Ruin, Rescue & Restoration: the story of a marriage made new
July 13, 2017
My husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary last week!
What? I look too young to have been married that long? 😉 My secret is that I was a child bride. Okay, maybe not an actual child, but close enough! I was just 19 years old when I walked down the aisle and vowed to stay for better or for worse. I told my soon-to-be husband (who was also 19) that I would be there, even when days were hard and times were tough. I made a promise to work through the mess and to fight for my marriage. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I really understood what I was committing to that day. I know I didn’t realize that my pledge to love my husband until the day I died would result in so many hard days and in so much heartache. And I was completely unaware that our lives would become a testimony to an amazing God who transformed our shattered marriage into a story of grace and forgiveness and beauty.
The start of marriage for us, while new and exciting, was definitely not easy. Within just a few weeks of our wedding, we moved nearly two thousand miles away from everything and everyone we knew. I had always heard that the first year of marriage was effortless and blissful, but that was not the reality of our marriage. I was frustrated and confused that it was so hard for us and felt like no one would understand if I told them how much we were struggling. We were both so full of selfishness and pride, and our constant friction quickly built up walls and grew deep roots of bitterness and discontentment. We pushed through, longing for the next good day. And, don’t get me wrong, there were good days. We had many fun adventures in the beautiful outdoors of the Pacific Northwest. We also had great friends, busy jobs, church, school and hobbies to help distract us from the growing distance between our hearts. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my husband had already come to the conclusion that he’d made a grave mistake by marrying so young. Oddly enough, because of his pride in his upbringing and the way people viewed him, he chose to stay with me and just make the best of his lapse in judgment. Even though he remained physically in the marriage, he made a conscious choice to pursue other things that he thought would fulfill something in him that I could not. He did the right things to be a good enough husband, but in reality, he had set his affections elsewhere and committed his time and energy to what he was truly passionate about: being in the mountains.
After several years of a mediocre marriage, I began to greatly desire a baby. I was lonely so much of the time, but in my own pride, I refused to turn that place of pain over to the Lord. Instead of acknowledging that our marriage was broken and seeking help and counsel, I decided that having a baby would be the best way to ease my loneliness. At first, my husband said we weren’t ready and gave me lots of excuses why. What I thought was fear was actually him thinking it was crazy to bring a baby into such a broken space. I constantly brought it up and nagged him until he agreed that we could stop using birth control and try to get pregnant. To my surprise and despair, it was not an easy journey for us. I constantly obsessed about having a baby and researched techniques and methods that might increase our chances of getting pregnant. I took multiple pregnancy tests every month and was completely crushed every time when it was negative. I begged God to give me a baby and even tried to bargain with him: if He would just give me what I desired, I would do anything He asked me to do. Having a baby really became an idol for me.
After nearly two years of no success, I decided to see a doctor. It was confirmed there were no obvious physical problems in my body, so I practically forced my husband to get checked out. There was no indication of a physical issue with him either. Again, I was devastated. An appointment with a fertility specialist was scheduled, and I cried out to God to give me this one thing that I desired most. Out of His abundant mercy and kindness, and in His perfect timing, I became pregnant and found out a week before the appointment. I praised God for His precious gift, while I was actually seeking fulfillment and purpose in that gift instead of in its Creator. I had wrongly placed the burden of fulfillment on my husband, and now, since that hadn’t worked, I was shifting that burden to the new life that was growing inside me. I didn’t get it that having a baby was not the fix for my disappointing marriage and unfulfilling life. I had been deceived into believing that our problems were something other than the effects of sin and that they could be made right by something other than Jesus.
About halfway through my pregnancy, we made another huge move, from Washington to Northern Colorado, accepting a job opportunity that would take us closer to our families back in Iowa. For me, it felt like a chance to start fresh. I thought it would be a place with fewer distractions where we could look forward to our baby and grow closer together as we anticipated his arrival. A few months after we got settled into our new home and life, our oldest son was born. We were completely enamored! Those first weeks and months of our shared struggle as new parents and our indescribable love for that tiny person naturally brought us together, at least for a while. We were fighting less than we did before, but our common love for our son disguised the fact that we were drifting apart as much as ever. I honestly believed things were better between us even though most of our interactions revolved around our baby. My loneliness had significantly decreased, and I was finding joy and purpose in motherhood. At the same time, my husband was finding new hobbies and people to continue to distract him and his affections away from me and our marriage.
