February 18, 2011 3 Comments
I remember a sermon that Chris preached years ago about sin not being so much of a slip as it is a long slide. It is not always an event as much as a process. I tend to be a little ADD at times, but I seemed to be able to pay attention to his preaching better than most. I, like most church members, looked at sin as being those mistakes in life that we all made and we just need to recognize the act as sin, confess it to God and try to do better next time. They were slips. He spoke of how sin is an entity, crouching and waiting to spring. (Genesis 4.7) The only guard is to be filled with the Spirit, keeping our eyes on Jesus. Failure to do so could result in a long slide. I never would have believed that something like that could happen to me. After all, I was at church every time the doors opened. I taught Sunday School, Girls in Action, sang in the choir, and my husband was a deacon. Things like that do not happen to people like us.
Or do they?
Scott and Cindy went together like peanut butter and jelly. We married very young and had a son and a daughter right away. Kevin and Kalyn were the best kids any mom or dad could ask for. What a happy family! Scott had been an all-star football player, but had put a career on hold to be a husband and father. He picked up welding as a trade and set aside his childhood dreams of going pro. Kevin followed in his father’s footsteps when it came to sports. He played football, baseball and ran track. I was going to be a dancer, but like Scott, put those plans off to be a wife and mother. So naturally when a daughter came along, dance she did and she did it well. Kalyn danced and played softball. We were a normal family. If we weren’t at one of the kids sports function, we were at church.
Scott had been raised a good baptist. The only reason to miss church was for high fever or convulsions! Our lives were pretty full of activities. We were young and hard-headed. Because we were so young when we married, many people gave us 6 months to make it. We were determined to prove everyone wrong. We were committed ‘til death do we part. We just didn’t have a clue where we were headed. Here is the first lesson divorce taught me about marriage: a commitment to not get divorced is not enough.
I followed in my mother’s footsteps and went to nursing school. It seemed like a smart thing to do. A good vocation that would help contribute to the family and I loved being around people. I got a job when the kids where small at our local nursing home and worked there for 8 years. Working with geriatric patients was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It was so easy to become attached to the residents. They were like family. They would tell us that they loved us and compliment our scrubs on a daily basis, and “you’re so pretty” from a kind old soul would put a smile on any face. They lived through the events of my life. It was during this time that a friend from church was looking for a new job and I bugged her until she came to work with me. Our friendship blossomed immediately. We were the new peanut butter and jelly! Scott was working overtime welding, going to church, and, as a result, worn out when he was home. Not to worry though. My friend and I were having a blast doing life together!
We worked together at the nursing home as LPN’s and I must say I was very content. However, my friend had always wanted to return to RN school and didn’t want to go alone. She twisted my arm and convinced me to return to school with her. I did and it was wonderful.
I, being a natural born bossy leader, was elected Class President and was given the Leadership Award. Looking back now, I was just as bossy at home, and Scott was too tired to point that out. He just let me lead. I enjoyed school very much and loved being around all the people. I was in my element. My friend and I had all of our classes together and we carpooled every day. I have always felt the need to make others happy and to see them laugh is pretty addictive. Not to mention my friend was so easy to make laugh. We were on a roll most of the time.
Graduation came and the reality set in that the nursing home did not need us as RNs. They only needed LPNs, so we had to go our separate ways. Different jobs, different schedules, different Sundays off. No more laughing together. The new job I got was scary. I was in a BIG hospital and I felt alone. High stress and a long drive brought out the worst in me. I was not a pretty sight at the end of the day and guess who I took it out on. I blamed everything on Scott. From hating my job, losing my friend, the messy house, the lack of kid’s homework done, kid’s not fed. You name it and it was his fault. No more laughing. Zero fun, sir.
Undoubtedly long hours and a loud wife got the best of Scott. He worked, came home, ate and sat on the couch and bonded with the TV. He became distant in our relationship as husband and wife. I felt like the TV and couch was his safe zone. He never said a word to anyone about what was going on in his world. We remained faithful to church. He was chairman of the deacons and he made sure we were there.
