Unpacking Your Bags
Clint and Penny Bragg met in church and thought their courtship and following marriage was made in heaven. The marriage, however, soon came unraveled, and the couple went their separate ways. The Braggs talk about the baggage they should have discussed before getting married and their miraculous remarriage after 11 long years.
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Clint and Penny Bragg talk about the baggage they should have discussed before getting married and their miraculous remarriage after 11 long years.
Unpacking Your Bags
Bob: Clint and Penny Bragg’s marriage was over/it was dead; but as with Lazarus in the grave, God was not done with Clint and Penny yet.
Penny: During year eight or nine, after we had split up, I had a Christian assistant principal assigned to my school; she was a pastor’s wife. You—pastor’s wives—you know what you do?—you love people unconditionally. You just love on them, and love on them, and love on them, until they want so much more of the Lord.
That’s exactly what this gal did for me. It broke my heart open. I finally confessed to her that I had sinned; I had been unfaithful in my marriage. I had left it, and I had hidden that from people for eight years.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 23rd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to hear from Clint and Penny Bragg today about how the love of a pastor’s wife was the first step in what led to the healing of a broken marriage. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. We’re going to hear about a resurrected marriage today. You know, we have the opportunity to talk to couples, who have experienced this kind of transformation in their marriage at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. Most of the couples, who are coming to the getaways, are couples who are in a good marriage; and they just want to keep it solid and well-anchored in Christ.
But we have couples, who come to every getaway, who are—they are at the end. They don’t know what else to do. They’ve lost hope; they are out of strategies. They find, as they spend the weekend with us, that the Bible speaks to marriage; and there are things they have never heard before. God meets them at that weekend; we’ve seen God transform marriages.
I just want to remind our listeners, as we get started today, we are offering, this week, 50 percent off the regular registration fee for any of you who would like to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. You sign up this week; you save 50 percent. There is information on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call if you have any questions or you’d like to register by phone: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number.
Find a weekend that works for you when we’re going to be in a city near where you live or a city you’d like to visit. Block that out on your schedule for this spring; and the two of you get away for a fun, relaxing, romantic time together, where you will learn more about what God’s Word has to say about marriage. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to register, or you can call at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, you’ll save 50 percent off as long as you register this week; and we hope to see you at one of our upcoming getaways.
Now, have you guys met marriage missionaries before? Have you ever met any marriage missionaries?
Dave: I have never met a marriage missionary. Have you, Ann?
Ann: I think we would identify ourselves as marriage missionaries; but never ones that identified and called themselves: “We are marriage missionaries.” [Laughter]
Clint: There you go.
Bob: We’ve got a couple of marriage missionaries joining us back on FamilyLife Today. Clint and Penny Bragg, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Clint: Thanks for having us, Bob.
Penny: Thank you.
Bob: These guys were here—we were just talking—about a decade ago—
Bob: —after you had written your first book, which was really your story of God doing a work in your own marriage. At that point, you were already out on the road. In fact, I think of you guys—I think of 2 Corinthians 1, where the Bible says that: “God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our afflictions so that we are able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort that we’ve received as we’ve been comforted by God.” That’s what God’s called you to. He took you from—
Bob: —a mess—
Penny: —a mess.
Clint: Yes; a big mess.
Bob: So, tell our listeners about the mess. Can you do that?
Penny: Sure, as leaders in our church back in ’89, we were married; and you know, we really had the world by the tail, or so we thought.
Penny: We are both Type A personalities; walked down the aisle, ready to go into this thing called marriage without addressing any of our past issues/baggage. It took two years for all that to come to the surface; and when it did, the mess started to explode.
Clint: Yes; so what happened is—is that Penny was distancing herself from me. I tried to pursue her/tried to figure out what was going on. She wasn’t really being honest with me at that time. What happens is—I finally found out there was someone else in our marriage, and I told her to make a choice. She chose the other person.
Bob: You got really annoyed with his pursuit of you.
Penny: I did.
Bob: Anytime he’d come and try to woo you back,—
Bob: —you’d—it just made you angry.
