Lessons From a Wife That Chose to Stay
About the Guest
He was her knight in shining armor. At least until they married. Joy McClain dated her husband Mark for five years and thought she would have the fairy tale life she dreamed of once the ring was on her finger. But his drinking and anger increased as their family did, and Joy found herself feeling more desperate and alone than ever.
Joy McClainThrough song writing, publishing (over 150 short stories, Bible studies and articles), teaching, counseling and public speaking Joy passionately helps women understand their redemptive position in Christ. Joy has a unique call, marrying what women desire to express to words that give them a voice in which to do so. Married for 26 years, 20 of which involved a battle against her husband Mark's alcoholism, she and Mark have four children and live in Greenwood, Indiana.
He was her knight in shining armor. At least until they married.
Lessons From a Wife That Chose to Stay
Bob: Like most young women, Joy McClain got married with high expectations of what lay ahead.
Joy: I had that little-girl perception of marriage—that it’s a fairy tale—that your knight in shining armor would swoop in, throw you on his white horse, and that stallion and you would run off into the sunset together. Life would be so good! But I learned that that’s not the case.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today what caused Joy McClain’s marital dreams to begin to fade. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There are seasons, I think, in every marriage, that are times of perseverance. Even good marriages have seasons—MaryAnn and I have had seasons where we just kind of persevered when—
Dennis: You just didn’t quit!
Bob: Yes; when things weren’t happy—for whatever reason.
Bob: It could be my attitude; it could be her attitude. It could be the mixture of the two—the perfect storm coming together—but you just say, “Okay, we’ll get through this.”
Now, when that season dominates the marriage, that’s when you start to lose hope. That’s where—I mean, it is one thing to persevere over a hard weekend—it is another thing to persevere for decades.
Dennis: It is. As you were talking, Bob, I had a passage of Scripture I was going to turn to and I thought, “No, that’s not it because there’s one that’s better to share with our listeners to kind of kick off our broadcast today—Galatians, Chapter 6.” There are listeners who need to hear this passage. Paul says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.” He goes on to say, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Now, it’s another thing when the household you’re living in has someone you’re living with—who is contrary and difficult to live with. In fact, maybe, at points, feels impossible to live with. If that’s you, we’ve got a story that we want to share with you that I think is going to bring some encouragement, some hope, and give you some direction as you persevere—as Bob was talking about
Joy McClain joins us on FamilyLife Today. Joy, welcome to our broadcast.
Joy: Thank you for having me.
Dennis: Joy is a listener to FamilyLife Today—been listening since day one. Tell Bob what your favorite broadcast is.
Joy: [Laughing] I had to share this with you because it wasn’t something profound or heart-wrenching.
Dennis: Oh, come on!
Joy: It was the granny camp. [Laughter]
Dennis: Granny camp!?
Bob: The program where we talked about a grandmother and a grandfather having camp for their grandkids?
Joy: Yes! Yes. It was—I never laughed so hard. She was great. She could do stand-up. She was wonderful!
Bob: She could! Are you a grandmother?
Joy: I am! First time, yes.
Bob: So you haven’t starting granny camp yet?
Joy: No; he’s only seven months old.
Dennis: Well, first of all, we’re grateful that you listen to FamilyLife Today. You’ve also been to the Weekend to Remember®. Maybe, we’ll talk about that a little bit later. You’re a writer, a teacher of the Scriptures, a speaker, a counselor. You’ve been married to your husband Mark since 1985. You have four children and live in Greenwood, Indiana. You’ve written a book called Waiting For His Heart: Lessons From a Wife Who Chose to Stay.
So you’ve had some seasons of perseverance. It didn’t start out that way. You write about your husband as though he were a knight in shining armor?
Joy: Yes, I did. I had that little-girl perception of marriage—that it’s a fairy tale—that your knight in shining armor would swoop in, throw you on his white horse, and that stallion and you would run off into the sunset together. Life would be so good! But I learned, by about week two, that that’s not the case. It’s not the case, at all.
