My husband was gone. My marriage was over. My heart was shattered, and life was never going to be the same. That moment is a powerful memory etched in my mind, that terrible Mother’s Day weekend – when I knew in my gut that he was never coming home again.
But first, let me go back to where it all began…
We met one summer day on the beach in Southern California. I was fifteen, he was nineteen – two lost teenagers who fell madly in love, hard and fast. We had no clue who God was and we were both caught up in the world of drinking and a lifestyle that soon left us empty. It was a rocky start and not the strongest foundation to begin a relationship on, but we were madly in love and three years later we got married. It didn’t take long after that until we decided to start a family. So the following summer, at the ripe old age of nineteen, I gave birth to our first baby girl. Although probably not the smartest idea (that one was the hubs crazy idea) she turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. My husband, John and I both believe it was through her, our beautiful blessing, our little baby girl, that we discovered our need for God. Through that joy, He opened our eyes and our hearts to His love. And as a result we accepted Christ as our Savior, and He soon transformed our lives with true purpose and meaning.
Our Growing family
In the meantime our family continued to grow as we were blessed with 3 more babies, leaving us busy to say the least. But we were young and truly happy to be a family. (2 girls+2 boys)
Being lifetime locals in Southern California, we were well-known in business, throughout our community and at our Church. My husband’s construction company, which was built on a firm foundation of Godly character and integrity, also started to grow. And we eventually outgrew our first house and found a beautiful property on which to build our dream home. I designed it, he built it; we were a great team. We had acreage, horses, goats, chickens, an orchard, you name it. It was awesome!
Not long after, our family expanded yet again when we adopted two more amazing kids – a little baby boy and his big sister. 3 girls + 3 boys (another amazing God story I’ll share with y’all one day) We were so very blessed and grateful to God for these special kiddos and dedicated our new home to Him and used it to serve in the community – We were honored to use our house for as many students and church events possible. Each summer it was filled with hundreds of kids who would come to hear the Word, worship and simply have a good time and hang out.
Meanwhile, my husband continued to faithfully serve the Lord with his company in many ways – bringing crews to help after hurricane Katrina, building and co-founding a local women’s shelter, and leading men’s Bible studies. I was also heading up “Beth Moore” Bible studies and served on the women’s ministry team at our church. I was living my dream and thought my husband was as well.
We had always shared our beautiful story – the journey of where we started as naive teenagers to where God brought us as a family dedicated to serving Him. We often shared it together, amazed how He had opened our eyes and blessed us so abundantly. We were truly thankful for the work He had done in us. (sounds pretty lovely doesn’t it?)
Cha Cha Changes…
But our story began to take a turn. And things started to change for us, our lives very quickly and drastically turned into something I could have never imagined. Ever.
My husband’s heart began hardening. It seemed he wasn’t interested in me anymore. Spending time with our children appeared more like a chore for him. He sought out fun in other things like music, surfing, or hunting, (something just didn’t feel right in my gut ). His hobbies and passions were overtaking our marriage, our family, our ministry, and I could feel the distance and division steadily growing between us. I would try to talk with him but he didn’t care to listen, continuing to leave on trips and seeking out things that didn’t include his wife and kids.
This went on for a few years – him exhibiting these patterns, me continuing to try to bring him my hurting heart and talk with him about it. I did everything possible to stop him from heading down this road, yet he seemed to keep slipping away. I tried everything.
Could things get any worse?
I thought I was doing what God wanted me to. I was making an honest effort to respect my husband. I tried to love him through whatever he was going through, I tried to give him grace, to be understanding, and offered to help him in any way I could. I really tried. Even though he wasn’t respecting my heart or my emotional needs. I tried and I tried. (and cried, an awful lot )
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” (1 Peter 3:1-2 ESV)
I thought if I did this or that or looked a certain way that his heart would change. But it didn’t. Nothing I did mattered. I began to lose clarity and got lost in the mess. I eventually reached such a point of desperation that I couldn’t be quiet anymore. I would freak out, scream, and beg him to stop. He would walk away from me in anger, leaving for the night in a rage. I began to realize then that there was absolutely nothing left for me to do, except to keep praying for him and for God to change his heart. ( I prayed this prayer a lot )
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV)
Conflicts continued to permeate our marriage more often than not. A recurring cycle ensued where he would get extremely angry, blame me, walk out, and then not come home. He’d sleep at his office and turn off his phone off all night. I would call and cry out to him, but he would raise his voice and say such awful, hurtful things that I would shut down and say nothing. Just cry. I became apprehensive to speak up at all, so I resigned to tolerating everything instead, out of fear of losing my marriage. I had lost my voice. And even though my heart was hurting, no matter how I approached him, he wouldn’t listen and didn’t care. He refused to give me honest answers for why he was leaving and clearly wasn’t willing to work things out. He no longer attended school, church or family functions, and most birthdays and holidays were ruined with verbal outbursts. Worst of all, our kids were exposed to terrible situations they never should have seen or heard. (I felt so stuck and so alone, my worst nightmare)
Finding myself alone with our children most of the time, my heart was breaking. I had become only a burden to him now, and he didn’t hesitate to let me know. Yet I was still so afraid of losing him that I continued to put up with it all. When, in fact, if I had been really honest with myself, he was actually already gone and had been for quite some time.
