Theologian Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Jesus.” As Tommy and Valerie Traugott sought to reform their marriage and conquer sin in their lives, they realized that overcoming sin and bringing about reconciliation was secondary to having a right relationship with Christ. God didn’t want them to frantically strive for perfection before devoting their lives to Him. He wanted their hearts – first and foremost. And when they began leading lives of whole-hearted devotion to Christ, Jesus gave them the strength they needed to overcome the challenges in their hearts and in their marriage. Read their story to see how Tommy and Valerie learned to seek the Lord above all else.
Tommy & Valerie Traugott
Tommy: I was saved at age thirteen while at a Christian camp. But I had no discipleship, either at home or in the church. Without discipleship or accountability, I chose reckless and foolish living.
Valerie: I was raised in Christian home. My parents sent me to camp and youth group, and through those things, Christ kept pursuing me and pursuing me, but I was just running. In an effort to fill what only Christ could fill, I tried to secure my identity in friends, boyfriends, the approval of others, and achievement. At seventeen, I reached a place where I had tried filling my soul with everything else, and there was nowhere else to go but Christ. And at that point I gave my life fully to Christ.
Tommy and Valerie’s stories connected in the town of Fredericksburg, Texas, through Young Life ministry. For both of them, the Lord provided clear direction that the two of them were to marry. Tommy, who had always prayed for his future wife, felt a clear nudging from the Lord the first time Valerie walked into the room, and Valerie was confident that the Lord had told her, “This is your husband. This is who I have for you.”
V: The decision to marry Tommy didn’t come without a lot of wrestling. I was used to being around people who were authentic and talked openly about the Lord. One night I asked Tommy to share his testimony, and he said, “Why do we need to talk about that?” I really believed the Lord had told me this was the man I was to marry, but it wasn’t like the picture I had painted in my head.
The first few years of marriage were very difficult. I found out that the things that had seemed “fun” about Tommy while we were dating were actually a downfall. His drinking wasn’t just social; it was an issue. It was hard, and I thought I had made a mistake, but I was tied to him until death do us part. I wanted Tommy to make me happy. I didn’t know, then, that marriage isn’t intended to make us happy. It’s intended to make us holy. I just didn’t know how refining it would be.
"I didn't know, then, that marriage isn't intended to make us happy. It's intended to make us holy."
T: Valerie was ahead of me spiritually. The truth was that when we got married, I was an alcoholic, lying, porn-addicted fool. I did a lot of damage with the way I was living. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t know the path to get things right.
While Tommy struggled with deeply rutted patterns of sin in his own life, Valerie found herself grasping for control of a difficult situation instead of leaning wholly on the Lord. In their own ways, each of them was trying to live life outside of full dependence on Christ.
V: I sought wholeness in friendships instead of with the Lord. I tried to lead our marriage because I didn’t think Tommy could. I communicated a lack of respect to him. In his anger, I was passive. I was unwilling to pursue hard conversations, and I shut down. I would have said I was trying to be a peacemaker, but, really, I was a peace-faker.
As our family grew, Tommy would have seasons of sobriety where our relationship felt new. But those seasons came and went. And when there was alcohol, there was instability in our relationship. I put up walls to protect myself and our boys.
T: I knew we needed help. The one thing we both knew was that we were not going to divorce. So, I would ask any man with a ring on his finger for advice about marriage, and the things they told me were not from the Bible. They were not helpful. Then we found Re/engage. My eyes were really opened to the way I was doing things wrong, and to what a God-honoring marriage could actually look like.
The thing about Re|Engage is that it’s not about marriage. It’s about Jesus. You cannot work on your marriage yourself. You have to work on your relationship with Christ first, before you begin working on your marriage. Jesus wants your heart, and then He will do the work to change you.
For both Tommy and Valerie, change began when they shifted their gazes away themselves and lifted their eyes to Christ.
V: I had to let go. To stop trying to fix and control and lead. I needed to step back and just let the Lord do His transforming work.
T: There is a misconception that we have to take care of our mess before we come to Christ. But that isn’t Biblical. Jesus didn’t tell people to get their acts together and then follow Him. He just said, “Follow me.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 reminded me that I was a new creation in Christ and those old ways were not my ways. I didn’t give my sin my focus; I gave God my focus. If you just stop and fight sin, your back is to Christ. If you turn and focus on Christ’s goodness, then eventually the grips of your sin will get loose.
The eighth chapter of Romans became a life passage for Tommy, one he is now working to memorize. It reminded Tommy that there was “no condemnation in Christ Jesus,” and that, as a child of God, he had been set free from the law of sin and death in order to “walk according to the Spirit.”
V: God really changed Tommy’s heart, and He took away his desire for alcohol. As the Lord worked in Tommy’s heart, he began to just confess, and to set a new standard in our home, of “we’re going to live in the light.” For me, God really allowed me to let go of my need for control, and He helped me to submit, to be Tommy’s helpmate, to love him well and honor him.
Tommy and Valerie began to seek the Lord first, to devote themselves – every day – to walking with Christ. And, as they did, He drew their hearts together.
V: I felt like we had been on paths that were very far apart. But as we both looked to Christ, He brought our paths closer and closer together so that we are now walking together with the Lord.
The Traugotts’ story is one of two people who struggled for restoration and healing in their own strength, and who discovered that only Christ can truly meet their needs or affect lasting change. When they truly sought His face, He added to their faith, gave them holy desires, and restored their unity in marriage.
“Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”