Bob: Wow!—week two? [Laughter]
Joy: Yes—maybe, not week two—maybe, month two or year two.
Bob: Well still, it’s pretty close to the beginning. When you and Mark were dating, did you see issues in him—at the time—that you thought, “Man! This could be a challenge”?
Joy: Oh, I think everybody sees issues. I think we don’t want to look at them. I think that when you’re young, and you’re not very mature, and you’re not looking through the lens of wisdom that age gives us, I think we have the propensity to not worry about things, or scoot things under the rug, or ignore some things—some may be red flags—even the way your spouse is brought up—how it’s different from you—their family dynamics, their value system.
Sometimes those—I know, now, are so very important; but, at that time, you’re not thinking about all that, down the road: “Ten or twenty years, what’s this going to look like?” You’re not thinking about that at all.
Bob: Looking back on your dating relationship with Mark, how long did you guys date?
Joy: Five years.
Dennis: Well, you should have known him!
Joy: I did.
Bob: So, looking back from the perspective you’re at today—27 years later—what were some of the things you should have paid more attention to during the dating years that at least would have given you a heads-up that there was some rough water ahead?
Joy: Well, I think the dynamics of his family. My family was based around church and just the family unit. We grew up on a farm in the Midwest. His family had a lot of the same values that we had and similar backgrounds, but it was the faith-based connection that was lacking. That is the main thing.
His sense of independence—which later, would be difficult for him to identify with God and being dependent upon the Lord—would be something he would struggle with. I would look back, saying: “Gosh! I really admired his independence.” Yet, it was kind of a sense of pride that kept him from fully surrendering.
Dennis: It has been said that love is blind—that’s what we experience when we date—but marriage is an eye-opener.
Joy: I would agree with that statement.
Dennis: When were your eyes opened? Was there an event? You mentioned week two, month two, year two—was there an event, where you went, “This is not exactly what I bargained for”?
Joy: I remember that moment. I was expecting our third child. We had our kids close together and rapidly. Within the second year of marriage, we were having our first—our son. In three years and three months, we had three kids. That’s filling your quiver quickly.
Joy: I saw the deterioration of his ability to handle the stress. I know for a man—I’m not a man, but I can only imagine what it’s like—that financial burden, as I’m home with them—the stress of your tired wife, and all these kids, and all the demands that has. I just started to see him pull away.
Dennis: So there are guys who hide—they pull away—and guys who hurl—those who lash out. Mark retreated.
Joy: He retreated.
Dennis: What did he retreat to?
Joy: He hid. He just kind of disappeared. When I needed his help, he wasn’t always there. I think he would find something to do—something’s broken, a car needs to be worked on. You know, there was always something to be done. He just wasn’t available. He didn’t engage, emotionally. He began to pull back a bit.
Bob: Had drinking been a part of his life when you guys were dating?
Joy: It was a part of his life, but not a part of our life. That is something that he did mostly with his friends—like his buddies from high school. I really wasn’t around him when he drank.
Bob: You knew it was happening.
Joy: I knew of it; yes.
Bob: But you never saw any ill effect of it?
Joy: If you were to ask me, then, if my husband—or my boyfriend—had a…. I would say, “Absolutely not!” He would drink just enough to ease, to medicate, to check out.
Dennis: There was an additional event that occurred around the same time. Your cousin died, along with her twins. All of that was used by God, in your life, to bring you to a conclusion. Share that story with our listeners.
Joy: Absolutely. My cousin had married a woman so godly—such a beautiful person inside and out. She had a three-year-old son and was expecting twins. When she was nine months pregnant, she was hospitalized, as some women are when they have multiples.
There was a mistake, by the hospital, in medication. She actually died. They rushed her to the OR to try to save the babies, and it was too late. They had died, too. Here, she had a perfect, full-term; and all three were lost. My cousin, who had a three-year-old son, had to bury his wife and his newborn children. I watched his faith. I watched him continually still give credit and glory to God for anything good in his life and for getting him through those hard times.
