Written By: Elaine Tomski
What does a horse have in common with a husband and a wife? Isn’t this an unusual question? However, the answer is not a bit strange. In addition to sharing the same Creator, a horse, a husband, and a wife share the need for intentional care. A healthy horse doesn’t just happen. Neither does a healthy marriage.
Just ask David and Laurel Derry who have been going the distance for nearly twenty years. They understand marriage requires work and commitment. After seeing so many married couples struggling around them, they intentionally began working to improve their union. They say, “God has used FAMILYLIFE to strengthen our marriage and family, and we are so excited to share this ministry with others.” As full-time missionaries with FAMILYLIFE, they serve and coach people in northeast Ohio, across the U.S., and around the world. “We are grateful for the opportunity to impact the lives of people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as strengthen and encourage marriages and families.” This husband-and-wife team strives to bring help and hope to one family at a time, knowing God’s heart is to see every home a godly home.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people.” The people of FAMILYLIFE agree. They state, “It is our conviction that the family is the backbone of the Christian church and of society as a whole. History shows that, if any society wants to survive, it must uphold, strengthen, and continue to build upon the Biblical institution of marriage and family.” FAMILYLIFE exists to provide practical, biblical tools that we can use to reach out to our own families and others around us.
FOOD AND PROTECTION
Just as a horse needs proper amounts of food, water, and protection from the elements, our marriages need nourishment and protection. David says, “Putting Christ at the center is the key. Without that, we just can’t love each other as we should. Every one of us is selfish. Love is not easy. We gravitate toward being selfish, so when there are two people in a marriage relationship who are selfish, it can get ugly fast.” Let’s consider how we are doing based on God’s Word.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7
“When we serve and love the other person in a sacrificial way as scripture teaches us to do, then it works pretty well,” says David. If you’re like me, you love your spouse imperfectly. Let Jesus’ own words from Matthew 19:26 encourage you. “…but with God all things are possible.” David adds, “It takes Christ to be the foundation of the whole marriage relationship, as well as being the foundation for our lives individually.” It’s true. In Christ we find our protection in both salvation and marriage.
FAMILYLIFE nourishes relationships by giving help for today and hope for tomorrow. David and Laurel work to strengthen couples, saying, “A strong, loving couple is more likely to be good at parenting.” They’ve discovered one of the classic mistakes many people make is to prioritize children and jobs higher than marriage. Both of these are important, but not of higher priority than the marriage relationship. “If our energy and focus are so highly on our children and jobs, what is left for investing in each other?” Consider the Biblical structure. Christ is to be first, then marriage, children, and jobs.
David sees the busyness of life as the most significant challenge couples face. This reality often causes married couples to fail at making their relationship a priority. They forget to “feed” the relationship. David says, “Our children know they’re very important to us and we love them very much, but our marriage is more important. So, there are times when we take a date night or a weekend away because our marriage is important and we’re going to invest in that.
“All relationships work basically in the same way.” Whether it’s with God, our spouse, or our children, David says a relationship works like this:
On one end of the spectrum there’s isolation and on the other end, intimacy. To know a person well, we must move closer to them. Growing towards intimacy in a relationship takes intention. An action is required. “Because if you do nothing, you drift towards isolation naturally,” says David.
In a marriage relationship, the husband has the high calling of servant leadership. He shoulders the burden, not leading in a self-serving way, but with the responsibility to guide in a godly manner. He moves toward his wife and protects her. Laurel says, “When the wife feels loved and cared for, she is able to give respect to her husband. She can believe that he is going to make the decisions with the family’s best interest in mind. This is the ideal, the goal to be striving for.” When a husband and wife take action to serve one another, they are growing toward intimacy, rather than drifting toward isolation. We nourish our marriages when we offer regular spoonfuls of love and respect to one another.
If a horse is never exercised, it will fail when it comes time to go the distance.
So it is with marriage. Healthy choices require that specific marriage muscles receive exercise so couples can not only survive, but flourish.
One muscle needing exercise is the courage muscle. Couples must be willing to speak the truth, in love. Laurel says David’s parents gave them advice that they always use to benefit their marriage. “Don’t go to bed angry.” She says, “Instead, confront in love. Be honest. Be vulnerable to deal with something while it’s small so that bitterness and resentment cannot take up space in your marriage.” This leads to the use of another muscle.
The forgiveness muscle is one we exercise daily, not only in marriage but in many of our relationships. David and Laurel have this reminder displayed on the wall above their bed: A successful marriage is the union of two great forgivers. Laurel says, “If both of you can be forgivers, you’ll make it through about anything.” Holding onto a grudge will ruin a marriage. It will destroy any relationship.
