Fighting for a Gospel-Saturated Life
About the Guest
Authors D.A. and Elicia Horton have had wrestling matches occur in their relationship-first as a dating couple, and then later as newlyweds. Although they had grown up together, their family backgrounds and different communication styles often clashed, leading to loud vocal matches and heated debates. One shouting match under a street lamp lead them to question their engagement, but they sought counseling and went ahead with the wedding.
D.A. and Elicia HortonD. A. and Elicia Horton have been fighting for their marriage for over 15 years. D. A. is working on his PhD in Applied Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Elicia has master’s degrees in Religious Studies and Organizational Development from Calvary Theological Seminary. They teach and serve together at Reach Fellowship, a church plant in North Long Beach, CA, and have been blessed to counsel couples jointly for over 10 years.
Authors D.A. and Elicia Horton have had wrestling matches occur in their relationship-first as a dating couple, and then later as newlyweds.
Fighting for a Gospel-Saturated Life
Bob: D.A and Elicia Horton were in love—they were engaged, planning to be married—but the regular conflict that kept occurring in the relationship was giving Elicia second thoughts.
Elicia: In the middle of wondering: “Why [do] we keep fighting?” and “Why this keeps going nowhere?”—in my mind, I was just like: “I’m done. I can’t emotionally handle any more.” I remember going to his show and saying: “Okay; this is it. I’m just going to give him back the ring. This is—I’m done.” I remember him getting off the stage, and he wanted a hug. I was just like, “Here’s your ring,”—it was just so awkward. Then, that led to the fight in the streets.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 10th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Before D.A. and Elicia Horton could become husband and wife, they realized they’d better learn how to resolve conflict. We’ll hear more from them today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to get to go on an interesting journey today with a couple that we’ve got in the studio—a couple that—they’ve been on an interesting journey in their marriage; don’t you think?
Dennis: I think they have. We don’t often invite Kansas City Royal fans to join us here on FamilyLife Today; [Laughter] but they’ve come all the way from Long Beach, California, to join us. Elicia and D.A. Horton join us on FamilyLife Today. Guys, welcome.
Elicia: Thank you.
D.A.: Thank you for letting us be here.
Elicia: I forgive you for that opening statement. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; we’re Cardinals—we’re Cardinals here.
D.A. and Elicia work at Reach Fellowship in North Long Beach. It’s an outreach church—Southern Baptist church plant; right?
D.A.: Yes, that’s correct; yes. We are Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association, California State Baptist Convention—the whole nine. [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s cool; that’s cool. They have three children—been married since 2003.
Dennis: You did get married in 2003. I read about in your book, and you didn’t really finish in the paragraph. You just talked about the fights you had before you got married. I thought, “Maybe, they moved the date back a few years after that fight.” [Laughter] I want to get to that.
Bob: Before we do, though, let me just jump in here and let our regular listeners know—we are about to kick off our fall season of Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. We’re going to be hosting these getaways in more than three dozen cities across the country this fall. I know some of our listeners have been to a getaway. Maybe, it has been a few years—it may be time for a checkup / a tune-up for your marriage. I know a lot of our listeners have never been to one of these getaways, and we want to give you a little extra incentive today to make plans to join us in one of these cities.
Over the next couple of weeks, you can sign up for an upcoming getaway at half of the regular registration cost.
Go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Information is available there about when we are going to be in what cities. You can sign up, online, or you can call to register at 1-800-FL-TODAY; but if you register this week or next week, you’ll save 50 percent off the regular registration fee for a fun, romantic getaway weekend for couples. Again, find out more, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Plan to come join us at one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways.
Now, you want to take this thing in a little different direction?
Dennis: We found out, as we came in here, that you two do the spoken word rap.
Bob: No, no, no—don’t do that, Dennis. You’re just showing how white you are; okay? [Laughter] It’s not spoken word rap; is it?
D.A.: No; it’s spoken word.
Bob: These are two different genres.
Dennis: Okay; spoken word.
Dennis: So, I want to hear—I think our audience—I’m not the only white person who is—[Laughter]
Bob: —in the room.
Dennis: —who is in the room nor listening right now. I think there are some who will have fun hearing you guys do what you do at your church. See, you are looking at each other. Do you know what you do?
Elicia: We do. Man, it has been a while, though—I would have to say—since we’ve done—
Dennis: That’s okay.
Bob: Dennis is putting you—
Dennis: We’ll give some grace.
Bob: —he’s putting you on the spot here?
D.A.: I mean, there is one that I do that’s called Un-Decent Proposal—no; Decent Proposal. [Laughter]
Bob: I’m glad you clarified that.
