Staying Married Through the Storms of Life – Jeff & Sarah Walton


Jeff and Sarah Walton have faced a series of crises that have severely impacted their marriage and family. Their firstborn son developed a mysterious neurological disorder that has resulted in dangerous personality shifts. Sarah has struggled with a degenerative injury to her ankle, leaving her immobile at times. Sarah and the kids had a myriad of aches and pains that were eventually diagnosed as Lyme disease. And Jeff’s demanding 24/7 job was creating too much stress and feelings of abandonment for Sarah. When Jeff quit the job for his family’s sake, they lost half of their income. Since then he’s struggled with on/off unemployment, which has added to their financial stress. The Waltons compare their journey to the Old Testament book of Job, outlining key passages about staying faithful to God despite unexplained suffering. They also encourage couples to turn their woes over to God, rather than blame each other. To find hope even in grieving, knowing that God always cares. And the importance of waiting upon the Lord.



I knew what I had signed up for. It had been many, many years. I was really okay with it. I always told myself he’d be here if he could. But I know that he can’t. But there were a handful of times where it was, it was serious stuff that I felt really terrified that he’d be leaving. Welcome to the focus on the family broadcast helping families thrive john. When a man and woman are preparing for marriage, they tend to focus on the positives and how wonderful their lives are going to be looking toward the future. That’s a good thing and natural thing. We even say the vows for better for worse for richer, for poorer in sickness and in health. And I think when Gene and I, when we got married, we were thinking a lot more about the better the richer, the healthier part of that equation. We didn’t anticipate the bumps that naturally come with marriage. But the fact is every marriage will pass through some kind of storm, maybe multiple storms in law issues, financial conflict, maybe the baggage you’re bringing in from your past or all of it. Who knows? You have to choose to navigate those difficulties and to really come up with a strategy to make sure that your marriage stays intact. And too many couples kind of crumble in those moments of difficulty. They don’t have a strong foundation to stand on. They can’t see a way to work together. And they just kind of give up on the relationship. I definitely agree with that. And that’s why we’ve invited our guests today, Jeff and Sarah Walton to join us. They have a remarkable story about heartbreaking troubles that have nearly overwhelmed their marriage and family. But through God’s grace and power, they’re still together learning to trust God each and every day more and more. And that’s the key. You know, I think of john Tintin, I love that scripture. It was the first scripture That I actually memorized as a new believer at 15 years old. But it basically says the thief satan comes to steal, kill and destroy. And I’m telling you folks when your um, you know in the marriage business sort of speak, he comes after us with a vengeance and you know, things divide us and things disrupt our marriages etcetera. But that’s true of each and every believer and if you are a believer in christ, I know that you understand what I’m talking about and we need to understand that, realize it and combat that each and every day. Yeah. And so Jeff currently works as a real estate broker. And prior to that was a trauma consultant assisting doctors with implanting medical devices during surgery. And Sarah is an author and speaker and blogger and they uh have four kids. She stays at home with them and together they’ve got a book called together through the storms biblical encouragements for your marriage when life hurts and will encourage you to get a copy. Just click the link on your screen or call 800 a family Jeff and Sarah welcome to focus on the family. Thank you so much. We’re so glad to be here. Thank you. Pleasure to be here. Um let’s get into it when you first married. I think like I said, jean and I had those expectations of perfection. Everything was gonna be perfect. Beautiful, beautiful. Uh you know, I was the knight in shining armor and she was my great damsel in distress that I saved somehow some way. How did you envision it prior to you being married? What were you thinking? Yeah, I think I would relate exactly with what you’ve stated. So you walk into marriage um kind of have all planned out. I think I’m gonna have this type of career you want to build and grow in your career, You want to have a family and as you raise your kids, you think that they’re gonna fall suit, you know, and and follow in line. And early in our marriage we uh we face kind of the complete opposite and were flipped upside down. But I think walking into that it’s natural to think that you’re going to have better days than worse days. But I guess as we look back on that there’s so often that we uh I think as couples walk into marriage not being fully prepared for the other side for the, for the worse for the sickness. And so that’s something that I think has been on our heart and something that God has grown deeply in us, a passion for for those couples and to prepare them for that sarah expectations. I think for women, particularly when you get married, there are certain expectations sometimes unspoken, which makes it really difficult for us guys because we don’t know how do you want us to behave? We didn’t know that. Um did you have those expectations of what day by day it would look like week by week, year by year? You know, I don’t, I think a lot of times we don’t really realize we have expectations. They kind of just Naturally come. And so it’s not until something opposite of that happens that you’re like, oh well that’s not at all what I expected. So I think like Jeff said, you go into marriage and we were young, I was 20, he was 23, so I think we were a little bright eyed