THE STORY OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO ME PDF Print E-mail

I.

Evangelicals use the terms “flesh” and “sinful nature” to describe a person’s natural tendency or bent when his or her thoughts, words and actions are not under the control of the Holy Spirit.  My particular flesh is very ugly and obvious; apart from the Spirit’s control I am mean, petty, sarcastic, arrogant, judgmental, critical and angry; I am hyper-competitive and have to be right; I struggle against thinking I am smarter and more spiritual than others; and, perhaps worst of all, I am a coward, a blamer and a quitter.  This flesh dominated my thoughts, words and actions from my mid-teens until my late twenties.  The only thing I had going for me was my sense of humor which allowed me to get away with just about anything – at least until I was married and had to learn how to live and get along with someone every day.

When I am living by the power of the Holy Spirit I am loving, warm, patient, kind, generous and humble; I make people feel like they are important; and I serve others and put their interests ahead of my own.  There is a constant battle in me between the flesh and the Spirit; there is a paper-thin wall between the two.  The flesh is so much easier to operate out of – it is our default position – and I slip easily into the flesh.  For example, I often pray as I drive, both because I am in my car a lot and because I so easily become annoyed with other drivers.  Even as I am praying in the Spirit a driver can do something I find annoying and I’ll utter a quick “idiot” or “moron”, catch myself, utter a quick apology to God and return to prayer.  Of course, I am more and more under the control of the Holy Spirit and less and less influenced by the flesh but this battle won’t end until I enter eternity.

I have a very high degree of confidence that the Holy Spirit will move and speak through me when I meet one-on-one with men who are having serious marital problems or struggling with sexual temptation and sin.  Early indications in my life would not have suggested that God would call me to save marriages and help men escape sexual sin.  But one of my favorite things about God is that He takes the horrible choices we make and uses them for His wonderful purposes.  He can redeem the awful mess we have made of our lives and use our poor choices and the consequences of those choices to bring life and freedom to others.  May He use this story for that purpose.

II.

Although when I was growing up my family often attended a Methodist church, there was never any concept of Jesus being alive, of having a relationship with Him, or of surrendering one’s life to Him.  However, I know for certain that I have had a relationship with Jesus since at least twelve or thirteen and that I have desired to follow and serve Him since then, at least to the extent I understood what that meant.  I was terribly insecure as a teen and that insecurity was reflected in sexual promiscuity.  By the time I was in high school, my thinking, speaking and acting were saturated with sex.  I dated a lot of girls and was sexually active by age 17, though I didn’t have intercourse until I was 23.  I strongly believed that God wanted me to draw a bold line at intercourse until I was married, though I did not realize that frequent sexual activity right up to that line would inevitably lead to crossing it.  My overriding objective when I went out with my girlfriends was, to put it bluntly, to ejaculate.  In between these sexual interactions with my girlfriends, I would fantasize, expose my eyes to sexual images and masturbate.  I soon fell into an addictive cycle in which tension would start to build, some image would trigger my desire for a release of that tension, release would come through masturbation, shame and guilt would follow the masturbation and I would vow not to do it again.  Then the cycle would begin again.

The addictive cycle continued through college, though I became more serious about my faith.  I joined an organization called Campus Crusade For Christ and started a Bible study in my fraternity, of which I was president (the frat was what you would expect – a keg in the fridge and an overpowering smell of stale beer when you walked in the door).  I will give you an example of how my sex saturated mind continued to impact my behavior and choices in college.  There was a popular song called “If You Want My Body and You Think I’m Sexy”.  That song came on one day while I was messing around with my frat brothers and I spontaneously started to dance, suggestively rubbing my hands on my body and crotch.  At the next party we had at the frat house several of the brothers started chanting for me to do the dance.  The party was attended by a female friend of mine who I knew from Campus Crusade For Christ.  Even though I knew she would be embarrassed and mortified, I couldn’t resist the attention I would get by doing the dance.  Of course, she immediately fled and I hurried after her begging her not to leave.  Not surprisingly, I was passed over for a student leadership position with Campus Crusade my senior year.  Yet no one in my fraternity doubted my devotion to Christ.

By the time I graduated from college, maintaining my virginity had become a sort of badge of honor for me, something that set me apart from the rest — particularly in a fraternity. After I graduated, I moved to another country for a time. It was a spiritually dry place where I no longer had any fellowship or godly influence on me of any kind. After a couple of months there, my then girlfriend visited me from the U.S. By then, I had no one to prove anything to and I had forgotten why I ever thought intercourse was wrong. I essentially tried to force myself on her and got just far enough that we later wondered if she had gotten pregnant, though I do not count that as the night I lost my virginity. That occurred about seven months later when, at the age of twenty-three, I had intercourse with a woman that I met while I lived abroad. I remember that first time how, in my usual fashion, I manipulated the conversation with her so that it would weave its way to the subject of sex. Of course, it was all innuendo and subtle suggestion, all of which was quite unnecessary since, in the end, she had the same interest I did. There was nothing romantic about it. We just took off our clothes and did it. It was over very quickly, in fact, within seconds. It was not until later that I learned I had developed premature ejaculation from all the times in high school when I had hurriedly urged my girlfriend to bring me to an orgasm before her parents walked in or got home or whatever. Or I quickly masturbated before someone suspected I had been in the bathroom too long.

She didn't know it was my first time until after it was over. The level of guilt I felt was excruciating. I felt empty, alone, afraid and filled with deep regret. The next day I was very quiet and the woman tried to understand what I was feeling and tried to be comforting. The truth was that I felt somewhat repulsed by her. That did not stop me from doing it the next night, although I have almost no recollection of the experience. She lived out of town and had to return home and that was that.

In less than a year after that first experience, I would have intercourse with four other women. I began each relationship with the sincerest of intentions, certain that I was falling in love with each woman. I developed radar for a certain kind of woman, women who would become very dependent upon me emotionally, whose will I could bend to my own. Women who were easily manipulated. What I thought was a vulnerable mysteriousness in them was really insecurity and lack of self confidence. I soon tired of, and then became repulsed by, these women. In having intercourse with them, I felt like I was trying to fill a bottomless pit of insecurity in myself; I literally felt like I was entering them to try to suck the life out of them. I had this terrible black hole in me that could not be filled. When I would initially go after these women, I would feel filled by getting them interested in me. I was thrilled by the game and the uncertainty of whether they were interested in me or not. But, once I knew I had them, that thrill quickly wore off. It would not have been so devastating for these women had I come across as simply a guy who was looking for a good time. However, I confessed deep feeling for them, I showed sensitivity, and I even talked of marriage and children. They had every reason to believe that I wanted a long term commitment. I believed every word I said which was probably what made me so convincing. For that reason, their shock was all the greater when I began to show signs of disinterest and eventually dumped them.

The revulsion I felt for them was really an extension of the deeper revulsion I felt toward myself. Though I stuffed it out of my consciousness, I could never reconcile having sex with them. There was a constant guilt-induced anxiety that only deepened the terrible emptiness I felt inside. I developed a self-perpetuating pattern of trying to suck the life out of the woman I was dating, feeling guilty, feeling repulsed, turning that repulsion on her and then dumping her.

My special means of expressing repulsion was sarcasm. I took a devious pleasure in matching wits with others, cutting them down but using humor to disguise my meanness. I had a critical spirit and little tolerance for emotional or mental weakness. Most discussions turned into a debate and winning was far more important to me than understanding what the other person was trying to say. However, I could suppress all of this when I was going after a woman. I was the model of a sensitive, caring man and had a sense of humor that could cover up any slip-ups. So, imagine how much more surprising and devastating it was for the woman I was dating when my mean, critical, intolerant side emerged. They could not understand how the person they had given so much of their hearts and emotions to could turn on them so quickly. There is a verse that perfectly describes who I was then. 2 Timothy 3:6 says: "they are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women." I was a worm.

III.

I will never understand what my wife saw in me. She knew me through almost the entire time I was chewing up and spitting out these women. We were friends for the first two years we attended law school before we ever started dating. During this time she witnessed what a worm I was to the women I dated. In the three months before we started dating, we played tennis together nearly every day. We had a lot of fun and had great talks together which probably lulled her into disbelieving what she saw I was doing to these women, some of whom were good friends of hers. I began formally dating her immediately after I broke up with the woman I had supposedly been dating during these months I was playing tennis. Almost immediately, we talked about marriage. She would not allow me to move quite as quickly sexually as other women I had dated but we were soon having intercourse. Except, this time I did not ignore the inner turmoil I felt in doing so. We both agreed that we should stop having intercourse until we were married. We went to church together, though my faith was weak and she did not have a very clear idea of what it meant to have a relationship with Christ. Right before I started dating her, I had gone to the concert of some Christian artist and had rededicated my life to Christ. I felt convicted about having intercourse before marriage and, as I said, we had both agreed to stop until marriage.

However, I still continued to sleep in the same bed with her every night. It may be technically true that sexual activity can happen at any time of the day, but there is something about being in bed with a woman at night that makes it infinitely more likely that something will happen. In addition, all the years I had spent with the all-consuming focus of taking sexual pleasure from my girlfriends worked against my desire to regain sexual purity. It was naïve to think I could reverse deeply ingrained attitudes and patterns of behavior simply because it seemed like the right thing to do. Predictably, once I was in bed with her the addictive cycle took over. Several times we had intercourse without the use of a condom. Every time I would feel terrible remorse and promise her it would not happen again. Each time, she would go through a horrible period of anxiousness wondering if she were pregnant. She became so fearful and anxious about the possibility of being pregnant that she sat in a bathtub one night and pressed as hard as she could on her stomach with the intent of killing her unborn baby if she were pregnant.

My future wife began to resent me and to lose respect for me.  I continued to pressure her to have sex but she became more and more resistant until she finally refused altogether.  I told myself that it was because we had agreed to wait until marriage but the truth was I had ruined intimacy and trust between us for many years to come.  This did not stop me from expecting we would have frequent intercourse once we were married.  So I brought into our marriage the addictive cycle, a mind saturated with sexual thoughts which I constantly acted out in my interactions with my wife, and an expectation that my wife would submit to my frequent need for sexual release.

In the months leading up to our wedding, we fought more and more. We were both first children and very stubborn. For the first time, I was with a woman who did not bend her will to mine, who had a stiff backbone and a stiff neck. It was probably a blessing that we were both supposed to be studying for the bar exam. I say "supposed to be" – she studied while I took a lengthy road trip with a buddy and otherwise goofed off (which later caused me to fail the bar). In the month between when we took the bar exam and our wedding day, she was in another city taking care of the preparations so we hardly saw each other. If not for these events, I wonder if we ever would have gotten married.

My wife cried through the entire wedding ceremony. To this day she cannot explain why. I can: she was marrying me. There is no good explanation for why she did except that God knew someday I would come around. However, it is still hard for me to accept that it was worth the pain she endured in waiting for me to get there. At least God maintained His sense of humor about us (though in most respects He must have been deeply grieved). After our wedding reception was over, just as my wife and I were driving away, she began to have menstrual cramps. In those days, these cramps hit her so hard that she would be basically incapacitated for several days. We were broke back then and had picked her parents' lake cabin, located on an island, for our honeymoon. The first night we spent in the small town across the bay from the island. While my wife soaked in the bathtub to relieve her cramps, I roamed the streets of this very small town. There was only one movie theater in town, which was showing a Chuck Norris karate, kick-em-up film called "Lone Wolf McQuaid". For an hour and a half, I vicariously got out all of my pent up frustration.

The next day we went to the island, which I now affectionately call "Nightmare Island". Never go to an uninhabited island on your honeymoon, even if you get along with each other, which my wife and I most certainly did not. We fought and stared at the walls and wondered why time had come to a complete standstill. I, of course, was waiting and biding my time until my wife's period was over so we could consummate the vows. When the moment finally arrived, just at the moment when my suffering was about to end ... my nose started bleeding. It was pitch black in the room so, not to be denied, I attempted to close off the flowing nostril with my finger as I attempted unsuccessfully to complete the act. To this day, I cannot remember when we finally did consummate our vows.

Whatever humor there was in that scene ended quickly. The painful task of reversing my worm-like flesh was beginning.

IV.

Thankfully, my wife was different from all the other women I had dated.  She could say “no” to me and she could keep strong boundaries.  These didn’t seem like plusses to me when we were first married.  We fought constantly and bitterly the first few years of our marriage.  Not only because of my addictive cycle but also because of our polar opposite relational styles.  I was mean and sarcastic and always had to be right.  She was a thinker and needed time to process what I was saying to her.  I never tried to listen and understand what she was saying to me; I just wanted her to agree with me and admit I was right.  Also, I always wanted to fix the problem right away and when an argument ended I wanted her to “kiss and make up” immediately.  As a consequence, I would relentlessly come at her with a machine gun barrage of words.  When she didn’t immediately agree with me I would keep pressing and pressing.  She would often say, “just because you can talk better than me doesn’t mean you are right” and she would tell me to back off for awhile so she could think.  This only made me mad and more determined to wear her down.  Eventually, in her frustration and desperation, her beautiful face twisted with rage, she would scream “I hate you”.  There were times that I would get into such a rage that I would either shove her or put my arms around her to physically restrain her from leaving the room.

It took barely anything to ignite a confrontation between us.  We bickered constantly to the point where family and friends couldn’t stand to be around us.  I was completely convinced that she was the problem, that if she would only change her glaring defects everything would be fine.  I actually convinced myself that I would receive special honor in heaven for sticking it out with this impossible woman.  There is no question in my mind that we would have gotten a divorce if not for our faith.  But having a faith that said divorce was not an option just made us feel stuck and without hope.

There are stories we tell of those days that we actually laugh about now. Once, after a particularly big fight, my wife locked herself in our bedroom and would not come out. Before doing so, she hid our only vehicle, the one I used to get to work every day. For three days she kept herself locked up, coming out only after I left for work (on the bus) and making sure to be back in there by the time I returned home from work. Finally, at the end of the third day I began to be worried about whether she was alright, having not heard a peep out of her for the entire time. I called out to her, "You don't have to talk to me, just make some noise so that I know you are alright."

 

Silence.

"Listen, I have to know whether you're alive in there."

Dead silence.

"Okay, I'm going to count to three and if you don't say something I'm going to have to kick the door down."

Silence.

"One, (pause) two, (pause), three." Just as I'm lifting my foot to kick the door in I hear, "Okay, okay, I'm alright."