Penny: I vividly remember taking my wedding ring off and throwing it at him across the room.
Dave: Now, how did you get to that place?—because some women are like, “I want my husband to pursue me”; and you’re like, “No.”
Penny: “No.” You know, this is the thing about when we begin to separate ourselves from God—and that was what I was doing with my pain. Pain can move us toward God, or pain can pull us away from God.
I was allowing the emotional pain that I had suppressed for so long in my life—from various things in my childhood—allowed that anger, now, to rise up and to begin to pull me away from God and to pull me away from Clint. If I start closing my Bible/I’m not reading my Bible; I’m not wanting to go with him to church; I don’t want to take communion—all of this is surfacing—and I’m taking it all out on him.
Bob: We all come into marriage with different levels of baggage. As you look back, would you say, “I had more suitcases than most”?
Penny: No; actually, I wouldn’t. Now, that we’ve been in this for a while, [Laughter] and I’ve heard a lot of other stories; I’m like, “Oh; wow.” But I think I wasn’t aware of those things that had happened to me in those youthful, growing up years; and preconceived notions of marriage; and all kinds of things like that. I think it was one of those where I wasn’t aware; also, that Clint had baggage/things from his past;—
Penny: —and it just collided.
Clint: You know, when a couple is getting together, they are on the same page/they are in love with each other. Being in the military, one of the things that they told us: “Standing tall and looking good”; so when you’re dating your spouse, and then when she finally says, “Yes, I will marry you,” why would you bring up anything that would kind of destroy that relationship that you’ve been building up? You’ve been building yourself up as the man; you know?—“I’m going to take care of you,” and all that good stuff.
We were both grounded in the Word but not like you should be grounded in the Word. In other words, there are so many people, who call themselves Christians, and the trouble is—they go to church on Sunday, but when do they go to the Word, and look, and find out what God says you need to be doing?
Bob: Okay; we need to unpack that a little bit, I think, because listeners, who are going, “Okay; ‘…grounded in the Word’; but you weren’t really grounded in the Word.” Explain the difference between a person, who is ready for marriage because they are really anchored in Christ,—
Bob: —and somebody, who is like, “Yes; Jesus is really important to me.”
Penny: Well, here is how I would respond to that, Bob. Clint and I, individually, had come to know Christ at a similar time in our lives: Me, my teen years; him, when he was older—but the same year is what I’m saying—because there is an age difference between us; so we had spent about the same amount of time learning about God/learning about the Bible.
However, we had not ever known/seen what a Christian marriage: “How do you do this thing called marriage as Christians?” We didn’t know to pray together—that that should be something we should learn to do together; we should learn how to study the Word together; we should worship God together—all of these things. We watched; we kind of tried to figure it out. The last thing that we thought, ever, we should do was expose our pasts and our ugly stuff to each other; right?
Not having those pieces—yes; if you had asked us if we were both Christians—and we believe we knew the Bible fairly well; he probably knew it better than I did, memorized some Scripture verses—but did either one of us ever let Jesus touch the painful places in our hearts and make us whole?—or had we looked to each other to do that? That’s the missing piece.
Bob: So, if we were going back to the beginning, and I’m doing your premarital counseling,—
Bob: —what questions should I have asked you that would have brought some of this stuff to the surface that got glossed over? Can you think?
Clint: You know, to tell you the truth, what you just said—there are so many people that do premarital counseling, and guess what? Penny and I—she said, “We are A-Type personalities.” Guess what? They gave us all the tests; we had the same answers on all the questions; you know? We were on the same page, so we thought we had it all together.
The thing is—is that really we need to learn how to be disciples of Christ. What does that mean? You know, Jesus says, in order to be His disciples, we need to deny ourselves, take up a cross daily, and follow Him.
Denying yourself means we’re supposed to empty ourselves and let Him fill our hearts and lead us in what we’re doing. The second thing, taking up a cross—what does that mean?! Christ says: “It means you need to be in My Word. If you are in My Word; you abide in Me, this tells Me that you are My disciple.” The second thing is: “You need to talk to Me every day,”—that’s praying.
