Opal Erickson: God would say, “Just love him. Just love him. Just be kind. Make him some cookies. Take him some to work. Have him over for a good meal.” Things like that of just sowing love, that’s where I learned a new lesson about what God’s love really is. It isn’t just loving your neighbor. I thought I could do that pretty good. But I had to learn to really love my husband in a new way.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Opal Erickson, and she joins us today on Focus on the Family along with her husband, Ron. And you’re going to appreciate their story. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus on the Family president and author Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: You know, John, here at Focus on the Family, we love stories of hope. I mean, that’s what it’s all about – redemption. And the Christian life is that story where people are struggling, they don’t know their purpose, they don’t know what’s happening, why things are going wrong – they encounter Christ through a friend, through a church, through whatever means. And their life begins to make more sense. And they begin hopefully to change. And that’s the key, that sanctification process. Romans 5 tells us we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Man, I love that. I mean, that is power-packed. And it sums up the story we’re gonna hear today.
John: Yeah, Ron and Opal Erickson have walked through the fires of that kind of suffering you described. There’s been moments of failed marriage, rejection, adultery. But God has done a remarkable work. And we are so pleased to share that with our listeners today. Ron is an accomplished steel guitarist, and Opal sings. And they call themselves “musician-aries”, as they minister to seniors across the country. They’ve been singing together for over 40 years. Now, they happen to be a host couple for our Hope Restored marriage intensives. And that, of course, Jim is for couples on the brink of separation or divorce.
Jim: I’m so excited about that program. And you get to see it right up close.
Ron Erickson: We do.
Jim: And we so appreciate that. But couples who are on the brink of divorce – many of them – and this is their last hope. And we have an 81 percent post-two year success rate. We just re-verified the data. And I’m pleased with that. That is a great success rate. And I want to say to Ron and Opal, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Opal: Thank you.
Ron: Thank you.
Jim: Um, take us through that early part of marriage. First 19 years, you’re sailing along, uh, were there difficulties? Were you experiencing kind of the flesh, you know, the anger and other things that some marriages face?
Ron: Well, I found out early on that neither one of us were quite what we expected because we got married within 90 days of meeting. And I think that’s probably true with most couples. We really don’t know each other until we’re married.
Jim: You might court three or four years and not know each other really well, too. So – but that was one of the one of the cracks in your relationship it sounds like.
Ron: Well, it was. And I thought that perhaps – she has a commercial voice, and she’s an excellent singer and performer. And I always had dreams and aspirations of being a musician and full-time entertainment. And when opportunities would come along in our life for that to happen, she declined. And that hurt me. And it hurt my expectations and aspirations for a career with both of us. But I found out later in life that was not God’s plan. That was my plan.
Ron: And that caused bitterness and resentment to come into my life because there were unmet expectations, not only in that arena but in other areas of life, as we all have. But I didn’t feel comfortable confronting those because I thought, “Well, I’m just wrong. And I can’t force my – my aspirations on her.”
Jim: Yeah. Opal, how were you feeling about that? You were feeling a bit of tension there and disappointment?
Opal: At times, yes. Um, actually, the opportunities that came our way – you know, one probably would have taken us to Nashville. That was with us being kind of a country, southern gospel background. But I just couldn’t do that because I could not see myself playing in bars. That just was not appealing to me whatsoever.
Opal: And so that was a turn down. Then there was a couple of other opportunities that – I just wasn’t ready to take a baby on the road for something like – you know, to be traveling all the time. And – and so…
Jim: So you were the prudent one, the wise one, saying, “Well, this isn’t really the future for us.”
Opal: And I just didn’t feel like that was what the Lord wanted in our marriage, our life at that time.
Jim: So the years go by, and you’re doing marriage. You’re doing parenting. You’re making a living. Eventually, you sought out counseling. What prompted that? What situation were you in? What was the environment like?
