A Rocky Start
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Ron and Jody ZappiaRon and Jody Zappia grew up in Northeastern Ohio and met in middle school. Later becoming high school sweethearts and marrying, they entered the business world, but were on the brink of divorce in their first year of marriage. It was then that they met Jesus and their lives were transformed, ultimately leading to a life of full-time vocational ministry. In the year 2000, Ron and Jody planted Highpoint Church. What started as a handful of people meeting in a basement, praying for God to move, has...more
Ron and Jody Zappia thought that marriage would be easy. However, jealousy over Jody’s corporate success led Ron to look outside of his marriage for fulfillment. The Zappias share how God intervened.
A Rocky Start
Bob: Ron and Jody Zappia married with no plan and with no relationship with God to help navigate their new marriage. That led them to disaster.
Ron: I was making decisions that were stupid and foolish. You know, I wasn’t a follower of Christ; I wasn’t a believer. I got involved in a relationship—an unhealthy relationship at work—which led to infidelity, which led to Jody walking in. The next thing you knew—that was it. Our relationship was over. I just bought into a lot of things that I think a lot of people still do today that can damage and wreck the greatest treasure that you have.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 22nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. As you might imagine, the fact that Ron and Jody Zappia are joining us today means there’s a happy ending to that story. We’ll hear how they got to their happy ending today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Before we dive right into what we’re talking about today, I know we’ve got listeners, who have heard us talking about the Weekend to Remember® and the fact that the two of you speak at our Weekend to Remember getaways, along with other couples, who are a part of our speaker team. We still have a few dozen of these events happening this month—in May and in June.
In honor of your new role, as the hosts of FamilyLife Today, our team said, “We want to offer FamilyLife Today listeners the Dave and Ann Wilson special.” Anybody who wants to go to a Weekend to Remember in your honor—if they sign up this week for one of the remaining Weekend getaways—they’ll save 40 percent off the regular registration fee, just as a way to say, “Welcome aboard,” to Dave and Ann.
Again, if you want more information about attending an upcoming getaway—and if you’d like to save some money, courtesy of the new hosts of FamilyLife Today—you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and all the information is available there; or call us at
1-800-FL-TODAY. We hope you’ll join us at one of these upcoming getaways.
It’s always good to have friends, who drop by to be on FamilyLife Today. You’ve known this couple—for how long?
Dave: You’re thinking—they’re our friends? Is that what you’re saying? [Laughter]
Bob: It has seemed that way since they arrived—you’ve acted like you guys know each other and like each other. [Laughter]
Dave: You know, it’s actually a pretty interesting story. Ann and I, last year, were—Ann was surprising me—taking me to Las Vegas to see a great Cirque du Soleil® show. This late—I don’t know if you guys remember it—we got asked to do a marriage [talk and panel at their church]—one session—the same day we’re flying to Vegas. We figured out a way to stop in Chicago on the way and do one talk and a panel at their church. Then, we saw Elton John that night; so it was quite a trip.
Ron: It was a gamble for us—let’s just all say—we gambled right. [Laughter] And it went good; you know what I mean. We actually asked Ann, and Dave happened to be there. [Laughter]
Ann: We really—we really clicked with these guys. There is a real camaraderie between us; it’s been fun.
Bob: And the guys you are talking about are Ron and Jody Zappia, who join us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome, guys.
Ron: Great to be here.
Jody: Yes; thank you.
Bob: Ron and Jody live in the western suburbs of Chicago, where Ron is the pastor at Highpoint Church, a multi-site church, out in the western ‘burbs. The Zappias have been married since 1989, have three—can we call them all adult children now?
Bob: Three children—two married and one who is in college.
Bob: And your own story—I asked you, “When did you get married?” and you said, “We got married in ’89, but we don’t count the first year.” [Laughter]
Ron: That’s true.
Bob: Why is that?
Ron: You know, sometimes, the story is this—it was crash and burn for us. The first year wasn’t just difficult for us; we, literally, had to crash and burn to look up. Jody and I both, you know, grew up in non-Christian homes—our basis for marriage was good, ethical behavior. We saw our parents had great marriages, but they weren’t faith-based, at all, in that kind of situation.
For us, we had known each other for years—we went to the same high school, all that kind of stuff. Year number one was a trial.
Ann: How did you guys meet?
Jody: We’ve known each other since we were kids. We met in—technically, in junior high, when I borrowed 20 cents from the guy; and I’ve been paying him back for the rest of my life. [Laughter]
Ron: Stop it.