The third thing is: “You need accountability. You need to be hanging out with other believers.” For Penny, she’s got a lady who is her prayer partner; I have a guy that’s my prayer partner. We have to have accountability in our life. The last thing is—if we are doing those first three things, we start bearing fruit. What does it say in John 15:8?—it says, “By this, My Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.” Those are the things we need to do to: take up a cross; live in the Word/pray in faith; fellowship with believers; and witness to the world.
The last thing we need to do is—we need to be a servant. We need to be just like Christ, and we need to be able to love others as we love ourselves. Now, for Penny, I know that the first time, I was the: “Stand up, Pilgrim. Toughen up. We can get through this,”—instead of being compassionate/instead of listening to what she was saying. If I had done those things, we would not have been divorced for 11 years.
Penny: Let me answer your question, Bob, about what would—as a counselor, what would you have asked?
Secrets: “What secrets—we never delved into the secret parts of your heart/of your life. Are there secrets that you are keeping?” and “Are there things that have happened to you?
“Go back; do that timeline from birth to the point you met this person that you are going to marry. Let’s talk about those years”; because that’s where the broken trust happens.
I don’t think we talk enough in premarital counseling about broken trust/about the fact that trust can be broken in a bunch of different ways.
There are different kinds of trust—physical, financial—so you know, emotional. For example, Clint had been in Vietnam; he had served as a solider in Vietnam. None of that—we discussed none of that in our pre-marriage counseling. How can you go through two tours, serving in Vietnam in a war, and not think that that’s going to impact your marriage? Or like, for me, my parents’ divorce—that’s another topic that’s very difficult for kids when their parents get divorced; so let’s talk about that: “How did that impact you?”
Dave: So, those are the bags you’d unpack. I want to go back to the beginning—you didn’t talk about these things.
Dave: There are couples listening, going, “Okay; what should we talk about?”—either, you know, newly-married or even, maybe, pre-married—what are the pieces of luggage that couples need to dive into? Because we don’t talk about this enough; but when a couple walks down the aisle, they should be pulling a bag with them on their wedding day.
Ann: We actually did that one time—
Clint: Did you?
Ann: —Dave and I; yes.
Penny: Did you?
Ann: As a message, we had a couple—
Dave: “You’re bringing luggage.”
Ann: —carrying their luggage.
Dave: Yes; so talk about that a little bit; we talked about writing a book on that. What bags need to be unpacked? I heard, “secrets.”
Dave: I heard, “past.”
Clint: The difference is—between her—she is Italian; I’m German. Have you ever been in Italian culture?—and see how they operate, and how they talk, and how they throw their hands up.
Ann: So, conflict—
Clint: Yes; conflict.
Ann: —was very different for both of you?
Clint: Exactly. I—in my family, we talked about it for about two minutes; we agreed, and we moved on. In her family, you don’t move on until this thing is resolved. I didn’t realize that the first time.
Penny: Those are some of the things that, I think, weren’t addressed for us. You know, we talk about bringing baggage to a marriage. I think we bring standards to a marriage. My standard of how something, as simple as organizing the home, could be very different from what Clint’s standard is for organizing a home.
You might have a small conflict over something like that or a large conflict over something like a family vacation, where in my family, you do your trips together because you’re Italian; and you all want to be together, and it is all centered around food. For Clint’s, it’s very much that “leave and cleave” and separate. Those are some of the types of things that started coming up for us, and we didn’t have the tools to deal with them.
Dave: Now, talk about this: If—Clint, you mentioned—if you are in the Word, you’ve got accountability, you’re serving/denying yourself—how does that aspect of your spiritual walk with God, and Jesus being the foundation, affect this aspect as well as these pieces of luggage, and past, and things that need to be talked about? How do they mesh together? On the one side, you’re not saying, “Oh, just trust God, and it all goes away.” You’re saying, “Trust God, but you also have to deal with issues.”
