From Dead End to Hope
About the Guest
Rusty and Marsha Mauney's marriage was headed toward a dead end fast when God broke through with life-changing help. Through the death of a buddy during deployment and the ensuing rage that followed, hear how God miraculously worked in Rusty and Marsha's story of perseverance and hope.
Rusty and Marsha Mauney’s marriage was headed toward a dead end fast when God broke through with life-changing help.
From Dead End to Hope
Bob: There was an event that took place in Rusty Mauney’s life that had an impact on every aspect of his life—his marriage /his family—everything—an event he will never forget.
Rusty: On January 22, 2005, a very close friend of mine died in my arms. I think with Lieutenant Hoe, a huge part of me died that day. I think everything changed in my head, for the worst, at that moment. On the inside, I was a complete failure—I mean, I failed to keep that man alive. As long as I stayed drunk, I could deal with that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today, we take you to a special live-edition of our program recorded in front of a studio audience, where we’ll hear about the price that our servicemen and women pay in protecting our freedom.
Some pay the ultimate price; but every soldier, sailor, airmen, marine—they all pay a price to keep us free. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of people who have asked us, in almost 25 years of programming now, what have been our favorite programs. I always tell people that my favorite programs are interviews we’ve done with people whose names they would not recognize, because we’ve heard some amazing stories that are all about God over that 25 year period; haven’t we?
Dennis: We have. Among my favorite stories are those that end up showing off a couple who are trophies of God’s grace and redemption in front of a live audience, like we have here—
Bob: We do have a live audience.
Dennis: —on the Love Like You Mean It® cruise. [Applause] We are somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dennis: The sun is setting, and it’s a great day to be alive. We’re going to hear a great story about Rusty and Marsha Mauney who have a blended family. You have four children between the ages of 9 and 19; is that right?
Marsha: That’s right!
Dennis: Okay. Rusty, you served in the U.S. Army for more than a decade—from 2003 to 2013—and Marsha, you’re a nurse stenographer for the Hope Pregnancy Center. You—although you have a great marriage today, it was not always so. Take us back to how you two met, Rusty.
You didn’t waste any time in this relationship; did you?
Rusty: No. We were actually on the campus of Mississippi State—Mississippi State University—in Starkville, Mississippi. Next to a porta potty, I met my wife.
Dennis: That’s really romantic; huh?
Rusty: Only one way to go from there. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, were you at a football game? Or what was it?
Rusty: We were at a concert.
Rusty: My friend somehow stumbled upon Marsha and one of her friends, and I ended up back with the group. He had the idea that he was going to meet up with Marsha, or he was going to take her home—or something like that. And somehow, I flipped the script and ended up with the good one.
Bob: Now, give me background at this point. How old were you guys when this was going on?
Bob: You were 19. Rusty, what was it about her that made you think, “I think she’s the one”?
Rusty: I don’t know— I just knew. I don’t—as soon as we made eye contact, it was like, “That’s it.”
Bob: Wow. So, there is love at first sight.
At least, for one of you, there was love at first sight. [Laughter]
Rusty: Yes; it took her awhile.
Marsha: We dated for a little while. Then, he was going to go to Ole Miss in Oxford, and I was still at the junior college in another city. I did not think that a long distance relationship would be good for nursing school.
My intentions were that I would tell him that we didn’t need to spend any time together and that he would kind of chase me—he would tell me all the reasons we were meant to be—but he actually didn’t. He just said, “Okay,” and came and picked up his guitar and went to Oxford.
Bob: So, after this opening whirlwind, it kind of died; and you figured it was over?
Marsha: Different, various things kind of kept bringing us back and forth into each other’s lives over the next, probably, four to five years. We date—then, we wouldn’t talk for a while—nothing major—just life going in different directions.
Bob: Rusty, what was going on with you over that four- to five-year period? You said you’d wanted to marry her.
Rusty: Yes. It kind of surprised me when she couldn’t see it. It was obvious that it was going to happen. [Laughter] She just ran away.
So, I remember having to tell her that I already had a kid. As a 19-year-old guy—you know, freshman year / first semester of my freshman year at college— I have a son. Then, to fall in love with somebody and then have to tell them that—I think the way I said it—I was like: “So, do you have any kids?” She said, “No.” I said, “I do.” [Laughter] And [she]: “Really?” So, that’s kind of how I broke the ice with that.
Dennis: So, Marsha, what did you think at that point?
Marsha: I was okay with that. That was a little scary, because we were only 19; but I was okay with that. I believe I wrote him a letter, actually, telling him that I was okay and that I wanted to meet Jimmy.
Dennis: Enough so you continued on with the relationship over the next five years.
Marsha: —off and on.
