Have you ever imagined what living life embodied by courage would look and feel like? For every decision that you make to be based out of want, need, or simple conclusion rather than trembling fear and guilt? I have been thinking a lot about this lately and wonder if maybe others have too. Living the life of an abused woman and wife of a porn addict is heart breaking. Being lied to and deceived about the character and truth of the man with whom you chose to share your life is unbearably painful. For the last year and a half since I discovered my husband’s addiction my mind has been plagued with question after question, fear mounting on top of itself with every insecurity screaming out to me. There are about a million different things that porn addiction does, but I would suggest that its most devastating effect is that it destroys.
In September of 2014 after seven months of my husband choosing to live outside of our home I was served divorce papers, two days before our oldest daughter’s 12th birthday. Eleven months prior I discovered his addiction to pornography and confronted him. He thought that I knew far more than I did and proceeded to pour out damaging and life-altering information about the severity and frequency of his addiction. I have to believe that I am not the only woman how remembers these timeline events as clearly as she knows her name . . . they nearly haunt. How could this be? The questions started swirling almost immediately. How could I share a life with someone for 15 years, birth three of his children and yet have absolutely no idea? Today on my now less frequent, but still occurring more somber days I am plagued with these thoughts and wonder what part I may have had in his addiction. My head knows that I had no part. I learned that he has struggled with sex addiction since he was a very young boy; far before I ever came onto the scene. I have since learned that it is a male “legacy” of sorts known and widely accepted through multiple generations of men in his family. How did I not know that either? It is a constant question in my mind and more importantly what does this pattern behavior mean for my now 10 year old son? Eleven months ago my world was forever altered in the serving of those divorce papers. I have spent the better part of a year learning how to surrender, to trust and be vulnerable when it is impossible and yes, I have even begun to step out and to live courageously under the watchful and ever-present eye of El Roi, the God Who Sees. Isaiah 41:8-13 speaks boldly and bravely to my heart and I prayerfully hope that it will do the same for you in times when that four-letter-word, FEAR rears its ugly, lying head:
“That’s right. Because I, your GOD, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go. I’m telling you, Don’t PANIC. I’m, RIGHT HERE TO HELP you.”
How do you live life with courage? I’m no expert. I’m still working on it, but in my journey it all began with the willingness to be vulnerable, allowing others to truly see me and by submitting to one of the hardest words I have every spoken, SURRENDER. Miriam-Webster’s dictionary defines surrender as:
- to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed: to give the control or use of (something) to someone else: to allow something (such as a habit or desire) to influence or control you.
I am a “doer” I get things done . . . take them under my wing and make things happen. I like to be in control and know exactly what the next move is with things well forecasted into the future. Yup, a typical Type-A’er who loves the world to exist in black and white, streamlined and organized with a minor obsession with The Container Store. This reality was far out of my comfort zone. I questioned, “Had I not already been through enough, Lord in the learning of his addiction and betrayal?” I needed to have some type of employment teaching job or not it. Ok, mask off authentic face on: I will confess that working retail at night after my kids went to bed was not what I had in mind when I triple majored and graduated from college. Nor was it when I was the sole income and put my husband through medical school, but what choice did I have? My degrees meant nothing as I was forced to work a minimum wage job that wouldn’t even cover our groceries each week, but it was something and I was thankful.
There was no way to hide behind the refuge of my home any more. I had to be seen literally and figuratively in both my physical presence and in my need for help. Needing and asking for help…. that is so hard for me partly because of my own pride and partly because of the judgement I feared. In that very tumultuous time however, God used the journey to keep teaching me. Sometimes I wish I was a faster learn and that that so much of my journey was unnecessary, but every step has been purposed and slowly but surely the lessons are sinking in. I learned to walk with a humble spirit during those 8 weeks. God showed me that I am no different or better than anyone else. I learned that having life all pretty and put together makes for a nice picture, but doesn’t allow for connection, and disengages you from people and experience. I had put so much value in being the wife of the town doctor and church elder that I clung to the title of my social status more than to the cross of Jesus. In large part I associated my worth with the title I bore. I was misguided. I should have been focused on the truth of who I forever am, REDEEMED. One of my favorite speakers and founder of Propel Women (propelwomen.org), Christine Caine sums it up best saying, “The feelings we have of insecurity, inadequacy, and incompleteness all stem from the same place: not knowing who we are in Christ or all that we have in Him” . . . it is, “in your broken places where you are most often used by God.”
