Marriage between a man and a woman is a holy covenant, a God-ordained relationship that He likens to His relationship with the church. Holy or not, anyone with any experience with marriage knows it is hard work even in the best of circumstances. Throw in a stressor or two, and a marriage can easily end in divorce. So let’s look at a story of one Chase Oaks couple whose circumstances were less than ideal from the onset, were headed for divorce, but before they got there, opened their hearts to allow God’s love to transform their relationship into the steadfast union He intended it to be—and He did it all through a powerful resource that He has graciously provided to each of us in our very own church: LifeGroups!
Amber and Kain Coughlin have been married eight years. Amber describes their marriage as a forced one—an obligation arising from guilt. They both came from basically non-churched, broken homes with no role models for a healthy marital relationship. Six months before their relationship began at the age of 16, Kain’s mother accepted Christ as her Savior. She invited the couple to go to church with her, and they went. By the age of 18, both Amber and Kain had become Christ-followers as well. But they had made some mistakes along the way and knew they weren’t honoring God with their sexuality in the relationship. They didn’t want to continue sinning against God in this area, so they decided they needed to either break up or get married. Neither one could afford to live on their own and continue dating in the recessive economy, and neither one wanted to break up. So they opted to marry. They were wed between Amber’s junior and senior year of college; and a few weeks after her graduation the following year, Amber discovered she was pregnant.
It was a troubled marriage throughout her pregnancy. They had no married friends, and no resources to turn to for help. Since Kain’s mother’s church was too far from their apartment to attend regularly, they were hopping from church to church, attending consistently but casually. They remained disconnected, but believed since they were Christians and going to church, it would make marriage easy. Yet, the struggle continued; and the arrival of their first child only added to the strain of the marriage. The couple finally ended up at Chase Oaks because of its proximity to their apartment. By this time their daughter was a few months old and Amber recounts,
“We were a signature away from divorce. We did not parent as a team. I had already found an apartment to move to. Pride was the only thing keeping us together.”
Both of their families expected their marriage to fail. Therefore, before making the final decision to part ways and prove their families right, they decided to visit a LifeGroup as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. Neither one of them believed the group would really have any meaningful effect, but they felt they had to exhaust that option. The group they chose to attend was led by the Hansen and Roper families—two older couples who catered to younger ones with the intention of serving as role models for a healthy, Christian marriage. That first night, Amber and Kain felt the welcoming spirit of the group. Meeting other couples in the same life-stage with the same challenges was a relief, and they made connections quickly. However, it was the study topic of the group that challenged them to return week after week. As if planned just for them, the discussion examined a sacred marriage, the core question being, “What if God intended marriage to make us holy rather than happy?”
Through the guidance of the Christ-led group and devoted mentors, they learned the skills to strengthen their marriage and how to parent as partners. John Roper took Kain under his wing, meeting Kain every Sunday morning as a mentor for him as he met the challenges of being a husband, a father, and a faithful Christian. Kain was grateful for the support which was not limited to the Sunday breakfast hour. When Amber and Kain had questions about parenting, they called John, secure in the knowledge that he would always make himself available to share his wisdom and experience.
Today, Dirk and Shannon Hansen have broadened their mentorship by taking on the role of Area Directors and meet with LifeGroup leaders in their area quarterly. That meeting includes Amber and Kain because they have become co-leaders of the Gardner/Coughlin LifeGroup. They, along with the Gardners who were also members of the original group, decided to take the next step and pass forward the love and support extended to them by the Hansens and Ropers to other young families. Thus for a little over a year, the couple has assisted with facilitating meetings, sending emails, leading discussions, and has even, along with their whole LifeGroup, adopted a family.
As for the Coughlin marriage, Kain states, “Our marriage is a work in progress. Now we have people to talk to in the same stage of life. We have a level of security, and divorce is off the table.”
The couple has also had two more children since initiating a LifeGroup connection. All three of their kids are plugged into Kidzone and the oldest two even serve with Amber and her fellow LifeGroup co-leader, Jennifer—showering the one-year-old class with love every other week.
“Our priority, second to strengthening our marriage, is to provide a solid spiritual foundation for our children,” Amber states. Allowing themselves to get intimate with members of their group and intentionally working toward transformation salvaged the Coughlin marriage. God provided for their needs through the LifeGroup.
Is marriage always romantic? Absolutely not! Is it hard work? You better believe it! What about shouldering unemployment? Can that rob us of happiness? It certainly can! And illness—is it debilitating, painful, or even scary? All too often, yes! But we are not alone. LifeGroups— an intimate point of connection with Chase Oaks—are a resource, a safe place to share with mentors and others who are struggling with similar challenges and need you as much as you need them. They are places where God’s love transforms us, if we will only come with open hearts. So, which group have you chosen?