While my friends Amie and Mandy were here visiting me for Gitzapalooza in September, Amie and I got tattoos for Sara. I say for Sara, but really, they're for us. To remind us that we always have a choice, no matter the circumstances. Sara lived a really tough life and you would never have know in from her attitude. She was amazing. Mandy designed the tattoos for us and they're in Sara's own handwriting, which just makes it extra special for me. Amie got her tattoo on her wrist, but my wrist is already pretty full with my family tattoo, and so I thought I'd get this tattoo on my foot. Sort of, as my mom said, to put my best foot forward every day. The tattoo artist told me I was getting an upside down tattoo, and I laughed. "It's to remind me, I need to be able to read it!" I said. He shook his head and got to work. So now I have an upside down tattoo on my foot, and I see it every day, and I couldn't be happier about it.
I want this motto to define me. I want to look back on my life when I am old and gray and say that I chose joy in every circumstance. I'd like to think I've done a passable job of it the past several years of my life. Eli's death, Seth's deafness, four babies in the NICU, my marriage failing. I have done my best to do what I can and give the rest to God. Sometimes I have done a better job of that than others.
I've just finished a Beth Moore study called "Believing God." The study began three months ago. I signed up because I thought I should do a study, and my church was starting one. I didn't put any more thought into it than that. The first night of the study rocked me to my core. Of course we believe in God, but do we really believe God when He tells us what He wants for us? It's always been hard for me to let it all go and give up control in that way. I think I have a better idea, or a better solution, a quicker way to get from point A to point B. It's hard for me to let go of the details and know that God has it figured out for me.
Take my marriage, for example. John left. I realized that while his actions were his own, I had also done things wrong. And I wanted it fixed. Right then. Period. I fought for it. I begged for it. I felt like I might actually die for it. But it didn't happen, not when I desperately wanted it to. I asked God to move the mountain, but he said no. He left that mountain in front of me, and that left me two choices. Stay there and give up, or start climbing.
I started to climb.
Sometimes I didn't know what the point of the climb was, or even where the path was taking me, but I kept slogging ahead. One foot in front of the other. Every so often my knees would buckle under that strain of it all, but I got back up and kept on going, heading up that mountain out of sight like the Von Trapps' at the end of the Sound of Music. All I knew was that God hadn't told me to stop. I wasn't there yet. I was divorced, but never felt released from my marriage. Sometimes I cursed God, John, anyone I could find. "Just let me stop caring!" I would shout. "Just let me move on like he has!" But I was never given the go ahead to let go. Which is ironic considering I moved across the country. Why would God facilitate such a move if he wouldn't let me let go of my marriage?
Moving away only increased the healing that I'd begun in Florida. Healing for me, healing for the kids. Finally, I felt content. I knew we'd made the right choice in moving. I thought God must have something great planned for us here. But the release still didn't come, although I fooled myself into thinking it had for a while. When Coen was born I stood in the NICU watching him thinking not of how angry I was at what John had done but instead sad about what he was missing out on. A few weeks later I sat at dinner with my best friend and I told her "I can't explain it. I'm not angry, I'm not bitter, I'm at peace. But it just doesn't feel over." Then I laughed. "But there's no way I'll ever mention that to John!"
But on the day I began that study, I received a phone call. "You were right. You were right about all of it." It was John, and he sounded worse than I have ever heard him, aside from the day our son died. He had hit rock bottom, and when he did, for whatever reason, my number was the one he dialed. That night at Bible Study, every word spoke to me. I passed it all onto John. I started writing verses down on note cards for him, not even sure when if or when we would see him. "Why would you speak to me?" He asked. "You shouldn't even be talking to me. Why would you want to help me?"
The first few weeks were horrific. It was literally as though he was going through a detox from drugs. He couldn't eat. He couldn't sleep. The fallout from our divorce and his actions of the past few years was hitting him for the very first time. His eyes were opened in a way that they hadn't been in a long time and the guilt was rocking him to his core. After a few weeks he came to visit for his birthday. He met Coen for the first time. He saw all of us for the first time in seven months. The first day was uncomfortable, even painful. The second day was slightly awkward. The third day was good. By the time he left I could see glimpses of the man I had married. I gave him the note cards with scripture and a phoenix necklace. (We're Harry Potter buffs.) He stared at it, then looked up at me. "Do you really think I can rise from the ashes of the life I've made? I'm so far off track."
