What I’m about to share with you is deeply personal. This is the first time I’ve shared it publicly. And I’m a little anxious because once it’s out there, it’s out there. But I’m motivated. I believe what could come from it is utterly critical for someone- maybe several someones.
One morning, almost three years ago, I woke to the sound of my husband sobbing. He was hunched over in a chair at the foot of the bed. His face, streaming tears, his eyes, scared and bloodshot.
I bolted up. “Oh, my gosh, honey. What’s the matter? What in the world? What has happened?” My mind darted through possibilities. I’d seen him cry plenty of times, but never like this. I instantly hurt for whatever drastic thing was causing him such anguish.
“I have a really, really hard thing to tell you.”
That really, really hard thing was going to shatter every molecule of our entire world. Except for learning that my husband had died –this news was the worst possible. It was the one announcement I was 1000 percent certain would never be handed to me.
If someone had held a gun to my head and said, “True or false. Your husband has been unfaithful. If we find out that statement is false you live. If it’s true, you die. ” Cool as a cucumber I would have said, “Oh gee. I’m shaking in my boots.”
But the gun went off .
And I did die- for a long time — I died a thousand, million big and little deaths. And so did the man I loved.
I didn’t eat for ten days. I couldn’t sleep. I was one hot, profanity spewing mess. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh grade I had sworn off swearing, so, I’ll leave the more colorful commentary to your imagination.
But some of the milder phrases my activated alarm repeated were, “Who the hell are you anyway?! Where did you take my husband?! And what do you mean you’ve resigned from our church?!”
In meeting after meeting, phone call after phone call we sat, him sobbing, me seething as we dumped the disastrous news first on our adult kids & family then on close friends and colleagues.
On one level it helped that the events in question had happened some years before. But, on another I couldn’t begin to wrap my brain around how it ever happened at all!
I was a walking zombie. I felt everything. I felt nothing. And I couldn’t find God to save my life. Experts say that spouses who get this news often experience the same trauma symptoms as war veterans and abuse victims. I certainly did.
A weird kind of amnesia came over me. It’s hard to explain and no professional I talked to had seen it before. Suddenly, I could not “feel” our life before this awful revelation. 38 years of life together -gone. The familiar emotional space of shared experiences felt erased. The events were there- but my emotional connection to them had completely diserted me.
All I could think was -who just hijacked our life?
And what will happen to our church, “our baby?” We had birthed that church and passionately devoted one year shy of three decades to serving as it’s spiritual parents. We had helped individuals, couples and families weather every storm imaginable. Now that the unimaginable was happening in our lives, I wondered who would be there to hold and shelter us?
When church leaders came to discuss the details of our exit I pleaded, “Please tell me you are not kicking us to the curb! Please tell me there is a plan to walk with us through all this to some kind of restoration.”
No response. Blank stares. It was a question they weren’t prepared to answer.
Not only was our marriage publically in shambles and our income gone but now we were to be permanently dismembered from our precious spiritual family.
No question, it was an horrific, tragic breech of morality, integrity and trust. No one was prepared to handle it. On multiple levels it was complicated. Everyone was scrambling to cover bases and do the right thing. (And I just want to say that we continue to bless our church and its new leaders – no one would have wanted their job in all this- we are grateful for all who stepped up and we give thanks for the great reports we continue to hear.)
Doing the best thing for the church was foremost on everyone’s mind- especially ours. But, wait. We were the church, too, right? Who shepherds a fallen shepherd and his grieving family? There really isn’t a manual for that.
Well, there is the Bible.
This might be a good time to ask: Are Christian leaders only fit examples to us in their times of success? Have they nothing to teach us through their frailties and failures?
What is the worst that could happen if we were to watch them appropriately confess their sins, investigate the causes, make a full recovery and see what it takes for such a person to rise again? If fully repentant leaders cannot be restored to their congregations how can any of us hope to be accepted in our churches after we have sinned?
Moral failure is a sickness of the soul. It is very serious but it need not be fatal. It is totally recoverable. And we -in the church-of all people – are in the soul care business.
Yet, we say to our soul sick leaders, “See you later guys. Sorry this ended so badly. Hope things work out for you somehow.”
At present we only know of a few churches who have been able to walk with their leaders through the confusion, heartache and devastation of their exposed sin.
It is hard. It requires a great deal of wisdom and every situation is unique. It is less messy if we sneak them out the back door never to be heard from again. But we spit in the face of God’s unshakable grace when we eject a contrite leader.
At the risk of offense
I believe we disembowel the gospel.
In condemning our leaders we shame the Christ who “came not to condemn the world.” We are saying God does play favorites. He is harshest on his devoted leaders who sin. ( does that even make sense?) We may all be “equal at the cross” but we are not all equal when it comes to church discipline.
We can do better than this, my friends. We must do better than this.
It is only when we have forgotten our own sin that we feel the right to punish and shame others for theirs.
