Starting With a Firm Foundation
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Jackie and Stephana BledsoeJackie and Stephana Bledsoe, the founders of Happily Married Couples, help couples connect and communicate, so they can create marriages worth celebrating. Their marriage story and ministry has been featured on ABC News, The 700 Club, Moody Radio, The Huffington Post, Yahoo!, CBN’s Turning Point International, and more. Jackie is a bestselling author and speaker who's reached over 100,000 couples with The 7 Rings of Marriage. Stephana is a speaker and former homeschooling...more
What’s more important than the ring in a marriage engagement? Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe explain what they wish they hadn’t learned the hard way.
Starting With a Firm Foundation
Bob: Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe were not walking with Christ when they got married; they were already parents. After they were married, and they experienced turbulence, Stephana began to wonder if maybe she had gotten married outside of God’s will.
Stephana: “I didn’t ask God. I didn’t know that He said, ‘This is supposed to be my husband’; so what do I do now? Because now, you’re telling me divorce is not an option.” I just remember the counsel that I received at that time was that, if I made this commitment to Jackie in marriage, and even if it was out of order, God’s grace was big enough to cover it.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 29th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ll hear from Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe today about marriage being a covenant—how once we say, “I do,”—God adds His “Amen; so be it,” and the covenant is sealed. Stay tuned.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ll do a quick poll here.
Bob: We’ll see what you did and what you would recommend. Okay, the question is: “Should a husband-to-be/should he include his girlfriend in the search for a wedding ring or should he pick it out and surprise her?” [Laughter]
First, I want to know what you did. Did Ann see the ring you picked out for her before you picked it out for her?
Dave: It’s been so long.
Bob: You don’t remember?
Dave: I’m going to guess. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, my goodness!
Dave: She did not see it.
Ann: I didn’t.
Dave: Oh, I was right! [Laughter] I honestly wasn’t sure.
Ann: But I did give him an idea—
Bob: —some hints.
Ann: —yes, “This is kind of what I like.”
Bob: Like you were out at the mall and you just said—
Ann: I think so, yes; and I pointed it out for him.
Dave: I’ve got to be honest. She’s been giving me hints again, after 40 years, like, “Could we maybe update this?” [Laughter]
Bob: “This is what the updated one would look like.” [Laughter]
Mary Ann did not see the one that I picked out for her until I proposed/until I offered it to her.
Ann: And did she have any input?
Bob: I don’t remember hearing from her what she had in mind. I think I picked it out all on my own, which could be—we’ll talk about this—this could be a big fail for somebody.
We’ve got some friends, who are joining us today, who are—
Ann: —who are experts in rings. [Laughter]
Bob: They know something about rings. Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe are joining us on FamilyLife Today. Jackie, Stephana, welcome.
Stephana: Thank you.
Jackie: Thank you; we’re excited to be here.
Bob: The Bledsoes speak with us at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. They’re from Indianapolis; they do ministry in the marriage space. They’ve written a book called The 7 Rings of Marriage, which got me thinking about engagement rings. Did you pick out Stephana’s engagement ring before you proposed?
Jackie: I did.
Bob: She didn’t see it?
Jackie: She did 4 see it.
Stephana: I did not.
Bob: Did you like it?
Stephana: I did like it.
Bob: That’s a good thing. [Laughter]
Dave: You still like it?
Ann: Ohhh! [Laughter] Do you wish you would have had a say in it?
Stephana: I do, yes.
Bob: If you were counselling a young groom-to-be today, would you say, “Bring her in,” or would you say, “Surprise her”? What’s your answer?
Stephana: I’d say, “Let her have input.”
Bob: She needs to have a—but then how do you—
Stephana: The wedding ring is forever.
Bob: But then you can’t really do the surprise thing if she knows you’re shopping for rings.
Stephana: If you’re talking about marriage, and you’re praying about marriage in advance, then I think you are kind of expecting a ring to come at some point.
Bob: Okay, that’s a good point.
