A bit of our story...
Warning: extreme transparency ahead!
I’ve considered sitting down and writing this for quite a long time now. It’s been given a lot of thought and a lot of prayer, but until now, the timing just didn’t seem right. But now, for reasons not known to me, it seems like a good time. Some of you that will read this are privy to the details of our story, some of you are not. This is an attempt to bring all things to light. I believe transparency is a lost virtue in our society and even within Christendom, and I believe that transparency is vital to true healing. In the epistle of James, James writes “confess your sins one to another that you may be healed.” I believe this to be true.
Admittedly, this is written from a singular point of view, my own. Perhaps soon, Chelsi will share our story from her perspective, which is more valuable than my own. But as I feel that it is time to become more open about our journey, I offer this, however imperfect, in hopes that God will use it somehow.
It was 2 and a half years ago that everything came crashing down. At the time, Chelsi and I were feverishly preparing to move our family to Ireland to be involved in a church there in Waterford, as well as for me to direct a new Bible college there. It was a dream come true. Ever since visiting for the first time in October 2010, my heart has been captured by Ireland and her people. Having been in full-time vocational ministry for 10 years, the transition to full-time overseas missions was exciting and invigorating. It was clear that God was (and is) moving in the hearts of Irish people to return to that Faith that transformed Ireland so many hundreds of years ago as well as stirred countless Irish missionaries to take the Gospel back out into the world. There were many who had come alongside in support of us to go, investing financially and prayerfully. Our friends in Eire were excited, and so were we. To all appearances, we seemed to be an example of a family yielded to the Spirit calling us to leave our families and go out and serve.
What no one saw, save for the Eyes That See ALL, was the tragic descent I had made into sin. I had managed to keep up appearances, as I went about my pastoral duties, teaching, counseling, leading worship. Surely Chelsi knew I wasn’t in the best place, but I managed to keep the dark truth hidden even from her.
You see, for several months, I had been engaged in an extra-marital relationship. It was with a married woman that I had known for several years. In fact, (and to this day, this fact brings so much sorrow to my heart), her husband was someone I had professed to be a friend to. Some time before, she had come to me in frustration and disillusionment with her marriage. Initially I only truly desired to help her. But I myself was not in a good place in my own marriage. Chels and I had grown apart partly as a result of my selfishness and arrogance. I had long placed her and our children on the “back burner” of life, and had begun to idolize myself in the role of “pastor”. You see, as a evangelical pastor, it is can be easy to come to the practical conclusion that the “work of the ministry” cannot happen without you. People (sincerely) tell you how wonderful you are and how much God is using you, and pretty soon you stop hearing “GOD is using you” and you start hearing “God is using YOU.” I began to believe my own press, and my un-confronted and unconfessed pride only grew. It’s hard now to look back and think about that time without being overcome with shame. I began with a genuine desire to help her with her marriage, but because I refused to acknowledge my own problems in my marriage, soon I was confiding in her, and so the familiar story goes…
As the relationship grew into something illicit, but before becoming a full-blown affair, there was a point where God mercifully exposed it to Chelsi, and subsequently, my father and pastor (incidentally, the same man). I made heartfelt promises to cut off contact with her, and I did. Looking back now, at the time I wasn’t really repentant. I was working hard at damage control, and often in a manipulative way. If Chelsi brought it up, I would say “how often are you going to remind me of what I did”? It was so wrong of me. I turned it around on her and made her feel bad for hurting. May God forgive me!
Eventually, because I wasn’t truly repentant, when the opportunity arose two years later to reconnect with the woman, I accepted it. Foolishly deceiving myself into thinking that we could “just remain friends”, we began to message each other secretly. I rationalized the relationship with the arrogance of thinking that I deserved to be made to feel desired. What’s so sickening about it is that I had stopped sowing into my marriage and my friendship with Chelsi, and so of course, as the distance between us increased, her coldness towards me increased. As her coldness increased, I excused my sin all the more. It is a devilish downward spiral. And so, I pursued the illicit relationship.
Inevitably, what had remained a “virtual” relationship took physical form. With that physical encounter, I fully sacrificed all that was truly good and of value. I knew it was wrong. I felt it in my very being, as the Spirit of God mourned for what I was doing. My own spirit experienced the destruction. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”
Immediately, I was convicted. But I tried to rationalize it with such foolish reasons as “but I love her”, and “I can’t control what I feel”. It was all Satanic garbage. The fact is, I didn’t want to stop. My carnality had been given such free reign for so long, it had become a ravenous beast. Instead of growing towards union with the Godhead, I had actually gone backwards, giving over to my base passions, and instead of ruling over them, they ruled over me. That’s what indulgence in sin does: it distorts the image of God in man into something base and animalistic.
In truth, I do believe that I did care for this woman, in some way, but anything good that might have once been had been distorted by rebellion. That’s what rebellion to God does, it distorts what is good and wrecks it.
