by Beth Townsend
“I’m done!” Kristen Landry yelled from the other room. Her husband Brent was on the phone, and though he heard her speaking, he waved, as if to say ‘wait a minute.’ The business call was important.
She didn’t wait. “I’m done. Hey … I’m done. Done with you! I want a divorce.” With her voice raised, frustration oozing in her tone, she was at the end of her rope and it couldn’t wait another minute.
They’d come home from church like any other ordinary Sunday. Yet today was the day she gave up. Tired of fighting, tired of laundry, tired of raising three kids while he was at work, she was ready to throw in the towel.
Most married couples have felt similarly at one time or another; the give-and-take life of compromise can be daunting. Some statistics support that more than half of all marriages end in divorce but should that be the case with Christians?
This heated conversation in the Landry home happened about a year ago. Realizing they had not been there for one another, this crisis opened the door for last-ditch efforts to fix what had been wrong for years.
Kristen is from Baton Rouge and Brent is from Donaldsonville. They attend Ascension Catholic Church. Kristen’s life before Brent had its ups and downs. “I grew up active in the church but had one foot in and one foot out, my flesh was weak growing up.” The relationship with her father was distant. The youngest of three children, she was constantly looking for that male relationship to make up for the one that was distant with her father. “I became promiscuous at an early age. I didn’t know at that time that I was so hungry, hungry for God and hungry for that father figure.”
At 17, she went to work at White Oak Plantation and met Brent who was 24. They connected initially but decided to go their separate ways and would reconnect later in life.
Soon after she graduated high school Kristen quit her job, and a drunk driver tragically killed her 12-year-old cousin. She was devastated as well as convicted.
It was in a dream that God visited her, awaking her to her own reality. “The next night after I had the dream I was confessing my sins to God, each by name.” She admitted to God she didn’t want to live that way anymore. She prayed, “I know that you love me, help me to find you.” She opened her Bible and began to read, finding much of what was in her dream in the very Word of God. The now 18-year-old, crying profusely, plead, “God please tell me that I am going to be saved, that you forgive me and that you love me.” Then she recalls, “I went to a scripture box that my mom had and I pulled out a card that said, ‘So I will save you and you shall be a blessing.’”
At that time, Brent was dealing with his own demons. In treatment for alcohol addiction, Kristen decided to call to see how he had been since they’d gone their separate ways that past summer. “I had prayed for he and Melissa to work things out, to have the Lord in their life and to be good together as a married couple.” She learned that Brent was at his parents’ and his wife was leaving. “She was preparing to depart with her boyfriend and my son,” Brent responded.
Kristen and Brent reconnected quickly, falling into that old relationship pattern. Soon, they realized this was not a Godly relationship and chose simply to be friends.
Brent was in a season of tremendous change as he went through the annulment process. He too had challenges to overcome as a result of childhood pain. “I grew up in a strong Catholic family. My parents have been married for 52 years. My dad was an alcoholic and has been sober for 38 years now. My sister was killed in a tragic car accident when I was 7-years-old.”
She was no ordinary sister, but had undertaken the role of Brent’s surrogate mom. “My mom was always chasing my dad because he was active in his addictions. My sister taught me how to tell time and how to tie my shoes. Then one day God tragically took her away from us,” he remembered with sadness.
“This led to my dad’s drinking intensifying and eventually to him sobering up. I had developed anger toward God. When I went through treatment in 1992 that was one of the focal points of therapy. The counselor helped me to properly deal with the anger and grief of losing my sister. From that moment on my anger toward God was released.”
Through the process, Brent learned to accept his own personal truths that had impacted his wife. “I am a workaholic, everything I do, I do too much of. I play hard, I love hard, and I sleep hard. The same pattern that I went through in my first marriage I ended up going through many years later in our marriage.
“My son Jacques is 25 now. He and his mom had moved away. The next 20 years I would see him one week at a time during Christmas or summer. When he came home after he was gone for 20 years I cried for three days, I could not turn it off. It was a combination of joy and pain and grief. He was home to stay,” Brent recalled poignantly.