Dennis: Was that on purpose?! I don’t think it was. [Laughter]
D.A.: No; it’s a word play on the movie—remember the old movie with Demi Moore? So, it’s Decent Proposal; and it’s basically an articulation of, basically, God’s proposal for salvation for us but, then, our stewardship after we’re saved.
Dennis: Okay; let’s hear it; let’s hear it.
Bob: Give us a little—can you just a throw a little?
Elicia: So, well, he does that one separately; so I’ll let him do that.
D.A: [Speaks excerpt from Decent Proposal]
It’s kind of like a modern-day Hosea story.
Dennis: Yes; really.
Dennis: A little applause here. [Clapping]
Bob: A great picture of the gospel.
Elicia: Absolutely; absolutely.
Bob: That’s exactly what Jesus has done for us; isn’t it?
Dennis: Speaking of the rings—and you just had the spoken word about the rings—you have written a book called Enter the Ring.
Dennis: In this case, it was the boxing ring. [Laughter] I actually was hoping to have a bell to kind of signal the beginning of Round 1, which occurred about—what?—three months before your wedding date?
Elicia: Yes; correct; yes.
Bob: Well, you had been amateur pugilists—I mean, not in a technical sense—but all through your relationship, it had been one, where you’d—
Bob: —you’d taken swipes at each other.
Elicia: Oh, absolutely.
D.A.: Oh, yes, all the time.
Dennis: You actually said in your book, “…a thousand fights”?
D.A.: Yes; that’s probably no—
Elicia: Yes, that’s probably underestimating.
Dennis: —before you got married?
D.A.: Yes; yes. It was regular; it was a normalcy. The smallest, little infraction—it could be a look; it could be an ill-timed word; it could be poor joke that didn’t land. Man, we were short-fused with each other. It was—yes.
Bob: You guys met when you were in your teens?
D.A.: We were kids.
Elicia: Actually, when we were kids; yes.
Elicia: I was eight, and he was ten.
Bob: So, you had grown up together.
Elicia: We grew up together.
Bob: In fact, there was a moment in your early relationship where, kind of, notes got passed, and “She likes you.” Wasn’t there something about a friendship ring?
Elicia: Yes; so it’s a friendship ring. How he took it to mean marriage is—I’m still wondering how he took it there.
D.A.: My momma.
Elicia: I know your momma—
D.A.: My momma is very influential in my life.
Elicia: She was; but at that time, it was like—we’re eight and ten—like we’re not going to get married. It was one of those friendship rings you can get out of the bubblegum machine—
Elicia: —you know, for a quarter. I passed it down—yes; like, I said—“…to give it to Damon.” This is, you know, something to signify that I like him; and we’re going together. He got up and ran out of the church.
Bob: What did you do with the ring? Didn’t you throw—
D.A.: I threw it on the ground. I said, “I can’t do this no more”; and I ran out of the church. [Laughter]
Bob: —as a ten-year-old?
Elicia: —as a ten-year-old.
D.A.: —as a ten-year-old.
Bob: “I can’t do this no more.”
Elicia: “I can’t do this no more.”
Dennis: Was your mom trying to arrange this relationship?
D.A.: No, no; the opposite—like, I couldn’t have calls from girls until I was over 16 years old.
D.A.: My momma was very old school in her mentality. I don’t knock her for it; I truly appreciate it. As a parent of a teenage daughter—
D.A.: —I totally appreciate everything my momma tried to tell me.
D.A.: But she was like, “You can’t have a girlfriend”; and she knew Elicia’s family. We met each other, doing ministry, in the projects when we were kids together. I figured, “Since I can’t have a girlfriend, I’ll hide it from my mom.” So, even in that church setting—we grew up at Sheffield Assembly of God, which is a large Assembly of God church in the middle of Kansas City, in the heart of the city in the hood—we’re in the very back. There are ten people in between us, because I don’t want to be seen sitting next to Elicia; because I’m scared it’s going to get back to my mom.
Elicia: So, we got to sit in the same row. [Laughter]
D.A.: We sat in the same row, which was a step / which was a gamble for me; because I knew it could get back to my mom.
Dennis: Did you know that he was purposely allowing some space between?
Elicia: No; I had no idea.
Bob: You just thought he didn’t like you.
Elicia: Yes; I was like, “Okay.”
Dennis: Truth be known, didn’t you really propose to him when you were eight? [Laughter]
Elicia: Yes, basically; that’s how it was.
Dennis: His mom is going to be listening right now, and she needs to hear that.