Stephana: So maybe you don’t know when it’s going to come but just get an idea of what she likes.
Dave: That seems to like ruin it though.
Bob: It does.
Dave: Of course, I’m not the woman getting the ring; but—
Ann: I’m agreeing—
Dave: —I don’t want—
Ann: —you’re already talking about it. You’re going to wear that ring for a lifetime; you’d like to have a little input.
Dave: Can he get like a fake one and then, when she gets it, say, “This isn’t the real one. You get to go with me, and we get to pick it out”? No; it’s sort of permanent?
Bob: The whole idea of rings—the book that you’ve written called The 7 Rings of Marriage—you take that picture of a ring and you say: “There are seasons/there are episodes; we evolve in our relationship in marriage.” But it all does start in that pre-marriage period; doesn’t it?
Jackie: Yes, it starts with the engagement ring. At that point, that’s the excitement. You’re just like, “Yes! She said, ‘Yes.’” That was a big deal to me; because I wasn’t sure that she was going to say, “Yes.” When she said, “Yes,” I’m like, “Yes, we’re here.”
But now, we have to go through—it’s like, “Okay, what’s next?”—the excitement is there. When the excitement wears off: “What are we going to depend on?”—that’s your foundation. That’s where you kind of lean on that and you want to go, “We’ve got to build something that is going to be able to build a tall and strong marriage that lasts forever.”
Dave: I want to know this: “What is your engaged story? How did you propose?—was it like epic?—was it this cool moment?” [Laughter]
Jackie: Was it epic, Babe?
Stephana: It was special, but it was not expected. We weren’t preparing for it; we hadn’t prayed about it. It was not what we would advise.
Jackie: Yes, our story is the opposite of what we teach couples now. We were not prepared, because our relationship was on rocky ground at the time. It was a point, where I was like, “Okay, Lord, is this who You’ve got for me for the rest of my life? If so, what do I do?” I was like, “Okay, I’m going to get myself together.” It was actually her birthday, 2001. I was like, “Okay,”—this is not what you pray, fellas; this is not what you say—I said, “If she says, ‘Yes,’ then, yes, that means God did set her aside for me. If she says, ‘No,’ then it wasn’t it; so keep going”; [Laughter] but no.
The details of the actual proposal: we were at her favorite restaurant at the time, which is no longer there. The whole time we’re talking, I couldn’t think. I’m sitting here, nervous. It was almost, at that point, it was like, “Am I going to do it, or am I not going to do it?” I finally did it. I got down on one knee and I asked her. I don’t think she could even hear what I said. I could hear the people, saying, “Is this what I think it is?” behind us. I was like, “Uh-oh, now we’ve got an audience; so she has to say, “Yes.”
Dave: Oh, wow.
Jackie: I ask her the question, and I’ll let you share your side of that.
Stephana: It was sweet; and I said, “Yes,” obviously. [Laughter]
Bob: How long had you guys been dating?
Jackie: Probably two or three years.
Bob: Wait; why didn’t you expect it after two or three years?
Stephana: We were completely out of order, so we weren’t exclusive to one another at the time. Jackie wasn’t exclusive.
Ann: Oh! [Laughter] Well, this explains why—
Dave: What’s going on here, Jackie?
Ann: —you’re saying, “We did it wrong; and now, we have a vision—
Ann: —“of how to do it.”
Jackie: There was no prayer; there was no counsel; there was no pre-marital counselling. It was just kind of me living a life; and God was like, “This is not where you’re supposed to be going with your life.” He just started making me more/increasingly more uncomfortable with how we were living—how I was living—I can’t put that on Stephana. Finally, I was like, “Okay, Lord; this is what I want to do.”
We actually had/our daughter was ten months old at our wedding day, so we were completely out of order. We were that couple, sitting in the small group and hearing everybody share their marriage story: “Oh, I prayed for this,” and “I prayed for that,” “We got pre-marital counseling.” We were kind of like—
Stephana: “Don’t call on us.”
