Monday, December 29, 2014
Back in those earlier days with our oldest son, back when we drove to see him on Sundays at a state prison, I worried about how we'd ever spend our minutes together.
We'd created a safe place to love each other on faded lines of jail notebook paper, Cory and I taking turns writing, sometimes shoving two letters in one envelope. Robert wrote back with an abundance of smiley faces, the kind with long dash marks for eyes, and a complete omission of punctuation.
Most nights, we spoke on the phone, packing as much as we could into a timed, 30-minute call, often repeating ourselves, defaulting to parental proclamations, "We love you so much." "We're so proud of you." "Please go outside for some fresh air."
This was different. Now, there was nothing between us. No walls or screens, no miles. Our knees bumping under the flimsy table, our eyes locked, plenty of time. We needed some new material.
I threw it out often, "Ask us anything! We'll answer!"
But he hung back at the ropes, listening to all our stories, sharing his own. Never asking.
Until, one night, he did. "What's the worst thing you've ever done?" he asked across the crackling prison line.
We held him off for a while. I'd instinctively lower my voice when Cory and I talked about it at home. We said we'd tell him anything.
It makes so much sense in hindsight; I'm not sure why I didn't see it coming.
He was one of us - part of us - but there was much that separated us, and he's no fool. He found reason to call us "Mom" and "Dad" in the visiting room of the prison. He wasn't trying to be funny or get noticed. He just liked that we were there, we were his, and he wanted everyone to know. But what makes a family real? Is it ever as simple as a name? An address?
The week after he moved in, all the littles sound asleep, he unburdened what was left of his past, then Cory shared, then I looked my 19-year old in the eye, and told him I'd had an affair. Over ten years ago, I had been unfaithful to the man he now calls Dad.
The world didn't stop rotating like I expected. There was still air left in the room. So we breathed it in and knew it could never be more official than baring our wounds in the living room and realizing none of them mattered now. His opinion of me shattered in some good ways, that night. I lost part of my reputation, and it needed to go. Standing eye-level, he started to understand a bit more about the ways we love him.
When I tell you our brokenness binds us together, I'm not just playing fancy with words. I'm not trying to be trendy or overly-spiritual, and I'm certainly not being trite.
Without our scars, we are separated. We're cast on opposite sides, two halves of unfamiliar wholes, sharing similar dispositions and DNA, but not even close to touching.
Over ten years ago, I believed I had ruined my life beyond repair. Over a long stretch of inches, I took what wasn’t mine. Over a full swell of moments, I let myself become estranged from my beloved husband.
A decade later - what feels like a lifetime later - I can close my eyes and feel the pulse of that bruise rising up in my soul. I remember the exact shade of shame I wore. I remember believing there wasn't a single Christian I could trust with my mess, not a soul who could handle me. That time in my life was marked by tremendous regret, shame, and fear. I hated who I had become, though in the weeks and days leading up to this, I would have told you I was walking with the Lord, and yes, of course I loved my husband. That things could so quickly detonate left me doubting all I’d come to believe, mostly about myself.
I was desperate to be pulled out, but bolted to the floor of a cell I'd helped build.
I didn't know how to extricate myself.
I didn't know how to let go of the wrong thing or embrace what was right.
I only knew I was guilty, and I believed, in my darkest moments, the world would be better if I wasn't in it.
The pressure changed me. The sin changed me.
I didn't know myself anymore, certainly didn't trust myself anymore.
I believed every possible solution made a dead-end at my eternal sorrow.
And in a moment I couldn't possibly have chosen, God set me free.
He set me free from my silence. The truth fit the lock and I saw just a glimmer of hope.
My husband wore the skin of Jesus and loved me like a parted sea, a flaming tree, an infant King on a bed of hay. Cory became a miracle through our darkest days, lowering me down through the roof to be healed, turning muddy water into wine.
We were being healed, but the healing was done alone, quietly.
I don't want that for you. I don't want you to scan the room and believe you're the only one harboring ugliness. I don't want you to wrack your brain and come up empty.
It doesn't matter that the face of compassion and humility exists unless we know it's there. For the hours and days and months I wept for one person - just one - who might tell me the truth and love me back to the person I was meant to be, I stand here now, in my emotional underwear, so you can see me.
For all the years I've spent looking over my shoulder, afraid of being exposed, I know now this secret won't come between me and my image, or my future. It can't possibly come between my close friendships, or me and those who love me truest. But hiding it will separate me from anyone who has inadvertently placed me on a pedestal. Holding onto it will come between me and the ones I love who wear their brokenness more visibly than I was ever brave enough to do. Distancing myself from my mistakes will stand in the way of me and you and our fragile hope for authentic community.
I am not surprised by your sin.
I don't think you're crazy or hateful.
I don't think you're a bad person.
We’re all hard-wired to inflict great pain. We so desperately want a villain, and we're inclined to play that role. We tell ourselves we deserve whatever happens next and brace for the fall-out. But we forget the real suffering already happened.
We believe there is no condemnation but we're scared to believe we could still belong to Christ. We picture ourselves in a separate room off to the side. He forgives us, but surely we can't roll with the rest of them.
And still, we are His. He finds us reeking of poverty and reaches out to us. His t-shirt is wet with our tears and He cries into our hair because He wants us to feel our freedom. He loves us. He loves you.
He loves you too much to let you live this way. You were made for so much more.
He loves you too much to allow you one more step in shame.
He loves your marriage. He street-fights for it, against an enemy who understands its worth enough to battle against it.
It will be painful, but He is with you.
Hide your pain in Him. Let Him wear it.
Run to Him daily while you cut those ties that bind you, scared to death that you'll never be the same. (I promise - He'll make sure you're right about that.)
You don't have to go public. But it's time to walk in truth.
As for me, this laundry isn't dirty anymore.
I share because I was pulled from the pit twice, by my Savior and my husband, the only heroes in this story.
I share because I don't have time to maintain these regrets.
You don't either.
You aren't alone.
You are not defined by your past or your present.
The baby who came is the Savior who waits.
He loves us.