He was rarely home. Nights alone soon turned into weekends and eventually weeks. My mind was flooded with unanswered questions like “How in the world did I get here?” “What happened?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why wasn’t I enough?” “Why doesn’t he love me anymore?” I attempted to write him a letter, hoping it would cause him to feel at least something, since he wouldn’t talk to me in person. But it didn’t work. He ignored it, never responded, and he never even read it. I began to believe the lies that I was insignificant.
Worst Day ever…..
It was Mother’s Day weekend when our youngest son, Jackson, nonchalantly told me that, “Daddy went surfing in Mexico.”The second he said it, (I knew deep down in my gut this was it, this time he was really gone) He had left me. He hadn’t told me he was leaving and I knew he wasn’t coming back. My worst nightmare actually happened. I cannot even describe the anguish in my heart. I was utterly devastated and didn’t know how I was going to make it through the rest of the day. “How would I face everyone?” “What do I say?” ( I wanted to curl up in my bed and die)
But God….He miraculously gave me the strength to get through it. My kids were amazing and showered me with love so selflessly. They did all they could to bless me, even in their own pain on that unforgettable day.
There I was, sitting all alone in our farmhouse overlooking the chickens, goats ,and peacocks wandering aimlessly. My dreams completely shattered~my life completely lost.
The process of letting go that followed that day was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’d cry every night for hours, leave messages on his phone with no response. “How could he not care?” “How could he not miss me, or us?” I would repeat these questions over and over. I felt like I was nothing but a piece of trash thrown to the side of the road. And I allowed my circumstances to affect me in many unhealthy ways. During those first few weeks my hurt and despair would drive me to text or call him, crying and begging. Again, no response. John was gone, and my desperate cries did nothing. Every attempt to interact with him only left me sicker inside. I had to constantly remind myself to cry out to God. Because I knew He heard my cries. He cared about me.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 ESV)
After some time, I finally started to realize that I could only be responsible for me and for the ways I acted and responded to the situation. My crying, begging, and pleading was only pushing him further away and making me absolutely miserable. (Seriously, I was one hot mess!)
It was in this realization that I started to hear God gently whisper to my heart…
“Am I enough Karen?”
Move on over Karen, get out of God’s way…
I began to understand that it was time get out of God’s way and let His will be done. I knew my husband couldn’t possibly have any peace after walking away from his family and wife of 26 years, although it certainly appeared easy for him. (he didn’t show a drop of regret or remorse) I knew there had to be much bigger problems in his heart that went far deeper than me and our marriage.
With this understanding, I was ready to surrender completely. I was ready to give my whole heart to the Lord, as well as entrust Him with my husband’s.
After years of tirelessly trying to do things the way I thought God wanted, I was ready at last to hear the way He wanted to work in me. And it was so freeing – freeing to let go and give it all to Him. I felt God was all I had left as my entire world crumbled before me, but I began to genuinely believe that He was all I really needed. His peace graciously kept pouring into my heart and into my deepest hurts.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:2 ESV)
Ahhh…. The Lessons through my pain
I said our marriage vows when I was eighteen. At the time, I didn’t understand what the covenant of marriage meant, but I meant what I said. And being a believer now, I knew in my heart that I was called to stand in the gap for my marriage and my family while I waited on God’s timing. I knew our kids were all watching my actions. I had told them about Jesus their entire lives, and now it was time for me to walk the walk and tangibly live out my faith before them. All the while I continued to hear God speak softly to my heart, saying “Wait on Me, not your husband.” He reminded me again and again not to rush into any decisions. That I had time and needed to focus on my own heart first, before worrying about anyone else’s.
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” (Psalm 62:5 ESV)
It was the hardest season of my life. I messed up often and made plenty of mistakes but thankfully was given a whole lot of God’s grace as well. ( waves and waves of it ) I began to truly believe that I was going to be okay, even if my husband never came home. I was ready to trust God with the outcome, and although I never stopped praying for our marriage, my focus had shifted. I started to gain new insight and deeper understanding during my prayer time. I went to counseling and began to find my own worth and value in Christ, once again. I learned what healthy, loving boundaries looked like. I did some really deep work in my own heart and I started to see my circumstances from a completely different perspective.
