I’ve been writing for almost five years now and during that time I’ve found the courage to share countless stories. But there’s one story that has terrified me. Partly because it’s not only my story, it’s my wife’s as well. Before I go any further, you have to know that I have her full consent for what I’m about to write. For whatever reason, God has given us the courage to share our story today, on our anniversary. There’s beautiful irony in that, actually. Irony that speaks to the character of God.
On the day we celebrate our marriage, I’m going to tell you the story about the day we almost lost it.
The Facade and Infertility
Nine years ago, my marriage looked beautiful on the outside. My wife and I were four years into marital bliss—four years spent pursuing life on our own.
We had moved to Florida for a world-class opportunity in real estate. Some say the bubble burst, but it was more like air leaking out of a balloon. Like two kids, we chased that balloon across three states until it finally fell to the ground. We had eight address changes in our first four years. At the time, that made us laugh. But underneath the facade, the foundation was cracking.
The disappearing fortune led us back home, to my parents’ room over the garage. It was humbling, but not quite humbling enough. We were tough kids, gritty. So we dug in our heels and began new careers as a way to make it work. But this fix-it-yourself mindset wasn’t working in one particular area.
For two years we had been trying to start a family. Every month, the cycle ended in disappointment. Our dream of a better life and our dream of starting a family were fading into the horizon. Darkness was coming. Sure, we still smiled at church and we even led a couples’ small group at our house. But the truth is, we had sacrificed authentic faith on the altar of our own understanding. On the inside, our marriage was dying.
No matter how hard you fight it, what is on the inside will eventually come out.
An Affair of the Heart
During this season, I tried to keep it together—tried to be the provider. But the one thing I couldn’t provide for my wife was a child. This was the hill the Little Engine That Could couldn’t climb. As I slid down the tracks back into the valley, I fell into the temptation of pornography.
My head kept telling my heart that I wasn’t good enough. That my inability to provide a child made me less desirable to my wife. Insecurity and shame strangled my self-confidence into submission. In hindsight, I’ve learned that secure, confident men don’t look at pornography and insecure men convince themselves that it’s harmless. In the end, lust is laced with lies—strong men don’t sit in the dark and stare at screens.
Pornography places an emotional chasm between you and real love. In time, you forget what real love looks like. Instead of loving my wife, I continually poured myself into my work. It was the only thing I thought I could control. Maybe the solution was to out-earn my problems. But like pornography, success has an addictive quality and lies of its own.
My heart was having an affair—an affair with my mind and my work. I just wasn’t willing to admit it until I found out my wife was having one too.
The Girl Who Stopped Playing by the Rules
My wife lost her father at the age of fourteen. But as mature and grown-up as she seemed, she always longed for that father figure. Looking back, I had become that for her—the one who could make it all better. In short, she looked to me to save her. When I failed, it drove a wedge between playing by the rules and following something else.
The slow fade happens with all of us. My wife would have been the first to say, “It will never go that far.” But pride is seductive and it whispers sweet nothings in your ear until you believe them as truth.
As I distanced myself emotionally, the competitive spirit in my wife began to cave. She stopped fighting for us. She was alone. And when left unattended, loneliness becomes sadness and sadness becomes anger. When left unchecked, anger leads to rebellion. Once the sheep has left the flock, it is exposed.
Wolves love wounded sheep and wounded sheep would rather die than be in pain.
Broken Made Whole
One Sunday afternoon, I was lying on the couch trying to sleep off a hangover when my wife came to me crying and buried her head in my chest. I was oblivious to what was getting ready to happen which proves my naivety and my arrogance.
I sheepishly asked her, “What’s wrong?”
In a few short words, she told me the one thing I never thought I’d hear. She was having an affair.
The moments that followed are etched into my mind as the turning point in my life. I had to choose between two paths. One path led me away from the woman I loved and the life we hoped to build. The other path was covered in broken glass and shattered hearts. I cried out to God, but not in anger because I knew this is not what He intended. I cried out to God in despair because I had never felt so far from Him in my life. It was by nothing but the grace of God that I chose the broken path.
From my journal:
“Today I closed the chapter on my life to this point and started a new chapter that I will write based on the One that defines my life. God had to go there to get me here.” —October, 2009
What God did in the days and months that followed is miraculous. He gave me spiritual eyes to see my wife as He saw her—a daughter who was hurting and had run away from what she loved. In addition, He allowed me to see my lack of leadership and honesty in our marriage. Pride prohibits forgiveness. Humility makes it possible.
The truth is, I served everything but God and loved myself for it. But God loved me enough to let me stare my own pride in the face. He finally had my full attention. And as a loving Father does, He told me that He can do anything through anyone who is willing to give up themselves for His sake.
Second Chances and Restoration
The book of Joel has brought incredible clarity to our story.
Joel speaks to God’s people—a people who had wandered away. They were adulterous in serving other gods. But God loved them enough to get their attention. By sending locusts to destroy their crops, God allowed famine and desolation to fall upon them. In their brokenness, God said this:
“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” —Joel 2:12-13
“Then the Lord became jealous for His land and had pity on His people. The Lord answered and said…”I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” —Joel 2:18-27
A month after we returned to the Lord, we found out that we were expecting a child. In a barren marriage God had awakened life and in a barren womb, God had kept His promise.
He was repaying us for the years the locusts had eaten.
Our Only Hope
I suppose if Jesus was powerful enough to walk on water, in Him we’re capable of walking on broken glass to become who He’s called us to be. The path hasn’t been easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Nine years ago, my marriage looked beautiful on the outside but it was broken on the inside. Today, I know that my marriage is beautiful on the outside because it’s beautiful on the inside.
We recently toured the USS North Carolina Battleship with our kids and stopped to take this picture.
I didn’t recognize it then, but I weep when I look at it now. This is a picture of God’s promise. We’ve had to fight for our marriage. But God’s right there behind us. And He’s fighting to restore everything that we’re willing to give to Him.
When I look at pictures of my family, I don’t see some picturesque, cookie-cutter scene that I’ve created. I see the restoration that God has performed, even in the midst of absolute hopelessness.
We’ve hesitated to share this because restoration takes time. But we’ve learned that only God is good enough to redeem time. And for that, we give Him full credit. So wherever you are today, we want you to know that God promises to fight for His people.
He’s really that good.
We’re living proof.