 

But there was another time that I don't laugh about when, in a rage, I did kick a door in. There inside the door sat my wife, cradling our terrified toddler. I will never forget the look on my daughter's face – to this day I believe that fear has caused some deep woundedness in her that only the Lord will be able to heal. Anger was a big problem for me for many years: I punched a hole in the wall, threw things, broke things, screamed obscenities at others, place my family in danger in traffic, and much more.  Once, in an uncontrolled rage, I remember throwing china teacups we had been given as a wedding present at a wall behind my wife. One after another they shattered against the wall as she pleaded with me to stop.

Worse than all of this is the way I treated her sexually. I brought into our marriage a very definite expectation about how often husbands and wives had intercourse. What is more, I continued to be obsessed with sex as I had been before I got married. There was nothing about getting married that caused me to stop thinking about it constantly, to quit looking ahead to when the next orgasm would come. I would continually make suggestive comments to my wife. I would touch her in inappropriate ways, in inappropriate places, at grossly inappropriate times. If she were lying on our bed, I would jump on top of her and force my legs between hers and press my crotch against hers. I was constantly groping her and kissing her and making crude comments to her. I would hint around about her weight and would express my displeasure in one way or another if I thought she was eating too much.  I continued to expose my eyes to images like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and to masturbate, which reinforced and perpetuated all of the bad attitudes and destructive patterns of behavior I had learned before we were married.

All through what I have described so far, I really did want Jesus to be in control of my life.  The only good thing I can say about who I was at that time is that I truly wanted God to show me my “stuff” – my issues, my shortcomings, my sin.  Even though I couldn’t see my contribution to all the pain between my wife and me, I wanted to.  We fought non-stop for about three years.  We finally started reading a marriage book that was written by a husband and wife who were Christian counselors.  We would sit down together almost every night and read a section of the book and talk about it.  This finally took our focus off of each other and put our focus on God’s word and what He wanted to show us.

God showed me several things during this time.  First, He showed me that I needed to quit looking at my wife’s issues.  Instead, I needed to ask Him to show me my stuff and to trust that my wife was asking Him to do the same.  Not surprisingly, God showed me that the problems in our marriage were almost 100% my fault.  I had been an incredible pig.  Second, God showed me that I needed to saturate my sex-saturated mind with His truth.  So I began to memorize Bible verses about the mind: “the mind controlled by the Holy Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6).  “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2).  “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8).  Whenever I would start to have sexual thoughts I would start reciting these verses and, in this way, God began to replace sexual thoughts with His truth.  Next, God showed me that I needed to meet weekly with at least one accountability partner, a man or men whom I trusted enough to tell even my secret thoughts.  I saw clearly how sin, especially sexual sin, starts in the mind and that it was critical that I not allow a secret thought life to exist in my mind that could eventually turn into action.  I also needed an accountability partner who I could rely on to ask me hard questions about how I was spending my time, the choices I was making, what I was thinking about and exposing my eyes to and other similar questions.  Finally, God showed me that I needed to apologize to the women with whom I had intercourse.  In some cases, it took me years to find the women.  I remember the look of pain and relief on a couple of their faces when I apologized.

Doing all these things God had shown me was the easy part.  The hard part was changing the destructive communication pattern between my wife and me and breaking the addictive cycle.  There was definitely a connection between the addictive cycle and the destructive communication pattern.  Our fights were frequently about her refusal to have intercourse with me.  She rightly did not trust me and developed a suspicion that I was only being nice to her or did nice things for her when I wanted a sexual release.  I was a taker in our sexual interaction, so much so that I didn’t even know she never had an orgasm until several years into our marriage.  I often wanted to have sex as a way to relieve stress, a fact that was very obvious in the way I approached my wife.  When she would rebuff my sexual advances I would become very angry.  In addition, my insecurity would start to leak out in very ugly ways; I would engage in nauseating self pity and would berate myself as a worthless, defective human being instead of focusing on the root behavior.  What a coward.  I had already ruined our intimacy before we were married and I was making the divide between us in this area deeper and deeper.

Even when our fights weren’t about sex, they were still bad because of my sarcasm, need to win and attacking style that I described above.  To break our destructive communication pattern all I had to do was one simple thing: just walk away for awhile until we both calmed down.  But walking away may be the hardest thing I have ever had to learn.  In the midst of our arguments I felt such a churning ball of rage inside me that I literally thought I would explode.  Of course, I felt horrible guilt and shame after our arguments.  But I could not make myself walk away during an argument.  When I finally did start to walk away I can remember feeling like I was hauling a train behind me, almost like I was staggering as I walked away.  I would go to a separate room and scream into a pillow and punch the pillow over and over.  What helped most was when I started to pray during those times I was alone.  As I said before, I really wanted God to show me where I was wrong and, not surprisingly, He showed me that I was almost always wrong.  When I prayed, the Holy Spirit would calm me down and I would listen to God and ask Him to show me what I needed to see about the argument my wife and I were having and my behavior.  It was a relief to my wife when I would return and tell her, not only that I was sorry, but specifically what God had shown me about my attitude and behavior.

Learning to walk away in the heat of an argument was just the start.  I had to actually get to know my wife, to make what I wanted secondary, to learn what upset her and what calmed her down.  I learned to listen to her instead of trying to fix her, to just sympathize and confirm that what she was feeling or going through was valid and understandable instead of making her feel like a mental case.  I had to learn to respond to her with a gentle word instead of escalating the fight.  And when I fell short in all of this, I had to resist Satan’s lie that all the ground we had gained was lost.

V.

For several years into my marriage, I continued to flirt with other women, particularly beautiful women, although I never did anything with them physically. As an attorney, I worked in a world of secretaries and paralegals, some of whom were bound to be attractive. The fact that I was an attorney, that I had a good sense of humor, and probably that I was married, created some kind of allure for some of them. I took great pride in getting these women to the point where I knew that, if I wanted to, they would sleep with me. One secretary in particular I pursued, or we pursued each other, to the point where she said she loved me. At that point, I dropped her. There was something in me that made me believe that I was still being true to the Lord, or keeping my integrity, because I never went the next step to sleeping with them.

This woman who said she loved me was devastated and confused when I cut off all contact with her (by this time we no longer worked together). She tearfully called me and wrote me a long letter begging me to resume our relationship. Believe it or not, during one of my arguments with my wife, I told her she should appreciate the fact that I ended my relationship with this woman. My wife looked me right in the eye and said, "Why should I appreciate that you did the minimum the Lord expects of you."  As you can see, my wife was anything but one of the spineless women I had dated before her.  Immediately, I knew she was right which I believe reflected that I was sensitive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit even though much of my outward behavior still reflected old patterns.

Now I will tell you the stupidest thing I ever did.  About seven years into my marriage, I went on a business trip to California.  I flew in on a Saturday at the client’s request because the airfare was cheaper.  The city I travelled to happened to be where the woman lived with whom I lost my virginity. I contacted her to see if she wanted to spend Sunday with me.  We spent the entire day together during which she did everything except say the words “will you sleep with me?”  You will recall that one of the things God showed me as my wife and I read the book together is that I always had to have at least one accountability partner.  Thankfully, before I went to California I told my accountability partner that I was going to spend the day with this woman and that I wanted him to ask me very specific questions when I returned and to pray.  In retrospect I wish he would have told me not to see her at all but I am grateful that I knew the entire day I was with her that I would have to face him.  I really never felt tempted by this woman but it was a stupid thing to do nonetheless and I never did anything like that again.

Our marriage slowly got better and better.  My anger and rage lessened and our communication style improved, particularly because I started to care more about understanding what she was saying to me than winning.  But the addictive cycle continued.  It got better but the tension and pressure would build in me and something would trigger the need for release.  I would occasionally expose my eyes to sexual images, not necessarily pornography but sometimes.  Always this would end with masturbation which produced increasing amounts of shame and guilt in me.  For periods of time I would feel like it was under control but then, at some point, it was like there was some creature inside of me that took over my body and I felt almost like an observer as I gave into the addictive cycle.  I could even mentally tell myself that what I was doing was wrong as I was doing it but I felt powerless to stop it.

VI.

After we had our second child, my wife fell into a deep depression that lasted for about six months.  For the first month I was pretty understanding but when the month was up I basically told her it was time to buck up and get back in the game.  I remember a night when we had plans to go out with some friends and she pleaded with me to stay home with her.  I know that when I turned my back on her and walked out of the house that accelerated her slide into depression.  She became depressed to the point of being immobilized.  I think the worst memory of my life is one day when I came home from work early and I walked into our bedroom.  My wife was sitting in bed staring blankly at the wall while our baby sat in a laundry basket on the floor screaming.  I don’t think our marriage up to this point had been a 50/50 partnership, meaning I believe my wife contributed a lot more to the relationship than I did.  But I remember feeling during her depression like this wasn’t what I had signed up for, that she was supposed to contribute her fifty percent.  It took me too long to realize that depression wasn’t a choice, that she would have done anything not to be depressed.

The most important thing God taught me during that time was how to give one hundred percent to my wife and family without expecting or getting anything in return.  I had always been such a taker in our marriage.  Through her depression, God taught me to love and serve my wife and to always desire to give more than my “half” without expecting anything in return, and to do it with joy.  I think this is the first time I really began to see that God wants men to be the initiators in their marriage and that, when men initiate by giving and serving and communicating through actions that their wives have great worth, women naturally respond with tenderness and respect.  When my wife came out the other side of the depression I began to see the beauty of two people committed to giving one hundred percent to each other and how that eliminates any sense of keeping a balance sheet of each other’s contributions.  One of my favorite memories was when my wife and I were at a party about six months after the depression started.  I was in a different room than she was in.  There was the usual noise of many voices talking at the same time all mixed together.  Then, above the sound of the indistinguishable voices rose the sound of my wife’s infectious laughter.  She has the best laugh in the world and that was one of the most beautiful sounds I had ever heard.

But the addictive cycle continued.  It was difficult to fully rebuild trust with my wife when the urge for sexual release was still causing me to speak to her and behave toward her in ways that were unhealthy and which caused her to be wary and even fearful about my motivation and the consequences of her saying “no”.  I told her, and I meant it, that I wanted her to feel like “no” was a safe response if I wanted to have intercourse and she didn’t.  But whenever she did say “no” I would respond in anger and my relational style of going on the attack would come out.  Just as bad was that my insecurity would start to leak out all over the place.  It was astounding the accusations that came into my head and out of my mouth toward her when this thing inside me wanted to have a release.  I never pulled the “wives should be submissive to their husbands” card but I would ask her why she had to make such a big deal out of it when we hardly ever had intercourse.  Or I would tell her if we asked a hundred men and women about the situation, they would side with me.  I would try to make her feel like she was the problem, like she was unhealthy, when in fact she was drawing a very appropriate boundary to stop me from taking from her out of pure lust. There was nothing loving or spiritual about what I wanted to do.  If she had given in it would have been solely to avoid conflict and would have caused her to give a part of herself away that she wasn’t meant to give.  Sex had become an idol for me, something with which I was trying to fill a black hole in me that couldn’t be filled.  I knew it but couldn’t stop and when she said “no” I would invariably respond with anger and insecurity followed by shame and remorse.

But again, I really did want God to change me and I was willing to admit my weaknesses.  As our ninth wedding anniversary approached I had a sense that God wanted me to do something that was, at least in the world’s eyes, pretty extreme.  I told my wife that I wanted the two of us to abstain from any sexual activity of any kind from our ninth wedding anniversary to our tenth anniversary.  The reason for this year of abstinence was to rebuild trust between us.  I’m not sure that, in the entire nine years leading up to this point, I had ever done or said anything nice to her without at least some of my motivation being to get sex.  Because of this, anytime I would hold her hand or do something thoughtful or give her a compliment she had to wonder if I wanted something from her.  I wanted us to be abstinent for a year so that I could learn to do nice things for her without wanting something more and she could receive from me without having to worry about whether I wanted something more.  It was a great relief to both of us to have this issue removed for a time and God did rebuild trust between us.  I remember on our tenth wedding anniversary I took my wife to dinner.  As I sat across from her, the Holy Spirit literally filled me on the spot with a deep and genuine love for her that I had never experienced before.  God not only restored trust between us, He restored my ability to love genuinely.  My capacity to love had been crippled by years of using women and taking from them.  The love for my wife that God restored on that day has never diminished and has grown stronger ever since.

VII.

About one year after this, my wife and I went through a very nasty church split.  We had formed extraordinarily tight-knit friendships while at that church and we all ended up leaving and formed a new church.  For the first year of this new church, it was wonderful being together but over the course of two years small differences in our approach became more and more magnified.  We began to argue and choose sides.  The arguments became more and more bitter and the divide deeper and deeper.  The worst parts of the relational style I had exhibited in the early years of my marriage came out all too often during these meetings with people who had been my dearest friends.  Because of my relationship with people on both sides of the conflict I should have been a bridge between them; instead I chose a side and fought stridently.  It is still heartbreaking to think about how I could have helped avoid so much pain and so much wasted time spent arguing over things that weren’t worth losing my dearest friends over.

There was one couple with whom my wife and I had been especially close through the years.  I will call them Bob and Sue.  The new church ended when I wrote a long letter about Sue which essentially demanded that she be thrown out.  I approached the writing of this letter like I did a legal brief: I assembled the facts, built my case against her and did my best to discredit her and dismantle her character brick by brick.  This couple was our closest friends and I attacked her in as premeditated and deliberate a way as one possibly could.  I quickly realized that the letter was way off but the damage had been done.  Trust was too deeply broken.  There was no way for Bob and Sue to move forward with us and no way for the church to move forward.  Each side went its separate way.

In the years since I wrote that Letter I have come to see it as perhaps the worst thing I have ever done in my life.  Worse than deceiving, using and manipulating weak-willed women, worse than the rage I directed at my wife and children, worse than the addictive cycle.  The reason this was worse is because it was so premeditated, and at a time when I had a deep and mature relationship with God.

God used the Letter to show me the true depth of my depravity, that there is truly no limit to the depravity I am capable of. He showed me this through a very gentle, elderly friend.  This wise man really let me have it in a way that I can only describe as just what I needed to grasp the full impact of what I had written.  God showed me two specific things through the Letter.  First, if I was capable of attacking one of my dearest friends in this way I was capable of anything.  God gave me two mental pictures at this time that mean a great deal to me.  In the first picture I am standing at a well with Jesus and He lets me know that it is the well of my depravity.  He tells me to drop a rock in the well.  I pick up a rock, drop it and it hits the water after a very short fall.  Jesus gives me a look as if to say, “You know the well is deeper than that.”  So I pick up another rock and drop it.  This time I do not hear the splash for quite a while.  I look at Jesus with a look that says, “See, I know how deep the well of my depravity is.”  Then Jesus picks up a rock and drops it in the well.  The rock never hits the water.