Ron: We had lived our life serving God, and we raised our two daughters in the church. And we’re active with the youth groups. And I played music in the church. And we sang with praise and worship team. We did all the right things. And we were very sincere about it. But still, there was an underlying tension that hadn’t been addressed. And we went to counseling with – actually with Gary Smalley after I moved out of the house. This was in 1998.
Ron: And I had moved out. And I’d – I got involved with an employee of ours. And you know, it seemed on the surface that she understood me and could meet my needs. And I was able to be a father figure or a mentor to her and help her. It was crazy, but it’s all a life of deception. And we went to visit with Gary Smalley. And the first visit that we had with him, I had to stop seeing the other person, of course.
Jim: That was what he said.
Ron: Right. And I didn’t – I wasn’t willing to do that. I didn’t want to go back to where I was in the relationship with my wife. I wanted to seek a divorce, but I knew that I had no spiritual grounds for it. She had done nothing that would allow me to seek a divorce that God would approve of.
Jim: Yeah. Opal, um, tell us what you were feeling, what you were going through? And these things are not instantaneous. These situations often take months – years to develop. So it’s not probably a surprise to you what Ron was going through, but describe where you were at.
Opal: Well, things had done quite well for us until right about – I think Ron – we had turned 35, 36 years old. And he went through a mid-life crisis at that point. And um, so that was the beginning of a troublesome time. But then in 1997, when this really kind of blew up again, it was a replay of that mid-life crisis thing. And so he just kind of lost his way. And he just was – he was just an unhappy person. But early on, I knew that things were troubled, and I was just seeking God. “What’s wrong?” He shut down at this point. He wouldn’t really communicate with me at all. And so I just really spent time with the Lord, praying, fasting and seeking Him and His will and revelation of what’s going on here. And so anyway, God did reveal to me the affair. And that was a shocker. And then like Ron said, he had moved out. And I just – it was like, “Lord. You just, you know, You’ve gotta help me with this because I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared to death.” And I hated what was happening. But early in that first month – within that first month that he moved out, God spoke so plainly to my heart and said, “Stand and believe for your marriage.”
Jim: Stand and believe?
Opal: Stand and believe.
Jim: Good words.
Opal: And in the discovery mode of what was happening with him, the Lord had me go to Hosea and to the prodigal story and to really read that again…
Jim: And to walk it.
Opal: …And to walk it – and it was, “Okay, Lord. All I’m hearing right now is ‘Love him’, but letting go.” I was like, “What does that really mean, Lord?” Well then a few months later, the “let go” happened because he left – moved out. And though he had moved out, we still owned our own business together. So we worked together every day.
Jim: Oh my goodness.
Opal: So it was like he left me every evening again. But God said to stand. And He – the Scripture He gave me was Hebrews 10:35 and 36. It says, “Cast not away that confidence, for it has great reward. For you have need of endurance. But after you have done the will of God, you shall receive the promise.” And that was a word to my heart.
John: And I believe Opal that that’s a word to a lot of hearts right now on this Focus on the Family broadcast. If you’re in a tough bind, if your marriage is struggling, we’ve mentioned Hope Restored. Call us and let us tell you about Hope Restored and how you might find the encouragement you need to take one more step. Our number here at Focus on the Family is 800-232-6459.
Jim: Opal, I need to ask you though, to help the person who’s listening, again, the husband or the wife that maybe their spouse has been unfaithful or whatever it might have been. When you say Hebrews 10 there and you’re giving us that scripture when you’ve done everything that God has asked you to do in essence, describe what that is. Because how did you, A, know what it was that God wanted you to do? And then B, how did you do that with a heart of kindness when it’s easy for our flesh to rear up and say, “I have every right to walk out of this? Even God gives me the right to walk out of this right now. His heart is not for that. But He said in this kind of situation, this is the one instance where I can leave you. And God will support me in that.” How did you fight that temptation? How did you know what was the right will of God to do?
Opal: Well, I had seen what divorce had done in my family. And my heart was I didn’t ever want to go down that path because I believe God’s Word says that God hates divorce. This is what I love about that. He doesn’t hate divorced people. But He hates what divorce does to people.
