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.

affair recovery

A Husband’s Choice

My husband stood at the front of the hall, looking handsome in a dark jacket as he made last minute preparations for a ceremony he would soon officiate. The room was filled with about twenty formal dining tables, and guests were trickling in and finding their assigned seats. I found my place at table #5, glanced around the room and finally allowed my eyes to settle on the beautiful sunset coming to life outside the large windows.  As I waited for the ceremony to begin, a lighthearted conversation developed between myself and a woman seated to my left. We mentioned the weather, commented on the decor, and complimented the other on her accessories.

And then the conversation shifted. You know what I am talking about: We unintentionally found ourselves in a meaningful conversation which pulled strangers beyond the guest list and into a spiritual and transformational moment.

Somehow in a conversation about why my husband and I relocated from California to Arizona, the topic of my infidelity came up. (This is where my closest friends shake their heads and mutter, “…of course it did.” )  My willingness to talk openly and be transparent about what has transpired in my life over the last year may seem like an oddity to some, but I have come to learn that while I am in the minority of those who talk about what we are going through, I am (sadly) not in the minority of those who have gone through it.

After I had shared with the woman at my table about my infidelity there was a little awkwardness. It happens. I am learning to be okay with that uncomfortable moment, because I remind myself that the person is processing what has been shared. Their inner conflict has little to do with me and much more to do with their own story. I don’t know their story, and I work hard to not guess what it may hold. I’ve received messages and have had conversations with people who have been unfaithful, people who have been betrayed, and adult children who have watched their parents navigate this path.

For this particular woman it took about ten minutes before she opened up and began to share. She leaned in and whispered, “How did your husband let it go?”

Following her initial question came her story. She shared the details of a familiar storyline that included betrayal and heartbreak.  Even though I’ve had other interactions with women whose husbands have been unfaithful, I am always awestruck. It amazes me that this woman didn’t throw water in my face, accuse me of being a “woman-like-that”, and move to another table. What draws a woman who has been betrayed to seek community with a woman who once betrayed?

She related how her husband’s actions were still affecting her. It had been several years since the affair had happened and ended, and she couldn’t let it go. She couldn’t walk away from the wounded place of disbelief. And living in that place where she had been wounded had transformed her into an angry woman. She admitted that she treated her husband differently than every other person in her life.

She shared how slowly, over time her husband had become the target of all her disappointment. Her rage and her anger were consistently aimed at him. At one point she asked, “How did your husband stop that from happening? How did he move forward and forgive you?”

It was frightening to hear the details of the way her anger was affecting her marriage. It was even more frightening that she was asking me for input. She was asking me a new question. She was asking me how my husband had navigated this journey. My heart pounded a little differently as I told her simply and honestly, “I don’t know if I can answer that for you.”

And my answer made me feel a new wave of shame.

My selfishness did not end with the affair. As I had been so focused on my own discovery and path to recovery, I had failed to ask my husband a basic question. Why did his forgiveness come so quickly? We have talked about a lot of things he has experienced, but I had never asked him that particular question.

During my affair my husband was an unhappy man. He was lonely, and he felt an isolation he didn’t understand. For over half of his life I had been his partner and his best friend. During this brutal time he felt more alone than any other time in his life. He couldn’t comprehend what the root of the problem could be or what to do to bridge the ever widening gap between us. Even when we were together, I was absent. The more he would try to engage me, the more I would pull away.

After the affair was disclosed he saw hope. He immediately understood his own sense of isolation and abandonment. Things he was questioning and witnessing with his own eyes suddenly made sense. There was a freedom that came to him in the knowledge of the truth because it meant he was not losing his mind.

Anymore, my husband and I don’t spend a lot of time talking about what our marriage was like during the affair. I ache for my husband when he has a reminder of that time period. At this point in our marriage, there is only death in going back to that place. Life comes with everything that has followed since the affair.

This was an “after-the-affair” question; maybe it would be life giving to talk about it. It made me feel selfish that it hadn’t been discussed to the point in which I could answer the woman’s question easily, so my motivation for asking him was also to break any barrier that may still exist between us.

After a few days, I finally worked through my own pride, shame and guilt and breached the question to my husband, “How did you forgive me for everything so easily?”  As soon as the words “so easily” had rolled off my tongue, I was filled with regret.

  • How in the hell would I know how easy or how difficult it was for him to forgive me?
  • Can I read his heart?
  • Had I been assuming it wasn’t hard for him to forgive me?

The entirety of that conversation cannot be shared in one blog post, because honestly–it’s still happening. That was the first of an ongoing dialog about forgiveness.

My embarrassment over having used the term “so easily”, and my profuse apologies for assuming it was easy made us both aware that there is a difference between something being done easily verses something being done quickly.

Just because someone does something quickly and intentionally does not mean it was done easily.

In 2008 there was a video surfing the internet. It was filmed during a Women’s Collegiate 600 Meter race where Heather Dorniden was the favored frontrunner. During the first 200 meters of the race the commentators are generous in their appreciation of her style and the likelihood of her win.

Then Heather falls.

What happens to Heather immediately after she falls is almost not even on the screen. The cameras are moving with the runners who didn’t fall, but at the edge of the screen you can see Heather get up and start running immediately. She does not hesitate even for one minute.

She runs hard and fierce and she not only catches up to the other runners, but she passes them. She races like a winner, and rightfully so, because in a photo finish…she wins. Had she not gotten up, she would not have finished. Had she hesitated to get up for one second, she would not have won.  Victory came to her because she responded quickly.

The day my husband learned his wife was guilty of the worst kind of betrayal, he had to make a choice: quick & hard or slow & harder. Because that’s one of the realities about an unforgiving heart. What starts as hard, will oftentimes become harder. And in the same way that hard can transition to harder, the difficulty continues to transform. Eventually slow & harder can evolve into something far worse: never & bitter.

When the word “bitter” comes up, my husband is quick to identify his desire to stay far away from bitterness as being a huge influence. He has difficulty remembering exactly what his thoughts were to break it down completely. He says it was love. He knows it was the Holy Spirit.  Whatever the motivation, it appears as though my husband made a quick choice to forgive me on the first day he learned of my infidelity.

But I am not sure that’s what really happened.

The more I’ve considered the patterns of his life, the more certain I am that my husband made the choice to run a race with a grace-filled forgiving mindset long before his wife was unfaithful. Long before his wife had an affair he had allowed himself to be transformed into someone who would choose grace and forgiveness. The decision came quickly because the decision had already been made.

He was intentional with forgiveness because grace was part of the nature he had been striving towards long before it was needed. He was ready to run in the way that was most Christlike. He was ready to run in a way that would make us both stronger so we might both cross the finish line.

 

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affair recovery · spiritual growth

Elle est Forte: Proverbs 31 and the Adulteress

I am a Pastor’s wife who was caught in adultery. After my affair was announced publicly I made a deal with my Bible:

I would read diligently, study regularly, and memorize its passages consistently. I would ponder on the wanderings of the children of Israel and the mishaps of the multiple Kings. I would take special notice of the failure of King David and the purpose of Queen Esther. I would sit at the feet of Jesus, witness the resurrection, and follow Paul into the prisons. The only thing I asked in return from my bulky, leather bound friend was to guard and shield me from ever again having to read about the Proverbs 31 Woman.