In the second mental picture, Jesus is bent over with a board on his back about the size of a door.  People are coming to Him from every direction, surrounding Him, and each person is laying a rock on the board.  Each rock represents the sin of the person placing the rock on Jesus’ back.  The rocks are of all sizes and I assume the size of each person’s rock corresponds to the magnitude of their sin.  The rock in my hand is very small and I sort of sneak up to Jesus and try to slip my rock onto the board.  But when I do so Jesus staggers and almost falls.  These pictures are important to me because I had developed the attitude that, because I had already dealt with glaring sin patterns in my life and had grown so much, I was spiritually superior to others.  I hadn’t seen that the hidden attitudes of the heart are really much worse: the superiority that I felt toward others, even contempt; the intolerance I felt toward those whom I perceived caused me inconvenience; the disregard I often had toward others’ feelings.  I didn’t necessarily demonstrate all of this outwardly, though sometimes I did, but I harbored these attitudes in my heart.  I began to see how little I showed love, patience, kindness, compassion, or humility toward people.  I’m not talking about my friends, family or co-workers.  I’m talking about the brief interactions we have with people we don’t know throughout each day – in the car, on the street, waiting in line for coffee, on the elevator.  I realized how annoying I found everyone most of the time.

The second thing God showed me through the Letter is that the root cause of my writing the Letter was anxiety about my wife.  Sue had been my wife’s best friend and, when the conflict and division arose with her, it brought out emotional unhealthiness in my wife.  I was far too dependent on how my wife felt and I could not rest or function in a healthy way with her so emotionally sick.  So I directed all my anxiety into writing the Letter.  What was later very disturbing is that I had not seen how enmeshed I was in my wife’s emotional well being.

When I finally experienced the full force of what I had done and what the Letter exposed about the depth of the depravity I was capable of, my world exploded.  I felt extremely fearful of what might come out of my mouth when I spoke, so much so that I avoided people.  I lost all confidence and trust in my ability to interact with others without hurting them.

VIII.

I will come back to the Letter but for now I will return to the addictive cycle I wrote about earlier.  Even after fifteen years of marriage I was still caught in the cycle of tension building, a triggering event, masturbation, followed by remorse and shame.  The episodes were usually months apart; I never looked at hard core pornography and often it was not the internet that triggered the uncontrollable need for sexual release.  I had gotten professional counseling and had even told my wife about this struggle but it persisted.  I had been reading a book called Listening Prayer by Leanne Payne.  This book opened a door to a deeper experience of the reality of God’s love than I had ever had before.  She held a conference that year at Wheaton College that I decided to go to.  During the drive to the conference I pleaded with God to deliver me from the addictive cycle.  I knew He could do it and I entered the conference desperate to be done with it.  Throughout the four day conference I felt agitated and anxious.  My thoughts raced and during breaks I would walk very rapidly and feverishly around the campus.  There was one speaker in particular who was really getting on my nerves; he seemed so affected that I could barely concentrate when he spoke.

Mrs. Payne had encouraged everyone early in the conference to pick out one of the volunteer prayer ministers at some point and pray with him or her.  I waited until the second to the last day to pick a prayer minister.  I was standing in line in the cafeteria when a prayer minister asked me if he could cut in line to get his food and get back to a meeting.  I'll call him Ned.  Although I had no idea who he was, I “randomly” decided then that I would ask Ned to pray with me later that night.  After the conference ended for the day I approached Ned and asked him to pray for me.  I explained my struggle with masturbation.  He led me through a simple prayer of repentance and then he prayed for me.  There was no lightning bolt experience; I didn’t feel any different when he finished.  The next day, the final day of the conference, we started the morning by singing worship songs.  As I was singing I had a sensation of a heavy plug, like concrete, filling my abdomen and chest cavity.  As I worshipped God in song, I felt this plug start to lift out of me.  As it was being pulled up I felt it leave my abdomen, felt it leave my chest, felt it go up and out of me.  What followed was a sense of freedom like I had never felt before.  Though the drive home took hours it felt like minutes.  I couldn’t contain myself when I tried to explain to my wife what had happened.  Praise God He delivered me and I have been free from that addictive cycle for over a decade.

That is not to say that I never struggle with lust, or with looking at an attractive woman, or with having sexual thoughts.  It would be foolish for me to ever think that I will never have to struggle with any of that again.  This will always be a vulnerable area in my life, probably the most vulnerable area.  I will always have to meet weekly with my accountability partners and commit to sharing honestly about struggles with my thought life, when I let my eyes wander and when I allow myself to get into situations in which I could be tempted.  I see very clearly how quickly and how far I could fall in this area.  But I am free in Christ – really, truly free.

Shortly after this conference God showed me how intertwined my well being was with my wife’s well being.  I could not feel okay unless she felt okay.  She had been an emotional wreck the last couple of years as the church we tried to start fell apart.  Because of her condition I was anxious and fearful much of the time.  In my new found freedom God showed me, not only how unhealthy that was for me, but also what a burden it placed on my wife.  Who could handle the weight of knowing that another person’s well being is dependent on your own?  My wife’s emotional sickness triggered fear in me which, as I explained above, caused me to write the Letter and to hurt people in other ways.  One day when God revealed the fullness of the burden I was placing on my wife I very simply knelt down in prayer and released my wife to God.  I confessed that I had tried to manage and control her emotions, that I had tried to “fix” her, that I had been ruled by fear and I told God I didn’t want to place that burden on her anymore.  Then I released her to Him, I acknowledged that she belongs to Him.  When I prayed this I felt the Holy Spirit pour down on me like a waterfall.  I knew that an unhealthy bondage had been broken between me and my wife.

Shortly after this my wife and I went to a conference put on by Ned, the prayer minister I had prayed with at the conference in Wheaton.  My wife went to this conference even more desperate than I had been at Mrs. Payne’s conference.  She was depressed, frantic, fearful, despondent.  She literally felt like this was her last shot at being delivered from the emotional pit she was in.  I felt completely confidant that Jesus would hear her cry and rescue her.

Ned uses a combination of lecture, worship, drama, testimonies and video to prepare people for ministry times during which they come to the cross and release sin and pain onto Christ.  Even though the people who attend the conference are in deep pain, Ned does not have them start by looking at their pain.  He has them look at how they have used their pain to sin against others, themselves and God.  Only by seeing what we have done with our pain and confessing that sin can we get at the pain, anger and shame in us.  For the first time in her life my wife heard about the sin of self hatred.  She knew she hated herself but she never thought of it as a sin.  A light went on as the Spirit spoke to her through Ned's words about self hatred.  During one of the ministry times the prayer ministers hold a small cross in their outstretched palm.  People come up one-by-one, place their hand on the cross and confess their sin.  The prayer minister then says something like “the Lord Jesus has heard your confession.  He cleanses you and forgives you.”  It’s that simple.  When my wife went up, placed her hand on the cross and confessed the sin of self hatred she began to wretch.  She doubled over as if vomiting.  Nothing physically came out of her mouth but she could feel the toxic, black bile of many years of self hatred pouring out of her onto the cross of Christ.  As proof that it was not some contrived emotion conjured up by the prayer minister, as my wife wretched the prayer minister stood stoic and stone-like and only muttered the scripted words.

My wife walked out of that conference free in Christ, as I had only a few months earlier.  As is true in so many marriages, I had blazed a trail for my wife to follow, first by being set free, and then by releasing my wife to the Lord.  Had I not been set free I could not have released her and if I had not released her, the burden of my fear about her well being would have prevented her from being set free.

Within two years after this conference my wife began a journey of physical pain that lasts to this day.  I will come back to this after I talk more about the Letter.

IX.

Four years after I wrote the Letter about Sue, her husband Bob reached out to me.  I have set forth below part of his email to me to show the depth of our friendship and the astounding grace he showed me by opening the door to me after what I had done to his wife.

 

 

I'm sort of hesitant about direct contact, but this seems to be a means of communicating thoughtfully as a start.  Nothing profound, probably.  I more than anything have wanted you to hear from me that I think of you and I do "remember".....lots. There isn't anything that, with a bit of reflection, I couldn't recall.  Inside of all the activity was a knowledge, connection, passion, commitment, related to the relationship between the two/four of us which was second-to-none, indescribably dear, and almost scary in intensity.  Yet there was a grounding in the deepest love for our Lord which seemed to keep it safe.  There was a trust in our common first-love (Jesus) which, for a very long time, protected us from being pierced from the darkness.

What I know for sure is that so many of my deepest spiritual explorations, thoughts, dreams, prayers, disclosures, wonderings, and passions were not only shared with you, I believe they were shared by you. I have never had a friend with whom the chemistry of my heart was so closely matched.  You and I are very different in some activity-interests, work-styles, and background....but deeper than that our hearts beat in a profound synchronization and harmony which was nothing short of a miracle and a true gift from God.

We have experienced a profound separation, not too much less intense than our bonding, and it is for reasons which are only explainable by the deepest wisdom and knowledge of God.  What He might do in each life, and in any relationship in the future, are in His hands and are in His agenda.  I guess it was time to tell you that, after ALL is said and done, and after ALL is remembered, the good and the.......hard, I miss you and appreciate so much the relationship we have had.  Our friendship ran parallel to the "greatest adventure" I had ever been on, an excitement and a hope about what God would be doing in our lives and in our unity among "the group" as God would add to it as time would proceed.  What I am doing is letting you know that in some true way, when I become passionate or excited or heartbroken or hopeful about something which is captivating my soul, I still have this second sense of wanting to tell you about it, reflect on it with you, and see how it hits you.

This message has been forming in me for some time.  I guess I have wanted to share with you honestly my heart, hopefully it not being a complete surprise to you.

Sometime along the way many words were needed, trust suffered, confusion set in, and the more words resulted in less understanding---something happened. Some attempts at conversation became confusing, misspoken, and/or misunderstood; some elicited anger and hurt. I don't know today what all that was, and I have no agenda to figure it out or undo it.  It happened and Wisdom knows it.  The Lord in His wisdom can do with it along the way what He wants to do.  I don't see or seek a "way back", but I trust a God we both love to flood our hearts and even our relationship(s) with an overwhelming grace in His time to "make all things right", even be that eternity.

I am opening my heart to you; it is as simple as that. Trust has been a word we have discussed a lot, about others and about ourselves and each other, and although none of us is entirely trustworthy, I am choosing at this juncture to entrust you with some of my heart's most basic pulsing--things which now are being asked to be said.  I believe the Lord has asked me to write you at this time.  This is a very private disclosure to you from me, although it is not secret. I am so very desirous that you are doing well, and being all you can be in the rest of His mercy and grace, and felt that knowing my......heart and knowing I care might be of ministry to you at this point.  God works, and when we are tapped on the shoulder, we feel prompted.  Don't misunderstand; I am not trying to "help" you--I don't even know what you need.  This has been my own churning, my personal desire to communicate, and very much for my sake--something I want/need/am compelled to do.

Because this is me to you, and we have had a two-way and a four-way friendship, it is a bit tricky.  I am me, and I speak to you.  That is my start and finish today.  Only the Lord would know what to do between us, and I am leaving it up to Him.  I am not asking for a thing; I'm just writing a note.  I don't need any response.  I know you will get this, and that's enough.

 

I didn’t respond to this email for over three years, which was six years from when I wrote the Letter.  This is part of what I wrote when I did respond.

Sometimes I walk along a path that follows both sides of the river, just to have some quiet time to listen to the Lord.  Sometimes I have something specific I want to talk to Him about and sometimes I just listen.  Today I thought I had something specific to talk to Him about - the last thing I thought He was going to talk to me about was answering your three and a half year old e-mail.

The letter or memorandum or position paper or whatever you want to call it that I wrote about Sue stands as the worst thing I have ever done in my life.  I have hurt a lot of people very badly in my life so I do not make that statement for effect.  I only have a couple of things to say about the letter.  First, it took at least four years before I began to think I could trust that anything that came out of my mouth would bless and not hurt others.  The worst thing is not knowing how much that letter wounded Sue and whether she has recovered yet.  Beyond that, my contribution to the demise of the church we started and the straining of relationships which were the most important in the world to me is incalculable.  Second, God used that letter to produce a humility and brokenness in me that was far beyond anything he had ever done in me before.  The ugliness of my flesh would make it difficult to get out of bed in the morning if it weren't for His grace.  I spend at least an hour in the morning with the Lord just to get to a point where I can feel confident that my flesh is under the Spirit's control.  For a significant part of every day I feel conscious of, and grateful for, all that God has saved me from by filling me with Him instead of all the garbage I used to be filled with. It is difficult for me to believe that I was ever used by the Lord before the letter although I recognize that that is Satan speaking.  I feel especially grateful that God has not left me with just the knowledge of my depravity but has used that to reveal His grace and love.  He truly does great things through me now by His Spirit because I know its Him and not me.

The stain of that letter will never go away.  There's so many inexcusable things in my life that I've done that God has used to transform me and has used to help others but the consequences of what I've done remain.  It is, of course, to His great credit and glory that He uses the cruddy things we have done for His good purposes in our lives, even to bring us to the place He intended us to be in the first place.  But the consequences remain.

I would appreciate it if you would not share this with Sue.  I have no desire to dredge up this part of her past and sharing this, I believe, would only open up the wound.  I'm not completely certain why God wanted me to share this with you although as I re-read your e-mail I feel badly that it went unanswered for so long and I think this probably sheds some light on why I didn't until now.  I don't spend much time in the past except to try to learn and grow.  I couldn't ask for a better friend than you have been to me.  We've both lost a great deal over the last ten years.  I can't make sense out of a lot of it - I do know that He has used all of it to take me to a deeper place of intimacy with Him.  One day we will be home and I'm glad that each day brings us closer to the time when all the consequences will end and all will be made right.

I let twenty four hours pass so I could come back to this message and look at it with fresh eyes.  It seems like you could read it and think I'm either being dramatic or exaggerating.  Also, knowing you, it seems possible that you might respond by trying to assure me that I'm not as bad as I describe myself.  I ask you not to respond in that way and I want to tell you that I don't need any response at all.  It is hard to reconcile the joy I feel over what I have become in Christ since I wrote that letter with the, even now, physical revulsion I feel over the reality that I wrote it, the impact it had on people I love, and the truth about who I am in the flesh generally.  The truth of God's grace, Jesus' blood, and godly sorrow leading to repentance are vital truths that I have to keep always before me.

I'm still not sure why God wanted me to write this but I'm going to hit the send button still believing that He wanted me to and that He will use this in some way I don't understand.  Though God's direction to me to write this was sudden and unexpected, believe me all of what I have written has been revealed to me and prayed about and considered and learned over the last six or more years.  Father, use this e-mail to bless Bob, to bring clarity and understanding, and to heal.

