Small moments, Big impact

Have you ever looked at your life and wondered, “what is my legacy? How am I making a difference in this world?”

I think for some people it’s very clear. Pastors, missionaries, humanitarians and aid workers — these people can see how they are influencing lives and doing God’s work on a daily basis. For the rest of us, it may be hard to look at our lives and know how/if we are leaving a mark. Sometimes the way people touch our lives and impact our spiritual journey is bold and immediate, like a large rock being thrown into a pond, making a huge splash, and maybe even displacing us. But more often I think it is the small interactions, the bits of encouragement or truth that are said in passing, that end up staying with us, like quiet raindrops on the pond, slowly filling us up and over time changing our core substance.

Over the last 15 years I have been a youth group leader, confirmation teacher, Sunday school teacher, and led adult small group Bible studies. I can’t say that in any of those roles I’ve witnessed anything I said or did causing a big splash in someone’s life. But I certainly pray that my words, or perhaps even just my mere presence have contributed drops of hope, encouragement or truth that has stuck with them.

I know there are several instances of these small blessings in my life that have had a lasting impression. They were seemingly insignificant  at the time. Simple conversations or gestures that likely the givers don’t even recall. But they have had a huge impact in my life and stayed with me.

small raindrops

I’ve already written about how my dear friend Mary gave me my very first Michael W. Smith cassette tape when I was 13, which began my 25 year love affair with his music. It might sound silly, but that gift really changed my life. It came at exactly the right time to get me through an incredibly difficult period of life, but more than that, it introduced me to the world of contemporary Christian music and how good music can have a significant impact on the worship experience. I am not much of a musician — despite 7 years of piano lessons I can’t really play anything more difficult than Ode to Joy (the easy version), and the three years I played clarinet I spent as the perpetual third chair — but I know and appreciate good music. I know that it can change the entire worship experience, and can surpass language and cultural barriers to bring people together. I have experienced the Holy Spirit through song. And my most profound worship experiences have been set to music.

Today, I have the pleasure of working with the worship leader at our church to recruit and schedule musicians, evaluate potential songs, and help plan and create additional creative arts elements that go into our services. Despite my inability to sing on-key or play an instrument, I have a way to influence and support the worship experience because of my love and understanding of music, and it all started with that “Go West Young Man” cassette.

When I was 17 and a senior in high school I was eagerly planning for college. After a trip to Appalachian State to interview for some scholarships and tour the campus, I came home and excitedly relayed to some friends all the reasons college was going to be totally awesome! (said in my best 90’s voice) As I told my friend Cara, who was a year younger than I, about the campus and the facilities, she asked,”did you look at any churches while you were down there?”

“Well, no, I didn’t get a chance to do that yet.”

“Don’t you think that is important? That you find a church you can attend while you’re there?” Cara was clearly wise-beyond-her-years. While I had been so caught-up in the campus life, looking at dorm rooms, checking out the football stadium and the coffee shops, I had not once considered looking at churches or finding a Christian student-group.

After that conversation with Cara, I contacted the school about the Christian student groups and ultimately joined the Lutheran Student Association (LSA), which had a HUGE impact on my spiritual formation during those four years. I also found the local Lutheran church to be my home-away-from-home. The pastor and his wife became like family to me, and in 2000 I was married in that church.

I’m sure my friend Cara didn’t know the impact her simple question would have on me, and probably has forgotten it ever happened. But 25 years later it still remains in my thoughts.

The last story I’ll share is more recent. In my 15 year career as a marketer, I’ve had the joy to work with some fantastic managers and mentors, many of whom have become personal friends. When I first started working at my current company I had two managers, one of which was in South Africa. Soon after I started in the new role I got to travel to Johannesburg to meet her, and we spent a good bit of time getting to know one another on that first trip . Ironically, we shared bits about our personal lives that might not have come up so soon if we worked in the same office. Over dinner my second night there the topic turned to our personal beliefs and we found out we were both Christians and our faith was a big part of our lives. This bit of early knowledge, I believe, really shaped our professional relationship and personal friendship because we could be very candid and honest with one another and didn’t worry about crossing any professional boundaries.

I recall one conversation in particular, about 5 years ago, when I was considering going back to school to get my Master’s Degree. I was lamenting to her all the reasons I was afraid to make the commitment. She said to me, “Yes, but God does not want us to have a spirit of fear. We are called to trust in Him.”  Wow! Convicted, this girl right here, thank you very much!