Brent and Kristen married in 1996. Just two years later Brent’s brother committed suicide. “I was sober in 1992, then two years into our marriage I found my brother dead with a gunshot wound to the heart. He was manic-depressive with Schizophrenia Bipolar. He was an artist and he had just painted a 3×5 picture of Satan,” Brent said sadly.
The tragedy caused Brent to struggle internally, a spiritual battle that would last ten years. Because the couple had committed their marriage to Christ, they realized they needed counseling to learn to communicate. Kristen commented, “I was a stuffer. I grew up in a family where you did not talk about you feelings. Brent was a lover and he was trying to fix things.”
“We learned in counseling that the only way to get through differences is to communicate. That one thing, outside of putting God first in our lives is what got us through every step.”
Kristen was 27 when they found out they were going to have a baby. He was born with Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome and lived only six weeks. Brent’s voice quivered as he remembered, “I watched her hold that baby when he died. I admired Kristen so much, how she handled the loss. She sung Ava Maria to him daily. It had a tremendous impact on Kristen. A lot of couples go by the way side with an event like that, but it made us stronger. It was painful, there was a lot of grief and mourning. But Matthew was a miracle in our lives. He was sent to us.”
“Brent was instrumental in pulling me out of that pit,” Kristen recalled. “He was down too, but he did not handle Matthew’s death the same way I did. We struggled together. We sought support. Woman’s Hospital has a support group for infant loss, so we plugged in. We also plugged in closely with another Catholic couple that mentored us, and that was key. Seek help from another Christian rooted in the Word that is going to a church who can guide you.”
Kristen learned other habits that helped as they have worked through their trials.
“Don’t get on the phone with your friend whose marriage is struggling and gossip and complain. Go get help where help is needed and keep your mouth shut otherwise. Do not feed the fire of the negative,” she said adamantly.
Soon after Matthew’s death, Kristen got pregnant again. Currently they have five children who are 9, 12, 14 (2), and 25, one of whom is an adopted niece. Brent smiled and said proudly, “Kristen now has a wonderful relationship with my son, Jacques.”
Pain always has a purpose. “I do feel that I need to share with other women and couples. Because of my upbringing, I still battle anger,” Kristen stated. “I am a strong choleric personality, the baby of the family, a driver, [I] want control, and have to plan everything. Learning how to relinquish control over Brent, our children, and circumstances is hard.”
Kristen recognized that better communication was the catalyst for a better relationship. “My love language is time, and his is words,” she offered. “He doesn’t have to spend time with me to know he is loved. Because he is a workaholic and we’ve had financial struggles, he was always out hitting the daily grind. Often I felt like a single mom. I was angry and bitter. We looked good and smelled good, but we were not on the same page for years.”
Unfortunately Kristen took that anger out on Brent and the kids. For a season she struggled greatly with thoughts of infidelity. He struggled with working too much. She went back to work in 2012 after being a stay at home mom for ten years, and the relationship began to further plummet. He was trying to solve money problems, while in reality there was a huge spiritual problem.
The door to some very painful months was opened. Brent ended up back in addiction treatment struggling with prescription drugs and ADD medications. The couple also started drinking more after Mathew’s death. Brent added, “We were married for 13 years. When she brought up divorce, it led me to be suicidal.”
At that point they sought the help from marriage counselor Steven Fox. Fox advised Kristen not to take lightly Brent’s suicidal thoughts. It was a delicate time, the threat real, and signs evident.
Christian counseling became key. Their first meeting required tough answers. Fox asked, “Do you hate each other and want to go your separate ways? Or do you love each other and want to make it work?”
They left that meeting and had a long talk. “It was as though we’d just found out how to communicate. It had been years since we just sat and poured our hearts out to each other. We both cried, angry and hurting, each bitter,” Kristen said.
