affair recovery · marriage

The Twenty-Seventh List

The Twenty-Seventh ListTomorrow is the day of our Twenty-Seventh Wedding Anniversary. For 10 months I’ve wondered what this day will feel like. There has been a list of reasons why this day was to be dreaded.

After any crisis, when we encounter holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, there is added weight to the calendar. We learned about this nearly two decades ago after our daughter died. When we were in the beginning stages of grieving, her birthday didn’t just arrive. It occurred in extremes. As we moved closer to the date, with no party to plan, our mood shifted downward. Then there was the mind-blowing low as we acknowledged the reality that our nineteen-month old would never age, accompanied by a calm peace as we (somehow) survived this knowledge. Throughout the actual date of her birthday, friends and family reached out and demonstrated their love to us, and we were catapulted to a high. Their acts of kindness lifting us heavenward, towards her. Towards Him.

This crisis of marital infidelity takes out stones and lodges them at my calendar. A heavy awareness of broken vows weighs me down when I think of my wedding anniversary. My own mind throws the stones, and each stone tears a hole in the calendar, as if it is trying to rip the 18th of December from time and erase it completely.

You see, when we celebrate we are essentially saying, “Good job!” After an affair, do we utter such an absurdity? It feels false. It feels as authentic as congratulating a drunk driver for surviving a collision. Sitting here, the day before our Anniversary, my mind reels at the thought of how we will navigate through the day.

Overhead clouds roll in and respond to my aching heart. As the dark rain clouds release themselves, everything slows down for a few hours. I look out the window and watch as the desert ground absorbs the moisture, and I wonder if this year, this horribly-hard-year, is to be the defining year for our marriage. Will the betrayal of last year absorb itself into our lives for good? There are twenty-seven years to consider, but it seems as if it all comes back to this horribly-hard-year.

I find myself trying to remember something significant from each year we’ve been married. There has to be more to our marriage than this horribly-hard-year. If this is the sum of it all then let the stones have their way and rip this date from the existence of time. Without a verbal prompt, I grab a dry-erase marker and board. I begin to make a list.

I list memorable moments in our marriage. I try to think of everything that may stand out in each of the twenty-seven years. I use a calculator to keep track of the years and the ages of our children. Over the course of the afternoon, I continue listing small, somewhat meaningless events and activities.

I am making what I call The Twenty-Seventh List, but I stop before I’ve reached the end. I am afraid to list anything from the horribly-hard-year. Our marriage is made up of so much more than what we’ve been living through lately.

The Twenty-Seventh List: (an overview)

I note the times we have relocated because of ministry. Three weeks after our wedding, rather than taking a job where we could stay near family, we began our marriage by relocating to another state and taking the responsibility of a full time ministry position. It was just the two of us and we were beyond frightened, but we believed that God would provide us a community and life in the unfamiliar land.

I note the homes we have bought together; there were four. My husband and I have survived escrow together on four occasions–surely that alone is worth some type of celebration.

I note the animals who have been a part of our family. Dogs & cats, turtles & fish–too many to disclose. The names of each animal bringing about a memory that causes a grin or a grimace. Which memory was the most heartbreaking? It’s a tie between, Sami-girl, everyone’s favorite poodle mix who disappeared one Fourth of July, and Maximas the black Godfather cat who was run down in front of our home on Christmas Eve.

I note the four greatest blessings to ever grace the home of an undeserving couple.  In the seventh year of our marriage, for a short amount of time, we lived in a household with all four of our children. Everyone was born and no one had died. Every night there were four little bodies to feed and bathe. Jammies had feet, cups had lids, and everyone had a blankie. We were aware that time was fleeting, but we weren’t aware that everyone’s clock wasn’t set to the same timer.

I note the day our daughter died. Passion turned to depression. Pain turned to more pain. Hard turned to perseverance.

