Saturday, April 21, 2012

Our Story... Part 1

Christophe set this blog up several months ago, and I guess it is time to introduce myself, too. My name is Cherie (for the purpose of this blog ;))...I am 35 years old...just an ordinary, typical busy mother and wife. We have 2 daughters (5 and 2 and both miracles of infertility) a dog, a cat, and a yellow house on the edge of the woods...but no picket white fence.

This is my feeble attempt to try and tell our is raw, it is real, it is quite ugly.  But out of that ugliness, a beautiful love story is emerging....a love story of an Amazing Savior who is working in our hearts in our darkest of times, teaching us the miracle of forgiveness and grace worked out in normal, everyday people like us.

Christophe and I met before either of us can really remember. Our families grew up knowing each other, and we started going together in 1996. He was my first boyfriend, and I was his first girlfriend, and I always said that I would not have it any other way!! We truly were in love, and we got married in May of 1997.

Sadly though, it didn't take long for our problems to surface, and then get buried without ever being dealt with properly. We both *thought* that we were saved, *thought* that we had an understand of what salvation meant....but in this last year we realize that the key components of Salvation (ie grace, forgiveness, justification, and more grace) were very lacking in our relationship.

The first few years of our marriage were great...I knew that Christophe struggled with lusts, but he kind of convinced me that it was an issue in the past, that he had dealt with them and it wasn't really a current issue to talk about.  Around 2006, I had a gut instinct start to kick in that something wasn't quite right...I wasn't positive....I kind of approached him about it....and I kind of buried it, where it festered and mushroomed.  Communication obviously was not our forte!

It was around that time that I became aware of Christophe's interest in another woman in our Church.  His head would turn, and he would watch her....he would recall things that she said for months.....and it made me feel super insecure and anxious, and had no idea how to deal with it.  Stewing over it was my answer instead of taking it to our Maker and Creator who knows our hearts.  There are many, many painful moments from these months and years, and it isn't profitable to spell it out in details.

In August of 2009, we gave up trying to have another baby naturally.  With our oldest daughter, we went through 7 years of infertility, and we were super shocked when we found out we were pregnant.  My doctor had thought that perhaps my condition had reversed itself, so in 2009, we went through the testing all over again....but all the answers were bleak at best.  We left the office and in the parking lot together said that if we were going to have another baby, it would be all GOD...and we were at peace about it.

In September, just one month later, we vacationed in Maine.  An incident happened that once again aroused my suspicions that things weren't quite right in our relationship.  Though we had sex, my heart was far from in it, and I turned away and thanked the Lord for our infertility.  That was a seed of bitterness...and that seed of bitterness fell on fertile ground, and grew and grew and grew.

I knew almost right away that I was pregnant....and with that pregnancy I was hiding a horrible secret.  I despised the relationship that we had as husband and wife, and this baby was not conceived out of love and passion and desire....I was pretty positive that it was born out of passion and desire for another woman, not me!  Even though I was happy that we were adding another baby into our family, my heartache (and bitterness) grew.  Every time I felt nauseous, I blamed Christophe.  As the time grew near to give birth, I did not want this baby to enter the world.

Our second daughter was born at 12:30 in the morning on a Saturday morning, and she was beautiful....but I didn't see beauty in her.  I wasn't sure what was wrong with me, but I felt no love, no desire, no thrill at having given birth...and in hindsight, I recognize that my heart was FULL of bitterness.  Three days later, our baby girl started having some health issues, and we spent the next 12 or 15 days in one doctor's office or another.  It was so stressful.  They were threatening to admit her into the NICU, and I just felt bewildered inside, guilty, and like this was the payment that I deserved for not having desired to give birth in the first place.  There was one awful day where I just laid in our bed and cried....Christophe tried to comfort me and I just pushed him away.  He had no idea the battle going on in my soul that was raging towards him.  I was angry and very, very bitter.

But God was working, even in those early months....He helped me to realize that it wasn't Baby K's fault that we had issues in our marriage, and HE planted a love for her deep in my heart that started to grow.  I still felt horribly guilty for the way that I felt towards her initially, and I spent many days trying to over-compensate for it.

Unfortunately, through the winter of 2010/11, K. was once again a very sickly baby.  She had horrible reflux tummy issues, and we spent that winter hunkered down in survival mode.  As a result of being housebound with 2 children under the age of 5, I kind of went a little bit crazy, or so I thought.  I now see that God was starting a huge work in me, but I didn't see it as that at first.  At first it was just one panic/anxiety attack, but it wasn't long before I spent my days going from one anxiety attack to the next.  I couldn't prepare breakfast for my family, without the feeling that my shoe was caught in the railroad track and a train was rushing at me at 100 miles per hour.  These were dark days for sure.

