On our twentieth anniversary, I told Marilyn,
“This has been the best 20 years of my life.”
“It has been the best 19 of mine. There is no way I’m giving you that first year!”
Our story has a rocky start. Decades of marriage and five children later, I’m thankful for God’s kindness to us in saving our marriage after an ugly beginning.
Marilyn and I met in 1995. After a whirlwind three months of dating, I asked this beautiful brunette to marry me. She was literally all I had hoped and prayed for in a wife. She said Yes, and we were married four months later.
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend such a fast marriage track, but it worked for me because I got to marry Marilyn. The big downside for her was that she really got to know me after we were already married. Within the first few months of our marriage, she told me, “You were great at dating, but you’re horrible at being married.” Later, I learned that she often prayed, “Lord, am I sentenced to a life of this?”
The reason for her heartbreak and angst was ME.
Once we were married, I took all the time and creative energy that I had poured into winning her affection and funneled it toward sports and building my career. As my appetite for success and entertainment grew, the quality of our relationship wilted. I was a young lawyer; she was pursuing a Masters in counseling. We began to live separate lives.
After a year of nearly constant conflict (and many, many tears), God intervened. God encountered Marilyn during her time in the Word, and convicted her of Christ’s sufficiency for her. She began to look to Jesus to meet her needs instead of me. A few months later, God used a men’s conference to shake me awake—I was being very selfish, and was mistreating and neglecting a daughter of the King. Both of us, within a matter of months, began viewing the other in a new light. We began to earnestly seek the good of the other before ourselves, and to cover each other’s offenses with the grace Jesus showed us at the cross.
Brad, Marilyn and their 5 kids.
In short, God performed a miracle in our marriage.
Ten years later, seeing how much fun we were having, a couple asked us to do their premarital counseling. And then more couples called, so we started groups, and then a waiting list developed. I became pastor to marriages at our local church, and our progression toward full-time marriage ministry began.
But God still had some prep work to do before Grace Marriage could be launched.
During this period of leading couples and small groups, my law practice benefitted greatly from the help of a quarterly business coaching program. Once a quarter, my law partner and I would take a break from running the business and step back to get an aerial view of it. The program asked us some big-picture questions, and we were asked to make big-picture decisions. This proactive, intentional approach transformed everything about our business. Everything improved—we got more clients, our clients were happier, our staff decisions were wiser, and our marketing was more effective. Our business grew quickly.
God began to put the pieces together in my mind. If this approach worked so well for a business, why wouldn’t it work well for marriages? What if couples did what our company was doing—what if every three months, they took a break from daily life to think big picture, celebrate wins, assess where change is needed, and chart a path to proactively achieve their goals? What if we put together an ongoing and effective marriage discipleship process to help couples get out from under the obligations of life and begin to richly enjoy one another?
With my pastoral experience and Marilyn’s counseling background, we started building a curriculum. We assembled a test group with a cross-section of married couples from different stages of life. The impact on their marriages was evident, and everyone wanted to continue in this quarterly rhythm. We did a brief promotion at our church—hoping to start a few more groups—and the response was overwhelming!
As other churches began to express interest in using this same strategy, we sensed a calling to breathe life back into marriages in our culture. We left our previous careers behind to devote ourselves full-time to individuals and churches wanting to enrich, protect, and grow their marriages. Today, we’re privileged to serve churches in nearly 30 states and a number of countries. Our prayer is that God continues to use Grace Marriage for his glory and the restoration of marriage to a relationship seen and known to be fun, intimate, grace-filled, and life-giving!