I note the bicycles, scooters and cars given as gifts. The dance attire and graduation gowns. The California Missions projects, photo shoots, and science fair failures. I note the piano lessons gone wrong and baseball games gone well. I note the yard sales, overseas missions trips, and sleepovers. I note the wedding engagements and the evolving nature of our still extending family.

I note the day our daughter told us we were to be grandparents. An unexpected fear had come over me when she shared her news. I knew what it felt like to love and lose a child. For her to love greatly would mean that one day she may hurt greatly.

I note the look on our granddaughter’s face two weeks ago. When this little one came to visit, she knew us. This little perfect girl knew her Papa and Mimi.

10448699_10152640953166970_4820699958563815258_oHere’s the thing. Not one good thing on the list makes the whole of our marriage anymore than any one failure makes the whole of our marriage. To survive this horribly-hard-year we are reliant on grace. To survive any marriage, the players are reliant on grace. A wedding anniversary is a day to celebrate a series of days where two people were successful at treating one another with more grace than either one deserved. This year we are celebrating twenty-seven years of failures and successes. Neither being more significant than the other. Our failures have worked their own good, in the same way that our successes have been stumbling blocks.

Tomorrow is the day of our Twenty-Seventh Wedding Anniversary. For 10 months I’ve wondered what this day will feel like. There is a list of reasons why this day is to be celebrated.

spiritual growth

Unexpected Visitors at Christmas

MV5BMTI1OTExNTU4NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzIwMzQyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_Mention Cousin Eddie to anyone who has seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and there will be immediate sympathy for the trials of having an uninvited and unexpected house guest at Christmastime. Along with other classic scenes, the iconic movie, which celebrates it’s 25th Anniversary this year, highlights some of the inconveniences Clark Griswold faces when Cousin Eddie and his family arrive unannounced at the Griswold home.

Even if we have never had an unplanned house guest at Christmastime, we can relate to the hardship we see unfold in the comedy. It’s hard not to chuckle when the redneck cousin arrives in his RV and parks it in front of the Griswold’s soon-to-be brightly lit home. While we don’t know the exact details of what is going to unfold, we know it will bring Clark to his knees in frustration. While I have never experienced anything remotely close to what the Griswold family faced, I have had a few visitors at Christmastime. Unfortunately, they weren’t laughable, and I had no guarantee they would be leaving when the mistletoe came down.

In the days of Christmas past, I was visited by “Grief” at Christmastime, and it was the hardest season in my life.

On the last day of January in 1995 our third born child, our daughter Molly, died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep. Our family woke one morning, and Molly did not. Our nineteen-month-old angel was gone in an instant, and needless to say, we were in disbelief. Once the mind-numbing shock lifted we were left devastated. It was a searing pain that still burns deep.

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Like the Walking Dead, we moved through the year until eventually the Christmas season arrived. My husband and I were both hurting, and I wanted nothing to do with traditional festivities.

When I glanced at the Christmas tree, sparkling lights would dance off the glass ornaments, and I would begin to feel something shift in my heart. With that shift there was pain.  I heard songs I had heard my entire life, but with the dagger of Grief piercing my heart they sounded different: whimsical words wounded like weaponry.

The problem was– even though we were grieving our child who had died, we were still parents to three children who lived and they were ripe to learn about the baby born in manger. We had a bouncing baby boy, and two children ages six and four who needed to hear the tales of the Inn that was too full, of Shepherds in the fields, and of Wise Men bearing gifts. Whether or not we were sad, these precious little ones were still anticipating the arrival of Santa Clause. There were Christmas pageants to attend, presents to be wrapped, and cookies to be decorated. While I may have been fine with skipping Christmas, there were others who would have been dreadfully disappointed.

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Looking back, we see now that the problem was actually the blessing.

Experiencing Christmas with Grief was doing a work in our hearts. There is no way to lose a child and not feel complete devastation. One of the temptations to avoid feeling that overwhelming sense of loss is to avoid “feeling” anything. It becomes a trade that seems to make sense at the time: close off the part of your heart that feels good in order to protect the part of your heart that hurts.

