Today on the broadcast, FamilyLife speakers Tom and Brenda Preston share how God changed their marriage after they committed their lives to Him.
Today on the broadcast, FamilyLife speakers Tom and Brenda Preston share how God changed their marriage after they committed their lives to Him.
Bob: What had begun as a fairy tale relationship for Tom and Brenda Preston was not heading toward happily ever after. Their marriage was on the brink of divorce. That's when someone introduced Tom to God in the person of Jesus Christ, and he realized he was at a crossroads.
Tom: I knew that I was faced with a decision, and I knew that that decision would affect my plans for a divorce. And so at that moment I remember looking up, and I said, "Okay." And I didn't have any long, elaborate prayer, but God knew what I was saying, and there was an absolute and immediate overwhelming sense that I had, in fact, done business with God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 21st. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. It was at the crossroads where Tom Preston knelt at the cross, and that's where things started to change. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. For the last couple of weeks, we have been encouraging our listeners to consider attending one of our upcoming fall Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and the reason we've been doing that is because we think every marriage can benefit from a weekend away where a couple can spend some focused time looking at how their marriage is doing; learning biblical principles for how God has designed a marriage to be fulfilling and honoring, and we think that it's just a good idea for a husband and wife to get away together and spend that time, do a little preventive maintenance on your marriage.
And so we have been inviting our listeners to come to one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember conferences, there are going to be about four dozen of them this fall in cities all across the country. You can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, there's a complete listing there of locations and dates, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and tell us where you live, and we'll tell you when the conference is coming to a city near where you live.
If you register for one of the conferences between now and the end of the month, you will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee. That's the group rate, and we're making it available for our listeners this month. You don't have to form a group. You can just be a part of the listener group and save $60 per couple, but you have to register before the end of July.
So go to our website, FamilyLife.com, get the information you need. You can register online, if you'd like. If you do that, when you fill out the registration form, you'll come to a keycode box. Just type my name, type "Bob" in the keycode box, and we'll know you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and you can take advantage of that special rate. Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329, mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today and you want to attend one of the Weekend to Remember conferences and, again, you can take advantage of the special offer and save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.
The offer is only good during July so don't procrastinate. Call us or go online and plan to be at one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember conferences. For a lot of couples, it's a marriage-changing weekend for couples who are in a tough spot or are headed in the wrong direction. This gets them turned around, pointed back in the right direction, and gives them the tools they need to be able to sustain a marriage that may have looked like it wasn't going to make it.
In fact, that was the case for our guests this week, Tom and Brenda Preston. This is a couple whose marriage -- well, as you like to say, was "in the ditch" and it looked, for all intents and purposes, like this was a marriage that was over.
Dennis: Yes, and I think of this couple, I think of Proverbs 24, verses 3 and 4, which says, "By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding is it established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." And the couple we have in the studio with us today, Bob, as you know, their lives, their marriage life is a contrast of a house that has become filled with precious and pleasant riches but was once a home that was empty and was a home that was decadent and was full of conflict and, really, deceit and dishonesty -- not oneness -- but depression and discouragement. And 12 years into their marriage they put that house on the market. They discovered that house was built upon sand and decided to trade it in for one that was built upon the rock and, of course, we know what happens when the storms come, and the winds blow against a house that's built on the rock. It can withstand it.
Well, we've got a couple here in the studio that have withstood a lot.
Tom: That's right.
Dennis: Tom and Brenda Preston, welcome to FamilyLife Today, and I want to pick up, again, at the end of year 12, that was a volatile year for you guys. Your marriage was nearly over, you were thinking about divorce at that point. You really had thought about going to a lawyer at that point, Tom?
Tom: As a matter of fact, Dennis, we were working on the final details of our divorce. I had told Brenda a couple of months earlier that I wanted a divorce, and so we were in the process of working through the details of that separation and divorce.
Dennis: Well, yesterday we talked about a fairy tale. Brenda, that fairy tale came crashing down as your husband was working on a divorce with a lawyer, wasn't it?
Brenda: That's true, Dennis.
Dennis: What was going through your mind at that time as you were thinking about finalizing the severance of this fairy tale?
Brenda: Well, like I shared before, I really didn't want this to happen but yet I was convinced that it was going to happen and was moving in that direction in trying to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
Dennis: So emotionally you had moved out.
