Co-founders of Grace Marriage, Brad Rhoads and his wife, Marilyn, offer insight to couples as they describe how they've learned to love and serve each other well. Our guests discuss the importance of modeling a good marriage to our culture, and the work of their ministry, which assists local churches in strengthening marriages. (Part 2 of 2)
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John Fuller: That’s Brad Rhoads with a powerful reminder of how the relationship with your spouse is supposed to mirror your relationship with Jesus Christ. Brad and his wife, Marilyn, are back with us today on Focus on the Family, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we had a great conversation last time with Brad and Marilyn about couples who aren’t in a marriage crisis where they need special help - and we’re here for you if that’s your situation. We have incredible resources: Hope Restored, intensive marriage counseling along with books and other helps that we are there to provide you with. But we’re talking today about that, you know, average marriage where it’s just drifted apart a bit, um, certain things have not been addressed, you’re kind of in the business of doing life together, and it’s dry. That’s what we’re trying to address today. And if you missed last time, get a copy - there were so many gold nuggets in there, John, as we talked. You know 4, 5, 6 things that both Marilyn and Brad expressed, that I thought were really really good for those of us who are looking to improve our relationship and be all that we can be in God’s view when it comes to our marriages.
John: Yeah, and if you missed the last episode of this program, you can contact us and get a copy. Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY to - to get that and to learn more about Hope Restored and other resources that we have for your marriage.
Jim: Oh, and here’s the good news: your marriage doesn’t have to end up that way. You don’t have to live in that rut. That’s not good for the witness of Christ either because He’s created this institution of marriage. There’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. And we in the body of Christ need to really concentrate on making our marriages strong so that when the world looks at us, they’re saying, “Man, they have something so different. I want that.” That would be the right thing, and man, the conversation we had last time, again, gave us so many ideas to click in to.
Um, here at Focus on the Family, we’re here to help you. So as John said, get in touch with us. Last time, we described Brad and Marilyn’s situation early in their marriage. Marilyn came in with lots of great expectations about how they were gonna walk together in the warm afternoon, and she realized quickly that Brad was about building his law practice and that he had - all his attention was drawn in that direction. There wasn’t much left for her. That was the - kind of the environment. And then Brad went to a Promise Keepers event. Whoever spoke there got a hold of him - “shattered him” was the word that he used. And he couldn’t wait to get home. Got home at 2 in the morning, woke up at 5:30 in the morning, Marilyn’s out in the garden already - you must be quite a gardener - and there he was to help her and say, “It’s all gonna be different now. I’m here to help you.” Beautiful, beautiful transformation.
We’re picking up from that point and talking about the months and the years since then and what has transpired. They have created a ministry called Grace Marriage, and I’m sure they would love for you to tap into them as well - we’ll give you those details. Um, this is a wonderful, wisdom-filled opportunity for you - to know the steps toward a healthier, happier marriage. Brad and Marilyn, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Brad: Thank you.
Jim: I tried to set the stage there, John, so...
John: Mmhmm. Good job, yeah.
Jim: ...Um, let’s pick up there. You’re doing better. You’re engaged. You’re helping one another. You’re loving each other. You’re now doing marriage mentoring at your church and marriage ministry, pre-marriage counseling, correct?
Jim: And about a hundred couples have now been at that point, coming to you. And what happened at that point?
Brad: We - we worked with youth for years. And the youth had watched our marriage and said, “We want what you guys have.” So one asked us to do premarital, then another. Then we started groups, and God’s - by God’s kindness and favor, we had a long waiting list to be in the groups. And then we started getting a lot more involved in reading and educating ourselves in marriage. And just, the Lord just calls us to be more and more involved into marriage. Then in 2012 - I talked about the business coaching last episode - I thought, “Why wouldn’t that work in marriage? What if you were as intentional with your marriage as you are with other aspects of life? Could it not come alive?”
So we did an experiment in 2012 - took 10 couples in marriage coaching, once every 90 days got together and worked on our marriage. It worked; it grew - had no clue, but by 2015, I was out of the law practice.