Jackie: “That wasn’t us; we didn’t do it.”
We felt shame/we felt shame because of that. So now, we share it openly; because we know there’s some other couples that didn’t start the “right way,” which is we know is in order with what God says. We don’t do those things before marriage, because we know what it brings into marriage when we do that.
Bob: Okay, you’ve got to back us all the way up; because I’m doing the numbers in my head. So you guys met when you were teenagers?
Both: We did.
Bob: And started dating while you were teenagers?
Jackie: Yes, we met my senior year/Stephana’s sophomore year in high school—small town/40,000 people—everybody knows everybody. For whatever reason, we didn’t meet until my senior year. Our families—literally, our grandmothers/our maternal grandmothers—were best friends. But God must have known what she would have seen in me, had she met me before then.
We were friends then/kind of dated a little bit. I went away to college. The mutual friend that introduced us kept in contact with both of us, wanting to always let us know: “Hey, Jackie’s back in town,” or “Hey, did you know Stephana’s here?”
Everybody else kind of saw something there; but I don’t think, mentally or emotionally, I was ready. After graduating college, I moved to Indianapolis. She was one of the two people that I met or that I had known since I was in that new city. We kind of got re-introduced by the same mutual friend. That started a friendship—probably the best way it should have started from the beginning—that we didn’t start when we were in high school.
Jackie: That’s the quick summary of it.
Dave: But it sounds like you had some good input: you’re listening to other couples, and they’re talking about how to do it right; yet, you didn’t. The question is: “Why?” Was it: “We don’t need that”?—“We don’t believe that”? Was there something going on that made you go, “That’s good wisdom, but not for us.”
Jackie: Those couples we met after we were married.
Dave: Oh, okay.
Jackie: We didn’t have those relationships before we were married. We didn’t have the right environment around us at that time for a marriage the way we know God intended it to be. We say we got our pre-marital counselling at around our first anniversary, which makes no sense. [Laughter]
But just through a class at our church that we took, and a couple—we’re kind of connected to them; they’re attracted to us—we really continued a conversation with them. That’s where we met the other couples; and then, our circle started to change. God just started surrounding us with couples, who are living for him in their marriages. Then we found out it was like, “Okay; this is how a marriage should be done.”
Ann: Tell us about: “How did that come to be? Were you already involved in church? What was going on spiritually as you guys were engaged and then you were getting married?”
Stephana: I think, after we had our daughter, it made me want to live life the right way. I started going to church; Jackie came with us to church. We just jumped into everything that we possibly could. Every class the church was offering, we were involved in it. We just started learning, and growing, and having mentors we didn’t even know that we needed. That was kind of the beginning.
Jackie: Yes, we jumped in. Once we got exposure to it, and once God touched our heart, it was like, “Okay, this is what we need to do.” We were hungry for what He was teaching. We have a family that we don’t know if it’s going to last as a family, like it should be; so I wanted to change direction.
I just believe that God put on my heart that He was going to use me to change the direction of our family; and then also, not just us, but extended family and things like that. He’s continued to do that. It started with us saying, “Yes,” to Him then after we had continually just lived the way we wanted to.
Dave: As you write in the book about the Engagement RING—you know, the first ring—“What should happen? What is your vision?” You call it the “Vision Phase”; right?—
Dave: —it’s where you start getting a vision for what marriage is. Talk to a pre-married couple and say, “Okay, what should happen in that? What would be the best for a couple that’s dating or going to get engaged?”
Ann: Because most couples are living together before they get married; is that best?
Stephana: I definitely say it’s not best. It makes it easy for you to have an escape when things don’t go the way that you want. What Jackie and I realized, in that early phase, is that we were both selfish. We had lived our lives for ourselves in that it wasn’t easy to come into marriage and sacrifice in different areas. We could have easily said, “This is not working. I don’t like it this way, and I’m out.”
