We were just kids. Angel was 14 and I was 16. A freshman and a junior. We went to the same high school and the same church. I was the leader of our campus Christian club, and, as Angel tells it, the first time she met me she thought, “That’s the man I want to marry.” We were married at 21 and 19 and were the kind of couple most thought were ideal. We heard it many times: “I want a relationship like yours!”
Fast forward 18 years to a campus ministry retreat in Lake Pleasant, New York. As the worship swells, Angel, my wife of twelve years, begins weeping and shaking as we stand at the back of the room. She sits down and I sit down next to her. Between sobs and the throbbing music, she tells me, “I’ve been having an affair. “
What happened to what looked like our picture perfect marriage to this tragic place? And how did God rescue and restore a marriage that had fallen apart?
In this series Angel (her words will be italicized) and I will share our story. We do so with the hope that we can offer hope and help for marriages that might be headed toward a cliff or may have already plunged over it.
At the heart of our story is a rescuing and redeeming God.
What would become issues that would steer us off the road were in our hearts from early ages. For me, I lacked an understanding of my true identity. This would ultimately steer me to a dangerous place.
And for me, I not only lacked an understanding of my true identity, but also had an idolizing ideal of John as my husband.
God’s call on my life into vocational ministry is inseparable from my call to be a Christian. At a missions conference at 10 years old, I felt the Spirit’s call to vocational ministry. After sharing the news with my parents, my mom and I met with our children’s pastor who pressed past my question of calling and asked a more basic question: “Have you trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior?” That night I went home and committed my life to Jesus. My identity as a child of God was always entwined, then, with my call as a pastor.
As a focused achiever that meant that where I was headed – a pastor—and who I was—a son of God—were virtually indistinguishable for me.
I also had a formative experience at ten years old. I attended a wedding of a young pastor in our church. Mouth agape at the beautiful bride and her handsome and godly pastor-husband, I saw a picture of what I wanted to be: a pastor’s wife. When I was in middle school I wrote a list of traits I wanted in my future husband and dreamed of and prayed for the day I would meet this man. And so, when I met John as a freshman in high school, light bulbs went off: this is the guy I’ve been waiting for.
First a friendship formed, and then a courtship. We maintained a long-distance relationship as I went off to a college outside of Boston and Angel remained in high school and then graduated and went to college in Flagstaff. We developed a strong foundation of communication over these years.
I graduated a semester early and we were married. Angel was only a semester into her sophomore year. I took a job as a Detention Officer to put Angel through school. She worked at Cracker Barrel. We dove into a healthy church. We laughed a lot and played cards over almost every meal together. These were sweet years.
Two and a half years passed: I graduated with my undergraduate degree, and we headed off to seminary in New Jersey sight unseen. I thought I was ready, but I was seven months pregnant, and I cried all the way to the Arizona border.
This first part of our marriage journey concluded with seminary. There was a lot of good in this season: the gift of the birth of both of our children, the joy of studying together, the blessing of community, the beginning of Angel’s calling to be a counselor. But the diseased seeds in our heart began to push through the soil as seedlings.
I had an opportunity to serve as an intern at our church through the three years I attended seminary. The opportunity to begin to live out my vocational calling was both invigorating and problematic. The affirmation I received from the pastors on staff meant more than it should have meant to my identity. And I sought out pastoral ministry in an unhealthy way: not just out of the overflow of God’s gifting, but for affirmation.
Meanwhile, after I had planned on teaching in New Jersey, began to feel the call to become a counselor and attend seminary. There was so much that was great about this: I heard the voice of God’s calling in my life, and I leaned into my gifting more fully. But there were also heart issues that were tied into this decision as well. Connected to my desire to be a pastor’s wife as a child, there was deep rooted fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to articulate my own theology. Fear that I would only live in John’s shadow if we were to move into full-time ministry. Seminary, then, for me was not just leaning into my vocational calling, but also a source of identity-protection.
The next season of our marriage would be the hardest as these diseased seedlings took full form and eventually destroyed our marriage. It was destruction that could only be repaired by the great Rescuer.
Photo credit: Tord Sollie/Unsplash