About a year before I wrote this email, something happened that changed the lives of all of us who had tried and failed to start the church.  One of the men (I’ll call him Ed), who also happened to me my neighbor, had asked me and another neighbor to meet together weekly to share our lives and pray.  We met together every Sunday morning for a year and a half and shared at the deepest possible level.  This time we had together went a long way to heal the damage I had caused to our friendship when the church fell apart.

One Saturday morning Ed went out for a jog and didn’t come back.  His fifteen year old son, who was home alone at the time, called me to see if I knew where Ed was.  I went out to look along the paths that he might have taken and when I came home I saw two squad cars parked near my house down the street from Ed’s house.  The two officers and the police chaplain got in the cars and drove to Ed’s house.  I walked in just as his wife showed them a picture of Ed and they confirmed that he had collapsed and died that morning while jogging.  At that moment God gave me a divine assignment – to walk beside his widow and kids very closely for the next year and beyond.

I will not say very much about the specifics of their situation out of respect for their privacy.  Just a couple of things.  To give you insight into my dear wife’s heart, the widow did not want to be alone at night so, for three weeks, my wife slept at her side.  We both went over to her house every night for months.  I was so glad to be an attorney during this time.  It is amazing, and feels unfair, how much paperwork there is to do following the death of a husband.  We had to deal with life insurance, credit cards, employment benefits, investment portfolios, transferring title to cars and home, probate issues and a million other issues that you couldn’t even imagine.  I am so grateful I was given the divine assignment of taking care of all these details so that she could mourn.  Of course it was a great joy to do this.  I don’t know how to explain this but being with his family during this time, loving each other, sharing the horrendous grief, was like a window into God’s heart – He really does give comfort and strength.  His love sustained them and He was a shelter for them, protecting them from falling into a pit of despair.

What I mainly want to focus on is what happens on a spiritual level during a time like this.  Ed was a wonderful man, the best husband and dad there could be.  He was the most encouraging person I ever met.  When he talked to someone he made them feel like they were the most important person on earth.  He loved to laugh.  He had great insights into people and life and really helped people see their lives and circumstances more clearly.  He had a joy and enthusiasm for life that impacted everyone around him.  I miss so much being able to walk a few doors down to his house and sit down in his basement and talk about the challenges of life.  Though it has been six years since he died, I still go occasionally to his grave and sit and think about the man he was and sometimes even talk to him.

On the day Ed died a crowd of people descended on his home to be with his wife and kids.  I think it’s obvious that the depth of people’s grieving correlates to the depth of the relationship the deceased had with others and the kind of person he was.  Ed was such an important part of so many people’s lives and the depth of people’s grief that day at his house reflected that.  Out the depth of that grief came something really glorious – we were all ripped out of the petty, mundane, inconsequential worries and cares of everyday life and, for a time, we lived in the reality of what really matters.  One example of that is Bob and Sue.  When my wife and I saw them at the house that day the chasm between us immediately closed, and we came very naturally together to comfort one another.  Of course I still had a lot of work to do to repair the relationship but, for a few days through the funeral and burial, the hurt that I had caused them was set aside and we were connected.

For Ed’s widow and kids, the knowledge that he was in the Lord’s glorious presence and that one day they would join him there was a very great comfort.  His funeral was truly a celebration of a life lived for Christ and of the reality that he is with the Savior he served and loved so well.  And believe me, this joyous celebration co-existed with the unbearable pain of losing him.  About two thousand people attended the funeral and many more attended the visitation just prior to the funeral.

Even after his death, Ed continued to have a strong influence on others.  One man saw that he had been an absentee husband and dad, committed his life to Christ and now his family is completely transformed – close-knit, loving and influencing many, many people through their kindness, generosity and humor.  My life certainly has not been the same.  Before he died, I often wished I could leave this life and go be with the Lord and I convinced myself that this was the natural, godly desire of anyone who trusted their life to Him.  But after he died I saw that I was being a coward in thinking this; I just wanted to escape the cares and responsibilities of life.  I saw how many people depend on me, especially my family but others as well, and how devastated they would be if I were gone.  I no longer wish I was gone.  This began a journey of focusing on staying in the present, mindful of how important the example I set for others is and being grateful for all that God has done in me and through me.  But, as I will discuss below, that journey would lead through the deepest valley yet.

God always brings good out of suffering; that is His promise.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to the poor choices we make or that there isn’t agonizing suffering in the midst of tragic circumstances.  But, for those who put their trust in and dependence on the Lord, on the other side of hurt and pain and the challenges of life, whether self inflicted or not, there is a deeper relationship with Him.  And a deeper relationship with Him is the path to greater joy and peace and an experience of His love and strength.  Certainly Ed’s death opened a door to reconciliation with Bob and Sue.  Ed’s death produced a softness and a tenderness in all of us, an immense appreciation for one another, an urgency born of the tenuousness of life and a commitment to make the most of the time we have left.  We are more honest and vulnerable with each other and we don’t waste time getting to issues of the heart when we are together.  We say “I love you” often to each other, and we mean it.  And we desperately desire the Lord’s guidance and will; we want to love Him, hear Him and obey Him – as Ed used to say, we want to go hard after God and finish strong.

It was a year after Ed’s death that I wrote the email I shared above in response to Bob’s email.  As I said, although Ed’s death brought healing and restoration to my relationship with Bob and Sue, I still had a lot of work to do to rebuild trust.  I did the hard work but I don’t believe there would have been full restoration of deep love and trust between Bob and Sue and my wife and me except by the power of the Holy Spirit.  A year ago, the four of us went to Ned's conference and, in one of the holiest moments I’ve ever experienced, the four of us took communion together, embraced in a circle and poured out our gratitude to the Lord for giving us back what I had destroyed…and more.

X.

My wife has had migraines all her adult life, usually two or three a month.  But about ten years ago they began to significantly increase in frequency.  It was probably about a year after she was set free from the sin of self hatred at Ned's conference that she was first checked into the hospital because of a severe migraine that would not break.  Up to this point she had a medication called Imitrex which would take the migraine away within fifteen or twenty minutes.  This time, however, she had taken multiple shots over the course of a week but the migraine had not broken.  I tried repeatedly to contact the neurologist she had been seeing but she did not return any of my calls.  It was terrifying for my wife to suffer day after day with this unbearable pain with no relief and feeling abandoned by the neurologist.  We finally went to the emergency room and, after she had no relief there for several hours, she was checked into the hospital.  For four days she was hooked to a morphine IV while the doctors administered various other medications to try to break the migraine.  Although these hospital stays would become an all-too-frequent occurrence in our lives, this first time was a nightmare.  We had no idea whether the migraine would ever break and it was unthinkable that she would have to live permanently with that kind of pain.  Eventually the migraine did break but this was the beginning of the hardest part of our journey.

I’m going to take a moment to talk about migraines and hospitals.  For most migraine sufferers there are a wide variety of wonderful medications, both preventative and abortive, that give either complete or significant relief.  My wife is among a very, very small percentage of migraine sufferers who do not respond to these medications.  For them, their days are consumed with managing pain.  For my wife, pain is the focal point of her existence – she is either in pain trying to figure out how to manage it with a myriad of medications or she is trying to fight off the fear of managing the next round of pain.  There is never a day when she does not have some level of pain.  When the pain is the worst she has to take abortive medications whose side effects are almost as bad as the pain.  Other days she manages pain with narcotics that cause her to sleep, make her lethargic and cause short term memory loss.  Over the years she has spent large periods of time nearly immobilized.  We are rarely able to make any concrete plans because we never know how she will feel.  It’s hard to describe the pain itself.  We hear people say they have had a migraine but then they will say some over the counter medication gets rid of it.  That is nowhere near the level of pain my wife experiences.  She has a very high pain threshold – I watched her go through childbirth and barely flinch.  I will say more about my heroic wife later but believe me when I say this is pain beyond almost anybody’s ability to withstand.  Perhaps if you banged your head against a wall over and over again for several hours you would start to get an idea of what my wife deals with daily.  The next time you have a headache consider how much it impacts your life.  You can’t think, you can’t focus, all you can think of is how much you want it to go away.  Imagine what it would be like to do the daily routines of life with constant head pain.  It’s no way to live.

Although we are truly grateful for the accessibility of health care in this country, we dread going to the emergency room. It would be great if we could call her neurologist and he could tell the hospital to check her into a room but for reasons that are unknown to me he can’t do that. So every time we go to the ER, she sits in the waiting room until someone calls her to take down basic information. Then she sits some more until a room opens up in the ER. Once she is taken to a room in the ER she sits some more waiting for a doctor to arrive. You wouldn’t believe the different types of attitudes we get from doctors. Some make it clear that her “headache” isn’t a priority compared to the people with real injury or sickness. Almost all of them think they have the answer, the cure for migraines. They will not listen when we tell them that whatever it is they think will break the migraine has been tried countless times before and doesn’t work. So she has to continue suffering until they see their cure doesn’t work and then we finally start to talk about checking her into a room in the hospital. It is usually about six hours between when we arrive at the ER until she is admitted to the hospital, placed in a room and hooked up to an IV. It is frustrating to sit in a hospital with a limitless supply of pain medication all around her but she has to suffer for six hours. What is just as bad is that the ER doctor has a computer database with all her past hospital stays for him to look at and see that his cure doesn’t work. Every hospital in the country should have a protocol for migraine sufferers that gets them pain relief as quickly as is practically possible. I understand there are those who abuse narcotics and who feign illness just to get narcotics but my wife’s medical history clearly shows she is not one of these people. Every hospital has a patient’s bill of rights that requires the doctor to consider input from the patient in making treatment decisions. The fact is that my wife and I know far better than the ER doctor what does and doesn’t work. Yet, we have to deal with doctors that think they know better than anyone else how to treat her. Very rarely we will get an ER doctor who asks us right at the start what works for my wife. I could kiss those doctors. I have tried every approach with ER doctors, from being patient to combative, but the latter approach only makes them more obstinate and the former approach doesn’t help speed the process. Going to the ER is incredibly stressful and only after she is checked into the hospital can we relax. This shouldn’t be.

After this first four day stay in the hospital, my wife’s health quickly deteriorated.  For the next few years she was in the hospital once or twice a year for three or four days and, in between, she suffered in pain daily.  The only relief she got during this time was at the time my friend died.  I have no explanation other than that the Lord gave her a six month window of time in which she felt reasonably good so she could walk beside his widow (her best friend) in her grief.  The closing of that six month window seemed to coincide with a terrible car accident my family and I were in.  We were in a full size van on our way to get a Christmas tree when an oncoming car veered across the center line.  Our vehicle was forced onto the shoulder where the ground was icy.  The van tipped and rolled and slammed into a telephone pole.  As the van rolled my wife, who did not have her seat belt on, was thrown from the front passenger seat over to the driver’s side and out the broken windshield.  My son was lying on the bed in the back of the van, also without a seat belt, but was not seriously injured.  My youngest, who probably should have been in a car seat, was hanging upside down by one foot from her seat belt.  I was sitting behind the driver’s seat in a chair that could be unhinged and removed from the floor of the van.  At some point during the accident my chair came unhinged and tipped over on its side.  We were taken by ambulance to the hospital but only my wife and son had minor injuries.

The van was towed to a junk yard.  When I went to the van the next day to get some of our personal things I couldn’t believe how mangled it was.  When I looked inside I saw that the place where the telephone pole creased the roof of the van was the exact place where my head would have been had my chair not tipped over.  There is no question that I would have been killed.  As the van rolled and slammed into the telephone pole God positioned each of my family members and me so that we were not seriously injured or killed.  This is the type of accident from which people, especially those without a seat belt, rarely walk away without being seriously injured or killed.  So why did God spare my family but He took my friend six months earlier?  I don’t know; only He knows.  There are many “why?” questions that have no answer.  I will tell you next what God taught me about asking questions that have no answer.

XI.

Although I don’t believe there is a connection, following the accident my wife’s health deteriorated further.  For the next year her life was completely focused on pain and pain management.  She was incapacitated for long periods of time.  The following year she was hospitalized six times in the first eight or nine months.  She was barely able to function.  I was emotionally and physically exhausted from caring for her, trying to work and taking care of the kids and our home.  We were both falling into a pit of despair.  A thought began to creep into my mind and started to take control.  I knew my wife couldn’t continue to live in pain day after day with no relief.  It seemed to me that eventually it would become unbearable and that the only way out would be suicide.  This thought grew in my mind from an idea to a possibility to a probability to a near certainty.  With this progression in my mind grew a deeper and deeper sense of fear and dread.

As this year wore on I did two things.  First, I did a great deal of research to try to find a program of treatment geared specifically to migraines.  Second, I made an email distribution list of all our closest friends so I could give them regular updates and, most importantly, ask them to pray and give them specifics about what to pray for.  This is part of my first email to them.

Dear friends,

I’ve put together a distribution list so I can send e-mails to the people who love my wife most and who have been our support network.  I do this not only as a convenient way to let you know what is going on but also because it gets hard to always have to tell you that she is doing poorly.  I think I have told most or all of you that she has really hit the wall emotionally and is barely functioning at all.  We went to the doctor yesterday and she had some blood tests taken this morning to determine if there is any physical source of her depression.  The doctor had a few thoughts but it will take some time before anything would take effect.

I’ve also talked to many or most of you about my research into whether there is a headache clinic that has an inpatient program where she could be taken off all medication and start over.  There are two such programs in the country and I would appreciate your prayers as I continue to research the specifics of those programs.  I’m also looking at wellness centers which have programs to detoxify the body and then focus on nutrition because I feel convinced that part of the issue is digestion and the amount of medication she has put in her body the last four or five years.  Between the two types of programs I would like for her body to get completely cleared of all the junk that has gone into it in the last years and basically start over to see what medications work and to identify foods that trigger migraines.

The biggest problem with all of this is that my wife may have to get worse for a time before she gets better.  She can’t stand the thought of this particularly given that no one can guarantee that she will be better for having tried these programs.  But we have to do something.  My hope is that the headache clinic can wean her off medication first in a controlled environment where she could get pain relief if it gets too unbearable.  I have no roadmap for this so your prayers are critical.

There is one other thing you can do.  I need to hear God’s truth about who He is and about this situation.  My wife is in a state of hopelessness and I slip in and out of that state.  I think there is often apprehension about what to say to people in our situation.  You all love us too much to just share platitudes so just say what is on your heart.  I see or talk to most of you on a regular basis but sometimes e-mail provides an opportunity to say things you don’t say otherwise.  At least I’ve found that to be the case.

I can’t tell all of you how important you are to us.  Please pray for the kids, too.  I love you all dearly.