Another muscle needing exercise is that intention muscle. David says, “If we’re not investing in marriage, not having quality conversations, not spending time together, and not doing activities we mutually enjoy, the result is to drift toward isolation in the relationship. Then when you add in children, jobs, and other distractions, the drift toward isolation is even greater. People don’t realize how much intention it takes for a lasting marriage. A couple married fifty years will tell you they’ve faced difficult times and had to make intentional choices to stick it out.” Every marriage goes through seasons of difficulty. Exercising the intention muscle helps a spouse invest in their relationship no matter the circumstances.
Laurel says their most significant challenge as a FAMILYLIFE couple is helping people see the priority of relationship. “We can get so focused on doing and on things that we forget the importance of a relationship.” They desire to help couples stop the busy cycle and take time to invest in themselves and others. In the biblical story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10, Christ reminds Martha not to be distracted by tasks, but rather take the time to listen and be with Him, like Mary was doing. Laurel says, “Work to do is not more important than the relationships we can have. It’s hard to get people to stop long enough to make an effort for the relationship.”
In 2011, David and Laurel exercised their intention muscles by stopping long enough to attend the FAMILYLIFE Weekend to Remember. This experience was so beneficial to their marriage and family that it sparked their desire to support other married couples. David shares this learned wisdom, “Invest in your marriage. Don’t wait until there’s trouble. Avoid trouble in your marriage.” Laurel adds, “We were made for relationship with God, with our mates, and with others. We were not made to be alone.”
SHARING THE LOAD
Farmers often have workhorses share the load. What is too hard for one horse to do becomes possible with two, four, or six. Likewise, the difficulties of marriage can be well managed when both husband and wife share the load. Being in FAMILYLIFE ministry allows David and Laurel to equip couple after couple in home after home. Then God uses those grateful people to help others as well. FAMILYLIFE wisely provides resources anyone can use to train, equip, encourage and pray for those struggling in their relationship.
Receiving help from others before the issues flare out of control allows us to weed the bitterness and resentment out of marriage. David suggests, “Let God help you. Let Godly people help you. Use sound Biblical resources. Every FAMILYLIFE study centers on Christ and Biblical authority.” David and Laurel invite you and me to share the load. They encourage husbands and wives to meet with others and do life together, neighbor to neighbor. Laurel says, “If you can talk in a group with other couples, you discover you’re not the only one struggling to get it right.”
“When it comes to struggles and keeping struggles to ourselves, everybody is tempted to act like everything is fine. The reality is we all struggle in marriage and parenting,” says David. “These things are hard. No one wants to be the first to be vulnerable and admit they have issues, questions, and struggles. But once we realize everyone has struggles or uncertainty, the walls can come down, and others admit they sometimes have trouble, too.” Whether you are married fifty years or one year, every couple has experiences to share concerning how they’ve been wise and unwise. Laurel adds, “There’s so much freedom that comes when you find out you can just be yourself in front of other people.”
It’s essential to have a safe place where couples can share the load. This is never a place of gossip. It is a place of confidentiality, agreement, and trust where they can, together, address conflict and find Biblical wisdom, encouragement, and support. David and Laurel want to help you get started. They serve in Wayne, Holmes, Stark and Summit Counties of Ohio. They also coach other husband-and-wife teams who then serve married couples across the nation. David is willing to answer your questions, show you options and offer their easy-to-use resources. He will help you so that you can help others in a way that’s comfortable to you. Neighbor to neighbor, sharing the load.
TIME FOR A CHECK UP
Your horse sees the veterinarian at least once a year, right? It needs a physical exam even when nothing seems to be wrong. Why not consider giving your marriage a yearly check-up? You may want to follow David and Laurel’s example and attend FAMILYLIFE’s Weekend to Remember. It will be time well spent. Weekend getaways are available in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and all across the United States. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY (1-800-358-6329) for locations and more information. David has set up a group name for our readers to use for a Weekend to Remember discount. Simply use JustPlainValues when registering and receive a $100 discount.
Even if you’re not interested in a weekend event, there are many FAMILYLIFE resources available to you. Churches, church leaders or interested family groups may choose from small group book studies or community video events to help strengthen engaged and married couples in their neighborhoods. The goal is to have an ongoing ministry, so couples have a place where their needs become met as they continue to strengthen their marriages.