Jody: He wouldn’t take the money.
Ron: That was the most costly phone call of your life.
Jody: Yes; yes.
Ron: I was the new kid. I was the new kid in eighth grade; she was seventh grade. You know, it was good.
Jody: We dated through high school pretty much and, then, went to different colleges; but dated most of the way through college. We had dated probably eight to ten years before we got married.
Bob: Eight-plus years, though, of dating. Was it off-and-on dating?—or was it, “We’re pretty much together,” the whole time?
Ron: Let me take this one, Bob. Basketball season, basically, was this—my head couldn’t fit through the door. I would be stupid and, then, Jody would break up with me. Then, I would come, you know—
Jody: —crawling back.
Ron: —crawling back at track. It was just like—spring season, and you know, my tail between my legs. [Laughter]
Bob: You dated basketball in the winter, and you dated Jody the rest of the year.
Ron: That’s kind of how it worked.
Ann: And Jody, you kept taking him back. You must have seen something you liked.
Jody: He was definitely a diamond in the rough—I’ll say that. But no; we—it was kind of on again/off again. In that respect, I guess it shouldn’t have been such a surprise that that first year was rough; because of all that kind of going, back and forth.
Dave: You get married, but you both had careers. Talk about that. You took off on a pretty fast pace.
Ron: I think that’s one of the things that led to the breakdown, where your long-distance relationship is one thing; but then for us, Jody scored the big job, coming out of school. I was following her, which was a shot to the ego. I was in the business world in Cleveland. Jody was working out of a company from Michigan, actually. She was getting trained in Connecticut. Then, we finally made our way to Chicago the first year. And what?—it was probably—
Jody: We were five months into our marriage before we were, even, in the same city.
Jody: Then it took six months, not even, to crash and burn, as Ron described it. We’d gotten very good at the weekend relationship. Even in college, that was kind of—we’d kind of lost track of what it was like to “day to day.”
Ann: So in those five months, what happened?—besides being apart?
Ron: I’ll just jump right in. The reality of it was that I was making decisions that were stupid/foolish. As we said, I wasn’t a follower of Christ; I wasn’t a believer. I got involved in a relationship—an unhealthy relationship at work—which led to infidelity, which led to Jody walking in when she was supposed to be gone on a business trip. You know, I was doing something stupid; she came in and discovered this.
The next thing you knew—that was it—like our relationship was over. That was the crisis; that was the rock bottom. As I said, I wasn’t going to church. I wasn’t built on a biblical foundation. You know, I was doing things that were—living a college behavior and lifestyle. I just bought into a lot of things that I think a lot of people still do today that can damage and really wreck the greatest treasure that you have.
Ann: Jody, how hard was that?
Jody: It’s one of those things—it’s kind of indicative of my contribution to our marriage failing. My career and my job was—I guess I was a very driven person, but that’s how I got the job. That’s what I thought I was supposed to be doing. That’s how I did well at everything else, up to that point. Ron had been out of town, and he was just getting back that night. Of course, I was leaving. I was working on a presentation, and it took me longer than I thought. I thought: “I’ll surprise him. I’ll just stay tonight and I’ll leave real early in the morning instead.” I was going to be driving to Michigan. The surprise, unfortunately, was on me.
Ann: What did you do? After that?—did you just leave?—did you get mad?—did you yell?
Jody: I could hardly speak. I just remember—I think he took the gal away. I remember just kind of sleeping on the living room floor; you know? That was—we didn’t really have any family around us. It was a hard thing; but in hindsight, I can say it was probably, in a way, a good thing; because it did leave me nowhere but to look to God.
Ann: Did you think it was over?
Jody: Yes; I really did think like, “I guess my next step is just to get a divorce.” You know, that’s just what I thought; because I remember—you think about things—and because of our dating history, we’d had some things that—I guess I shouldn’t have been that surprised that this could happen—but I had always said, you know, “That’s the one thing I would not put up with.” And boy, here it was—it was right in front of me.
Bob: Ron, was your involvement with somebody else because of dissatisfaction in your early marriage?—or were you just—did you not have guardrails up?
Ron: Yes; well, I think it was both of those things. You know, certainly, there was no guardrails. You know, as I said, I was making decisions like had been made in the past—and living the life, you know, with doing things, and drinking things, and getting to a place where the boundaries weren’t there at all. Jody was working, and doing things, and moving along the career path; and I thought that was going to bring me satisfaction; that was going to bring the happiness; that was what was missing. I think a lot of people fall into these kinds of traps.