Jim: Brad, you talked about just being single-focused, compartmentalized, like we men can do. We’ve got to build a business so, “See you later and by the way, make sure we’re eating. And I’ll talk to you, emotionally, maybe on Saturday from 3:00 to 3:30.” And that’s kinda it. And we can live in that space! Women cannot. And moving forward, talk to that man who has lived there. “I know I can do better. I know I should do better. I know I’m not meeting the basic needs of my wife.” He comes away from Promise Keepers, he’s not shattered. He’s going, “Okay, I’m a good provider.” Shatter him right now.
Brad: Let’s say that marriage is supposed to be a reflection of Christ and His Church. Bible starts with the marriage, ends with the marriage. People should be impressed with Jesus and impressed with marriage by the way you love your spouse.
Brad: Scripture says, “Love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave His life up for her.” I just challenge guys to put the love, grace and sacrifice of Jesus on display by the way you treat your wife. And I will tell you, it’s worth it. I mean, the - the joy I’ve received having a close relationship with Marilyn - laughing, traveling, dating - is much greater than any of the things that I did - golfing, basketball leagues - all of the stuff I did that I wanted to do. It’s true. Relationship is more satisfying. And I’ve learned that whoever pursues pleasures become poor. And I did whatever I wanted to do, and then I put attention into Marilyn. That’s it. God’s way is way better. And it doesn’t come natural at first. I mean, right now, the statistics are staggering about how little one-on-one time couples spend together.
Brad: As a result, it makes sense why so many fall apart. So if you take care of it now, you will likely never birth into crisis. If somebody told you there’s a 50 percent chance you’re going to die of something, but if you do this, you probably won’t die - you’d do it. Statistics shows a 40 to 50 percent chance your marriage will end. But they also show, if you’ll invest and you’ll spend time and you’ll do things with your spouse and you’ll engage with her 90 days in coaching together, it’s likely never to happen. And as an attorney, I have seen the wreckage of divorce - the pain, the sadness, the bitterness, the anger, the complications that last for an entire lifetime. If you do things now to avoid that, I can assure you, you won’t regret it.
Jim: Yeah - so well said. You speak about a couple that you encountered - I think you counseled them - where you saw this incredible transformation. Um, I think the wife was in an affair. And describe what was going on there because, again, many people will identify with aspects of this story.
Brad: Well, I’ve got teenage daughters, and there was a couple I’d worked with that had teenage daughters. And they were getting ready to divorce and going through a really difficult time. A long period of stagnancy led to crisis, and it just ate my lunch because I just thought of my daughters and their struggles and what it’s going to be like for them, traveling back and forth between parents, and they’re having trouble already.
And just by God’s kindness, you know, I’ve just learned, you know, once God moves, nothing we do matters. And God moved in the heart of this family. And there was repentance and restoration and said, “Our marriage was way better than it ever was, even before the crisis.” And they were so thankful to the Lord and so grateful to us. I didn’t do anything. I shared with them God’s truth, but God moved in the hearts, and it was awesome.
Jim: Paint the picture for us. So, what was that couple going through, specifically? And what did you say or do that gave them the hope that they were desperately needing?
Brad: Basically, I played the tape forward. I said, “Look, let me tell you what divorce looks like. Let me tell you what step parents” - I told him what it’s gonna look like when another guy’s tucking your kids in while you’re away from ‘em 12 out of 14 days, what it’s gonna look like traveling back and forth, what child support looks like, what the complications of it look like. And we played the tape forward and painted what the future looked like.
Brad: I said, “I can be a little prophetic for you because I’ve watched so many people go through it.” And that wasn’t appealing to them. And then they made the decision when God moved in their heart, “We’re gonna restore our marriage, and we’re gonna make it right.” And they made the decisions they needed to make. And I’ll never forget - I got a call, like, months later. The number popped up; it scared me. It said, “Just wanted to tell you, I forgot to thank you.” And they were doing wonderful. And I just - every time I see them together on Facebook and different places, it just warms my heart.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, and that’s the true life story. That’s what you want to see happen - not the mistakes. Obviously, those things, when they occur, they can rip a family apart, but the idea that we’re gonna get this back under God’s authority, and we’re gonna do the right thing. I applaud that couple. So many good lessons to learn there.
