Chapter OneTHE IMPORTANCE
OF YOUR HISTORY
A month and a half after we moved into our dream
home, Don woke in the middle of the night to some
strange noises. He got out of bed to investigate. From the upstairs
bathroom he yelled, "We have a flood!" The toilet was shooting a
stream of water over the bathroom. Even after he turned off the
water supply line, everything was soaked. His feet sank into the
carpet with a sloshing sound.
When I met him on the stairway, he wailed, "Everything is
ruined-our house, our new house!" We embraced and prayed.
"Lord," I said, "I know You gave us this house, and even though we
don't understand, we're going to trust You. I know this is no accident.
You knew it would happen because You're sovereign and
You're in control. Please help us in this situation and in some way
Within minutes of our call, the fire department was at our
door. They vacuumed up forty-five gallons of water from our
downstairs family room, hallway, bath, and den. It made no difference
because water still poured through a light fixture in our
downstairs bathroom. The ceiling in our den, directly below the
upstairs bathroom, threatened to give way. We guessed that earlier
in the week, the plumber had hooked up the water supply line
improperly. The line had blown off, causing hundreds of gallons
of water to seep through the walls, floor, and ceiling for four
hours and damaging almost the whole house. We had suffered
significant losses that required extensive repair.
A friend told me about a man in our church named Brad who
was in the "restoration business." I didn't know such companies
existed. I called Brad and, although he passed on the project, I
learned what restoration companies do. They inspect a home
that has suffered fire or flood and assess the damage, implement
a plan of restoration, and at completion, return to the homeowner
a home in better condition than the original.
The repairs on our house took the next six months. My life
was consumed with contacting insurance companies, getting estimates,
choosing new carpeting and wallpaper, coordinating
schedules with workmen, and figuring out which repairs needed
to be done first. It was a tedious process full of setbacks and unanticipated
stress. We lived for six months on bare, cold concrete
floors. When the carpet layers called to schedule installation, I
realized we would be moving out of our house for the second
time, only to move back in the same day. It was exhausting! It
required so much mental energy that I couldn't even get excited
about the "newness" that was enveloping us. I never would have
But when it was finally over, I looked around at my new carpeting
and wallpaper, newly painted rooms, and restored furniture
in amazement. Out of this damaging interruption we had
been given a fresh start. Our home was even better than when we
purchased it, and the entire repair cost had been covered.
A FRESH START
Stunned, I saw that what we experienced in our home was analogous
to what we had lived in our marriage. Don and I married
unaware of our need for restoration. When we married over twenty-three
years ago, we looked like the all-American couple. Both of us
were committed Christians who loved each other and desired to
establish our relationship on the principles outlined in God's Word.
We wanted, as most couples do, a satisfying marriage, and we were
dedicated to pursuing that goal. Neither of us had any idea that our
backgrounds would play a significant role in shaping our marriage.
Both Don and I suffered some devastating losses in our lives
before marriage. I was a sexual abuse victim. Don was an adult
child of an alcoholic. We married with the knowledge of our
backgrounds but were naïve about the effect they would have in
the day-to-day working out of our marriage. We were unaware
that our histories had anything to do with our present. We lived
as though we had no histories, simply because we assumed thatour history started when we got married.
We couldn't have been more wrong. We discovered through
circumstances and strife that our histories were seeping into
every room of our marriage "house." Our histories showed up in
the kitchen each time we had a meal. They were in the bathroom
when we got ready for work in the morning. And our histories
flooded the bedroom, though we tried desperately to keep them
from drowning our hopeful hearts.
At the time, these discoveries appeared to be damaging interruptions.
In reality, God's loving grace was at work. Early in our
marriage, He stepped in to change our direction. We would not
have pursued that direction on our own, but now we're glad for
it. God took us back to help us go forward.
Ours is a love story. God loved us enough to help us realize we
could not go on in our relationship until we dealt honestly with
our pasts. He loved us through the painful process of coming to
grips with the losses, and He led us along the path of restoration.
He provided abundant grace as we sought Him for healing and
forgiveness. He patiently instructed us about how to build a
strong foundation of love and faith. He took us back to our foundations,
helping us do the necessary repair work and teaching us
what it takes to maintain a healthy, satisfying marriage. We have
a strong, loving marriage today. Although I (Jan) am telling most
of the stories here in my voice, this book is very much our story.
Don and I have walked this process together, and the insights we
will share with you come out of our joint experience in our own
marriage, in working with other couples in seminars and conferences,
and in my private practice as a counselor.
God is in the restoration business! He gave us back something
better than what we started with in the beginning.
I know many couples like us. You may be one of them. You
may have married your mate unaware of how your history affects
your relationship. You haven't assessed the damage, and you're
living as if it had not happened. You may have thought, as we did,
that your history began when you married. But this approach can
be hazardous to the health of your marriage.
Imagine for a moment what would have happened after our
flood if both Don and I regarded the damage in our home as
insignificant. What if we had continued to walk around on the
drenched carpeting and determined that all would work out in
time if we did our best to go on? After a while, the weight of the
saturated carpet upstairs might have caused the floor to cave in.
Over time, the wood might have rotted. The mildew behind walls
and under carpet might not have been visible, but the effect
would have been inescapable. These conditions would have been
harmful and potentially dangerous to all living in our home.
What if, instead of ignoring the damage, we had acknowledged
it and had taken some initial steps of repair, but had found it
required too much time and work? We might have removed the
carpeting and fixed the water supply line but not bothered to
repair the walls, floor, and furniture. We certainly could have
adjusted to living on the cement slab, but I wonder what effect
that would have had on our children or visitors? Because the
repair had required more effort than we'd bargained for, would
that have been reason enough to give up?