By the time Spring arrived, something had to change...I couldn't go on living like this, and it was either pills, the loony bin, or finding courage to talk to our Pastor.  I finally found nerve and approached him on a Sunday night, and went to talk to him the following Friday.  I am SO THANKFUL for a Godly Pastor who is gracious, kind, understanding, and took me to the foot of the Cross and Scripture to deal with my demons.  The first thing he had me do is memorize 2 Corinthians 10:4:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God, for tearing down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God; bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

That verse became my food and drink, and was before me every morning, every noon, every night, and in the middle of the night.  I learned to turn to Jesus and hold onto Him, to turn from these evil thoughts of anxiety and find peace.  It was a gradual process, but I was so thankful for the relief and focus.

A few weeks later, in having that verse in front of me all the time, I became convicted that my thoughts "were not in captivity" in regards to the situation that my marriage was in.  I was still very bitter against Christophe, and that was NOT obedient to Christ.  So on Communion Sunday in May, I left a screaming Baby K in the nursery, and went out to confess my sin to my Savior.  I poured it all out to God, K's conception, my pregnancy, her birth, my anger at both her and Christophe...and recognized that I was in desperate need of mercy for these sins that had built in my heart and soul.  I also pleaded with God, offering up a mustard-seed sized piece of faith, to please move this huge mountain in our marriage that was unmovable to me.

That night, around midnight, I confessed the whole sordid tale to Christophe, and asked him to please forgive me.  The feeling of freedom that washed through my soul was unlike anything I had ever felt before or since.  It was liberating, freeing, and for the first time in over a year, I looked at my husband with desire.  I thanked God for the courage I needed to face this head on.  Christophe had no idea what had been going on in my heart, and it was a shock to him, I think.  We cried together, prayed together, and I think this was the first realization that we had work to do in our marriage.

What I didn't realize was that this night, was opening up an even bigger can of worms......

(To Be Continued....)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Some random thoughts

I like to have an organized and logical approach to writing a blog entry, and a whole bunch of other areas of life, I suppose! But tonight I just wanted to put some disconnected thoughts out there.

This has been a generally good week, but I feel like I'm lagging in my endeavor to draw near to God practically. I have not been spending time in the Word daily, and I really want to. I'm sure my flesh and the devil are conspiring to keep me from finding a way to begin this habit, but I am determined to break free from the old and pursue the new. If you're reading this, will you pray for me?

Early in the week, I found Fred Stoeker's blog and wrote him with my story and a few questions that I am hoping he can answer or steer me in the right direction on. I really don't know if he will answer or not, but it was helpful to put my story and questions together in writing, and I know that God is the one who will give me direction, answers, and encouragement!

Speaking of which, I was super-encouraged to hear back from a friend this week, whom I had written several weeks ago. He and his family live on the other side of the country now, and we have not really been in touch much fora few years. I had written him and gave him a general idea that I was struggling with some issues, but was not very specific, and indicated that I would appreciate his prayers and was interested in possibly corresponding with him casually. He shared a couple of areas that he had been challenged in and been overcoming in the past couple of years, by God's grace. He wants to start a Bible study via email so we can encourage and challenge one another. I am super excited, because he is a humble and honest and gracious Christian, but also because I think it will be beneficial for me to be open and real with another close friend, and thirdly because this relationship will promote my interest in the Bible and help me stay focused on it!

Well, it is Friday night, the girls are in bed, and I am looking forward to spending some quality time with Cherie. So, I'll close this short and somewhat disconnected post, and hope to see you sometime next week!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On YOU I Wait All the Day

"To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed; Let not my enemies triumph over me. Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed; Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause. Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day." (Psalm 25:1-5)

The last week or so has been difficult for Cherie and I, as we continue to work through some of the fall-out from my issues. The primary problem is that I continue to be tempted by thoughts of the other woman. Although these thoughts are not with longing but more of general interest, they cause concern because it makes both of us wonder how "over" her I am; how complete the heart change is that God has given. I am almost always successful in turning from these thoughts, and have recently been telling myself, "NO, you do not have the right to think of her at all," (some advice from "Every Man's Battle") and finding more real deliverance. But I really want to be free of them altogether, to understand and root out the source of these thoughts, and I am not sure that I am on the right track. I don't want to exaggerate the problem, but neither do I want to minimize it. And as you can imagine, it is really hard for Cherie when she knows that I still have some inclination to think of the woman that I betrayed her for; that I pursued in my imagination; that I had a crush on. To say that it is my sinful flesh that is the cause, and not my true self which is now dominated by my changed heart, does not really change the picture from her perspective. It still feels like betrayal; it still makes her question where I am at; and how much to trust me.