Jim: Why is that, do you think, from a spiritual standpoint? I think it’s because it separates the divine nature of God in us as male and female and marriage as the model of what God intended for us to be complete.
Jim: And so it shatters that. It grieves His heart.
Opal: It does, and it has such a ripple effect like an earthquake. And it just goes on through generations and you know, to family, to friends. And it affects so many people. So my heart was to just stay true to God and just trust Him with the word that He had given me. It um, I have to tell you, it was not easy. And I could not – in fact, my brother-in-law said to me later after we’d gotten back together. He said, “Opal, I could have never done what you did.” And I said, “You know what? I could have never done what I did except through the grace of God.” But there would be days when I wanted to go bash out his windshields and slit his tires. And I mean, you know, really, flesh was there.
Jim: And those were the easy thoughts?
Opal: Yes, there were.
But then God would say, “Just love him. Just love him. Just be kind. Make him some cookies. Take him some to work. Have him over for a good meal.” Things like that of just sowing love – that’s where I learned a new lesson about what God’s love really is. It isn’t just loving your neighbor. I thought I could do that pretty good. But I had to learn to really love my husband in a new way.
Ron: It’s no expectations.
Opal: Not expecting anything because I was getting nothing.
John: Well and by all human signs, your prayers were not being answered as Ron pursued divorce, right?
Opal: That’s right.
Ron: It was 18 months, a year and a half apart.
Jim: Of her patience, and you’re trying to get away. So what was that moment? When, Ron, did you say, “Okay, I’m hearing God’s voice in my own heart?” I mean, Opal’s hearing the Lord in her heart. I mean, baking cookies for you was no easy matter. And so what started that process for you to say, “I am the man, I am the one?”
Opal: Can I just say that I think – I want to interrupt there just a little bit because I think it’s what God did in me that generated what happened with him.
Jim: That’s often how it is.
Opal: Yes – because, you know, I was hearing all these voices that you mentioned before. “You know get rid of the bum. Just get rid of him, and go on with your life. And you know, it’s okay with God and just do that.” But that wasn’t where my heart was. And so I um, didn’t listen to those voices. But after 13 months, Ron filed for divorce. And he started going downhill even worse from there. I saw him literally destroying himself, just almost like dying before my eyes. And so I just was in prayer again. “Lord, what do I do?” And He spoke this word into my heart: exile. And I said, “Lord, what are you really saying to me through that?” So I went to the dictionary, and I looked it up. And it says “removing one’s self from their own homeland or country by force or by their own will.” And I said, “Lord, are you telling me that it’s time for me to leave here – to get out of Dodge, get out of Branson?” And I said, “If so, I need to know. I need to have a real strong confirmation.” That night on TV, there was an evangelist preaching – never had heard before. And he spoke on exile – had never heard a message before or since on exile. And I said, “Okay, God, I get it.” So we were in the process of selling a home. We got that taken care of. And I left – didn’t move, but we closed on the house and all that. And I left Ron. And I told him – I said – left work, you know, walked away from the job. And I said, “I have to go and get well.” I said, “I am a mental and physical and emotional wreck.” And I said, “I don’t want to hear from you outside of a death in the family,” because I needed to just get that out of my mind and just go get well. And so I went to South Carolina to stay with my sister to do just that.
Opal: And it was there where I really met my Gethsemane.
Jim: When you look back on that – that tenderness from the Lord really – I mean, so many people say, you know, “I’ve never had that experience.” But it often happens that way were you get a word. And it may be just a word, exile. And then boom! The Lord fills in the blanks through those around you. Do you think you would have successfully – and what I mean by that is emotionally in a healthy way – come back together if you didn’t have that time at your sister’s?
Opal: I have my doubts. I’m not sure about that.
Jim: That could have been the final nail of separation, really…
Opal: Oh, absolutely, yes.