D.A.: Yes; she knows because—
D.A.: —I mean, as soon as I got the ring, these are the legit thoughts that went through my mind: “I’m about to go into fifth grade. I cannot support a wife. How is she going to go to school? Who are we going to live with? I can’t even have a girlfriend,”—all of that flooded my mind.
Bob: Well, you know what? I just want to step in and say, “Good for your mom—that you weren’t thinking, ‘Oh, I can have a girlfriend and just mess around if I want to.’”
Elicia: That’s true.
D.A.: Yes; that’s true.
Elicia: That’s true.
Bob: You were thinking, “If I have a girlfriend, I’ve got to take some responsibility and some ownership,” even at age ten. [Laughter] That’s a pretty good message for a ten-year-old boy to have.
Elicia: That’s true.
Dennis: I would say he was trained—he was well-trained.
Elicia: Yes; he wasn’t just instilled with the fear of God in him—just the fear of—
Bob: —the fear of Mom.
D.A.: —the fear of my momma; yes—
Elicia: She knew.
D.A.: —which was the hand of God in my life.
Bob: So, at what point did you become boyfriend and girlfriend?
D.A.: It was in our twenties. We had just got out of previous relationships; they were three years each.
We went through the whole youth group—we came out of the True Love Waits / Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye—
—but we were part of that culture that really was not on the trajectory of life, where Joshua Harris—we were very urbanized, very hood, very promiscuous, if you will; so there was a counterculture. Then, there was, like, our perspective—the two kind of integrated. We were—we saw people in our youth group gravitate toward some of that; but we were like, “Yes, that ain’t even really relatable in our lives.”
So, we still “dated”—inappropriate things, sexually. I lost my virginity before I came to faith. Elicia remained pure, to God’s glory; but it was always that nuance of, “Well, I know I technically don’t want to fall into sexual sin; so I’ll do everything but that.” So, just the immaturity/just the misogyny that’s involved in all of those things that—now, in hindsight—I recognize nobody was in my life, calling those things out back then. As I look at that, even when we got together as boyfriend and girlfriend, there was so much baggage/relational scars on our hearts—
D.A.: —spiritual immaturity. It was a concoction—
D.A.: —of carnality that we brought into this relationship.
Dennis: So, why did you ask her out then? What moved you after you both broke up with girlfriend/boyfriend?
D.A.: It was the fact that I had “fasted” from relationships. I had said: “Lord, I’m tired. I’m done with just this going to and from relationships,”—just came out of this three-year relationship, not knowing who I am in Christ and things of that nature. Then, all of a sudden, it just seemed like we connected for the first time, as friends, in a long time; because we kind of held each other at bay. I had tried to pursue her in our teenage years after I gave my heart to the Lord and got shot down because—
Elicia: Rightfully so—
Elicia: —dude broke my heart and threw my friendship ring on the ground. I mean, come on now. [Laughter]
Dennis: You returned the favor.
D.A.: That was a legit wound. I did not understand that really did wound Elicia. All this started coming out when we began to talk to each other.
Then I told her all the different ways that I indirectly tried to drop hints to let her know, throughout my teenage years, “I really did like you.” She shot down every single one of my attempts.
Dennis: She’s shaking her head now. [Laughter]
Elicia: Yes; because I’m like: “That makes sense. Why would you ask to wear my Adidas jacket?”—that never made any sense to me. Then he would tell me the stories of why he wanted to wear my jacket. Just all these little things he was doing—I was just like: “Wow, you really tried. I’m sorry.”
D.A.: But it backfired; because it showed the immaturity in my mind, because I would try to hook her up with my different friends. I was like: “Oh, man, my boy likes you. He says, ‘This and this,’ about you.” She would be like, “No; I don’t like him like that.” All I wanted to hear her say is, “I don’t like him like that—
Bob: —“because I like you”?
D.A.: —“but what about you?”—she never said it.
The problem with that—is that she said: “I thought you thought I was promiscuous. I thought you thought I was easy, trying to pit me out to all your friends. Why didn’t you just tell me that you liked me?” I didn’t have the courage. I didn’t have—
D.A.: —the gall to say: “Hey, I like you. Will—can we—
Bob: You needed to man up.
D.A.: I know; seriously.
Bob: You needed to man up.
Elicia: So, fast forward, that’s what we brought into the inception of our relationship.
Bob: So, now, two months before you’re supposed to get married, it all blows up one night.
Bob: So, what happened that night?
Elicia: In the middle of wondering: “Why [do] we keep fighting?” and “Why this keeps going nowhere?”—in my mind, I was just like: “I’m done. I can’t emotionally handle anymore.” I remember going to his show and saying: “Okay; this is it. I’m just going to give him back the ring. This is—I’m done.” I remember him getting off the stage, and he wanted to hug. I was just like, “Here’s your ring,”—it was just so awkward. Then, that led to the fight in the streets.