Prior to my public moral failure, I found no offense in reading of her ways. I wasn’t crazy about the busyness of her days, but I understood the list of her attributes to be a call for women strive for a life of valor.  In the summer of 2012 when I read the blog post, Women of Valor by Rachel Held Evens, I shouted–“eshet chayil”! I hoped that somewhere in the 21 verse poem there was room for me.

Then I allowed my sinful desires to take control of my life and lead me down the path of destruction.

Proverbs 31 speaks of a wife who is honorable. It speaks of a husband who is blessed by her. Her husband has full confidence in her, because she brings good into his life. She is not burdened with self-inflicted shame, has no fears for her future, and has the ability to provide wisdom to others: 

“A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.

…She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

This is only a partial segment of a likeness that was now and forevermore out of my reach. Reading it was downright frightening. I found it easier to relate to the woman described in John 8:

At dawn he { Jesus } appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him,and he sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

I don’t know what clothing the woman in John 8 was wearing when she was brought before the church leaders. I’ve tried to imagine her. I believe she is clothed in shame. I see her messy hair and her bare feet.  Even though her ragged clothing covers her body–she pulls at the neckline of her dress in an attempt to cover her self-perceived nakedness. She looks down at her guilty hands and wonders if these are to be her last moments on earth. She is not laughing at the days to come.

There is a vast difference between a woman who is worth far more than rubies and a woman people would like to stone.

I understood the difference, so I made the deal with my Bible. I would glean all that I could from any of the other Bible passages, and I would let the women who had earned the right to be clothed in strength and dignity wear those clothes.

 

And time passed…

It was a warm summer evening when I gathered with some ladies for a farewell party. The hostess had purposed a craft for us to work on together while we sipped pink cocktails and nibbled on caloric finger-foods. We were making truth-cards. These were small works of art we would be able to refer back to when future days were long and daunting.

It was on this evening my daughter honored me by presenting me with a truth-card constructed with the words, “elle est forte”. She translated the words, “she is strong” and went on to say how much strength she saw in me. On the back she wrote words of love and grace. I was honored deeply.

FullSizeRender(3)The moment moved me to tears. This was my adult, married daughter to whom I had lied. The young woman whose father I had betrayed. My example of how to be a godly woman and wife had been trashed before her very eyes in a public venue. My greatest failure was announced to my church coworkers–who happened to be her closest friends. My worst nightmares of how I might one day disappoint my daughter did not compare with what had actually happened. There was no other woman in the world that I would have wanted to honor me publicly.

 

And more time passed…

Months later, of all the truth-cards that were given to me that evening, the one from my daughter stood out.

The giver. The message. The poetic nature.

I decided to commission a jewelry designer to fashion the phrase into a necklace. I wanted to own this message and make a declaration. I had been weak when I was dragged away and enticed by my own evil desires, but I am strong when I am humbled in a heap at the feet of the Lord. To be strong in Christ is our greatest strength, and to own it fiercely is a passageway to life abundant.

I ordered my custom necklace from Be Well Threads. The online shop’s owner isn’t merely a crafting entrepreneur, she is a woman of Ministry. She is living a life of valor. She knows my story, was among those to whom I lied, and still chose to respond with grace and mercy.

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It was a short time later, I first saw my necklace online. My jewelry designer posted a picture of the new creation on Facebook and Instagram. She tagged me in each post, and my anticipation for it’s arrival increased. I couldn’t wait to wear and declare my strength!

FullSizeRender(2)The day the necklace arrived was the day a woman caught in adultery came face to face with the Proverbs 31 woman. You see, included in the packaging was a note of encouragement from the designer, and on the inside of the card she had inscribed the words found in Proverbs 31:25.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    and laughs without fear of the future.”

I was dumbfounded. Why on earth would this woman, who clearly knew my failings, use this verse?  My inquisitive nature kicked in and I referred to Google. What was the root of this, “Elle est Forte”?

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Click this picture to connect to Etsy where you can order Elle est Forte clothing from “She is Clothing”

What I didn’t realize when I ordered the necklace was our culture’s current connection of the French term, “Elle est forte” to Proverbs 31:25.  Several designers have been fashioning graphics using the term in direct correlation to the Bible verse. I was completely shocked. Had I known prior to ordering that the term “Elle est forte” was associated with the one book I was attempting to avoid, I would have never requested the necklace be made.

I called my daughter and asked her if she was aware of the connection of term “Elle est forte” to the Proverbs 31 Woman.

Now, if you have had the blessing of raising a daughter through the teen years and into adulthood, you will relate when I say I could hear my daughter’s “eye-rolling”. With a soft, “yes, Mom” she confirmed that she was fully aware of the connection between the two.

My daughter had known she was referring to Proverbs 31 when she had publicly called me “Elle est forte”. My jewelry designer had known she was declaring Proverbs 31 when she tagged me in a posted picture of the necklace on Facebook.  However, if it hadn’t been for the inscription on the card that came with my necklace, I still may not have connected the dots.

The whole incident left me very confused.

  • How was it that my daughter was not seeing that I could no longer be called a Proverbs 31 Woman?
  • Didn’t she see the hypocrisy in my claiming label to anything associated with Proverbs 31?
  • If I lay claim to anything associated with a wife of noble character, will God consider it a mockery?

The deal I had made with my Bible was broken.  It was time for the two of us to spend some time dealing with this new development. I was going to have to pour into Proverbs 31:10-31 and unpack its meaning.

I believed there were secrets hidden in this ancient poem. Secrets the Lord planted there so that His word would draw all of mankind toward him. Even those who hadn’t earned that right.

Silently, I prayed for God to show me how I could hear His word with the knowledge of my depraved behavior.

As I prayed, I felt God ask me, “Jackie, how would you have me share this verse with the Woman from John 8? How would you have me give these words to her? I am God, and I inspired these words long before that day in the Temple Courts. Do you not think I thought of her when these words were penned?

I heard the Lord clearly. If I didn’t have a belief in these words for myself, perhaps I could discover truth in God’s words for her sake.  If I were standing in the Temple Courts on the day she was nearly stoned for her sin, and I saw her brokenness, how would I relate these words to her in a way that she might feel closer to God–and not further away from Him?

When it came to the history of the Woman from John 8 there seemed to be very little recorded. It was almost as if the Lord intended her to be anonymous enough that she could be any of us.  I spent the afternoon reading and researching, but nothing I came up with was giving me a clue as to how these verses could help her in an attempt to lead a life claiming, “eshet chayil”! It made me wonder if her history had little to do with her future. Perhaps the day she was caught in adultery was to be the biggest blessing in her life–her ticket to a life lived with valor.

I opened my journal and wrote a letter to this woman who had avoided the stones:

My sister,

On your own, you will never be a wife of noble character, have a worth exceeding rubies, garnish your husband’s full confidence, wear strength or dignity, laugh at what is coming, or speak wisdom and instruction. No, you alone, will never be those things. They cannot exist in you alone.

These verses aren’t for one woman to achieve in herself. God gave these words to draw out the most perfect attributes of His church. God gave these verses to encourage and instruct His people in their quest to be His noble wife. We are not called as individuals to become a Proverbs 31 Woman, we are called as a body to become the Bride of Christ. These are the words we achieve for one another as a body.

The day you sat in the dirt waiting for the first stone to come at you, you were far from being a noble wife. In your eyes. But in the eyes of Christ, there was a nobility coming that would be bought through His suffering. He knew this, so he made a call for grace.