Brent recalled, “For the first ten years of marriage, we were side-by-side, building ministry and raising children. But you can’t let your children be more important than your marriage. Go to the Lord together, try to communicate and work through things because the world will pull you apart. Plus, we always let the lack of money be the excuse for not having family time or going on dates.”
Many marriages that end in divorce are the result of misunderstandings and poor communication. Kristen advises, “I had to look him in the eye and say ‘I love you, I want to be with you.’ I am screaming, ‘let’s make this work.’ While we are feeling abandoned on the inside we are crying out ‘I love you.’”
The problem was the couple was speaking different languages. They didn’t know how to speak to each other effectively until Fox introduced a book called “Love and Respect.” “This book is amazing,” the Landrys said in unison.
Learning to accept where they had been and where they needed to go, they learned things about one another that were painful. Coming clean on secrets, finally, reality was on the table.
Kristen sighed. “My biggest prayer had become ‘God change me.’ I was done trying to make him the man that I think he needs to be. ‘God show me Brent as you see him, as you want him to be. Help me to love him for who he is and who you created him to be.’”
Brent fought his need for help. Still suicidal, Kristen cried out, “Dear God something has to give here!” Seven months ago on April 17, 2015, Brent was convinced of his need and went to Serenity Center in Baton Rouge where Beaux Danton is a counselor. Brent was trusting God, yet in the back of his mind, he had doubts that Kristen would be waiting when he returned. “My biggest fear was losing Kristen and the kids. I had been through it before and I didn’t want that again,” he shared.
The Landrys communicated by letter while Brent was in treatment, which helped begin the healing process. During treatment Brent was able to admit to and deal with a traumatic issue he’d kept hidden in his heart since high school. This was a final piece in the missing puzzle that unlocked the deep healing his soul was seeking. Finally confessing to Beaux and letting go of that tremendous pain, he was free at last.
When he shared the depth of that healing with Kristen, it all made sense: the drugs, the alcohol, and the obsessive behaviors. He’d been hurt. He needed supernatural healing, and that weekend he got it.
Often, in marriage, couples dream of the idyllic life behind the white picket fence. Then blindsided to the reality of raising a family, couples tend to think they are failures, that picket fences are for other people … just not us. It was that Kristen wanted to fix her broken childhood by providing the perfect environment for her family. “Steve asked me to close my eyes, and I was mourning over not having the house with the white picket fence,” Kristen remembered. Then her paradigm shifted. “Now the white meant purity of our family. The fence is God’s army protecting us.”
The couple realized they were missing out on the best that God had had for them. Kristen said, “We are broken together. We are whole and at peace because the Lord is the head of the family. That is the miracle! We are together because of Jesus Christ.” And, Kristen and Brent adopted as their theme song, “Broken Together” by Casting Crowns.
Professional help was a key in learning the skills the Landrys needed to communicate effectively. Reading Bible-based books together was monumental and kept the conversations going daily. “We absolutely promote two books,” they agreed, “The Power of Prayer to Change Your Marriage,” by Stormie Omartin, and “Love and Respect,” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.
Even though children see their parents’ struggles in a home, they can in these situations learn to deal with conflict and solve problems instead of avoiding them. Nodding at Brent she continued, “During the height of our struggles, we were not there for the children; we were fighting, they were fighting. They were disrespectful to each other; it was a house full of disrespect. But we’ve been honest with them that you don’t give up when things don’t go your way. You work it through and God will see you through even when you don’t see the end. You hold on tight and trust in the Lord. He will work the miracle out. To say that things are perfect would be a stretch. The kids can mess up a house faster than I can clean it. But my relationship with my children is flourishing, I am looking forward to continued progress.”
Today Kristen and Brent love to point other couples to Christ. His love and presence has been the glue that has held them together. They want to see others rise in that same victory. “We live in a glass house, if we can help others, we would love to. You can’t teach what you haven’t walked, but once you have walked something, you have a lot to offer,” Kristen says with sincerity.