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Rashad and Melissa agree that their marriage started in a strong place, rating their early years at “a 7 or an 8.” But less than ten years later, the once-close couple had hit a rough patch that sometimes made them feel like strangers.
After first connecting through an online community in 2002, they established a long-distance friendship that grew deeper over time. Melissa, who was living in New York, and Rashad, who made his home in Chicago, came from very different backgrounds. But God was working in both of their lives, preparing them and their extended families for their eventual courtship and marriage.
When they finally met in person in 2004, their friendship moved to a whole new level—and by the following year they were engaged to be married. After their wedding in 2006, the couple settled in Chicago, with Rashad continuing his work in accounting for a real estate company. And with the birth of the first of their four children, Melissa says, she felt “fortunate to be able to be a stay-at-home mom.” Strong believers, they attended and volunteered at church and began to grow their family.
By 2011, Rashad and Melissa had celebrated the births of three children—then ages four, three, and one. Life was good but busy, especially for Melissa. So when Rashad was diagnosed with a serious digestive condition that same year, the effects of his illness introduced some serious overload into their lives—challenges that exposed issues in their relationship that eventually began to affect their marriage.
Rashad’s condition progressed over the years that followed, and as his body failed to respond to treatment, Rashad found himself struggling to find energy for anything beyond his job. So Melissa picked up more responsibilities at home while also nursing Rashad and caring for the children. By the time their fourth child was born, Melissa and Rashad, in spite of their commitment to one another, were both feeling the strain.
“I’m normally a very positive and calm person,” Rashad explains. “But as we entered 2015, I had become negative about everything. I wouldn’t say I had lost my hope, but I was very, very low.”
Melissa was also feeling the stress and was the first to express her concern about how the situation was affecting their marriage. “At times, Rashad didn’t have the strength to even stand on his feet. So, you keep moving and you keep moving, but you don’t realize how drained you are, and then bitterness starts to set in, because you begin to ask, ‘When is this going to end?’”
“We had been so close and knew each other so well,” she added, “but through all this we didn’t have a moment to connect. And then you look, and you’re like strangers. I told Rashad I felt that we needed a change.”
Realizing he needed to do something, Rashad began looking for a marriage conference they could attend—a much-needed getaway for just the two of them, where they could replenish what they had lost in their relationship. But the more he thought about it, the idea of a conference lost some of its appeal.
“Sitting together in a structured atmosphere, without much time to ourselves, wasn’t what we needed,” Rashad said. “Another problem is that you get so much information in one day, but you don’t have time to chew on it and allow it to really get inside your heart.”
It was about that time that Re|Engage popped up in an internet search.
“I had a friend who was familiar with Wheaton Bible Church,” he said, “so I asked him about the ministry, and on his recommendation, Melissa and I agreed to check it out.”
Last fall, Melissa and Rashad began traveling from the south suburbs each Monday evening to attend Re|Engage.
Placed in a small group with other young couples, they started an ongoing process of reconnection that, they now say, was “transformational.”
“I think the assignments were heaven sent,” Melissa says, “because they required us to make time to put in the work on our own, and also spend time together. I’m constantly with the kids, so that one-on-one time with Rashad helped draw us much closer.”
Rashad, who often completed the weekly assignments on the train from work, or in the car on the way to church, explains, “Re|Engage offered us the consistency we needed—but also the process I needed to apply the teaching. It wasn’t just an idea but an actual assignment, like, Say something nice to your wife this week.”
After completing the sixteen-week class, the couple agrees that Re|Engage was key to charting their way back toward that strong relationship and communication they had started with. And going forward, Melissa says, “Now we have the tools and resources so we can get there. Even if we argue or fall out over something, we say, ‘We just completed Re|Engage. We can’t go backward.’”
Melissa and Rashad have many good things to say about Re|Engage, but perhaps their strongest endorsement? They regularly now encourage other couples they know to attend.
“In fact,” Rashad said, “one couple recently told us after their final week, ‘Telling us about Re|Engage was literally the best gift you ever could have given us.’”