His blood would soon make you noble.

In that moment the men dropped their stones against you, and as they did this they were not only clothing themselves with strength and dignity, they were on the path to clothing you with strength and dignity.

Stones dropped to the ground were clothing you with strength.

When you left the Temple Courts dirty and ashamed, your future looked bleak. The days ahead held uncertainty. It was in those days that other believers surrounded you, loved on you, and laughed at the days ahead for you.

When you couldn’t believe and find laughter, others believed for you.

A life of valor comes to us when we envision a life of valor for someone who cannot see it in themselves, and I believe in all these things for you, Woman of John 8.

Proverbs 31 is a call for the church to be honorable. It speaks of a God who is blessed by her. God has full confidence in her, because she brings good into the life of His children. He does not want her to be burdened with self-inflicted shame. 

To be strong in Christ for another is our greatest strength, and to own it fiercely for someone who is struggling is a passageway to life abundant.

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…She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

affair recovery · spiritual growth

Sexuality: the Plan, the Problem, and the Promise

eye contactJust this week, I received two emails from individuals who are on opposite sides of the sin of adultery. One person is trying to salvage her marriage after an affair which won’t seem to end, and another confessed to being on the verge of choosing an adulterous relationship and (coincidentally) stumbled on my blog. Their emails have blessed and humbled me in ways I am unable to describe.

Their stories are why I continue to blog.

The church my husband and I attend is quite large, much larger than the one we came from, and for the most part, I am unknown.  It is a very freeing experience. About a month ago I attended a woman’s retreat and I was blessed to have made a couple of new friends. It won’t come as a surprise to those who know me that I shared some of the journey my husband and I are on.

After the retreat I became Facebook friends with three of the women, knowing that being FB friends meant they might see my blog. I decided that I was okay with that. I have opened myself up to people around the globe, how different could it be to open myself up to people with whom I worship, study, and serve?

This weekend I experienced the difference. 

In the latest post, Gossip, Pride and Adultery, I made mention of an awareness that I was capable of falling in the same way I had fallen before–or at least having the same temptations rise.  I felt brave when I acknowledged this about myself. Like a girl with a sword, I fiercely cut the enemy down in the exact place where he would like to destroy me. There was victory in my confession. It didn’t occur to me that I may be opening the door to a level of accountability I never bargained on–or what it would feel like.

Last Sunday between church services I was talking with one of my new friends who has read and ‘Liked’ a couple of my blog posts. Our conversation was weaving through different topics. We talked about The Best Yes study we are both doing. We talked about my new job. It was in that moment she asked me a point blank question about my boundaries.

“You are fit and pretty. I would imagine there might be men coming into your work who would find you attractive. I’m sure you always try to look nice. So…how are you going to keep things from crossing a line? How are you going to let men know you are off limits?”

A couple of things happened when she asked me the question. Two things were immediate, the third came a few days later.

I realized I had a plan

Realized I had a PlanShe paused as she waited for my answer. There was nothing rhetorical about her question. She wanted to know my plan of action.

What would I do if a man who came into my workplace were to make it apparent that he found me attractive? How am I going to keep preferred boundaries with male coworkers?

Without hesitating, I answered her. “Eye contact.”

The outward boundaries in maintaining sexual integrity starts with eye contact. Looking back, I recollect that my own affair began with looks and glances long before anything “inappropriate” was verbalized.  The outward manifestation of the inward sin started with eye contact that lasted longer than was necessary or appropriate.

The plan for purity starts with the heart. It’s internal.  This is true not only for marital fidelity but for all forms of sexual purity. That being said, I can only watch over my heart–and I cannot see into the heart of the people I encounter as I am doing life. I do not know what someone else may be struggling with, and I have to navigate my actions in a polite manner which will protect both myself and my husband.  If I am going to live in a world acknowledging my weaknesses, I have to change my behavior based on what I acknowledge. Merely recognizing a problem but not amending it is stupidity. 

I was reminded I have a problem

Reminded I have a ProblemAs I walked away from my friend, and into the worship service at my church, I didn’t feel good at all. There was a nauseousness rising inside of me. When I listened to the first song being sung, I felt downright sick. How did I become someone who would need to be asked such an invasive and personal question? How embarrassed should I feel for the things I am revealing about myself in my blog? What do people really think about me? Is the Scarlett Letter getting bolder and brighter over time?

I spent the rest of the day pondering the conversation. I shared what had happened with my husband. When I shared what my response had been I felt embarrassed. What kind of wife has to tell her husband her plan for keeping boundaries with other men? What kind of wife shares with her husband what she has learned about the initial advances of an affair? The incident left me feeling shameful and tearful.

I crawled onto the couch with my husband, and we watched our new favorite NFL Football team win again  🙂 But, my Sunday afternoon was somber even as the sun fell behind the mountains.

Why was this call to accountability causing me to feel dirty all over again? The reason was simple: it bristles my skin to be reminded of my true weakness. It is uncomfortable to have someone hold me accountable for areas dealing with my sexuality. I would rather be held accountable for something we all struggle with.

Ask me if I am reading scripture–maybe it was a good week. Ask me about my prayer life–we all struggle with that one, right?And, by the way, did I ask you to hold me accountable? And, on a Sunday morning? I thought we Christians had certain unspoken agreements:

  1. After I come to you and ask for accountability, then you may ask me how I am doing. But only on the designated day that we meet at a coffeehouse for our “Time of Accountability”
  2. Church is not the time for making another believer feel uncomfortable.  When we gather, it is for “fellowship” and your job to make sure the people you encounter feel loved and valued. The way people “feel” is of vital importance. Disrupting another believer’s time of worship by having awkward conversations may result in someone forsaking the “fellowship” of the believers altogether.

That was my attempt at sarcasm.

When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that’s left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.  -C.S. Lewis

I rejoiced in the promise

Rejoice in the PossilbilityIt didn’t happen right away. Rejoicing was pretty far away for a couple days.

I’ve learned there is no escape on these days. Any attempt to escape only prolongs the journey. It’s better to lean into it.  Rather than asking God to take the burden away, we need to ask Him to refine us through the uncomfortable feelings–to let us see His heart in the matter.

It was in this time I was able to see Him, and what He wanted to show me.

I can write until the cows come home, and do you know what I will have? A bunch of blogs and cows in my home.

All the writing and blogging in the world is never going to be enough to remove the effects of my sin. The consequences of sin are things we cannot see. I cannot wipe away the effects of something that dishonors the Lord simply because I write a paragraph that makes me feel like I am wielding a sword.  My past sin affects the present day confidence of the one I love. My past sin works to make me feel shame in the present.  There is only one way to receive relief from sin, and it’s completely spiritual.

He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

The truth is, I am incredibly blessed that the Lord has seen fit to bring a woman into my life who, without us having had a conversation where I asked her to help me grow, had the wherewithal to broach a sensitive topic.  We can all learn from her.

If this is to be a turning point in my life, a chance to live differently–then I have to actually live differently. I have to live with real accountability to the small things.  The struggle is how to accept accountability in the area of sexuality without letting those questions diminish my self-esteem.

The way to do that comes in rejoicing over the promise that this kind of accountability has to offer.

