A Marriage Redeemed From the Rubble
By: Mary May Larmoyeux
Proud Sponsor of Anniversaries Story #56: With an already troubled marriage, police officer Chuck Douglas and his wife, Melissa, drifted further apart after the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
Just 18 months before, in April 1995, a bomb had destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people and wounding hundreds of others. The memory remained fresh in the minds of those attending a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway in Oklahoma City during the spring of 1996.
On the first night of the getaway, speaker Bob Lepine asked firefighters, policemen, and military personnel to stand and be recognized. As police officer Chuck Douglas and others stood, hundreds of attendees began clapping louder and louder, until thunderous applause filled the large meeting room.
For Chuck, the ovation came at a critical time in his life. He and his wife, Melissa, were on the verge of divorce, and somehow the applause encouraged him. He felt as if God was telling him, Keep going, I have a plan for your life!
Although friends would have said that Chuck and Melissa seemed like an ideal couple, they were actually living isolated lives. Chuck worked “second shift” at the police department and didn’t come home until about 2:30 a.m. By the time he woke up, Melissa was already at her job.
To make matters worse, Chuck tried to hold on to part of his former single lifestyle. “I wanted the partying, the running around, and the carrying on, and then to be able to come home to my wife who would be perfect and have supper made,” he says. With little time together, their communication dried up.
The Douglases were married for four years when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed. And their experience during the bombing provided a perfect picture of their own isolation.
On the Oklahoma City Police Force, Chuck was part of a team that feverishly searched through the rubble for survivors.
Melissa knew that Chuck was in Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing, and she spent the day worrying about him. When he finally returned home that night, streaked with dirt and blood, she expected him to tell her about what he had done. Instead he headed straight to bed.
Even in the days after the bombing, he never shared his thoughts and feelings about it with his wife. “He had nightmares and became more cold and distant because he was not dealing with the pain he had,” Melissa says. “He was internalizing it, and it was eating him alive.”
With an already troubled marriage, the Oklahoma City catastrophe drove the Douglases further apart. Chuck began to drink in binges, and life for Melissa felt like walking on eggshells. Full of anger and pain, Chuck would explode at her for even the smallest things.
Finally, about a year after the bombing, Melissa decided that living with her husband was hopeless, and she moved out. That got Chuck’s attention. He was at the lowest point of his life and had nowhere to turn.
Searching for answers
Although Chuck had become a Christian at age 13, he had strayed from his faith after high school. Now desperate, he dusted off his Bible and began searching the Scriptures. “I started seeking God,” Chuck recalls. “I started listening to Christian radio and heard for the first time about FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.”
One night, Chuck begged God to bring Melissa back home. He says, “I vowed to make things right.” A few days later he called Melissa and asked her to go to the Weekend to Remember in Oklahoma City. He desperately hoped God might use the conference to save his marriage.
Melissa saw no hope for her future with Chuck and made an appointment with a divorce attorney. Despite this, she agreed to go to the event, thinking she might learn something that would help her next marriage. So she told Chuck, “It might help us be better people for our next relationship.”
‘You have to save our marriage’
Early in the conference, Melissa sat on the second row doodling on her unopened manual. When Chuck tried to put his arm around her shoulder, she told him not to do that again.
Surprisingly, somehow Melissa began to listen to the messages as the weekend progressed. The purpose and plan of marriage, a personal relationship with Jesus—these were foreign concepts to her. Inwardly, God was chiseling away at Melissa’s hardened heart.
As much as she hated to admit it, she recognized she still loved Chuck. She just didn’t know how their marriage could possibly work. They had so many conflicts that instead of enjoying a romantic date on Saturday evening, they argued until 3 a.m. in their hotel room.
The next morning, after all of the arguing, Chuck realized that the Weekend to Remember was the best thing that had ever happened in his marriage. The door to communication between Melissa and him had finally swung open, but they needed help. He approached one of the speakers, Tim Muehlhoff, and said, “You have to save our marriage.”
Tim and his wife, Noreen, met separately with the Douglases that afternoon. Noreen and Melissa connected immediately, and Noreen explained how Melissa could have a personal relationship with Jesus. In the lobby of the hotel, Melissa knelt to pray and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. At last, she knew the One who could restore her marriage.
Then Melissa and Chuck prayed together for the first time. They confessed how they had wronged one another. God gave Melissa the courage to tell Chuck about a man she had dated when they were separated. Chuck did not explode with anger as he had in the past; God was making him a different person.
“Our old marriage had been based on lies,” Chuck says, “and we wanted to start with a clean slate. We did not want to live the rest of our lives with secrets.”
As the Douglases began to rebuild their marriage, they wanted to help others. They discovered FamilyLife’s small-group Bible studies for married couples (now called The Art of Marriage® Connect Series).
Chuck says the studies took the principles taught at the Weekend to Remember and brought them home. “I wanted to make sure that my marriage did not get into the shape that it was before the conference.”
Melissa remembers how God convinced her that He wanted Chuck and her to help other couples by leading a small group study. She says, “It was as though He said, ‘This is where you are [in your marriage], and I am going to take you to a higher level.'”
Nearly two decades have passed since God began to transform the Douglas’ home. During this time Chuck and Melissa have not only led countless small group studies for couples, but also joined the staff of FamilyLife. With Chuck’s unique understanding of the needs of police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel, he wrote the FamilyLife small group study, Protecting Your First Responder Marriage. He and Melissa have also shared about their experiences on FamilyLife Today® radio broadcasts and at speaking events. They are now serving as FamilyLife ministry advisors and work with church leaders.
Back in 1996, when Chuck felt God was telling him that He wasn’t finished with his life, all he could do was trust that God could do the impossible. And today, he and Melissa are living examples of God’s supernatural work.
Now, when the Douglases recall the devastation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, they also see the transformation of their lives, their marriage, and their family.
They have been redeemed from the rubble.
Copyright © 2000, 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved. Used by permission.