Bob: So, was there anything spiritual going on in either of your lives during this five-year period that you were dating one another?
Marsha: I was practically born into a church—my father was a deacon / my mother was a Sunday school teacher. I was in church every time the doors were open until I got into my college years and I had that freedom to, all of a sudden, make those choices on my own. I kind of wandered into that college life a little bit.
Bob: Rusty, what about you?
Rusty: For me, it was—I knew there was a God. I believed in Jesus, but the problem I had with church was they were too judgmental on—they wouldn’t understand. Nobody ever would be okay with my lifestyle, which was drinking and partying all the time. Really, I just needed an excuse not to go; and that was the one I picked.
Bob: And I’m curious: “Did you know that was his lifestyle—drinking and partying all the time?”
Marsha: Originally, I did not know, at the time, the depth that that was a part of his life. I mean, so many people in college drink; but I didn’t really realize that there was a deeper level to that than just kind of a social drink.
Dennis: So, you got married?
Marsha: So, we got married.
Dennis: And immediately—
Rusty: —we got in a car with my guitar, a Chihuahua, and a jar of change—
Marsha: —my grandmother’s jar of change.
Rusty: —and drove to Fort Lewis, Washington, outside of Seattle.
Bob: How long after marriage were you deployed?
Marsha: Eight months.
Rusty: Eight months.
Bob: Tell us about your deployment.
Rusty: It was rough. I was assigned to an infantry platoon in the 25th Infantry Division. Then, I remember, on January 22, 2005, a very close friend of mine died in my arms—
—16:02 was the time of death. I think everything changed in my head, for the worst, at that moment. That was by far the worst day of my life. It was that day—I still had to get up, put the uniform on, put the boots on, and go out and do the deal. You didn’t have time to cry—I mean, if you cried, you got shot. If you showed any emotion, you got shot or blown up. So, I put my game face on / put my uniform on, and I did what I needed to do.
I think with Lieutenant Hoe, who was my friend that died, a huge part of me died that day. That’s my—everything up here in my head has not been the same since.
I had the “Suck it up, walk it off, drink water, drive on” mentality. That’s what I did for years after that, where it was—I was fine to talk about it, because it was completely emotionless; because I didn’t have any emotion. I had two—nothing and extremely mad—like to the point of rage—not just “I’m mad at you,” but rage.
There was a little brief part of reprieve in there—where in the deployment, I came home for R&R—and I actually got to see my youngest son born. I went from: one minute, I was on the streets of Mosul in a fire-fight. Two days later / two or three days later, I was in a hospital room watching my son being born. Then, ten days later, I was back in Mosul. So, it was just bam, bam, bam. It’s just hard to—there is no adjustment there.
Bob: Marsha, did you have any sense that there was trauma in your husband’s life?
Marsha: Not during that two-week time period. It wasn’t until after he got home from that deployment. Here we are—I had moved back to Mississippi during the deployment, because I was pregnant with my first child. Me and the baby went back to Seattle to welcome him home. That’s when I knew, pretty quickly, this was not the same man that I sent to war.
Bob: How did you know?
Marsha: The drinking went to very high levels. All those emotions that I had fallen in love with in this man—the one that had written poetry, and played the guitar for me, and loved me so well—there was none of that there. There was just this—it was either, like he said—it was either nothingness or it was extreme rage that could be about anything. He would come home drinking, and he would go to bed drinking.
It was just something I was so not used to—I mean, I never had seen my parents drink at all growing up; you know? It was just such a shock to me.
Dennis: Rusty, you indicated when you did come home on U.S. soil that you began to have an affair—not with a woman?
Rusty: The drinking became the center of my life—it became my god, my wife—my everything. I didn’t realize that until we actually went to a Weekend to Remember®.
One of the speakers was talking about how he had a porn addiction or some sort vice that—no; he had not been cheating on his wife with another woman—but he’d been cheating on her with this other non-flesh-and-blood thing. That smacked me upside the head—it was like: “Wow! I really do have a problem with this.
“I’m married to a bottle right now.” And she was completely on the back burner.
Dennis: Nine years into your marriage, then, another bombshell took place when he revealed—what?
Marsha: There was a situation with, actually, somebody I went to church with that I kept thinking was a little too friendly; but there was no real evidence of that until after we left Texas and we moved to Tennessee—the evidence was kind of shoved into my face. I confronted him with it. That was a really hard day, because that was the day that there had been another woman that he was having too much communication with.
Bob: By God’s grace, this had not become a physical affair; but it was an emotional affair. It was headed in the wrong direction; wasn’t it, Rusty?
Rusty: Yes; she was the babysitter.