All right, let’s talk about the trip you took. So you - you planned - I don’t know where this came about - in the garden. Maybe it started at 5:30 in the morning there.
John: It was the woman’s fault.
Jim: Sounds like a 5:30-in-the-morning idea. But what was it, and what were you thinking you were going to accomplish with this massive nationwide trip?
Marilyn Rhoads: Well, the catalyst was he came home from a mission trip. And we’d been working in marriage ministry for a number of years. And it was growing and taking more time, and our passion was there. And he said, “I feel like we just - we need to do this full time.” And so, that started him transitioning out of practicing law into Grace Marriage ministry.
And while we were talking about this transition, our - our children are 16 down to 4 at this point. And I thought, when would we ever have an opportunity where you’re transitioning from one thing to another where we could take time - he could work from the road, but we could travel as a family?
So this idea - I believe it was from God - birthed in my mind, and I started sharing with Brad, “Let’s do this. Let’s do this. Why couldn’t we do this? We could go January until summer, take the kids out of school, just homeschool for six months, see the United States. You can visit with churches, and our kids are gonna be gone before we know it.” And right now, they are. Our oldest is getting ready to leave for college. And so, I thought, this is an opportunity as - for us to have time as a family together. So that’s what birthed the idea. And then it kept growing in my mind - “And we can visit all these national parks and hike and camp and...”
...Anyway, I was the only one on board for a very long time.
Jim: Is that right? Yeah, you thought it was a great idea!
Marilyn: I did. My three youngest thought it was a great idea. My two oldest that were in high school, one 16 - we kind of had to take them against their will, hold them hostage.
Jim: That’s a hard time. I mean, all the friendships are building...
Jim: ...And the independence is coming...
Marilyn: Yes, yes.
Jim: But you did it.
Marilyn: Yes, I told them, I said, “You won’t remember the winter of your freshman and sophomore year, but if we do this, you won’t forget this trip.”
Jim: Boy, that’s good. So tell me about it. What happened?
Brad: Well, I said, “No.”
I’m like - I said, “You know, there’s no place that you’re gonna start something brand new and the first step you’re gonna do is leave for six months.”
Brad: So I was on my way to Louisville for a legal seminar, and I remember thinking, “Why are you resisting this?”
Brad: “You’d get to spend six months with your kids.” So then my mind started racing - “We can meet with churches all over the country. Grace Marriage can get pockets all over the place.” And so I got all excited about what - what it could mean from a work standpoint, ministry standpoint. And then I talked to my board. And they said, “No Grace Marriage while you’re gone, or you’ll have no board when you return.”
Brad: They said, “Well, if you’re going to do marriage the rest of your life, we want to see how you do just as a husband and father for six months. View yourself as Marilyn’s homeschool assistant.”
John: So - so your ministry board said, “You can’t talk to churches while you’re on the road?”
Brad: No - no meetings, no deadlines.
John: This is Brad’s big vision for what it’s gonna look like...
Jim: Yeah, let’s turn it into a work trip.
John: ...And they’re saying no.
Brad: Yeah, that’s - Marilyn said I - “He feels like you’ve killed his baby.” And they said, “No, we’ve delayed the delivery so it will be a healthy one.”
Jim: Oh, wow. So let’s...
John: ...That’s wisdom.
Jim: I’m into the trip because I’m a camper. I love it. So you get going, I mean, were there disasters?
Brad: Uh, many.
Jim: I love it. What happened? Six months on the road?
Brad: You name it, it happened.
Marilyn: Oh, it did.
Brad: I mean, from ERs in LA to a broken foot to you name it. We - we...
Jim: So describe it. I mean, where’d you end up? What are some of the National Parks you went to? And what was it like?
Marilyn: Oh, it was amazing. It was difficult. And there were days - if you could have been a fly on the wall, you would have been highly entertained because with five kids in a van...
Marilyn: Seven of us traveling. How many thousand miles? Twenty...
Jim: What did you learn as a family from doing that? I mean, it’s the fun stuff, but spiritually, what took place? If we had your kids here, and we’re asking them this question, what would you all say about the spiritual development of your family in those - in that six months?