Again, that one statement –that little raindrop — struck me to my core and has stayed with me. Whenever I start to get caught-up in the fear and worry of branching outside of my comfort zone, I remember Jo-Anne’s words and I turn to God to take away my fear and give me strength.

This past weekend at the She Speaks conference, keynote speaker Lysa TerKeurst reminded us that it is not about our words, it is about The Word.

His word.

When we speak the truth to all who come across our path, God will use it to change hearts, encourage the hurting, and create a lasting effect — whether it shows up as a big splash or a tiny drop. I try to remember this and trust God that He will use my words to encourage others and shine a light on the truth.

Do you have a similar story? I would love to hear how someone has said or done something in your life that’s had a lasting impact on your spiritual journey. Please share either through the comments section or on my Facebook page.

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” – John 7:18

I am a writer

“Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” – Ephesians 3:20

I pulled into an open space in the large parking lot, turned off the ignition,  took a deep breath and let it out slowly. As I got out of my car and started to walk toward the doors of the large convention center, where I would join 800 other women, I prayed silently. “Here I go, Lord. I don’t know why exactly you brought me here, but I will be fine with whatever happens this weekend. Even if the message is that I’m not ready, that’s fine. I will be OK with whatever lessons you want me to learn.” And then, just before I reached the doors, I heard His reply: “Why do you put limitations on me? Do you think that I cannot do great things with you? Do not doubt my power and my purpose for bringing you here!”

Oh.

Wow.

Yes, Lord…message received!

With shoulders back and head held high, I walked through those doors ready for what lie ahead.

That was the beginning of two amazing days at the She Speaks 2014 conference. The conference is designed to train and educate Christian women who feel called to use their gifts to write or speak. Whether the desire is to lead a women’s bible study or speak to a stadium of women, to write blog posts or best-selling books, She Speaks is for “women seeking to live out the unique calling God has placed on their lives.” I first heard about the conference two years ago and was completely gob-smacked about the idea. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but God was already working on my heart and preparing me.

Having just finished grad school in May, I had absolutely no intention of going to the conference this year. But a series of events that were so perfectly aligned they can only be credited to Godly intervention, led me here to Concord, NC and this convention center, with a book proposal in hand. You see, not only had God made it so I could attend the conference, two weeks prior to leaving I was notified that I was eligible to have a meeting with one of the many publishers that would be at the conference.

The first day was an equal mix of inspiration and education. It was intimidating to be there by myself with all of these women. Despite God’s loud-and-clear message to me on my way into the convention center, I looked around the large ballroom before the opening session and thought, “how do I possibly belong here? I just started my blog 4 weeks ago! I don’t have a platform or a big following. My degree is in marketing, not theology! Why do I think I’m even qualified to be a writer?” I was sure that all 799 other women were way more experienced and qualified than I.

I sat down at a table of other women; we made polite introductions, discussed where we were from, etc. Then I was caught off-guard by the next question that came, “are you a speaker or a writer?” Say, what? They are assuming if I’m here I must already be one of these? Oh gosh, I really don’t belong. “I’m, uh, um, an aspiring writer,” I say as my neck heats up and my face flushes. The other women smile and nod.

The rest of the first day I went from session to session, furiously taking notes about the ins-and-outs of a successful book proposal, and the process of turning ideas into a book people actually want to read. I was awe-struck and inspired to hear from NY Times bestselling authors like Shaunti Feldhahn (For Women Only), Jerry B. Jenkins (Left Behind Series, and a bazillion other books), and Lysa TerKeurst (Unglued, Am I Messing Up My Kids, etc.) and I tried to just be a sponge.

She Speaks 2014 - Day 1
Day 1 of She Speaks 2014

At the end of the day I went back to my hotel room to make some last-minute changes to my book proposal based on the day’s learnings. My appointment was at 2:15 the next day and I was really starting to get nervous. By 10:30 p.m. I called my best friend in a panic. I still doubted what I was doing there, I doubted my proposal was any good. Heck I doubted if I was even ready to be putting together a proposal. What were my qualifications to be writing a book? But my dear, sweet friend talked me off the ledge and reminded me that God put this on my heart for a reason. He paved the way for me to attend this conference for a reason. He got me an appointment with a publisher…for a reason. It was time to put away my doubt and fear and trust God. Then she prayed for me while I sat on the other end of the phone with tears in my eyes.

