David and Terri Sumlin had no idea it would take a bus accident to bring healing and restoration to their rocky marriage.
On the way home from a ski trip, their speeding bus careened along twisty, ice-glazed mountain roads. The bus flipped at least three times, tearing the roof off and spilling many of the 55 teens, six adults and David and Terri’s two young children onto the mountainside.
The Great Physician
David, reeling from the crash, was unable to answer questions about himself in the tiny, country hospital triage unit. But his wife, Terri, landed in the ICU—unconscious and in serious condition.
Skipping the pleasantries, David cried out to God: “What the heck is going on, God? What is this about?” Something told him the crash was about more than an icy mountainside. God had some serious work to do in David’s heart, and it took a bus crash and hospital-stay to get things done.
David had been selfish, with his focus on everything but his family. He knew it was time to turn from the animosity and bitterness he held against Terri—the one God called him to love like Jesus loves the church.
“I knew I had to get out of my hospital bed, find Terri, forgive her and tell her I loved her.”
Lust on the Rocks
David and Terri were united before God in holy matrimony several years before—except their marriage wasn’t so holy after they made their promises. David and Terri’s wedded bliss wasn’t born with dreams of Christ-centered grandeur. Their life together began with passion, lust and a decision to tie the knot.
“God was not in our decision to get married. He wasn’t in our marriage in the beginning at all,” said Terri. “We had some rocky times, to say the least.”
Barely scraping the Just-Married shoe polish off the windshield, David and Terri found themselves not only man and wife, but momma and daddy. David found his niche as a traveling customer-quality consultant; his skills paid the bills, and Terri loved the money that was rolling in.
“We bought a bigger house, bought nicer cars—we thought everything was great,” said Terri.
But slowly, David’s travel schedule evolved from every so often to every week, with David only returning home on the weekends. “At first I thought, ‘This is the price we have to pay for the lifestyle we’ve started,’” Terri remembered.
When the cruel reality set in, David’s schedule began to take a toll on the family. Left at home with a full-time job, taking care of two kids, the house and everything in between, Terri was stressed.
“We fought every weekend, and eventually he stopped coming home.”
The Breaking Point
One weekend, when David did manage to make it home, the scene was replete with arguing and fighting. David finally reached the end of his rope, and so had Terri. They couldn’t stand what they had become, and they were ready to end their marriage.
But something happened, and Terri knows it was God moving.
“I came to know the Lord before that weekend, but I wasn’t walking with Him. That was the night I began my walk with the Lord.”
Yet there Terri was, screaming and all but throwing David out the door. She started hyperventilating. Shaking, with her eyes filled with tears, Terri pleaded, “David, don’t go. Don’t leave me; I don’t want this to end.” Terri says she’s so thankful for the move of God that caused David to stay and hold her.
That night was the first night David and Terri prayed together. And they certainly needed prayer to wade through the secret Terri had yet to reveal.
Filled with the hope of a new start, David and Terri went camping to escape the painful memories surrounding them at home. They had a wonderful first day. But the next morning, things took a turn.
Terri noticed David wearing a strange look. He was troubled by a dream he had during the night about honesty, integrity and new beginnings. He didn’t know what it meant. But Terri knew. And she knew what she had to do.
It was time.
“I wasn’t going to tell you this; I was excited to move forward. I was going to leave the past behind us but while you were out traveling, I was having an affair with another man.”
David felt the proverbial arrow go right through his heart. Though Terri wanted to leave it in the past, it wasn’t that simple for David. With his heart broken, David wanted to get back to the house as quickly as possible. This marriage was over for David.
But God would intervene again. And again. And again.
“Forgiveness, no doubt is difficult for most, but it was seemingly impossible for me,” recalls David. He was furious. “I stopped along the highway to call and tell people what had happened—our parents, my brothers and our marriage counselor.” David wanted to blame all of their problems on Terri for living a lie.
And though a lie sought to separate them, God sent them truth. It began with an invitation to church. “As I’m listening to this pastor, it’s like I’m hearing things for the very first time,” David said. “It’s just piercing me, and I was holding on to every word.”
And though David’s heart was being transformed, he still held the hatred for what Terri had done to him. For two years, David and Terri tried to muddle through, wearing masks. They were holding the marriage together for the kids.
The Longest Two Days Ever
Back to the ICU.
Two days later, when David’s nurses wheeled his hospital bed into the ICU to see Terri, she was barely recognizable.
“Terri’s head looked like a basketball, just black and blue,” David recalled. “Her whole body looked like she had been burned.”
David asked everyone to leave the room—doctors, nurses, family—and shut the door. “I looked at Terri and said, ‘Terri, I want you to know that I totally forgive you. And I love you so much.’”
Living After The Crash
It took a wrecked bus to save David and Terri Sumlin’s wrecked marriage, and they knew they could use what they’d learned to help other couples whose marriages were in trouble.
David and Terri returned home to Houston. After months of recovery, David felt a strong call to leave corporate life—all the money and prestige—to enter seminary. The Sumlins sold their home and most of their possessions.
David has since earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in marriage and family ministry.
“We are on mission with God to help couples raise their chins two inches up to gain God’s perspective on their marriage,” David said. “You don’t need a bus to roll over you to learn what is really important in life.”
Be sure to check out David and Terri Sumlin’s Marriage Life Ministries. They offer various retreats to enrich your marriage. David and Terri are hosting an Outback America retreat in the Huntsville, Alabama, area this September, but the Sumlins host retreats all over the country.