Jim: …From what I’m hearing. But it was a way to actually begin reconciliation. So…
Opal: Because when I left, I – before I met with, you know, my Gethsemane was, “Lord, if it could be Your will, let this cup of divorce pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but Your will be done.”
Jim: That’s a powerful prayer. Whoo!
Opal: So I became willing to accept because I knew that he has his own free will and that God would not violate his will. He had to come to God by his choice.
Jim: Ron, okay. So she’s now moving to the east with her sister to get some space between you. How’s God dealing with your heart?
Ron: Well, the – God’s word says that the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy. And he stole my soul. My mind, my will and my emotions were depleted. And I had lost everything in every arena of life after 18 months. We sold the business. We sold our home. My relationship with our children was dwindling. It was spiraling down. I had lost my ability to reason. So I got to the point where I realized that I was really out of control of my own life. I had no control over any arena of my life.
Opal: And Ron, I just want to interject that you also – the relationship with the other person was really deteriorating at that time, too. So she was kind of removing herself from him. And I – God had me remove myself so that he could concentrate on – that God could concentrate on him.
Ron: Now, and this all happened before Hope Restored was even birthed. It wasn’t even here.
Opal: And I was seeing a counselor at the time. Definitely, I was.
Jim: Right. Right – part of your healing process.
Ron: So I – I was alone. I had bought a new fifth-wheel travel trailer so I could have some equity out of the marriage.
Jim: Get that fifth wheel.
Ron: Right. And I wasn’t going to pay rent. So I just owned my own little place. And I’m at a campground in – in Branson, Missouri, where we lived. And I got on my knees before God. And I said, “God, I’m out of control.” And I knew the only way I could survive was to give God control of my life and mean it. And I didn’t know what that really meant at the time. I said, “God, I’m out of control. And I need You to take control because I still need to survive.”
Jim: But in that context then, what were the steps you felt the Lord saying, “This is what you do? This is what I’ll do. But this is what you gotta do.”
Ron: So God had to meet me at the very bottom, at the simplest level. And He said, “Go to bed. Get some rest for your body. When you awaken in the morning, go back to your office.” We’d sold our business, but we hadn’t closed on the deal. So we were still running the business. He said, “Just know this, that whenever the telephone rings, whoever’s on the other end of that conversation, I’m in control of your life.”
Ron: “If you go to Wal-Mart, whatever checkout line you get in, whatever parking space you have, I’m orchestrating your life. I’m in control. I’m calling the shots.” I said, “God, I can deal with that. Thank you.” And it wasn’t long after that until Opal came back to Missouri. She moved in with me, and God started the restoration process in our life.
Jim: Opal, did you see a change in Ron? Were you – was it palpable? Was it something you could understand?
Opal: Yes. I just need to tell you one quick story on that. He had honored my request to have no contact with me, to help me, you know, allow me to get well. And I was gaining on that. I had gone to a Christian bookstore to look for a book for a friend of mine to send to her. And when I walked into the bookstore, displayed on a rack – and the entire rack was full of one book – I’d never seen that before. But anyway, it was Holding On to Heaven While Your Husband Goes through Hell. And I was like, “Oh my goodness.” And so I picked that book up, and I started to read a little bit.
Jim: It’s like the Lord didn’t want you to miss this, right? I’m going to put a thousand books in front of you.
Opal: I was like, “Oh! This is for me.” So I bought the book and left. I don’t know what I was supposed to get for the friend. But I didn’t get it.
But anyway, I had been praying that God would let me know that God was working on Ron. See, I didn’t talk to anybody, no family, nobody. And so when I got back home that day, my sister said, “Opal,” she said, “your father-in-law called today.” And I said, “Really?” She said, “Yes,” she said, “and he left you a message. And he said to tell you that all he’s hearing from Ron is that he wants his Opal back.” I was like, “Wow.” So that was my first clue that God was indeed doing something.