Brenda: That's right. Emotionally, I had already cut Tom off.
Dennis: Well, at the end of the 12th year, you both had gone your own separate ways emotionally, had hooked up with other people, there had been affairs that we talked about on yesterday's broadcast, but something happened in the middle of this crisis. Would you share with us, Tom, what that was?
Tom: I will. There had been, for a few months, a gnawing feeling somewhere inside that something was missing, that there was something wrong, not so much as it related to home. I knew something was wrong there, but even in the successful parts of my life, even in my career, as I achieved goals, I thought, "This doesn't carry as much satisfaction as I though it would, as I hoped it would. What's missing?"
Brenda was away down at the coast with her friend. I was in town alone driving across town. We were living in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the time, and I was driving across town, and it came to my mind just instantaneously, that what's missing, what's wrong, is that I don't know the God who made me. I had grown up in a Christian home as had Brenda. We had heard the truth all of our lives; had been in church maybe a half-dozen times in a 10-year period, but I still remembered, I still knew, and God just graciously showed me that day that what was missing was that I did not know Him.
Dennis: Was there a piercing conviction in your heart of the sin you were involved with -- the dishonesty, the deceit in your marriage relationship, Tom? What did He use to convict you of your need of Christ?
Tom: Well, it started with that emptiness that something is wrong, and that's what's wrong -- is that I don't know God. And on the heels of that came the feeling that you are describing. I knew that tied in with that was the guilt over what I was doing, the lifestyle that I had chosen, and that if I said yes to Him, that it would involve virtually everything I did in my life, because everything was messed up at that point.
Bob: There was no one who had been working on you at the time?
Tom: Not directly. We hear a lot about the prayers of parents and grandparents, and I think the prayers of my mother and father had haunted me for a long time, but no one working directly, no one sat down and shared with me my need for Christ, no one sat down and presented the Gospel.
Dennis: Are you saying at that point your mom and dad were praying for you right then, do you think?
Tom: They have not told me that, but, yes, I think so. And our experience since that time with our own children would almost guarantee that that was what was happening.
Dennis: You know, I've got to stop this, Bob, because we've received a lot of letters, and there have been some moms and dads heartsick over the wrong choices of their adult children. And you're giving us hope here, you're saying, "Don't stop praying. Keep calling out to the God of the Universe who, from His throne room, their lives is only a short handsbreadth, just a reach away, from the throne to that person's life to touch it and to make a difference."
Tom: That's exactly right.
Bob: Well, Tom, you felt convicted, you felt an emptiness in your life, you felt like you needed to know God. What did you do?
Tom: Well, this took place very quickly as I was driving down the street. I found myself with one hand on the steering wheel, fortunately, and the other clenched in a fist. And some verses that I had learned from the Bible as a child in church flooded back through my mind at that time -- "But as many as receive Him to those He gave the right to become children of God." And, of course, John 3:16 came back to my mind. Several Bible verses came to my memory at that point, and I realized that I had a clenched fist, holding onto my right to run my life my way, and I knew that I had failed even in the areas where I thought I was successful, there was an emptiness, and I knew that I was faced with a decision, and I knew that decision would affect my plans for a divorce.
And so at that moment, I remember releasing my hand, my fist, and looking up, and I said, "Okay." And I didn't have any long, elaborate prayer, but God knew what I was saying, and there was an absolute and immediate sense of having done the right thing. There was a burden lifted off me that I really don't know how to adequately describe, but just an overwhelming sense that I had, in fact, done business with God.
Dennis: And the cleansing that took place and the forgiveness felt very real.
Tom: There is no doubt that it was real. It was immediate, and it was real.
Dennis: Well, that forgiveness, the reality of him being forgiven began to really create a changed life. You undoubtedly noticed it, didn't you, Brenda?
Brenda: Oh, yes, Dennis, I sure did. When I came home from the coast, Tom met me at the door, and he told me that while I was gone that something had happened to him, and that he had made a commitment to God, and that he wasn't going to leave, and that we weren't going to get a divorce.
Dennis: What did you think at that point?