Clint: Within two weeks after we remarried, we had a really bad fight. We realized that, “Hey, we knew that God was putting us back together, but we had to learn how to do that.” What we started doing, as a couple, is trying to figure out: “What is the standard that we need to do that works for us?” because she had a standard of doing stuff; I had a standard of doing the same thing a different way. We had to come to a consensus: “What does God say in His Word that says that we need to change this standard to God’s standard and live our life by that?”
When we have those different conflicts—if I am denying myself, and taking up my cross, and having accountability—my accountability person is the one, when I’m really frustrated with something that’s not working out between Penny and myself—first, I take it to God; but then I take it to my accountability [partner] and say: “Here’s the situation. Give me some advice. Tell me where it says in the Word where I need to do this or that. Help me understand. Is—am I off task?” That’s where I have to start going.
There are a lot of times when Penny would do something, and it would bug the heck out of me. What I finally started doing is taking it to God and saying: “God, okay, is this worth a fight over? What do I need to do? Do I need to give in and just give up on this thing and not let it affect my life?—I need to move on. I love this lady; I know You gave her to me, and I want to honor that.”
We do this thing every three months—it’s called a mini-marriage retreat, where we go away every 90 days and plan out 90 days in advance, with God, in seven different areas. In one of the areas, it’s about relationships. That’s when I talked with Penny—I said, “Hey, remember when you said such and such?” I said, “I need to tell you that hurt me, and this is why it hurt me.” She explained it to me, and she didn’t mean anything by that; but for 90 days, I was just inside, saying, “Oh, my goodness, man, this really hurts.”
Bob: Penny, tell me about this mini-marriage retreat. I am curious, because I’m thinking how many couples would benefit from a wheel alignment every 90 days in their marriage—
Bob: —where you clear the decks and you get back on the right track. What does that look like for you guys, and how can other couples do that?
Penny: When God reconciled our marriage and we decided to start taking these mini-marriage retreats, I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what we were going to do and what that was going to look like. God showed us that, because we kept secrets the first time that we were married in different areas of our lives, what would it look like if we kept unpacking the bags, all the way along, in the remainder of our marriage? We’re going to be learning this thing called marriage; we are going to be learning it every day for the rest of our lives.
We go on these little mini-marriage retreats, and we just talk about areas of:
Finances: “Any secrets that we’re keeping there?” “Anything that’s uncomfortable in our marriage?” “How are we looking? What does our savings look like? What’s our budget?” “What’s our…”—you know, those kinds of things.
Same thing with relationships: “Is there anybody that I’m in a relationship with right now that might make you feel uncomfortable?” These are the things that we didn’t have—
Bob: Really? You’re that honest with each other?
Penny: “Is there anybody in my life that you’re uncomfortable with? Are there any friends?” Clint will say the same thing; and I might say, “Well, your prayer partner kind of surprised me the other day because this or that.”
It gives us a system. I think talking about this kind of stuff this openly—we share our passwords with each other: “Do you have any new accounts with new passwords? Let’s look at those.” “Okay; here is my list of new passwords...” You know, whatever it is—we go through.
We talk about our spiritual life: “How are you growing spiritually? So in the next 90 days, where are you going to be in the Bible; do you think? Are you reading any other books?”
We talk about these areas that were all kind of our downfall the first time we were married. Now, taking this intentional approach, we have been remarried 17 years. We’ve been unpacking bags every day. [Laughter]
Clint: Sixty-eight mini-marriage retreats.
Penny: Yes; 68 mini-marriage retreats.
Ann: Do you go away for that? Do you go to a hotel?
Penny: Sometimes, we do; yes.
Ann: Sometimes, you do it at home?
Penny: It depends on what the budget is like. We never do it at home, because we can get interrupted too easily.
Penny: We can get sidetracked too easily. We can go to our little comfort spots too easily. It’s always out someplace else.
Ann: Who determines what you’re going to talk about?
Penny: Well, we have seven areas, so we know we’re going to do that.
Ann: So, seven areas every time.
Penny: Yes; seven areas every time—so spiritual, relationships, financial, health and fitness, home, and big dreams and possibilities—those are our seven areas.
