From Under the Bed

I thought we were fine, but I took our marriage for granted.

Becky Thomton
Photograph by Ted Wilcox

Paul and Barbara Kelley begin a Bible study to help other couples. Paul Kelley couldn’t believe what was happening to him. He’d met his wife in church, and they’d agreed divorce wasn’t an option. They prayed and read the Bible together. Yet now the marriage was ending.

“I thought we were fine,” he remembers. “But I took my marriage for granted. I didn’t hear what she wasn’t saying.”

They regretfully divorced, and she was soon remarried.

A few years later, Barbara found herself in the same situation, and with a young son. She had been Paul’s paralegal, but had recently quit to spend more time with her family. Then her husband dropped the bombshell: He had also met someone else. “I was devastated,” she says. “I couldn’t believe I wasn’t good enough for him.”

Although their spouses’ infidelity was an issue in both divorces, Paul and Barbara both admit their own failings. When they began dating a few years later, and married soon after, they were determined to do things differently.

“We committed to doing something every year to build our marriage,” Paul says.

Shortly afterward, Paul heard a radio announcement for a Weekend to Remember® Marriage Getaway. Sponsored by FamilyLife®, a subsidiary of Cru, it was exactly what they were looking for. With speakers, breakout sessions and a date night, the conference was a great way to focus in on their marriage from a godly perspective.

At that first conference, they also learned about a Bible study called the HomeBuilders Couples Series®. It was a way to take the conference home and teach others in small-group sessions.

They bought the box consisting of eight study guides, but got overwhelmed just looking at it. “The guides were about three times thicker than they are now, and we didn’t know where to start,” says Paul. So they stuck it under the bed, thinking they’d get to it later.

The next year, they were back at Weekend to Remember, and heard about HomeBuilders again. They pulled out the study when they got home, looked at the huge variety of materials and again shoved it under the bed.

“For three or four years, we kept pulling it out and then putting it back under the bed,” Paul remembers. Then they attended another FamilyLife conference that explained the specific steps to get a HomeBuilders Bible study started at their church, and had them try out a sample session. More prepared this time, they took out the study again.

For the last nine years, Paul and Barbara have led HomeBuilders groups and encouraged others to start their own groups.

On a busy Sunday evening at West Orlando Baptist Church, Paul makes an announcement about HomeBuilders after a play by the children. The 300-seat auditorium is nearly full of parents and grandparents taking pictures of kids in safari costumes, and a makeshift van painted in zebra stripes sits on the stage.

Paul and Barbara hold a HomeBuilders group in their home.Paul and Barbara hold a HomeBuilders group in their home.

It’s never gone back.

“We’re going to start HomeBuilders this week,” Paul explains with ease. “Sign up at the back if you’re interested.” This is obviously not his first announcement about the group, and there are 16 couples’ names on the sheet, which they later divide between themselves and the other group leaders, Lal and Sharon Samtani. Lal originally thought they would lead on Thursdays, but it seems that everyone has signed up for Tuesday. So they divide up the list, trying to keep some friends together and varying the ages.

Two nights later, eight couples are greeted with lemon cake and sweet tea at the Kelleys’ home. They gather in the living room, where toys have been shoved to the edges behind the folding chairs. One large plastic dinosaur still sits under the entryway table.

They begin with introductions and have the couples tell how they first met. It leads to lots of laughter about whether the husband or wife made the first move. Paul then passes out the HomeBuilders booklets. This series is called “Managing Money in Your Marriage.” Other studies cover topics like teamwork, managing pressure and building up your spouse.

“This study is about numbers,” Paul begins, “so we’re going to start with adding some things up. First, the total number of years married for the group.”

“Two,” says a young couple next to Paul and Barbara. “Twenty,” says the next. Paul then looks at Joe and Ashley, a newly engaged couple. “Do we count you as a zero or a negative?” he asks.

Altogether, the group has been married for 61 years. They also add up the number of kids living at home, the number of pets and the number of miles each couple drives to the group. A young couple named Miriam and BJ drove 25 miles to reach Paul and Barbara’s home. “We’re taking donations for gas,” BJ jokes.

Then Paul dives into the heart of HomeBuilders. “The whole idea is to learn from each other,” he says. He admits it’s risky for each couple to talk about their marriage in a group, so he emphasizes confidentiality.

The group will meet every other week, so Paul and Barbara stress the importance of completing the homework between sessions and encourage the couples to take a date night on their off weeks.

This first session has been mostly lighthearted, with the emphasis on helping the group to get to know one another. But later, the group will discuss much deeper questions, getting to the heart of many conflicts in marriage. Paul reminded the group that money is often considered the number one cause of divorce.

Paul and Barbara both know that this group has the potential to change marriages, lives and families. They’ve seen it happen before.

“We’re not counselors,” says Barbara, “but HomeBuilders has given us the tools to mentor other couples.”

To end the evening, the group takes time for prayer requests and divides up the rest of the sessions to have a different couple facilitate the discussion each week. Paul jokes that facilitating is easy and only means saying, “Open to page 5. Would someone read the first question?”

Yet they know how important it is for couples to gain confidence in leading their own group. It’s at the heart of the HomeBuilders multiplication strategy. The Kelleys’ original group of nine couples expanded into nine groups of couples, and has continued to spread to other churches and even other states. They lost count at around 300 couples who had attended at least one HomeBuilders study as a result of that original group.

“We know the pain of divorce,” says Barbara. “We don’t ever want to see people go through that valley, if we’re in any way able to help. We’re willing to pour our hearts into these couples because it’s so important to us.”

As HomeBuilders groups continue to expand, Paul and Barbara keep focusing on their own marriage and encouraging others to focus on theirs. They’ll never underestimate its value.

Action Point:
Paul and Barbara have said that when they say "yes" to something, they're saying "no" to something else. What have you been saying "yes" to that is causing you to say "no" to something even more important?

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