I had a lot of pain to process and many losses to grieve, and I also had to accept my new reality and the fact that my life was never going to look the same again. It was no longer the life I had been living and loved, now it was a life I was forced to live and didn’t want. That was a tough thing to come to grips with. I believe the enemy is out to steal, kill and destroy families. He had been persistent with us and eventually found a hole, an open door through temptation, and used those desires and lies to lure my husband away. And it worked, as he left in an attempt to find freedom from those lies, his flesh and the world.
1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.”
God began to reveal a lot to me about my husband’s traumatic childhood, repeated patterns, generational sins, and addictions. And how he had learned to cope, numb and run. I put him on prayer lists. I plastered his side of our bathroom mirror with scripture the kids and I wrote. (war room) I would ask others to pray for him. I filled my heart and mind with God’s word and worship music all day long. I needed Him to get me through every day, sometimes every moment.
Joy comes in the morning
I was no longer caught up in fear or in anxiety about my husband’s whereabouts. I stopped driving by his house and spending hours frantically wondering and searching for things. I began to see him differently and was able to feel compassion and empathy towards him. I started praying for his heart in a different way. I knew he was in God’s capable hands, and I knew The Lord would pursue his lost heart~relentlessly. In fact, I actually began to feel compassion for my husband, realizing how miserable he must have been to be living the way that he was. I knew it probably wasn’t easy to pretend to be okay with walking away from your marriage and your children with no regrets and no feelings.
I actually started sleeping through the night peacefully. I even started to laugh again! (I didn’t think I ever would again, no kidding ) I was finally moving forward with my life and finding the balance between remaining faithful and waiting on God. (Waiting on God is pretty cool, once I completely surrendered)
But I knew He wasn’t done working on me. I knew He was molding, sifting and refining my heart. I struggled often, but I would get myself back up and re-fix my eyes on Jesus. It’s so easy to lose sight and focus when panic and fear set in. I certainly struggled with that. But God remained faithful and gave me the peace I needed in those moments and helped me hold steadfast to His promises. I needed Him so desperately at times. He continued to prepare and equip me for the next steps of my journey. (yup, it gets even tougher)
“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)
“As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength.” (Psalm 138:3 NLT)
“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT)
He would gently remind me that He could accomplish His purpose through my surrender. That I bring Him Glory when His Spirit is flowing out of me. I didn’t understand it at the time, but as I surrendered my will to His will, traded my life for Hisways, and learned to trust Him no matter what the outcome. He accomplished more than I could have ever have thought or imagined possible. The courage to persevere came from God and God alone. (boy that’s not an easy one, but oh so true)
He can Move the Mountains…. our God is mighty to save
After many months, we finally had a moment of communication through a short text. I briefly shared with him that night that I had prayed for his heart at church. (I certainly wasn’t expecting a reply, nor did I want one) To my complete surprise he responded immediately with, “Wow Karen, I feel them, I’m miserable” and then sent me a picture he had taken with a buck he caught while hunting and said, “See that smile? It’s fake.”
God had been pressing into him, while I was out of the picture and out-of-the-way, (go figure, right?) That moment was the very beginning of another long year, (shall I say more craziness & more lies-ugh) We had two completely separate lives at this point, and things were tough. We’d meet at counseling, but with constant inconsistency. His heart was back and forth, in and out; it all felt very chaotic. There were many mixed messages and the aggression along with anger, was still there at times.
Looking back now, though, I can clearly see God was always working and moving. (I felt like I was going crazy, the struggle was REAL!)
I was actually in a pretty healthy place from all the work I had been doing in my own heart. John on the other hand, he was still all over the place. (he was the hot mess now!) Everything felt very strange, I didn’t really know him anymore. ( I didn’t even like him, to be honest) A very long and confusing year to say the least. But, the Lord re-captured my husband’s heart in that time and graciously waited to pull him out from the dark pit and into the light. (quite beautiful and amazing, as we look back now )
His kindness…yep, it leads to Repentance
Even though my husband was battling conflict within himself, God brought him to a place where he was finally ready to surrender; he was exhausted and wanted to stop running and put his trust in God once again. After making that decision, he recommitted his life to Christ. This was no easy victory for him, as he had been so blinded, and his feelings blocked for so long. He had to reach a point of realization that the freedom he had sought out when he left was nothing but chains and bondage. And that there is no true happiness anyone can possess when living in lies and sin. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had prayed or said the name of Jesus. He walked around day in and day out (for quite some time!) pretending that he was okay with these things, burying the truth that he walked away from his family, six awesome kids and a wife who still loved him. (talk about a heavy burden)
Awakening of His senses
What I hadn’t realized was, he started to see his wife’s heart again (ya, that’s me) that I had truly loved him in a way he had never experienced before. (he had been abandoned a lot) I was still there, still willing, still standing. For him, that was beautiful and painful at the same time. Because he was stuck in his mess and wallowing in secrets that caused him to feel totally unworthy of the love he so desperately desired.