Brad: I fell in love with my kids. The first month, I have to admit, was rough because I was - I’m used to, like...
Jim: You’re in tents.
Brad: Oh, it wasn’t - I’m used to people in the lobby and me calling back for an appointment for 30 minutes. I’m not used to being in a van with seven people all the time. I’m not used to making - the kids nicknamed me Fommy - father-mommy.
Brad: Because I’m now helping with lunch - I was doing a lot of things I’d never done. I remember January 31, on the back porch in Marathon, Texas. Literally, I felt like I was gonna lose my mind. And I thought, “In two months, I’ll be halfway done.
Jim: In two months!
Brad: That’s my vivid thought. But then in February, I settled in and literally cried as we pulled back in. ‘Cause I realized I’ll never have this again - I mean, every meal, all seven of us. Every day, I’m running with two beautiful teenage daughters. I’m running with them. They’re not with their team. They’re not with their friends. They’re with me.
Brad: And it was just - just the unique characteristics - watching my son go crazy at NBA games, and it was just - oh, it was - it was rich.
Jim: How about for the two of you, in your marriage, what - what helpful experience was it in that regard, for your own marriage?
Marilyn: It was challenging to find time. We still would do dates. We would leave the kids, and pull away...
Jim: At a camp?
Marilyn: At a camp, even. At a camp, or, you know, when we’re staying in a small house we had rented, we would take time. We would just - you have to so intentionally take that time because it was extra difficult when you’re together like that for six months to find time to pull away, the two of us. So we just would, and our kids know. And we - just that that’s a priority, and we’re gonna make that happen.
Brad: What we learned is, you can never put marriage on hold. I don’t care if you’re in crisis in your family. I don’t care if you’re on a trip. You have to make space for your marriage because if you don’t take care of something, it’ll get stagnant, vulnerable and often killed. So we’ve learned that when our kids are in crisis or when we’re on a trip or whatever, it is not an option to say, “Well, this isn’t the season that we can spend time together. This isn’t season we can date,” because that’s a destructive experiment.
Jim: Yeah, that idea of a kid - a child-centric home - let’s uh, plant ourselves there for a moment because I think a lot of us make the mistake - because we’re trying to do the right thing in following the Lord and making sure our kids are raised in the admonition of the Lord. That takes a lot of parenting, especially in today’s environment with uh, you know, social media and all those things. So you, the parent, has to be diligent. And you have to be engaged to the point where it does take a lot of time. So how do you not make your home a child-centric home so that the marriage flounders?
Marilyn: It’s a daily fight. And we have to fight that. And that’s one thing that’s so good about the coaching and us talking weekly because we have to prioritize our marriage because our kids - with five of them, and we have said, “Each of you can do one sport.” We only do one sport at a time, but if you have five kids...
Jim: In five sports.
Marilyn: ...And they’re each doing one sport...
Jim: It’s crazy.
Marilyn: It’ll still - it’s just - it is so challenging, especially with the media and out loud and how everybody lives, I think there are unrealistic expectations on us as parents in what we need to do in parenting our kids. And in the sake of being good parents, we’re actually doing our children a disservice if we make them the center of everything.
Jim: Well, and as you just described that, that’s what I was thinking - when the kids observe in you, the fact that you’re on this six-month camping trip - which I would love to do - but they see you saying, “We need time for just Mommy and Daddy.” And you go and make that time. And the older kids, you know, 14, 15, 16 - they’re - they’re in charge. That’s all good stuff.
Jim: And A, they’re seeing what it means to take care of a marriage. You’re modeling that. And B, they’re gonna be okay. It’s okay to let them...
Marilyn: That’s right.
Jim: ...Kind of, you know, think, “Oh, what do I do now? I’m in charge. What do I do?”
Brad: And right now, it’s interesting because couples will go away numerous weekends for youth sports and other things. And you say, “We don’t have time for six hours every 90 days to work on our marriage.” I mean, if you look at the amount of time - I tell them, if I could just spend 10 percent the time together you do with your kids’ sports, you’d thrive.
Jim: Yeah, think of that.