Whereas, if you do it the right way, and you’re living for the Lord, and your praying and seeking Him, then when you come together, it’s not an easy out. It’s a covenant that you’ve made, not just with that other person, but with the Lord.
Jackie: Yes, the Engagement RING is really about creating that foundation; and that foundation is rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ. We realized that after, at our first anniversary; so we wanted to make sure that everything that we did, at that point, was built on that foundation. It’s like, “How would the Lord have us handle this? What do we need to do?”
We sought out His Word in counsel; we sought out His Word in classes; we read His Word; we prayed. That set the foundation; because we were counselled, “We’re going to come into disagreements/we’ll be at different spectrums; but at the end of the day, we’re going to agree on one thing: ‘Okay, we’re going to do our best to try to find out how Christ would have us to handle this, and we’re going to try to do that as best we can.’” Without that, I don’t know what we would have done.
Ann: Let’s say you meet Dave and I for the first time. We’re engaged; we’re living together. We have no date set to get married. We’re like, “It’s really hard, but we don’t see the hurry. We don’t see the rush.” Counsel us, and we’re just starting to grow in our relationship with Jesus.
Jackie: Yes; that’s many couples, I think, today as marriage is continuing to not be as important as it used to be. I think I would start just asking questions and kind of get into their mind: “Why are they making these decisions?” “Why are you choosing to live together now?”
Ann: “Our parents divorced—both of our parents—seems really risky. Our whole future is at stake; why would we put that on the line?”
Jackie: Yes, we’d probably point them to the Scripture, and just start going into the Scripture. At that time, we’d really want to know if you guys were a couple, who believed in Christ/if you had a relationship with Him or not.
If not, then we’d have to start there; because we can talk to them until we’re blue in the face about all kinds of other things and “Here’s why you shouldn’t do it”; but if we don’t get them rooted in the truth and get that relationship, then they can’t really receive that in their heart.
Dave: Talk now—that’s ring number one, the Engagement RING—Wedding RING: You call it the “Commitment Phase.” What’s happening during this phase?
Stephana: It goes from just the butterflies to: “We’re in a relationship that we’re committed to be in for the long run.” There’s no more outs; there’s no more options. It is a relationship that you are committed to, because you made this with your spouse and the Lord.
Jackie: Yes, we used to have a real estate investing company. Every month, I would look at probably hundreds of properties, either virtually or driving neighborhoods. We signed a lot of contracts to purchase properties, but we didn’t purchase every single one of them. Because every single one of them had basically an out clause or basically a contingency clause—where if something happened, or something about the house didn’t line up, or maybe the numbers didn’t line up, or we discover something new—it’s like, “Oh, this is no longer a great investment for us”; we could be out.
That’s the opposite of what happens during this ring; because this is a covenant commitment, where no matter if Stephana meets the expectations that I set, which may be the right expectations or not, or whatever it may be—and vice versa—that we have created a relationship built on a covenant commitment between us and between Christ as well. That’s what that commitment is. It’s stronger than just a contract that you can sign and say, “Oh, we’re out of it.” “We are committing, in a covenant way—where: “No matter what you do; no matter what I do, we’re in this thing together and with God.”
Ann: That’s what you mean by “the cornerstone,” that Jesus is the cornerstone of your marriage.
Stephana: That’s right.
Ann: How did that play out for you guys, early on? Did you struggle as you first got married? Did you hit a phase of a reality phase?
Stephana: Yes; I think in that first class that we were in, I remember questioning, as we were hearing everybody else’s story: “I didn’t do that; I didn’t ask God. I don’t know that He said, ‘This is supposed to be my husband’; so what do I do now? Because now, you’re telling me divorce is not an option.” I just remember the counsel that I received at that time was that, if I made this commitment to Jackie in marriage, and even if it was out of order, God’s grace was big enough to cover it. That was a turning point for us in the marriage, just realizing that God would take care of even our mess. He was big enough for that.