Brenda: He also -- oh, well, I was so surprised. He also said that he was going to spend the rest of his life making me happy. That had been a big deal with us. We both wanting to be happy, and he -- we were both focusing on our own happiness not on making the other person happy, and so he told me that day that he wanted to spend the rest of his life making me happy, and that sounded good to me.
You know what was so amazing, Dennis, is that the same time that he was driving in the car I was at the coast, and I was with a friend, and she and I were sitting outside one night thinking back about our lives and our hopes and our dreams, and that evening, God showed me that I had never learned to take responsibility for my own actions. I had blamed Tom for everything that I was doing because I thought if he would love me like he should I wouldn't be doing these things. And so I had justified them, and that evening, really, as we've looked back, it was the exact same time God was showing me that I was responsible for my own actions and that evening I realized that -- well, really, for the first time that I had failed as a wife.
Bob: I would say the Holy Spirit was at work here, wouldn't you?
Brenda: Oh, yes, definitely. Definitely, and both our minds, and so when I came home, and he told me what had happened in his life, and I began to see a real change in his life. There was a difference about him, and seven months later, one Sunday morning, I realized that although I had known intellectually about Jesus Christ, I knew who He was and that He came and died for me, I had never personally experienced that. And one Sunday morning in April of 1975, I gave Him my life, and invited Him to come into my life, and my life, too, began to change then, and that's when we really began to see God change our marriage.
Dennis: Tell me how forgiveness at that point visited your relationship, because you both, due to these bad seeds that had been sown, you had some things to forgive each other for. Both had been unfaithful, do you recall a point at which you forgave each other for those acts?
Tom: Yes. We decided -- we knew that we had both done terrible, terrible things, and we talked about forgiving, and knew that we just had to make a decision to do that. We didn't feel forgiveness, we had to make a decision to forgive, and we chose to do that. We simply chose to forgive one another. That didn't make everything go away instantly, but we made that decision.
Brenda: I think one thing that happened to me, too, Dennis, is that I had -- when I recognized my own sinfulness, it was so devastating for me. I can't tell you how devastating it was for me, because I had justified just about everything in my life, and when I knew Jesus Christ had forgiven me personally, then when I started looking at Tom and what he had done, it somehow -- I knew I was forgiven, and I had to forgive him, and so I was committed to do that.
Dennis: Brenda, as I was listening to you, I was just thinking you really -- your life really embodied the verse that I quote frequently here in FamilyLife Today -- Ephesians 4:32, "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." You said you were compelled to forgive him because you were forgiven. There's a lot of people, I think, who hold out forgiveness, Bob, in pride against their spouse even though they know they've sinned against the God of the Universe, they feel justified in withholding forgiveness against their spouse. Somehow, in the recesses of their mind, they don't feel like they've got to let that spill over to their mate who has disappointed them.
Bob: The wounds, the anger, the bitterness that exists runs so deep that they feel that until that feeling is erased they can't move toward forgiveness, and the truth is that until they move toward forgiveness the feelings will never get dealt with.
Dennis: Forgiveness is not necessarily a feeling initially. It is a giving up of the right of punishment. You know, I've got to ask you two, was there ever a time later after that 12th year of marriage where the anger rose up again, and you wanted to punish each other for those choices?
Tom: Yes, it did, but not often. The thing that rose up more often than anger was just the hurt. That kept coming for a while. I had to learn a lot. Both of us had to learn a lot about forgiving and forgetting, and we don't have bad memories. We're aging nowadays, but our memories are still intact, or at least as good as they ever were, but what we learned was that in choosing to repeat that forgiveness, when the hurt would come, when something would come along that would remind me of something Brenda had done or remind her of something that I had done, the pain came back, the emotional involvement was still there, and it was very real.
And what we chose to do was repeat the forgiveness -- I have chosen to forgive you for this. And we kept repeating that and realized that after a while what was happening was that when a memory would come back, there wasn't so much pain with it, and emotionally we were forgetting. And today, emotionally, we have forgotten.
As we sit and talk about those first 12 years and some of the things that happened then, or if we're going along and something brings one of those instants back to mind, it is literally as if it had happened to someone else.
Dennis: You've now been married 30 years?
Tom: Thirty years.
Dennis: So there is that hope for that person who has failed; that with the practical application and faithful application of God's Word that someday the emotional hurt and that reminder, that residue, won't be thrown back in their face.
