A Marriage in Crisis
About the Guest
Most marriages aren't lived out on a romantic balcony, and neither was Clint and Penny Bragg's. After what seemed like an ideal courtship and blissfully happy first year, cracks began to form in their marital foundation. Penny began pulling away and communicating less, and an emotional affair with someone else soon followed. Hear more of their story this week.
Clint and Penny BraggClint and Penny A. Bragg serve as marriage missionaries through the work of Inverse Ministries, their nonprofit organization. They share their testimony with audiences, teach seminars for couples, and equip ministry leaders across the nation and beyond. Their own story of reconciliation has been featured on multiple national and international television and radio programs. The Braggs are an active part of a nationwide network to strengthen, reconcile, and restore marriages. Learn more about C...more
After Clint and Penny Bragg’s ideal courtship and blissfully happy first year, cracks began to form in their marital foundation. Penny began pulling away and an emotional affair with someone else soon followed.
A Marriage in Crisis
Bob: When Clint and Penny Bragg were first married, it looked like the ideal situation—all-American couple actively involved in their church—but Penny said there were cracks in the foundation of their relationship—cracks that nobody knew about that ultimately led them to isolation and divorce.
Penny: You know, Clint and I had a pattern in our relationship of we were never really honest with each other with secrets from our past or with things that had happened to us as children. When you go into a marriage like that, where you have not shared some of those intimate secrets, and difficulties, and struggles, it’s hard to break through and just start that practice up. I just kind of shoved everything in further.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Clint and Penny Bragg join us today to tell the story of a marriage that went down the path of destruction before experiencing resurrection. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, when a couple gets married, the picture that is always taken of them at the altar—that picture can look considerably different six months later / three years later.
Dennis: Well, it looks different on the spot because they airbrush it.
Bob: That’s a good point! [Laughter]
Dennis: All of reality is airbrushed out at the beginning, and then you begin the marriage relationship. It takes place, unfortunately, not on a romantic balcony but on a spiritual battlefield.
I want to read a verse at the outset of the broadcast today because the couple I’m going to introduce can identify with this—it’s Ephesian, Chapter 6, verse 10: “Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
Now, listen to this verse—we use this at the Weekend To Remember®, Bob, where we say, “Your mate is not your enemy.” Verse 12 says: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In other words, in every marriage that’s listening to this broadcast right now and to those that aren’t listening as well, their marriage is taking place on a spiritual battlefield. There is an unseen battle taking place around and for that marriage.
I want to introduce a couple—Clint and Penny Bragg, who join us on FamilyLife Today. Clint/Penny, welcome to the broadcast.
Clint: Thank you very much for having us.
Penny: Thank you.
Dennis: Clint and Penny taught in public school for more than 20 years.
They have quite a story that ultimately ended in being described as marriage missionaries and founding an organization called Inverse Ministries. Penny, how did you two meet?
Penny: We met on the softball field at our church in 1987. All he had to do was tip his baseball hat my way. He has that deep southern drawl. That first attraction kind of hit me, right there, on the baseball field. Then we got to know each other a little bit through the church.
Bob: So, this was a spiritual environment. You were both followers of Christ when you met; right?
Penny: We were.
Dennis: So Clint, what attracted you to her?
Clint: Well, first of all, she was very pleasant. She was outgoing—I could see that she liked people. When I really got attracted to her is when I was teaching a discipleship-training course that lasted six months. She was in the first group that I taught. She did everything that she was supposed to do to be a follower of Christ, and it amazed me.
I said: “Wow she really is in love with the Lord. I have to get to know her after this course is over.”
Dennis: So how long did you date?
Penny: We dated about two years; and then at the end of the two years, we got engaged.
Dennis: How did he ask you to marry him?
Penny: He got down on his knee—took me out for a very special date. He had already asked my father in advance—I didn’t know that then. He took me out on a date. As we were getting out for dinner at this romantic marina, he put in Sam Cooke’s, Darling, You Send Me. There’s a line in that that says, “I want to marry you.”