When our son was about 10 months old, to both of our surprise, I found out I was pregnant with our second child. After our difficult road the first time around, we were shocked that we had conceived without a calculated effort. Nevertheless, we were on our way to having two babies at home, since our oldest would only be 18 months old when the new baby arrived. As the months went on, I became more and more excited to have another baby. I also had a renewed desire to grow closer to my husband, but I could see that we were moving away from each other faster than ever.
When he wasn’t at work, he was rock climbing or mountain running or researching new places to do those activities. He was rarely home, and when he was there, we never talked about anything of real consequence or value. We never shared our hearts or opened up about our struggles. Before I knew it, we were more like roommates than husband and wife, and we lived in that realm for quite some time. A couple months before my due date, I started to sense that something was not right about a friendship my husband had formed with a woman in our church. I brought it up to him that I was uncomfortable with the way they interacted with each other, but he insisted that nothing was going on. I was doing a Bible study at the time that was teaching me more about the Lord and who I was in Christ. I was growing in my relationship with Him and desired to respect my husband in the way I handled my unwavering sense that He wasn’t being honest with me. I prayed earnestly to God for wisdom in how to handle the situation. I thought that maybe I was just hormonal or that I was allowing sinful jealousy and envy to cloud my perception. I asked God to take away my suspicion if it wasn’t valid because I didn’t want to push my husband further away over something I was imagining. No matter how much I prayed and offered it to the Lord, I couldn’t shake it.
On Easter Sunday, we spent the day with friends, one of whom was that woman. My uneasiness grew throughout the day until I came to the point that I was certain something was going on between them. A flood of emotions rose to the surface, and I quickly retreated to an empty room. I sat down on the bed and began to weep. My heart was wrecked as I thought about what I would do if what I feared turned out to be true. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself together just in time to leave. As we drove home, it suddenly occurred to me that, if there was something going on, they were likely communicating with each other by text. It is only by the grace of God that I was able to keep that thought to myself and not go in the house throwing out accusations. I felt the Lord prompting me to be patient and gentle in my approach even though everything in me wanted to scream at my husband and make him admit he was cheating. As I was lying in bed that night, I asked God to wake me up early the next morning so I could check my husband’s phone while he was in the shower. This was a monumental ask, because mornings are hard for me, and pregnant mornings were dreadful. I do not just wake up. And yet, the next day, I did just that. My husband was in the shower, but his phone was on the shelf right next to the shower, and I was scared he would know if I took it. I decided to open his laptop and search his emails for anything that would prove my suspicions. I put that woman’s name as the search term, and one email showed up in the results. My heart was racing as I clicked on it. It was short, but it was all I needed to see to know that their relationship had crossed a line.
I sat in a chair just outside the bathroom door, seething with anger. A minute or two later, my husband emerged from the bathroom, saw my face, and knew immediately that something was wrong. I told him to look at his computer screen, which still displayed the email I had found. In that moment, he continued to deny any wrongdoing or improper relationship. But as the day went on, more undeniable proof and details of the relationship emerged, and the guilty conscience he had been suppressing overtook him. He could no longer live in the lie. It’s ugliness had been brought out into the light, and there was nowhere to hide. At one point in the afternoon or evening, he broke down and, through sobs, told me the truth that he had been hiding for nearly 8 years: he did not want to be married to me. The blow to my heart was crushing.
Over the next couple of days, we talked a lot- to each other and to trusted friends and family members- and I cried an obnoxious amount of tears. Of pain, of anger, of jealousy. I hardly slept or ate, and I was so confused about what to do next. I had never felt so betrayed and so foolish. How could I have not known? I cried out to God in my anguish, not even knowing what to ask. While the affair had not yet become physical, the amount of time spent communicating and meeting in secret was just ridiculous and was increasing rapidly. I learned about hundreds of deleted texts and emails: evidence that this woman had the full heart of my husband. Realizing that the affection and emotional connection that my husband had kept from me was being given to her was beyond devastating. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me, and every time I started to get my breath, another blow would send me to my knees.