But thankfully, during that year, he started to see the truth in clarity. The Lord opened his eyes and his heart began to soften as the lies he had bought so easily were finally exposed for what they really were. He could no longer numb his feelings or thoughts, he began to think about me in a good way, the good memories the good things. Yet, there was so much guilt and shame that had taken residence inside him because of what he did. He describes it like living in a pit of darkness, stuck with no way out. (yep, a real life pig pen) And he was there for so long that he started to believe he deserved to just stay there for good. (the enemy tries to keep us stuck in the lies and entangled in our sin, but GOD always wins!)
The Bomb Drops
Things finally came to a crossroads and my husband finally stopped running. He came over to our house one October night, we walked out back to his office (I was shaking and really scared ) where he disclosed years of lies, an addiction to pornography and the most painful, betrayal. In one short minute, my heart shattered all over again into a million pieces. Our family was already deeply broken and our kids had no relationship with their dad, it all looked too impossible to ever overcome. (insert right here, I really wanted to curl up and die, this time for real)
The weeks following are some of the ugliest parts of our story. My entire being was paralyzed. I went numb in the shock. Intense pain and trauma set in, I really struggled to make it through each day. But God… He stayed right beside me, right beside us.
He chose to finally forgive himself and to accept the beautiful gift of God’s grace. And when he did, the fear and pain he once ran so far from, was finally faced with courage, humility, vulnerability and transparency. His childhood wounds and fear to face pain which helped tear our marriage apart, became the very things that brought about healing and restoration. Together we exposed our deepest inner hurts allowing each of us to be fully known yet fully loved and accepted by the other (emotional intimacy: into- me you- see )
This cool part of the story
Completely broken, both of our hearts surrendered, both of our hearts trusted, and both of our hearts opened up to healing. We were in deep crisis and at times we struggled to see a future of redemption. But day by day, moment by moment, we walked by faith, together. As we did, the Lord began to redeem and restore everything. He stood with us in the miry mud of our mess – His beckoning arms reaching out to my husband in the deepest, darkest pit, and His comforting arms reaching out to me in my inconsolable anguish and despair.
My husband was completely willing to rebuild the trust I needed and he learned to hold my hurt and hear my pain. And although he says with great regret that he had to break my heart in order to find his, the Lord’s Redeeming love is what eventually healed both of our hearts. It wasn’t easy, but broken together~we walked.
Jesus +John + Karen
As we look back today, we see the Lord’s goodness and presence has been evident throughout our story…
God waiting patiently to take away my burdens and pain.
He waited patiently to take away my husband’s burdens and pain.
I eventually came to a place of complete surrender and trust.
My husband eventually came to a place of complete surrender and trust.
My husband ran away from facing pain.
But God brought him back and helped him face that pain.
He left saying that he wanted freedom.
But he came back admitting that all he found was bondage and chains.
His heart was numb and blocked off.
But finally he couldn’t numb and block anything anymore.
He said he was happy in his sin.
But he admitted to his misery in the pig pen.
He thought he could never be forgiven.
But he discovered that God’s grace is unending.
He was afraid to be vulnerable and exposed.
Now he is unafraid to share and expose his heart.
We both believed lies about ourselves.
Now both of us believe who God says we are.
God never stopped working on my heart and transforming me.
He never stopped working on my husband’s heart and transforming him.
The Lord asked me, “Am I enough?”
He asked my husband, “Am I enough?”
And finally, we both answered “yes” to that question.
For many months, neither of us had any peace.
Now, peace overflows in both of our hearts.
We came to Jesus the first time as young parents, grateful for the joy he blessed us with. Many years down the road and six kids later, we came to Him again. This time in utter brokenness. It was messy, hard, and indescribably painful. (He met us exactly where we were, in the muck.)
Yet so beautiful.
It’s All about Him, Jesus.
My husband and I stand as witnesses to the God’s faithfulness, recipients of His unending grace in the midst of our darkest days. Through this journey we have grown stronger together and closer to Him. We now openly embrace our brokenness as a beautiful blessing that will forever keeps us continually dependent on our Redeemer.
Our story is actually still beautiful, we treasure it and share it more than we ever have before and we share it because it’s not about us, it’s about Him. It’s about what He has done in our lives and what He continues to do. It’s about giving Him all the glory as we share the beautiful hope and healing in Him. Real ashes to beauty.
His redeeming love restored our marriage and healed our family in the most miraculous ways. (just sayin, only God can do the impossible! ) You see, our story isn’t so much about our marriage restoration as it is about Him who restores the broken. He will never waste our pain instead, He transforms it into a beautiful passion with a powerful purpose.
Together in Him forever, He is our victory!
Jesus + John + Karen
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
(2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV)
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