Dennis: Bob could probably sing it. [Laughter]
Bob: [Singing]At first, I thought it was infatuation—
Penny: That’s it, Bob!
Clint: There you go!
Bob: [Singing]—but now, it’s lasted so long.
Dennis: Is that the line?
Bob: [Singing]Now I find myself wanting to—
Penny: Here it is!
Bob: [Singing] —to marry you, and take you home.
Penny and Bob: [Singing]Whoa—oh-oh-oh.
Dennis: Did you get the line then?
Penny: I did, and then my heart just—is that?—and then he said, “Would you step outside of the truck?”
He walked me over to the sidewalk. He got down on one knee, and he proposed to me.
Dennis: So, you didn’t even wait for the dinner!
Penny: Did we have the dinner first?
Clint: No, I don’t think we had the dinner first—it was before we went to dinner. I hoped we were going to enjoy that dinner. [Laughter]
Penny: That was kind of a risky move.
Clint: Yes, it was.
Bob: What you guys have just described—from meeting one another in a church environment, what is attractive about her for you is her love for the Lord / her hunger for God, two years to get to know one another—if I had to look at that and say: “What are the odds that this couple is going to have the kind of marriage that you’d hope for / that you’d dream of, you guys would be at the top of the odds list. You know what I mean?
Penny: We were—we were absolutely! I think our church saw us that way as well.
Clint: Yes, and we were the church darlings. You know, we couldn’t do any wrong in front of their eyes; and we didn’t want to let them down.
Penny: Yes, and people would come to Clint and Penny and ask them—
—you know, the bottom line of it was—we didn’t spend a lot of time putting the spiritual roots down, but we were leaders and strong people. It was a small church and they needed a lot of help. Boy! We jumped, and jumped, and jumped.
Dennis: And that’s where I was going with my next question: “How much of that was appearance and how much of the appearance was reality?”
Clint: Well, here’s the thing—when I was in the service, one of the things—when they are breaking you down and building you back up—they always have this phrase: “We want you standing tall and looking good.” So, when I was courting Penny, I definitely wanted to be “standing tall and looking good” to her so I was showing her all the positive things. I really never discussed any of the flaws that Clint Bragg had.
Dennis: It truly was the airbrushed photo that you started your marriage—
Bob: Well, I’m guessing you were putting your best foot forward too.
Penny: Absolutely. I was doing all my homework in that discipleship class because you know—
Clint: She was!
Bob: But let’s keep in mind that’s true too for just about every dating couple. We’re all trying, in those years when we’re attracted to one another—
Dennis: Well, but that’s not necessarily true, Bob. There are some couples who start their relationship out and they get involved, sexually, —
Bob: That’s a good point.
Dennis: —and they don’t honor one another and the boundaries that perhaps have been asked of one another. I wanted to ask you guys: “Were you honoring one another in that regard, privately, as well?
Penny: We crossed it—we definitely crossed it. We didn’t go to intercourse, or live together, or something like that—but we definitely crossed the physical boundaries further than we should have.
Dennis: I just happen to believe today, among the Christian single culture that’s in churches today—there are a lot of these relationships that may look like yours but, privately, you have to take a step back. Perhaps they need some folks stepping into the relationship and maybe doing a little mentoring and asking of some hard questions.
Clint: Absolutely; yes.
Bob: The first year of marriage was a great year; wasn’t it?
Clint: Yes. In fact, it was a fairytale come true. I couldn’t believe how Penny and I just got along so well together. She could think something, and I knew what it was going to be—and the same way—I could think something, and she would do it. It was unbelievable—it was just like it was all falling into place.
We were in ministry, but we weren’t working together in ministry—we were in separate ministries. I was doing discipleship, and I was also teaching Sunday school. She was on the worship team. So, we were doing all these things.
Penny: But parallel.
Clint: Yes, parallel. Anyway, we thought we were doing good; but we were starting to run out of energy. At the end of our first year, I suggested to Penny: “Hey, let’s do something really special to really finish off our first year.”
Bob: Now, wait—before you go there, you said you were running out of energy. What do you mean?