The reality of it is—Jody had prayed a month/a week—
Jody: It was a few days before.
Ron: —a few days before, she had prayed to God. We weren’t Christians; we weren’t praying people. She prayed, “God, if You show me what’s wrong, I’ll do my part to fix it.” She had this—she had a feeling—I don’t want to speak for her.
Jody: I want to say—it might have been the evening prior.
Jody: I was not really a praying—I only prayed when I was kind of in deep trouble. But maybe, I was sensing this—I was sensing—
Ann: You sensed that something was wrong; yes.
Jody: —something was wrong.
Dave: I mean, that is amazing. And just hearing that you asked God to show you—and you walked in—
Ann: —and He showed you.
Jody: Yes; He had my full attention, you know, at that point. I can remember just sitting there, looking up and saying, “Okay; what do You want?” You know, like there was—that fear of God really kicked in.
Dave: I mean, Ron, what were you thinking? We’ve heard the other side, but you have now just been caught.
Ron: Yes; I didn’t know what to do—I didn’t know where to go; I was lonely. I thought I could do these things. I didn’t want to do this; this was my best friend—this was the relationship that I cared about. What I did was—I threw it away like it was a piece of trash/a piece of garbage. I didn’t want to hurt her; but I was so self-centered and, you know, so—doing the things of what seemed right and best for me. I got off the rails pretty, pretty fast.
Bob: What do you remember about your first conversation together after this happened?
Jody: Well, I had contacted my sister that night, I think, just to say, “Hey, what do I do?” because I knew I could trust her. She’s the one who, actually, said—she said: “Well, that’s a really big decision—getting divorced—it’s not just something you do.” She said, “I think you should get counseling first.” And then she said, “But make sure it’s Christian counseling.” I’m like, “Where do you get that?!” I remember her saying, “Oh, that’s right; you guys don’t go to church.” I said, “No”; and I said, “Well, there’s one across the street.”
I literally, the next morning, got all dressed up and waited for the cars to be leaving the church parking lot. I had no intention of going to church; I was going to just go there and find out about where I would get this Christian counseling. The next conversation I really remember, after I’d showed up at this church—and a complete stranger—just a sweet woman, who I thought was just kind of cleaning up at church. The pastor’s office was empty. She’s the one who told me to go to a marriage ministry that was in town—that was at another church, which was kind of interesting—their church didn’t have it. She had the foresight to say—to get me to where I needed to be to get the help I needed.
She told me: “Go to this church. Go to this workshop.” The most important thing she said was: “But don’t go there with half your heart. Go there with your whole heart.”
Those words, I know, were directly from God; because it would come back to me as I listened.
Ann: Great advice.
Jody: So I planned to go to this thing. Somehow, the conversation came up; and Ron wanted to go also. I was like, “Well, Okay.”
Ann: Ron, were you instantly repentant?—like sorry for what had happened?
Ron: Well, I mean, the sorry was there; but I don’t know if—we didn’t even know what repentance was, as far as we didn’t have a biblical church.
Jody: He was broken.
Ron: Yes; I think I was just broken. I knew what I did was wrong; I knew what I did wasn’t right. How did I trip and fall in this area again? You know, I had a background in selfishness and pride. I didn’t have anywhere to turn. We were in Chicago, alone—no friends/nobody—didn’t have any friend base. That is actually what God used to help us; because I got cut down at the knees, I didn’t have anywhere to turn—I just said, “I’ll go.”
Bob: Was there negotiation between the two of you?—was there begging? Were you angry?—were you crying? What was going on between the two of you?
Ron: There was a lot of tears. I mean, you know, I think we weren’t as verbal as we are, even, now. I think just even—just walking into this marriage and to be able to share feelings—I didn’t do any of that—like we didn’t do it. We just didn’t have that kind of opportunity.
Jody was a businesswoman, who got her—you know, this is back in the day when you had the Franklin Planner—and she had the Franklin Planner. She opened the Franklin Planner and said, “Okay; I’ll give this this much time…”
Jody: —“…two weeks.”
Ron: Circled the date on the calendar.
Ann: You gave it two weeks?
Ron: — “And then, I’m going to divorce him.”
Jody: —“or I’ll make a decision about the divorce.”
Ron: She was extremely gracious.