These conversations have been difficult and ugly, to say the least. But I "get it" from her perspective a little more now. And it has inflamed a passion within me to tackle my thoughts with renewed vigor. I decided not to go to church on Sunday (the other woman attends there as well) to starve myself of "food" for my thoughts, and to focus on seeking God together with Cherie. There was some profit in our long conversations that day, but eventually derailed into never-never land, which started our week out kinda rough.

It is easy to be discouraged in such cases, but I don't really have that liberty right now. I need to seek God and His wisdom with all of my heart, and I am really trying to make that a priority this week. Things have warmed up a little between us in the short-term, but I need to focus on the long-term, and Cherie's patience with me has worn thin. I really need a break-through, and I know that God is in that business.

It occurred to me that God expects me to obey what He has already revealed, before He will show me the next steps. And He has shown me that I need to focus a lot of my attention on pursuing Him -- in personal Bible reading, prayer, and worship.

That brings me to the above verses, which I am memorizing this week. I am looking at my verse memorization from a different angle now. It is not just to fill up my mind with good things. It is to embrace God's very words. It is to cling to God and His truth. It is to hide His words in my heart. It is to strengthen my new heart in His good ways, by His good Spirit.

I chose these particualr verses because they highlight some important things for me at this point in my Christian journey.

The psalmist here is overflowing with expressions of dependence upon God. He lifts up his soul to the Lord; he trusts in God; he knows God has power over his enemies; he waits upon the Lord and knows that He can keep him from being ashamed; he needs to be shown the Lord's ways; he wants to be taught God's paths by Him; he longs for truth and sound teaching; he acknowledges his salvation comes only from God; and he waits upon God all the day. I am reminded that I am nothing, and that I cannot do any good thing apart from the Lord and His work in my life. I need Him to show me the way and give me the grace and strength to walk in that way.

Something else I noticed here. My victory over sin; my triumph over the flesh; my conquering in spite of Satan's attack -- these are all in the hands of God, who has already accomplished my deliverance in the cross of Christ. The psalmist says early on, "Let me not be ashamed", but as he considers it further, he knows God's answer, and he clings to it even as He voices it to God: "let no one (and I add, "not even me") who waits on You be ashamed." How can I be ashamed if I am waiting on God all the day; by seeking His truth and ways with all of my heart; recalling that He is the God of my salvation? This reminds me that salvation includes not only justification, but sanctification and glorification, and so I know my current deliverance is part of His continued work of sanctification in my life, part of His perfect salvation.

The reference to those who ought to be ashamed has always made me think of Saul or even some of David and Saul's warriors who were just horrible in their dealings. But last night when I read this, I saw myself in it. I have "dealt treacherously" with Cherie in betraying and deceiving her, and that "without cause." How ashamed I am, and how worthy of God's wrath instead of His blessing. And yet, God in His mercy and grace looks down upon the likes of me, and He delights to deliver us from our treacherous ways to His own ways of truth, righteousness, and glory. What an awful sinner I am. What an amazing God has saved me! He will be faithful in continuing that work in me, as I seek Him with the changed heart that He has given me.

Oh God, I need You; I trust You; I seek You; please teach me; oh show me the way; I cling to You; I wait upon Your deliverance while I seek Your grace to follow and obey You; please cause me to triumph for Your name's sake. In Christ's powerful name I ask it. Amen.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Closeness x 2

I just finished listening to "Every Man's Battle" today, and it has been a real encouragement and very helpful to me practically. Perhaps I will write a book review sometime soon. Anyway, I wanted to share something simple but meaningful that was mentioned in the conclusion of the book.

It was brought out that two of the aims of becoming free from sexual temptation are to re-gain closeness with your wife, and closeness to God. Those two intimacies are exactly what I need, and what I had sacrificed for "the pleasures of sin" for in years gone by. Sin gets in the way of relationships, period, and the closer the relationship is supposed to be, the more damaging it is. That is especially true when the sin issues are deceit, lust, and betrayal. Trust me on this - don't go there.

The other thing that struck me is that I have heard (and found) that pursuing intimacy with God, and with Cherie, are key in overcoming the types of sin I was entrapped by, and am struggling to overcome now. Yes, this here is a circular effect. The more I pursue oneness with Cherie, and oneness with God, the easier it is to overcome temptation and lead my heart aright. And the more I oppose and overcome sin and my sinful flesh's influences, the freer I am to worship and walk with God, and to honor and enjoy my relationship with Cherie.

