The End of the Rope, The Beginning of Hope
About the Guest
Tempted by an affair, Penny Bragg thought it best to leave Clint and her old life behind. With 3,000 miles between them, a reconciliation 11 years after their divorce seemed impossible. But God loves the impossible. Hear Clint and Penny talk about God's miraculous intervention in their life and marriage.
With 3,000 miles between them, a reconciliation 11 years after their divorce seemed impossible. But God loves the impossible. Hear Clint and Penny talk about God’s miraculous intervention.
The End of the Rope, The Beginning of Hope
Bob: Penny Bragg knew what she was feeling and what she was doing was wrong.
Penny: The mind can do some really interesting things in justifying what feels good.
Bob: In the middle of a marriage relationship that was going stale, she was allowing herself to be pulled away from her husband by another person.
Penny: Clint and I have learned that, whatever the addiction is, those things have been wired in us from the Fall---in our DNA from the Fall---the tendency to want something to fill our needs when the only thing that can fill it is Jesus Christ. We know that now; but a lot of times, we’ll look to a person, or a bottle, or pills, or alcohol, or something else to meet that void. It’s a God-sized gap.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today from Clint and Penny Bragg about how idols in any marriage can lead to destruction. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. You know, most of the time, when couples face the kind of trauma that our guests this week have faced in their marriage, the marriage does not bounce back. But we’re hearing a different kind of story this week.
Dennis: That’s right, Bob. In fact, Clint and Penny Bragg join us again on FamilyLife Today. Clint/Penny---welcome back.
Clint: Thank you.
Penny: Thank you.
Dennis: I so enjoyed your story, and getting to know you guys, and just hearing about how your marriage starts like everybody else’s---with a dream and airbrushed photography.
Dennis: Around the church and spiritual matters.
Dennis: And then there came a time, early in the marriage---in the second year---is that right?—
Penny: Yes, we didn’t even make it to the second-year mark.
Dennis: —where you began to give your heart to another person. It all started with your friend expressing an attraction to you. Is that right?
Penny: Definitely—it did.
Bob: It seemed innocent, at the time. I mean, when you guys were becoming friends / getting to know one another, nothing seemed untoward; right?
Penny: No, absolutely! As a matter of fact, I felt like: “Wow. This is an opportunity. This person isn’t saved. This is an opportunity for me to share God with this person. Obviously, they’re confused and they’ve got some things going on. This is probably a little mission project that God has given me. I’m going to go for it.” I just started pouring all of my emphasis into that---not intentionally thinking, “This is going to lead somewhere where it shouldn’t lead.”
Bob: And, Clint, all of this is happening without you being aware? You were aware that there was a crack between the two of you.
Clint: Yes, there was. What happened is---it was over a period of months, I started sensing that there was something “not right.” I started asking questions. And then, here’s the thing that God did for me during that time—Penny would say that she was in a certain place. I was in the glass business at that time. I would land up in a situation where she wasn’t supposed to be, and she would be there.
I would ask her that night—I’d say: “Well, sweetheart, where were you today? What did you do?” All of that stuff. She didn’t give me the answer.
Penny: He knew because he had seen me. So, that pattern of deception, for me, started to kick in.
Clint: I would never say, “But I saw you there.” About four or five times, over a two- or three-month period, that same thing kept happening. Then, finally, I confronted her: “What’s going on here?”
Penny: You know—Paul talks in the Word about being the “vilest offender.” I felt that way.
Penny: I felt that I had taken a step that I could never take back—that I could never be forgiven—but bringing it to the light of Christ changed everything. Clint and I have learned, whatever the addiction is, those things have been wired in us from the Fall—in our DNA from the Fall—the tendency to want something to fill our needs when the only thing that can fill it is Jesus Christ. We know that now; but a lot of times, we’ll look to a person, or a bottle, or pills, or alcohol, or something else to meet that void. It’s a God-sized gap.