Church was a good place and there was never a doubt that we didn’t belong in this congregation. We both fell into place at The Lord’s Church. It was Base. We didn’t bring our struggles through the door with us. We simply melted into what was going on there. God was at work in such a might way and we knew it, for the church. We never admitted our own needs. We were pretty focused on others.
Focusing on others is, of course, a good thing. But it can be a bad thing. The Bible says. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8 (NIV). Strictly speaking, this verse is talking about financial needs. But we all have needs besides money needs. Our deepest needs were going unmet at home and it was setting me up for disaster. Looking back, this is a second thing divorce taught me about marriage: acknowledging my own needs is a good thing. The Bible says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4 (NIV). Note the first part: “not only to your own needs.
I never would have dreamed that we would ultimately go through a divorce. We had begun so in love. I remember the day we stood in front of a judge to determine child custody issues after the divorce. It was so surreal to be standing by the father of my children, but he was no longer my husband. I have learned many lessons going through divorce. One of them is that no matter how strong your love is at first, you can drift to the point of no longer caring about your spouse enough to fight for your marriage. At that point, the paperwork becomes an inevitable technicality. The divorce has taken place inside the heart and the relationship is over.
I have learned that marriage is fragile. Great care and attention must be given to both parties in order for the relationship to thrive. I have learned to choose to love even when I do not feel like it. I now not only respect the contract side of marriage, I also realize the importance of contributing to the health of the marriage.
Divorce has also taught me that I cannot have every need in my life met by my husband. There are certain areas of my life where his presence is vitally needed. However, the greatest need in my life is to be filled with the love of Jesus. I was angry with Scott because of voids in my life. I now realize that Jesus could have filled those voids and kept me from becoming so detached from my husband. I would ultimately learn that voids can be fatal, especially when an option surfaces.
Others can meet certain needs in my life as well. As long as I had my girlfriend in my life to work with and laugh with, I didn’t internalize the pain of whatever I was not getting at home. When that relationship changed, a discontentment set in that made me vulnerable to what lie ahead.
How could this happen to me?
“But the preacher?” someone will ask.
People develop emotional attachments all the time. But who in their right mind would even think of becoming emotionally involved with a preacher to the point of falling in love with him? Surely that gets a person a do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to jail conviction—or worse.
When Scott and I first attended church together we were at the church Scott grew up in. The preacher and his wife meant so much to us and saw us through the birth of our 2 children. When it came time for them to move to another church it was heart-breaking. We had dinner with them and their advice to us was to take care of whoever God sends us. “Remember your Pastor needs friends too.” I was so convicted that I had not really been their friend. So I was determined to do better next time.
God sent another couple to our church and they were closer to our age. I was so happy to befriend them and it was easy. They stayed several years with us and we watched other church members treat them terribly. It wasn’t long before they were asked to leave. Scott and I were broken-hearted because we felt like we should have stood up for them. We felt like we were their friends but we did not stand up for them.
We promised God that if He would send us another godly man, we would not only befriend them, but stand up for what was right.
Scott was on the pastor search committee and God sent them Chris Watkins, who had recently graduated from the seminary in New Orleans. He was preaching at a church in Mississippi. He had moved from New Mexico to attend seminary. Scott knew immediately that Chris was the man that God wanted for us and they called him to come to New Zion. We were such an unsettled congregation and the vote was awful, but Chris felt like this was where God wanted him.
Chris and Missy were easy to be friends with and it helped that our boys were the same age. We were always swapping boys and hanging out. Scott made sure to stand up for Chris whenever needed. Our church grew tremendously but painfully at the same time. We had 4 years of turmoil in which Scott sided with Chris over his own mother. However, a large group of primarily inactive members organized themselves with the intention of forcing Chris’ resignation. They stormed the church on a Wednesday night and demanded his resignation. Life at New Zion as we hand know it, ended.
We assembled on the very next Sunday in the community center of a nearby town and established The Lord’s Church. Scott was very supportive in the growth of our new church and took a lot of grief from his family. We spent the next 3 years growing a new ministry. I was happy here and took on several responsibilities. I taught Sunday School, led children’s choir, worked with Girls in Action, taught youth, and was the on the spot skit girl. I loved entertaining people so given the chance to act up a little was always fun.
