affair recovery · Community

FREEDOM: The Story of the Bathtub Picture

The “Thread Family” is a group of people with a Facebook status that has been running strong since February 2013. There are over sixty-three thousand comments on the status update, and I don’t think there has even been one day when someone hasn’t commented. The people in the Thread Family are not genetically related to one another, their bond runs deeper. I am a relative of  the Thread Family. I wouldn’t say I am a member of their immediate family. I’m more like a distant cousin, or to some, the estranged sister. The immediate family check into the thread every day to comment or chat. I check in far less often.

Every once in a while, someone from the immediate family will do a roll-call. They tag members of the family and those who are tagged receive a notification. When this happens, and I am included, I try to respond.

About a month ago I was tagged in a roll-call while I was busy working at the restaurant. I  was standing in the kitchen waiting for food so I could deliver it to a table when I saw the notification on my phone. In an attempt to pull the Thread Family closer to me (because I am currently living over 350 miles away from these friends) I took a quick picture of the kitchen line-up of food and added the picture to the thread with a shout of, “Here!”

For a moment the Thread Family was in my world, and when others responded with their pictures announcing, “Here”, I was in theirs. It was only for a moment, and then it was over. They continued in their world, and I continued in my own.

Last Saturday night there was a roll-call at about 6PM, which was the beginning of the dinner rush at the restaurant. I didn’t feel the phone vibrate, so I didn’t see the notification until I arrived home about four hours later. I had just finished working an eleven hour shift and I was physically wiped out. I grabbed something cold to drink and headed straight to the bathtub. I tore off my clothes and stepped into the tub while it continued to fill. While standing and waiting, I looked down at my phone and checked my social media notifications.

When I saw the roll-call I smiled. Being remembered is truly priceless.

My first instinct in responding was to take a picture. I was tired, and it just seemed easier than trying to think of something to say. I clicked on the camera and took a picture of my feet. I was about to type, “Finally here.” when I accidentally hit post.

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Almost immediately, I regretted what I had posted. I remembered that this thread was not only visible to my FB friends, but to many people with whom I am not close to at all. In my frustration, I couldn’t get my phone to respond quickly enough as I attempted to delete the picture. My heart pounded and I could hear the imaginary voices of people who would would be quick to judge me for placing a picture of myself in the bathtub online. People don’t bathe in clothes, and by posting this picture–I was drawing attention to something that others might consider sexual. Not too long ago I called an aquaintance, “Baby…” in a passing conversation. Later, a woman who had overheard the exchange, confronted me and to let me know that using that term was evidence of poor boundaries. I can only imagine what that person would say if she were to see this picture.

And all of the “even thoughs” couldn’t overpower the fear I was experiencing.

Even though the affair has been over for longer than it lasted.  Even though God forgave me for the rebelliousness of my heart.  Even though my husband has forgiven me for breaking my vows.  Even though my children have forgiven me for every single lie.  Even though my closest friends have forgiven me for showing them little respect.

Even though….even though…even though…it didn’t matter. All I could imagine was judgement. All I could hear were whispers of words associated with adultery and the nastiness of things from my past. Bad choices echoed off the tiled walls.

I am lucky I didn’t drop my phone in the tub as I tapped and banged on the screen to get it to respond. Finally, I was given the option to delete the picture from the thread.

Delete?  YES.

And I sat down and relaxed in the tub.

A few minutes later I received a text from a woman who is part of the Thread Family.

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And that’s how the conversation started.

I went on to express my fears, and she did her best to reassure me that I don’t need to live in that place anymore. She encouraged me with her willingness to come looking for me when she saw something was amiss. She showed me love and reminded me that I cannot be bound by concern for what other people might think. There have been a few people who have responded with emotion to my sin, but she reminded me to focus on the people who have responded in the fullness of Christ. She reminded me to focus on the future and the promises outlined in scripture.

She did everything she could to make me feel free.

Two mornings later, I was sitting on my porch preparing for a series of talks I am going to be teaching at a Women’s Retreat this weekend. The verse for the weekend is Galatians 5:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

As I prayed through my notes, I was struck with the meaning of this verse and how my behavior on Saturday night had not been an act of freedom at all. I was not behaving as one who is free from the sin of the past. I was behaving as one who is still in bondage to something that happened and has long since been forgiven and forgotten by the Lord.

I wasn’t freed from bondage to live in bondage. I was freed to live free.

I decided that I wanted to let my friend know that her words had finally reached me. She was trying to share this truth with me, and I had been reluctant.

I added some scripture to the picture and posted it online for anyone to see, knowing full well that it would make very little sense to anyone else. But, as I posted the picture, God spoke to me.

God’s call for me to live free is bigger than just my freedom. It’s a call to live free for the sake of others finding freedom.

When we live in bondage to the sins of our past, we are incapable of drawing someone else out of the sin which is holding them captive. We become down-trodden and insecure. Decisions are made out of fear. Whispered lies, that the Lord would never ever utter, ring loudly in our imaginations. We become ineffective to the plans of the Lord. We become less than what He would desire.

When we live in the fullness of the freedom we have received, we have the words, the Spirit and the enthusiasm to share that freedom with those around us. Our hope increases and we aspire to do things we didn’t know we could do. We become capable of handling things we didn’t ever think possible. It’s among the most majestic things offered to us other than our salvation. To live in freedom that we may be used after we have failed is to discover true freedom. And when we live in that place, others see that possibility for themselves.

Our freedom is a gift, and it’s a gift that was meant to be REgifted.

It is freedom for freedom.

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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.