Brett My name is Brett Bruster and this is my wife, Jan. We have been married 38 years and have two sons. Garrett is 34, and married to Alex. They have a 2 year-old who is our first grandchild and are expecting a second soon. Our younger son is Travis. He is 30 and married to Robin. Jan and I are high school sweethearts who are today grateful for God’s grace in saving us and our marriage. In 2005, we were on the verge of divorce, but thanks be to God today we have a much stronger relationship now than we’ve ever had.
Jan and I both come from broken homes. My parents divorced when I was 9 years old. All I remember of those earliest years was the constant arguing of my parents. There was lots of yelling and my childhood was not one of peace at home. Though my mother was the daughter of a Baptist preacher and a believer, when she left home she found the world more enticing than following Christ and married my father who was an unbeliever. Her parents had tried to get her to see that it was a mistake to marry an unbeliever, but she wouldn't listen. So, when the worst of the turmoil at home was going on during the divorce, my sister and I spent lots of time with my grandparents. They were wonderful Christians and my grandfather led me to a profession of Christ.
However, my mother remarried within a year and a half. He was a very decent man but also was an unbeliever. My new stepfather’s job caused us to move, so I saw my grandparents only occasionally after that. I had no adults in my life who were discipling me and really had no examples in my life of anyone who lived an abiding relationship with the Lord.
Jan I grew up in a house in which my father was basically never at home. He was an alcoholic, as were his parents and didn’t become sober until long after I was an adult. He was constantly gone on the professional rodeo circuit or busy doing anything but being home with his wife and three daughters. When my parents separated, it took 3 weeks before any of us girls asked where our Dad was. That’s how unaccustomed we were to his involvement in our daily lives.
One of my most painful memories is when I was a young Girl Scout and my father failed to show up at a Father/Daughter dance. I was the only girl at the dance whose father didn’t show up. The father of another girl there felt sorry for me and offered to dance with me, but I didn’t want to. I can still feel that sharp sense of humiliation that overwhelmed me that night. When I compared myself with the other girls there, all I could think about was that they must be worthwhile because their fathers had shown up, and I, on the other hand, must not be worth much because mine didn’t.
My mother took my sisters and I to church occasionally when we were young, but she was not a believer and she found some imagined reason to get mad at the church and we quit going. After that, there was virtually no recognition of God in our house.
Brett As Jan and I began our married lives, we were both products of our environments. Neither one of us had any idea what a real marriage was supposed to look like. We got married while we were in college. We were young, in love, and just assumed we would make each other happy. And in many ways we did, but we were both broken and selfish, so problems began to manifest.
And though we didn’t really understand it, both of us were subject to depression and I, in particular, developed the habit of relying on alcohol as a way of coping with that depression. We would fight, and when I had been drinking, I would become very verbally abusive sometimes erupting in rage. I had grown up in an environment where all conflicts were engaged in with anger and yelling. I had never seen my parents resolve conflict in any kind of a constructive way. So when Jan and I had conflict, I would say terribly hurtful things and try to control the conversation with fits of rage. When this happened, I would later feel very ashamed and apologize. Jan was very forgiving, but in spite of my shame over my behavior, eventually the cycle would repeat itself.
Jan After our children were born, Brett and I began to attend church. During that period, I attended a “Walk to Emmaus”, a weekend Christian spiritual retreat. There. I accepted Christ as my Savior. However, we still had problems in our marriage.
I convinced myself that all the problems in our marriage were his fault. It was easy to blame him because I could point to his drinking, but the truth was that I too had lots of sin that was contributing to our problems. I would just hide behind the fact that his sin was more visible.
The truth was that I had been reared in an environment where no one ever admitted when they were wrong and where feelings and emotions reigned supreme and were never to be challenged. So, in retrospect, there were many times where Brett would be right in challenging me on my thinking or my actions, but I would not allow it. It was extremely rare for me ever ask for forgiveness. I would simply withdraw from a conversation if I didn’t see any way to blame him. Anything was preferable to admitting that I was wrong or that I needed to ask for forgiveness. That was something I just didn’t do.
Brett Jan and I have come to understand that we were created, not just to believe in Christ as our Savior, but to love Him supremely, to center our very lives on Him above anything else, and to build our identities on Him. When we build our lives on anything else, Jesus tells us that we are building on a foundation of sand and that the storms of life will destroy what we have built. God says, in the very first of His 10 commandments, “You shall have no other Gods before Me.” The Bible tells us that sin is not just the doing of bad things, but also the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something or someone else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than our relationship to God. This is what happened to us. Jan and I had both entered our relationship very needy. We both had childhoods that left us feeling insecure and looking to others for our sense of value. As a result, we were both looking for someone to fill what we perceived was missing in our lives. But neither of us was even close to having the ability fulfill everything the other needed. We loved each other very deeply, but because we did not rely on Jesus for our respective identities, our relationship was crumbling.
Jan In Pastor Tim Keller’s book, “The Reason for God,” he quotes another author who says: No human relationship can bear this burden of godhood…. If your spouse is your “All” then any shortcoming in him or her becomes a major threat to you…. What is it that we want when we elevate our spouse to this position? We want to be rid of our feeling of nothingness… to know our existence has not been in vain. We want redemption – nothing less. Needless to say, humans cannot give this. This is exactly where we were as a couple. We wanted each other to fulfill our every need, and neither one of us could live up to that expectation. In fact, both us fell way short of that expectation.
