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To what lengths will God go to strengthen marriages? If anyone can answer that question, it would be Greg and Ada Billiot.
And you might say it happened just in time.
In the fall of 2004, their marriage was in shambles. It was such a sad thing, too. They had known each other since attending the same elementary school in New Orleans. Later they dated for three years before deciding to marry. Now, just a few days after celebrating their tenth anniversary, Greg and Ada split up.
Of course, no marriage falls apart solely because of one spouse's actions, but Greg takes most of the blame for himself. Rather than being attentive to his family, Greg's focus was where he was getting his fulfillment—on his work. And that was where he spent most of his week. With four young children, Ada was left to carry the brunt of the home responsibilities mostly alone, exhausted and longing for companionship.
"Greg would give so much to his work that when he came home, he was too tired to spend time with the kids and with me," Ada recalls. "I was hurt and angry over Greg's selfishness. I felt like I was giving and giving and I wasn't getting anything back—just running on empty."
In the midst of the desolation, however, God was still at work. During the separation, people in their church who knew that they were having serious marital problems were befriending Greg and Ada. One person in particular encouraged them to attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage conference in Alabama. This friend was so convinced that this was what they needed that he was willing to pay their registration and even pay Greg the salary he would lose by missing work to attend the conference.
In his rebellion toward Christ and rejection of his family, Greg declined the offer. But slowly God was getting hold of Greg's heart to show him the seriousness of the situation.
"As we met with our mentors," Greg says, "I began to see that if Ada and I got a divorce, and 2-3 years later I got married, I still would have had to fix something within my heart to make another marriage work. But I also realized that this marriage to Ada was the one God intended for me. This is the one I wanted to last for a lifetime."
"Over the next few months, I was hearing about couples who had attended this conference who had their marriage life turned around. We knew that if anything was going to change for us, this was going to have to be it because Ada had already met with a lawyer and all she had to do was go sign the divorce papers."
When Greg learned that there was another Weekend to Remember conference coming to Cincinnati, he decided they needed to go. He met with Ada at the lawyer's office and told her he wanted to give the conference a try.
Convicted and Transformed
Greg says that the only way he can describe the conference is to say, "The only time I've felt more conviction is at the time of my conversion to Christ. When God revealed things to me at the conference, it just blew the door open to my understanding. He showed me just how out of control my selfishness had been. The Holy Spirit convicted me of my selfishness and how rejecting my wife was rejecting Christ as well. It hit home for me."
"My heart was hardened, but when I saw the hurt and the pain that I caused my wife, it hurt me to know what I had put her through."
Greg took away a key from the conference—one that would unlock his wife's heart. He began to pattern his love for Ada after Christ's love for His own bride, the church. As convinced as he was that this was the right thing to do, Greg admits it was far from easy.
"I know that making the bed for her makes her day. For me, it's a fleshly battle of laziness. I'll do it, but I go back and forth a few times before I do. Still, I'm making a conscious effort to make deposits into her love account because that's how she best feels my love for her."
And Ada, despite years of wounds and skepticism, did soften up because of consistent small things that she saw in her husband.
"It didn't happen all it once," she says. "Each day I was seeing ways that God was changing Greg—in the way he responded during arguments, in the way that it wasn't all about him anymore, in the way that he was now taking care of the kids and meeting my needs. His relationship with God changed, and he stepped up to the plate as our spiritual leader."
Another Storm Hits
For the next six months, Greg and Ada's marriage grew stronger and closer. Both grew in their personal relationships with Christ. They gained valuable experience and insight as they sat under the guidance of older, godly mentor couples. They were starting to experience the joy of the Lord through the fellowship they were having at their local church.
And it's a good thing their marriage was healing, because on August 29, 2005, God in His providence sent Katrina. And within a few days their world changed.
Having grown up their entire lives in the New Orleans metro area, Greg and Ada knew a serious hurricane threat when they saw one. So they packed up three days worth of clothes, loaded their four children into the van and headed inland to Birmingham to ride out the storm.
But after a few days, it was becoming clear that it would be a long time before they could return home. They eventually learned that their home was not damaged, but the photography store were Greg worked was destroyed.
Ada's mother was in Lexington, Kentucky, and she encouraged them to them to come there. As they drove up, Greg said to Ada, "We have four kids, there's absolutely no way I can be out of work for any length of time. We'll wind up drowning."
The Billiots soon saw that God had already prepared the way for them in Kentucky. When they visited a church just after arriving, Greg was approached by the owner of a car dealership and offered a job. They found a house big enough for the family, and the landlord offered the first month rent-free while they got on their feet. The church also gathered up some money to tide them over for a while. All this occurred within 10 days of leaving Louisiana.
Despite the bright future, Ada was experiencing real loss. "One day we're content where we are, and the next day we're uprooted. The week before Hurricane Katrina hit, we were in a wonderful church, I had just taken up the responsibility as co-director of the mother's day out at church—something I had been waiting for forever.
"I had to get on my knees and pray 'God, I don't want to move. I'm content where I am. But if this is where You want me to be, You need to give me peace.' Even though it was hard and my flesh wanted to go back, he gave me the peace that only He could give. I knew God had a plan for us, I just didn't know what it was."
A New Chapter
It didn't take long for Ada and Greg to get a glimpse of God's new plans. Now away from their comfortable, familiar surroundings back home, their eyes were opened to see that God was not only interested in saving their marriage, but also in using them to strengthen others.
Ada began developing friendships that gave her opportunities to minister to women who were having marital struggles. At the same time, Greg was finding opportunities to tell co-workers and customers about the breakthrough in his and Ada's relationship, and how God doesn't want couples to settle for anything less than an outstanding marriage.
"These guys can hear their heart speaking to them about how much I got out of the Weekend to Remember conference," Greg says. "If nothing else, they're willing to listen to me when I tell them to just invest one weekend into their marriage and watch what comes out of it."
Greg and Ada are starting a HomeBuilders Couples Series study in their home, and are also volunteering on FamilyLife's city ministry team in Lexington to promote the next Weekend to Remember conference. Greg says, "I can't stress enough how important it is to for us to become involved in people's lives, to ask the uncomfortable questions, to be the mentors to the ones who are struggling, to take them under our wings and let Christ move in their marriages."
Earlier this year, Greg and Ada couldn't pass up the opportunity to attend their second Weekend to Remember conference when it came to nearby Louisville. For Ada, the growth that she had seen in Greg over the previous year paved the way for God to speak to her specifically during the conference.
"I saw that we both had to give all 100 percent and not just 50/50. The first conference was life-changing—I'm in awe of what God has done Greg's life. It did change me, but it's taken time, because I was hurt.
"But Greg's actions made it easier to forgive him and to meet his needs and love him more than I had been. Before long, I really got to the point where I saw how God was changing him and I said 'God, change me too.' Up to that point I wasn't seeing my faults because I was worried about him changing. After that, I got to the point where I wanted to be like him. I'm in awe really of what God has done in his life."
Greg acknowledges that their marriage has matured even further because of the Louisville conference, but admits that they can't just sit back and take it easy now.
"Like your relationship with Christ, it's a constant growing process. When the growth stops or slows down, there's a danger of spiraling downward. This last conference has taken us to the next level of better communication and oneness in our marriage. It's no longer just putting a bandage on that gushing wound of our marriage relationship as it was. Now we're not just together, but we're excited and happy to be together, and that shows through the joy and peace that we have with each other."