "You know, Barry, you're probably the nicest non-Christian I've ever met in my life."

For the first time in my life, I began to question. I began to do a strange thing. I began to read the Bible. “If I couldn't find somebody else who would answer these questions,”—I began to read that Bible and began to see who Jesus said was a Christian and who wasn't.

Dennis:  And you put your finger on a verse.

Barry:  I was an argumentative guy. I often tried to make deals with God. One time, I said: "God, if You are real, I'm going to open this book—Your book, the Bible. If You are real, I want You to tell me something."  It was a Living Bible that Pam had given me. I opened it to First Corinthians, not on purpose. I didn't even know what a First Corinthians was—First Corinthians 1:21. It said, "For God so made His plan that it couldn't be found through human brilliance." I just about dropped the Bible. I thought, "Whoa! I'm going to get electrocuted here." [Laughter]

Bob:  You wound up not being able to get out of this weekend marriage conference that you'd been invited to six months earlier and had signed off on because you thought you'd be able to get out. So, as you were headed off to a weekend away with your wife—and you knew it was going to be a Christian deal; right?

Barry:  Well, I did my best to get out of it. The conference was in Newark, New Jersey, right by Newark Airport. As we approached, I saw the Big Apple. I said, "Pam, here's a deal you can't refuse." [Laughter]

Dennis:  So you tempted her?

Pam:  Oh, big time!

Dennis:  Tempted her with an apple.

Bob:  With the Big Apple.

Barry:  I said: “We're going to go. We're going to get a hotel room. I'll take you to the theater, to dinner. We'll have breakfast in bed, Saturday morning. It will be the most romantic weekend of our lives.” I almost talked her into it. [Laughter]

Bob:  It's those theater tickets—you were going, "That could be fun."

Barry:  It was close.

Bob:  But she said, “I really want to go to this thing.”

Barry:  She said we'd paid our registration, and they were expecting us. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a marriage conference.

Bob:  And what did it feel like—to be sitting there, and to have all those questions, and to be sitting there with a wife who, two years earlier, had had a transformation in her own life with Jesus Christ? What happened that weekend?

Barry:  Well, there was a man, who got up Saturday morning, and shared how Jesus Christ had changed his life—who had taken his marriage, that sounded just identical to ours—and just revolutionized it. He said that I could have that same relationship by inviting Jesus Christ in my life, asking Him to forgive my sins. I knew, as soon as he said it, that it's something I needed to do.

But I began to argue with myself. As I sat there, the next thing I knew, the session was over. I was the only one left in the room. I walked back to my room, and I knew I could never be the dad my kids needed so badly without Jesus Christ in my life. I knew I could never be the husband that Pam needed without Jesus in my life. But, more than anything, I knew I could never be the person that God wanted me to be without Jesus in my life. I got down on my knees, and I prayed a very simple prayer—just like Pam did—that He would come into my life, forgive me, and just take control of my life. The amazing thing was that He did that. There were no bells and whistles, as Pam said; but I knew, right then, that my life was changed forever.

Dennis:  As you were talking, I was thinking about what Paul wrote in the second book to the Corinthians. In Chapter 5, verse 20, he says: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were entreating through us. We beg you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." By placing faith in Christ, you experienced God's forgiveness. You received eternal life. You became a child of God; and He began to change your life, your marriage, and your family.

Pam, what was the first clue you had that something was different in this husband that you had drug to this marriage conference?

Pam: Well, as I walked back into the room, shortly after he had just given his life to Christ, I could see there was a just a difference in him. He sat me down on the bed. He said: "I want to tell you something. I've invited Christ into my life." His eyes were moist, and then he asked me if I would pray with him. I had not prayed with my husband in 11 years. We'd been married 11 years. We had never prayed. I knew—and that began just an incredible journey that we've been on, now, for over 25 years.

Bob:  Did you think, at all, when Barry said that, what I think a lot of wives, Pam, or husbands, if it's a wife who has come to faith—who will walk away from that experience, whether it comes as a part of a Weekend to Remember, or whenever it happens—they walk away thinking: "Now I'm going to see the big changes that I've been praying for. Now, all of a sudden, he's going to be a spiritual leader. He's going to lead our family in prayer, and we're going to be reading the Bible. This is what I've always dreamed of!" It doesn't always happen with that kind of an overnight transformation. God's work is gradual in a person's life.

Pam: Yes, it is. It is gradual; and I think people that leave a conference, expecting huge overnight changes, are going to be disappointed. But ours was gradual—it was a building process. Then, we went to another conference, two years later. There, it really cemented the principles upon which we had begun to build a new marriage.

Bob:  Did you have to get drug to this conference, two years later?

Barry:  All I can remember is Pam saying, "Oh, if you could only be like Dennis." [Laughter]

Dennis:  That's a sick thought; it really is.