Bob: Well, obviously, with what was happening with your marriage, you were headed to a point where something had to change.
Penny: It did.
Penny: Clint gave me an ultimatum.
Clint: An ultimatum. In fact, every August—or at the end of July—our church used to go on this ski trip, where all of the families would go. There would be five or six ski boats, and we would ski for the weekend. I said to Penny—I say: “Hey, listen. I’m going to give you the weekend. You really need to think about this. You either need to pack your stuff and leave; or you need to stay here, and we can work on it. We can do whatever it takes to make this marriage work, but I want to not dictate to you what you need to do. I’m going to let you have the weekend.”
I came home from that weekend, and she had packed her bags and she was gone. I couldn’t believe it! I mean, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. I just could not figure it out why she was attracted to this other person.
So, I: “Okay, Lord, I’m going to take these steps. I’m going to protect myself and make sure…” I didn’t make it easy for Penny. I made her have to go the whole nine yards because I was still willing to welcome her back into our marriage and do whatever we needed to do.
I remember—when she got her first teaching job, I went to her apartment and I tried to persuade her. I called her, and it just didn’t do any good.
Bob: Clint, I just have to ask you, in the midst of your wife divorcing you, you had to feel hopeless.
Clint: I really did. I was confused; but at the same time—you know, a lot of times, when marriages break up, they get bitter at each other—they fight, they say nasty things, they do all that—that didn’t happen between Penny and me. In fact, I was sad—I never bad-mouthed her / I didn’t go talking to the world about it—I just went on.
At the beginning, what I did to mask the pain and the void in my heart—I got really busy.
I went to school. I got a four-year degree in 29 months. I got a job in a K-8 Christian school. I went to school at night for a year. Then I finally got a job as a math teacher, a physical education teacher, a football coach, a track coach, and a golf coach.
Dennis: All at once?
Clint: All at once—I was doing all that. I was going around the clock. I was a first-year teacher trying to get his curriculum together and all that stuff. I was busy. Halfway through that year, I still felt this void. I couldn’t figure what was going on. What I did was—I got my real estate license. I was selling real estate in between classes. I was making schedules, showings, and stuff like that. I still had that void in my heart.
I am still staying busy. I’m not trying to think too much about Penny or anything like this. I was going to church, but I was just showing up.
Bob: You were just filling up your life with whatever you could to stay away from the emotional anguish you were experiencing.
Then what happened is—that still wasn’t helping me out. I still had this pain.
Clint: Like I said—every now and then, I would go to God and I would say: “Man! God, she was the love of my life. I don’t know why this happened to us. You know, I know it is never going to get back together—she’s not going to want to get back together.” What happened is—I decided, “Well, maybe if I get a fresh look at life—move someplace away from here.” I loaded everything I had, and I headed out to Florida.
Bob: From Northern California?
Clint: From Northern California.
Bob: That’s about as far as you can get.
Clint: Exactly. It is kind of like, you know, how Jonah went out there. [Laughter] He was [not] going to go where God told him to go. Well, I landed up there in St. Petersburg, Florida. I got into real estate investing. I went to all these seminar courses; and I figured: “Well, I’ll just get rich. That is all I need to do.” In the first year, I figured out what they had taught me. I bought 20 houses in a year with no money down.
What happened is—I thought I was the genius / I thought I was the king—I knew everything. By this time, now, I’m not taking God with me anywhere.
What happened is—a few months later—you know, I told you I had bought 20 houses. Well, the first three, I flipped—I rehabbed and flipped on my own and made some pretty good money—but I still had 17 more mortgages to pay. They weren’t rentable—you know, not all of them were rentable—I was having to come up with that money.
Long story short is—within about six months, my back was against the wall. Something inside of me says, “Clint, I thought you said, back in 1981 in Northwest Oklahoma, when you walked the aisle and said you would do anything and everything for Me because you devoted the rest of your life to Me.” I say, “I don’t know who You are.” That weekend, I found myself back in church for the first time in almost ten years.