Brenda: Dennis, when I think back when the emotional hurt was still there, one of the things that God gave me the ability to do was to look past Tom to Him. A lot of the things that I knew He was telling me to do as a wife, I didn't really want to do for Tom. And yet I did want to do it for Jesus Christ because I'd been forgiven. He'd given me a new life and a new marriage and a new home, and so He gave me the ability to look past Tom to Him and to be able to do -- forget -- the forgiveness, and the other things that I knew He wanted me to do as a wife.
Dennis: Well, as you two speak at our FamilyLife Marriage Conferences around the country, when you tell this story, you must be flooded with people coming up to you during the conference telling you of similar stories.
Brenda: We are. And I never will forget, at one of the conferences there was a woman who came up to me after we had given our testimony, and she told me that they were right where we were, and that they were in the process of getting a divorce, and to her things looked hopeless. And so during the weekend I just kept looking at her and praying for her, and at the end of the conference, she came up to me, and she said, "God's done a miracle in our lives. It has really spoken to us, and we have made a new commitment to each other," and on Christmas morning the telephone rang, and it was this woman, and she was telling me that the night before that they had had about 15 couples in their home, and that they had shared with these couples about what had happened in their lives.
And at the conference I do a story about pearls and about how God has given us pearls of wisdom that He wants us, as women, to be willing to put on and wear. Pearls that not only have value in this world but have eternal value, and she shared -- she said, "I just want to tell you that my husband wrote me a letter, and he said that I was the pearl of his life." And she said, "Our marriage has completely turned, and we have hope."
Dennis: "By wisdom a house is built and by understanding, it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." You know, the Proverbs speak there of a house that you've now been building for the past 18 years, been faithfully building it not only in your own house but also in the houses of others, and, Tom and Brenda, I want to thank you for sharing your story with us, because I've got to believe, Bob, there are going to be couples who take hope and take heart at the story shared by Tom and Brenda here today.
Bob: We've met a lot of those couples when we speak at one of our Weekend to Remember conferences, we get a chance to shake hands with couples who say, "Our marriage was over" for whatever reason. Whether it was the circumstances you guys experienced or whether it was some other set of circumstances. And they leave the conference with a fresh sense of hope that there is a plan now that they can put in place that will help their marriage go the distance. This month we have been encouraging FamilyLife Today listeners to consider attending one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember conferences when it comes to a city near where you live or, for that matter, if you have to travel, that's okay, too. It's just a good idea to get away together as a couple and spend a weekend focusing on your marriage, on your relationship. Ask yourselves, "How are we doing?" And then review what the Bible has to say together about what God's purpose and design for marriage is and how you can communicate more effectively with one another; how you can resolve conflict when that happens in your marriage; God's plan for intimacy and romance in a marriage relationship -- these are all things that are talked about in the two-and-a-half day getaway for couples that we call the Weekend to Remember conference.
If you register for one of these upcoming fall conferences during the month of July, we're going to reward your foresight by giving you the group rate as one of our listeners. You will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee. All you have to do is go online, get more information. You can register online, if you'd like, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and get your information over the phone, register over the phone. Identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener when you call, or if you're filling out the registration form online, when you come to the keycode box, just type in the word "Bob," and we'll know that you listen to FamilyLife Today, and you're entitled to the special rate for listeners. Again, you save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee, and you have to register before the end of the month to receive that savings.
So today is a good day to either go online at FamilyLife.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY. Make plans to attend one of these upcoming weekend conferences when it comes to a city near you, and if, for some reason, you're not able to get to one of the conferences, and you'd still like to hear the material that's presented at the Weekend to Remember, we have the messages available on audio CD in a complete CD series. You can get more information about that when you call or order online at FamilyLife.com. It's not the same as attending the weekend away together, but it can provide you with some practical help for your marriage. Again, the Weekend to Remember CD series is available online at FamilyLife.com or call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
Well, I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we're going to issue a challenge for you about television. In fact, if you really like TV, don't tune in on Monday, all right, because -- I'm just being honest -- because we're going to challenge your thinking and challenge you about the health of television for your family and your kids. So let me just encourage you now, stay away on Monday and, you know, ignorance is bliss, right, so you'll be happier. That's my advice.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you Monday, maybe, for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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