Ron: Right; that was the gap in the time for us to go to this church—we wound up going. I’ll never forget it was—so this happens on the worst night of our lives, which is a Saturday. Sunday, she gets up, puts on the dress, goes to the church. It’s an interesting story because the woman—you know, Jody thought she was an angel or something—
Dave: Maybe; maybe.
Ron: —because it was a church that was being used by an Asian church.
Jody: —in the afternoons.
Ron: Yes; in the afternoons.
This lady was kind of cleaning up. The empathy she showed to Jody is the thing—the tears. Any of us involved in ministry, now, you know, have the privilege of leading people—but the empathy we can show to people in their greatest point of difficulty and need. This woman was there—she was a Godsend.
Jody, actually, went back—we found her, two years later, after the marriage was restored.
Jody: I wanted to see if maybe she was an angel. [Laughter] But she was there, and she did remember me. It turned out that she was, actually, the pastor’s wife of the Asian church that met in the afternoons.
Ron: Can you believe that? [Laughter]
Jody: She was actually setting up. To me, it looked like she was straightening things up. Little did I know—I never, at that point, there was no hope that I would ever become a pastor’s wife. I just think it’s so funny—how full circle.
Ron: We—getting back on track here—we went to this marriage workshop.
Jody: —Monday night.
Ron: The spotlight was on us.
Bob: Were they just doing these marriage workshops all the time?—or they had one scheduled when you needed it?
Jody: It had just started the week prior to our breakdown. We got in there; and it was, literally, week two of an eight-week thing—probably, 500 people attended the thing.
Ann: That was big!
Jody: We ended up in the overflow group, which again, was a Godsend; because I got an appointment with the pastor—like he wasn’t meeting people anymore because the ministry had gotten so big. I had put this in my Franklin Planner, that I had to make a decision by this Thursday about my divorce. I’m in the overflow group, and I’m not getting my questions answered. So I kind of was a little—
Ann: What were the questions that you needed to have answered?
Jody: “Can I get a divorce?”
Ann: You wanted to know if it was okay.
Jody: —“on what grounds?” I just didn’t know how anything worked. You know, our parents were not divorced. It was not something we ever thought about/knew anything about. I didn’t know, “How do you do this?”
Ann: “Do I have grounds?”
Jody: “Do I have grounds? And if so, then what do I do?” I really did think that’s what we were going there for.
Bob: Were you sitting, together, in this overflow group? Were you just furious with him?
Jody: That’s where her words would kick in; because I would be sitting there, and at moments, I would have a little—I would just kind of start doing a little pro/con list—you know, that’s how I operated, making decisions. [Laughter] Then it would hit me that I wasn’t listening with my whole heart. I would drop my pencil; and I’m a note taker—I don’t drop my pencil.
Dave: That “whole heart” thing—
Ron: —that was just huge.
Jody: That was the Holy Spirit; it was the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know the verse at the time, but Jeremiah 29:13, “Seek Me and you’ll find Me, but when you seek Me with your whole heart.” That’s what was going on with me.
At the same time, Ron would describe—he was having those moments, where you feel like the spotlight was on—
Ron: Yes; the spotlight was on me. I’d never heard the things before—the Bible was never real to me. The Bible was never presented to me in such a way, where it was applicable to my life. The reality was this—I was experiencing conviction—I know now. I was sweating; I mean, I was crying. The things that this man was saying from the front—I had never heard before. I blew it; I wanted a do-over; I wanted a start over. I had this huge weight of guilt and shame that I didn’t know what to do with. I didn’t have anywhere to turn. I needed the forgiveness that I know now—that I see/that I understand.
I know so many people are walking around, trying to do it on their own—do it in their own strength/carry that weight for themselves. Jody was on a mission to make a decision. I was shattered—my earth was shattered; my life was over; I was broken.
Bob: You guys, Dave and Ann, in pastoral ministry, have sat down with—you probably couldn’t count the number of couples who have had this kind of an earthquake go off in their marriage. They’re wondering: “Can I get a divorce? Should I get a divorce? What do we do now? Can we ever trust one another again?”—I mean, all of these questions that are swirling around.
To hear Jody say, “Go there with your whole heart,”—to get that advice—“But don’t just react.” This is something you have to approach—prayerfully, and carefully, and get some solid counsel—before you decide what your next step’s going to be.
Dave: As you’ve said, we’ve sat with many couples, over 29 years of ministry. The one that comes to my mind is one of my best friends, who was in my men’s group—still is—for 20 years. I was with John the night he discovered Betsy was having an affair.