When I experienced that and watched my cousin just—it was such a heart-wrenching thing—I got on my knees, on my living room floor. Right then, I surrendered everything. I surrendered my marriage because I saw that we were going to have some hard times ahead of us: “It’s coming. The storm is brewing on the horizon.”
More than anything, my soul had been crying out for hope. My hope was in the Lord; it was not in my husband. It was not how my husband could fulfill me, which is—when I married him, I thought that was his job—to make me happy! “It’s your job!” And he failed.
Dennis: So, what did your husband think of this new man in your life, then? Jesus Christ is, now, your Lord—your Master.
Dennis: You’re growing in your relationship with Him. Did he applaud that?
Joy: He did not. He went to church with me just to appease me—just to make me be quiet, basically. But I began to study the Word and long for relationship—for intimacy with God.
Bob: If I had come to you in—we’ll say, year five of your marriage—you’ve got three kids, you’ve come to faith, you’re walking with the Lord, there’s some relational tension between you and your husband—if I had asked you to rate your marriage, on a scale of one to ten—
Joy: About five years into it, I would have probably said a “seven” because he was still somewhat engaged, and he was willing to go to a Weekend to Remember conference. Back then, I think they were called the FamilyLife Conference. He was willing to go not to one, but to two.
Joy: He showed up at church.
Joy: I think he recognized his struggles. I think he did not know what to do with them. He, obviously, was not ready to surrender.
Bob: When did the “seven” start to become a “six” and then a “five”?
Joy: I think just as the years ticked off. You know, by the time the kids were in late elementary and early junior high, he began to just really spiral down.
There was a timeframe—when the kids became more independent—when they were no longer in diapers, and you could kind of pick up and go, and they’re a little more independent—he really did engage. He became a coach for my son. He got involved with the girls’ activities—actually, even, got involved in the church. So, there were some years when he did engage. He didn’t fully surrender—so a part of him was still thinking, “I can kind of do what I want.”
Dennis: You describe that all of this was beginning to really produce a nasty cycle— where you were making demands of Mark, and he was drinking more heavily. You were making more demands, and he was drinking even more.
Joy: That’s right. That’s right.
Dennis: What would happen in those situations, pragmatically? Would he get angry? Would he take it out on the kids? How did he process his alcohol and his drunkenness?
Joy: I think my cycle is common to many women. You internalize it, and you don’t say anything. By this time, I was really attempting to understand what it meant to be a godly wife—to understand what it meant to place my hope in the Lord—not in my husband. But yet, I have these heart wounds, and this trauma, and chaos in my own home. So, I internalize it, like many women do. One day, you just blow. You can’t take it. So, you just spew out all of these things towards him; you know? You’re not being effective. You’re just reacting. You’re not responding in love, and grace, and mercy, or even really dealing with the sin—I would attack the person—which we all know does not work!
So, he would just respond and feel backed into a corner. He would be defensive. You just have this same cycle over and over. When I became a little more educated in alcoholism, I realized—it is drunkenness—that is the sin we need to call it—is that he wasn’t doing it to hurt me. For so many years, I thought, “If I was this,” or, “If only this,” or, “Maybe, if this was different, maybe, he wouldn’t drink.” I remember being so relieved, thinking: “Wait! It’s not me! It’s him. It’s his sin. It’s something really, ultimately, between him and the Lord. I have my own sin to deal with, and that is control.”
A woman’s control stems from fear. So, my fear-driven control of him and circumstances—I deal with this, with woman, all of the time, now. They’re trying to control everything they can because the one thing they cannot control is their husband, and they are terrified! They’re terrified—“This is never going to change.” They’re terrified that they’ll never be happy. They’re terrified that their children with never know a father who is loving, who is affirming, who will teach them the ways of the Lord. So, we begin this cycle over and over. The kids—although, I would never want to put them in the middle—obviously, they’re the innocent victims.