Clint: Well, because we weren’t really working together—we were working, side by side, but she was doing her thing and I was doing my thing. We had our individual jobs and stuff. We started growing apart from each other, not realizing that we were. We were in love with each other / we cared about each other—
—but what happens is—if you’re not doing things together, as a couple, what happens is—you start doing things on your own strength. That’s what we were doing—we were running so fast. At the beginning, we were asking God: “Will you come with us? Will you do this?” Then, we got so far behind in everything, we quit asking God—we said, “We just have to start running now because we have to catch up.”
Dennis: Just a lot of performance then.
Penny: Very much. That’s where the accolades came from, I think, for both of us—we can look back clearly and see that now. You know, people were saying, “Oh, you guys do such a great job at church.” “Wow! That felt really great to hear that,”—so—“Let’s do some more.” The mission trip, at the end of our first year, was just like a topper on our performance.
Dennis: So we could read this verse that I read at the beginning—your exhortation that you were hearing in your hearts: “Finally brethren be strong in the church schedule, and in the programs that they offer, and be there every time the doors are opened.”
Penny: Every time!
Dennis: Now, I’m not against the church. Hear me—I’m all for the church. I think the church is an absolute necessity for a marriage to go the distance today.
Dennis: But, if you build your relationship around some kind of church performance or being at all the programs—and you’re not ultimately grounded in Jesus Christ / listening to God like you’re talking about—you’re set up, at that point, to take a fall.
Penny: —to fail.
Bob: Well, and you guys headed off on this mission trip. That’s where some of the shallow roots got exposed. What happened?
Penny: Very much so—I was blown away. I think Clint had a very—he had been in Vietnam—he had seen a lot of the world, but I was a little California girl. I hadn’t traveled more than a few hours past my hometown. We get over there—and we had a little training / a little prep—but I didn’t know about the spiritual darkness.
Bob: Where were you?
Penny: Haiti—we were in Haiti for two weeks.
Bob: Okay, and that’s a dark country.
Penny: Very much so. I was totally unprepared for that. Also, it was my first face-to-face with suffering. Without deep spiritual roots, you see the suffering of mankind—it’s easy to think, “Lord how could you allow that to happen?” I started to question God. I started to question His sovereignty; however, I never expressed those doubts to Clint.
Bob: So, you didn’t know any of this was happening with her?
Clint: No, I didn’t. In fact, it was unbelievable. We were building a school building and a church all at the same time—we built the walls while we there. We ministered in the community. There was even a time when they had Penny and I just pray for the whole team while they were out working and doing different things. When we prayed, God answered our prayers about some rain that wasn’t supposed to be there. It showed up, and cooled it off, and made it a little bit more convenient for the people that were working there.
I’m thinking: “Wow! Man! We’re working as a team. God is blessing us, and this is going great.” I was starting to notice, towards the end of the trip, that she was starting to kind of be quiet. She was kind of pulling away from me; but you know, when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t really put a lot of emphasis on it. I just figured: “Well, she’s tired; and we’ve done a lot. She hasn’t seen a lot of this kind of suffering and stuff.” I don’t think either one of us was really prepared for the spiritual darkness that we experienced while we were there.
Dennis: If I can continue the passage in Ephesians that I started out with here—it goes on saying,” Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day and having done all to stand firm.” We do live in an evil day.
Clint: We do.
Dennis: And when you went to Haiti, you ran into someone who was evil.
Penny: We did. We were having our devotion times—even, specifically, almost a manifestation of I think what you’re referring to in the enemy—the one who’s out there for our souls, Satan. We were actually having our devotion times together. There was a woman who came from out of nowhere; and she began to rant, and rave, and carry on around us. It was a very awkward and scary situation. I didn’t know what to do—I’d never seen anything like that.
Dennis: Was it just you two or was it the whole group?
Penny: The whole team was there. She specifically went toward Clint.
