A Story of Restorative Grace

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Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” But sometimes those things can be really painful. This is a story about one of the more painful things in my life, but also a story of God’s transformative grace in an unlikely pair. Over the years, my husband and I have recounted this to our church family and those whom we counsel—a testimony that continues to glorify the work the Lord has done in our marriage.

In 2018, we shared our story with Rachael Denhollander at the height of the #metoo movement. This prompted us to think that our testimony should be shared on a broader scale, so more people could have a greater hope in God’s ability to bring about repentance, restoration, and reconciliation.

We pray that our story might be used by God to help breathe fresh gospel hope into your life and marriage. The God who helped us is able to help you. As we have shared our story many times and in many settings, we have seen how it has been used to encourage weary-hearted husbands and wives to trust in the Lord and to pray for change.

We believe this is a faithful reflection of the trustworthy truth that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to his purposes. But we need to talk about some of the ugly before we can get to the good.

The God who helped us is able to help you.

This summer, Tom and I will celebrate our 35th year of marriage together. The vast majority of those years have been wonderful, and we make a good pair in our home and ministry together. However, the early years were not so wonderful. They were hard—very hard.

I entered marriage with my own insecurities and lack of confidence in myself. My husband desired to be a godly leader, but he struggled to understand how to lead in this way and was crippled by the anger he carried.

Our first few years we limped along trying to figure out married life. I knew something was not right. I sensed we were not reflecting the beauty of marriage that I had witnessed in the example of my parents and many others. Yet I was ignorant to understand what was brewing in our home.

We headed off to seminary, where the issues increasingly got worse. Tom’s anger and controlling nature surfaced more frequently. He was quick to voice his disapproval in ways that were certainly abusive. His words were often contrary to Paul’s commands in Ephesians 4:29–31. They were unwholesome, and they tore me down rather than build me up. They were full of bitterness, anger, and shouting. All the things God’s Word says a Christian should “put away.”

I knew our only hope was in the gospel of Christ. However, I had no idea what that looked like or how to make it happen for us. As bad as things were, it was not a daily occurrence, and we had some great days. But as his criticism increased, I continually walked in tenseness because I did not know what would trigger a response from him.

In our fourth year of marriage, we suffered a miscarriage. In my already fragile state combined with this new grief, it was more than I thought I could bear. This led to despair as I wondered if I would survive emotionally or if our marriage could remain intact. I had convinced myself that I was the issue in our marriage. If I could just respond right, I believed he wouldn’t get so angry.

In my grief, the Lord provided for me an older, godly woman who taught me how to grow in Christ. Her name was Dottie. She loved the Lord and understood how “all things work together for our good,” even in the ugly. Over the years, she taught many women how to walk in the confidence of God’s shepherding grace.

In our initial visits, I was unable to verbalize or understand the source of the conflict in our marriage. Whenever I would mention something that happened between Tom and me, she would respond with something like, “Tom shouldn’t speak to you that way. I’m sure he didn’t want to hurt you with his words. I know he loves you, but we need to pray he learns how to show that love to you.”

I remember the first time hearing her say such a thing that it caused me to stop and stare at her. I finally felt like my feelings were validated—maybe there was something behind the despair and it wasn’t just my fault. Dottie taught me how to pray and how to think biblically about my marriage, my husband, and myself. She never suggested divorce as an option, although she made sure I did not feel physically threatened in any way. She pointed me to Christ and managed to teach me how to cry out for my husband and my marriage without triggering the fight or flight response.

As I grew spiritually, I became more confident in the way I carried myself. I was able to show Tom some of the truths of Scripture she was faithfully teaching me. I was excited that Tom was willing to listen. One glimmer of hope was that my husband had a teachable spirit, even though we were still unable to address the “elephant in the room.”

Things finally came to a head one afternoon when I playfully rested a cold Coke can on Tom’s neck. He reacted in a quick flash of anger—he grabbed my hand and slapped me on the wrist. Both of us were stunned. His anger had reached a new level. This scared me. I knew if something was not done, this had the potential for further escalation and I would not be able to stay. I learned later that it had scared him, too. It was this moment that Tom realized he needed help.

Just as the Lord had provided a godly woman for me, the Lord was faithful to provide a godly man for Tom. It just so happened it was Dottie’s husband Bob, who was willing to teach us through Scripture how to build a marriage on Christ. He spoke to us with grace and kindness, never looking at us in disgust as we tearfully shared our struggles, sorrows, and sins. He assured us that he thought no less of us. He reminded us that the Lord died and shed his blood on the cross to provide forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation for the things we endured and suffered.

Restoration did not happen overnight. I found it hard to believe that it would even happen at all. I still remember the first time we met that Bob told us, if we would submit ourselves to God’s Word, we would have a marriage “beyond our wildest dreams.” In disbelief, I literally laughed out loud, and it cut my husband to the heart.

Over the next year, Bob was able to teach Tom how to repent of his anger. From Bob’s example, he learned how to truly be a godly man who loved me more than himself.

As I look back on those years, I don’t feel shame or resentment. I’ve chosen not to be the perpetual victim, even though society would try to make that my identity. Thankfully, the Lord has freed me from being bound to that mindset. Instead I see the tender care of the Lord who loved us enough to allow us to walk through the fire and emerge as new vessels, “as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:4).

We both learned so much about who God is and His sufficient grace. Sinfulness was exposed in both our hearts. The hardest part for me was to admit that Tom did not own all the blame for the mess that had been created. He never denied his portion, but I had to learn my own sin was revealed in my reactions and responses. The Lord desired to deal with my heart too.

Tom and I are amazed at the reconciliation and restoration God worked in us. Our marriage is certainly not perfect, but none of those ugly days have been repeated. We know Satan wanted our sorrow and sin to destroy us, but God meant it for our good. In our suffering, he taught us and equipped us for the family and ministry he had prepared for us.

In our suffering, God taught us and equipped us for the family and ministry he had prepared for us.

It has been our privilege and joy to help many couples have hope that God can restore broken marriages. He has helped us equip husbands and wives, who have no idea how to love each other, to flourish in their love for the Lord and for one another. Together our stories testify that “all things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”

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Jennifer Buck

Jennifer graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1987. She and Tom have been married for nearly 35 years. They have served at First Baptist Church Lindale for 16 years. They have a married son and two teens still at home. One of Jennifer’s greatest joys is teaching women how to know the Lord and to live dependently on him.