Two things happened after this.  First, I decided to send my wife to an in-patient program in Michigan at the end of November of that year.  Second, sending email updates to our friends became life saving for us.  The reason they became life saving is that our friends would reply to my updates, sometimes with just a line of encouragement and sometimes with longer emails sharing truth from God’s word, some insight; whatever it was it reflected the deep love these dear friends had for us and their commitment to continuously bring us before God.  Their prayers had an immediate and enormous impact on us.  Here is an email that summarizes what the body of Christ meant to us during this time.

Last night when my wife went to the E.R. she got one of those doctors who think they know everything and refuse to listen to the patient.  He refused to admit her and did not even call her primary physician or neurologist.  This was after she waited in the lobby for three hours.  She did receive medication and was able to sleep until morning but woke up at 7 with a raging migraine again and we went back to the E.R.  This time she got a great doctor who admitted her immediately and she is there at least until tomorrow.  I left her tonight sleeping comfortably.

Last night and today would have been devastating except that several of you came to our rescue in ways that, more than anything, lifted the emotional burden off of us.  As I drove home last night with my wife, I actually felt at peace.  That’s the way it’s been since I started sending these mass e-mails.  All of you have loved us in ways that pulled us out of the pit we were in several weeks ago when I first e-mailed you.  We were in trouble, especially my wife.  Even though her health hasn’t improved and everything still feels fragile and tenuous, we have been coping pretty well.  Best of all, I hear her laughter almost every day.  I honestly don’t know how we would have made it without all of you.

I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen for ten minutes because there is no adequate way to say how much I love all of you.  It’s one of the paradoxes of walking with Christ in this world that deep pain and great joy can exist side by side.  All of you are the great joy.  Thank you for walking this road with us.

A week or so after the hospital stay I described in this email my wife entered the in-patient program at the Michigan Head Pain and Neurological Institute – www.mhni.com .  Just as she had felt going into Ned's conference six years earlier, this felt like a last resort.  She entered the program desperate and fearful.  She was at MHNI for about three weeks.  There were high points and low points.  There were days she felt good and days she was in pain.  She was very encouraged to be among the other patients; for the first time she was with people who knew exactly how she felt and what she was going through.  It was also encouraging to be among doctors whose knowledge of migraines far surpassed any doctor by whom she had previously been treated.   It scared her to see that some of the patients left without much relief.  For my wife it came down to literally the last day.  She had been given a shot in a certain nerve as a test to see if a particular medical procedure might give her relief.  She felt strongly that the shot gave her relief but there were two doctors who were of opposite opinions.  Ultimately, the doctor who was against doing the procedure relented and what is called an SPG block was performed.   Here is my report to our prayer support group.

Today, we saw the surgeon before my wife went in for a procedure to shoot microwaves into a nerve located very deep behind either her cheek or her nose.  He gave scenarios in which he would not be able to complete the procedure and said he would not know until he got in.  My wife was slightly sedated but not under because the procedure depends upon her reporting what she is feeling and where she is feeling it, otherwise the surgeon doesn't know whether he is hitting the right spot.  The procedure was supposed to take under an hour so when two hours passed without anyone calling me in I knew something was going on.  When I finally went in my wife was in obvious pain.  She said he had tried and tried to get to the spot but couldn't and he said he was going to have to give up, which really crushed her.  However, he tried again and he got through to the spot.  Her face is pretty beat up, but still beautiful.  I told her last night that she looks brighter and more alert than I have seen her in a long time.

The surgeon said it may be two weeks before she feels any effects from the procedure.  Thank you for your prayers, keep it up.  As you can imagine, all of the patients in the head pain unit at the hospital feel extremely apprehensive about going home.  My wife feels very ready to go home and feels hopeful about this procedure.  We are going to drive two hours today, stay at a hotel, and then drive to Chicago and fly home tomorrow.

I love you all dearly,


My wife experienced tremendous relief following her time at MHNI.  She experienced up to seven to ten days without pain at a stretch.  You would have thought I would have experienced similar emotional relief.  However, in the months that followed I experienced more fear than I had experienced in the months leading up to her going to MHNI.  Here is an email I sent to a friend well over a year after my wife went through the in-patient program, which is how long it took me to emerge from the black place of fear I was in.

 

The latest lesson God taught me about my depravity in the flesh was through my wife’s migraines.  As her condition deteriorated over several years, I had an expectation that God would not allow His own children to experience pain past a certain point and that God would not let His own children go through certain experiences that unbelievers experience living in a fallen world.  Leading up to when she went to MHNI, my wife fell into a despondency I had not seen since she suffered from depression fifteen years earlier.  My emotions were already stretched thin from the stress of the responsibility I had at work and for our family.  I became hopeless and fearful; I desperately searched the internet for migraine treatments and took my wife to a number of different “specialists” in various fields.  Right before she entered the in-patient program in Michigan, we went to a faith healing conference.  I was certain that God was going to heal her in those few days.  When He didn’t, I turned on Him.  I felt angry at Him, I felt betrayed and abandoned by Him.  I couldn’t understand why He would let her be in so much pain for so long.  I couldn’t understand why our kids had to be without a mother for so long.  I couldn’t understand why we had gone down so many dead ends in seeking treatment.  I couldn’t understand why I had been so sure He was going to heal her during the faith healing conference.  When she returned from Michigan, I felt so much fear about the possibility of her relapsing that I finally got professional counseling.  It took an entire year before I felt like I was recovering the intimacy with God I had felt before.

Out of all of this, God has taught me:

He showed me the depth of my depravity so that He could show me the depth of His grace;

In showing me the depth of His grace, I give grace now where I used to have a very critical heart;

Almost all of my prayers for my wife’s healing were, in fact, the same prayer over and over: “God make me feel better, take away my pain”;

My false expectations of what God would and would not allow Christians to go through are what caused me to turn on God;

Asking “why” questions that have no answer also caused me to turn on God;

The first point in my recovery after turning on God was when I started answering the “why” questions with “because God is sovereign”;

Out of acceptance of God’s sovereignty over the unanswerable questions, I began to see how he had loved us through my wife’s illness;

In particular, I finally understood why God chose fallen sinners to be the body of Christ – the love and care of the body literally saved our lives;

Only by staying in the present with God, and leaving the future and outcomes to Him, can I receive love and grace to overcome fear;

God let me stumble and fall so that I would be desperate for Him, desperate to the point where the only prayer I could utter was “help”;

The turning point in my battle with fear was when I prayed with a dear brother in Christ a genuine, simple prayer of desperation for God to rescue me;

“God rescue me” no longer meant “God give me a future without pain” but instead “God restore me to Your Presence in the present”;

 

XII.

For perhaps six months after she went to Michigan my wife had days at a time where she was fairly pain free.  However, those days became fewer and fewer and she eventually was back to managing pain almost daily.  When she was at the worst I would send out emails to our friends.  Below are several of those emails that I have sent over the last few years.  I am stringing them together so you can get a feel for what our life has been like.

 

Please pray for my wife and me.  She has had a bad week; the worst I can remember since coming back from Michigan.  She took three shots in five days; she is only supposed to take two in a week.  Otherwise, she is taking some narcotics which is obviously not ideal.  In the past, we’ve usually been able to pinpoint some source and correct the problem.  I’m stumped right now.  My wife is feeling discouraged and scared.  I’m praying that the Lord will keep me in the present with Him and, so far, I have not experienced the usual overwhelming fear.  Of course, I want to be a comfort to her and not add my panic to her own.  Pray as you feel led by the Spirit.

I sense that my prayers are becoming less a disguised plea for God to make me feel better and more a plea to help me understand what His peace is and to stay in the present with Him.  I can feel my mind wanting to race ahead and look at the future and I’m intensely trying to resist that.  I know for sure that there is no way through this unless God delivers us from fear and despair.

Four months later:

My wife has been going through a very rough stretch for the last two weeks. She has taken two shots in the last two days which is her limit, leaving only the hospital as the next option.  It is scary, wearing and discouraging for her.  I struggle with my own fears and don’t feel like I encourage her as much as I should.

Please pray especially that we would stay in the present with God, receiving His love, grace and strength, and entrusting the future to Him.  It seems like no matter how many times He demonstrates His faithfulness, we have to keep making the decision to trust Him moment by moment and not get fearful about the future.

We love you all,

Four days later:

Good morning all you wonderful people,

My wife has had four good days in a row since I sent out the APB last Thursday.  I have been constantly praising God for all of you and your faithfulness on our behalf.  I so much appreciate the one or two line notes of encouragement you send.  Sometimes I feel like I “go to the well” too often but I know that is what the body of Christ is about and I am so grateful to be able to count on all of you to pray.  I have asked God to encourage you with knowing that your prayers are a sweet fragrance to Him and that He is so pleased when we stand together.

I wish we could see all of you more than we do but I’m thankful beyond measure for the connection we have in the Spirit.

We love you,

Seven months later:

Thank you all so much for your prayers.  My wife did not go to the hospital which we are crediting entirely to prayer.  I hate to add a however but the biggest issue now is that her medication and the nerve block seem to be losing their effectiveness.  In particular, the shot she takes as a last resort and which she has always been able to count on to take the migraine away (albeit with nasty side effects) has not worked the last couple of times.  That has left her quite fearful because she has no other options when she reaches the point at which she is in the worst pain and has tried everything else.  The number one thing you can pray for is that God would be very present to her and that she would experience His peace and strength.  It would be hard for me to overstate the level of fear she is fighting at the prospect of unbearable pain with no relief.

I get great encouragement from the brief responses many of you give to my emails.  Do not underestimate the power of your prayers or God’s faithfulness to respond.

Five months later:

Hi everyone,

I just called my wife and her voice sounded brighter than I have heard it in a long time.  She asked me, “did you send out an APB email yesterday?”  I told her I sent one several days ago.  She told me to email all of you right away and say that your prayers have made a huge difference.  I want to add that in the past several days since I sent you all the email my wife and I have felt the Spirit’s sweetness each day.

I’m very good about sending an email at the front end of these cycles she goes through but not very good about telling you how much the Lord sustains us through your prayers.  Thank you for being the body of Christ to us.  We love you.

One month later:

Dear saints,

It was wonderful to see those of you who attended the reception on Wednesday.  I fully expected I would be taking my wife to the hospital immediately after.  I have been expecting to take her to the hospital every minute since then right up to now.  In fact, I had decided it would be a relief for her to go. However, she said again today that all of your prayers are making a clear difference and she hasn’t gone yet.  So we continue minute by minute.  As I said the last time we went through this, we have experienced a strong sense of God’s presence and the Spirit’s sweetness.  I was home all day yesterday and half the day today and our time together has been a gift.

I hope you are encouraged by God’s faithful response to your prayers.

For the thousandth time, we love you and can’t conceive of walking this path without you.

Six weeks later:

Dear friends,

Thank you for your faithfulness in praying for my wife this past week.  I am so grateful to God that He has given us the love of the body and that He hears the prayers of the saints.  She was able to rest and sleep over the weekend.  One of the effects of being in the hospital is that she can finally let down emotionally after months of the daily mental strain of battling pain and the fear of pain.  While this is good, the effect of leaving the hospital is that she has to face that mental strain all over again.  Understandably, she finds this overwhelming and unbearable.  Friday and well into Saturday she was very low and fearful of having me out of her sight for even a short time.  Yesterday, she was better emotionally but had some head pain.  My initial, inward response to her despair was I felt like running away.  I felt like I was suffocating.  I didn’t have any words for her.  Then, after more time had passed than should have, I prayed and God gave me grace and strength to listen to her patiently and without fear.  He gave me words that were so drastically different than anything I would have expected that they must have been from Him.  I was able to pray with her and we were able to talk together.

I’m being really honest with you guys so you will know how to pray for us. My wife has been desperate to find a reason or a purpose for this never ending pain.  She keeps trying to connect the dots but, every time she thinks she has figured out what God is trying to tell her, she is plunged back into pain again.  She fights against the lie that she is being punished by God for something she is doing wrong.  It’s hard to study God’s Word and pray and keep any perspective when she is in pain so much of the time.

If you find this email discouraging, please push past that and help us claim God’s promises.  They have to be true for us or they aren’t true for anyone.  His promises have always been true for us and we have to keep choosing to trust Him every day.

We love you all,

In response to this last email, one of my wife’s dear friends wrote the following email.  In reading it you need to know that she has been in a wheelchair most of her adult life.

I know the frustration, sadness, anger, hurt, confusion, fear, and, at times, hopelessness that you guys must be feeling.  The WHY?? gets overwhelming at times.  I understand how hard it is to study His Word when I am struggling.  There are times when I say - God, this is enough!  I cannot take anymore!  Although it is not daily pain - I do have some, more as I get older :( - but, it is more not being able to do things on my own.  Or, MANY people do not see me - they see my chair or what I cannot do - forgetting that there is a person here. :)

I understand the lies we tell ourselves or believe from those trying to "help us figure things out."  A few years ago someone at church came to me and said that God does not want me to be disabled anymore.  She said that she was praying that God would heal me.  She said she was convinced that God did not want me to "suffer" anymore.  Believing this, I searched the Scriptures for one person - besides Paul - who asked for healing and God said "no."  I could not find one.  I asked 3 different pastors why God would say no to me.  None of them had a good answer.  I went to a pastor to be anointed and pray for healing.  I left my leg braces at home hoping/believing that God would heal me.  I wrote a letter to God telling Him that I knew He could heal me just by His thoughts.  But, if He wanted me to be this way, I would accept it.  As you know, God said no to my request.   Accepting it is still a daily battle.  (I'm not saying this will be the same for you guys - I'm saying that I know where you are walking through.)

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Job 37-41.  Job questions God and God says who are you to question me?  In Job 42:1-6 sums up Job's answer :)  That passage puts my questioning to rest.  And, Psalm 139 gives me such hope.  He knows what I go through.  He sees me and holds me.  Take comfort in His Word.  Read that passage for yourself.

I would encourage you to keep asking for wisdom - claim Prov. 2:6 - and searching for healing for this pain.  I am praying with you.  I would also encourage you to search and take comfort in His Word.  I know it is hard!  You need His guidance to close out the enemy's lies coming from all directions!  Hold on to His truth as His children.

Love and blessings!

 

Recently, my wife returned to MHNI expecting that she would enter the in-patient program again.  Here is the email I sent from Michigan.


Well, I’m trusting this is the Lord’s plan.  Since my wife couldn’t get a bed at the hospital for a few days, the doctor we saw on Tuesday gave her a new medication to try.  The doctor said if the medication works well, she might not have to check into the program.  The medication did work well and, when she met with the doctor today, she said my wife could go home.  So she is returning tonight.  She has also been given a couple of other medication options to hopefully avoid dependence on only one.  My wife said yesterday this is the best day she has had in a long, long time.  She said she actually forgot about her head for long stretches, which is huge.