When we seek accountability it is because we desire to achieve a goal. When we arrive at the goal, the promise on the other side invalidates all of the uncomfortable feelings we felt on the journey. Those uncomfortable feelings will have been transformed into tiny testimonies of times we clung to God’s grace. We will remember them differently without the fear of failure looming large.

Keeping an eye on the promise, without dreading an uncomfortable conversation is key.

This promise is a big deal. Quite bluntly, this promise reminds me that God has something erotic planned for me.

The word erotic has received a bit of a bum-rap over the years. We associate the word with things like, well…an affair. The thesaurus list some of its synonyms as carnal, filthy, and raunchy. Those are culture norms we’ve assigned to the word and they do not describe the true meaning of erotic. The word comes from the Greek word erōtikos, which is derived from the Greek root erōs. Eros is defined as a love with a sexual and sensual desire. God created erotic love.

Trusting God’s promise for my future means believing I will have erotic love within my marriage. The belief that I need to push down my erotic desires is a lie. The belief that this kind of sexuality can only be achieved in a way that is sinful is a tactic of the enemy.

Trusting in God is believing the path to the promise of marital erotic love is found by a woman who controls her sexuality rather than having her sexuality control her.

An accountability plan is not a punishment because I have a problem. It is a step towards the promise God has for me and my husband.

 

affair recovery · spiritual growth

Gossip, Pride and Adultery

When you are flat on your back, the sky looks bigger. There is no time in my life when I can recall the skies being as luminous as they appear to be now. There are mountains to the east, to the west and to the south. These jagged rocks, corroded with time, have been on earth since the beginning of time. They stand watch over Arizona’s desert, being fully aware that long after I am gone–they will remain. But something about these mountains feels different than other mountains I’ve known.

The difference is ever so slight. These mountains break the horizon, but only doing so as they settle under the heavy hand of the sky. It’s as if the sky is holding them in place, rather than their terrain breaking up into the sky. I lived previously in the California foothills, and when I looked at that terrain it was as if the mountains were creeping up into the skies territory. These mountains seem to submit to the power of that which no man can touch. The evaporated goodness of God holds His mountains in place.

Superstition MountainIn the same way the skies appear to be making the mountains submit, it seems as if they are making me submit. The powerful skies remind me of how small I am, and how big God is. I look up and I wonder: am I getting smaller or is God getting bigger? The truth is, I am not getting smaller, and God is not getting bigger. I was always small and God was always big. But sin inflates us, and we become bigger in our own minds.

It isn’t just sexual sin which causes distortion and inflates the ego. Being blunt, I will say that long before I had an affair, something worse was brewing inside me. Hindsight may be 20/20, but hindsight is only precious to us if we use our enhanced vision to alter the choices we make in the hereafter.

Long before I had an affair, I made poor choices in the relationships I cultivated. What I am about to describe may seem like a common struggle for many women–for many Christian women. That’s partially what makes it disturbing.

I met and began to associate with women whose lives were tinged with a spirit of competition and negativity. It was a brood of judgement, masked under the veil of opinions. The self-righteousness led to gossip. The gossip was poison. I did my best to not participate, but not talking was just a ruse. Even though I held my tongue, just being around such negativity was still involving me in sin in a way I never imagined. Looking back, I wish I had bravely confronted their gossip, and trusted there was a greater good in it for them, and for God’s kingdom. I wish I had been able to see how lovingly confronting them may have changed the choices I myself would make in the time period after.

The reasons for not confronting these women was a form of pride in my own heart.

While I didn’t participate in the gossip, knowing it was rampant and that I was not involved caused me to overvalue myself. Rather than comparing myself to the Savior, I compared myself to these ladies. In short, I had little respect for these ladies, and I was using them. I was allowing them to fill a part of me. I viewed myself as being better than them in some way. They were gossiping and they were filled with negativity–since I wasn’t living in “their sinfulness” I allowed myself to believe I was on a better path. Because of my pride, I wasn’t showing them the love they deserved. 

Perhaps God had allowed me to become acquainted with these women so we could journey a road of revealing deeper issues. What makes one sister talk negatively about another sister? Perhaps in bridging these questions with these women, we could have all grown smaller and God could have grown bigger. Perhaps my confrontation would have made me less prideful and more obedient.

It won’t be a shock to anyone to read that my weaknesses eventually became the subject of their gossip.

Before I entered into the affair, my behavior revealed a woman who was struggling. When my issues with intimacy began to surface, they were met with judgement and gossip. The same words I had heard them speak of about others turned in my direction. No surprise, right? 

The thing that was a surprise was how the gossip actually made me more prideful. My pride was enhanced when the ladies saw my weakness and responded with sin… because they were sinning in a way in which I didn’t struggle. When the women saw that I needed help in keeping boundaries with a man who began to show me attention, there was a small firestorm of gossip. This firestorm made me more prideful. Even though I was a mess of confusion, I didn’t look at myself and what I needed help with–instead, I looked at how these women were involving themselves in the sin of gossip.

My pride grew bigger because, in my estimation, “I could handle” my struggles.  In my mind, I hadn’t actually “sinned” and these women had. It gave me an untrue and exalted view of myself. Sadly, my pride was leading me down a path towards destruction, and I followed with arms raised and heart abandoned. I was in the right–my pride told me so.

Because I hadn’t done anything wrong, I believed what I was struggling with was a weakness which I could manage. I walked forward without accountability.  Shortly thereafter, I was placed in a leadership role and on the payroll of a church. This only made me more fearful of sharing my struggles. I mistakenly believed I was going to have to deal with my weaknesses on my own.  My fear at that time was the threat of losing my job if my weaknesses became known. I closed myself off from telling ANY person of the greatest struggle I have ever had. I decided instead to deal with my internal battles on my own. THAT my friends, is PRIDE.

Not talking to others about my struggle made it easier to stop talking to God.

Talking to another believer would have been a step in keeping conversation open with my Lord. It was easier to deny what was happening when I felt convicted by the satisfaction I was receiving from the attention of another man. I had zero accountability to the one issue which has always been a thorn in my side.

The struggle of being swayed and romanced by the words and the wooing of another man has always been my struggle. I know this more clearly now. I don’t think I understood it as being my struggle, because prior to last year, my prideful self believed that I had it reigned in.  It’s an interesting thing when you cross over into a sin that is “bigger than yourself”, you see yourself in the truest light of grace, or you walk away from the truth completely. I do not think it can play out in any other way. Once you have sinned in a way that you recognize as being BIG, ugly, and inexcusable, you will either repent and have an understanding of grace that is deeper than imagined, or you will continue in your rebellion until you finally abandon your faith altogether.

Entering into the affair was the first time I ever had impulses to give myself to another man, and regretfully I acted on those impulses. But, even without the temptations coming to the surface, I could always feel they were underneath the surface. Somehow I seemed to know that my heart would take me into the pit of hell if I allowed it to lead. I just didn’t know how desperately I needed to talk to others and get help.

The world might look different for a lot of people today, if I had been brave enough to share my struggle. This is why I remember the ladies so vividly, the gossip, and the opportunity lost. Perhaps if I had stood bravely and helped them overcome their negativity, they would have known how to respond to me when they saw my weakness. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so busy judging them, I may have been humble enough to be transformed myself.