Brad: Just think of that. And when people start flipping their mentality toward an investment mentality in marriage, and really enjoying their marriage, and realize they have the freedom to do that, and they don’t have to be conformed to the patterns of the world, where everything revolves around their kids - which is both a disservice to them and their children.
Jim: Yeah, I agree. I agree. You know, right in the last few minutes, let’s just give some bottom-line advice to couples to help their marriages. You tell husbands and wives that they need to spend more time having fun and doing these things. A lot of couples, practically speaking, they may not be able to get away for six months and do a great, grand camping trip. But what are some bottom-line helps that you would recommend - that you would give in your seminars with Grace Marriage?
Brad: The number one thing would be, build your marriage on the grace of Jesus. Neither one of us handle struggles real well. She gets down. I get stressed. And what scripture says, “Sin will have no dominion, mastery or control over you.” If - ‘cause you’re under grace, not law. So my - my role in marriage is the forgiveness of Marilyn. Marilyn’s role in marriage is the forgiveness of Brad. And then we richly enjoy one another, despite both being messed up. So make when your spouse does something to annoy you, a trigger to do something nice to you because that’s what Christ did. While you were His enemy - while you were sinning, He died for you and said, “Now go love your spouse like that and put Me on display.” So I’d say the main thing would be, put your marriage under the grace of Jesus. Don’t respond with withdrawal or consequence. Respond with pursuit and grace.
Jim: That is so good. Marilyn, from a woman’s perspective, any practical advice for that wife?
Marilyn: That’s - what he just said, what we talk about is just the foundation of a grace-based marriage, rather than a works-base because our - our world teaches us, “If you do for me, then I’ll do for you.” It’s a works-based mentality. I think lots of - so that every time we come together with couples every 90 days, we’re reminding them that your - your hope is in Christ and the extension of grace to your spouse.
And people leave freed and energized to love well rather than, “There’s this list of things I’ve gotta do if I’m going to be a good wife,” or “This list of things I gotta do to be a good husband.” We talk about the extension of grace, plus being intentional. The date night - other than our relationship with the Lord, one of the best things we’ve done over the past 22 years is we go on a date every week. And it is a battle to make that happen. I mean, with our kids and all the things going on, but we make it a priority. And that’s one of the best things we do. And I even tell people, “A bad date is better than no date.”
Marilyn: Because you’re still spending time together.
Jim: Right. Yeah.
Marilyn: They’re not all going to be great dates. They’re not all gonna be, but you’re - you’re connecting intentionally.
Jim: That’s filling that need for you.
Jim: And I can hear that intensity in a good way, a healthy way - that that - that time together really meets your needs, particularly, and that’s good.
Marilyn: And in the coaching, we - we help couples say, you’ve got to make space and help them plan that time over the next quarter. How are you going to spend time together as couples? What are you going to do and what does that look like?
Jim: Yeah. And that regular date night is so important. Because as we said, it’s easy to drift apart. I wanna remind our listeners about the bottom line of what we’ve been sharing - both last time and today - because it’s the little things that are going to kill your relationship. Very few marriages have a blow out that comes out of nowhere. It’s more likely the result of years of little annoyances that are building up, where you eventually just turn away from each other. And basic selfishness eventually destroys a marriage - a slow leak is probably an apt description for what I’m talking about.
If you’re feeling like your marriage is headed in the wrong direction - maybe it’s not a crisis yet, but you’re seeing those signs of drifting - I urge you to contact us today. Don’t wait. Here at Focus on the Family, we want to help you; we want to rescue hurting couples and strengthen those relationships that may be slipping just a bit or maybe a lot. That’s why we have our counseling team, our websites, and our Hope Restored marriage intensives where we provide in depth counseling over several days for those relationships that are truly on the brink of divorce. Don’t put it off. Get the help you need. You’re not gonna surprise us with what you’re going through. We’ve been doing this for 40 years. Call us, or visit our website. We want to help your marriage thrive in Christ.
John: And our phone number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. You can find help and information at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Marilyn, we’re winding down, but I do want to ask you this last question. It - it’s been on my heart for a while, and you know, both through experience but observation of other couples. I - I don’t mean to offend anyone, but in this regard, kind of the curse of Eve, the daughters of Eve - if I can steal that from C.S. Lewis - this idea of fear and control. I think wives, mothers, grapple with that so much. And you talked about, you know, the very behavior that you want out of your husband - or your children for that matter...