It took three weeks for me to finally look up to God and say, “God, I’ve been angry at You for ten years for the way that You took the love of my life away from me.” In the next breath, I looked up to Him and apologized—I said: “I have no right to be mad at You. You had nothing to do with taking her away from me. It was my fault. I had a part in this. I apologize to You.” I said: “Now, I am in a mess—the biggest mess I have ever been in my life. I would be okay with the fact if You said You wouldn’t help me. I would accept that, but I would still follow You. So, Lord, I am turning everything over to You. Do whatever You need to do.”
Dennis: You were in a good place.
Clint: Yes, I was.
Dennis: Penny, you weren’t in a good place at the same time; were you?
Penny: Well, you know, it was close. I had risen to peak performance in my job and all those different things. You know, we see this a lot with couples today. Guys will bury the pain in their work, or a skill, or, like Clint, in coaching—those kinds of things. A woman will bury the pain in a relationship. Clint and Penny had done those things.
We just didn’t know because, once we parted ways, it was like the Red Sea, Dennis. You know, he went his way and I went my way. We never saw each other again. We never talked to each other again. There wasn’t email then yet—so there was no contact.
On the west coast—I am still in California—God got a hold of my heart about nine years after our divorce. I got to the point where I finally admitted my sin to Him. At that point, the healing work of Christ began in my life. However, I had a mountain of consequences—a mountain! They involved reconciling all the relationships that I had broken, especially my relationship with God.
Bob: Clint, I have to ask you—in this ten-year period, I know you were filling up your life with work and with all kinds of options—how come you weren’t looking for somebody else?
Clint: I just didn’t want to get involved with somebody because she was still the love of my life. I didn’t think—
Dennis: Wait a second!—11 years later?
Clint: Yes, I’m telling you!
Bob: With no contact in the midst of this?
Dennis: I mean, doesn’t love begin to die at that point?
Clint: Well, you know, the thing is—she is the one that wanted the divorce. I didn’t ever, ever think that she was going to be back in my life.
Dennis: It was some words on a sheet of paper—
Clint: —that I kept writing to the Lord. I said: “You know, I know that she’s the love of my life. I still do not understand why we’re not together, but I understand it’s not going to happen.” So I would just keep moving on. About every six months, I would write the same thing over again. I would say: “Lord, why did this happen? Why did we get split up?”
You know, here it was—11 years later. I told you I crashed—I apologized to Him and asked Him for help. He started pulling me out of my mess. Now, He didn’t just snap His fingers and it was over and done with. It was a process that God wanted me to go through. As we were going through this process together, God and me, things started to go well for me.
I’m listening to the sermons—I’m applying it. I’m going out and I’m doing stuff.
One day, I come home from a job; and in my mailbox was a letter. The letter was from Penny Bronzini—that’s her maiden name. I went into the house. I took that envelope—I set it on the desk—I looked at it. I said: “God, should I open this or not? Is this bad news? She’s the love of my life. What does she want now?”
Dennis: Your last words with her had been around the divorce.
Clint: That is exactly right.
Penny: The day our divorce papers were notarized was the last time we ever saw each other—in the parking lot of a bank.
Dennis: Eleven years later, the mailbox has got a package.
Penny: It does.
Bob: Before you open the package, let me go back to you sending the package. Did you even know where he was?
Penny: You know, I had searched for a while—you know, I mentioned a mountain of consequences. God really placed the ministry of reconciliation in my heart—deep-seated in my heart, at that time.
I spent three years going back and reconciling every relationship I had broken when I left Clint, but I was scared todeath to contact him. I mean, I just thought: “He is going to blast me with anger. He has a right to be mad.”—you know, so on and so forth. I started to look for him, and I started to ask a few friends to look for him. One had found him in Florida but hit a dead-end. I kind of thought in my mind: “Well, Lord, I guess I don’t have to think about that one. Thank You! Whew!” [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes. “I tried—it’s over!”