The next morning I woke up early, showered and dressed, and arrived at Kinkos the moment they opened so I could print out the revised proposal. The morning’s sessions were amazing. Renee Swope talked about letting go of fear and self-doubt (boy did I need to hear that message). I met more women, and we talked about our reasons for being there. Everyone was incredibly friendly and genuinely interested in hearing about my proposal and blog. But as the day inched closer and closer to that 2:15 appointment, I felt the butterflies creeping in again. At lunchtime I grabbed my food and sat at an empty table. As the the room started to fill up and I continued to sit alone I felt increasingly uncomfortable. Then a woman walked up and asked me if the seat beside me was taken. I welcomed her to sit and we introduced ourselves. Her name was Joy. (Sometimes God is so obvious, isn’t he?) Joy and I talked about many things — our call to write, our “day jobs”, our children, various places we had lived. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation moved along, but suddenly Joy said, “You are a writer. God put that on your heart and gave you the skills you need. You have to own it.” I just looked at her for a moment, at a loss for words. Then I finally said, “I don’t think it was an accident that you came and sat beside me.”

She Speaks 2014 - Day 2
Day 2 of She Speaks

***************************

The meeting with the publisher went well. Really well. Of course I won’t know for a few more weeks if my proposal will get passed on to the next phase, but whether this publishing house chooses to publish my book or not doesn’t really matter because it’s not the end of this journey. It took God telling me three different times over the weekend before I really got it. But I know that “God’s power is at work within me and is able to do far more than I would ever dare to ask or even dream of— infinitely beyond my highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” (Ephesians 3:20)

I know that He put this desire on my heart for a reason and He is not to be underestimated.

I know it’s not about my words, but about the word.

I know that I am a writer.

Extra soft tortillas or extra-soft tortillas?

My husband and I have been together for over 18 years and married for 14. By this point we are pretty aware of each other’s distinct personality traits, including our basic communication differences. For example, my husband knows that speaking to me before 8 a.m. will result in a grunt and nod at best, and at worst could be dangerous for his health. And I know that if I wait until we are both in bed to try and discuss something important, I’m going to get a lot of “uh-huhs” and “I don’t knows” before I start to hear snoring.

Over the years we have learned a lot about how to communicate more effectively and gotten past many of the basic communication hurdles that plague men and women. He gets that I have a need to hash out every detail of a situation, and lets me do so. And I have learned to stop reading into everything he says (or doesn’t say) and just come right out and ask what I wish to know. Yet, there are  moments when our efforts to communicate clearly with each other actually backfires.

For example, last year we were preparing to have some family over for dinner and my husband offered to run to the grocery store if I made the list. I was planning to make chicken fajitas and my shopping list looked something like this:

Bell peppers

Onions

Sour Cream

Chicken

Fajita kit 

Yes, I use a boxed kit and it’s delicious. Don’t judge.

But as I started thinking about how our family of five easily goes through all of the soft tortillas that come with the standard kit, I thought it best to have some extras on hand since we were having two guests. So I added this to the list:

extra soft tortillas

I put the “extra” in there because knowing my husband, who will shop with a calculator in hand to make sure he is getting the best bargain, I had a feeling if I just put “soft tortillas” on the list he’d come home with nothing, declaring that there were already tortillas in the kit, so he didn’t need to buy them separately. Makes sense, right? I was just avoiding a potential miscommunication that would lead to a return trip to the grocery store (and when you live 20 minutes from the closest store you employ whatever means necessary to avoid a return trip).

50's housewife with list
Let’s see, if I put “extra soft tortillas” it should avoid any confusion.

That afternoon my husband came home from the store and I started to help him put away the groceries. Bell peppers – check! Chicken – check! Fajita kit- check! Extra tortillas – well, he bought burrito sized tortillas, not the smaller fajita sized ones, but that’s OK, at least we’d have enough.

As I was putting the tortillas away my husband came over and said, “I hope these are OK, the package says they are super soft.”

Me: “Huh?”

Hubby: “Well, I didn’t see any that said extra-soft on the package. These were the closest I could find. Is that OK?”

Me: (pausing a moment to process what he’s just said) Bwahahahaha……can’t breathe……..laughing…….so hard…….tears streaming……..down…….my face

Hubby: “What? I don’t get it?”

Me: “I meant extra soft tortillas,” giggle, snort, giggle, “not extra-soft tortillas!”

Once it sunk in what he’d done (or what I’d done, depending on how you look at the situation) we both laughed for a while.

Mission tortillas
Look honey, they say “super soft” on the package!

