Friday, June 11, 1999, at 5 p.m., Opal Erickson watched her husband walk out on her. Again.
The door closed behind him, shutting Opal out, literally and emotionally. It had been more than a year since Ron, her husband of 27 years, announced his affair with an employee and moved out of the house. But, because the couple co-owned a car-rental and used-car sales business, they had worked side by side almost every day since then.
Everything about Ron and Opal's marriage had disintegrated. He'd refused to give up the other woman. Counseling had failed. Now the divorce papers were drawn up; their home was under a sales contract; the business was for sale.
As Opal watched her husband leave the office that June day, she wondered what had gone wrong in their relationship. She knew God loved divorced people, but He hated divorce. Surely this wasn't in His plan.
In January 1972, Air Force Sgt. Ron Erickson was leading a sing-along at a Shakey's Pizza Parlor near Macon, Georgia, when 21-year-old Opal Tanner walked in with friends. Opal was instantly attracted to the handsome man playing ragtime music on the banjo. And when Ron heard Opal sing for the first time, he thought, I'm not letting that one get away. They married three months later.
Ron wanted to be a country music guitarist and work full time in entertainment. When he left the Air Force in 1974, he was in part relying on Opal's commercial-quality voice and experience singing country gospel music to make that happen. The couple had two Nashville producer-booking agencies pursue them. But Opal had no interest in performing on the road; she was not willing to forfeit her home for a life on the road living in a bus. Ron was bitter and resentful that Opal wouldn't support his dream.
But the Ericksons discovered they were a great duo in business. They found careers in the car sales industry in Kansas City. In 1991 the Ericksons moved to Branson, Missouri, and opened their car-rental and used-car sales business.
On the surface, things seemed good. Ron and Opal were raising two daughters and sang in the worship team at church. But deep down, Ron was fighting a lonely battle. He was bored and dissatisfied with marriage, which left the door open to what Opal calls "a classic midlife crisis."
In 1998 Ron entered into an affair with a younger woman. "It seemed on the surface that she understood me and could meet my needs," Ron says. "I think pride has a lot to do with it. And having your own needs met — it's a greed kind of thing. I thought I'd met all of the needs in Opal's life, but she wasn't meeting mine. It was more than just the lost music career opportunities."
Ron reluctantly agreed to go to counseling, but any hopes for marriage restoration were dashed when Ron refused to break off the extramarital relationship. He wanted a divorce. "I knew that I had no spiritual grounds for it," he says. "[Opal] had done nothing that would allow me to seek a divorce that God would approve of." Still, Ron believed there would be no consequences for his actions. He felt as if he were in control and knew what was best.
Opal had biblical grounds for divorce, but the Lord impressed upon her to "stand and believe" for her marriage, to show kindness even while her heart was dying. She used her newfound free time to pray and read her Bible, and she clearly and confidently felt God's leading. As she gained encouragement through Scripture, she sensed God telling her, "Just love him. Just be kind." She also sought the guidance of a Christian counselor to help work through the pain.
After Ron filed for divorce, his life started going downhill. "I saw him literally destroying himself," Opal recalls, "just almost like he was dying before my eyes." That's when Opal decided she had to distance herself from the situation. She moved to South Carolina and asked Ron not to contact her. Ron's affair and abandonment had left her a physical, mental and emotional wreck.
It didn't take long before Ron hit rock bottom. The other woman had pulled away from him. His relationships with his daughters were tense. Even though he had invested in a luxury travel trailer and semi-truck to pull it, he had no job or prospects.
Ron knew the only way he could survive was to give God control of his life and mean it. He prayed, telling God he would fix his marriage. But he sensed God giving him this message: "You can't do it. I will restore your marriage."
Word of Ron's repentance found their way to Opal. The two began talking, eventually choosing to live together again and to seek marriage counseling, this time with Ron's full cooperation. Neither of them worked for a year so they could focus only on repairing the marriage.
At first there were many awkward, difficult days. Opal had to learn to trust Ron again. And God didn't merely repair their marriage foundation; He gave them a new one. Forgiveness flooded in, and Opal realized that it wasn't about being right, but about being set free from bitterness.
Ron noted the irony of their situation and joked, "Well isn't this something, we're homeless and jobless, so, God, where does our life go from here?" It was then Ron decided to work on their marriage before launching another career or business. "We had no mortgage, no dependents living at home, and had recently sold our business, so we really were financially free and free from any other cares or obligations," Opal explains. The couple was free to follow God's leading in this new marriage chapter. But what were His plans for them?
The Ericksons got their answer at a senior RV park in Arizona. Ron was invited to play his guitar at a jam. Next Opal sang. Before they knew it, they were invited to do a show at the park.
Since that first performance, the Ericksons have made their living being "musicianaries," encouraging their audiences through music to trust in the Lord. "We made up our minds to follow God and obey him," Ron says. "We knew deep down in our hearts that God would reward our obedience. He opened up a whole new career in music and entertainment. He gave me the desires of my heart."
The Ericksons no longer shut doors on each other. Instead they open them for other couples as hosts at Focus on the Family's Hope Restored marriage conference center in Branson. When hurting couples come there, Ron and Opal are able to say with confidence, "God healed us. And He can heal your marriage, too. We see amazing miracles every week."
Marianne Hering is the author of "The Imagination Station" book series and a senior associate editor of Focus on the Family magazine.