We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us. ~Romans 5:3-5
If you would have quoted me these verses during the time I think I would have punched you in the nose. I did not like suffering. I did not like persevering. Persevering is pregnant pain. We lived smack in the middle of pregnant pain.
The grief and struggle was intense for me. I had every thought in the book on how to relieve the pain. There was a constant cage match rattling my insides.
Originally, I planned on posting this on Friday. Thursday evening I was tired and realized I didn't have the emotional energy to engage with this particular post. When I write, when I speak about our story, I want to be present, heart and soul. I didn't want to just list some facts or solely cut and paste on this one. So I posted the more practical inventories Thursday evening for Friday morning.
Being present is something I learned going through the suffering of all this and at CCU in the counseling program. Be present as best I can. I am most imperfect at it but still that is a goal. So here I am Sunday evening more engaged. These are pivotal, direction altering moments in my life as we encountered the grace that I'm sharing. I've shared much of this before but I want you to know that this matters to me, you matter to me reading my story whomever you may be.
We had many great friends going through this but two men were pivotal for me, Sonny and Steve.
We had some friends, still do, their daughter had been killed in a car wreck. It was a very sad accident with physical damage to other family members too. We knew they understood the depth of the pain that we were in. It was different pain, but the depth of it was similar. We both had gas lines catch flame and blow up our worlds.
I could tell Sonny how I was feeling at the moment. I told him about a mirror that I smashed with a 3 iron. More about that down the road when we talk about unhealthy and healthy ways to express anger. He told me about going into his bedroom closet and kicking a hole in the wall. Nobody could see it and he fixed it when they sold their house. We both knew that sometimes we just had to release some of the energy from the anger that we had. We connected that way and were honest with one another. I shared moments and thoughts with him that I didn't with anyone else.
I was in the Army Reserves at the time. My Chaplain’s name was Steve Smallwood. I had drill the first weekend after I found out about the affair. I told Steve I needed to talk to him. We walked 30 yards down the hall, through the door, and outside. Before I said a word, he looked at me and said, ‘What happened?’ ‘Did your wife have an affair?’
He had read it on my face. He had just been through it with a friend of his at church who had an affair. He had just been through the whole restoration process. God placed him in my life. Without him I don’t know what would have happened. He really guided us.
He took me out to lunch that first day. He said, ‘Ben, your marriage isn’t over yet and God isn’t through using you.’ I had thought they were both done. I didn’t really believe him at the time but I put that in my back pocket. His words provided me hope during some of the deepest moments of despair.
At one point Sonny told me the guys at his church were going to Promise Keepers in Texas Stadium in November. I told him I'd think about it. I didn't really want to go to a rahrah event for God. Yet I took off the time from work. I had the thought that I'd take another woman on a secret vacation if he didn't get back with me. I told you there was Mixed Martial Arts going on inside.
Eventually, the dates drew near. I didn't have another woman to go and take a vacation. Sonny called. He said, and I'm not kidding, we've got one more seat left on the bus. One more seat Billy Graham.
I drove the 2 hours to get my one seat and we headed to Dallas. I wasn't in the mood to get all caught up in the hoopla. Tony Evans called men out. He used Rocky 5 and the ghost of Mick to tell us to get up ya bums. The world needs men to get out of the gutter and fight. James Ryle also spoke. His focus was on our desperate need for the spirit. I was a little more interested.
Sonny and I went to the motel and I relived my college days with pizza and Sportscenter at 1030.
Saturday, at the end of the morning John Maxwell spoke. He put three chairs on stage. He spoke about how in the bible there are a few examples of a man who is hot for God, his son is lukewarm for God and his son is cold for God. I began to stir and think about what I wanted to pass to my son, Payne. The battle inside felt like a tug of war between God and Satan. Did I want to go back to drinking and partying and get divorced? Did I want to continue on a path with God and clinging to Him?
This guy comes out in the afternoon to make announcements. They don't have alter calls on Saturdays at Promise Keepers. He did. "I sense a lot of you guys are stirred up. We're going to have a time where you can come down if you want." Men streamed down the stadium. Thousands. Near the end my tears were flowing, snot was rolling, and I got out on the stairs and it was like they went flat in a cartoon and I slid down to the floor. My pastor followed me down and asked me what was going on. I told him I realized that more than anything I just want to be close to God.
Fourteen months after the affair, after a ride home in my one seat on the bus and a two hour car drive, I told my wife I forgave her.
Forgiveness was a huge part of our restoration and redemption. Ann’s affair was off and on for about three years. She would start and stop, but had never told me about the depth of their relationship. Ann and I before the affair had a stupid agreement that we could each have a close friend of the opposite sex. We thought we were being hip. I think now we were just in denial.
I had read that it takes about as long to get over the affair as it went on. So, generously, I gave God three years to restore my marriage. It was actually very arrogant to tell God how long he had. I knew I couldn’t forgive Ann on my own. I committed to staying for three years and working on the relationship but not necessarily staying married. This commitment let the process develop.
I didn’t want to get a divorce because I couldn’t stand the thought of another man tucking my kids into bed. I hated that idea though I know many men live with that.
Forgiveness is a process. It doesn’t happen as quick as you can snap your fingers. Learning that it is a process helped me initially. At first I felt a lot of pressure as a Christian to forgive. I even wondered if I could be angry at the start. That’s crazy. Of course I could. God is angry many times in the Bible. At the time though I didn’t really know that anger wasn’t a sin. It’s what we do with it sometimes that makes it a sin. Down the road I'll tell you more about that mirror and the 3 iron.
I could forgive little bits here and there as we went forward. Part of what helped me to forgive was to learn how hostile our culture is to our sexuality, our gender, and monogamy. Ann was set up. She still made her choices, but I owned how much each of us was attacked with this all through our lives leading up to the affair. I began to see where those influences had taken us.
Still, fourteen months after the revelation I had forgiven just a bit here and a piece there. Forgiving Ann after Dallas was a huge leap, a successful Snake River flight.
As I tell the story tonight, I know that I mainly stayed available to God. He worked the forgiveness out in me to pass on. He worked. I stayed available. It had to be him because I was a roaring mess with that cage brawl inside.
A month after the big leap of forgiveness I had drill. Steve and I headed out over lunch to a bookstore. He had been there for me through all of it. Each month at drill he would let me hang out extra with him. There were many calls and emails between drill weekends where he Iistened and supported and called out courage.
I told him I was thinking about going back to school, though not for an MDiv but for a counseling degree. He picked up a copy of Inside Out by Larry Crabb. He told me if he was going to go to school he'd go learn from Larry. Steve was a little freaked out when 4 months later I told him I was moving to Colorado. I was accepted into the Colorado Christian University to attend the Masters in Counseling program which Larry Crabb founded. Steve was thrilled for me too.
Sonny and Steve were instrumental in walking with me through my suffering, my grieving, my disorientation. They were great friends that showed me much grace and constantly led me into the presense of Grace. These great friends were essential in my eventually remembering the depth of grace I had received and living that out as an offering of forgiveness to Ann.
Ann and I had moved from suffering through the perseverance. Character was built in me going through that pregnant pain. I did grow as a man. I experienced hope. I experienced that God’s grace is bigger than any sin. C. Welton Gaddy says, ‘Grace fears no sin.’
God's grace melted my anger more to sorrow and Ann and I could grieve together.