and not totally aware of what was to come. So I think all I really imagined was I was excited to start life with him, I was in love. I I’d come off of a rough few years. So I think I kind of, in the back of my mind, I thought I’ve gone through my hard stuff, God has brought me through that he’s grown me now is the time to really enjoy what God has for me, this is almost the redemption of what I just came through and you know, we had a short period of time where we really did enjoy just each other as a couple, but really not long after we got married, the tension of work and long hours and me being home and trying to navigate that, it didn’t take long for me to start wondering, okay, well he’s gone a lot later at night than I anticipated. He’s gone really early in the morning. I’m on my own a lot. That’s not how I thought marriage was gonna be. I thought this was like a team type thing. Um and so while we loved each other, it didn’t take long for those expectations to start kind of um crumbling a little bit, Yeah, let’s help the audience because you mentioned that physical impairment that you had, what, what took place and how did that, how did that kind of become the first major obstacle for you? Yeah, well, I, I actually had dealt with a lot of health issues growing up, but nobody could really figure out what was going on. It was really random things and so no one could connect the dots. So then we got married and it was, I think I was used to it, so it wasn’t really in the forefront, it was just kind of a nagging problem in my life and then we got married and not long after that, I started having increasing problems with stomach issues kind of flu like symptoms and it kind of started to demand my attention a little bit more, I just couldn’t push it to the background and so especially with him having long hours, it just added a little bit of stress and that increased as Children came, which is very common for health problems. Um just the taxing um pregnancy and delivery and all of that started to increase those problems that had always been there. So they began to dominate life where I almost was not very functional. I was starting to be very flu ish all the time, which if you know what it feels like the flu, you don’t want to do anything you want to lay in bed all day. So that started to kind of come to the forefront in our relationship and I started seeing doctors but I still could not figure out what was going on with me. It it took years until we started to figure that out. And in 2015 was when I was finally diagnosed with lyme disease and the kids, other kids were starting to show different symptoms as well. And about a year later they were diagnosed with the same thing that I had passed had passed online disease. Gestational lee which I did not know it was possible. So that has manifested in all of them, which has created this to be a very difficult family journey because it tends to not be covered by insurance. So um that continued and then I started to have several more ankle surgeries. So it kind of felt like getting blows from every angle layer upon layer and um, yeah, so the layers like you said are really, I think what started to beat us down Jeff in that regard, I mean expectations, you know, we’ve heard from Sarah what that looked like, but for you, I mean you’re working hard, you’ve got this demanding job. Sarah’s alluded to that, the hours that it required of you, most of us men say, okay, we’re providing, that’s our main thing and you should be speaking to your spouse, you should be pleased that I’m able to put food on the table and take care of the mortgage and this is the number one demand of me, some people might feel that’s old fashioned, but there’s a lot of us in the christian community that operate that way because we believe a parent should be at home with young kids particularly. So as that husband, that father, you probably thought, hey, I’m doing all I can do, but don’t let me put words in your mouth. No, that is from the standpoint of the job that I had. So I was a trauma consultant um, as, as John had mentioned orthopedic trauma, so on call 24\/7 uh, and it’s a very demanding job. I think the first half of that time I was in that for about nine years, the first part of that um was more tolerable. And then once we started having kids the increase in the demand of that just became more of a challenge. And then with our oldest son that we do have some extra challenges, mental health and special needs with him continue to evolve and create tension and stress. And so all during those times I was continuing to try and be faithful hard worker providing for our family. Thought I was doing the noble thing of continuing to go and doctors would call and I had to be there. And so this tension of if I was not their business would be lost. Loyalty was very on a, on a thin thread between doctors being quick to, to change over to another vendor. I’d say demanding doctor. That’s fair. I mean they’ve got pressure too sure. But I mean that’s the reality of that profession. That’s correct. And so I think from that standpoint, that is an area that we didn’t really communicate well. I think internalizing, I thought, okay, I am providing for my family. I’m continuing to to work hard and I’m trying to do the noble thing. There were a lot of instances are a handful of instances I would say because of our home life, The challenges with our oldest son things that became verbal and behavior and destructive kind of in our home, put Sarah in a tough position and so at the core of it, it was starting to wrestle with, I think subtly the fear of man. And so do I, what would it take for me to to say no to a doctor when Sarah was crying out and that was something that I wrestled with often. Um you know, I think it was easier uh kind of a tug and pull on one end. I was able to get out of the house, catch my breath and try and transition compartmentalizing and go to work and then I come back and then it’s entering into chaos. And how do I enter back in, how do we