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Spirit-filled marriages ought to be the norm, Bill & Anabel Gillham say


FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Jesus was saving their 20-year marriage in a far greater way than they ever dreamed possible.
She was in deep depression, thinking at times about suicide, even though she had become a Christian at the tender age of 12.
He was a psychology professor whose mind, inexplicably, started going blank in front of his classes. He had become a Christian 13 years earlier, at the age of 29, and yet his faith hadn’t lessened how harshly he treated his wife.
Waking up each morning she thought to herself, “Dear God, I cannot face this day.” There was no joy, no fulfillment in her faith. For years she had tried to make her marriage work. If anybody could make it work, she had believed, it was her. She had been her high school’s valedictorian and voted in college the most popular girl on campus. Her self-esteem had been built on how well she could tackle any challenge.
Even so, her marriage hadn’t worked, and she had no hope that it ever would.
He had been critical of her homemaking — failing to acknowledge even her gestures of love — from the outset of their marriage.
“What a guy,” Bill Gillham sometimes moans of how he treated his wife, Anabel, for, yes, 20 years and, yes, for the 13 years after he had become a Christian and had developed a reputation, everywhere but behind the doors of his home, for helping others find faith in Christ.
Then came the changes that turned the Gillhams from their destructive ways and began shaping them into marriage retreat leaders and co-authors committed to helping people move from their marital — and spiritual — wildernesses to fullness in Christ — and do so far more quickly, hopefully, than the 20 years it took them.
“I think that time gap can be telescoped by good, sound teaching — good, sound discipleship that this is the normal Christian life,” said Bill, whose outreach with Anabel, Lifetime Guarantee Ministries, is based in Fort Worth, Texas.
“For years, Anabel and I focused on but one facet of what Jesus Christ had accomplished for us, the forgiveness of our sins,” Bill said. “Wonderful as our blessed forgiveness is, living on earth is far more complex than being forgiven.”
Even after becoming a deeply committed Christian, Bill said, “Anabel found very little comfort in knowing that I was forgiven.” She still faced the pattern of criticism and ridicule that Bill had brought to the marriage at its outset. “What she needed was her husband to understand how to trust Christ to live through him to treat her with the tenderness she needed and deserved.”
In the midst of their respective agonies, Bill recounted, “The Holy Spirit showed us that Jesus accomplished two additional miracles for us:”
— Everyone who has embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior has “undergone a change in his spiritual identity from sinner to saint.” The new birth gives each believer “a new identity — your true identity now and throughout all eternity.”
— Each believer has “received a new kind of life altogether — Christ as life — to replace our former life. Christ now desires to express his life through us, instead of our trying to follow in his steps in our own strength.”
“It’s such a simple truth,” Anabel said, “verbalized to us at salvation in the simplest way: ‘Would you like to ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart?’ And we say, ‘Yes, I would.’ But then we aren’t taught what happens now that Jesus Christ has come into our lives. He has come into us to empower us to live the Christian life.
“There is an answer for the marriage that has no life,” Anabel continued. “There is an answer for the marriage that is just existing or one in which the husband and wife are constantly sparring.
“And that answer is to realize that you, now, can be the healing agent in your marriage as you allow Christ to live through you.”
For Bill, the first inkling of these spiritual truths came in his career.
“It was through a failure in my job. I had just gotten my doctorate from Oklahoma State University and had become a university psychology professor. And this is where God allowed the evil one to — I think it was all supernatural, choreographed to bring me to the end of my strength — just go blank in front of my classes.
“It didn’t happen every day, but it happened often enough that I was paranoid about going to class. I would go blank. My notes would not make sense to me. There was just a deathly silence in the classroom as I was up there struggling. My face turned red as a stoplight.”
The crisis prompted Bill to cry out to God. “I’d go into my office and shut the door and lock it and just cry out to God, ‘Help!’ And through that terrible, personal failure is how he began to give me a peek through the keyhole of Christ as life.
“As I began to understand this, that Christ wanted to teach psychology through me, using me, using my body, using my personality, using my knowledge of psychology — to express life through me by faith — then I claimed that in a time of prayer.
“And then I did a critically important thing. I didn’t sit there and wait until I felt differently. I got up off my knees and started toward the university. I was tentative, I was scared, I was afraid it wouldn’t work, I felt insecure, I thought I was just being a phony, just faking it, but I had no alternative and I just kept pushing on.
“And it began to work.”
For Anabel, her crushed hopes for a good marriage were the soil in which deeper spiritual truth sprouted.
She had been a lifelong “performer,” with an attitude in the face of life’s challenges that had always been, “I think I can; I’ll certainly try; I’ll give it my best shot.”
“I was performing, not for a group of people, but for Bill. I wanted his praise. I wanted his approval of my performance in the marriage. He wasn’t giving that to me, and I finally realized he was never going to give it to me. I had to come to the end of my strength to even be ready to listen to an answer. I had to come to the horrible realization that I couldn’t do it.”
Sobbing in bed one night, she came to “the complete end,” admitting to the Lord, “God, I don’t understand what is going on in my life. My marriage is so far from what I long for it to be and what I know you intended it to be. My kids are not turning out the way I want them to, and Lord, I am so tired. I’m weary. I’ve given and given and given, and I just don’t think I can give anymore.
“I’ve tried and tried, and I give up.”
And, while it wasn’t in an audible voice, she sensed the Lord’s compassion, “Thank you, Anabel,” followed by his promise, “I’ll do it all for you.”
“That night, I began walking in that truth. I’d fall at times, but I’d realize, just like Bill, what option do I have? I’d tried everything my way, and my way didn’t work. So I’ve got to try his way. And his way brought me through.”
Somehow, Bill and Anabel remained unaware of each other’s spiritual discovery. “Bill and I fell into that category of not communicating,” Anabel said. “I didn’t communicate because I had been hurt so many times. And Bill just was not a communicator. And so, we just didn’t talk about it.”
Then, several years later, Bill and Anabel were asked to lead a marriage seminar, after Bill had become director of a Christian counseling center in Missouri and Anabel was utilizing the truths in discipling some women.
“She put her notes on marriage together, and I put my notes together on articulating Christ as life and who we are in Christ, and we married the two together into a seminar.
“And that was just all the direction of the Holy Spirit,” Bill said. “We didn’t even realize it. Hardly anyone else was talking about it. None of our friends knew anything about this kind of a walk. And yet, the way we teach today is still very similar to what we taught in our first seminar back in ’75.”
Those truths also have been put into several books, including “Lifetime Guarantee” and “What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity” by Bill, “He Said, She Said” by Bill and Anabel and “The Confident Woman” by Anabel.
“Every phase of our married life,” Anabel said, “involves the belief that Christ through me is going to make this the experience that my husband needs, that my wife needs. The cry of people today, I believe, is: ‘You’re a Christian? Well, show me that you have something that I need. Your marriage is just like mine. What’s the difference?’ There is something that can make a gigantic, marvelous difference in a marriage, in a life, in a single person’s life, not just a marriage, but in a life. And that is to realize Christians are accepted and beloved by God and we have a power living within us, Jesus Christ, to meet the circumstances of life.”

This article was first published in HomeLife, the family magazine of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. (BP) photo to be posted in the BP Photos section of the Baptist Press photo area of www.sbc.net.