Eventually, God’s Spirit proved to be too persuasive, and I ended the relationship. The duration of the affair was rather short. But the effects of sin have no statute of limitations. The damage was done.
I prayed desperately that no one would find out. My fear at that time was that if it came out, the opportunity to go to Ireland would be lost. I was still so selfish! I did fear losing Chelsi and the boys, and of bringing so much shame to the church and my parents, but I think if I am truly honest, it was going to Ireland that I was really afraid of losing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Ireland had become an idol as well. I didn’t want to lose it.
God had other plans for this selfish wreck of a man.
On a Monday evening, the truth came out. Chelsi found an email on my laptop that I was positive had been deleted. That night is one of the worst memories of my life. She screamed, I cried. I sat on the floor of our apartment in the early hours of the morning, numb, as she unloaded everything I deserved. Everything I feared was coming true.
But soon I found that far worse than losing Ireland, and losing my position in ministry, was losing the love of my best friend. At one point, her voice became cold and she told me, “Go. Go be with her. If that’s what you want.”. In a moment of crashing clarity, I realized that was the very last thing I wanted. I suddenly realized the treasure that I had in front of me. A treasure that I had taken for granted, that I had squandered. In a moment, everything changed. I realized that this was the greatest gift God had ever given me. How foolish could I have been?! In a moment, I was broken. I swore to her that I didn’t want that. I wanted her. I wanted our family. She quietly told me that she would stay, but not for me. She simply refused to have her children grow up without their father.
Later, she left to go teach a women’s study, and I stayed home. That morning, I prayed the first of countless desperate prayers for God to heal what I had destroyed. I had no clue what was on the horizon.
As Chels and I began the journey of learning to live life after such a traumatic wound to a marriage, at the time, we foolishly thought that still going to Ireland was not only a possibility, but would be good. Looking back now, I see the folly of that thinking, and God’s mercy in not allowing us to follow through with our plan. You see, we were so far from being in the position to do anything but harm to our loved ones there. It would have been a disaster. But still we clung to that plan. Even when we met with my parents because they realized something was very wrong, we kept the full truth to ourselves. But again, God, in His merciful Providence had other plans.
It wasn’t long before the other woman confessed to her husband, and her husband told their pastor, and their pastor placed a phone call to a pastor at Calvary Costa Mesa, who in turn contacted my father. It was a Monday afternoon when I received a text from my dad to come to the church to discuss something. That evening is also burned into my memory. He asked me if there was anything I needed to tell him. I knew it was over. I tearfully confessed everything. He told me that he had received a phone call from Calvary Costa Mesa, and that my sin had been exposed. Sobbing, I asked for his forgiveness. I began to realize the reaches of my sin. My father, who I loved so dearly, who had only months before almost lost his life and who had depended on me to lead the church, and who I only always wanted to be proud of me, was broken-hearted because of me. The ripples were going out further and further.
After my confession, I walked into my office. I looked around at my desk, my bookshelves, the map of Ireland on the wall, the pictures of my family. I again began to sob. More and more, I was feeling the reality of the cost of my sin. That night, I began to clean out my office. I knew that there was no way around it. I had been given a great privilege, and I had been given a great task. But I had failed greatly, and there would be a great cost.
Dad came into the office and embraced me, weeping with me. He prayed over me that night, that God would show the greatness of His mercy and love. How wondrous has been the answer to a father’s heartfelt prayer for his son!
That week, I prepared a statement for that coming Sunday. In it, I wrote out my confession, and I was fully prepared to stand before the church body and confess what I had done. However, the head of Calvary Outreach Fellowship advised dad that since I was repentant, and Chels had agreed to stay with me, that in the interest of protecting her from any further embarrassment, it was acceptable for me to simply step down without divulging the details of why I was. While I so appreciate the heart to protect Chelsi, I do wish that I would have just simply confessed. It would have alleviated so much of the question marks and eliminated the many rumors that grew and spread in the months afterward.
Tearfully, that Sunday, I stood before the congregation and simply told them that I was stepping down to focus on our family, that “I had not been in a good place” and that I needed to do what was best for our family. I didn’t intend for it to sound like I was avoiding the truth, but there were some that took it that way.
It was decided that beyond the need for me to step down from the pastoral position I held, I would in fact need to find a new way to provide for my family. My best friend Jeremiah worked for Oreilly Auto Parts at the time, and he arranged for an interview at one of the stores. Within just a few days of resigning at Calvary, God had already provided a job. He is truly good!
Going back to work in the secular sphere was difficult. But I realize now that it was precisely what I needed. You see, for so long, everything I did was about me. It was “MY” ministry. “MY” call to Ireland. “MY gifts”. Suddenly, I found that my job had nothing to do with me. It was simply about providing for my family. I began to understand what “laying down my life” for them meant in a practical way. I would go to work, and I would come home. No more long hours away, excusing my distraction in spiritual terms.