The desire to be desired is still there. It’s not pretty, but I am not going to pretend that desire is gone in an attempt to be pretty. If I fail to acknowledge that I am capable of being led down this same path, am I not opening myself up to its possibility? I am a woman who allowed this to happen. I am a new creation, but that doesn’t mean I am so far removed from who I was that I wouldn’t be attacked in the same way. I am not going to lie to myself and believe the enemy isn’t going to try to confuse me again. I am not going to ignore my own weaknesses–that would be pure foolishness.

Above all don’t lie to yourself. The woman who lies to herself and listens to her own lie comes to a point that she cannot distinguish the truth within her, or around her, and so loses all respect for herself and for others. And having no respect she ceases to love.  ~Fyodor Dostoevsky

I am blessed by the way things were brought into the light because I don’t have to pretend anymore. I have faced one of my biggest fears. For years, many years, I feared what I was capable of, and I feared what others would do if they knew the “real” me. Then, coincidentally, at the one time in my life when I was in the most public arena I had ever been, I fell. If I hadn’t been employed by a church, this affair would have ended like most affairs end: quietly, with deeply shredded hearts, battered spouses, and bruised family members.

I consider it a blessing that God allowed my greatest struggle to be revealed while I was in a place where it would not be hidden. Living in a place that is not hidden is good for me, it’s good for my marriage, and hopefully it will be good for the Kingdom.

Gossip, Pride and AdulteryI would rather be flat on my back, looking at the unseen hand of God than exalted to the highest mountain and living in fear of  the damage that could be caused by my own hands. The big sky frees me from the sins I perpetuate on myself. I am small and I am blessed by the enormity of the sky.

affair recovery

His Love > his Love

If you want to see a small social media riot evolve, simply write a tweet in support of the Common Core Math Standards and watch your Twitter go viral. The controversial math standards have been in the headlines for months, and with the start of the new school year they have become the topic of many frustrated parent’s Facebook status updates.

Understanding Common Core is not a necessity in my life, which is probably a good thing because in my limited research for this post, I didn’t find much that left me feeling enlightened. I even visited a site that was Pro-Common Core, thinking they would do their best to explain the elementary school problems in a simplified way that made it easy to understand and thus gain supporters. No such luck–I was more confused after visiting blamecommoncore.com than before I read their featured article.

Perhaps I am atypical in my understanding of the new learning style, because to be fair, I am not a woman who is known for her love of math. Rather, I am a lover of words.

math meme

As a lover of words, I was in one of my happy spots last night when I was able to listen to Amena Brown create beauty with her words. The gifted poet was the key-note speaker at an event I attended at my church in Chandler, Arizona. While her husband, Matt “DJ Opdiggy” Owen, skillfully stylized music in the background she shared the truth of God’s love with her own stories and original spoken word poetry.  She shared briefly about her marriage, and she talked about how her understanding of God’s love was enhanced by the love of her husband. She said that she had realized that even as she enjoyed the fulfillment of her husband’s love in her life, God was still trying to get her to understand the magnitude of His love. She shared that God was saying to her,

Your husband’s love for you is just a tiny fraction of the love I have for you.

Amena Brown at Remix

As she shared the words, I felt a lump rise in my throat. It is true for me as well. As great as my husband’s love is for me–it is but a tiny, tiny fraction of the love that my Heavenly Father, who does not change like shifting shadows, has for me.

And my husband’s love speaks volumes.  You see, my husband’s love is obvious.  My husband’s love is tangible. I can feel it, I can see it. Others can, too. This is not a new love of something nearly lost. For years, if there was an attribute that defined my husband, it was his affectionate love for his wife.

At times my husband’s desire to be close to me, to engage me in conversation, to spend time with me has been “a force to be reckoned with” and those desires send this girl, who once replaced real intimacy with sex, running for the dark places in her mind.

To imagine a Heavenly Father who loves me more than this man is…well…unimaginable. And yet, it’s true. God’s love may seem unimaginable and unfathomable–but it’s real and it’s demonstrated in ways that are equally obvious and equally tangible.

Several months ago I received a piece of hate mail that spawned my entitled Stop Being Happy on Facebook post. In the article I shared that I had received a letter from a woman who was offended that I had been sharing my story of surviving my own infidelity on my blog.  She wouldn’t have a problem with my journey if I were “the victim” but since I caused all the pain, my thoughts and my journey were an affront to her.

In the letter she stated, “…you think you are above reproach for what you did just because your husband forgave you.” Apparently, it was an assault to her that I was moving forward and that I was proud of the way my husband had behaved when he discovered the truth about the relationship I had been cultivating with another man. Fortunately, the words didn’t stick on my skin for more than a few hours. I woke in the early hours and realized that I don’t THINK I am above reproach for what I’ve done because my husband forgave me. I KNOW I am  above reproach for the sin of adultery because God forgave me. Even without the love and the support of my husband–my sin is abolished.

I am grateful every single day that my husband chose to stay with me, but the reality is, even if he had asked me to move out, I would still be forgiven and I would still be above reproach for the sin I once chose. My repentance is what leads me to a new life, not the love of a man. Christ took my sin away, and it doesn’t own me anymore.

It’s a concept that can seem confusing because my husband and I are experiencing so much hope. Because of my husband’s forgiveness towards me the love of God has been penetrating our lives and His Grace has been transforming our marriage. The restoration of our marriage is vital to us, as it is to our children, but the restoration of me as an individual is the core of what makes the marital restoration even possible. God had a strong call on me to turn away from my sin and confess it to my husband, but He had an even stronger call on me to turn away from my sin and turn in repentance towards Him.  Understanding God’s love, and not running away from intimacy with Him and into the dark places in my mind–is something that I have to learn to sit with and embrace or I will never be able to fully embrace the love my husband wants to give so freely.

It’s not as confusing as trying to solve a simple math problem using common core and it doesn’t raise the same controversy, but when I write honestly about it, it can certainly raise a few comments in my inbox. People like problems that are easy to solve–the kind where one plus one equals two. But, for my husband and I–that equation didn’t add up, and now I have to daily decrease, so that God can increase. With less of me and more of Him–the math that works is one plus one plus the One equals one.

affair recovery · spiritual growth

Getting Rid of Damaged Mirrors

Last week on a particularly hot August day, my mind was my companion as I was in the middle of the organizing and packing associated with this relocation adventure.  Although I was alone, I could hear a phrase over and over in my thoughts as clearly as if someone were speaking to me.

Everything is a mirror,” it called to me over the crunch of the packing paper.

Everything is a mirror,” it whispered to me while I taped a box closed.

Everything is a mirror,” it finally stopped me from all productivity.

I grabbed my pen and my journal. I was going to search within myself to uncover the meaning behind the phrase. As I began to write, I had images of Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. This nonsensical phrase was ringing in my ears and disturbing my day, and I was going to silence it for good.

After some time praying and writing, the voice seemed to have calmed significantly. Through my writing I had gained an understanding to the way I was transferring my own fears onto other people. The concern that I had over letting go of people that I care for, was the realization that they have the ability to let go of me. My fears of moving on were really the greater fear that others will move on without me. It seemed to be very simple. I praised God for allowing me to have this small insight into myself, and I prayed for the courage to let Him continue to transform me.  The voice was silenced, and I could hear my memory work, along with the other familiar household sounds.

I placed my journal on the table, and I made my way to the closet I where I was currently de-cluttering. I hadn’t walked but a few steps when I heard it again. “Everything is a mirror.”