Bob: One of the things I appreciated about your story, as you tell it, is that you acknowledge that you played a part in this spiral that was going on in your home. We have this tendency to look at the person—who is retreating, drinking, not spiritually- centered—and we go, “Well, there’s the problem!”
You’ve come to faith, and you’re committed to godliness, and you’re growing in your faith. We tend to say, “There’s the problem, and you’re not doing anything to add to it.” You look back and say, “No, I was a contributor to the dysfunction that our marriage had become.”
Joy: Yes! The book is full of the lessons that I learned because I did have a hand in the deterioration of our marriage. I was controlling, I was fearful, I didn’t trust him and I let him know that, I did not affirm him, I was not his cheerleader, I was tearing him down. That was me. I was being unwise. Proverbs tells us we need to fear the Lord, and we need to seek wisdom. So much of the time, I was basing all that I was doing on my emotions—how I felt. I was not driven by truth. I was run by my emotions.
Joy: I had to learn to plant my hope in the Lord—to go to the Word and to seek wise counsel. This was a long process. This didn’t happen over a series of days or months. It took years and years for my heart to bend more toward truth rather than the hurt I was feeling and the devastation I was seeing in my kids! It’s heart-wrenching and you just do not know, from day to day: “Who am I going to get today? What man am I going to get?”
Bob: We need to say, right here, just so our listeners know—you had a conversation, last night, with your husband before you came here to do these interviews. What did he tell you?
Joy: He said: “Tell them whatever you need to tell them! Tell them whatever God shows you to tell them.” He’s very open and honest. He’s honest about all of his struggles. He wrote a chapter in the book. He’s not afraid to say, “My story isn’t over yet.” None of our stories are over yet. None of us has arrived! He is willing. And both of us are. We want to be real because your listeners are real.
Bob: That’s right!
Joy: They are dealing with real issues—and some, until the day they die.
Dennis: I like what you did, in your book, about this. You were always personalizing it back to your own spiritual journey with Jesus Christ and what lessons He had in it for you: “What was your responsibility that you needed to be obedient for?” You had a moment, where you were walking along a beach, and you had a conversation with God. There was a very clear lesson for you, as you faced what was becoming a hopeless marriage.
Joy: It was becoming a hopeless marriage. It was New Year’s Day—I remember—in San Diego. I was walking. I was there to do a children’s event—a worship event. I was going to fly home. As always, I started the first day of the year in prayer and in just seeking the Lord.
The very first thing on my list for that day was, “How am I going to get through another year of this?” It did seem so hopeless. I just didn’t know where to turn. The grief had swallowed me, at that point. As my eyes were closed, and I am walking out in the water, I hear, in my spirit, Him asking me, “Joy, do you trust me?” Three times, in my spirit, I hear Him say: “Joy, do you trust Me? Do you trust Me with Mark?” I answered: “Yes, Lord! I trust You,”—like Peter said, “Yes, Lord!”—“I like You. I want to love You. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to survive this! This is fragmenting me, as a person, and this is the person I’m one with.”
I felt like I had just been torn in two. But there, again, was another lesson. God says: “The Church is my bride. When she disobeys—when she goes her way, when she is wayward—I am torn in two.” I could really begin to identify with the sorrow God feels for us when we walk away from Him. I began to have compassion for my husband because I recognized the bottom line, here, really wasn’t our home. The bottom line was not our marriage, even. The bottom line was my husband’s salvation. He was severing that tie with each day that he chose to walk farther and farther away from God. God, obviously, can redeem anything and anyone; but God was doing a work in my heart.
That was the first of many times that I learned to be still before the Lord—to go before Him—to wait for Him. So many times, I would wait months, and months, and months, and years, and years for an answer to prayer. That taught me: “God is working. God is moving. I may not see it; but He is working and moving, all around me, all of the time.”
