Justin Davis was a pastor with increasing responsibilities in a growing church. Trisha was a pastor’s wife whose days were filled with caring for her family and serving in the church. This is the tragic — but ultimately redemptive — story of what happened when their marriage hit rock bottom.

A Fairy Tale Beginning

Justin and Trisha met at a small Christian College in Illinois, where he was a basketball player and she was a cheerleader. He was struck by the pretty freshman, two years his junior, from the moment he first saw her in the cafeteria. “I wanted to make a big impression,” Justin says sheepishly. “I said to her, ‘Hey there, beautiful. I don’t think we’ve ever met.’”

She wasn’t impressed — not at first, anyway. But as they spent more time together and got to know each other, their relationship grew into something deeper, and it wasn’t long before they were sure they were right for each other. “Not only did we fall in love with each other,” Justin says, “we fell in love with the vision of what God could do through us as a couple. We fell in love with the thought of serving God — together. We fell in love with the idea of changing the world — together.”

They got married on a blistering day in July, and the dream of their life together was launched. After all that God had done and the plans that we knew God had for us, how could our marriage be anything but extraordinary?

Cracks in the Foundation

It wasn’t long, however, before the fairy tale started giving way to real life. Just four months into their marriage, Justin and Trisha found out they were expecting a baby. On top of that major adjustment, they were also feeling the stress of starting out in full-time ministry and trying to make ends meet on a limited budget. During that time, Justin says, “We got really good not at fighting for each other but instead at fighting with each other. We were good at being enemies.”

The next few years were a time of much change for their family. They went through six moves and four different ministries in the span of just over two years. A second son was added to their family, and then a third. Finally they settled in a church that seemed like a good fit for them — a place where they could use their gifts and get plugged into the community — and it seemed like they were finally hitting their stride.

But Justin admits to becoming discontented with his life during this season — with his ministry, with their home and with his wife. He started comparing Trisha to her best friend, wishing she had her friend’s gifts and that she’d do things the same way her friend did. “My discontentment went way beyond our marriage, though,” Justin says. “It started in my relationship with God and bled into all aspects of my life.”

When Justin took on the role of senior pastor, his responsibilities at church increased, and gradually church became his idol. In a subtle shift, he became more focused on his role at church than in God himself. Meanwhile, Trisha was feeling isolated and rejected as the responsibilities of maintaining a home and raising three children fell more and more on her shoulders. “I was jealous of the intimate relationship Justin seemed to have with his church but not with me,” Trisha says. “The church was my competition, fighting for Justin’s time, attention and affection.”

The Day Everything Collapsed

Then one day, ten years into their marriage, Justin sat down on their bed and dropped the bombshell: he was having an affair with Trisha’s best friend. He felt no remorse or regret, just a desire to get out — out of his marriage, out of his role as a father, out of his position as pastor of their church. With that confession, Trisha’s whole world shattered. “I lost my church family. I lost my best friend. I lost my husband. I lost my identity. I lost everything.”

When Justin informed his parents and siblings of his decision, they told him in no uncertain terms that he was throwing his life away. “What kind of legacy are you leaving for your boys?” they asked. As the gravity of what he’d done began to sink in, Justin knew he wanted only one thing: to go home. He got in his car and drove straight to his wife and kids, preparing what he’d say to Trisha. But when he got there, he was hit squarely with the consequences of his sin. Despite his begging and pleading, Trisha said he was no longer welcome in the house. She wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to take him back.

That night, alone in a hotel room, Justin felt his first stab of true repentance. “I felt sorry for my sin and not just for the consequences of my sin,” he says. “For the first time in a long time, I saw how far I had drifted from God and from my wife. The weight of the choices I had made crashed on me.”

The Long Road to Restoration

Justin and Trisha began intensive counseling, knowing the road to healing would be an arduous one. They weren’t sure reconciliation was even possible after the damage that had been done. “I was desperate to make things right,” Justin says. “I was broken. I was sorry. The mountain we had to climb seemed insurmountable. Beyond my marriage, I felt like I was starting over in my relationship with God. I had hurt him, too. I had no idea where to start, but I was committed to figuring it out.”

Meanwhile, Trisha came to a place of brokenness herself, leading her to a deeper dependence on God than she’d ever experienced before. She came to accept that she wasn’t in control, that she no longer needed to impress others, that she didn’t have to pretend or hide anymore.

Justin began the difficult journey of speaking the truth to people he’d hurt and lied to — Trisha first and foremost. He remembers one conversation in particular during which he confessed everything to her. When he finished, Trisha told him, “Now we can begin again. Now we can start over.” Justin says, “In that moment, when Trisha wiped my tears away and spoke those words, I experienced an act of grace and mercy unlike anything I’d ever seen.” That conversation marked the start of their painful but redemptive path to creating an intimate marriage.

Although Trisha had forgiven Justin, they needed to rebuild the trust that been lost. “Trust is built one day at a time, one act at a time,” Trisha says. “And it is built slowly.” During this time Justin began to pray a rather startling prayer for himself, based on Lamentations 3:16 — that God would break his teeth with gravel and trample him in the dust. In other words, he was begging God to break him and humble him so he could remake him into the man he needed to be.

It was a long journey to healing — one that took two and a half years of intense work and, in many ways, is still ongoing. “I would never choose the path we took,” Justin says, “but I wouldn’t change it either. It was and is worth the fight.”

God’s Vision for Marriage

So what have Justin and Trisha learned about marriage through this wrenching experience? They have discovered firsthand both the heartbreak of going against God’s vision for marriage and the joy of living out his plan. And they’re committed to helping other couples embrace that vision as well through their ministry, RefineUs. “God’s plan for our marriage is oneness,” they explain. “Intimacy, as God envisions it, is to be fully known by our spouses — emotionally, physically and spiritually. The longing we have to be fully known and loved comes from a God who knows us fully and loves us anyway.”

When Justin and Trisha talk to other couples, they find that many of them think they should lower their hopes for marriage to avoid disappointment. But the Davises don’t agree. “Our vision and dreams for our marriages aren’t too big; they are actually too small. We can’t outdream our Creator when it comes to our marriages. We often settle for ordinary when God longs for us to experience extraordinary.”

How You Can Build an Extraordinary Marriage

An extraordinary marriage doesn’t happen by accident, and it’s not something that occurs automatically after a couple has been married for a certain number of years. Justin and Trisha don’t claim it will be easy, but they know firsthand that it’s worth it. “Telling the truth is difficult. Forgiveness is painful. The people we love the most drive us the craziest. But it is the moments when we embrace the downward turns in marriage that God gives us the marriages we had dreamed of; not because he has changed our spouses, but because we are allowing him to change us.”

If your marriage is on shaky ground right now, Justin and Trisha offer these words of encouragement, having been there themselves: “God is fighting for you right now. God is fighting for your heart. God is fighting for your husband. God is fighting for your wife. God’s vision for your marriage is extraordinary! Don’t stop fighting. Don’t stop pursuing. Don’t stop sharing truth. Don’t stop forgiving. Don’t stop praying. Don’t lose hope. The vision you had when you said ‘I do’ isn’t nearly as extraordinary as God’s vision for your marriage.”

To read the whole story about Justin and Trisha’s journey and the remarkable ways God has brought redemption through their marriage and ministry, read their book, Beyond Ordinary (Tyndale House Publishers, January 2013). To find out more about Justin and Trisha’s ministry, RefineUs, and to get resources to help you in your marriage, visit http://refineus.org.