What the heck?

I returned to my favorite place to read and journal, but this time I pulled out my phone. I opened the Google app, and I typed in: “Is everything a mirror” (side note: I would have asked Siri, but she has a tendency to be disrespectful.)

In 0.33 seconds I had 167,000,000 results. I began to scroll through the results. I was on a mission, but I wasn’t entirely sure what it was I was seeking. I closed my eyes and prayed not only for the protection of my heart, but I also I asked our God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, to give me wisdom.

  • I read an unrelated article about the difference between a mirror image and photographic image. (Cameras do add 10 pounds!)
  • I saw the lyrics to a Justin Timberlake song.   (…it’s like you’re a mirror…I don’t wanna lose you now)
  • I found a commentary on Biblehub.com on 1 Corinthians 13:12. (Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known)
  • I read an article explaining why mirrors exchange left for right, but not up for down. (Don’t think about this one for too long–you’ll get a migraine)

Then, I stumbled on an article in Psychology Today, Are Other People Your Mirror?, by Michael Formica. As I read the article I could hear it resonating with the truths I have come to know about myself. I could hear it speaking; it was as if the author knew secrets about myself that I have known for years.

The article spoke of a person’s Healthy Self Perception, in relationship to a person’s “Reflective Self Perception”. Obviously with a healthy self perception we see ourselves in the truest light of who we really are. With the latter, we begin to allow what others think about us to reflect and  dictate the decisions we make.  The more we do this, the less dimensional we become.  In the same way that a mirror is not as full, we become less full and less vibrant. We slowly become a reflection of what we think others think we are.

When a person is controlled by a Reflective Self Perception, they lose themselves. They slowly evolve into what they BELIEVE others think they are. They don’t necessarily become what others think they are–they become the person THEY THINK others think they are. This resonated so deeply with me, I could feel it in the tears that sprang up and stung my eyes.

mirror-image1

For years I have believed that everyone else believes the reason my husband and I are still married is due to his strong character–in spite of the woman I am. This was a belief I held long before I had opened myself up to the advances of another man. This was decades of seeing myself in a negative light. We had faced every parent’s nightmare when our daughter died, and statistically 80% of marriages end when there is the death of a child.  For years I believed that the people who really knew us credited my husband’s faith with being the glue that held us together.

For years I also made every demeaning joke about my sexual past that I could. Because I had made poor choices prior to meeting my husband, I constantly derided myself in a so-called effort to be the girl who could “laugh at her past”. I would jokingly refer to my former self as a “skank-whore” or an “SW”. But deep inside it was really an effort to say what I believed most people really thought. For me, it was better that I say what they were really thinking anyway. People who loved me would tell me to stop, but it was so deeply ingrained–I would think it even if I didn’t say it out loud.

As I read the Psychology Today article, it reminded me of a book I had read years ago, The Art of Racing in the Rain. The book relies on the premise that the things we think about, eventually transpire. For some people that may be a little too New Age way of thinking. I don’t buy into the health, wealth and prosperity of it, but I do think that the things we believe internally about ourselves will eventually surface in one way or another.

racing“The car goes where the eyes go” ~ Garth Stein

In so many ways, I had steered myself right into adultery by devaluing myself. I had driven myself right into the arms of someone else by believing terrible things about myself for so many years. My Reflective Self Perception was so low that I was a car accident waiting to happen. The garage door was wide open for the enemy to take advantage of the situation.

Since that day, I have taken these thoughts up with my therapist and with the people closest to me. Asking them if they see this in me, and if they see this in their own lives. Do we really become what we THINK others think we are? The idea seems to hold weight for others as well.

Since that day, I have been praying over these thoughts, and I have asked God to give me insight and wisdom in how to proceed. The simplicity of not caring what other people think doesn’t hold water for me. If I pull something OUT of my head, I have to replace it with something. As I worked through these thoughts today, the Lord gave me a plan.

1) LISTEN

2) LISTEN

3) LISTEN

It seems repetitive, and perhaps that is because it is really that simple. It comes down to listening to the ones who are willing to speak rather than listening to the imaginary thoughts of people who haven’t made an effort to communicate.

1) LISTEN to the those who are communicating with me. Dozens and dozens of people have reached out to encourage with their belief in me, their hopes for my future, and the good that they still see in our marriage. These are loving people who have taken time to write and tell me what they do think. I need to take the time to go back and read the letters that have been written, and allow them to remind me of the good that is not only in me–but in the heart of a person who would be willing to encourage another person, in spite of the person’s guilt.

2) LISTEN to the man who loves me more than any person on this planet. I don’t understand my husband’s love. I cannot explain to anyone–even to my children. In my lifetime, I have never felt such love and I have never had a person who spoke my language when I needed it more. For several years–more years than I was in the affair–I didn’t value this man or the things he would say to me. I believed the positive things he said to build me up were a testimony to his character, not mine. I believed that he would have loved his wife as Christ loved the church no matter who he had married, and that it had nothing to do with me. He tells me this is not the case.

Shortly after the affair came out, he drew me into his arms and told me that he would rather be married to me–on my worst day, than to be with anyone else–even a woman who “would never do something like this.”  He told me that the same part of me that messed everything up was the part of me that he loved the most. This man speaks truth into who I am, and into who I want to become.

3) LISTEN to the One who knows me like no other. Hidden in scripture are verses telling me of God’s passion for me. I have heard them and passed over them time and again. Well, those times need to change. At this moment, I cannot quote even one scripture to you that would remind me of how God sees me–but, I know they are in there. And, as I have been meditating and memorizing on other passages, I have a renewed confidence in my ability to find them and to learn them. I will allow them to swallow me up and transform me.

If it is true that we are all touched a little by the Reflective Self Perception then it’s just time for me to change the mirror that I have been using. The old mirror was damaged and worn, and since I am in the process of cleaning out closets it seems like the perfect time to toss it in the trash or to trade it in for a mirror that reflects not just who I want to be, but who I was always meant to become.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

 

affair recovery · spiritual growth

What I’ve Learned About Lying

I have come to realize that one of the worst things about lying to someone is what it tells them about trusting the Holy Spirit in their own life.

Having heard the phrase “squelching the Spirit”, but never giving it too much thought, I didn’t realize that I might have the ability to squelch the Holy Spirit’s prompting in the life of someone else. Last year I was fearfully trying to tame the Holy Spirit’s prompts in my own life, and I never considered His presence in the life of someone else.

After everything was out in the open, the truth of how the Holy Spirit had been moving became alarmingly clear.

The Holy Spirit was speaking to several individuals. In different ways the Holy Spirit was bringing thoughts, revelations, and a sense of awareness to them. With no physical evidence, some individuals approached me and asked me very direct questions about the things they were sensing. They mustered courage and trusted the Holy Spirit’s leading, but in an attempt to shut them down and keep them from seeing that they were correct, I flat-out lied to them.

In lying I was doing more than just covering my sin. Without thinking about the long term consequences for them, by lying, I was telling them NOT to trust the prompting of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. I was teaching them NOT to trust what God was so clearly showing them. The Holy Spirit is alive and He was allowing Himself to be revealed to them in tangible ways, but when I lied I was saying “Don’t listen to God; listen to me.”

A longing to see God.