Clint: She targeted me. In fact, I was in the middle of reading the Word. She appeared out of nowhere, and she crawled up in my lap. I mean, it just literally was there; and I was startled. Penny was—
Penny: You have to understand something about Penny back then—she’s a pretty tough girl / a super-girl. So, I wasn’t going to let anyone get close to my husband. I went, “That’s it!” I went Mafioso, as we say in Italian. [Laughter] I went after the lady—I did—I pulled her off him. Like Clint would really need me to protect him, Mr. Army Soldier; but I did—
Clint: The thing about it is—it startled me so bad. When she did pull—and there was a confrontation between the two—and they speak Creole there—so I couldn’t understand, but you could definitely tell that it was some kind of a curse or something that that lady was just laying on Penny.
Dennis: And that began a time of spiritual darkness?
Dennis: When did that become something you discerned was taking place?
Clint: Probably when we got back to the United States. It was maybe a couple months after that that I realized that Penny was pulling away from me. Then I realized there was something supernatural that was pulling her away from me. I couldn’t put my finger on it really until probably a good year after we had split up that I realized, back there in Haiti, was when it all started.
Bob: Penny, were you aware that you were pulling away? I mean, was there a conscious sense of: “I don’t want to be about this marriage anymore”?
Penny: No; no, I can’t say that there was. I think it was a gradual desensitization of my heart, little by little. I couldn’t find the answers I was looking for in terms of what I had seen over in Haiti, and I just didn’t know what to do with all that.
Clint and I had a pattern in our relationship of we were never really honest with each other with secrets from our past or with things that had happened to us as children.
When you go into a marriage like that, where you have not shared some of those intimate secrets, and difficulties, and struggles, it’s hard to break through and just start that practice up. I just kind of shoved everything in further. Yes, I wasn’t really consciously aware of everything that was taking place. I just knew that we weren’t getting along as well anymore.
Bob: Was your relationship with the Lord starting to drift as well?
Penny: Oh definitely—definitely. I was reading my Bible less and less. I was questioning more and more. Yes, for sure.
Bob: But you were still going to church. Everybody—from the outside, everything looked okay.
Penny: Oh, yes, absolutely—smile on the face.
Clint: Yes, we both were pretty good about—we never showed our inside. We always showed our outside. We made sure that our outside always looked good to everybody.
Bob: You know, what you’re describing is like foundation problems in a house—where you may see some symptoms that cause you to think, “This door doesn’t shut right,” and you’re not sure why—but something’s starting to happen in the foundation that’s causing things to settle wrong.
That’s what was going on. When did you realize this wasn’t just a shift, but there was a crack there, and there were some real foundation problems?
Clint: Well, for me, I think it was when I realized that she was pulling away from me further and further; and I couldn’t understand it. What happened was—I eventually realized there must be somebody from outside our marriage that is pulling her apart. I went to Penny, and I asked her; and she denied it.
I loved her enough that I had to give her the benefit of the doubt. So, I’m trying to figure out, “What is going on?” but yet I knew there was some major damage there. I was trying to figure out how to correct it and do it right. I was going to the Bible, and I was trying to do all these different things that you’re supposed to do.
Bob: Trying to fix it!
Clint: I was trying to fix it, yes. I’m a guy and my whole life I’ve always been able to fix things that were broken.
Dennis: Penny, at the same time, you were teaching school. You developed a relationship—there at school—that was inappropriate.
Penny: I did—I did.
Dennis: How did it start out?
Penny: It just started out as being friends. It started out as doing homework together, working on projects together, getting assigned to the same school together. The key—when I look back on it now—is emotional intimacy that started to develop that was absent or void in my marriage.
When you go into a marriage, you don’t often realize that creating and nurturing spiritual and emotional intimacy is something you’re really going to have to work on. I was sensing it with this other person. With the absence of it with Clint, I just found my time, my priorities—everything—I started to shove over into feeling better / feeling good about something since I wasn’t feeling that way about home.
Dennis: You know, every affair begins in the emotional arena—it really does. Some kind of intimacy gets expressed. Do you recall the first interaction of transparency that you had where you felt like, at that point, you knew you were entering into something deeper with another human being?