Penny: He let me know, “No, Penny, your friends tried; but did you really try?” At that point, guys, I had fallen so in love with a Jesus I never met, as a young girl. I spent years just seeking after Him with my whole heart. At that point, I was willing to do whatever He wanted me to do to be obedient—no shortcuts. I had taken shortcuts before, and they had all ended up on dead-ends, like Proverbs talks about—and “the way that leads to death,”—I had taken those. I wanted the way that led to life. That is a very narrow way. I know what that means now.
God required me to be vulnerable and make contact with Clint. I had written the letter after finally, myself, finding his address on a free people search website. That was in February of 2002.
Bob: So, as you sat down to write that letter, did it take daysto write it?
Penny: It flowed—it flowed like the Holy Spirit flowing out. The intent was true. I think it came across on the page to apologize, to ask for his forgiveness, and to let him know that I had done something wrong in our relationship. I wanted to give him the chance to ask questions about that, get it right, and have healing in his life and closure. That was the key thing—I thought, “This will finally bring closure to my life and to his.” When I sent it off in the mail, I felt a real sense of peace and that I had done all that God had asked me to do.
Dennis: Were you aware that he had not remarried?
Penny: No. I was not aware of that. I had no clue because, again, we had had no contact. I hadn’t followed him or anything.
There was nohope of reconciliation. I mean, that was not my intent in writing it at all. It was just that I had never—
Bob: You wanted to be at peace, but you didn’t have any thought that you could ever get back together.
Penny: No way! Why would he want me back? You know, I mean ever.
Bob: Did you even entertain the idea that he might?
Penny: No way!—that was the furthest thing—you know they say, “As far as the east is from the west, [Laughter] God removes our sins”? Well, also, I mean, just no way! Why?
Dennis: Romans 12:17 and 18: “Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” That’s really what you were doing; wasn’t it?
Penny: That’s it. This was the last relationship——the last one to do. So, I was completely at peace.
Dennis: What about that letter?
Clint: I was floored—I mean, I just couldn’t believe it.
Dennis: Did you weep?
Clint: Yes, I did.
She asked me several things. She asked me either to write a letter, email her, or give her a call. Well, I didn’t write letters in those days; and I didn’t have an email address—so I called. There is a three-hour time difference between the east coast and west coast. So, when I called, she was in the middle of her work day.
Dennis: Now wait a second. How long after you got the letter did you call? Did you call right away?
Clint: I did—I said, “I’m going to let her know that I got her letter.” I called—not thinking that she was in the middle of her workday. I called, and I get her answering machine. I said: “This is Clint. I got your letter. I’m going to try you one more time at eight o’clock, your time, tonight. If you are there, you are there. If you are not, you are not,” and I hung up.
Penny: I came home from my job, as a principal. I am listening to message after message. The last message on my machine is that voice that I hadn’t heard in 11 years. I couldn’t believe it. That is exactly what he said—I thought: “Lord, we are going all the way with this. I am not going to miss that phone call.”
Clint was always a man of his word. I thought, “If he said he is calling straight up of eight, he is calling straight up of eight.” Sure enough, he did. That conversation lasted five hours. We now refer to it as “The Grand Conversation.”
Dennis: You asked him to forgive you in the letter.
Penny: I did.
Dennis: Do you remember his response?
Penny: I do. He said, “Penny, didn’t you know I forgave you a long time ago?” And I thought—I even said: “How could you? How could you? I never asked.” He said: “Because Jesus forgave me. I learned that during our time apart—the depth of my sin on the cross—that Christ forgave me. So, also, should I forgive you.”
Bob: How long from that letter and “The Grand Conversation” until the two of you stood again before a minister and repeated vows that you understood differently this time than the first time?
Penny: Six months.
Penny: It was six months—August 17, 2002.
Penny: We were remarried. God wiped the slate clean and gave us a fresh start.
Clint: Yes, He did.
