BROOKSVILLE — Rick and Sandee Lester are uniquely qualified to teach couples how to have a successful marriage. Their own marriage nearly didn't survive its seventh year.
The couple met at a U.S. air base in Korea. Rick was stationed there as a fighter pilot. Sandee had traveled there to perform as lead vocalist and keyboard artist with an all-female show band. They married in 1981.
When her father died several years later, Sandee fell into a deep depression. Unhappy and turning elsewhere for solace, she contemplated divorcing her husband.
"I was going to leave my husband for another man," she said. "I thought I'd married the wrong person. When Rick received an assignment to go to Germany for three years, I didn't want to go with him."
Though she wasn't living a godly life, Sandee believed God was telling her he would not approve. Their two children would suffer, as she had at age 16 when her own parents divorced. Rick wanted to save the marriage. The couple reached out to God, and with his help made it work.
Now married 32 years, the Lesters have spent the past 20 years ministering to other couples, showing them how God and biblical principles can make their marriage a success.
On July 20, the Lesters will present their one-day seminar, "GPS to a Joyful Marriage," at their home church, Grace World Outreach in Brooksville.
The free course, named after Mrs. Lester's blog, uses the "GPS" to help couples get started in the right direction.
"G" stands for putting God in the marriage, "P" for staying positive and "S" for being selfless.
"If you speak positively to each other and start implementing those three things, you'll see a change," Sandee said.
The Bible-based teaching centers on four main areas: communication, love and respect, intimacy in sex, and priorities. There are question-and-answer sessions. Several handouts with marital advice are distributed, along with a book for taking notes.
Couples who attend are separated part of the time into male and female groups, with Sandee teaching the women and Rick, a retired colonel, the men. Later, the pairs come together to practice what they've been taught.
Mark and Dorothy Durand attended the seminar in 2008. They believe it saved their marriage.
"We decided to attend because our only other choice was to separate and tear apart the world for our children," Mrs. Durand said.
The seminar gave them the tools they needed to change the direction of their relationship.
"While no marriage is perfect, and ours certainly isn't," Mrs. Durand said, "we will be celebrating 13 years together this August and have nothing but hope for many more years to come."
After observing the Lesters' interaction with each other at church events, Ebony and Freddie Perez decided to attend the seminar in 2010.
"So many marriages don't make it anymore," Mrs. Perez said. "Growing up, I saw people married but not happy. Rick and Sandee seemed happy, and while I know that no married couple is always happy, they seemed to know how to make this marriage thing work."
Mrs. Perez also wanted to find out how to be a better wife. The seminar provided the instruction she sought.
"We learned to stop and think, use better communication skills and put the other person above our wants," she said. "The secret is to put God first, then the other person."
They also learned not to use the word "never" and to believe that their marriage is worthwhile.
Seminars such as this one are badly needed, Sandee said.
"The divorce rate is just as high in the church (as outside it), but no one talks about it," she said. "Very few churches have marriage ministry. They all have DivorceCare, but not many do anything for marriage. People are afraid to get up and say they have marriage problems because they associate that with meaning they're not a good Christian."
To supplement the courses she and her husband teach, including a class giving premarriage counseling, Sandee writes on the topic of marriage once a week on a blog. She's also written a book about marriage called When Superheroes Fall.
"Building a good marriage takes work," she said. "You get your priorities in order and know what's really important. It's about growing together. Everyone can work through it. It's taken us a long time to get there, but it's so worth it."