Each week that study spoke to me like it had been written for me alone. I was able to open up to my Bible Study group in a way that I hadn't done with many people in real life outside of this blog. When I asked for prayer for him, everyone would say "Do you want prayer for reconciliation?" I'd always laugh and say "No. As great as that would be, that's not what's important. I want prayer for him. I want him to be the man I know he can be."
And each week, John came back to himself a little more. He made plans to visit for Thanksgiving. He went to see Courageous and it rocked him. And one day, he told me that he wanted to "press play" again. That no matter how hard he'd tried to hide from it, he would never be happy if we weren't in his life in a real way. That he'd done his best to pretend that he wasn't a husband and father, but that he didn't want to pretend anymore.
And this is the point at which people will think I am crazy. I know it, I own it, and I understand it. It does seem crazy. But two people I loved died this fall. They were less than ten years older than me. If If by some chance I only have ten years left to make it to the promised land that God has for me here on earth, to make the most of my life, you'd better believe I'm not going to waste time worrying about what people think of me. He tells me to go for it? That's enough for me. The past two years, all that time I'd been waiting for God to tell me when and where to go? Finally, He did. When John asked me if I was willing to recommit myself to him, I heard it loud and clear. "Go. There. Go there faster!" Because where else would I go? Suddenly I had reached the peak of that mountain that just wouldn't move, and looking down at the ground I'd covered, it was obvious. John made some huge mistakes. They're big and bad and out in the open. He can't hide from them. But me? My mistakes, my shortcomings were not obvious. I could get away with them much more easily. This past two years has refined me in ways that I don't think anything else ever could. For the first time, I think I can be the partner I always wanted to be. Honestly? I think that with hard work and commitment our marriage could be stronger than it ever was before.
In a recent sermon about my friend Sara, Blake Bergstrom said something that really resonated with me.
"Choosing joy requires audacious courage, vulnerable trust and just a dash of crazy."
Audacious courage? I think so. We're embarking on uncharted territory. Vulnerable trust? Oh yeah. Incredibly vulnerable. What if this happens again? What if he leaves me alone all over again? What then? How do I trust him? There are a million what ifs. But only one answer, and I always find that in Jeremiah 29:11. He knows the plans He has for me. And they are plans to prosper me and not to harm me. He can bring good from every situation, no matter how ugly it is. And a dash of crazy? I think I've got that one covered as well.
It's all a part of choosing joy. Not the easy way. Not the accepted way. The joyful way. The way that leads you through challenging terrain and pushes you to your limits but offers an amazing view at the destination. This trip is worth my while. For me, for John, and for our children.
John wanted to be able to share his point of view as well, and he asked me to include this note from him.
So I want to start this by saying I have learned a lot the past couple years. I've learned to be responsible for my own actions....not to make excuses or lie to get out of trouble. Although it is a temporary fix, it's not how to fix anything.
I've learned that love is so much more than words and emotions. When a person sits and stares into the eyes of their significant other and says "I love you" it should mean so much more than what some people take it for. They're just three words, but those words are only words unless you know when you say them that you have the attitude, emotions, mind set and heart to back them up.
I failed my family. I did some things I am not proud of and its by God's grace Ellyn even speaks to me now! I wasn't the man I had promised I would be! I guess you can say I've grown up and realized the best things in my life were always right in front of me! Now granted it took my stubborn Irish ass many times smashing into that brick wall of life before I realized my life was in pieces! But at least I can say now that I am trying to be a better man now for Ellyn, and for my wonderful children!
I am not writing this for people to automatically forgive me...I'm writing this to show that I've realized my mistakes, and show that I am going to my best to be the man people used to know me for being! I am re-committing myself to Ellyn and my children. I said only me because I've also learned that Ellyn never stopped being my wife, I just stopped being a husband! Keep a weather eye on the horizon, because I'm sure you all will see soon enough how I am going to make the changes to be the man I know I can be! For Ellyn....and the little ones.... thank you for taking the time to read this...
John and I both know that that this is the less traveled path. But we're up for the challenge. There is a reason we married in the first place. We're not naive and we know that this path will not be all sunshine and rainbows and unicorns. It will be work, and adjustment, and counseling, and peppered throughout, I hope, will be some of that sunshine. God has brought us this far and I know that He can bring us the rest of the way now that we're willing to put in the work.