Many of you have sent me email notes over the last week or so.  It is tremendously encouraging to hear from you and to know that so many are interceding for my wife and our family.  More than anything I have sensed that God has my wife hidden away deep within the shelter of His Presence, far from the world, the enemy and even her own flesh.  I don’t really get why she has to suffer so long with so much pain but I see how much He loves her and I trust that He knows what He is doing.  Only the Lord could make those words come out of a coward and quitter like me (in my flesh) so you can all join me in praising and thanking Him for His goodness and faithfulness.

Unfortunately, shortly after this email was sent my wife’s condition quickly deteriorated back to daily managing pain and that is the condition she remains in today.  To add to the stress of her condition, over the last few years I have had two forms of cancer: melanoma and prostate.  I had the melanoma removed and a 4” x 4” hunk of my thigh grafted to the side of my head.  My wife and I had some very tense moments waiting for the test results on my lymph nodes.  We had more tense moments waiting to see if the cancer was contained in my prostate after it was removed.  I handled the melanoma much better than the prostate cancer, I think because the melanoma was removed within twenty-four hours after it was discovered.  I had to wait three months between when the prostate cancer was diagnosed and when the prostate was removed.  I sort of checked out mentally for those three months even though prostrate cancer is probably the most treatable form of cancer there is.  My amazing wife, even in her pain, picked up the slack with our kids and home during this time.  It is a testimony to her faith in Christ that she is such a great wife, mom and friend through all she suffers.

 

XIII.

I hope you will understand what I am going to say next. In my walk with Christ there are often two things going on inside of me that would appear to be complete contradictions of one another. At the deepest level I am very secure in who I am in Christ. I know Him because I spend a lot of time with Him. I trust Him because I have surrendered myself and countless situations to Him. I know He is who He says He is and I know He will do what He promises to do. But, as you have seen in reading my story, I have had long stretches where I have felt fear about particular situations or I have felt angry at God and betrayed by Him. For a whole year after the first time my wife went to Michigan I could not say the words “God is good.” I knew at the deepest level that He was good, but I couldn’t say it. For twenty years I had said, “God, whatever I need to go through to become the man you created me to be I will go through it.” I never say that anymore. Now my prayer is that I will trust that, whatever we go through, He will make the way, He will show Himself faithful as He always has, He will use every hardship and challenge to draw us closer to Him. Maintaining this perspective requires that I get up early with the Lord in quiet and solitude so that He can prepare me for each day. Every morning I need fresh strength, fresh hope, a fresh filling of the Spirit or the ugliness of my flesh starts to leak out and take over.

 

A few months ago I went to a charismatic church several times.  During that time I was introduced to a man who was represented as having the gift of prophecy.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about this prophet; I have too many evangelical biases to overcome to be able to evaluate his gift at this point.  He laid hands on my wife and prayed for her migraines to be healed.  For five days after that her head felt really good.  Then she had a really bad day.  Of course, she believed she had been completely and permanently healed and, when the pain returned, she really crashed emotionally.  I started to have the old feelings of I couldn’t be okay unless she was okay.  I began to feel desperate and panicky and I didn’t want to add to her burden with my feelings.  I went upstairs to our room to pray.  As I was praying the Holy Spirit came upon me powerfully and I began to mourn for her.  I call it mourning in the Spirit because deep sobs began to come out of me from a place that was not of this world.  This mourning was a gift from God and as the sobs came out of me I felt incredible relief from the panic I had been feeling.  I asked God if He saw the pain she was in.  He said, “I know the pain she is in.  That is why I chose her.”  I did not hear this audibly but I assure you I heard it with my spiritual ears very clearly.  When He said the words “that is why I chose her” I felt overwhelming joy.  I don’t even know exactly what it means except that I know there is some purpose for what she has suffered.

Lately, I have been better able to hold on to the truth that God is a loving, all powerful God and that He knows what He is doing and will always take care of my family.  I see now how very important it is that my wife and kids see God’s strength and peace coming forth from me.  That is my responsibility as spiritual leader of our family.  Otherwise, they feel exposed and unsafe and they lose hope. I want to lead by humbly loving and serving my wife and children.  They can see whether my relationship with Christ is genuine or whether I am a fraud.  This is how my family knows whether I am leading well:

  1. Am I spending time with the Lord in quiet solitude each morning, studying His Word, praying, listening to God and allowing Him to empty me of my flesh and fill me with His Spirit?
  2. Am I meeting with other brothers in Christ weekly, sharing with them genuinely, vulnerably and honestly and making sure I am being held accountable to them and to the Lord for all of my thoughts, words and actions?
  3. Do they see God’s strength and peace coming forth from me or am I venting fear, anxiety and stress on them?
  4. Am I willing to humbly admit when I am wrong so that they can feel safe and confident that I am asking the Lord to expose my sin and to transform me and bring growth in areas that I am weak?
  5. In communicating with my wife, do I initiate in God’s strength (as opposed to being a dictator), calling forth a response of tenderness and respect from her?
  6. Is it my lifelong ambition to figure out and do what blesses my wife’s heart?
  7. Are my wife and children my highest priority after my relationship with Christ?

For too long I had a clear expectation regarding pain and hardship: that God causes or allows trials and struggles to refine our faith and deepen our dependence on Him.  But also that God will only allow the trial to last for a limited period of time, until we learn the lessons He wants to teach us, and then He will lift the trial off of us.  My expectation was that believers in Christ will face a series of trials throughout their lifetime but that no one trial will last too long.

The problem with this false expectation is that, when my wife’s chronic pain lasted longer than my expectation would dictate, I reacted by questioning God and demanding that He remove the hardship.  Well meaning people suggested that the hardship continued because we had not dealt with sin in our lives or we don’t have enough faith.  My wife, because she was vulnerable, believed this at times.  Many people in this situation descend into despondency, hopelessness, anger, bitterness, numbness, addiction and may turn away from God altogether.  A decade of the stress of my wife’s health has worn us down.  I really have to be diligent about not checking out mentally when I get home at night and, unfortunately, I check out too often.

Over time my expectations have become less about what God will or will not allow us to go through, or Him making me feel better, or Him altering our external circumstances so we don’t have to suffer too long.  My focus is more and more that, regardless of external circumstances:

  1. God is sovereign and good and in control
  2. He knows our circumstances, could change them in an instant, but has reasons for not changing them that are motivated solely by His love for us
  3. He is using everything that happens to us for purposes that He will reveal only if and when He wants to.
  4. It is His desire that we experience His love, peace, rest, strength and joy no matter what our circumstances are
  5. It is actually possible to experience all of these at different times if we stop the questions and demands and look for what He is doing and how He is moving in our circumstances

Worrying about things I can’t control only separates me from God and interferes with my ability to hear and obey Him.  Since His promise is to give us all we need, to give us His strength to do what He calls us to do, and to give us rest and peace when we trust and obey Him, then there must be a way for us to experience all of this no matter what the circumstances.  The fact that we, in our flesh, don’t always experience these does not mean His promises aren’t real and true for all people at all times.  But our reaction to circumstances that rob us of peace and rest is to doubt that God’s promises are real.  If we could really believe that God is already out in our future making the way for us through such circumstances and that He really will take care of us, we would start to see how He moves in power in the midst of the worst circumstances to draw us closer to Him and to reveal His love and faithfulness.

Unfortunately, if you are in a pit of despair these words mean nothing to you.  It is so hard to reconcile a loving, all powerful God who could take away my wife’s pain any time He wanted to with the fact that my wife suffers moment by moment, day after day, year after year.  The truth is that my wife doesn’t want to live anymore. That is not to say that she is suicidal.  It simply means a life of chronic, disabling physical pain is not a life.  She stays here in this life out of obedience to God and for the sake of our kids.  She hates the pain and how much it has robbed her of in life.  She wrestles with trying not to question why God would allow her to be so disabled.  When her head is pounding with searing pain, she wrestles with believing and accepting that God loves her.  But every day she chooses Jesus, in spite of the pain and in spite of so many questions that will never be answered in this life.

Most people don’t understand this.  It’s not their fault; they haven’t lived in debilitating pain or depression or inconsolable grief or similar circumstances.  The fact that most people don’t “get it” leaves those who are in the pit feeling lonely and isolated.  As you can see from this story, my wife and I are blessed with great friends who don’t feel awkward around us and don’t treat my wife like a project or someone to be pitied; they let us talk without feeling like they have to fix us and they can simply say, “that’s really hard, I’m sorry” without feeling like they have to have “the answer”.

My wife's calling is to make a place of rest for people in chronic pain.  She has a dream of starting a spiritual hospital where people in the pit of despair can come and be themselves and cry out to God and not feel any pressure to sing happy praise songs with smiles on their faces.  This is not a knock on churches; it simply recognizes the need for a place where people who have lost hope can come and rest without any expectations on them, a place that recognizes that some suffering lasts a very long time and sometimes lasts a lifetime.  This spiritual hospital would proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior and as the only One who can get us through each day.  We would remind each other that Jesus really does see our despair, He really is with us and He really does love us.  It is encouraging to be together with other people who understand what you are going through, but only if the focus is on the Source of life and hope.

We are now up to the present.  As I complete this story, my wife is still managing pain every day.  I don’t know anyone like her; she is truly my hero and my anchor.  She says that dealing with pain all the time brings great focus and clarity.  I can see that in how wise she is.  She has a way of speaking truth into my jumbled thinking when I lose perspective and start to feel overwhelmed by circumstances. The best thing that God has done through my wife’s chronic pain is to make my wife and me closer than I could ever have imagined was possible.  Because she is disabled from doing many of the daily life activities that most of us take for granted, I have gotten to see her heart – how much she loves others, how generous she is, how gentle she is, how wise she is, how great her attitude is, and how much she sacrifices to be the best wife and mom and friend she can be.  In spite of her pain, we have a lot of fun together.  I never, ever wish I was married to someone else, or that I could have a different life.  I never think I’ve been cheated out of something.  I feel only gratitude that I get to be with my wife as long as we’re both here on this earth.  We have such a deep oneness that could only come from saying, “No matter what, I choose Jesus.” It all boils down to not trusting or relying on anyone or anything but Him.

XIV 

I finished writing everything through chapter XIII on the day my wife returned from a ten day program in California for cleansing and detoxifying the body.  You may recall that I had wanted to send her to such a program when she went to the Michigan in-patient program four years earlier.  The detoxification program is extreme by design but was much harder for my wife than most because her body had to be detoxified from the effects of years of taking so much medication.  On the last night of the program, she had a bad migraine and called me for prayer.  She had a significant breakthrough that night in believing, even as she is in the midst of horrendous pain, that God loves her.  Someday I hope my wife will share more of her story.  She was very resistant to going to California and, ultimately, went only out of obedience to God.  This may sound odd but God has honored her obedience by showing her a long-standing sin area in her life that has contributed to her getting migraines.  I will let her elaborate when she is ready but in the past several months she has had a dramatic improvement in her health.

I had a bizarre reaction to her improved health: I went into a deep depression. The depression was mostly around my fear about the possibility of her health deteriorating again. I was obsessed with the thought “I can’t go back into that hell-hole again.” I have never felt so out of control in my life. In the past I had always been able to push through fear and at least function but this time I could barely get through each day. Worst of all, I lashed out irrationally at my wife and blamed her and accused her about things that were completely unfounded. This had mostly to do with the exhaustion and trauma caused by ten years of my wife’s health although why it took the form of attacking her I don’t know.

This out of control, depressed feeling lasted for two months. At the end of this two months, on the morning of January 1 during my quiet time with the Lord, He gave me a picture. Actually, it was more like a movie. In my mind I was in the middle of a fierce battle. I lay wounded in the battlefield, maimed, crippled to the point of death. The Father raced to me from heaven, scooped me up in one arm and with His other hand He scattered my enemies. He took me to a castle, a fortress built in time of war to provide protection against enemy attack. It was set high up on a hill and had thick walls with no windows at ground level. It was very austere, even severe looking.

The Lord took me to the room in the highest tower and laid me in a bed. Ministering angels came and attended to my wounds. I could barely move for days or maybe even weeks. Eventually I could take a few steps with the angels’ help. When I was able to get to a window I looked out and saw a beautiful vista – forests, waterfalls, fields, mountains in the distance – a dramatic contrast to what the fortress looked like from the outside. When I had recovered enough, Jesus came and sat beside the bed. He said, “I’m here to listen to your heart.” When He said that it was like a switch was flipped inside me; the depression lifted immediately and I experienced the most indescribable joy. I hadn’t realized in the past ten years of stress and trauma and exhaustion that I had not taken care of my heart. It wasn’t that no one would have listened to my heart; I just neglected my heart. In fact, somewhere along the way I started to carry a burden the Lord never meant for me to carry. I felt like everything was on me to find a cure for my wife and to find ways to relieve her pain until I found the cure. The truth is, when my wife is in pain I can walk the path with her to a certain point and then only Jesus can walk the rest of the way into her pain. It felt like a betrayal to release her to Jesus and say to her, “I’ve gone as far as I can go in helping you to battle physical pain and I can’t understand the pain enough to help you emotionally so you will have to go the rest of the way with Jesus.” I have no doubt that, because I was not with her in California, she was able to meet Jesus at a deeper place; she chose that last night to believe in the midst of unbearable pain that He loved her and was right there with her.

Back to the picture the Lord gave me on January 1. After Jesus told me He was there beside my bed to listen to my heart I saw a black shape scaling or slithering up the outside wall of the fortress toward my room. I knew it was fear. I expected Jesus to rebuke it but He simply said, “It’s your imagination.” When He said that the black shape disappeared. Then I said, “But what about when my wife has migraines?” He replied, “It will be different from now on. And after the battle is over you can always come back to this room and share your heart with me for as long as you want to.”

The night of January 1, about twelve hours after the Lord gave me this picture, my wife went to the hospital. If He had not rescued me from the depression I was in I honestly don’t think I could have taken her there. Instead, I had great peace. Shortly after she left the hospital we went to a conference put on by those crazy charismatics. During the conference the Lord impressed upon me that He wants me to be a Lighthouse for my family, to shine His light and truth so that when they can’t hear or experience Him, His light in me can help show them the way to go. I have a much clearer sense of how much my family is impacted when I am passive or checked out mentally or self-absorbed rather than moving in the Lord’s strength. What a difference it makes knowing I can go to the room in the tower and tell Jesus what is in my heart and He will stay as long as I want to talk.