It’s a funny example of how sometimes over-communicating can be problematic. Unfortunately, in our house, this doesn’t always lead to a funny story. Oftentimes my “over-communicating” is perceived by my husband as nagging. Like when I ask him to call the phone company about an unusual charge on our bill. Then the next day I email him in the morning as reminder, and then I text him in the afternoon. When he gets home I ask him if he called the phone company and he says, “no, I didn’t have time, but I will do it tomorrow.”

By this point we are both completely frustrated. I’m frustrated because I’m thinking ‘I only reminded you three times! How could you not take care of this one little thing?’ And he’s thinking, ‘I told you I would take care of it, and I’ll take care of it. I can’t do everything you want me to, right when you want me to, so stop nagging!’ (or at least I assume the inner-dialogue in his head sounds something like that). And now something as simple as a phone call has built a small wall between us, and perhaps even set the tone for the entire evening.

What I could have should have said was “honey, I really need to pay the phone bill by Thursday, can you please be sure to call them and find out what this charge is before then? I can send you a reminder if you want.” And then just trust he will get it done, because most times he does, especially if I communicate exactly what I need, why, and when.

I know this is a better way to communicate, and it’s not all that difficult, really. But the truth is, even after 18 years, we still do this to each other. I do it because I’m distracted and don’t take the time to think about what I’m really asking. I do it because I’m caught up in the hurry-up-and-get-it-done of life.  I do it because old habits die hard.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he wrote, “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29). How much frustration would I relieve, how many hurt feelings would I avoid if I made sure my words ‘fit the occasion’ and ‘gave grace’ to my husband?

Don’t answer that; it was a rhetorical question. I know I’ve got some work to do here. But I have a feeling I’m in good company.

 

And next week I’ll be offering a free class for married couples called,  Extra soft tortillas vs. extra-soft tortillas: Why punctuation matters.

 

 

Dear Michael W. Smith, I love you. That is all. Sincerely, your number one fan.

Whenever I meet someone new it doesn’t take long before they find out that I am a HUGE Michael W. Smith fan. I’m not sure how this always comes up so quickly in conversation. I mean, it’s not like I go around wearing an “I ♥ Michael W. Smith” t-shirt…well at least not every day!

My love for Smitty (yes, he is totally OK with me calling him that) is just one of those things that is core to who I am — like having brown eyes…or ten toes…or, you know, breathing. It is a deep-seated love that spans nearly 25 years. Don’t worry, my husband knows and he is OK with this. After-all, Michael was in my life before I met David.

Michael W. Smith

To truly understand how I earned my “number one fan” status, you have to know how it all began. When I was 13 my friend Mary gave me my very first Michael W. Smith cassette tape for Christmas (if you are under 25 ask your parents what a cassette tape is) . I remember opening that gift and thinking “umm, thanks? I have no idea who this is.” She assured me I would love him. And boy was she right! (Years later I offered her my second and third born children as payment for introducing me to Smitty, but she decided to settle for being their godmother, instead.)

That year I was 13 and it was a particularly difficult time in my adolescence. I had just moved in with my dad and step-mom, leaving behind all of my friends in another state, and a strained relationship with my mom. I was in a new home, new town, new school, and recovering from a traumatic experience that had happened earlier that year. It was a little more than your average 13-year-old-girl-angst. As I listened to that tape I felt like every song had been written just for me.

Every.

Single.

One.

How did this man from Kenova, WV know how I was feeling or what I was going through? I blasted his music at top volume in my bedroom, singing along and memorizing every word. In fact, I listened to that tape  so much it finally broke!

Three years later I got to attend my first Michael W. Smith concert. I was so flippin’ excited, it was like my very own Beatlemania moment. And to top it off? They were taping the concert video right there in Fairfax, Virginia! Five months later, when the concert video came out, I found out I was actually on the video!! Ok so it was like for two seconds, and if you blink you miss me…but let me tell you, if the concert was the highlight of my year, being on that video was the highlight of the decade! (I still have that video tape and I made EVERYONE watch it…even if they didn’t know who Michael W. Smith was. I even marked on the back cover where I could be found — right between “I Wanna Tell the World” and “Color Blind”, in case you’re dying to dig out your copy and find me.)

Over the years my love for Smitty grew, and his music became the soundtrack to my life. When I was graduating high-school and saying goodbye, I listened to “Friends” over and over again. When I graduated college, I cried along to “Pray for Me” for months. When my husband and I got married, our first dance was to “Love of My Life.” When I was in the hospital in labor for 26 hours with my first born I had the Freedom album on continuous play. When she was a baby I sang the song “Anna” to my eldest daughter (changing it to Hannah). You get the point.