Life at the Lord’s Church was good. After being at New Zion for so long and struggling over every little thing, it was refreshing to just be able to do the things that we felt like God was leading us to do.
Now, church is good, job is lonely. My friend is gone in another direction. My husband comes home at night and eats and sits on the couch. I come home from my job angry, bite everyone’s head off and compliment my husband at what a good job he is doing on the couch and then go to bed alone. This cycle repeats itself over and over. I’m clueless to where this is leading. God, I miss my friend that you gave me and I can’t even make my husband laugh.
I realize that my joy in life is going to church and I really enjoy it when Bro. Chris has a challenge for me. I thrive here. Why can’t I stay here God, where it’s good? Wow. Worship is good. Preaching is excellent. My kids are happy here. I don’t want to go back to grumpy land.
My husband doesn’t even notice me anymore. He is happy being left alone. I am needy, God. Do you really want me to live this way? Surely not. Let’s go to church again!
I start waking up in the morning thinking about going back to church and I realize that I’m thinking, “I bet Bro. Chris notices that I got a haircut even though Scott hasn’t mentioned it . . .” and he does. My day is made. I can function a little longer now.
It is a small thing, I know, but that is how it began. He notices me. Everyone wants to be noticed. He notices my hair, he notices my new dress . . . he notices me! This kind of thing is repeated in a variety of little ways until I begin to realize that I’m thinking about my pastor too much. The long slide had begun.
Here is a key lesson learned from divorce: terrible things start with simple, innocent beginnings. A look, a laugh, a little too long eye contact, a compliment. The long slide starts ever so slowly.
“Oh God! I need a priest! I need confession! I must be crazy!”
I realize that I am out of control and distance myself from Church. This cannot be good. Scott reads me like a book and guesses that I am preoccupied with Bro. Chris.
Chris realizes something is up and we have the conversation. He tells me he has feelings for me. I tell him I have feelings for him. We realize that we are both lonely and are filling each other’s needs. We have become emotionally attached to each other.
Whatever we felt for each other up to now is multiplied tenfold. Chris describes it as pouring gasoline on the fire. It is more like a gasoline truck hitting a fire. It is hard to describe the intensity of emotion at this point. Some writers even describe it as a drug effect:
Indeed, the person in love is an addict of sorts. Just like someone going through chemical withdrawal, a lover becomes anxious and unable to concentrate in the absence of his or her partner. But even a small dose of affection—a phone call or a text message—gives them their “fix” and calms them, at least for a while. In many ways, the brain scan studies show that the maddening feelings of love are essentially a major mental-health crisis. The chemical storm of brain changes it causes are strikingly similar to drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Love really does make us crazy.
We agree that our spouses should know. Chris and Missy felt the best thing is for them to move back home to New Mexico. They move away within 2 months. (More on that in Chris and Missy’s writing.)
I watched the man I had totally become consumed with preach his last sermon and say his goodbyes to a congregation who adored him. I was numb. Surely he wasn’t going to leave me. I had already watched my high school sweetheart fade away in our marriage and my best friend begin to walk a different path. Really God, can’t he stay here?
No one knew the real reason Chris left the Lord’s Church except for our spouses and the associate pastor, (Jeff) and my best friend and her husband.
Scott and I were desperate for Chris to stay. He was convinced we would all be OK if we stayed where we were and worked on our marriages. Scott blamed himself for not being the husband that I needed. He knew for a long time the joy that Chris and I brought to each other’s lives.
It was so painful to go back to The Lord’s Church after Chris left, but we both had obligations that we felt like we had to see through. We had built this facility together right alongside Chris and everything reminded me of him. Scott was the only person I could talk to. Jeff wanted to council me every time I came to church. Everyone else was talking about Chris and crying. I needed to move on, but how?
Scott and I were doing the best we could and trying to make it through the summer. If I can get through summer camp we can go away and start over.
I came back from camp and Jeff was waiting for me again. I expected him every time I arrived at church now.
“I need to speak to you.”