get back on the same path and in our scenario? And this is just in that situation. Uh the extreme that we faced. Uh Sarah was waving the white flag a couple of times and I walked out on her. Mhm. And you know, it’s still just eats at me because I know that uh in hindsight I should have stayed. But it was the fear of man. It was the fear of what doctors would think it was the fear of boy. I’m going to lose a chunk of my income if he switches over to someone else and doesn’t use me. And so it’s I think there’s probably hopefully a lot of listeners that can relate just between the work balance and the family balance. Those are those are kind of very difficult, almost impossible choices, correct. I mean, I want to be a bit gentle with that. We’re a family ministry. And of course, I would say yes, listen to your wife. But that’s tough in the moment. And you don’t always have 2020 wisdom in that moment and you’re trying to you know way these outcomes. So I want to be sensitive to that. I think the one interesting part with that is if I would say my son broke his leg, he’s in the er a doctor could relate to that and say probably give me more grace. But when I can’t share what has gone on in our home to a doctor, they’re not gonna be able to understand. And and and and if it’s just simply I need to be home for my wife. He said, well, I I need to be too. And so that’s I think where the unique uniqueness of not being able to relate or share really what was going on. It’s so true. And you know, again, this is why we’re doing this program. I’m so grateful that you’ve written the book. And I wanna mention this because your book together through the storms. You have designed it to help couples prepare for and work through the inevitable problems that marriage will, you know, Mhm. Put in front of you those difficulties and you point to the old testament, we all love to go to job. Good. I’m so glad God put job in the bible. Right. But but job has some great lessons for all of us when we’re suffering. Um how did you pull the lessons from job and apply them to your marriage sara. Let’s start with you. I mean it’s it’s kind of funny, I think when people hear that we wrote a marriage book on job, very clear. The look on their faces, like I have no idea how that makes sense. But I found, I think when we were going through and we had both been in job a lot in that time frame and so I think we started to notice little things that actually jumped out to us that related how Job and his wife interacted, how we tend to respond differently to suffering. Job and his wife were in the same situation, they both lost all that they lost. But it shows how differently we can respond to that suffering. Um I think it shows how much the enemy is at work to really tear us apart and how much he uses that and sees that as a way that he can gain ground in your marriages by just simply turning you against each other. And what’s the best way to do that is to throw arrows at you that are going to send, you may be reeling into different types of directions, grieving differently, struggling not communicating all those things naturally come up. And so if you’re not grounded in the word and you have not been prepared for that, it tends to kind of flip us on our heads well. And for those listening and viewing that, you know, may not be as familiar with the story. This is where jobs wife says in his despair. Why don’t you just curse God and die? Yeah, I mean you don’t want to hear that from your wife? No, I would say I really love it. Something struck stuck out to me when we were going through that of how job responded to her. And he said, you’re speaking like one of the foolish woman. He wasn’t saying you are a foolish woman, jobs wife, you are speaking like one of them. This is not who I know you to be. So even in him calling her out on what he knew was not correct. He did it with graciousness and he was not tearing down her character. He was saying, no, that’s not what you believe. I don’t believe that’s what you are believing. But um, that’s what these other um, women would say, who do not follow the Lord. So I appreciated that because I think that can be a very, very small difference in the way that we approach each other. We’re talking today on focus on the family with Jeff and Sarah Walton and they’ve written a book together through the storms. This is applicable to all of us who are married. Pretty much anybody that walks in life, whether you’re single or married. You’re gonna find some storms, you’ll find some great encouragement in this book. And uh you can click the link on the screen or call 800, the letter a and the word family to get your copy when you look at um the way God is referred to as the artist, the the one who’s molding the clay, we being the clay. You make a reference in the book to Michelangelo and his work with marble and statues. And I’ve had the privilege of seeing David, which is in Florence and it’s beautiful. I mean, it’s an amazing detailed sculpture of his depiction of David, but you raise something that isn’t on most people’s radar. What was it? Yeah, I think what’s helpful is when you think of at the end of it, you have this beautiful sculpture that you said you mentioned. But leading up to it, there’s a bunch of blocks that are partially chiseled away. And so when we kind of think of that in terms of what’s suffering does to us and what God is doing through our trials, it’s the chiseling away of our of our pride, of our self righteousness, of all those different things that he is doing the greatest work of trying to make us more like him. And so that is hard to, to walk through a trial and have that perspective. But that is exactly where we need to be and that is what we should be praying for in the midst of a trial. So when we can see that no matter what we’ve walked through, we’re all getting hopefully on the other side of that pandemic and the pandemic has created such stressful environments with within our home, you know, everyone’s working from home or kids are home