Since God gave me the picture, I have realized that for a long time now I have had a vague feeling of wanting someone to bail me out. I don’t know who I was waiting for or even exactly what I wanted to be bailed out of. I think a lot of people are waiting for something; they don’t know what, just something different that will change their lives and make up for all ways they feel let down or overwhelmed by life. I know I put this waiting to be bailed out mostly on God. The problem for me, and for most people who are waiting for this vague something, is that it causes us not to act and makes us believe we are incapable of acting. I’m not sure how conscious we are of all this; we just go through each day waiting, waiting, waiting.

God has given me a renewed sense of walking in His strength. One way I see this is in my prayers. I used to say, “God, please fill me with Your strength.” Often, this was said in a pleading way. Now I say, “God, I will walk in Your strength today. I will walk by faith. I believe Your Word is true, that You will provide for me and my family and take care of us.” Of course, I desire humility and to live surrendered to Christ. But this is how God wants me to live no matter the circumstances. My family needs to see God’s peace and strength consistently, dependably coming forth from me. They need me to be the leader God has called me to be.

As I conclude this segment of our story, my wife is in the midst of a bad stretch of migraines. She struggles against focusing on these questions: “Why does God let me continue to suffer?” “Is there some sin I haven’t confessed?” “Is God punishing me?” “Why would God allow my life to be wasted battling pain?” I so admire that she keeps choosing Jesus each day, keeps giving to others, keeps living life and persevering. God never promised that we would have one second on this earth that is free from pain, suffering, or hardship; only that He will be with us always and give us what we need to reach the finish line.

 

XV

I dread writing this next part. I’ve told our story as vulnerably and as accurately as I can so I have to tell this next part. About a year and a half ago, my wife decided to kill herself. She had a terrible migraine that had lasted for days. She told me on a Sunday evening, in a very dispassionate and matter-of-fact way that she was going to kill herself in four hours if she didn’t feel better by then. She told me it was the most rational decision anyone could make in her shoes. Why, she asked, would she continue to endure the pain? She reasoned that the only thing that made sense was to end the pain permanently. That moment is burned into my mind as clearly as any memory I have. There was no doubt she meant it.

I called Ned. He saved her life. I give the Lord full credit but it was Ned who came immediately to our house. He sat with her and secured her promise that she would, first, go to the hospital to get treatment for the migraine and that she would then spend several days in counseling with him. While my wife was in the hospital, Ned put together a team to assist him in counseling her. One member of the team rented a house so we could have a private place. After three or four days in the hospital, my wife and I went home and packed a few things and headed for the rented house. For three and a half days, 12+ hours a day, Ned and a team of four people loved my wife back into the land of the living (the prophet joined us for one day too). On the first night, Ned asked her if she would choose to live and she said only if her migraines improved. On the last night, Ned asked her the same question and she made the choice to live even if she never felt better.

It is difficult to describe what happened during those three and a half days. Part of it was Ned uncovering lies my wife had believed about herself going back to childhood and replacing those lies with God’s truth about who she is in Christ. Part of it was everyone sharing from their own lives so that my wife could see she is not alone and to give her hope that she could be free from the lies. Part of it was kneeling at a large wooden cross with everyone gathered around my wife praying for hours. All of it was a picture of what love looks like, the way Jesus relentlessly pursues our hearts.

That weekend exposed a number of lies that were deeply ingrained into my wife’s identity. The lies grew out of the impossible standard of perfectionism her mother put on her. What she learned from her mother’s demand to be perfect is that, no matter how hard she tried to measure up, she didn’t matter. My wife learned how this foundational lie, “I don’t matter”, was directly connected to her migraines. Her response to the migraine pain was to eat and to escape reality through books, movies and TV. Through the weekend she began to see, not only the lies, but the truth that counteracts those lies.

The lie: if I could just be perfect enough the pain would go away. The truth: I can’t be perfect, nobody can. It is okay to be messy. There is no standard to measure up to. I can rest. The lie: if I could be perfect in performing a list of “do’s” and “don’t’s” the pain would go away but because I can’t be perfect I don’t deserve for the pain to go away. The truth: what matters is I matter. I have the gift of choice and, no matter what choices I make, I matter. I have a voice. I can be my own person. The lie: I was more alive in reading books and watching TV and movies than in my real life. Eating was a way to make the pain bearable. The truth: God is not in my fantasy world. The only place I can receive God’s love is in reality.

My wife discovered an even deeper truth: she used the migraine pain to protect herself from the even deeper pain that came from her mom’s demand to be perfect and the resulting message that she didn’t matter. There was a direct connection between the emotional pain and the physical pain, both in the emotional pain causing the physical pain and in the physical pain protecting her from the reality of what caused the emotional pain.

My wife had to choose to look at the reality of her past and choose to live in the reality of her present. At the end of the weekend, my wife shared that, because Ned and the team had given up three and a half days of their life to help her, she knew she must matter. Through the team she experienced the love of God and the truth that she matters to God. She had perverted the image of God by projecting onto God her mother’s perfectionism. That weekend began a shift in her core value system from performance to loving and receiving love.

Following the weekend, it was critical that I provide my wife a safe harbor in which to feel the reality of not being perfect and in which to see and feel her messiness and live in it. I had to learn to show faithfulness and strength and trust when she was pulled toward the lie. I had to learn to fight for her in the Spirit.

Shortly after the long weekend with Ned and the team, I decided to run for judge (I lost). I’m not sure I would have run but my wife had such faith and confidence in me that I decided to run. The election is a long story all its own which I won’t go into. The only thing I will share is that for over two months I went as hard as I could for 18 hours a day, seven days a week. I abandoned my family, my law practice, everything. It was very unhealthy and way out of balance. My over-the-top election campaign took a severe toll on my relationship with my wife and kids. My wife and I had a terrible fight shortly after election day and we stayed in separate bedrooms for days.

In retrospect, I can see how the Lord was breaking more long standing patterns of behavior and ways of thinking. One of those patterns had to do with my obsessive need to over-prepare. I had never really seen this in the way I prepared for trials. But the way I handled the election was so extreme that I couldn’t ignore this tendency in me. Of course, this stems from insecurity, a need to prove my worth, a fear of looking bad and of letting people down. It has become a matter of urgent prayer that the Lord teach me how to keep my family as my first priority in times when I would historically be immersed in preparing for something to the exclusion of everything else. The last trial I had much better balance.

Another lesson I learned was about the unhealthy ways my wife and I were intertwined and enmeshed. This is a very important point. After the weekend when my wife chose life, one of the team members became her mentor. This was the first time in my wife’s life that she had a mentor. This dear sister in Christ has called her almost every day since then. She has a special calling to love those who are suffering from a deep deprivation of love, who need to be heard, understood, affirmed and validated for the way God made them and for what He created them to be and do. She has a tremendous wisdom borne of her own long struggle to receive God’s healing for her own deprivation. For many years she felt invisible to everyone around her, of no significance to anyone. She helped my wife find her voice. What that means will become clear in a bit.

There is so much we see in retrospect. I see now that my wife had to come to the point of wanting to kill herself in order for the Lord to do the healing work He wanted to do in her. Much of this story has been about my wife’s choice to believe Jesus loves her even in the midst of her worst physical pain. Jesus did not abandon her at the point she decided to take her life. There was a great deal in her that died the weekend she was with Ned and the team.

We had both been too dependent on each other. Her years of pain and my response to the pain caused an unhealthy intertwining of our beings. Our separation after the election was a step toward learning not to try to get our life from each other but to get it exclusively from the Lord. You can tell from our story that this has been an almost three decade old process that we are growing in more and more.

Part of my new strength in Christ was revealed in the way I responded to my wife’s migraines after the weekend with Ned, particularly in my prayers for her. Here is one example: I had been reading and thinking about Hebrews 5:7 which says “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.” For some reason I always had a picture in my mind of Jesus as being serene, even stoic. His anger at the money changers in the temple had been a rare exception in my mind. I certainly had never thought of Jesus as praying with loud cries and tears. It gave me a whole new picture of Jesus prayer to the Father at Gethsemane. But it wasn’t just then; the scripture says “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth.” Throughout His life He cried out to the Father. LOUD cries.

About a year ago my wife had one of her bad stretches of migraines in which medication doesn’t work and there is nothing left but to go to the hospital. I told her I was going to take a shower and then we would leave for the hospital. While I was in the shower I had a very strong, unmistakable sense that the Lord wanted me to kneel over my wife and pray to Him with loud cries. I semi-panicked. It seemed crazy to me. Even though it was my wife, I didn’t think I could do it. But I knew I had to. I finished my shower, went downstairs and explained to my wife what I heard the Lord say. I told her how crazy it felt and that I didn’t know how I was going to do it. She was laying down in a recliner. I knelt over her and I said, “Well, here goes.” I yelled “Father”. And then I cried out to the Lord for my wife. I could hear her gently weeping as I prayed. When I was done praying, she didn’t immediately feel better but over the course of the evening she felt better and better. Another time I lay on her and breathed on her like Elisha did in 2 Kings 4:32-34. Another time I cried out “Lord, son of David, have mercy on us!” as the two blind men did in Matthew 20:29-31. I didn’t just make this up – I prayed for God to show me how to respond. These were completely different ways of responding to her migraines than I had ever responded before. My wife, too, was becoming stronger in her walk with Jesus and healthier in her thinking.

XVI

Last summer, my wife and daughter heard Jim Anderson, founder of Lifeline Ministries International (www.lifeline-ministries.org). He talked about how our culture is sexually assaulting women. He talked about how teenage girls are made to feel like they have to basically prostitute themselves to get a guy to like them. And he talked about the healing of a woman’s heart. That night, after she came home, my wife had a really bad migraine. She was up all night and finally fell asleep from 5-7 a.m. When she awoke, a memory came up that she had suppressed for 30 years. I will describe it as date rape. She had never spoken of this incident to anyone, not even me. For her to suppress this memory for three decades, you can imagine how powerful it was. When she told me the memory she felt that I responded with judgment and condemnation. She left the house and went to a friend’s house. Later that day, she told me I had to move out of the house. A little later she said I could stay in the house but I had to live in a separate room until I got the healing I needed. My point is not to make it sound as though my wife had gone off the deep end. As this story unfolds you will see how, though her reaction was extreme, she saw something in me I did not see at the time.

In fact, I thought at the time she had gone mad. I was completely bewildered and had no idea why she was so angry that she demanded an indefinite separation. I became so angry I couldn’t even speak to her. After several days her mentor attempted to act as mediator between us. Although we were eventually able to speak to each other, an odd dynamic developed between us. She became almost manically happy and energized. I became increasingly despondent. Two issues emerged for me at this time. I will discuss each separately.

The first issue I will call a fear of lack. My law firm felt the economic effects of the Great Recession. I was not as busy and agonized about getting in enough billable hours each day. My income went down dramatically and I began to fear not being able to provide for my family. We were paying college tuition for two of our kids and there was more going out than coming in each month. This exposed a deep sin in me that I had not wanted to look at before. I had a sizable retirement account that I had always considered to be sacrosanct. There was no way I was going to touch that account until retirement. All of the Christian financial planners and advisors backed me up on this. But I started to see that the retirement account had become an idol and that I was holding onto it and wouldn’t surrender it to God. I treated it as my money. It was plain that the idol needed to be torn down but it took me a long time to do it. One of the two hardest things I have ever done in my life was to cash out my retirement account and apply it to debt, including paying off a substantial amount of my mortgage. I want to quickly add that I am well aware that 99% of the world lives at the poverty level or at least paycheck to paycheck. No one is going to feel sorry for me that I don’t have a huge pile of money tucked away so I can live a life of leisure for two or three decades after I retire. Still, I had a tremendous amount of fear around this and I resisted with every fiber of my being cashing in the account. For me, it was a true act of obedience to the Lord.

Back to the strained relationship between my wife and me. Not long after she heard Jim Anderson and we had such a falling out, she told me I had never cared for her heart more than I cared about having a sexual release. That enraged me. In my mind, I had worked on this area of our marriage as hard as any other area. I knew we had made progress and that I had grown. I had gone from basically trying to force her to have intercourse in the first years of our marriage and all the shaming and berating that went with it to the point 27 years later where I thought I really put her first. I couldn’t accept this statement from her. It felt like she had wiped out all the hard work I had ever done in this area. She said that having the repressed memory come up made her realize that I never gave her a “no” when I wanted to have sexual intimacy with her. She didn’t believe I was really giving her a choice, that even if she said “no” I might back off for a day or two but she would know that I still wanted to be intimate and that I was just biding my time until I saw another opportunity. As a consequence, she felt she had never said “yes” as a choice but always gave in because of the pressure she felt, the guilt she felt and the sense that she “should” do it.

I absolutely could not accept this. I knew she was dead wrong. After about two months of this, Jim Anderson came back in town again. My wife and I had the opportunity to meet alone with Jim and his wife and to have them pray for us. During the prayer time, the Lord showed me that my wife was right and I genuinely confessed that I had never cared for her heart more than I cared about sexual release. This was the second hardest thing I have ever had to do – this was actually much harder than cashing out my retirement account. It was again a true act of obedience to the Lord. What made it difficult is that it meant I would have to do without sexual intimacy with my wife for an indefinite period of time. In fact, I had to accept the possibility that the Lord might never restore that part of our marriage and that, if He didn’t, I would still have to care for my wife’s heart more than I cared about that. I have to say in all honesty I really hated that. But how could I say to myself, my wife and the Lord that I truly cared about her heart more than that unless I was faced with the real possibility that I would never have that again. My wife recently told me she was ready to take a step toward restoring intimacy. This time, and for the first time, it was her choice.

I thought that, after making the two most difficult decisions in my life, I would feel relief from the depression and that I would somehow be blessed by God (how I didn’t know). Instead, the depression got far worse. Much worse. For two months, I cut back to half time at my law practice. I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it, that I was going to reach a point where I couldn’t function at all. Almost worse was the anger I felt toward God. At this point, the manic euphoria my wife had experienced wore off and she crashed. She became so negative that I had serious thoughts of leaving her for the first time in our marriage. It got so bad I confessed this to two of my accountability partners and pleaded with them to pray that I wouldn’t follow through on these thoughts. I felt like God had betrayed us. I told Him we had suffered too much for too long through 12 years of her migraines and all the emotional toll that had taken on us and our kids. He had pushed us too hard, past the point that any person could withstand. I somehow got it in my head that I had contributed far more to my marriage than my wife had and that she didn’t appreciate the long years I had cared for her and stood by her. I had had enough from both her and God. I even had struggles with sexual purity I had not experienced in over a decade. I was an out of control mess.

One morning after I dropped my daughter at school, I had a strong sense that I should go home and spend time with my wife. Because we had been so at odds with each other for the last two months, that was the last thing I wanted to do. However, I did go home and we spent several hours talking. The Lord impressed on me to tell her that I truly want to care for her heart and to make sure she knows I hear her, I understand her and I want to validate what she is saying and feeling. That morning I listened to her heart without thinking about what I wanted and we finally broke through the wall that had divided us.