But the highlight of my long-time fandom came in 2008. The year before I found out that Michael W. Smith had a cruise. Back then this was a relatively new thing to be able to cruise with a favorite band or musician and I could not believe that this existed. As a joke I sent a link to the cruise website to several close family and friends with the subject line “Guess what I want for Christmas?” My friend Erin was prepared to start a fundraising campaign for me, complete with T-shirts that read: “Cruise tickets: $2,500. Airfare from Washington to Ft. Lauderdale: $300. Getting to see Jelise put suntan lotion on Michael W. Smith: priceless.” I still totally want one of these t-shirts.

It was an expensive trip and we had three young children; I had absolutely no expectations of going. So you can imagine my surprise when my mom and step-mom came together to buy two tickets to the cruise for my husband and I to go. It was my birthday and Christmas presents for the next five years, but I totally didn’t care because to me this was the trip of a lifetime. Finally, I would get to meet the man. I mean, how excited would he be to finally meet his number one fan?!

Me and Michael W. Smith
Michael W. Smith hangin’ with his number one fan.

But then, it got even better. I found out that in addition to all of the concerts, events, and exotic ports we’d get to experience there was something called Smitty-oke that would be played on the ship. This is where you get to go up on stage with Michael W. Smith and his band and sing one of his songs with him!!

OH!

MY!

WORD!

Can you even imagine? OK so maybe the idea of singing with Michael W. Smith doesn’t excite you. But just think of your all-time favorite singer or band. Now, imagine getting to go up on stage and sing with them! Are you with me?

Now you should know that I am a terrible singer, and not particularly thrilled about sharing that in front of a room full of people, but I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I had to do it. Here is the evidence:

Smitty-oke
Just me and Smitty, singing together. No biggie.

There were many other super-cool experiences from that trip. Like, there was this other artist on the cruise — her name is Amy Grant. Perhaps you’ve heard of her? Also, Michael and his whole family were in a cabin four doors down from us, so we passed him in the hall daily;  I talked to his wife once on the elevator; I got to play a version of Family Feud against his mom and in-laws — you know your normal vacationing with a celebrity stuff.

The thing is, as much as I joke about my love for Smitty, what has made me a life-long fan is that his music continues to speak to me and touch my life. A few years ago he released a new CD with a song on it called “You Won’t Let Go”. It’s a phenomenal song, and the bridge of the song goes like this: “neither height, neither depth, highest height or deepest depth, nothing can, nothing can separate.” When I first heard this song I had just made the decision to start building this blog and call it Neither Height Nor Depth, inspired by my all-time favorite Bible verse. I had started to write posts but not yet published anything. I wasn’t sure I was up to it, quite frankly. I doubted if I had what it takes to write new content each week, or that anyone would be interested in reading what I had to say. But when I heard that song, it suddenly became my anthem, and I knew God was with me in this writing thing.

Not unlike that 13 year-old-girl who felt so lost and alone until she heard the words: “If there are millions down on their knees, among the many can you still hear me? Hear me asking where do I belong?” And she suddenly felt like everything was going to be OK.

 

Why it hurts whenever I hear the words “if my husband ever cheated on me, I would leave him”

[Author’s note: I am incredibly grateful to my husband for encouraging me to write about and share this very personal part of our story. He believes, as do I, that God has called us to use our past to encourage and give hope to others. For his selflessness and bravery, I love him all the more.]

Friends in cafe
Copyright: peus / 123RF Stock Photo

There we are, sitting at a table in a busy restaurant, enjoying a “mom’s night out”. The talk at the table turns to a friend of a friend who is going through a painful divorce. Her husband had an affair and she is, of course, devastated and trying to pick up the pieces of her life. And then it’s said. That one sentence that I know is coming. “My husband knows if he ever cheated on me it would be over!”

Around the table heads nod in agreement and friends chime in with their unanimous support of this statement. And I shift in my chair uncomfortably. I pretend to study the menu a little more closely. I sip my drink until there’s just ice. Anything to avoid eye contact or weighing in on this conversation.

I know my friends have no idea how hard it is for me to hear this statement. How much it hurts. I know because ten years ago I could be found sitting around a table of girlfriends saying the same thing.

But that was before.

Before I knew what it was really like to be faced with that reality.