Dennis: That’s where I really like the subtitle of your book, Lessons From a Wife Who Chose to Stay. Undoubtedly, we’re speaking to men and women who are in a marriage—married to a spouse, who won’t take responsibility; or who, perhaps, is having an affair; perhaps, addicted to something; perhaps, irresponsible. Their fear is the fear you had—the fear of being stuck—stuck for a lifetime—and never experiencing really what you’d dreamed and hoped for when that knight in shining armor asked you to get on the horse and go off to the castle together.
Really, the lesson you’re illustrating, today, for all of us—whether the issue is a big one—whether the marriage is going to stay together or not—or whether it’s a smaller issue—“Are you going to trust God? Will you trust God that He knows what He is doing and He wants to use your circumstances to press you hard against Him so that you don’t lose heart in well-doing? You hang in there. You persevere, and you keep loving; but you do it wisely.”
Bob: Yes. I’m glad you said that because I was thinking—and we’re going to hear, as you share your story this week, Joy—we’re going to hear about some of the boundaries you put in place and some of the choices you made for protection. But I think the point is—you’ve got to persevere. You’ve got to not become weary in well-doing. You’ve got to respond in faith and obedience to what the Scriptures call you to. That’s what you map out in the book that you’ve written called Waiting For His Heart. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy; or call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
I’m just sitting here thinking, Dennis, about the number of couples who are showing up at church on Sunday mornings and there’s something like this going on in their marriage. Maybe, it’s not alcohol. Maybe, it’s something else going on. Most people don’t know it. It’s tucked away. It’s hidden.
Bob: But if they had an opportunity to do something to help their marriage, they’d do it! Here, at FamilyLife, we’re hoping that, over the course of the summer—between now and the end of September—we are hoping that some of our listeners will take a bold step and host an Art of Marriage® weekend in your local church or in your community so couples, like this, can get the help they need because you have no idea who’s around you every day that could really benefit from some concentrated time—looking at what the Scriptures have to say about building a strong, stable, godly marriage relationship.
That’s what The Art of Marriage is all about. It’s a Friday night/Saturday video-based event, where couples can get together at a church, at a lake house, wherever you want to host it. You can go through the material together and learn some practical biblical principles for how to make your marriage all that God intends for it to be.
This is how serious we are about seeing these Art of Marriage events happening in communities, all across the country, this summer—we are making available, this week, The Art of Marriage six-session kit. We will send it to you free if you will call us and let us know when you’re going to host an event and where you’re going to host the event. We’re going to ask you to pay for the cost of shipping the kit to you. If you’ll pay for the cost of shipping, we’ll send you the complete kit—with the workbook, with the DVDs—everything you need to host the event. We’re just asking you to pick out a weekend—secure a location. If you’ll do that, we’ll send you the kit. You can host one of these events.
Again, all you have to do is pay for the shipping and the handling. Now, if you’d like to take advantage of this offer—if you’d like to get one of these Art of Marriage kits—you need to call us. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can find out more about The Art of Marriage, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; but if you want to get the kit sent to you, at no cost—just cover the shipping and the handling—call 1-800-358-6329; 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. Have the date and the location, where you’re hosting the event, ready to go. We’ll get you registered for your event and send the kit out to you.
Let me also mention The Art of Marriage is now available, dubbed in Spanish. If there are folks in your congregation or if you’re near a church that is a Spanish-speaking church, you can host an Art of Marriage event, now, in English or in Spanish. Again, call 1-800-FL-TODAY to sign up and host an Art of Marriage event. And pray with us, if you will, that we would see a thousand of these events take place over the summer—in July, and August, and into September. We think that would be really powerful. We’re just praying and asking God to make that happen.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear more about Joy and Mark McClain’s story. We’ll hear what happened when Joy decided to share with friends at church what was going on in her marriage. We’ll find out how that worked for her. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Justin Adams, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will 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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