The Lord showed us very plainly that His number one priority for us is to focus on our family. Specifically, this was the time the Lord was going to break the patterns that held us chained to our past and set us on the path to much greater freedom. I talked earlier about establishing a new legacy in Christ for our family. This was the time to focus almost exclusively on that. My wife and I had been so distracted with other dreams and visions we thought the Lord wanted us to do. But we came to a point of saying, “Lord, we can’t figure anything out anymore and we’re tired of trying. We’re ready to move in any way you ask us to but it has to be all You.” We have spent a lot of time with our kids, showing them we love them, that they matter, that we’re there for them, that we will fight for them. Patterns are being broken. We are walking in greater freedom. Looking back on how horrifically difficult the past months have been I see now that this is how God loves us sometimes. This is how he uproots the deepest, unhealed part of us. But we only see this in retrospect.

I’m okay with being a mess. It took a while. I have always liked looking good. I’ve always struggled with believing I’m special in my own right. I realize now that we’re all a mess and always will be until we get home. This realization is helping me to love others better which has been at the top of my prayer list for many years.

I will end this segment with something my wife and I have learned about her. The way I would summarize it is: she gives color to our family. My focus is often on objectives and logistics and getting from point A to point B. Our family life would be pretty two-dimensional if it were left up to me. My wife focuses on the details that make the experience much more than the sum of all the parts. Rather than our family being somewhat passive observers, my wife immerses our family in the experience so that it becomes a cherished memory. The experience is in living, three-dimensional color. She also provides continuity from year to year and event to event. She has a way of knitting experiences together so that they become a tapestry. This tapestry of woven experiences leaves an indelible impression on my kids and me that we are loved, we matter, we belong, we’re cherished. And her enthusiasm and laughter just makes everything more fun.

XVII

It has been almost three years since the January 1 morning when God woke me up.  The morning God gave me a picture of Jesus scooping me off the battlefield, scattering my enemies, taking me to the room in the highest tower, directing ministering angels to nurse me back to health and, finally, sitting at my bedside and telling me He was there to listen to my heart and would stay as long as I wanted to share my heart.  Enough time has passed since then that I can say God did wake me up that morning.  I walk each day in Jesus' strength.  I call down God's protective covering around my family each morning and battle the Enemy in Jesus' name.  I go after my wife's heart every day and care more for heart than what I want.  I can see that my wife feels safe and she can rest.  Our marriage and our communication is healthy.  My wife has grown immensely in wisdom and she has a circle of people in volatile, unstable situations for whom she provides stability and wise counsel.  My wife and I continue to focus on living in reality.  In fact, our focus on living in reality has been life changing.  We see how much the culture we live in tries to pull everyone out of reality, primarily through the media which offers only false hope.  I've quit thinking thoughts like, "If only I can get past this upcoming stressful event, then I'll be okay."  That thought is a lie because as soon as the stressful event has passed, life hands us something else to stress out about or fear.  I've said this before: we spend too much time trying to escape the present through TV and movies, by longing for some period of our lives from the past that we have convinced ourselves was the best time of our life, by wishing some person or event would come along and bail us out of our current predicament, by fantasizing about some other career or about being married to some other person.  We dwell on regrets of the past or fears about the future.  We idolize celebrities and wish we could have their life.  And our culture bombards us with messages that make us dissatisfied with our lives.  It is hard to live in reality, even when our eyes are opened to the critical importance of doing so.  There is so much healing and transformation the Lord could not do in our lives until we committed to living in reality. God and His truth are not in our unreality.  There is no access to the power of the Holy Spirit in unreality.  The false hope of unreality is always followed by fear, despair, exhaustion, bitterness, anger, loneliness and the like.  There isn't necessarily anything wrong with having dreams but I had to give up most of my dreams because they were keeping me from living in reality.  The more I live in reality the more I see how unremarkable I am apart from Christ.  There really isn't anything special about me in my own right.  I'm embarrassed to say how shocked I was when I figured that out.  Too many of my dreams were based on my perception of some talent or ability I thought I had.  What a waste of time when God's highest calling on me is to simply care for my wife's heart, love my kids and lead my family in the way God calls me to.

Three words the Lord has impressed upon me lately: desire...change...fruit.  These are the three qualities I look for in brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I want to go deeper.  First, a desire and willingness to open up every area of their lives to let the Lord show them their sin, weakness and unhealthiness.  No thought, no attitude, no behavior, nothing is hidden from God.  No excuses are made to justify continuing to sin in a certain way or to act out in unhealthy ways. Second, is there a willingness to be changed in areas of sin, weakness and unhealthiness?  Is the person willing to do the hard work in takes to change?  Are they willing to let God do the changing?  Many times, maybe most times, God uses the body of Christ to help us see these areas and to change in these areas.  It requires humility and vulnerability and risk with people who are wise and trustworthy, and who give us grace without ever compromising the truth in God's Word.  Finally, is there fruit?  Is one person's changed life changing other people's lives?  Is a person's struggle with overcoming sin helping others to overcome that same sin?  Has what was formerly an area of weakness become an opportunity for God to display His strength?  Has one person's process of healing from past wounds helped someone else in their healing process?  This is closely tied with living in reality because an unwillingness to look at sin patterns or areas of unhealthiness always leads to living in unreality.  We have only two choices: stay in reality and face these areas or pretend these areas aren't there and create the illusion that there is no issue or problem.  Simply pretending the issue isn't there impacts our relationship with God and with others.  We stop growing, we lose our connection with the body of Christ, we start to believe lies, we rationalize our behavior, it goes from bad to worse.  I'm so grateful for the men I meet with weekly and our unwavering commitment to share vunerably and honestly with each other, to speak the truth in love to each other and to pray for each other throughout the week.  It is the only safeguard against the culture of self-centeredness and compromise we live in.

I'll end this chapter on a brighter note.  Last summer, an amazing thing happened.  My wife coached my daughter's tennis team.  My wife who had been disabled for over a decade.  She was out on the tennis court for two hours a day, often in sweltering heat.  After practice, she sent emails and organized events and scheduled court time and did a million other little duties they don't tell you about when you sign on to be coach.  It felt like a miracle and I suppose it was in a sense.  It was the fruit of her commitment to live in reality with God and face the underlying issues that were at least a part of the source of her migraines.  It was also the fruit of the healing God has done in our marriage.  Nothing could describe the feeling of having her involved daily in coaching the team for months.

I also want to tell you about growth in my life.  I had two cases that went to trial in the past six months (remember I'm an attorney).  One of the lessons I shared previously from running for judge a couple of years ago is that I would overprepare for trials (and the election) to the exclusion of my family and almost everything else.  No Holy Spirit discernment was required - just go as hard as possible all the hours of the day except for a little sleep.  Through the two recent trials I had the opportunity to see how much God has changed me in this area.  This was my prayer as I approached both of these trials:  "Lord, thank you for this opportunity to learn from You and to be changed by You in ways You want me to change.  Thank you for this opportunity to see your glory and power demonstrated.  Thank you that my King will go into the courtroom before me and will sit enthroned throughout the trial.  Lord, I will be a truth seeker and a truth speaker.  I will walk with integrity through the entire trial.  I leave the outcome to You trusting that, whatever the outcome, You will use it for your good purposes in my life because I love You and serve You.  I pray that the judge and jury hear truth and make their decisions based on truth.  I pray that you expose lies and evil and that the judge and jury reject both.  Show me how much to prepare each day.  Show me when enough is enough.  I commit to keeping my family as my highest priorty and I trust You will give me the time with them that we need together.  In Jesus name. Amen."  What a difference.  Don't get me wrong, it was still an intense time.  But I did not overprepare to the exclusion of all else.  I did not neglect my family.  I stopped to care for my wife's heart and listen to her in circumstances in which I would usually have been too stressed out to listen or just would not have been around her in the first place.  Desire...change...fruit.  Praise God who loves us and doesn't leave us stuck in unhealthy patterns of behavior and praise the Son who leads us down the path of freedom.

 

 

XVIII

 

I'm 56 years old. This website covers about 40 years of my life. When I first started writing this website I had a vague idea of millions of people reading it and lives being impacted. I had a more conscious intention to write it for my kids and my grandchildren and who knows how many other generations. My two older kids are in their 20s and my youngest is 16. The two older ones are kind of a mess right now. They are disillusioned and cynical. My wife and I are not allowed to ask them questions about their spiritual lives. Anything about Jesus is definitely off-limits. My guess is that it stems from watching their mom disabled by chronic pain and watching their dad respond often with fear and desperation. I know they felt isolated and alone much of the time. I also know that the Christianity they experienced in the private Christian school they went to felt shallow and hypocritical to them in the circumstances they were in. Maybe they wonder where Jesus was all those years. Even though my wife and I can see how faithful God has been and how Jesus rescued us over and over, I don't know how a child could have that perspective. I think the main issue for them now is their expectations. They want life to be easier than it is rather than accepting that this life is full of pain and hardship and struggle and we need Jesus desperately to rescue us every day.

 

I can sure relate to having false expectations. There are things that I struggle with that I expected I would be past by 56 years old. A primary example of that is that I have struggled with pornography again. I enjoyed such great freedom for over a decade and I thought that door was closed permanently. Not that I never struggled during that decade but I never gave into it. I have been drawn to videos that give a false appearance of intimacy. Although it is rare, there are some videos in which the couple appears to be loving and nurturing and intimate. Obviously this is a false impression but in the moment it looks like they are experiencing intimacy. I now understand I am looking in a false place for the intimacy and nurturing I did not receive as a child. The masturbation that goes along with this is a desire for relief and escape from whatever stress or circumstance I'm in. I started going to a sex addiction recovery men's group. Each meeting we introduce ourselves as recovering sex addicts who are loved by God. We talk in terms of living a life of sobriety. It is another humbling experience that feels incredibly humiliating. But I have been sober for five months as I write this (with a couple of slips). This means five months of freedom from shame and guilt. And it means I am not experiencing the separation from God and from my wife that is produced by living in that addictive cycle. I had to let go of the expectation I have that I would not struggle with this at 56 years old. I had to get past the anger I felt that that expectation was not met. I had to humble myself and say out loud in front of a room full of men that I am caught in sexual addiction. And I have to accept that I will be a recovering sex addict for the rest of my life.

 

Another expectation I had was that by this age my wife and I would not have arguments that stir up such extreme emotions toward each other. We both still have wounded places that the other touches that sets off an extreme emotional response. When I touch that place in my wife she uses words to the effect that I am not a safe person. This hits a place of insecurity in me that causes me to be extremely defensive. When she says I am not safe it feels like all the progress I have made in building trust with her has been wiped out. I start vehemently defending myself and making a demand on her that she acknowledge I am safe. The argument escalates to where we don't speak to each other for hours or maybe even overnight. My expectation that we should be past these episodes, as rare as they are, makes it worse. Of course we are light years ahead of where we used to be both in terms of how we conduct ourselves during the argument and afterward. My wife is great about helping me to see the false expectation and letting go of it. This helps me not to see these episodes as so disproportionately huge and devastating. With a realistic expectation, I have better perspective and things don't escalate in such an extreme way. But even if we do react to each other in extreme ways, a realistic expectation helps me to recover much more quickly so that we can get back on the same page again.

 

My sixteen year old did something really astounding recently.  Shortly before we were to leave on a week-long vacation with our family, my wife had an appointment with her migraine doctor.  The doctor requires her to see him once a year and he would not give her a prescription for her migraine medication until she saw him.  It was critical that she have that medication for our vacation.  Her appointment was scheduled for a day or two before the start of our vacation and she forgot to go.  This isn’t the first time she forgot something this critical.  I could spend the rest of my life wondering how this is possible but she and I have learned to cut each other a lot of slack about things like this.  I do them too; mine are different than hers but she would have every bit as much right as I would to tear her hair out and rant at me.  in any event, she forgot the appointment so couldn’t get the medication and she had enough to get her to about the last day of our vacation if she didn’t need more than usual.  What this boils down to is that she would spend the vacation fearful of running out of medication and, as a consequence, I would spend the vacation anxious.  No fun, vacation pretty much ruined.

 

My private reaction to her forgetting the appointment was anger, though I was thankfully at work and she didn’t know.  She was able to reschedule the appointment for right in the middle of our vacation which meant an eight hour round trip drive and the loss of most of a day.  More anger.  On the day my wife missed her appointment and rescheduled for the middle of our vacation, I picked my sixteen year old up after work.  This is the astounding thing she did:  she reminded me that when I’m anxious it makes the rest of our family anxious and when I’m calm it calms everyone else.  She told me this just before we went into the house.  She said more but the gist of it was that I needed to go into the house and give my wife grace about missing the appointment.  And I did.  I told my wife not to beat herself up about forgetting the appointment (she does beat herself up because she has forgotten a lot of appointments and important events).  I told her we would have a fun road trip together going to the rescheduled appointment and that I don’t really care what I do in life as long as I get to be with her.  I genuinely meant every word I said.  But primarily because my sixteen year old helped me gain the perspective I needed, the perspective God wanted me to have.  Believe me, my wife gets plenty of opportunities to show me grace and, believe me, she does.

 

There was still fear and anxiety about the rescheduled appointment in the middle of our vacation: would the doctor agree to refill her prescriptions?  One medication in particular has serious potential long term side effects and the doctor has said several times he want my wife to wean herself off of it.  More about that in a minute.  I left for vacation a day earlier than my wife and our kids.  She called me while I was on my way to where we were vacationing and expressed fear about the upcoming appointment.  Here’s where expectations come in again.  I was battling the expectation that the vacation was all about me.  I had been swamped at work for a long time and I felt like I really needed this vacation badly.  I was actually glad I could start the vacation by myself and have a day to myself.  I didn’t want to deal with my wife’s fear about the appointment.  I wanted to run away and forget that reality.  But it doesn’t work that way for followers of Christ.  I don’t get a vacation from going after my wife’s heart, from being the spiritual leader of our family, from living in reality, from trusting God to face reality in His strength rather than running from reality.  So when she called I prayed for her over the phone.  I meant it that time too.  Later that day I went hiking and God reminded me of many things: that my wife and I have grown so much in the way we handle these situations, that running away from reality is running away from God and his peace and strength, that these situations are always opportunities to see God’s faithfulness to us.

 

 

The doctor’s appointment went really well.  He expressed the same concerns about the long term effects of the medication.  My wife and I told him that, after ten years of her being disabled by pain, she has found a good equilibrium and we are actually able to have a life.  He wrote the prescription.  And we did have a really fun road trip together.