In that seemingly impossible and dark time nothing that I was doing was working. I was determined to make my way through and make good out of the nightmare that I was living. In public moments I appeared strong, relentless in my pursuit of digging my way out of my darkness, and seemingly normal- nothing for anyone look twice at or think something was out of place. In the stillness and quietness of a hushed house where my babies lay sleeping peacefully at night I found myself paralyzed by fear, barley able to step and hopeless. I called out in anguish to my Abba Father, “You promised you would make all things good! What is good about this? I have done everything! I don’t know what else to do? I CANNOT lose my children. I need you to show up and show up now. You promised to never leave me or forsake me. Where are you?” I trust that I am not the only one to find myself in this struggle. I found myself utterly devastated by my husband’s betrayal and in the midst of this heartache felt the tug of knowing that Jesus was with me, His Spirit showing up and being ever- present. At the same time however I felt abandoned by God to allow this and to not be, “making my path straight.” I was in the midst of a spiritual battle between what I knew as truth about the character of God and how betrayed my heart felt about the God that was seemingly absent in my struggle. I was very much at a cross roads of sorts between believing the truth of who scripture said God is and the lies of doubt, deceit and question that the enemy would allow to linger in my mind. In the moments where only the voice in my head could be heard I was ashamed of myself for questioning His presence or lack thereof when my heart knew better.
I have found in my life that when the possibility of me making something happen gets depleted that is when God loves to show up and steal the show. Seemingly out of nowhere I finally got an interview for a teaching job. On the way there looking out over the grassy marsh the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, “Are you done yet? Are you finally ready to give up control? You need to step out and surrender. You are the gate keeper of this story, but it isn’t about you. This is His story. This is about a Redeemer that Lives, that Loves, and that Restores. This is His story that He is asking you to carefully steward. Surrender and Trust Him. He WILL make all things good for the saving of many.”(Genesis 50:20) My heart knew exactly who was speaking and that this was a “standing on holy ground” moment. Right then and there I called out and said, “I surrender! Take it. Take it all and make it good. I am done trying to figure it out, trying to work it out… trying to protect everyone. It’s not working. Even if everyone needs to know about it . . . I’m in.”
Immediately following that moment a true, “peace that surpasses all understanding” swept over me. It was that sureness of knowing, like you know your name that this was the first step in what would be a sequence of many. It was a clarity unlike I have ever known. In that moment I understood that my story of abuse and betrayal from my pornography addicted husband was the story of tens of thousands of silent, shame-filled, embarrassed, heartbroken, traumatized and lonely women in the Christian Church all of whom need to know they are not alone. Broken women who need to rise together out of the ashes of heartbreak, disgrace and shame. Isn’t it just like God to say, that thing—that “unspeakable” thing, that’s exactly what I want to use to make good out of evil and to bring healing to my people? TED Talk speaker, Brené Brown suggests an antidote to rising from shame that resonates deeply within me (yet scares the pants off of me too!), “Shame cannot survive being spoken… and being met with empathy.” The only way to rise above it, to claim who I am/you are, to understand and own my/your worth is to be vulnerable, to step in, trudge through, call out and allow my/your messiness to show so that a new work can rise within me/you. With surrender of the control, of the feelings of shame, inadequacy, worthlessness, and of the picture perfect “plan” came the beginning of the good that He promised to make. My surrender was the catalysis to walking with courageous steps and I’d like to suggest it can be yours too.
Trust has never come easy for me, but after being in an abusive marriage and then dealing with the effects of betrayal trauma trusting at any level with anyone has been a daily consistent struggle. Maybe worst of all has been my inability to trust The Lord to have my back, to be GOD in all circumstances and to SEE all things. I haven’t felt far from God during the last year and a half, quite the contrary. He has been speaking to me and showing up in amazing ways that only He could do. Yet, despite his faithfulness I have had a heart of fear and distrust . . . and I know that I am not the only one exhausted by living in fear. As my husband physically and emotionally abandoned me, so I felt the same of God in this my darkest hour. Along the way The Lord would encourage me. He would provide for me over and over again. Jesus would continue to speak into my heart on more occasions than I can recall, yet deep within the darkest corners of my heart I didn’t believe that He would show up. I didn’t believe that He had my back. I refused to trust that I was not out on my own. I wanted to . . . I truly did, but deep inside I needed more every time. I needed a more black and white sign—I hate living in the grey! I needed Him to confirm things more through others, to do yet another seemingly impossible thing for me just to believe. I was in a constant “Doubting Thomas” conversation, “well, I’ll believe that you’ll provide and do the impossible Lord if you just do this, if you show up here, if you make something out of nothing there.” At times, His Spirit spoke so directly and so loudly to me that friends would joke, God doesn’t speak to you He likes to shout through a megaphone at you and still you question! Oh me of little faith! There I said it. It was true. In the hardest and darkest of time I have had little faith. I believed in Jesus. I believed that he could and would do great things--- I just believed that He’d do them in the lives of others, but not to me. I think I believed this because my own sense of self-worth was so damaged and destroyed that I found it impossible to think that goodness would ever truly and forever come to me.