In Exodus 33:18 Moses tells God that he wants to see His glory. It is at the end of a conversation that Moses was having with God. In their exchange Moses speaks to God about his insecurities. Moses is concerned that others may not understand God’s preference towards the Israelite nation. Led by this fear Moses asks God join them so that they will be clearly distinguished as God’s people. God assures Moses that He will indeed join them. Moses then makes the request to see God’s glory, and God complies in the way that Moses was able to handle.

“…I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But, you cannot see my face for no one may see me and live.” Exodus 33:19-20

God is powerful. He is so powerful that even the Israelite leader with whom he had actual conversations could not see His face and live. This is the same God who created plagues of frogs and locusts. This is the one who created a plague which took out all of the first born males in one night. With His power He parted the sea for His people to pass, and He sustained them for four decades in a desert wasteland. This very same God prompted His Holy Spirit to speak to believers on my behalf in an attempt to bring me to repentance. He was revealing His glory inside of them by allowing them to hear from Him in a personal way.

He was revealing Himself, and I stopped them from seeing His glory.

It’s bad enough that I was willing to let myself travel down a path of destruction and self loathing, but in lying I was also willing to have people who love me feel a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit as He was revealing Himself to them.

Sadly, I am not alone in this, for it is not only those who wear a scarlet letter who have lied.

Many people lie, including some of you who are reading this blog post written by a sinner. Granted, most of our lies don’t have the power to end a marriage, but it does not mean that God is less saddened by the lie. When we lie we are always taking a chance of squelching the Spirit in the life of another believer. When we lie we are saying to them, “Don’t listen to what you may be hearing from God. Listen to me.”

It is not only the large lies that damage another person’s ability to trust in their own intuitive nature and promptings from God. In some ways, the small lies may do more damage–simply because the lie goes undetected. There is no formal announcement to reveal the truth, and often no one is held accountable for the harmless white lie. But for the person to whom the lie was told it could be an ongoing battle for them to be able to discern and trust the Holy Spirit in themselves.

None of us can go back and make a a lie not happen, and there are many lies that will have long-lasting effects on the tellers and the receivers. The damage from a lie may be huge, and it is up to us to strive to make repairs when possible. We can return to the ones who may have courageously confronted us, to apologize and to confirm in them that they were indeed hearing the Holy Spirit. By doing this we encourage them to keep listening to those promptings and to trust those promptings even more in the future.

Through a restless night I rolled these thoughts around, and I awoke feeling awful. Owning the severity of my lies made me feel so unworthy of God’s love.

I opened my Bible and hunted to find answers for times when God’s people longed to be in the presence of the Lord and perhaps had been denied. In Exodus 33:11, I learned that when Moses and God were done speaking, after both had left the tent, Joshua (the aide to Moses) would stay in the tent alone long after. Moses would leave the tent and return to the people–who had been standing and worshiping during the exchange.  Joshua did not return to the camp with Moses. He stayed inside the tent. Perhaps he was soaking it all in. Reading this prompted me to sit in the tent with what I had read throughout the passage.  Tears came to my eyes as God used the same passage for my comfort that He had revealed in my convictions.

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”

God is the one who chooses on whom He will shower His mercies and compassion. We want to beat ourselves up for the mistakes we have made, and oftentimes we can do more damage to ourselves than anyone else is capable.

Sometimes others in our lives want us to suffer more shame for our own sins. Shame is somehow supposed to insure that we will not sin again. However, shame is not powerful enough to have a lasting impact in a person’s life–shame will only bring temporary outward behavior change.

Mercy and Compassion are the tools for heart change. It was always God’s plan to show mercy and compassion to His children–that is why the words He spoke to Moses are echoed in the book of Romans. God’s plan includes mercy and compassion, and as those attributes wash over us we are drawn to His Spirit and we long for His Spirit to be drawn out and revealed in the lives of others.

 

affair recovery

Stop Being Happy on Facebook

“I pray God uses you to break new ground and make an eternal difference. However, when He does, you must brace yourself for more criticism and pain than you might imagine.” -Craig Groeschel, Dare to Drop the Pose

Facebook is a strange world, and I have met many people who describe themselves as having a love/hate relationship with the online community driven app. It’s partially perplexing, because it’s rules are unestablished. What is acceptable to one “friend” may cross a line for another “friend”. One truth most users will agree on is this: Facebook is not real.

I can jump on my computer at 6 AM and see pictures of a young couple going to their High School Prom. In naivety, I could assume they are either very late or very early for the dance–since no one leaves for the Prom at sunrise.  In judgement, I could assume the happy couple are still at the Prom and have chosen to ignore all recommendations of what would be a sensible curfew for 16-year-olds. Or, in relative wisdom, I could look at the time stamp and see that the picture is 12 hours old. In this obvious scenario, Facebook users recognize it would be foolish for me to make one of the first two assumptions.

In keeping with the Prom theme, it would be equally foolish for me to assume that what I see in the picture tells the whole story. Upon further investigation, perhaps I would learn that this was a bad date all around. If the girl were to confide in me, perhaps she would share that she wished she had chosen more comfortable shoes, that her date spent the whole night pressuring her with sexual advances, or that her closest friends left early and went to a party where they got drunk. Perhaps she would admit that she had huge disappointments for how her Prom night had turned out.

We all know how this turned out....
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And yet, the pretty picture would still sit nicely on her timeline. Still collecting “Likes”.

Several months ago, when my affair was made public to the women’s group at our church, I began receiving Facebook messages from women who attend the same church as myself. Most of them wanting to encourage me to cling to God. Some of them wanted to reach out to me because they themselves had felt the sting of this particular sin.  Reading these emails made me realize there might be women who were looking for a way to understand their own journey. Once I began blogging, the enormity of the emails only increased, and they became more geographically widespread. Some of the women who have contacted me failed in their own vows, and some of them have husbands who have been unfaithful. Their stories are all different, but the common theme is a desire to connect and express the feelings they are having about their own journey.

Soon the blog stats showed that the posts were being read by people not just in the United States but around the globe. I was dumbfounded to imagine anyone in Tunisia would want to read what I wrote, let alone nine people in the Netherlands. (side note: where the heck is Tunisia?) However, I was able to recognize this: it had very little to with my writing, and more to do with what God might be doing.

This week I received my first piece of HATE mail, and the private message was downright mean. The writer indicated that my documentation of my journey was an assault to her. She went on to explain that while she was married to her previous husband, who had also been a pastor, she had an affair. She shared that she did not make her affair public. She doesn’t like the message I am sending for many reasons, but the saddest of all is because she doesn’t believe it is possible for a marriage to ever recover from infidelity.  Her message to me had many accusations, but the first concept was simply this: Stop being happy on Facebook.

The writer bluntly stated, “How can you possibly pretend to have this perfect life on FB and go on knowing things will actually never be the same.”  I was saddened when I read her words, because as she went on to share her story it was evident that her infidelity had led to the end of her marriage. I was also sad, because after she emailed me, she blocked me so I couldn’t respond to her. There were things I would want to give to her, not in an attempt to defend my life–but in an attempt to help her find hope in her own life.

I began to ponder what she had said. I asked myself if I was “pretending to have a perfect life on FB.” I thought about the pictures I have posted of myself–mostly pictures of my granddaughter or my husband and myself.

Isla in the Pool

  • Did I take my granddaughter swimming this week? Yes.
  • Did my granddaughter cry when I took her out of the pool and made her take a nap. Yes…but I didn’t photograph that.