So it was just another week or two maybe – I don’t remember – but um, after that that Ron called me. And he told me about, you know, having this experience. And – and so I could hear some changes and a little bit of hope. And um, so it just kind of started to grow from there. We started spending some time on the telephone. And – and um, my plan was to go back and just gradually try to put this thing back together, but that wasn’t what God did.
Jim: So He put on the fast track.
Opal: He did.
Jim: And how many years ago was that now? I mean, for the skeptic listening, how long has it been? Since ‘99?
Ron: 18 years.
Jim: Yeah. I mean, so you guys have lived it. You guys are through the mess.
Jim: We’ve got to end with the advice for others. What is the hope? What do people that are struggling have to take away from our discussion today to say, “Okay, if Ron and Opal can do that, we can do this”?
Opal: Well, we made a decision that we wanted to really seek God for what was to take place next in our life because here we are. We’re living in a fifth wheel, you know – well, yeah, fifth wheel on a new truck. And…
Ron: We were homeless and jobless.
Opal: Yeah. We had no home. We had no business. We had – you know, we were free. So what did He want with – out of our lives? So we’d pray that God would give us divine appointments. And boy, did He.
Ron: And I want to inject this for all the parents and grandparents and siblings and friends that are praying. It was 18 months. But my dad kept coming by my office every day. And he would say, “I’ll be so glad when God restores your marriage.” And I thought, “You crazy, old man – ain’t gonna happen. I’m in control. And you can pray all you want, but it’s not gonna happen!” Well, guess what? It happened. God restored it because His forgiveness is overwhelming, His grace is sufficient, and His mercies are new every day.
Jim: Ron, there is no better place to end than right here. Everybody’s story is going to be a bit different. The core that I want people to hear from your story is that there’s hope. There’s hope in Christ. And no matter how depleted your marriage appears. If you believe God can work a miracle in your marriage, then there is hope. And that’s what you, Ron and Opal, represent. And let me say that each day, countless listeners like you tune in to Focus on the Family hoping to find answers for their troubled marriage. Tens of thousands call our family help center and speak with one of our professional counselors who provide that encouragement, Biblical guidance, books, videos, audio resources, and so much more. When appropriate, they also refer to a local Christian counselor in that person’s area. And we discussed our Hope Restored marriage intensives that Ron and Opal host in Branson, Missouri. These are for couples who are facing a crisis in their marriage. There are three, four, and five day sessions depending on how each couple’s specific need exists. If you’re in that spot, feeling like your marriage is at the end, give us a call. Let us help you find that hope in your marriage and in each other again.
John: Yeah, our counselors are available for a quick consult, and they’ll be able to help you find somebody to have an ongoing counseling relationship with if you need that. They’re just a phone call away, and our number is 800-A-FAMILY.
Jim: And perhaps you’ve been through a crisis in your marriage and you’ve come out on top. You know what it’s like to walk through the mud of despair and brokenness, but God brought you through it. Won’t you consider supporting Focus on the Family so that we can, together, help other couples rebuild and strengthen their marriages? In the last year, we helped save over 170,000 marriages together. That translates to an average of 465 marriages a day, which when you do the math, works out to about one marriage every three and a half minutes, and we couldn’t do that without your faithful prayers and generosity.
Your monthly gift will make it possible to provide the hope and ongoing support necessary to help restore marriages through Focus on the Family. You’ll help husbands and wives provide a stable home for raising children who would otherwise suffer through the pain of divorce. So may I ask you to partner with us today?
John: Yeah, do so and save a marriage when you contribute to the work of Focus on the Family. Call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459 – or online. You can contribute at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Well, have a great weekend, and do join us again on Monday. We’ll hear Pastor Raul Ries describe how he went from a murderous rage to accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior through Christian television.
Raul Ries: I started walking around the house. I started destroying my whole house, you know, just knocking down everything. And I went next to the TV, and I was standing there. And I mean, I was so angry and so mad inside that I took the butt of the rifle and I hit the TV. And when I hit it, it came on! When the TV came on, there was this guy – bald-headed guy – talking about Jesus. It – it was Chuck Smith.
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