Closing ourselves off from good is one of the worst lies the enemy tells us.  When I looked at the Christmas tree and felt the shift in my heart, the enemy wanted me to believe that if I diverted my eyes from the dancing lights, I wouldn’t be reminded of Molly’s playful ways and I wouldn’t hurt. When Christmas carols sounded like battle cries, the enemy would have taken pleasure in my covering my ears rather than hearing a salute to the Newborn King.

God was allowing me to feel these things, not as a punishment, but because He knew things I didn’t know. Experiencing Christmas without my child hurt worse than anything I had ever imagined, but God knew this pain was bringing a new kind of strength. And He knew this pain would not destroy me.

He also knew it would not last. God’s lens is more broad than we can imagine. He is not limited to only what has happened and what is happening, but He is privy to what will one day happen. He was not limited to only seeing the Christmas of 1995; He saw every other Christmas as well. He knew I would make it if I just would just persevere through it. And He knew that walking through grief, and feeling the grief was the only way out.

This year, much like an unwanted house guest, Regret has come calling.

Regret is the cousin of Grief. They are not directly related–but they are so similar they behave like they are from the same family. At times, the difference is subtle.  A person can experience deep Grief, and have little or no Regret, but it is difficult to have Regret and not have Grief.

Regret will sometimes spend time with Repentance. When Regret is with Repentance, he is not only bearable–he is welcome. When Regret leads to Repentance there is a gratitude for their arrival. Opening the door and seeing Regret and Repentance arriving together is a welcome sight. In these moments, we light a fire and bring out the good wine. These two together help to restore relationships and build hope in the family.

The problem is Regret will often overstay his welcome.

In these longer visits Regret pulls us backwards into “what might have been” and “what I should have done.”

  • Regret slyly offers a box wrapped in bright paper and tied up with a red bow.  When it is opened there are memories of Christmas’ past–but along with the memories there is a card that reads, “you took all of these things for granted…”
  • Regret calls the household to play a game of charades and then taunts its players with romantic notions of a perfect life.  If things had been done differently “All Would Be Well.”

Lingering Regret is often unrealistic and tells a multitude of lies, and living with Regret is hard on all members of the household. Even those who did not give permission for Regret to stay in their home suddenly have to deal with the mood swings and the depression Regret brings.

Sill Tree 2014

Like Cousin Eddie was drawn to Clark, Regret is trying to stay with me through this Holiday season. He’s smelly and unpleasant; he’s sleeping on my couch and leaving his dirty dishes in my sink.  He is judgmental and harsh, and I really want this guest to leave. But, Regret doesn’t want to go away. It seems Regret is hell-bent on spending Christmas in my heart.

I think of how differently Regret speaks to me when he visits with Repentance. Without Repentance, Regret is just an unpleasant feeling. With Repentance, Regret is forced to behave differently. The only way I am going to make it through this season is by inviting Repentance into each day. Regret pretends he likes to be accompanied by Repentance, but in reality he would much rather have the stage to himself. Without Repentance, he is the star. With Repentance nearby, conversations move from judgement to mercy. The set is changed and the story is no longer about Regret, but about Redemption through Christ. With Repentance nearby the lies of Regret lose their power.

The thing is, Repentance will always wait for an invitation.

Repentance simply will not come uninvited or empty handed. Upon being invited he will arrive swiftly, and he will bring lavish foods that will leave you full from your tummy to your toes.  And best of all, Repentance will bring along his brother, Restoration. When invited into your home, Repentance and Restoration make the drawn out visit from Regret easier to endure, because while Regret focuses on the past, Restoration is looking to the future.

Regret’s romantic tales of opportunities lost have less power over us when Restoration is part of the story.

Much like Christmas of 1995 when the problem became the blessing, 2014 is calling for a shift in perspective. I long for Regret to leave my household. He says, “No.” Because Regret refuses to leave, I rely on Repentance to see me through each day.  Repentance comes swiftly, bringing the blessing of Restoration. The problem becomes the blessing.