As snow poured down and ice formed on the slick Dallas streets, Debbie Wingfield lay on her bed, doubled over in pain. Through labored breathing, she tried to reach for the phone to call her husband, John, but her arms were too weak. As soon as he arrived home that evening, John recognized Debbie was in real trouble and raced her to the hospital.
“That night, I experienced loneliness like I had never felt before,” said John. “Debbie had nearly bled to death from an ectopic pregnancy. At 2 AM in the hospital chapel, I cried out to a God I didn’t know or believe in. It was a bargaining prayer of sorts, as I asked, ‘God, if you’re real, would you please spare Debbie’s life?’ God was gracious to us that night, and Debbie survived. But, I was not faithful to God.” John grew up in the Dallas area – one of seven kids. Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse were common in his home. “One of my most vivid childhood memories was my dad standing on my neck with my head smashed up against the sofa,” said John. “I spent most of my life without a healthy earthly father, and no belief in a Heavenly Father. That mindset led to destruction.”
Debbie trusted in Christ when she was 12 years old, but her young faith was rocked a short time later when her parents divorced. “Their divorce and my mother’s death from cancer when I was 18 years old were difficult, but God always gave me strength,” said Debbie. John and Debbie met in 2nd grade and were good friends in junior high and high school. When the two wrote letters to each other, each one was signed, “Your True Life Friend.” The pair dated throughout college and married when they were 22 years old.
As a young couple, the Wingfields went to church, and John even served as the president of their Sunday School class, although he was an atheist. “I went to church to make business contacts,” said John. “I never gave any thought to God at all. I was an angry, selfish man.”
The fabric of their marriage began to fray when John and Debbie were ready to start a family. “I didn’t have a faith, and trusted in what I call the human trinity – me, myself, and I,” said John. “When Debbie miscarried, the only thing I had to comfort her with was science. That night as Debbie lay in the hospital, God began the process of changing my heart,” said John.
In 1985, John met a man who talked to him about faith and invited him to a men’s Bible study. “I went to the Bible study, and later, trusted Christ,” said John. “But I did not allow myself to become a new creation. We were parents to a son and daughter by then, but I still made life all about John.”
The couple’s inability to resolve conflict led to yelling, screaming, and long periods of not acknowledging each other. For years, the family walked on egg shells around John, so as to not provoke him. “My wife and kids were fearful of my harsh words and critical spirit,” said John. “It was only when our kids went off to college, and it was just the two of us at home, that we decided to come to Watermark and open our lives up to community with other believers.”The dynamic of their marriage began to change when John and Debbie went to re|engage, Watermark’s marriage ministry. “Each of us learned that we needed to draw a circle around ourselves and work on what was inside,” said Debbie. “We’d never had a circle of friends to speak into our lives about money, conflict, or anything like that. Over time, as we grew comfortable with community, I learned that re|engage is a place where miraculous things happen.”
The biggest change God made in their marriage was learning to forgive. “At one point, I would have rather died than apologize to Debbie,” said John. “But God’s Word changed our hearts, and we began to learn how to ask for and receive forgiveness. Of course, we still argue, but an argument lasts for 30 minutes now, not three weeks, thanks to God’s work in our lives.”
Today, John and Debbie serve as leaders in re|engage and regularly share their story with others in that ministry. “We tell couples that in order for the Lord to help them, they have to lay down their swords, just like we did,” said Debbie. “We have seen God reconcile couples after infidelity and restore broken marriages the world would deem hopeless. No matter what a couple has faced, I have no doubt that Jesus can heal and restore any marriage, as He did with ours.”
“Through our wreck of a marriage came a relationship with Christ, who is my peace and hiding place,” said John. “I’ve gone from thinking I didn’t need God, to trusting Christ as my Lord and Savior. God gave me a wife who loved me when I was totally unlovable and forgave me when I was unforgivable. The Lord has taken our mess of a marriage and made it our message so that others can know about His hope and comfort.”