Marsha: At the time that he left for his deployment in 2010, I was literally praying, “God, just don’t let me hate him”; but I was actually almost relieved he was going on another deployment because, then, there would be peace in my home.
There wouldn’t be fighting / there wouldn’t be drinking—I could just take care of the kids and have some peace. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him, but I was almost glad he was leaving so we wouldn’t separate from a legal standpoint. The Army was going to separate us.
Bob: Were you thinking about divorce?
Marsha: At that point, no. I just wanted things to be quiet. I had a deployment—so I didn’t have to think about—
Marsha: —divorce. God just removed him and took him to Afghanistan.
Bob: And Afghanistan had to be Mosul times two; wasn’t it?
Rusty: Not—well, at that point, I knew how to do it. I was—I had been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.
Marsha: So, then, he—yes; he came back—
Rusty: I was good at that.
Marsha: —from Afghanistan.
Rusty: Everything on this side—the U.S. side—I was horrible at.
Rusty: Over there, I was the man.
Marsha: He came back from Afghanistan. I thought, after this year of deployment—
—I had really gotten pretty close to God during that time—and I began to feel hopeful that, when he came home, things would be different and things would get better. They were for a little while. Then, the drinking came back. Then, there was another situation with a female coworker. It was another situation that was teetering on the edge of going off a cliff. At that point, he was actually gone doing some training in Louisiana. I found this out and called my mom and said: “Can you meet me half way and take the kids? I just need you to take the kids a couple of days,”—which is something that I never ever do.
They didn’t know why, but they came and got the kids. I literally rented a carpet cleaner and was standing in my living room cleaning carpets just to get out some aggression and cry. That’s when the FamilyLife radio program came on, and it was the voice Sherry telling her story. I ended up sitting on the floor, sobbing, listening to their story of what God did in their marriage.
That’s when I knew that I had to find out more, because I was starting to feel like: “Either my life is going to be like this forever,” or “I’m going to end up in a divorce. I do not want that for us, and I do not want that for these four children that we have brought together.”
Bob: The person you heard on the radio that day—Sherry Jennings / she and her husband Scott—
Bob: —their story was one that we spent, I think, three days unpacking on FamilyLife Today. It had parallels. Scott was drinking. He had been more than emotionally-unfaithful with his wife. Their marriage had ended up in a divorce.
Bob: It wasn’t until Scott, really, hit bottom and realized that he needed Christ that began the turnaround that led to them ultimately reconciling / remarrying. By the time we were talking to them, they were leading a marriage ministry at their church.
When you heard that, what kind of hope did it give you?
Marsha: For me, it made all the difference; because we had not divorced yet. I just knew that if God could take, literally, a dead marriage that had ended in divorce and turn it into a marriage ministry, then, God could do anything with our marriage too.
Bob: When did you have a confrontation with your husband about where your relationship was?
Marsha: It was a drunk night, where I literally went into my closet. I took my wedding band off, because I was so tired. I took my wedding ring off, and I looked at my hand—I imagined Rusty’s life if we divorced, and I imagined what my life would be like if we divorced. Then, I imagined Jimmy, and Lizzie, and Aaron, and Natalie. I couldn’t find one of those six people whose lives would be better if we divorced.
So, I put my ring back on my finger; and I think we just—
—there was never a big “Aha!” moment for us. I know a lot of people look for that—like: “This happened, and everything changed”; but it was slow, little incremental movements. It started with—we got into some Christian counseling. Then, in February of 2013, we went to our first Weekend to Remember in Nashville, North Carolina.
Bob: You got tricked into that; didn’t you?
Rusty: Yes. [Laughter] I did not want to go.
Bob: You’re still not sure how that happened; right?
Rusty: Yes: “I don’t see how this happened! How did she sucker me into—
Bob: All weekend!
Rusty: —“getting me on stage with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine?” but I went. [Laughter]
Part of me went just because I was in trouble, and I had to check the block and do it. There was a part of me, on the inside, that knew that it wasn’t all my fault—actually, none of it was my fault / it was all her fault. They were going to say some cool stuff that would give me ammo to fire back at her. I was like: “I’ll beat you at your own game. I’ll show you how much your marriage stuff will do.”
Marsha: It was a cool weekend away.
Dennis: How did that work for you at the Weekend to Remember? [Laughter]
Rusty: God slapped me a bunch that weekend. Everything up until that point was—and up until recently, really, has been: “I didn’t get treated right by my wife,” “I didn’t get to have as much sex as I wanted to,” “I didn’t get to drink when I wanted to,” “I didn’t get to go hunting when I wanted to,” “I didn’t get to do this, and I didn’t get to do that.” It occurred to me, one day, that everything I said had I in it.