Bob:  This was one of the first Weekend to Remember conferences we ever hosted. You were speaking, along with Bob Horner. Of course, you didn't know Barry and Pam Abell. They were just a couple in the audience; right?

Dennis:  That's right. We went to the East Coast, really, by faith. We began to go up into New England, and Boston, and New York City, and Parsippany, New Jersey—which is just outside of New York City—all saying, "Oh, Lord! Fill these ballrooms,” because this is not the buckle of the Bible Belt here. 

But what we found was an audience that was extremely hungry and thirsty for the truth of God's Word and for an experience with Jesus Christ. That's what you all experienced at the Weekend to Remember. You came. Do you remember what you learned at that event?

Barry:  More than anything, I learned from you, Dennis, the need for a husband and wife to pray together. We began that process on a daily basis. It revolutionized our marriage because praying together takes all hypocrisy out of a marriage. A recent book we read—entitled, When Couples Pray Together—Cheri Fuller wrote that and documented that when couples pray together every day, the divorce rate is less than one percent.

Dennis:  You know, at the conference, the men are challenged; but there's a reason why so much life-change occurs at a Weekend to Remember. Couples not only hear the Scriptures—they're encouraged to apply them. Then, they're given time, in the schedule, and a clear project to complete, as a couple, that helps them begin to immediately apply, to their relationship, what they just heard. One of the projects is writing one another a love letter. Did you all write the love letter?

Pam: Yes, we did. That was a highlight, for me, that weekend. I came from a family, Dennis, that, you know, you hear about the families that used to kiss each other before they go get the mail from the mailbox? That was just my family—affectionate, very demonstrative. Barry came from a family, where it's sort of like, "Well, I told you I loved you once; and if I change my mind I'll let you know." 

So, our expression of affection was different. Being able to sit down and truly hear my husband express his love for me in a letter was just so meaningful. The whole weekend was just extremely wonderful; and, as I said, just cemented all those incredibly important principles that you're trying to base a Christian marriage on.

Dennis:  One of the things we do, at the Weekend to Remember, is we encourage couples—not only to write this love letter—but then, during that project time—take their love letter, look their spouse in the eye, and read their love letter to them. We have been encouraged, by our guests at a Weekend to Remember, to have a Kleenex® in the manual, at that point, because it gets a little emotional as, sometimes, couples express things that haven’t been uttered for years.

Bob:  And right after that project is completed, as we get couples back together, we talk about where the power for a strong marriage comes from. We spend time explaining how—if we’re going to have our marriage relationship be all that God wants it to be—our relationship with God has to be all that He intends for it to be, as well. We share the Gospel, in that context. Each time we’re out, Dennis—every weekend that we’re doing these conferences—we’re seeing people make a profession of faith for the first time—folks who are stepping forward and saying, “I need Jesus to be my Lord and my Savior.”

The thing that’s hard for us is that our listeners know people, who are not churchgoers, better than we know them. So, this week, we’ve been asking our listeners: “Could we team up with you in ministry? Would you consider inviting a friend or a family member—somebody you know—someone who is in your circle of influence—they’re not regular churchgoers—but they might come with you to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway? Would you invite them to come along with you?” If you will call and sign up to attend—you pay for your way—and we’ll pay for your friends’ way. We’re doing that this week in hopes that we’ll see an increase in the number of people, who don’t normally come to church, show up at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—and maybe, hear the Gospel and respond to it, as a result of coming to our weekend getaway.

All you have to do is go to and click on the link for the Weekend to Remember to find out when an event is coming to a city near where you live. Then, if you want to sign up, online, for yourself, you fill out the registration form. Type my name—type “BOB” in the promo code box. When you do that this week, we’ll send you a certificate, and you can invite another couple to come along with you. Again, we’re trusting that will be a couple that you know, and they’re not churchgoers, and they need to hear the Gospel. So, sign up for yourself, type my name in the promo code box, and we’ll send out the certificate, that you can pass on to them and invite them to join you at the Weekend to Remember.

Or, if it’s easier, just call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Say: “We want to come. We’ll bring these friends of ours—they’re not churchgoers and need to hear the Gospel.” We’ll mail out a certificate to you. That’s good this week only—so call today. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY and register for a conference. Think about the couple you’d like to invite. Again, we’ll send you a certificate; and they can come as our mutual guests. And then, keep us posted on how the conference goes and if there is any kind of spiritual breakthrough in their lives; okay?

Now, as we wrap up today, reflecting on the cross of Christ and on the coming celebration of His triumph—His Resurrection—we thought we would close today with a song from our friends, Keith and Kristyn Getty. They recorded this version of this song in our studios several months ago. This is a song called The Power of the Cross. [Song]

Bob:  We trust you will know the power of the cross in your life this week.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

Song:   The Power of the Cross

Artists:  Keith and Kristyn Getty

Album:  In Christ Alone, Getty Music ©2007 [Airedrendition was taped at FamilyLife

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