Penny: That keeps us focused on—and we each have a journal. We just go and we go through Area Number One, and Two, and Three. Sometimes, it takes two hours; sometimes, it takes ten.
Clint: Yes; what we always do, when we get to the next mini-marriage retreat, we go over the last 90 days. We go through each area with God and say, “Okay; when did You say, ‘Yes,’ and when did you say, ‘No’?” If He says, “No,” to something, we don’t try and change it. We say, “Okay; there is a reason why You are saying, ‘No’”; so we go through it. Then we pray and thank Him for what He did for the last 90 days; and then we ask Him, “Guide us the next 90 days.”
Let me tell you—it’s helped get us debt free in our finances. It’s helped us to grow in our spiritual walk with Him—individually; but both, as a couple—because we do devotion times on Sunday nights, and we pray together every morning. We pray before we leave the house so that God goes with us and protects us wherever we go.
Penny: Clint, as you are saying that, I realize I listed six and not seven. The seventh category is our profession, which is—for us is full-time marriage missionaries. We talk about our work: “Are we spending too much time doing that? What does that look like?” If one of us is travelling, we can talk about all those kinds of things as well.
Dave: In some ways, it sounds like you need to do a mini-marriage retreat every
90 days. I’m also hearing, “Boy, that would be something to do every five days/six days.” If I had a suspicion that I was questioning a relationship of Ann with somebody, I wouldn’t wait 90 days.
Penny: And here’s a good point. One of the things that we realized that very same thing—we need a shorter period of time, so Sunday nights is our night. Sunday night, 7:30, get on the couch with our Bibles; and we switch off. We just pick a Scripture verse—maybe, a little story we’ve read during the week. That Sunday night time/every Sunday night is also a time in between the 90 days—right?—where we can check in with the calendar, with: “Hey, you know, you said something on Tuesday. I’m still really mad about that.” Having that set-aside time Sunday nights, for us, has been just a lifeline.
Clint: At the beginning of our second marriage, we were busy. I was a new school teacher; she was a principal. What happened is our schedules weren’t lining up. We were hardly seeing each other, and I was really upset about that; so we started incorporating the calendar on those devotion times. We’d say, “Okay; what’s going on Monday? What’s going on Tuesday?”
Then what happened is she wouldn’t get mad at me because I’d forget to do this or do that. I’d write it into my journal, and she’d write it in her journal. We were on the same page with each other, and the conflicts that we were having—prior to using that calendar and planning out the week together—it just changed all the friction and any stress or worry that was going on in either one of us.
Bob: I have to think, if you had been doing 90-day marriage checkups/mini-retreats in the first years of your marriage, that middle gap might have never happened; right?
Penny: I agree.
Bob: Some of this stuff would have gotten unpacked.
I’d just say to listeners: “You hear us talk about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. That is a starting point for regular, ongoing marriage maintenance. Get a weekend away together and really invest in your marriage and then build out a plan for ongoing maintenance from there.” Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and register for one of our upcoming getaways. We’re going to be hosting about five dozen events in cities all across the country this spring. I’m going to be speaking in Orlando in April. Dave and Ann are going to be in Nashville next month; but we’ve got getaways happening near where you live. Find the complete list of getaways when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you register today or tomorrow, you’ll save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. This offer expires this weekend, so take advantage of the special offer. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and register online for a getaway, or call if you have any questions; or if you’d like to register by phone, call 1-800-FL-TODAY and plan to join us at an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway this spring.
While you’re on our website, check out Clint and Penny Bragg’s book, Marriage Off Course: Trusting God in the Desert of Unwanted Separation or Divorce. If you know somebody who is in this place right now, or if you are in this place, here is a book that can help you think through what your posture should be/what your approach should be in this season of life. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order the book, Marriage Off Course; or you can call to order at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue talking about what to do, if you’ve gone through separation or divorce, and you’re wondering if it’s possible for your marriage to get resurrected/to get back on course. Clint and Penny Bragg join us tomorrow to talk more about that. I hope you can be here for that as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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