D&J at Village Eatery

  • Did I dine with my husband at our favorite coffee shop on Monday morning? Yes.
  • Did we go to that coffee shop after an emotionally draining morning dealing regret and disappointment? Yes…but I didn’t mention it in a status update.

That made me think about the Prom scenario–the picture of the couple is taken and that reflects a part of the story, but not the story in its entirety. Even the painful things the teenager encountered may have silver linings. Perhaps she took off her shoes and danced barefoot for the first time. Perhaps the behavior of her date and her friends solidified truths that her parents or church youth leaders had been pouring into her. This night of crisis had exposed what she herself believed about peer pressure and purity, and perhaps–for her–this was an evening of victory.  Not documenting every single detail of the Prom date on Facebook does not mean the teenage girl was pretending to have gone to the Prom any more than I am pretending to have a perfect life.

I think of the rest of the accusation: “How can you possibly pretend to have this perfect life on FB and go on knowing things will actually never be the same

Going on knowing things will never be the same is not a fear, it is a hope.

I don’t want the marriage I had, and my husband doesn’t want that marriage either. We have been working to embrace every aspect of this trial to allow it to transform us. Following any failure, there is a window of opportunity for transformation. Transformation is not a guarantee with failure–it is a choice. We either mask and hide when our failure is revealed, or we walk through it. Just because a person fails does not mean they will be transformed by the failure. Living in and experiencing the natural consequences–not covering them up is the road that must be traveled to find transformation. The natural consequences of sin are purely emotional and spiritual, and are not the same as man’s judgement of sin. But, most people don’t like to deal with emotions that are raw and painful. One of the most difficult aspects to embrace is the grief. With infidelity there is grief, and no person in their right mind likes grief.

Grief visited our home two decades ago when our 19-month-old daughter died. The difference this time is we are also dealing with shame and blame. The other difference is that this time, while we are both experiencing grief–it is from opposite sides of a two sided fence. The challenge early on was to try to get on the same side of the fence, but we couldn’t. We needed a third side on our two sided fence. For a third side of a fence to present itself, we needed a miracle.

With each of us clinging to the long, strong arm of God, He pulled us each up and over our opposite sides of the fence so that we would be in a new pasture–we moved to His side of the fence. As long as we remain in this new pasture, things won’t be the same.

The truth of our past reminds me of this: when we faced grief with the death of our daughter, we still took our other three children to the park to feed the ducks, we still taught them how to ride their bicycles, and we still cheered for them at swim meets. We grieved deeply for what we had lost, but we still enjoyed the beauty in the life we had. Granted there was no Facebook to document the life we were pretending to have, so perhaps it never happened at all.

 

affair recovery · marriage

Why I Don’t Like Weddings Anymore

I used to like weddings. 

There is something surreal about them; everything is familiar, and yet, different. There are the basic elements: bride, groom, flowers, a general feeling of enchantment, and the personality of the couple shines in the variations that emerge. At one wedding the relaxed nature of the couple shines in the simple elegance, while at the next wedding the bride’s whimsical flare, spice and love for life seems to bounce off the over-the-top centerpieces. White rose buds tipped in golden glitter line the isles, and cream colored satin ribbons dance in the breeze. Chairs sit uniformly under lofty trees as guests arrive and greet one another.

Yes, I used to like weddings. But, as I am going through this season in my life, I feel differently about weddings.

The music begins, heads turn to the back of the room, and as the bride makes her way down the isle my eyes are fixed on the groom. He believes in her, and it shows in his eyes. He pursued her for this moment. He has arrived to make promises to be true to her for the rest of his life. I remember when my husband had that look in his eyes–and my heart cringes at how I disappointed him. The vows are made–vows to be honorable and respectful. I think of my vows, and I believe I meant them with all sincerity when I made them. I didn’t enter into marriage lightly, and yet, I still found myself in the place of those who are often accused of doing just that.

My heart beats against my chest when the couple takes their vows. They are making a covenant before God and before the people who matter the most in their life. This is a sacred and holy moment, and this is why I have realized that while I used to like weddings, I can’t say I like them anymore.

Because, now…I love weddings.

Inside of this shattered soul the difference between liking a wedding and loving a wedding is the difference between death and life. Yes, the reminder of how I failed is real, and dreadfully painful–but there is another fascinating reminder I’ve encountered. Now,  more than ever before, I am so thankful for the covenant of marriage. A marriage covenant is a vow that a man and a woman make before God that involves promises and commitments. It’s a spectacular thing. The obvious point of taking the vows is to keep them–a promise to be faithful is meant to be kept, and if I could change the past–that would be my story.

That’s not my story.  However, my story still has the wonder of the blessing of a covenant. When my heart failed, my husband’s heart held tight to the covenant HE had made. When I was blind, he led me. When I couldn’t believe, he believed for me.

The first few weeks after the affair was disclosed I was horribly confused. My mind was completely out of kilter when it came to making the most basic decisions. On the very first day I said these words: “I’ll be okay if I end up alone.” Interestingly, that same night when “alone” came calling I had a near panic attack. I was lost in a world of fear, and my self-made isolation was a breeding ground for lies and insecurities. My nervous system was a wreck, and all of the tension and anxiety I had been pushing down came screaming out in the way of ticks and nail biting. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It’s amazing that my husband didn’t turn and run. And, why didn’t he?

Because he made a vow.

Even when I failed–he held his side of the vow. This is the reason I am so much more in awe of the marriage covenant.  The marriage covenant was not made for the days we spend on the beach watching the sunset. It wasn’t made for the late nights we sneak in and watch our children, or our grandchildren, sleeping in their beds. The marriage covenant was not made for the Instagram days. The marriage covenant was made for the days that one of us may feel like quitting.

On day two after disclosure, my husband looked at me and asked, “Do you want it to work?”  I had already asked myself that question over and over, so sadly, I knew the answer was not going to please him. I couldn’t tell him that I wanted it to work. The best I could give him was, “I want to want it to work.”

In that moment, when I might have given up, he wouldn’t quit. My husband remembered our covenant–for the both of us.

Brennan Manning talks about a time in his life when he longed for “more”. The unattainable “more” was leading him and his choices. First he searched for “more” in military accolades, then he searched for “more” by chasing his dreams of being a writer, until finally he had an encounter with God and he was given a glimpse of everything that Christ truly is. He describes it in All Is Grace,

It was not that I found the more but rather the more found me. Christianity was not some moral code; it was a love affair, and I had experienced it firsthand.

We have made a covenant with our Lord, and He longs to have a love affair with us. It’s a love affair that is made stronger by the covenant–a lot like a husband pursuing his wife whom he adores. And in the same way that my husband believed when I was trapped in a place of doubt, when we cannot find the unattainable more God allows His more to find us.

God longs for us with the same furious love that a husband longs for a wayward wife. He wants so badly to bring us back into the relationship that we once had, and He will stop at nothing in that pursuit.

The weddings of Kings and Queens, of Dukes and Royals, the wedding of even the fairest young Princess does not compete with the glorious day that we made that covenant with our Lord. Every wedding I attend reminds me of the strong man I married and of the faithful God who pursued me.

There is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and no vow broken that cannot mend. A wedding is a day, and a covenant is a lifetime. Jack and Billie McElroy