I love to process through writing. My family sometimes thinks I share too much on the internet, but in reality, the vast majority of my life goes unspoken on my blog. However, two of my dear friends write a lot about marriage and inspire me to live a little more boldly in this realm. The truth of my marriage is messy, embarrassing, and sometimes shameful. I’m not sure how much I will ever share online about what really happened, but in the end, redemption happened. The victory is the Lord’s and I don’t want to minimize that. God is doing marvelous things every day and we all need reminders.
To that end, I admire when friends want to be real, and I'm humbled when they ask to hear our story. I love the change that happened in my life when I was able to start speaking honestly. When I was able to stop saying, “I’m fine,” and reach out and ask for help. Sometimes now I find that I’m compulsively honest when people aren’t ready for it; I’m still learning where the balance is in that regard. But the bottom line is the same: I want to shout it, go on and scream it from the mountains, go on and tell it to the masses, that He is God.
This is our story:
A year ago this July, Ross moved back home. We’d been separated twice for a total of 5 1/2 months between June 2011 and July 2012. It feels very surreal to remember the pain of those separations. The confusion. The constant physical heart ache. The loneliness that reinforced every bad thought I’d had about myself. Feeling unloved and unworthy and unwanted.
When I got married, I thought that we were going to live happily ever after.
Other people say marriage is hard, but we were actually in love and I knew Ross was The One, so we’d be fine.
They said marriage was hard work, but I breezed right in.
Ross and I had many small and a few large problems in our dating relationship, but I chose to turn a blind eye to them. I thought marriage would “fix” those right up.
Oh, to shake myself by the shoulders 6 years ago. Marriage is not for the faint of heart. If you’re thinking marriage will solve your individual or relational problems, take note: the minute you say “I do,” the work really begins.
I don’t say this to be glum or pessimistic. I say this because the devil hates marriage. Let me say it again. The devil HATES marriage, especially between two Christians. Why? Because the marital relationship reflects the Trinitarian relationship. If reflects God’s love for us. It sanctifies us.
Haven’t you ever wondered why opposites attract? Marriage exists to teach us sacrificial love. Humility. Grace. Forgiveness. Mercy. We usually turn a blind eye to these lessons because they’re hard, or we think we don’t need them. The truth is, the world teaches us that marriage exists to make us happy when, in fact, it exists to teach us the Gospel. The friction refines us. We suddenly find ourselves living with another person who holds up a mirror and shows us all the things we don’t like about ourselves. We can face it, or we can leave when the going gets tough.
Last March, the tough got tougher for us when truth came to light. I felt lost and confused and shaken. I thought I was at rock bottom. Little did I know, that was just the beginning. It took a few months for the whole truth about our marriage to come out. And it’s taken a full year for me to start to see the depths of depravity in my own heart.
The first big crack in the facade appeared last March, and over the course of a month, the whole truth about our sham of a marriage came out. I wanted to re-gain my footing, I wanted to stand on solid ground, but I felt like the earthquake wasn’t over yet. I was still falling through the darkness, the ground was still shaking. It was still happening.
Sure enough, a few days after the final confession, like the perfect, glistening cherry on top of the rotting heap that was our marriage, I got one last note on my car windshield. Above all the painful, hard truths that had come out over the past month, that one cut the deepest. My husband’s note said, “I’ve never loved you.” That’s when the doubt earned a foothold. A small voice in the back of my mind said, “I told you so. He never did love you and even if you force him to stay, he never will love you.”
My previously fierce determination wavered and I wanted to give in. At that point, divorce looked like the easier choice. And divorce is messy and painful and expensive, so that’s saying something. After reading that note I was mad. I stormed off, past Ross sitting in his car outside my apartment, and sped to our old church. No one was there to talk to me so I sat and cried and read the book of Isaiah. I was so tired of fighting.
And then, oh, then. I got back in my car and met up with a trusted friend. She told me that all of Ross’ kingdoms were crumbling. Every story he had built up was collapsing. He was being exposed. She went on to say that his eyes were being opened and he finally saw that, in fact, all the things he had done were not something a person would ever do out of love.
She said she and her husband tend to applaud men when they come to this realization because it’s the bottom of the truth. I didn’t feel like applauding (sorry, friend). I felt like quitting. I had found my threshold. This was apparently The Line. I’d been holding on to the idea that if Ross still loved me, at least we had a chance of making this work. And when he didn’t, I was empty. All used up. Ready to run and never look back.
What my friend said next will always stick with me: “So what you’re saying is, you’re willing to forgive him 70 times but not 77 times?” (Matthew 18:22)
Yes, in fact.
Thank God for good counsel. Looking back now, quitting then would have been like surrendering right before the tide turned in battle. It would have been quietly slinking away in the darkest night right before dawn. I would’ve jumped ship in the storm and failed to see the rainbow. I needed to hold onto God’s love, not my husband’s.
I didn’t believe that our marriage could be redeemed. I didn’t think God was strong enough. But I had nothing left in me to do anything otherwise, so I decided to stay. Rock bottom is where you meet God. When there is truly no way you can turn this sh*t around, you have to rely on something greater than yourself. I didn’t want another hallow victory. I wanted a new marriage with Ross. I didn’t expect it to happen, but thank God for the tiniest spark of hope. Good counsel and the Holy Spirit fanned it into flame when I was ready to let it extinguish.
I don’t say this to sound high and mighty, like I forgave Ross for these great transgressions and then we lived happily ever after. No. I’m learning now that Real Marriage is messy. I thought forgiveness was a feeling, a one-time proclamation. In fact, it’s a daily decision for both of us. Last summer, I came to see that in the same way Ross ran from me, I had run from God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). There is only Jesus, and everybody else. One Perfect Person, and the rest of us. No sinner is better or worse than another in the eyes of God. (In fact, sometimes I think big sins wake us up to this reality whereas small sins are easier to overlook and rationalize and blame on others.)
Last spring, amidst the heartache, there was some joy in knowing I wasn’t a crazy, paranoid, hormonal woman. The red flags that bothered me for years were very real promptings from the Holy Spirit that something was very wrong. There was some peace in knowing that God broke what we had because he wanted us to have something better.
I still struggle to accept the fact that God could still love me and forgive me, and that’s nothing but sinful pride. I remember sitting in the hard, uncomfortable pew at church on Good Friday last year, feeling numb inside. I felt deceived and alone and wronged. I was unable to comprehend that Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed by one of the people closest to him and he didn’t get angry. He didn’t seek revenge. He loved. He still died for that person. And praise God that our truth came to light during Lent, because remembering Jesus’ faithfulness kept me from walking away from the vows I made.
There’s no tidy bow on top of this messy story. There’s not one easy moral to learn. Things are still really hard, and there are a lot of highs and lows. In the past year, I have found myself in as much need of forgiveness as my husband. Sin is sin is sin. I have felt shame and I have learned humility. And I’ve met Jesus in the darkest times.
Ross and I renewed our vows last July and on that day we witnessed our marriage like it had never been before. We knew each otherand still loved each other. Beauty had risen from the ashes. God is faithful indeed. Marriage has shown me that His story, even in the deepest valleys, is better than anything I could write for myself.
(photos taken the day Ross moved back in, by Erica May Short from Anecdotally Yours)