and it’s created new challenges. And if we can continue to pursue God in his word daily, continuing to recall these things to mind to remember that God is faithful, that he is good, that our spouse is on our team and not against us. Then those chiseling away those difficulties, those struggles is all part of his good and gracious plan for our good and for his glory. And it’s it’s something that we have to fight for daily, you know, fight daily on that. And I think part of that is, you know, just being able to continue to communicate with the Lord, not be silent. I think that’s one of the enemies of suffering is just our silence. And that’s where um you know, satan wants us to sit in and and just separate from community separate from our wife and and not open up the word of God and we must continue to grieve in a process of lamenting and opening up God’s word. And it’s a process. It’s not that there’s not a season that we, we don’t kind of come back and pull back, but we must continue to move through that. Yeah, I just, I really appreciate it. I remember we were sitting listening to um you know, pastor of ours bob savage. Um and he was the one that actually he had been there and he had given this this picture of Michelangelo’s prisoners and that was what he was Jeff was just talking about and he referenced, he said that visual for me. Michelangelo believed that it was not his job to chip away at it, to create something, but to simply reveal what was already in the sculpture. And so that is really what the Lord is doing in us. And he said now when pain hits my life instead of thinking why instead I think what is God chipping away at me to make me more like christ And that to me was such a helpful image when that bloke comes. And it doesn’t make sense because it usually doesn’t to see that God is doing something in me. He’s shaping me to be more like his son that I can’t see right now because I’m the shapeless block of marble, but I have to trust that he is at work doing something good and beautiful in me and it’s a great analogy and something to focus on. I so appreciated that in the book. Let’s get to that breaking point in your marriage that you highlight in your book. What was that moment? And how did you both feel emotionally and spiritually at that time? Yeah, well I will say, I think this is actually one of my favorite chapters in the book is titled, You can’t change your spouse’s heart. I know we all need to be reminded of that a lot. Um, the natural response is we kind of think the other person’s the problem in this situation. The only thing I’m always right about is that I always think I’m right. I mean that is just the natural instinctive fan. But I remember sitting on the couch one day and we had a part of our stories, Jeff had walked away from that job, which was an incredibly difficult situation. It was to the point where our family was in crisis. Um, our marriage was literally falling apart. We were barely communicating without crying together, like either anger or tears. And I remember sitting on the couch one day, we had just moved lust, left our home that we had sold head downsized. We were in a smaller rental home. And there have been so many, so many instances where I felt so hurt when I was in literal crisis at our home and he would have to walk out and I knew what I had signed up for. It had been many, many years. I was really okay with it. I always told myself he’d be here if he could, but I know that he can’t, but there were a handful of times where it was, it was serious stuff that I felt really terrified that he’d be leaving. And so when he would leave and he would not be present with me to see what went down in the house and to see the hurt that I experienced, he would come home and I could try to explain it, but he had never been there in that really, really hard place. And so that started to kind of build up in me. I started to build little bits of resentment of like he can’t even experience what I’ve walked through. It’s not fair that I’m the one bearing this burden. And so we were trying to work through it and I kept trying to explain to him Jeff. This is how much I felt hurt. This is how much it hurt when you walked out in that one instance and every time we had a conversation it was worse. It was like I kept trying to rephrase it, you know how we women like to do? Um and every conversation left, I think just with more frustration, he was not understanding what I was trying to get him to grasp. I was just, I was angry I was hurting and I wanted him to be able to enter into my pain. And finally, one day after many, many of these conversations I felt the Lord just pressed on me, sarah, stopped looking to Jeff for your comfort and for your satisfaction and start turning to me and I it was a sacrifice. I really wanted him, I felt like, but Lord don’t have a good marriage, don’t we have to be on the same page. Doesn’t he have to somewhat understand. And it was like he said, that is my job is to work on Jeff’s heart. I want you to come to me first. And so I started praying. I started bringing the hurt that I felt to the Lord. I started to realize how much christ was the only one that was in that room with me during those really scary times. Even if Jeff had been there, only christ knew what it felt like to be in me to be a woman to be dealing with what I was dealing with. And he’s ultimately the only one that can truly comfort me. Well in many ways we’re at a point where we started, which is that idea of expectations. You know, the expectation that Jeff could meet that need. And he was incapable. Many of us. Men are incapable in that moment I empathize with you, Jeff like what do I do? I don’t know what to do. Um and that’s a scary place for men to be because we’re about fixing the problem. And when we don’t have an answer, we go into our shell and we avoid you. That’s what’s amazing is when I, I think that was the most. That’s why this is my favorite chapter because as I started to bring all of the burdens and the hurt I was feeling