Newlyweds and new Christians Clint and Penny Bragg were the darlings of their small church. She was on the worship team and the deacon board of missions. He led discipleship training. They taught Sunday school classes together and separately, helped organize the singles' group, and directed vacation Bible school. All while Clint juggled a job as area manager for a glass business and Penny completed her bachelor's degree and teaching credentials.
"We didn't know how to say no," Clint admits.
Yet despite the hectic schedule, their first year of marriage flew by without a hitch. On the surface, they seemed to thrive on the busyness. They didn't realize the marriage-building time they needed was being eaten up by the whirl of spiritual activity.
"It felt like God was blessing all our plans," Clint recalls. "But instead of going with or beside God, we were running ahead and asking him to catch up."
"We didn't have the spiritual roots of a strong, long-term Christian," Penny agrees. "We were still on the emotional high, very goal-driven."
The first cracks
A two-week mission trip to Haiti in August 1990, a month shy of their first anniversary, began the first cracks in their seemingly solid relationship. Having spent two military tours in Vietnam, Clint was familiar with the harsh conditions of a third-world country. But Penny's sheltered life hadn't prepared her for the extreme poverty and suffering she witnessed. Suddenly her faith wasn't providing the security and answers she depended on.
"I'd pictured myself going door to door, asking, 'Have you heard about Jesus?'" Penny explains. "Instead mothers begged me to take their babies to America. I couldn't understand how God could allow that suffering." She returned shell-shocked, unable to process what she'd seen.
"I shut down," she says. "The doubts about God's goodness and faithfulness stirred a lot of childhood pain and insecurity, such as my parents' divorce and an incident when, as a young adult, I was taken advantage of by a church leader. I was expected to give a glowing report to the congregation about my time in Haiti, but I felt ambivalent about God and my faith. So I put up a wall of defense to everyone around me. I didn't talk about what I was feeling, not even to Clint. I didn't want to admit I wasn't the strong, 'supergirl' he'd married."
She gradually stopped reading her Bible and connecting with the women at church, and pulled out of her church responsibilities. Clint didn't comment for fear she'd think he was trying to control her.