What if, instead of ignoring or giving up, we had denied that
the flood had occurred at all? That would have been impossible-and
How many couples do these very things! I know couples in all
three categories! Some marry with histories of damage and try to
live out their marriages without reckoning with what happened,
not realizing the significance of their histories. Others take some
initial steps of repair but become discouraged and abandon the
continuous work toward restoration. They adjust to living in less
than what God designed for marriage. Some refuse to believe
that their histories affect their present and continue to live submerged
WHAT ABOUT YOUR HISTORY?
Your history may not be full of devastation. It may not require
rebuilding from the ground up. It may require only minor repairs,
like replacing a water heater in your home. In such repairs, the
time and effort required are minimal, but if you ignore them, life
could be uncomfortable for years to come with cold showers and
no running water!
All of us have histories that include both good and bad.
Discomfort or disaster is inescapable if the history is left
unheeded. If, however, that water heater or flood is attended to,
lifelong distress or destruction can be averted. I'm so thankful
that God exposed the overflow of our histories that had the
potential to wash out our marriage.
UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE HISTORY
We all have both history and baggage. Our history is made up of
the events and experiences that shape our lives. Our baggage is
the emotional response to our history. Our emotional baggage
may be claimed or unclaimed. What we claim is what we recognize
as ours and deal with forthrightly. Unclaimed baggage is
what we ignore, deny, or minimize.
If you've traveled through airports, you know that after
deplaning, most travelers head for the baggage claim area to pick
up their bags. You stand around a huge carousel, waiting for your
bags to appear. Once you spot them, you pull them off and you're
on your way.
Also in the baggage claim area are bags that are set aside
because no one has claimed them. Every year the airlines accumulate
hundreds of items that remain unclaimed. These are
placed in a storage area and held for a prescribed time, waiting for
their owners to claim them.
In counseling, I see many people who have areas in their lives
where unclaimed baggage has been stored. They're often
unaware that they carry a garment bag full of resentment over
some unresolved hurt from a previous marriage. They may carry
a duffle bag of depression over losing someone they loved, or an
overnight case of doubt about God's love due to betrayals in their
past. This unclaimed baggage history is like the faulty water
heater or silent flood in the house. It has the potential to ruin a
marriage if it is not claimed and dealt with.
Your history and the baggage you carry as a result are linked.
When you marry, you come face-to-face with your partner's past
as well as your own. Even though you cannot change your histories,
with God's help you can learn to deal with the resulting baggage
and build a stronger marriage. That is what this book is
about. You will discover what makes up your history, the baggage
that has resulted, what to do with it, how to distinguish whose
baggage is whose, and how your history can actually enhance
your relationship. You will find, as we did, that once you've
claimed your baggage, you can unpack it, unload the burden of it
from your marriage, and learn to travel lighter to the glory of God.
IS IT BIBLICAL TO LOOK BACK?
As a counselor, I have seen the impact of history played out over
and over. Not just in the lives of individuals, but also in families.
Certain patterns are transferred from one generation to the next.
Who hasn't heard of families in which alcoholism or abuse runs
rampant? What about adultery and greed? We learn about relationships
within our families, and we pass on to our children what
we learn if we don't give God access to change us.
Yet Christian premarital classes, books about marriage, and
weekend marriage retreats often neglect to mention the role history
plays in our marriages. Christians seem to resist looking into
the past. It's almost as if we deny we have one. But Scripture
admonishes us to "look to the rock from which you were hewn"
(Isaiah 51:1, NASB), and provides countless examples of faith
heroes whose past histories played significant roles in their present
Consider the prophet Samuel. His mother dedicated him to
the Lord's service, and when he was about three years old, she
took him to Eli the priest. Eli raised Samuel and taught the boy
the priestly duties.
Eli had two sons of his own, Hophni and Phineas, who were
both priests. First Samuel 2:12 says, "Eli's sons were wicked men;
they had no regard for the Lord." God spoke through Samuel as
a young boy, and His message to Eli was, "For I [God] told him
[Eli] that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he
knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he [Eli]
failed to restrain them" (1 Samuel 3:13). Eli served the Lord faithfully
as a priest and taught Samuel well in ways of the Lord, but
fell down when it came to fathering his sons.
The Scripture goes on: "The Lord was with Samuel as he
grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all
Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was
attested as a prophet of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:19-20). Samuel
was a great man of God as a prophet, intercessor, priest, and
judge. All his prophecies came to pass: he interceded for Israel's
great victory over the Philistines, he offered sacrifices to God for
the people, and he provided judgment in both moral and spiritual
matters all his life. However,
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges of
Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of
his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But
his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after
dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
(1 Samuel 8:1-3)
Sound familiar? Eli had taught Samuel in the ways of the Lord,
but Samuel faltered, as did Eli, when it came to fatherhood.
"We cannot do what we have never seen done," write Drs.
Henry Cloud and John Townsend in How People Grow. "We need
models to show us how God designed humans with a need to
see others first do what they need to learn, and then to internalize
that modeling and be able to repeat it. The modeling we experience
has a lasting effect upon us, for good or ill."
Why did God include in His Word the tale of Samuel's failure
as a father? Is this simply a recording of historical information, or
is there something we can learn? What does the New Testament
have to say regarding our history?
Think about the apostle Paul. He was a man with a history.
How do we know about Paul's history? He wrote about it repeatedly.
He recorded his history in 1 Corinthians 15:9; 2 Corinthians
11:24-33; Galatians 1:13-17; and Philippians 3:4-6. Luke wrote
about Paul's history in Acts, reviewing his conversion and how
Paul recounted his history before kings and crowds who opposed
his message (Acts 22:3-11; 23:6; 24:10-21; 26:2-32).
You might be confused.