Bob: You were thinking, “I want out of here”?
Stephana: I was questioning whether I had made the right decision; I definitely was.
Bob: —based on what?
Stephana: Just hearing other people’s story, and the way that it should have been done, and knowing that we hadn’t done that.
Bob: Were you happy in your marriage?
Stephana: It was hard; that first year was really hard. We were both—Jackie’s the youngest and I was an only child—so we were both very selfish. We hadn’t ever had to
consider another person’s wellbeing in a relationship, so that was tough. We were coming up against a lot of disagreements on how to be married.
Dave: A couple could be listening, thinking, “Well, we did it the right way; and we still feel the same thing.” You know, like, “We try to do the right steps; and yet, we’re in year one, feeling the same thing you felt.” You’re looking at it, like, “We did it backwards.” [Others say] “We did it the right way; and we still we’re like, ‘I’m done; this is so hard. This isn’t going to work; I’m out of here.’”
Ann: I would add, too, I had a couple come up to us at the Weekend to Remember conference; and they said, “We got married in Vegas. We were so drunk, we had no idea what we were doing.” They came to the conference, saying, “I think that we’re supposed to get out of this, because we didn’t do it God’s way.” It’s a little bit what you were sharing before, like, “Is God in that?”—that’s what they asked me—“We weren’t Christians at the time.” How do you address that with people?
Jackie: Yes, that’s where you have to lean on Him; that’s where that foundation is so crucial. Just because you did it God’s way, and you prayed and you sought counsel, does not keep you from going through challenges or troubles.
Jackie: We’re told to expect fiery ordeals in His Word; He teaches that. We’re going to go through some things, and that’s where you’ve got to have that to fall back on. You’ve got to have your relationship with Him, that: “God promised this. God will not leave us or forsake us.”
That was it for us; it was so rough and so rocky. Just really—you know, you think—two young kids coming together, who neither one of us had fully thought about marriage. We had a ten-month-old. We were trying to learn each other with some baggage in our history. We were also trying to figure out life on our own, and we’re trying to raise a baby.
Now, all of a sudden, we’re married. This stuff is just so much/so any little conversation could spin off into something that would last days, weeks or whatever. A couple, who’s brand new, or who has done everything what we’re counselling and coaching couples to do now, can go through the same stuff. But we always had to revert back to His Word. We always had to revert back to prayer and just trust Him in that point. That doesn’t make it any easier, but that’s what we had to hold on; that’s what we believed; that’s what we were taught; and that’s what we were coached at that stage.
I guess you can say that we were blind enough to do it. But I’m so glad that we were, because that allowed us—God to get into our hearts to start working on us individually—and not me praying about Stephana, “I wish she would do this,” or vice versa. But He worked on us; He began to work on us, and He kept us through whatever storms we went through. There were some storms we went through.
Dave: It’s interesting, too, because you call this Wedding RING the “Commitment Phase.” It’s easy to think, sometimes, you make a commitment; and you’re done—
Dave: —like, “Okay, I made it,”—but the Commitment Phase never ends. [Laughter]
Stephana: That’s right.
Dave: That ring’s never coming off. It’s like you have to almost up your commitment daily/sometimes, hourly; because you get so hurt, or so frustrated, or so discouraged, mostly in your spouse; right? Because you’re good, but your spouse—[Laughter]—no; I’m kidding. But you do know it’s like working out—same thing—it’s like, I’ve got to sort of re-up every time I walk into the gym; or actually, I’ve got to re-up to get to the gym/to say, “I’m going to do it again.”
Does that ever end? I mean, you’ve been married many years now. The commitment isn’t just the wedding ring—it doesn’t just happen on wedding day or, even, first six months or first year—it never ends. How do you live that out?—because there’s going to be days coming/there’s a couple, listening right now, that says, “I’m done.” How do you speak to them and say, “Don’t give up. Keep re-upping your commitment.” What would you say?
