There was no honeymoon phase for Matt and Andrea Walker. Just a few short months after saying, ‘I do,’ the Walkers’ marriage was on the brink of collapse. “Our relationship was not where either one of us thought it would be,” said Matt. Andrea grew up in Northern Arkansas in a home where abuse, conflict, and alcoholism spun a web of chaos and instability. As a young girl, Andrea wondered why a God who said He loved her would allow her to live in such a difficult place. Fear and shame kept her from telling anyone her story or voicing questions about faith.
Andrea found some answers when she went to college at Ouachita Baptist University. “The gospel was shared abundantly, and I was surrounded by people who consistently reminded me that God loved me and was always with me, even during my suffering. I dug into God’s Word and started memorizing it. After years of doubt and reluctance to fully accept God’s love, I finally embraced the truth and started to abide in His love.”
Matt and Andrea met each other during college and married in 2009. From the beginning of their marriage, it was difficult. Failure to resolve conflict and the fallout from being raised in two very different environments led to a steady stream of arguments and mistrust. “As a child, I’d always felt unlovable, so when there was conflict, I questioned Matt’s love for me,” said Andrea. “I was full of anger, and not long after we married, I wanted a way out.”
Matt says his passivity and struggle with pornography only amplified the conflict in their marriage. “My struggle with lust and pornography was revealed during our engagement,” said Matt. “I had always thought my sin didn’t affect anyone else other than the Lord. But now my sin was causing Andrea pain. It made her wonder if I was going to let her down like so many other people had.”
By the time the Walkers made it to Dallas, Andrea wasn’t sure how much longer their relationship would last. When they attended re|engage, Watermark’s ministry to married couples, they were asked to individually rank their satisfaction level in their marriage. Matt ranked their marriage a six. Andrea wrote down minus one.
“At the time, we were the youngest couple ever to come to re|engage,” said Andrea. “That wasn’t exactly encouraging. We were comforted as we looked around at the hundreds of couples in attendance and realized that we were not the only ones having a tough time.”
As the Walkers did the hard work of rebuilding their relationship at re|engage, they recognized patterns and habits that were creating tension and dividing their hearts. Matt says he was a classic avoider, shutting down any possibility of resolving conflict. He also was accustomed to keeping the problems in their marriage behind closed doors. “We’d been very isolated in the past,” said Matt. “We had an unending list of conflicts that we had internalized and nobody knew about.”
The turning point for Andrea was discovering that her pain and insecurity had less to do with her relationship with Matt and more to do with her understanding of the Lord’s love. “Our leaders really invested in us, and I am so thankful. One day our female leader pulled me aside and asked how I thought God saw me. At the time, I really didn’t know. She explained that because of Christ, God saw me as ‘pure and holy.’ (1 Corinthians 1:30) I walked away from that conversation choosing to believe the truth about what God’s Word says about me. That was a life-changing moment.”
Both Matt and Andrea say that one of the most significant tools God used to heal their marriage was the community they built with other couples. “Nothing in our life was better because we had lived in isolation and let our conflicts fester,” said Matt. “By being transparent with other couples, we saw healthy conflict resolution modeled for us and were able to develop better patterns in our marriage. From that point forward, I wanted to live more openly and honestly in community.”
For the first time in their relationship, Andrea says she and Matt were finally on the same page and seeking unity. The two began memorizing Scripture together, and there was an atmosphere of gentleness and kindness in their home that was not there before. “Because of God’s work in our hearts, our marriage got better,” said Andrea. “Matt was finally able to share openly with me, and I was able to truly listen.”
The Walkers agree that the challenges in the early years of their marriage gave them both hearts of humility and dependence on the Lord that they might otherwise never have had. The love that God gave them for Himself and for each other moved them to a place of stability and peace, and it prepared them for the adversity to come.
What do you do when the flood of tragedy seems never-ending? Where do you go when your plans are derailed? Matt and Andrea Walker know exactly what that’s like.
In the fall of 2010, the Walkers thought they’d made it through the storm. “The Lord had restored our marriage, and we were fighting for oneness in Him for the first time,” said Matt. “He surrounded us with a community of friends who encouraged us in our faith, and we were thankful. Then we discovered that a traumatic brain injury I’d sustained as a teenager meant that it would be impossible for us to conceive. We were shocked.”
Instantly, Andrea says she was plagued by fear and doubt as she wondered if she’d ever be a mom. “When we found out we could not get pregnant, it seemed like everyone around us was pregnant! It was so hard not to compare our lives to the lives of other couples. Our marriage was back in a state of struggle again, and it seemed like my heart had turned to stone. I had a lot of trouble allowing others to love me, and that kept me from fully experiencing God’s goodness. Thankfully, the Lord reminded me of the value of opening up to Him and to the community of friends He provided.”
The Walkers got involved with Tapestry, Watermark’s adoption ministry. As they heard from others who had expanded their families through adoption, the idea of domestic or international adoption started to seem less foreign. “Our minds changed, and we started to think less about infertility and more about adoption being an opportunity to really love a child,” said Andrea.
The Walkers went into the international adoption process with eyes wide open to the long, complicated process. Changes in policies or government leadership could make the international adoption process arduous and unpredictable. But they never imagined the season of incredible highs and lows they would endure in their pursuit of adoption in Ethiopia. After two years of waiting to be matched with a child, the agency they were working with shut down when the Ethiopian government halted all American adoptions. It felt like a huge bait and switch, and the Walkers were devastated.
“I was so hopeful that we would bring a child home from Ethiopia,” said Matt. “But when our hopes were dashed, we grieved deeply. In our lowest moments, I had a choice to make. I could turn away from God or believe that He loved us and had a plan for our lives. Fortunately, through His Word, the Lord helped me see that we could trust Him, even as a dream was dangled before us and was seemingly ripped away.”
After a year of waiting and going through the application process with a domestic agency, the Walkers’ dream of becoming parents moved closer to reality. An expecting mother had chosen the Walkers, and they were building a relationship with the birth mother as they awaited the arrival of the baby. The nursery was ready, and the car seat was buckled in as the Walkers awaited the baby’s arrival. But 72 hours after the birth mother delivered the child, she changed her mind. They were devastated to learn that the baby girl they had hoped for would not come home with them after all.
“My grief was so heavy,” said Andrea. “Nobody wants to come home to an empty nursery. I’d been involved with Shiloh, Watermark’s ministry to those walking through infertility and miscarriage, and those ladies were a real source of hope. We memorized Scripture like Psalm 51:16-17 together. God’s Word helped me see that I could go to the Lord honestly with my tears and questions, and I could trust Him to provide comfort.
Andrea says that the most surprising part of her journey through suffering was that her heart didn’t want to pull away from God. “I found the Lord enjoyable and wanted to spend more time with Him, even while I was hurting. God allowed me to view my relationship with the birthmother as a privilege. I was thankful God had given me opportunities to share the gospel and discuss her worth in God’s eyes. Although I had no idea if we would ever become parents, the Lord gave me faith, love, and peace, despite my circumstances.”
Matt and Andrea believe the point of their story is not that they became mom and dad to Lillian almost two years ago – although they consider her among the greatest blessings the Lord has given them. “Our story is less about infertility and adoption and more about what happened when we abided in God’s Word,” said Andrea. “Had our story been different, perhaps we would have missed the most significant gift God was longing to provide – intimacy with Him.”
“Regardless of where we were on this journey, God was gracious and kind to us,” said Matt. “God guided us through it all, and we look forward to comforting others in the same way God comforted us in our afflictions.”