Friday, October 28, 2011
Saturday, October 15, 2011
"She begged me to stay, but I was already gone. I had walked away from our marriage, children, family, friends and church. I had turned my back on God and His gospel. My feelings were blank, my faith was lost, my love was empty, and I was dead."
I wish this was someone else's story, someone vague and obscure to my immediate knowledge. Then it could be viewed as an anonymous lesson for personal application, or perhaps a good sermon illustration. I could file it away in a drawer of things that were at one time useful and now forgotten.
It is not someone else's story. It is neither vague nor obscure. It contains familiar names, faces and specific times. It is written in tears and pain and personal failure. It is my story, and it will never be forgotten.
Although it happened years ago, the scars are still visible, making the reminders ever present. I generally keep my sleeves down and the scars covered so that people who think highly of me will continue to do so, but there is a time in every man’s life when he has to step away from the stage of personal accolades and self esteem, take off his shiny clothes and show the world the stitches and scars of wars gone by.
This is the place where, after telling the mesmerizing war stories, he has to admit that most of his battle wounds were actually self-inflicted—mistakes, mishaps and sins—the worst kind of “friendly fire”.
I remember every detail of that day. I sat in the living room chair like an ice covered statue, frozen in apathy and hopelessness. A blank stare peeked though slitted eyelids as my jaws clenched in repetition with the ticking clock that hung on the wall behind me. The ticking grew louder as her cries grew softer to my deafened ears.
My wife knew something was desperately wrong with me, but she didn’t know the depth of depravity to which I had fallen. I had been walking like a ghost through our house for about six months now—a shadow of the former husband, father, and man that my family once knew.
I was living a lie, surrounded by twisted truth, all wrapped up in dark deception. She suspected the worst, yet was convinced in her heart that the man she had known and loved since she was fourteen years old could never commit these unspeakable acts, and the God she had trusted with her life would never allow her heart to be destroyed by love.
Either way, she was very aware that I had come to the end of myself, and the man who sat in that living room chair was not the man anyone had once known. Disgrace had settled on my shoulders like a wet wool blanket soaked in the sewage from the gutter of sin, and I was strangely satisfied in hiding under its cloak.
Ever aware of the statistics, I used all of them in my defense: 50% of marriages end in divorce. Add to the mix a severely disabled child and the statistics go up considerably. Throw in family history, severe anxiety and depression and it hangs by a thread. Stir together deception, treachery and infidelity and the statistics cannot account for the hopelessness that abounds. Statistics prove we never had a chance.
All that was left to do now was walk out the door and never return. I had counted the cost, accepted the consequences, burned the necessary bridges, and settled on the outcome as a sad, yet simple, result of the circumstances at hand. "Give up, go away and get over it." I thought to myself. That seemed to be the formula for most of the failed marriages I had observed anyway.
I was prepared to tell her that I no longer loved her. I was prepared for joint custody, child support and alimony. I was prepared to start life over with someone new. I was even prepared to reject my theology and accept the condemnation that I knew would follow.
I was prepared for everything that day—everything, except grace.
In a last ditch plea to wake me from my dying rebellion, she cast all of her pride and dignity aside, fell on her hands and knees and desperately wrapped her arms around my legs as I sat emotionless in the living room chair. Washing my feet with her tears, she said these words, “I love you, and I will not let you go.”
She didn’t know it then, and neither did I, but that single grip of grace would be the ember God would use to burn His gospel deep into my soul and reignite the love that was surely lost. In the difficult days to come, it would illustrate the application of the cross to my hardened heart more than all the sermons I had ever heard—all the books I had ever read.
I was captivated by her love and shocked by her response. As much as I wanted to run, I was paralyzed by grace.
Like a stick in the spokes of the wheel to my getaway vehicle, her words pierced my soul, stopped my rebellion and softened my heart just enough to allow me to feel again. It was as if Jesus Himself were holding me in that chair and speaking the same words, "I love you, and I will not let you go."
Looking back, I'm sure the spiritual warfare that day was as brutal as it had ever been in the invisible realm that surrounded our marriage and home. The darkness was powerful and relentless. God's grace was stronger.
I witnessed first hand the enemy's most potent weapon against grace. He simply dips his finger into the spilled blood of sinners and writes the letters "DIS" in front of "GRACE".
Disgrace is not a cliff where we run to commit spiritual suicide, suddenly jumping to our death. It is a gradual green slope that slowly turns brown as we descend. It is neither straight nor narrow. It is broad and curvy to keep us wide-eyed yet blind—a series of attractive turns that promises greener fields around every corner, but never delivers. Rather, around every bend the clouds get darker and darker until we find ourselves totally lost and completely without sight.
It is here where we stumble and fall from the edge of life into the pit of destruction, cushioned only by the rotting corpses that have gone before us. With dirt pressed hard underneath our fingernails, we claw the walls in an attempt to get out—blindly unaware that we are only digging deeper and deeper into the muck and the mire of sin. This is the cavern where love goes unwittingly to die.
Disgrace ultimately longs for death to cover its shame. I begged for it during those day.
But there is a strong voice from the edge of that pit—a voice proclaiming with awakening hope, that indeed death has covered your shame. The cross is the only answer to our disgrace.
It is here where Christ dips His finger into His own blood and forever covers over the "DIS" in front of the "GRACE".
"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you once walked...But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:1-5)
The gospel of grace is the rope of rescue from the pit of destruction and disgrace. Nothing else will do.
And so I post this vulnerable story with the risk of losing much respect from the people I most admire, and the reality of resurrecting much pain from the memories that are just now beginning to heal. But this is a risk worth taking because grace is always a story worth telling.
Sadly and realistically, not all marriages are saved. Not all families are spared. Not all men are awakened to the love of a tenacious wife and a merciful God. But some are, therefore there is hope.
There is hope for the men (and women) who now find themselves on the slope, around too many corners, in the fading darkness, or already clawing at the bottom of the pit.
There is hope for those covered in the muck of sin and the mire of shame.
There is hope for those who once heard from God, but now only listen to the faint whispers from the shadows telling them that they have dug too deep, turned too many corners or fallen too far.
There is hope for those who have lost all sight of life and think only death can cover their shame.
May this story and my testimony be a strong voice from the edge of that pit—a voice that proclaims with awakening hope, that indeed death has covered your shame.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Romans 5:8&10