I think it was in this, that the seed of hope began to sprout. My priorities had necessarily been realigned. My family, for the first time, truly came first. As I began to learn to be a good dad to my boys, I kept gently pursuing my wife. I prayed constantly that the Spirit would heal her heart, but not for my benefit, but simply because I mourned that I had hurt her so deeply. Miraculously, little by little, God began to reunite our hearts that had been distant from each other for so long. We began to laugh together again. In our great brokenness, there was a raw “realness” that had been missing for a long time.
But I do profess that something had definitively changed in me. When she expressed her hurt, or when something was said that brought up or alluded to what I had done, I didn’t respond with manipulative statements. I just listened, and softly said, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.” I gave her room to hurt, to feel all the emotions that she was going through, and I just prayed.
It was the end of May, our wedding anniversary, and I arranged for us to come to Flagstaff, which had always been a happy place for us (oddly enough, considering how often we had to come here for our children’s surgeries…). God was merciful to us that weekend and there was redemption. In spite of all that Satan had done to bring destruction, the Lord of Life proved victorious, and a life was sparked.
When we discovered that Chelsi was pregnant with our third child, there was a mixture of joy and wonder. When we discovered that our third would be our long hoped-for girl, there was an excitement. When we discovered that our little girl would also be born with a cleft lip and palate, there was a mixture of questioning and resignation. We held each other and believed in God’s mercy and goodness in all things.
When our Prudence was born and I held her in my arms, all I could see was a living, tangible proof of God’s love and power to restore and bring life to where there once was death. I also saw proof that as Holy Scripture says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” I was a man that deserved judgment, but was given mercy. Her name, “Prudence” means “wisdom”. In these last two years, I have learned the timeless truth that the Preacher wrote in Proverbs, that “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”.
That little girl has had a profound effect on me, to be sure. I ache to be the kind of man that will exemplify all that I hope she will someday look for, and that my sons will want to emulate.
In the year plus since then, we have moved here to Flagstaff to live a simple life here among the pines. Chels and I have learned (and continue to learn) how to lean on one another as we trust God to provide for our needs. Every day as I hold my daughter, and play with my sons, and hug and kiss my wife at the end of a long work day, I am grateful for God’s mercy on such a wreck as me.
Our journey continues, and in truth, the healing is not (and in truth may never be) complete. But that is what this life is: a journey, not a destination. Together, we are learning what it means to follow Christ in word AND in deed, and be transformed into living icons of the face of God. And in that, I have begin to learn what the Fathers referred to as “the sacrament of marriage”. In Chelsi’s willingness to be obedient to God and choose to forgive me and in her willingness to love me in spite of my great sin against her and against God, there has been a powerful and profound change in me that God has worked. To be be sure, I am deeply flawed. On numerous occasions throughout each day, I find myself uttering the simple prayer of the Tax Collector: “God, have mercy on me a sinner”. And He answers that prayer with each embrace of my wife and children.
I would hope that our story would serve at least two purposes. First, as a warning to those entertaining a sin such as or similar to my own: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7). There will be a price to pay. And that price will be high. For me, the price paid was the pain and hurt of so many that I love, the opportunity to serve God in ministry, the chance to serve the people of my beloved Ireland, and of becoming an example of one who was given much and squandered it. Please, learn from my story. Don’t be so foolish as to think you are impervious to the danger. Again, as Holy Scripture bears witness, “Take heed, lest you fall.”
My second hope is that our story would bring hope to those who are steeped in the sorrow of failure. The hope of a Gospel that has endured for 2,000 years is that God is a God who brings Life back from Death. If there is anything that the empty tomb of Christ declares, it is that Resurrection is our hope. As Chelsi and I have endeavored to practice Resurrection in our marriage, in our lives, the Spirit of God who raised Christ from the dead has manifested Himself.
There is no darkness that His Light cannot pervade. There is no depth that His Spirit cannot reach. There is no corner of Hades that has not been conquered by His power.
Take heart. He has overcome! It is He that gives power to live dead to sin, and it is He that revives when death seems to have won.
In closing, my desire and my goal in writing this isn’t to garner any sort of sympathy (as if that was necessary), or to use this as some sort of attempt at attention grabbing (although some may possibly come to that conclusion). My singular desire is to give glory to where it is due: the Only Wise Triune God. For some time, I have feared that He has not been given full glory for all that He has done for Chels and I and our family. Part of that is because the full truth of my failure has never been put out there. I have alluded to it, and I know that people aren’t blind to the truth, but that is different than a full disclosure. That is what I desire in this, a full disclosure of the sin that I engaged in, but more importantly, a full disclosure of the power of Three-In-One to heal and restore.
When Jesus healed the demonic of Gadarene, he told him to “Go to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
To God be the glory for His great mercy that He has shown to me, a sinner!