I remember that a lot of time over the next couple of days was spent listening to music that pointed me to Jesus and to the Truth of God’s Word, and that was crucial in those first days. We had come to a crossroads; a critical point of decision. We could have looked at our mess and thrown in the towel or begged God to rescue us from the dark place in which we’d found ourselves. Blinded by my sorrow, I wasn’t even sure He could rescue us. But, by His grace, we both chose to stay and start to figure out the process of rebuilding what was left of our marriage. At first, my husband’s choice to try to fix the damage was more out of regret and embarrassment than anything else. But, in any case, we met with our pastor to share with him the situation and to ask for the help and counsel we should have sought many years before.
The next day, three days after first discovering my husband’s emotional infidelity, I went into labor and gave birth to our beautiful daughter. She was three weeks early, but really, she was right on time. You can read more about that part of the story and the subsequent months of God’s incredible work in our hearts and in our marriage here. For now, I will just skip to the happy ending and tell you that, more than 7 years later, we have a new and beautiful marriage. It is far from perfect because we are far from perfect, but it is growing and happy and covered with so much grace.
We often say that our marriage really started that day, the day the shroud of darkness was torn off and the ugly realities of sin were forced into the light. We had so many layers of healing and repentance that needed to take place after that day, first in our own hearts, then in our relationship as a couple. The Lord was faithful to do the work in us, and as we walked in obedience, He began to restore our marriage. He gave us the grace and strength to continue forward. Even on the days when my husband felt no love for me. Even on the days when I was weary of watching him mourn the loss of a relationship with another woman. Even on the days when I struggled to forgive him. We pushed ahead, clinging to the promises that the Lord would bring beauty from ashes and make streams in the wasteland.
And now, here we are years later: able to see the beauty. Even though I am still married to the same man, I have a different husband from the one I married 15 years ago. A husband who has his flaws, but who seeks after God with a heart that has been transformed. A husband who is my best friend and favorite person on this earth. I would go through all that pain a hundred times over if it meant that I got the man I am married to today. To God be the Glory for that!!
I share all these details with you because I believe there is someone out there reading this who is in need of hope.
Hope that your marriage can be transformed.
Hope that forgiveness is possible.
Hope that the sin in which you are stuck doesn’t have to end in destruction.
Hope that God is able to redeem the pain that you feel so acutely this very moment.
Hope that trust can be rebuilt and abiding peace can fill those spaces that are now filled with fear and suspicion.
Hope to press on even when the feelings aren’t there yet.
Hope that Jesus can change hearts that are far from Him. Even your heart. Even your spouse’s heart.
And now, let’s be real. Sometimes people continue to choose the path of sin. Sometimes people leave a wake of destruction and hurt that cannot be undone. Sometimes the enemy has a stronghold, and people find themselves in the middle of wreckage that can never be rebuilt. But, in all these circumstances, Jesus is enough. How do I know that? Because God declares it in His Word. He tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you…” I also know from experience that God will show Himself faithful in a thousand different ways, again and again.
No matter what kind of hope you need for your marriage today, I pray you understand this one thing: God is FOR marriage because HE created it to be a picture of the Gospel to a world that so desperately needs to know the hope that is only found in Him. He is the author of every redemption story and longs for you to abide in HIM and trust HIM as you walk this long, hard road. Fight for your marriage because it is worth it. It may not feel like it now, but it is. If there is any hope for your marriage, even the tiniest shred, offer that to Jesus and allow your heart to be captured by the beauty of the sacrifice He made for His bride, the church:
“…We must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.”
― Timothy J. Keller,
**I promise my next post will be about our upcoming RV adventures!! Check back soon for the details about our decision to become a full-time RV family and the latest news on our search for the perfect camper for our family!