Dennis: And what do you have to say to a couple who are listening or maybe a person in a marriage relationship who has lost hope?
Penny: There is hope.
Penny: There is hope for every hurting marriage.
Clint: And, you know, the biggest thing that we tell people: “I don’t care how dark your sin is. I don’t care what you did—how nasty it was / how wrong it was—how everybody says, ‘No, you can’t do that and ever recover from it.’ That’s a lie. God is standing right there. He’s just waiting for you to turn your eyes to Him and say: ‘Father, I have sinned. I don’t know if You can forgive me, but I ask for Your forgiveness.’
“As soon as you ask Him for forgiveness, you’re forgiven, right then and there. But here’s the deal—as Penny said—there are consequences. King David had consequences, you know. You just go through the Bible—everybody that sinned—there was a consequence, but He forgave them and He restored them better than they ever were before.”
The thing for Penny and me—we are saying: “Hey, don’t quit! It’s usually your pride that is getting in the way. You’re the one who is being stubborn, who won’t back down and say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness.” You know, when she asked me for forgiveness, my heart melted—in that letter. And when she said so over the phone, I said, “Yes, I forgave you a long time ago, Penny.”
Penny: And I think the surprise—and this is what we tell couples—it wasn’t just me that asked for forgiveness. What got me was Clint asked for forgiveness. I said: “Well, I was the one who walked out. You know, the blame should be on me.”
He said: “No, Penny. I have learned so much about how I should have been a spiritual leader in our marriage—about how I didn’t allow emotional intimacy to be built and those kinds of things. It was both of us bringing that sin before the cross.” That’s what we see in the couples who successfully reconcile and begin the restoration process now.
Penny: It’s when both of them go vertically to the Lord first, individually, and say: “Change my heart, God! Change my heart in this!”
Penny: “Then, let’s see what can happen in the marriage.”
Dennis: Well, I just want to thank you both, Clint and Penny, for sharing your story. You are modeling a passage of Scripture that I have my Bible open to. It is in the book of 1 John, Chapter 1, verse 8: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Dennis: You know, you have modeled what is at the core of redemption—turning to God, and the finished work on the cross, and confessing your shortcomings to God and to one another.
Dennis: That is how a relationship with God is established, and it is how great marriages thrive and continue to grow. Thank you, guys!
Penny: Thank you.
Clint: Thank you so much.
Bob: And I hope our listeners will recognize that yours is a story of great hope. They may need hope for their own marriage, or they may know someone in need of hope. Clint and Penny have shared their story in a book called Marriage on the Mend that we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, and you can order a copy of the book, Marriage on the Mend,by Clint and Penny Bragg.
The book has been updated this year. You can also request a copy by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY if that’s easier for you,—1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, in listening to Clint and Penny share their story today, I’ve just thought about the tens of thousands of couples who have shared with us over the years how God has used FamilyLife—events, or resources, this radio program, our website—to do a transforming work in their own marriage. We believe that God’s Spirit is powerful. As we share His Word, the Spirit takes that Word and applies it to people’s lives and brings healing, transformation, forgiveness, and hope.
I just want to say to our listeners—especially those of you who help support this ministry—that’s what you’re investing in when you invest in the ministry of FamilyLife Today. You’re investing in help for today and hope for tomorrow. We say it every day; but it is practical biblical help for marriages and families, every day, that create a better tomorrow. We are a listener-supported ministry. We could not do all that we do without your partnership.
If you’d like to join with us, and make a donation—be a part of the FamilyLife Today team—go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,” and make an online donation. Or call to make a donation—1-800-FL-TODAY is our number—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, TODAY.” Or you can mail a donation to us if that’s easier. Our mailing address is PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. And our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to take you live—sort of—to an event that we attended a few weeks ago. It was the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, where we had a chance to meet a remarkable young woman who was, herself, an orphan. She shares her story of God’s work in her family and in her own life. We think you’ll enjoy meeting Jen Bricker 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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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