Brett My reaction to this state of affairs was to abuse alcohol as a way of coping with my depression and frustration, and to rage in anger when Jan didn’t meet my every expectation. We had a very negative pattern of communication. If there were any kind of disagreement between us, I would escalate. Sometimes that escalation would take the form of anger and yelling. Sometimes, it was just me not letting go of a subject when it wasn’t anything to have conflict over. Meanwhile, Jan’s reaction to any conflict was to withdraw. So, when we had a disagreement, even a minor one, it could very quickly turn into terrible argument.
Jan As our marriage deteriorated, I began to suffer so badly from depression that I began to struggle with very dark thoughts, even contemplating what a relief death would be. I never actually had suicidal thoughts, but I was in a very dangerous place emotionally and spiritually. During that time, it never even occurred to me that any of our struggles were my fault. I considered it obvious that all our problems were due to his drinking. And when I went to see a psychiatrist to get help with my depression, he just basically reinforced my belief that none of this was my fault. His solution was to prescribe antidepressants and to tell me that the real source of my problems was twofold: first, brain chemistry, which the drugs were supposed to help, and second, that my husband was at fault because of his drinking and anger. He never even suggested that I look at my own shortcomings. For my part, I looked at the overt sin of Brett’s drinking and told myself that this was the sole source of my problems - that all of our marriage problems were entirely his fault.
Brett All of this led us to a point in 2005, that when I came home from a business trip Jan informed me that she wanted a divorce. I was devastated. I tried to get her to give us another chance but she said she had already talked with a divorce lawyer and that her decision was final. Our kids came home from school and we sat them down, and amidst many tears told them what was happening. It was a horrible day. That evening I gathered some clothes and went to my mother’s house who lived nearby. That night, I had a dream. I will tell you that I had never put any stock in dreams. In fact, I rarely remember my dreams and if I do, they definitely don’t seem to have any significance. But this dream was different. I was on a ship at sea. There was a terrible storm and the ship was being destroyed, and me with it. There was broken glass everywhere and I had shards of glass imbedded in me and I was bleeding profusely. It was very graphic. Suddenly, I heard God telling me that not only was I being destroyed by the storm, but that I was the storm. By living for myself with no regard for God’s will, I was destroying both myself and my family. I woke up aware of how broken I was and begging God to forgive me and to give me another chance.
Jan From that day forward, Brett began to change. I could see that he was different and we began anew. We both turned our lives over to God and decided to make Him our first priority. We recognized that if our lives and our marriage were going to be put back into order, Christ would have to be our King. It was not an immediate process. We both had to learn how to abide in Christ daily, and I had much yet to learn about my own sinful patterns. I had to work hard to humble myself and learn to admit when I was wrong. I had to learn to ask for forgiveness, because as Brett began to change, it became more and more obvious to me that not all of our problems were his fault. I saw that I too was broken and needed to submit myself to the transformation that only Christ could bring.
We now had real hope. We had belonged to a church for years, but as we began to search for God anew and to read the Bible daily, we realized that the church we were involved in did not treat God’s Word with the authority that it merits. We found a church that did see the Bible as the final authority over our lives and began to apply it.
Brett The process of learning to follow Christ and trust Him was not an immediate thing. It took time as we studied the Bible and applied it to our lives. But gradually, as we did, change took place. I entered a Bible-based twelve-step program, and with God’s help I am completely free today of any desire to escape difficulty with alcohol. As Christ began to work change in me, my anger began to subside. It is a weakness that I still, sometimes find myself battling.
Jan and I don’t want to pretend that we have a perfect marriage. We still have struggles. But there is such a difference in our lives and marriage. We each abide daily in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have a community of believers who are as committed to God and His will for their lives as we want to be and they keep us from returning to the isolation that dominated our married lives for so long. We are both committed to our marriage in such a way that we cannot even imagine seeking to escape from it anymore. We are working on drawing the circle around ourselves and removing the board from our own eye before we seek to remove the speck from the other’s eye. I say we are working on it, because we both still fail. We know that God’s work in each of us will not be finished until He calls us home, but we trust His word which tells us that “He who began a good work in us will perfect it.” And thanks be to God, our marriage is the strongest it has ever been.
Jan Brett has become a servant leader in our household and because of His commitment to the will of God which can be seen in every aspect of His life. Our two sons have been transformed by the change they have seen in the lives of their parents. They and their wives are wholly committed to God. We are blessed so much at the mercy God has shown us. We want to close our testimony by encouraging you to trust God. We know that many of you here tonight are in great pain and feel completely hopeless. We want you to know that we understand how you feel. We have been there. The Bible makes it clear that God allows difficult circumstances in our lives in order to help us realize that He is our only hope. If you will respond to the painful period that you are going through with a decision to trust Jesus Christ to be both your Savior and your Lord, then everything can change. You can experience the same transformation that we have.
Brett I close our testimony tonight with one of my favorite passages in Scripture. God is speaking to us through His prophet Jeremiah. He contrasts the person who rejects God with the person who puts his trust in God. Jeremiah 17:5-8 reads this way:
This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land.
7 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
8 They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.
Thank you for letting us share our story with you tonight.