In 2017, Lee County, Georgia, sheriff’s deputy Danny Alday shot a drug-crazed, knife-wielding man who charged at him while he was responding to a domestic violence incident. The shooting—along with other devastating side effects of his duties—were tearing his marriage apart, and he didn’t even know it.
Five years later, as a lieutenant in that southwest Georgia department, Danny, 34, still suffered from nightmares and flashbacks of the shooting, which thankfully wasn’t fatal. His wife, Jillian, 33, encouraged him to seek counseling, but Danny tried to convince her that he would be fine. Then last year, his brother’s suicide unleashed a tidal wave of grief and despair.
Danny still tried to put on a brave front. “I didn’t want her to look on me as a weak person,” he said. But when he saw a Facebook ad about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s (BGEA’s) Marriage Resiliency Retreat for couples in law enforcement, Danny hoped it would be the call for backup his 12-year marriage so desperately needed. Without telling his wife, he submitted an application online.
When Jillian got the phone call notifying her that she and Danny had been selected through BGEA’s Law Enforcement Appreciation Program for the weeklong expense-paid marriage retreat in June at Mystic Lake Lodge in Alaska, she thought the offer was as empty as her marriage.
“I was tired of feeling like I was always coming in last on his priorities,” Jillian said. “It didn’t really feel like a marriage. It kind of felt like we were just roommates.”
Three days into the retreat—which included small group sessions on keys to a healthy marriage, Bible study and worship, as well as excursions like fishing, rafting, boating and hiking—Danny asked Eric Hubbard, BGEA Rapid Response Team chaplain and deputy director of law enforcement ministry: “How do I apologize to God for turning my back on Him?”
Danny became a Christian when he was 12 years old after seeing how his dad’s newfound relationship with Jesus changed him from being physically and mentally abusive to being the loving father he needed. But when his dad died of a brain tumor four years later, Danny blamed God for many years.
Eric assured Danny that God still loved him.
“I knew at that point if I didn’t repent and change as a person for God, then my marriage wouldn’t last any longer than the trip,” Danny said.
Back in their room that evening, Danny told Jillian about his recommitment to Christ. He asked her to forgive him for failing as her husband and invited her to renew their marriage vows together.
Jillian couldn’t deny the transformation she was seeing in Danny, yet she was hesitant to commit to the marriage vow renewal ceremony planned for the end of the retreat.
A few days later at the end of a small group Bible study led by J. Warner Wallace—a retired cold-case homicide detective—Jillian responded to the invitation to receive Christ’s gift of salvation. “I just threw my notepad up, my pen fell on the floor, and I stood up because I felt this calling that it’s my time to surrender myself and to give my life to Christ,” she said.
Another one of Danny’s prayers had been answered. “Tears came to my eyes because I had been praying, and I knew that it wasn’t up to me,” he said. “That was between her and Christ. Immediately, I was overwhelmed, and I was so proud of her.”
Wallace, a former atheist and now Christian apologist, said the grandeur of the Alaskan wilderness—coupled with the power of God’s Word and the care shown by the lodge staff—creates an environment where law enforcement couples can lower their defenses and allow their hearts to be healed.
“As a former police officer, I know we build walls around our hearts to protect ourselves,” Wallace said. “But we have repeatedly seen police officers and their spouses surrender their lives to Jesus during this time as a result of something God does miraculously in this incredible environment.”
As for the marriage vow renewal ceremony, “It was better than the first time we got married,” Jillian said. “This had a whole new meaning because we had both decided that we were going to put God first, and to give our lives to Him, and trust that He knows what’s best for us.” At the end of the retreat, Danny and Jillian were baptized together in Mystic Lake as a public testimony of her newfound faith and their new marital bond in Christ.
Back home near Albany, Georgia, life is different for the Aldays. After dinner most evenings, they read from the New Testament together with their 12-year-old son. And while he’s on duty, Danny is putting into practice the “Sharing Hope in Crisis” online training he completed following the retreat.
“My whole attitude toward life in general has completely changed,” he said. “I want to help people now from a Christian perspective.”