Like so many others reading this, I have suffered a lot of loss in my life and through this journey I am realizing the many ways that those losses effect how I think and behave. My struggle with trust is at the core a lack of willing to be vulnerable for fear of not belonging, not being loved and of judgement. I am only now beginning to understand what I think so many women struggle with, but particularly those effected by betrayal trauma: Brené Brown is so on-point when she suggest that the very thing that we all want, connection is impossible without allowing ourselves to be seen. I believe that in the seeing we open up the messiness of our lives with the people around us who God has placed to be our anchors. My struggle-some journey has taught me so much about living and loving both purposefully and fully. I love the idea of whole hearted living. Brown defines such a way of life as, “…engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done or how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.’” Along the journey I have begun to realize that it is only by living whole heartedly that I can cultivate the relationships where friends become family, my joy and sorrow become collectively shared with those alongside me, and where those I most love and care about feel accepted and safe to live vulnerably as well. It is in that space with my most trusted of sisters that healing, deep feeling, both hilarity and sorrow, hard conversations and a humbleness of saying, I need your help have taken root. All of which would have been impossible if I had not taken a small shaking step of trust toward these beloved and allowed them to truly see me and my messiness.
My husband’s abuse and addiction have broken me. In some ways I am a shattered fragment of the woman I used to be. There was a time I felt very alone in those feelings yet, the more I share the more I others have with me and I have learned that we are all broken. I have I laid for a while in those broken feelings of hopeless, abandonment and loneliness. I have spent plenty of time pitying myself and thinking how unfair it all was and how this was not the “me” or the life I had envisioned. I suppose betrayal is not what any of us invasion as party of our marriage, is it? Through learning how to surrender, to trust and be vulnerable when it feels impossible, and to take intentional steps to live courageously I begin to see that the shattered fragment me, is the better me. I’m encouraged when I am reminded that it is my (and your) brokenness that makes us beautiful, that refines us, and that out of which emerges anew. In my brokenness I have learned that the messy me has deeper and more meaningful relationships. My fragmented pieces remind me that He truly is, The God Who Sees and that all things will be made for good. Ultimately, my brokenness has given me no other choice than to be vulnerable, to press onto and lean into my faith, my family and my friends. It is through my brokenness that I have found a willingness to surrender, to share my story that I never wanted anyone to know and come alongside other women to say, when we speak it we don’t allow shame to live here. You are not alone, sister. I know how you feel . . . together we can do hard things. Be encouraged today friends, this is not the end and your story is far from over. In fact, I would suggest that with surrender, trust, and intentional courageous living your story – both the one you’re living as well as the one you’ve been telling yourself is just beginning to rise.
"Beauty Will Rise": Steven Curtis Chapman
It was the day the world went wrong, I screamed till my voice was gone
And watched through the tears, as everything came crashing down.
Slowly panic turns to pain, as we awake to what remains.
And sift through the ashes that are left behind.
But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams, we have this hope.
Out of the ashes, Beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins, we will see it with our own eyes
Out of these ashes, Beauty will rise
For we know joy is coming, in the morning.
So take another breath for now, and let the tears come washing down
And if you can't believe I will believe for you.
'Cause I have seen the signs of spring . . . just watch and see.
In the morning, I can hear it in the distance
And it's not too far away
It's the music and the laughter of a wedding and a feast.
I can almost feel the hand of God, reaching for my face to wipe the tears away
You say "It's time to make everything new . . . Making it all new"
This is our hope . . .
This is a promise . . .
Out of these ashes, Beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins, we will see it with our own eyes.
For we know joy is coming in the morning.
It will take our breath away, to see the beauty that's been made Out of the ashes . . . Out of the ashes . . . Beauty will rise.