Some stories are easy to tell. They are silly with funny punch lines and they make people laugh and mostly they don't mean anything. The stories that are worth telling are harder. They require opening up a little bit more, and they require being vulnerable to criticism and judgment. They leave you with the echoing question of what will people think of me? Those are the ones that make the difference, though. They are work. And they hopefully connect with people. And maybe even change people. That's my hope, and this is my story.
It was April, springtime in Tennessee. My husband (now ex-husband, of course) had just gone to jail for the second time for domestic assault. For the 30 days between his arrest and his appearance in court, I could not legally talk to him, and when I finally could, it wasn't pretty. Our struggling little marriage was barely hanging on. Spiritually, I was feeling great. Throughout the previous seven months, he had been gone for four of them, leaving me to work full time and raise four kids on my own. I had struggled with so much anger and resentment, but from all of my wrestling with God, something new and alive and real had been birthed. I was reading my Bible and praying consistently. God had been speaking vividly and clearly to me, and I felt like I was learning so much. In my weakness, God was definitely my strength. It was one of the most spiritually alive times in my life. My life was chaos, but I had found peace in the midst of it.
Then it came. A text message from the father of one of my second grade students. An innocent text message to thank me for performing at a local fundraiser that would eventually go to benefit his family. I responded nicely, and it opened a door that I didn't even know existed. One text message led to another, and before I knew it, I found myself checking my phone regularly, hoping that he had texted me. It was casual conversation. Funny things that didn't mean anything. We were just being friendly, I told myself. After how difficult my life had been, I deserved some fun conversation. I confided in a friend after a few weeks and I told her about the "friendship" that had developed. Of course, she encouraged me to cut things off. No professions of attraction or affection had been exchanged, and she said that it was not too late. Just end it, she said. And I told her that I would. Except after a few weeks, I didn't want to.
These situations happen to other people. Other people that put themselves into the wrong places. People that don't have proper boundaries. They don't happen to people like me. I was a second grade teacher at a Christian school. I led worship for elementary chapel and school events, and I loved it. I did children's ministry at our church, and was surrounded by a community of people that loved me and prayed with me through my marital struggles. I had so much love and support and encouragement. And yet, it did happen to me. And it happens all the time to people just like me. People who love God and want to do what's right. People who genuinely love their spouse. People who let their spiritual guard down for just a second because it feels nice to have attention. People who are tired of feeling like the bad guy. People who are lonely and want to feel normal again. Young again. Attractive again. Funny again. Oh, it happens all the time.
I don't have to tell you how this story ends. Mostly because there is only one way that it could have. Badly. Very, very badly. You cannot choose to go outside of God's laws and guidelines and sow seeds of disobedience and expect anything less. I will tell you what you can expect. Pain, sorrow, regret, heartbreak, mistrust, to name a few. And a mess. You can expect a mess. There is always debris in the wake of disaster, and it can take months, even years to clean up. The good news is that there is also restoration and forgiveness and grace and redemption and growth. Huge amounts of those things. But even in those beautiful things, there is a tinge of sadness. There are lingering feelings of guilt that must be fought off. There is a reminder of blessings from obedience that were missed.
I tell you my story because it's a common one. It's just not commonly told. It happens all around us every single day. And when we do hear of these things, and if you are like me, you say to yourself that won't happen to me... I would never do that. I would never open up my heart to someone other than my spouse. And I hope that you won't. But let me tell you this, you are capable of it. It's one of the biggest truths that people do not believe. If I had believed that I was capable of that kind of betrayal, I would have certainly been more careful. I would have protected myself. I wouldn't have allowed for it to creep in like in did. Instead, I thought I can handle this. It's under control. And it wasn't.
So let me help you out here. Let me tell you how it starts. One text. One Facebook message. One email. One phone call. One conversation. One meeting. And in the beginning, it will be innocent. Your intentions will be pure. You will think it's no big deal. You are just catching up with an old friend. You are simply enjoying conversation. You are just meeting for coffee. And sometimes, it will be fine. I have had wonderful, pure Godly relationships with male bosses and friends and coworkers. But the second the Holy Spirit nudges me, the second I get the feeling that maybe I should hide this, the second that I feel that familiar something's not right here feeling, I escape. I tell an accountability partner. I tell my spouse. I run for the hills. I have been there before, and I don't want to go back.
I am thankful for my new marriage. It is precious, and I am desperate to protect it. And just a day or so ago, I got a message from an old friend. And that something's not right here feeling was there. And so I deleted it. I didn't respond. I felt bad, but I would rather feel bad than go there again. I will keep the vow that I made... forsaking all others.
So this is my story. I tell it knowing that it could invite the judgment of others. It might become table conversation for some. There is certainly a huge part of me that longs to keep it secret so that no one's opinion of me will change. But some stories are so life changing, they are meant to be told. And in the center of them, we see God's goodness and forgiveness and his unconditional love. We can also see how easy it is to make one bad choice and where it could lead. So this is my story. I tell it for many reasons, but mostly I tell it so that it will not be yours.