“OK”. I sat on the floor in his office, empty and finished. I saw a letter in the trash can from Missy . . . “I hear that you haven’t cut off communication with Chris in New Mexico.”
“I have no choice but to announce to the congregation this Sunday that you have had an inappropriate relationship with Chris Watkins.” It wasn’t a threat so much as a fact.
My life was over. So many people loved this man and were mourning him. I already blamed myself for him leaving. Now everyone would blame me for Chris leaving. I was the other woman, the evil woman. I was so embarrassed and ashamed.
“My family doesn’t know this. Please let me tell them”
“I’ll give you until Saturday to tell your family”.
That was a Friday afternoon and I drove home to my husband who immediately called Jeff and begged him not to announce this. I didn’t hesitate to call Chris in New Mexico and ask that he help. Chris called Jeff and asked that he not make the announcement.
On Saturday, my husband and I drove to my parent’s house to tell them what had really happened. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I walked into their home and my mother was already sobbing. I asked what was wrong and she said, “You tell me. Bro Jeff called me.”
He called her. Nothing left to say. My husband and I sat there like two little kids . . . speechless.
“You are in love with him!” “God is dead.”
I agree. I am now unwelcome by my mother and we leave.
Sunday came and Jeff announced that Chris and I had an inappropriate relationship and that was the reason for him leaving.
For me, The Lord’s Church was over and my mother was finished with me. My marriage was over. My job was over. My life was over.
Calls, letters, emails:
“We are praying for you.”
“We want to forgive you.”
“How could you?”
Too many. Too much.
Me, my kids and my husband. That was life. And I was convinced that there were people who were going to get me. Lock the doors. That’s what I did all day. I locked my own kids out of the house out of paranoia. Scott would come home at night and return calls and answer emails for me. I didn’t function anymore.
August 16, 2003, Scott and I checked an email from Chris that said he had left Missy and was headed to Austin. He did not expect anything from me. After reading the email, Scott looked at me and said, “You want to go too, don’t you?”
I said yes.
He said everything would be alright and that I could go but not tonight. “You can go tomorrow.”
I slept one more night in Louisiana and got up the next morning and drove my kids to school, kissed them goodbye and told them I would be in Austin for the week and that I would see them next week.
I drove away.
A new life begins
The farther I drove the easier it was to breathe. It had been so painful to breathe for too long.
Chris and I met in Austin and planned our life together. Living in Louisiana didn’t seem an option. We thought about somewhere half-way in between his kids and mine. The thought that prevailed was that it made sense to be near one of our kids. Chris and I ended up in New Mexico and I traveled to Louisiana every 2 weeks to spend a week with my kids.
I was pretty numb to what had taken place. I knew that I had walked away from God. Like a little child who jerks her hand hard enough to get her hand out of Mom’s hand. I knew I was wrong, but I did it anyway.
Many times I have thought of a familiar verse from the Bible. “…and you may be sure that your sin will find you out.” Numbers 32:23
I had heard many preachers speak on the consequences of bad decisions and I found out first-hand that they were not lying. Months earlier I never would have believed that I would end up living 1100 miles from my kids, parents and friends. It’s odd how a long line of relatively small decisions can lead to a destination no one could have imagined.
The long slide.
I had seen and heard of events like this in other people’s lives but I would never have believed it could happen to me. I was wrong. It did happen to me. It is, perhaps, one of the main things that divorce taught me about marriage: it can happen to you. It can happen to me. Even me. Good girl me. One minute I was taking my kids to ballgames and cheering them on as only a mother can do. The next thing I knew they were telling me about the game over the phone. Long distance. I remember clinching my fists and raising them toward heaven while I said things to God like; “How could you let this happen to me? I was a Sunday School teacher. My husband was a deacon. We never missed church! I did my best to protect my kids from bad influences and now look at me.” We love the idea of free will and hate the consequences of our choices.
Could God have done something to stop that downward spiral? Of course He could have. He’s God. He can do whatever He chooses to do. He did not cause my sin, but He did allow it. Another truth I have gained from this experience is that God not only allows us to sin, He desires to bring about good from whatever circumstance I create. No matter how badly I misbehave, Romans 8.28 is still true. It is true that my sin did find me out. A greater truth is that God’s Grace found me as well—in ways that I never would have dreamed possible.