Marsha: The one big thing we did take away from that Weekend to Remember was—we got really excited about The Art of Marriage®. I don’t know if it was because we were in such a bad place and they knew that or they just weren’t interested, but we didn’t get the reception that we wanted to. We wanted to get three or four couples to go away for a weekend and do Art of Marriage. Then, we were going to give it to the masses; and we were excited about that; but nobody really was interested in it. So, that kind of fizzled away and went kind of off to the side.
We kept doing our same dance of getting along for a while. He would have a little sober time for two to three months, and things would seem a little bit better. Then, it would blow up again.
Rusty: It really never occurred to me during this whole thing—hindsight is 20/20—the times we would get along would be those sixty to ninety days of sober time, but I never really worked on the underlying problem. The drinking was not my biggest problem. The drinking was a symptom of my biggest problem. My selfishness was my biggest problem—I was putting me before Marsha; I was putting me before God; I was putting me before everything.
I was doing that because I—working through some of the stuff from Iraq—I mean, I failed to keep that man alive. When you get down to the nitty-gritty stuff—I mean, it’s—I was—on the inside, I was a complete failure. As long as I stayed drunk, then, I was good; and I could deal with that.
Marsha: And God was working on me throughout all of this; because it’s very easy, when you have a spouse that has big flaws that you’re looking at, to really put all that emphasis on that person.
I was very confused, like: “How am I supposed to be this Christian, godly, submissive wife to a husband who is an addict and is not acting like Christ?” I didn’t know where to go in that.
About six months after we went to Weekend to Remember, Sherry Jennings had been advertising about wanting to do a Bible study about the Laura Doyle book, The Surrendered Wife; and that’s very counterintuitive to everything I knew in my heart of how I lived. I was not a surrendered wife—I was a control-freak. If I couldn’t control his drinking, I could control every other aspect of our lives. Finally, I broke down on the 12th of August that year of 2013 and ordered the book through Amazon—The Surrendered Wife. The next day was my 34th birthday.
But on August 20th, I actually had a seizure, driving down the road with two of our children in the car. That was quite a terrifying moment.
When I came to, and you realize that your children could have been dead: “Who knows what could have happened?” It was a very scary moment. But what also happens, when you have a seizure driving down the road, is that the state of Tennessee does not like that.
Marsha: And they don’t let you drive for six months. So, here we are—we don’t live in the state with our family. I have four children, and I can’t drive for six months; but the next day in the mail that book, The Surrendered Wife, showed up on August 21st. God had literally made me be still; but it was just God’s perfect timing because I was in a place where I had to start relinquishing some of my control. He was never going to be leader of our household as long as I was trying to lead and control everything.
Dennis: So, God actually ended up doing some healing between you two—so much so that by 2016, you ultimately did host an Art of Marriage weekend for—how many couples?
Dennis: Sixty couples.
Marsha: Sixty couples. [Applause] That’s God!
Marsha: Our story could have easily ended in divorce—
Rusty: That’s right.
Marsha: —many, many stops along that timeline.
Dennis: But it didn’t.
Marsha: But it didn’t. That commitment to God, sometimes, was stronger than my commitment to Rusty; because there were times when marriage was really hard. I had to stop leaning on this man to make me happy, because he wasn’t making me happy. I had to get really serious with God that God was the only person that could fix this.
Rusty: And that’s the key—God in the middle. That’s the glue that held us together. Like she said, it could have gone so many different directions.
Dennis: Well, you’re really on the line now because you’ve told your story to several hundred thousand people—a lot in your community that are going to hold you accountable to keep on keepin’ on. But I want to thank you for not quitting.
Bob: Thank the Mauneys again; will you do that? [Applause and cheering]
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to a conversation recorded in front of a live studio audience with our guests, Rusty and Marsha Mauney, as they shared with us about the price that their marriage paid, in part, because of his commitment to serving us.
Here, on this day when we celebrate our independence as a country, it’s a good day for us to remember the servicemen and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect and defend our freedom every day. We’re grateful for those service personnel. In fact, here at FamilyLife, we have scholarshipped, over the years, many servicemen and women. They have attended our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways as our guests.
We’re able to do that as listeners, like you, contribute to scholarship funds that are not only for service personnel but also for pastors and their spouses. So, “Thank you,” to those of you who have made it possible for couples—like the Mauneys and thousands of others—to be refreshed and, in some cases, to be restored by attending a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Now, tomorrow, you’ll get a chance to meet Irene and Domingo Garcia. This is a couple who got married when they were 16. As you’ll hear, it’s surprising that their marriage lasted a year or two; but instead, it has gone on decades. They’re now leaving a powerful legacy in the lives of others. You’ll hear their story tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; A Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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