Penny: I think when that person started to disclose feelings that I was uncomfortable with. That person started to express feelings for me that I thought: “Whoa! Wait a second! Something’s going on, at that end, that’s not what I meant to do or what I was indicating.” So, first, the advances made toward me made me think: “Something’s going on here, and I’m uncomfortable with it; but, if Clint finds out, he’s really going to have a fit and that friendship’s going to be over. So, I better just hide it.”
Bob: So, you were at what I would call a Joseph moment; okay?—where the advances are being made. Rather than running from it, you just figured, “I’ll manage this myself.”
Penny: “I’m going to fix it. I can do this myself, Lord, because you know, if I tell Clint, then it’s just going to create a whole lot of problems and worry.
I’ll probably have to leave my school, and then I’m going to lose this friendship,”—which was one of the few things I was feeling real good about—that and school. Those two were tied together for me. Feeling good about them made me think, “Well, I’m going to have to lose out one or the other so I can handle this,” was my feeling.
Bob: You had no idea any of this was happening?
Clint: Not really—I was clueless. I really was! I was trying to figure out, “What was going on?” but she just kept saying, “I’m working hard.”
Penny: I made it hard for him. I was flat-out denying his accusations.
Clint: Yes. I was careful about making those accusations because I didn’t want it to be and I didn’t want to blow something up that was not really there.
Bob: Dennis, you talked about every affair beginning in the emotional arena. I’ve heard you say, many times: “We have to have our guard up in relationships outside of marriage when there’s anything. When you sniff smoke, you better run”; right?
Dennis: That’s exactly right, and it isn’t wrong to be tempted. James, Chapter 1, makes it very clear “Temptation is not sin.” It’s when we take the bait, and we don’t respond in faith to the flaming missiles of the evil one who is tempting us.
In Penny’s case, she faced a real crisis of faith, at that point: Would she remain faithful to her husband or would she begin to cultivate a relationship that, even in her heart, she knew was headed in the wrong direction?
I think there are listeners, right now, who are being tempted. You know who you are / you know who the person is—you know the relationship hasn’t felt right, perhaps, for some time / maybe you’ve already even stepped over the line—those relationships must be terminated. There is no way you can give your heart to two people.
You’re going to be and have allegiance to one; and you’re not going to be able to experience what God designed for your life, and in your marriage, and in your family if you give your heart to another person.
My encouragement to you, just based upon Clint and Penny’s story here today is: “No sin is worth it. I’m telling you that you are headed for a very destructive path. You have no idea the coals that you are about to invite into your life / into your heart, and you’ll get burned.” The key is: “Before the day is over, settle the issue with God, and then settle the issue with the other person, and break that relationship off.”
Bob: I think when folks get a chance to hear your story, and when they get a copy of your book and read your story, they can see how a failure to follow that kind of counsel leads you down the wrong path. Clint and Penny have told their story in a book called Marriage on the Mend—that has been recently revised and updated.
If you‘d like a copy, you can go to our website, which is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen to get more information about how you can get the book, Marriage on the Mend, by Clint and Penny Bragg. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also request the book when you call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
You know, I’m often asked by listeners if I have a favorite FamilyLife Today program. Dennis, you and I, will often give the same answer—it’s stories like the story we’re hearing, this week, from Clint and Penny that are among our favorites. We love hearing stories of God’s work in the middle of broken situations to bring healing and restoration.
We love when we get a chance to see beauty from ashes because it reminds us that, no matter what’s going on in anybody’s marriage / in anybody’s family, God can and does show up. When we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, there can be a real turnaround in our marital situation / our family situation.
Here, at FamilyLife, we want to provide the kind of practical biblical help that brings about the kind of transformation that Clint and Penny are sharing with us about this week. We appreciate those of you who stand with us in this mission—to effectively develop Godly families who change the world, one home at a time. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. It is folks, like you, who help with the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. We couldn’t do it without you—we are grateful for your partnership.
If you’d like to make a donation in support of the ministry, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,”—make an online donation. Or call: 1-800-FL-TODAY—and you can make your donation over the phone. You can also mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to get a chance to hear about the transforming work that God did in Clint and Penny Bragg’s marriage. It’s a pretty remarkable story. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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