more consistently to the Lord. I had no idea that Jeff was doing the same. That God started to stir in Jeff’s heart to start asking him, how do I understand Sarah? How do I help grow her? How do I see her hurt? And so he was working on a separately, but he was actually healing our marriage. But individually it was just amazing to see God’s hand in that. And I think it was, it began with me needing to relinquish what I wanted to have control over a good concept that you bring up in the book that I totally agree with is this idea of building bridges instead of walls. It’s such an obvious illustration. But describe it. Yeah, I think from a standpoint of it’s very easy to build walls within the marriage. And often those are subtle and before we know it, they’re they’re popping up left and right. To me. It divides between emotion and spirit. Building a wall is emotional response. Building bridges is a spiritual response. And so I think when we look at building bridges, we have to continue to rely on the spirit. I think we have to come and be able to recognize that we can’t do this apart from him. And so it’s that humility that is that struggle that all of us have within our flesh, we want to take control, we want to have our lives look a specific way. But when we are up against the wall and we face suffering and we see that with job finally at the end where he comes from the turning point of of hearing to seeing then the beautiful part of that is the bridge has been built when we continue to not look just at our circumstances and what’s across the table with our spouse. But then we’re able to have that open communication that bridge that first needs to start with the Lord and not putting up a wall between myself and him. So that bridge, once that is built, then we can have the bridge that’s better with our spouse and continue to talk to them and work through these because it’s going to be inevitable. That will continue to go through cycles. And just because we built the bridge doesn’t mean that we’re back now on the other side, still putting up walls with our spouse. And so I think it’s a it’s a constant process of continuing to grow through that. And new trials are going to come and we’re going to again grieve something that we’ve lost in the past and continuing to come back to that foundation. And it’s so good. I think the last thing that I want to mention that you bring out in the book that’s so critical and I really identify with is humor, you know, human beings, there are two things that really intrigued me music and what it does to the soul and humor and what it does for the soul. And I think that’s one thing I’ve so appreciated for gene and I, we’ve always had a good sense of humor in our relationship and it does help. Yes, it does. It’s kept us afloat many days. It definitely has. I think from the inside of our home and all the dysfunction that goes on in all the chaos and all of our different layers to our story. Thankfully we have a similar sense of humor and we can laugh at those moments and be lighthearted and not always, but we try, we try. Um, but it has been those moments that have continued to build. I think even some of those bridges between us of being able to share in the humor aspects of it or the light hearted components to it. So rather than going after each other, sitting back and chuckling a bit too. Okay, what’s next? Well for example, I just, so I have an ankle problem and I’ve had many surgeries and I’m slowly losing my ability to walk and so I had an appointment yesterday and um, I heard some hard news again, which I somewhat was prepared for, but it’s always a fresh blow and good old Jeff here. He’s like, I think you should just chop the thing off and be like the blade runner, you’d be like the coolest mom. So obviously that’s at the proper time. It’s not always, you know, always, but um, we’re able to sometimes be able to, I think the Lord has grown us in, this is to step back and be like, look, we can’t change this, this is reality. But to be able to find some humor in the reality of life. Like we can’t necessarily take away the pain of it, but we can find how um just to keep holding onto the joy that the Lord has given us and that that is given on to our kids too. I think it’s helpful in the home environment when there’s a lot of heaviness is to remember that we’re friends. We are, we can enjoy life together. Our identity is not in our suffering. It’s um it’s in christ alone and we can still be able to enjoy life and find humor and find joy even when difficulties are happening. Yeah. And what a great place to end Jeff and Sarah, this has been so good. And I hope, I hope people that are in difficulty really do get a copy of your book and we’ll make it available to you. Um we realize that you may not even be able to afford that, just get in touch with us. We believe in the content. We believe it will help you and we’ll trust others will cover the cost of that if you can make a gift of any amount perhaps even join us as a monthly um sustainer, we would appreciate that that really helps us continue to minister together to those marriages that are truly hurting. And I want to mention to hope restored. And that’s one of our wonderful intensive marriage programs where it usually is a four day process where people who have signed divorce papers for the most part really stuck in their marriage come and we have thankfully a post two year 80% success rate where those marriages are thriving and doing better. So if you’re in that spot, call us to ask about hope restored. Our number is 800 a family, 802 326459. Or click the link on your screen to learn more about hope restored. This great book together through the storms and all the other great resources. We have to help you wherever you’re at in your journey on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team. Thanks for joining us today for focus on the family. I’m john fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in christ

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