Bob: So, your engagement is filled with ongoing conflict. That’s the regular way you relate to one another—is by fighting with one another. Are you thinking, “This is all going to switch once we get married”; or did you have doubts about whether this was going to work?
D.A.: You know what? To be honest, I did not have doubts; but I was getting tired. I got an awakening one day when I saw how Elicia’s home life was.
When I was witnessing conflicts between parents, and other siblings, and family members, I began to say: “Aha! This is what she’s coming from. This is normal to her.” So, as much as she didn’t like it, that was normal for her.
Bob: It’s what you knew.
Elicia: Yes; it’s all I knew.
Dennis: A long line of prize fighters.
D.A.: Yes; actually, yes. I come from a family of avoiders.
D.A.: Well, I wouldn’t even say that. I would say peace-fakers—
D.A.: —like what Ken Sande calls, “Peace-faking.”
D.A.: Yes; it would be more along those lines.
Bob: So, you get off—you’re doing a rap performance. You’re done at 10:15; you walk out and want a hug. She gives you a ring. That started a long night for you guys.
D.A.: Yes; we were cussing each other out. We were fighting—ironically, as it is, fighting—not physically but verbally—and yelling at each other on the steps of the church that I was a youth pastor at, at that time. It was so bad that the drug dealers had to move a block-and-a-half away because we were scaring off their clients—
Bob: Because the youth pastor is cussing out his fiancée in front of the church and the drug dealers are worried? [Laughter]
Dennis: What time of night was this?
D.A.: At that point, it was probably like two to four in the morning.
Elicia: Two to four in the morning; yes.
D.A.: We had been fighting that long in the middle of the street. Nobody called the cops, by God’s grace, but the house party—they shut it down to watch us. We were the entertainment for people getting drunk.
Elicia: We provided their entertainment for the night; so yes.
Bob: So, if I had been doing your premarital counseling at this point, I’d have probably said: “You guys need to take a time-out and figure out what you’re going to do with conflict; because you don’t know what to do with conflict.
Elicia: That’s true.
Bob: “And if you’re going to start your marriage with these patterns in place, you’re in for a lot of pain and a lot of hurt.”
Was that night a wake-up call for you, or did it just surface the problem?
Elicia: Yes; I would say, “…both/and.” It really surfaced the problem that we needed to have counseling, even then—like what he’s talking about—is having the premarital counseling to call those things out to show us: “Wait, you guys need to be handling this biblically.
“You guys need to take time out and just really analyze, ‘Where are you at, individually, with your walk with the Lord?’”
Elicia: We had never had that experience. We just kind of did peace-faking. We just said: “Oh, well, we’ll get over it. We’ll learn. We’ll—this will get better with time.”
Dennis: I think the thing you underscore here is that faith and a walk with Christ is really important—not only when you start the relationship—but ongoing, after the marriage is established and you’re going to have to handle tough issues and disagreements. If there is no faith—that calls you to humility / that calls you to ask for forgiveness / that calls the other to forgive and then reconciliation—if you don’t understand the components of what Jesus Christ came to do in our relationship as we fight with God—
Dennis: —if we don’t understand what He’s done for us, then we can’t pass that forgiveness on in the marriage relationship.
Elicia: That’s true.
D.A.: Absolutely; absolutely.
That’s why the subline is Fighting for a Gospel-Saturated Life—is that we had to learn, over the course of time, that the gospel has to saturate every single nuance of our lives. It doesn’t just speak to our theology; it doesn’t just speak to when I raise my hand or came forward at an altar call. It speaks to my sexuality—my sexual past, my present and future—it speaks to financial stewardship; the way that we raise our children; the way that we communicate with each other—our poor communication skills / confessing our sins.
It’s the whole of life. If the gospel is robust, and it’s not truncated, then it’s going to speak to every nuance of my life, as a husband and as a dad—to my wife’s life, as a mom and as a wife—but then together, as a couple, in marriage and parents raising children. We should be encompassed and engulfed with this life-giving message.
Dennis: Okay; so, here’s the question—you’ve been married since 2003; you have three kids; you, now, are a pastor: “Have you ever had any arguments, where, symbolically, you’re going back to the steps, where you’re the pastor, and you two are yelling and screaming at each other?”
I mean, you’re in the game now for 15 years.
Dennis: How is it now?
D.A.: Not the yelling and cussing.