Growing up I saw the devastating effects of infidelity in my parent’s marriages. As a child I felt the repercussions. I also saw and lived through the life-altering effects of divorce, and at times grasped for a life-ring in the wake of the pain and destruction it left. From my child’s eyes it was so simple. I would never, ever get divorced, I vowed. That is…unless…he cheated on me. I mean, after-all the Bible gives us an out on this. As Christians we can say this in mixed company and no one will judge us. Everyone will agree.

But then.

Then your life, your marriage, doesn’t always go the way you plan. Hell, does anything go the way we plan?

We had been married for 5 years when I found out that my husband had been unfaithful. It was the most devastating experience I could never have fathomed. The air was sucked out of me and I was living a bad dream, just waiting to wake up. While it was a one-time occurrence, I found out that it had been triggered by a spiraling addiction to pornography that my husband had managed to keep hidden from me for the 9 years we’d been together. An addiction he’d struggled with since he was a boy. As with any addiction, it escalated, sending him down a dark rabbit hole and dragging him deeper and deeper until it was completely out-of-control. The shame, guilt, and fear he lived with everyday…well I can only try to imagine.

When the truth came out I was in a state of shock for weeks. I didn’t know what to do, what to say, or where to turn. But I knew two things. 1. My life would never be the same, and 2. I didn’t want to pack my bags and leave like I had always thought I would if faced with this news.

I saw before me a broken, hurting man. The man I loved so dearly. Yes, I was angry. Yes, I wanted to scream and yell and hit him, and sometimes I did those things. But mostly I wanted to love him.

Once he confessed it all, he immediately offered to go seek the help he knew he needed. We both went to counseling, separately. Him to face his addiction, and me to deal with this new reality.

I told only two people in my life what had happened.

I prayed. A lot.

I went through days where everything seemed fine and normal, and days when I just cried for hours, barely able to get out of bed. I questioned him over and over again. What else had he done? Who else had he been with? What wasn’t he telling me? All trust was out the window and gone and I was scared. So, so scared that it would never be there again.

I won’t sugar coat it. It was hard. We went through some excruciatingly dark periods. For a while I had the number of a divorce attorney in my Rolodex at work, and many days I thought, ‘today is the day I will call’.

It took the better part of two years of counseling to get through the worst of it. And at least another two years before I really started to believe we were going to make it.

I recall one night lying in bed after an argument with my husband, crying and pleading with God. “How will we ever get through this? Will I ever truly be able to forgive and trust him again?” And I remember so clearly, as if He was in the room with me, God whispered in my ear and said “If I can forgive him and love him, so can you. If I can forgive you of all the wrongs you’ve done, how can you not also forgive him?”

I didn’t wake up the next day and find everything had magically fallen into place. But, after that moment I was able to see my husband as a beloved, hurting child of God who was worthy of forgiveness. And over time I was able to forgive him — really, truly forgive and let go — and eventually trust him again.

It’s been 9 years since I found out about my husband’s affair. I tell you the truth when I say I love and respect this man more today than I did the day I married him. He spent over four years in counseling working through his addiction, his past and all of the hurt and pain it had caused in his life. I am amazed at his fortitude and all he’s overcome.

Our marriage is far from perfect. We argue, and get on each other’s nerves, and sometimes…every once in a while…when we’re not communicating as often as we need to I still feel a little bit of the old worry and doubt creep in. But over the years this happens less and less; maybe one day it won’t happen at all. Or maybe it will always be there on some small scale as a reminder of where we’ve been and just how far we’ve come. I don’t know.

What I do know is that this does not define us. My husband’s addiction and sin does not define him as a man or a husband. Being the wife who was cheated on is not my label. Being the couple who survived infidelity is not who we are. We are so much more than this. We are sinful, broken children of God who are doing our best to live the life He called us to lead. To be the husband and wife He knows we can be. The parents He has blessed us to be.

Please, please know that this is our story only. I share this not as a model for what I think all couples who are facing infidelity must do. I cast absolutely no judgement on anyone who has walked away from a marriage broken and hurting. Everyone’s circumstances are different.

I write this and share it with all of you because I want you to know there is hope. If your marriage has been broken, if you are facing an addiction, living with shame — there is hope. You must want it, and you must work for it and, above all, you must be patient and trust the Lord to heal you and your relationship, but it can be done. Whether the relationship survives or it doesn’t, the Lord will mend your heart if you let Him.

Just promise me…next time you’re sitting with a group of friends talking about marriages and infidelity, try to remember that until you’ve been there and walked that broken road, you don’t really know what you will choose. And, God forbid, if you ever do find yourself in that situation, know that there is no shame and no weakness in choosing to stay.