Ann: Betsy is a really good friend of mine, and she’s in my women’s group. I remember thinking, “Something’s wrong.” I remember saying to her—I think it was the night before she was caught. I don’t even know why it came out of my mouth; but I said: “I just want you to know that even if you were having an affair—I don’t care what you would do—we would still love you. We would still pursue you.”
Dave: We met with John and Betsy the next day, and the next couple of days. I remember getting in the car, after one of our first meetings with John and Betsy. I just listened to her—
Ann: You felt so hopeless.
Dave: —there was no brokenness; she wasn’t contrite. John was angry; betrayed.
I’m sitting here, right now, going, “He raised this marriage from the dead.” It is a beautiful, beautiful story.
I’m looking at a couple—He’s done the same thing—different circumstances but similar. We haven’t even heard that part of the story yet. I can’t wait to keep talking to hear the rest of it.
Bob: There are folks, who have had this earthquake go off in their lives in the last 48 hours or in the last couple of weeks—they’re listening to this. Maybe, God is speaking to them through this. They’re wondering: “What should I do? What should I be listening to?” What do you say to them?
Jody: I say—I would get on my knees and say: “God, help me; help us. Give me wisdom.” Take your time. I think we can react so quickly on our emotion. Sometimes, I think some of the best advice that you got was: “Hold on,” and “Go in with all of your heart.” Why wouldn’t you offer God your heart and ask Him to guard it/to shield it?—but also, to give you eyes to know and see what steps to take.
Bob: I love the verse in the Old Testament that talks about God bringing beauty from ashes. We’re sitting here with a couple—we’ve heard just a part of their story today—they have a book called The Marriage Knot: 7 Choices That Keep Couples Together. I am going, “That’s beauty from ashes, right there.”
We have copies of their book in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go online for more information on how to get a copy of the book. Again, 7 Choices That Keep Couples Together: The Marriage Knot, by Ron and Jody Zappia. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
There’s also information, online, about our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. These are great two-and-a-half day getaways for couples to strengthen their marriage relationship, wherever you are in your marriage. This getaway can help your marriage grow stronger. If you’re at a crisis point, like the Zappias were in their marriage, this getaway can help you chart a course back to oneness in your marriage relationship. We’ve seen that happen with tens of thousands of couples.
This week, we’re making a special offer to FamilyLife Today listeners in honor of Dave and Ann Wilson as the new hosts for FamilyLife Today. Radio listeners can save
40 percent off the regular registration if you’ll sign up this week for any of the remaining—I think there are like 16 getaways still happening this spring. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to register, or call if you have any questions at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Plan to attend a getaway and save some money, this week, when you register. Again, the information is at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information.
You know, listening to Ron and Jody’s story today, I’m thinking about the couples we meet at our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways—this is the reality for a lot of couples in their marriage. They’re in difficult, messy situations. David Robbins, who’s the President of FamilyLife, is here with us today. David, there are more stories like this in marriages than I think a lot of us realize.
David: Yes; you know, I love the exhortation that the lady across the street in the church gave Jody as she was going to the marriage class. She simply said, “Go with your whole heart.” As I think about couples, who are going to a Weekend to Remember getaway—I think that’s the challenge I would give them: “ Go with an open heart and with your whole heart.” I always marvel at the ways God moves to save, and redeem, and restore marriages. What we see happen in Ron and Jody’s story is what we see happen at every Weekend to Remember getaway.
Bob: Yes; I was just at a Weekend to Remember in Kansas City. You’re right—most of the couples who were there are there to refresh their marriage—they’re there for a little marriage maintenance. But there are couples, who are in a dark place; and God meets them there. We saw it happen, again, at the getaway I just attended.
David: You know, one of the most consistent things I hear from couples, coming from getaways is: “We weren’t even having conversations like this before we came. We did not know how to talk to each other this way. Thank you for the ways you are inviting us to grow deeper in our conversations together.” God is in the business of seeking and saving His people, but also seeking and saving marriages people are in. He cares deeply about both.
Bob: Yes; couples leave the getaway with help and with hope. Again, if listeners want to take advantage of a special offer, they can go to FamilyLife Today for more information; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear how Ron and Jody Zappia got from the destruction of their marriage to the resurrection of their marriage and about the marriage counseling they got that was—it was pretty direct. We’ll hear that story tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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