The long journey home
We ended up in Las Cruces, NM. I went from a land that is flat, wet and green to a land that has mountains, is dry and brown. I traded crawfish for green chile. (Note the spelling: chile.)
I remember ordering a hamburger and the attendant asked if I wanted chile on it. That sounded appetizing so I said, “Sure. That sounds delicious.” When my hamburger arrived with green strips of something that resembled bell pepper on it, I wanted to know whose sick joke that was. Chris explained to me that there is a difference between chili and chile. He said, “Chili, or Tex-Mex is the junk they make in Texas. If it is in a can, they call it Wolf brand Chili. Chile is what they grow in the southwest. It is a plant. And, by the way, I am from Hatch, the chile capitol of the world.”
We came dangerously close to an honest to goodness fist fight over southwestern cuisine that day. I insisted on another cheeseburger, without that stuff on it. I would later learn to love green chile, but I still want chili on my hot dog.
A different kind of chili, no more crawfish, hardly any trees, no more azaleas and a lot less grass. But those were not the only changes.
No more Christian music, no more church, no more church friends. Even the thought of church life hurt too much. We chose to live in the world and numb ourselves.
That didn’t last but a few months. I missed my God so much. He didn’t move, but I sure did. I missed my hand in His. I wasn’t sure if He would take me back. The man I was sharing my life with now didn’t want to talk about Him. He wanted the suit, tie and preacher’s life taken to Good Will!
“I want to go to church.”
“Really” he said. “OK. I know a place where we can go.”
We went to First Baptist of Las Cruces and snuck up to the balcony so God wouldn’t notice us. The preacher started preaching and Chris said “Oh no, he is resigning.” I felt so guilty. I felt like Jonah. I wanted to stand up and say, “It’s us! Throw us overboard!” We didn’t go back for a while.
I want to go to church again.
We returned to First Baptist and the interim pastor was exactly what we both needed. First was dealing with their last pastor leaving who had been there for about ten years. He had been very successful and was now going through a divorce. The church leaders and most of the members handled the matter so well. I know God was using this to minister to and restore Chris and me. We both agreed that we had done the wrong thing by leaving our spouses. Now what? Our spouses had moved on with their lives with other relationships. What do we do? We asked God to forgive us and help us to do whatever was ahead of us. We were soon married and asking God to use us again.
It has been a very hard road, yet with many lessons learned along the way. Asking forgiveness from God was easy. Forgiving me is hard and ongoing. Asking our spouses to forgive us was a mixed bag. It took a while, but my relationship with Missy has been restored. We are good friends. She is in a Bible study that I lead and she watches our son Caleb for us quite regularly. With Scott, things have not worked out so well. It is a painful part of my life. It allows guilt to surface all over again. I have learned that evil will always accuse. Satan is called the accuser and he does his job well. (Revelation 12.10) God has cast my sin as far as the east is from the west. The Bible says that He will remember it no more. (Psalms 103.12)
But I remember it.
And when I am reminded of it, I can only turn to Jesus and ask Him to answer the voice of accusation for me. He is always faithful to flood me with His grace and reassurance that I am secure in His arms forever. I am forgiven.
God has blessed Chris and me with a son, Caleb. I look at him and I see Grace. God has blessed Chris and me with a wonderful friendship with his first wife Missy and her husband, Josh. I look at them and I know Grace. God has blessed Chris and I with wonderful jobs and a new church family. God has watched over our children and provided for them in ways only He can. We have learned so much about marriage through our divorce. Marriage is so fragile. It takes work. It takes learning. It takes sacrifice. It takes facing the tough issues and not letting sleeping dogs lie. It doesn’t hurt to read a book or attend a marriage seminar now and then. Our hope is that we can help others avoid the failures of our lives. Mainly the failures associated with marriage. But also the reality of the grace and forgiveness of our heavenly Father.
 For Better (Tara Parker-Pope)