Marilyn: That’s right.
Jim: ...When you’re cutting and when you’re sarcastic and when you’re demanding - and you feel those are all right things because they’re righteous things. “I want more righteousness out of you as a husband, as child - as my child.” It’s not wrong in and of itself - you want to call them to a higher standard. I get that. But that daughter of Eve - that fear and control, so many women - the more fear that they’re experiencing, it’s like, the more control she wants to exert in her husband, in her children. And you end up creating in that marital relationship or in that parenting situation, the very child or the very spouse you don’t want ‘cause that fear and control drives them away.
Jim: I’ve said a lot there, but are you relating to that? Do you understand what I’m...?
Marilyn: Sure, sure. In marriage and in parenting, I think we do. We - I think too, as that daughter of Eve, we struggle with, um, feeling accused more than men as well.
Jim: Ah. That’s true.
Marilyn: We talk about that, that uh, I feel like I’m not enough - like I’m not being a good enough wife. I’m not being a good enough mother. I’m not being a good enough friend. And you live with this, you know - Brad and I have talked about this and we’ve talked to couples, I think that’s a special part...
Marilyn: ...Of the curse, as well, that we endure. And you just have to surrender it all to the Lord. And your kids, I mean, we - we’ve had health issues with our kids. We’ve walked through some really scary things, and it does - it makes you want to. And I’ve even found myself now, as a daughter getting ready to leave for college - I think, “I’ve got to tell her all these things right now because she’s gonna be gone!” But that’s the worst thing I can do, and I have a sweet, gentle husband that’ll help remind me that we do - in that fear and that desire to control, we do the exact opposite.
Marilyn: And with our kids, so it’s so important to - to remember that. I mean, and as they get older, we learn the hard way, we’re not in control.
Jim: Yeah, one way or the other...
Marilyn: We’re not.
Jim: ...Because the irony is that’s what God is then gonna teach you...
Marilyn: That’s right.
Jim: ...That you’re not in control.
Marilyn: And praise - praise God we’re not in control because if I were, it really - it doesn’t turn out pretty. But He is, and when we truly rest in that, we can have peace.
Jim: And that’s what you’ve experienced. That’s why I wanted to ask that question because, right from the get-go, last time and through uh, today, that’s what I hear and what you’re saying specifically as a woman: “That I learned quickly to bury my bar of expectation, that I understood I get this from my relationship with the Lord. Brad’s not gonna meet all the needs inside.” And I - I think that right there would do so much for marriages to help them, and of course, Brad, your wonderful testimony, having a tender heart towards your wife, that - that convicts all of us as men because we so often overlook it. So this has been great. Thank you for being vulnerable again and just laying it out there for us to learn from. Thank you so much.
Brad: Thank you for having us.
Marilyn: Appreciate you having us.
John: Well what a wonderful conclusion to our 2-day conversation with Brad and Marilyn Rhoads. And as a reminder, they’re the co-founders of Grace Marriage, and we’ll have more information about them and their ministry at our website. And we’ll also have some additional resources there for strengthening your marriage. One example is a free marriage assessment that we offer. It’s for you and your spouse to each fill out and discover what’s working well in the relationship and maybe some areas of improvement.
And we also have a great book by two of our colleagues, Drs. Greg Smalley and Bob Paul. It’s called, and in it, they explore common struggles in a marriage like finding the balance between your career and your family, and they deal with serious issues like infidelity as well. It is a terrific book, and we’ll send a complimentary copy of it when you make a generous financial gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. If you can, a monthly pledge would be terrific, and if you can’t commit to an ongoing gift, a one-time donation of any amount is also deeply appreciated. And either way, we’ll say thanks by sending a copy of this great book to you.
John: You can donate and get resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459.
Coming up next time on Focus on the Family, helping parents and their kids understand the complicated world of bullying.
Jonathan McKee: I think that there’s three types of kids out there. I think there’s the bully, I think there’s the bystander, and I think there’s the bullied. And the one thing I often ask parents is “Which is your kid?”
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