To a horse, being locked in the stall too long may seem like prison. How wonderful it must feel to be set loose, to run free. Some men are literally in prison, confined as they fulfill the consequence of a crime. Many of these men had no good role model to show them how to be a man, let alone a good husband and father. They lack the skill and motivation to make good choices. Laurel says, “When being a godly man is not modeled in the home where boys grow up, they don’t have a godly example.” These men need help to step up.
One of the most surprising ways God has used David and Laurel in FAMILYLIFE ministries is through the development of a growing prison ministry. David says, “It’s been really exciting to see how God opened up an opportunity and a door to a place we wouldn’t even have thought about.” They used FAMILYLIFE’s Stepping Up ministry to help a prison chaplain in an Ohio prison one day. Laurel says, “This link with one Ohio prison chaplain has opened the door for all of Ohio. Every Ohio prison has now offered Stepping Up at least once, if not multiple times.” They report that chaplains are seeing real change in these men. They are behaving better and making wiser choices. They are stepping up, maybe for the first time in their lives. Perhaps it’s because they’ve heard the Gospel. Decisions are being made for Christ. There’s real heart change. This is what happens when men seek God together. David says that with “The difference this is making, the outcome has been staggering. Once these prisoners have gone through Stepping Up, they are asking for marriage resources, too.”
In February 2017, David and Laurel went to an Ohio prison to share The Art of Marriage session with 18 inmates and their spouses who traveled in for the day. They’re visiting another Ohio prison this February to do the same. Laurel says, “We know it is a God thing because we’ve been getting calls from across the nation.” From California to Alabama to Florida, they’ve received calls from people asking if they’ve considered doing marriage ministry in the prisons. “It’s exciting for us to start walking this journey.”
A horse will get you to where you need to go. You might command it to walk, trot or gallop along the way. The point is that these options keep you moving forward, not drifting backward. FAMILYLIFE offers three options to keep you and me moving from isolation to intimacy in our marriages.
- One on One
That’s neighbor helping neighbor. David says, “No matter where you are in your marriage, there’s always another couple alongside you or behind you who can use what you’ve learned.” FAMILYLIFE has resources to help.
- One to Some
This is a small discussion group or planned event, using FAMILYLIFE resources. Taking the time, with others, to see what the Bible says about marriage.
- One to Many
A Weekend to Remember might be what you need to improve your marriage or keep it healthy.
“If it has taken years to get to a crisis in your marriage,” says Laurel, “it also takes time to grow back toward each other again. When husband and wife are willing to work on the marriage, surrender it back to God, and start investing in making the marriage healthy again, we have seen many successes.” David says, “It has been our desire, our heartbeat from the beginning, to work with churches and individuals to build this marriage movement.” According to him, every couple can use FAMILYLIFE resources. Although used by pastors, they also can be used by anyone wishing to refresh and encourage busy and hurting couples. These helping tools are Biblically based, of high quality and easy to use.
HELP AND HOPE
The original goal was to reach northeast Ohio with FAMILYLIFE resources. This continues to be their heart’s desire. Still, God has far exceeded the Derry’s expectations. They hoped to impact the marriages of hundreds of people per year; instead, God has grown their ministry to affect many thousands as they now coach hundreds of people to help others. In fact, the number of people they’ve touched has doubled in 2017.
They are so excited to see more and more people willing to step up and help other struggling husbands and wives. David wants us to realize, “A couple’s marriage doesn’t have to be perfect to qualify them to help other couples. Christ-centered? Yes. Perfect? No. If having a perfect marriage was the standard, we couldn’t help either.”
If you have the desire to help, please do. David will gladly recommend the right resource for your need and coach you through the process. Call him at (234) 521-5715 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information about FAMILYLIFE, call 1-800-FL TODAY.
David and Laurel welcome your prayers. “Please pray for protection around our marriage and family, and for the energy, endurance, and ability to connect and coach other families.” The Derry’s are responsible for funding their missionary efforts, so to keep their ministry going strong, they are always looking for partners to offer prayer support as well as monthly financial giving. If you wish to partner with the Derry’s, give them a call. If you desire to make a donation to their ministry efforts, you can mail a check payable to CRU to 523 River Road, Canal Fulton, OH 44614.
David and Laurel look back at the past five years in awe of what God has done. Looking forward, they are amazed at the opportunities they now have to train and equip people to help others. “Marriage is the key,” says David. FAMILYLIFE provides help for today and hope for tomorrow. Why not give them a call with the intent to strengthen your marriage and to support the married couples around you? The result could be marriages and families that are as healthy as a horse.