Jackie: You’re constantly continuing to grow closer to your spouse. I think it’s
Dr. Chapman that says, “Marriages either grow or they regress; they never stand still.”
If you’re not practicing your oneness, and getting closer to each other in your marriage, then you’re going the opposite way. It is a constant thing that you have to remind yourself.
It’s—I forgot the quote—somebody said, “Motivation is like taking a bath. You can’t just do it once; you’ve got to do it every day.” [Laughter] Continue to push yourself forward in connection, and try/and striving for oneness. It is a never-ending thing for us; we understand that. “Can I make the right decision today—and something happened between us—and then, next week, make the wrong decision?”—all the time.
But I have to get up, like you said—in the morning, you don’t feel like working out—but now it’s like, “I’ve got to get up today, and I’ve got to go to the gym.” “I’ve got to get up, and I’ve got to show kindness,” “I’ve got to show love to my wife.” I’ve got to do all these different things, because it just doesn’t come natural for us.
Bob: I’m hearing two big ideas emerge from this conversation. One is:
If you’re on the front-end of your relationship—in the engagement or in the first year marriage—your foundation really is important.
You’re building a future on the foundation you are pouring today. So don’t skimp; don’t shift into neutral and just cruise. Be intentional; be purposeful; build a strong foundation. In the Engagement RING period, do the hard work of premarital preparation; get advice; get wisdom; learn; grow.
In that first year of marriage, where you hit those bumps and those hiccups—and those do come along for all of us—instead of just going, “Oh, I must have made a mistake,” say, “Let me figure out how we make this work; other couples have.”
Bob: The second big idea I’m hearing emerge out of this is:
If you’re ten or fifteen/twenty years in, and you go, “We didn’t pour a good foundation. I mean, we messed up on that early phase.”
Okay; call Perma Jack [Foundation Repair]—[Laughter] —I mean, get somebody out there; because your foundation can be fixed/it can be repaired. It’s not like, “Well, we just need to blow this up and start all over again.” No; you need to do the repair work. Get some counselling; get to a Weekend to Remember®. Do the work today. It may be hard work today, because you didn’t pour the foundation well at the beginning; but do the work today, so that you can start building for a new future.
Ann: I don’t even know if you’re aware that you mentioned, several times, mentoring: “our mentors”/”our mentors.” I think some people think they can do it alone; they have Jesus. But that mentoring is really important—that you have people, ahead of you, that you can look up to that are speaking into you; that are continually observing and helping; and someone to go to—we need that in the body of Christ.
Ann: We’re supposed to have that.
Dave: Also, obviously, like Bob said, get to a Weekend to Remember; pick up a book called The 7 Rings of Marriage.
Bob: There you go.
Dave: I’m guessing you’d say, “Read it together—not just alone—together.
Dave: “And start working on the marriage.”
Bob: And figure out: “Where are we?” or “Where did we do it right? Where did we do it wrong? How can we move forward in health and in strength?”
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If you can make a donation today, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe’s book, The 7 Rings of Marriage: Your Model for a Lasting and Fulfilling Marriage. The book is our thank-you gift to you when you donate to support FamilyLife Today. You can make that donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. Again, the number is 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
By the way, we just wrapped up our first Weekend to Remember in more than a year—had the Weekend to Remember in Branson, Missouri—we still have a handful of these events happening this spring. I’m not giving you details; because these details are kind of changing as time goes—depending on what is going on in different regions and hotel ballroom policies—things like that. But you can go to our website, FamilyLife Today.com, and find out when you can join the Bledsoes, or the Wilsons, or any of us at these Weekend to Remember marriage getaways that we host in cities all around the country. Again, find out more about the spring schedule for Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. Our hope and prayer is that, come fall, we’ll be back, going full strength, with the Weekend to Remember; so stay connected. We’ll keep you up to date with that.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow as we’re going to continue talking about the stages or phases that marriages go through with Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe. I hope you’ll be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some extra help this week from Bruce Goff and, of course, 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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