“...do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4
But, more on this another day.
Suffice it to say the shunning and humiliation was unbearable.
The week we resigned from our church, someone was tasked with notifying the media of the unthinkable reason for our sudden departure.
The day our story ran in the local paper we left town. I feared reporters would come to the house and hound us and exploit the story as had happened with horrific consequences to another ministry family in our city just a year before.
I couldn’t go to the grocery store for almost eight months. If I did go to the mailbox at the end of our driveway, it was only after dark.
Alone one night, walking on a beach, I gave more than a passing thought to just slipping into the water and never coming out.
Precious, life-long friends and co-workers who had served with us for decades went from stunned to scarce to non-existent. For a long while we had zero energy to see or communicate with people. Once someone got deeply offended when we duplicated a text message to them and several others at the same time.
We were lucky if we could breathe much less have the strength to craft individual messages to everyone who contacted us.
The pain, the shame was suffocating, incapacitating.
A handful of close friends walked fearfully but faithfully with us for the first two exhausting years. They kept us on life support. They had never seen us so broken, so not on top of things, so bankrupt.
And, in the end, even several of those dear folks couldn’t go the distance with us. It hurt but we understood. It was all just too much.
Once, when I tried to confide in someone about how devastatingly difficult living in exile was they scoffed, “Well, you sure can’t tell it by the way you look on Facebook!”
When you’re living in trauma, it helps to celebrate your few good moments with whatever part of the world is listening. Most folks don’t hang out their deepest needs & dirty laundry on social media. I forget that some take social media photos at face value.
It’s easy to imagine how a few pictures could sum up a friends life. It’s more difficult to imagine what’s behind the photos, to actually walk with someone through their pain, to be curious or to extend compassion or to try to grasp the immense suffering they might be going through.
We kept finding that the people we had hoped to count on were no longer able to be there for us. We had never felt so alone. But that loneliness drove us often to our knees and deeper into each other’s arms. And then, as God always does, at our lowest points- he provides. He does a new thing. He makes a way for us in the wilderness.
So, an unexpected, and very random group of people kept showing up in sweet, and significant ways.
And they still show up. Every Sunday a different configuration of people gather in our living room to hear us talk about the ways of Jesus, about spiritual transformation and how remarkable it is that God always, always, trades you beauty for your ashes, if you want it.
The last three years have been one giant, exhausting, emotional, unrelenting expedition to uncover what could possibly have gone so wrong with two people who were so determined to get life right.
And, what we have found out about ourselves, about human nature, the lack of awareness in all of us, what we’ve learned about God and so many other things has thrown us into territory, on some levels, we didn’t even know existed.
Finally, after a year of conversations, counsel-seeking and prayer we decided to share the story of what we discovered in a book- from devastation to restoration – and the steps we took to get there.
But, can I be honest with you? We felt fear at the thought of writing it. We worried: Can we really be this vulnerable? Will anyone read it? How will this affect our family? Our friends? The people of our dear church?
Any good thing we have ever done in leadership has been for the saving of many lives.
And if there’s a chance that what we’ve learned in our healing can spare some folks even half of the heartaches and trauma we have experienced -we are all in.
Our book goes beneath the story of a marriage in triage into the belly of all our deepest desires and internal motivations. It is not about an unfaithful man but about how we are all unfaithful to the true self God designed in us from the beginning.
It is exactly that unawareness, that lack of trust and lack of confidence in our God-self that actually gives us all the most trouble.
The book we wrote is about how we can see ourselves -the beauty and the weakness- for who we truly are and learn to embrace it. It’s about overcoming the unceasing, stressful compulsions we all have to keep producing, promoting and protecting ourselves in this fallen, superficial world.
You will see yourself in it again and again.
And you will see God like never before.
After our sons, we think this book may be the best work we have ever done.
We put it all out there in hopes of saving you our loss and pain and in hopes of gifting you a quality of life you thought might not be possible. It’s about how to use crisis as a catapult to a truer identity and how it can throw you into the richest goodness you can imagine.
Early readers have been gracious. And we pray you will not pass it by.
Please check it out for yourself, for the people you love most, your spouse, your ministers, your family, your friends, your co-workers.
Your investment in our book is a vote to keep us doing more of what you see us doing here each week. I will not lie. We get by with a lot of help from our friends. Our desire is to keep being real, bringing truth and holding out hope. When you share our blog or podcast it helps us enlarge our reach to someone else who might need what we have to offer them.
The softcover and/or audio version of our book Nothing to Prove: Find the Satisfaction and Significance You’ve Been Striving for at the Core of Your True Identity are both available now.
• And for the next 5 days only to those who purchase a book we are offering special discounted packages that include considerable *FREE bonus material.
To get yours now or get more info, click HERE.
Thank you for being such an important part of our next chapter. You help keep us in the game more than you can possibly know.
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