D.A.: More less now, I’m more self-aware of my woundedness and brokenness. I retreat, and I’ll isolate. Elicia will mobilize—she confronts it—she says, “There is distance between us.” If it’s—I mean, just to be candid—if it’s two or three weeks without sexual intimacy, she’s like: “You’ve withdrawn from me, emotionally and mentally. You’re not sharing yourself with me as much, Damon. What’s going on?”
D.A.: “Well, you said this, and it wounded me,” or “I don’t feel like you pursue me. I don’t feel like you reciprocate my advances.” We dialogue through that—we don’t cuss; we don’t fight; we don’t use the D-word, which is divorce—we don’t use those things.
D.A.: But they are still—
Elicia: They’re still real.
D.A.: —present tense—
D.A.: —fleshly struggles that we still have.
Bob: So, what’s the difference between how you do conflict today, and how you did conflict 15 years ago? When you get to the core of it, why is it different today?
Elicia: Yes; absolutely. I feel like, when we entered Bible college together, it was a—not only just it was a Bible college—but it was a time for us to get prepared for what the Lord was doing—that we didn’t know that He was preparing us for. So, when we—one of our first classes that we dealt with was Interpersonal Communication.
Elicia: I think Conflict and Resolution came shortly after. It was in those classes—I remember my husband and [me] walking out and getting in our car, and just having a lengthy dialogue, and just weeping and saying: “Wow, why were we never challenged to handle conflict this way? Why were we never taught to look at the Bible in this way?”
It really just sparked a difference in our hearts. It’s really just allowing God to work in every—like Damon is saying—
—in every nuanced part of our life and say: “Okay; how does this speak to how we communicate? How does this speak to the hurt that we’ve inflicted upon each other and that we haven’t dealt with?”
When we got to the class of Biblical Resolution and Conflict, we were like, “Wow!” This really brought it to life for us—giving us Scriptures, giving us guidance, really seeing how we can allow each other to heal—giving us that space to heal—but also seeking to be the ones that reconcile with one another all over the past hurt that we have inflicted upon each other.
That started that movement for us, in our marriage, along with just studying God’s Word in a different way than we had ever studied it before—and knowing God’s Word, that does speak to every part of our life / knowing the gospel does speak to every part of our life. Seeing the difference of our growth in Christ was so—it was like new people now. We are married—but I see a difference in my husband; he sees a difference in me.
Elicia: We want to work these things together, and it was growing in our faith and understanding of God.
Dennis: “Marriage is”—according to Erma Bombeck—she says, “Marriage is God’s last chance He gives us to grow up.”
Dennis: I like that.
Dennis: What you guys are illustrating in your lives is found in Ephesians, Chapter 4, beginning in verse 29 through the end of the chapter. I want to read this, because the Hortons’ marriage illustrates how you’re supposed to handle anger and bitterness and words that shouldn’t be spoken. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Dennis: I have a sense that we’re probably talking to a lot of broken people, right now, who don’t know how to resolve their difficulties. This book, Enter the Ring, would be a great place to start—
Dennis: —because they talk about the model here.
Another good place to start is to come to the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway; because we actually take you through a number of sessions, where we break down: “How do you communicate? How do you communicate to her? How do you forgive? How can you be reconciled to each other?” And we do need training in these areas.
Bob: Yes; we do. This is where, again, I think for couples to plan a getaway weekend—come join us for one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways—that’s a shrewd move. That’s a strategic, intentional move to say, “I want my marriage to be all that it can be.”
If you’ve got a good marriage, get a weekend away, invest in your marriage, have some fun together, and build a strong foundation.
If you’re marriage has had a few hiccups along the way, come join us for a healthy tune-up for you, as a couple. And if you’re struggling in your relationship, the Weekend to Remember can give you the practical tools you need to help strengthen your marriage relationship.
Find out more about the Weekend to Remember when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. If you sign up today, you’ll save 50 percent off the regular registration fee; so it’s a half-off offer that we’re making over the next couple of weeks. We want all of our FamilyLife Today listeners—those of you who have never been—we want you to come join us this weekend. And if it’s been a while since you’ve been, come back out for a refresher. Again, find out more online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You’ll also find information there about D.A. and Elicia Horton’s book, Enter the Ring: Fighting Together for a Gospel-Saturated Marriage. You can order their book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to place your order.
The book is all about resolving conflict and getting to oneness in your marriage, which is the theme of the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. Again, order the book, Enter the Ring, when you go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to be back with our guests, D.A. and Elicia Horton. We’re going to find out how the two of you ever got married. [Laughter] I hope our listeners can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with some help from Mark Ramey. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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