So which comes first, the chicken or the egg, so to speak? Well, I didn't start off 11 months ago being close to either God or Cherie, nor with victory over temptation. I think they both go together. I can only overcome temptation as I pursue God and His grace and the work of His Spirit. I can only enjoy oneness with God when I am not pursuing sin. It all works together, and is all because of the grace of God working in my life.

It is a good reminder to me that both the current solution and the ultimate goal are essentially one and the same. I must pursue oneness, not only as a reward for faithfulness, but as a source of being faithful. It reminds me of this verse which I admit that I am taking out of context:

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Encouraging Words

As I continue to "reap what I have sown" and fight to overcome the sin and corruption that once enslaved me, I find helpful reminders and encouragement from God's Word. In talking with a friend last week, we were looking at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 and the weapons we have that are "mighty in God" and remembered the "whole armor of God" in Ephesians 6:10-20, and especially the offensive weapon of "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." It reminded me of how important it is to cling to God's commands and promises as recorded in the Word. And so I am going to just share a few that have been meaningful as I have been looking for things to take to heart from what God has said.

Twice we read in Isaiah about God making the crooked places straight, like this from 42:10:
I will bring the blind by a way they did not know;
I will lead them in paths they have not known.
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked places straight.
These things I will do for them,
And not forsake them.
My heart and mind are those crooked places, malformed by sin, taken into dark places and spiritual blindness.

Oh God, straighten me out, lead me to the light, make my path plain, do these things in me and for me, and do not forsake me! It is You alone to whom I can cling, knowing that your faithfulness is great, and your compassions are new every morning.

Psalm 147:3 is also an encouragement to me: "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." My heart is "broken," although I don't mean that in the same way as the common expression -- but more like my heart is not working right, it is out of tune, it has been compromised. God heals broken hearts - Hallelujah! And He can heal Cherie's broken heart and lovingly bind up her wounds too, that I have inflicted.

I Corinthians 6:9-10 talks about those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, including adulterers, idolaters, and the covetous, which I can relate to in varying degrees. But then verse 11 says, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." No, I am not alone in having been in that dreadful list of sinners. And I am not alone in having been washed, sanctified (set apart), and justified by God! Wow, I need to be reminded of that. It speaks of it in the past tense, it is true, but I know that the sanctification is ongoing and requires my involvement, but of course that requires the work of the Spirit in me too.

Later in the same chapter, in verses 13 and 14, God says, "Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power." My body, soul, and spirit were not intended to pursue sexuality in a wrong way, but were designed for the purpose of glorifying the Lord. And with thoughts of the resurrection fresh in my mind, it is encouraging to be reminded that I will be raised up by that same power of His. It may speak of my body being raised up on resurrection day, but I know too that it is by Christ's resurrection power that I am able to overcome sin in my life now. Praise His name!

Finally, at the end of that chapter, I am told to "flee sexual immorality", and challenged in verses 19-20, "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s." Yes, I not only can flee sexual immorality with God's resurrection power, but I am expected to! I have been bought at a great price, and the reason I was purchased as to abound to God's glory, and that includes my sexuality for sure!

This also ties in with that book I've been listening to, "Every Man's Battle", and specifically the section on defending our minds. One key concept that I picked up on was that I am not my own; my mind is not free in Christ to think whatever I want; but I am accountable to God for all of my thoughts; and that it is contrary to His purpose for me to think of any woman other than Cherie in a wrong way. I do not have a "right" to be thinking of this other woman. So I must guard my mind and send those thoughts away as soon as they come near.

Dear God, be my "Comrade" in the battle against these thoughts that would destroy me and my marriage from within my head. Remind me that I am yours by right, for you have not only created me, but redeemed me at a great price. Set me apart for You, and set Cherie apart in my heart and mind as the apple of my eye that you have graciously given to me. For you have given her to me not just to bless me, but for me to cherish and protect; to guide and provide for; to nourish and cause to flourish. May our lives and our marriage abound to your glory!

How good it is to have God's Word!

Saturday, April 07, 2012

By pride comes nothing but strife...

...But with the well-advised is wisdom.

That's from Proverbs 13:10, and it seems very applicable to us this week. We have had a bit of a rough week, and as I touched on in my previous post, pride causes one to be easily provoked. Strife does indeed come, and we cannot expect much of anything different than that, if we persist in pride. That would be walking in the flesh and expecting the fruit of the Spirit to harvest! One of the chief outcomes of pride is strife, although it breeds plenty of other evils as well.

What is the contrast here in this proverb? The opposite of pride and strife is to be well-advised and to have wisdom. So, the opposite of pride is humility, and that is the way of wisdom! If pride is not well-advised, then it must be ill-advised! Our experience this week bore that out.

Pride not only makes me difficult to have a conversation with, it makes it difficult to have a relationship with. And it makes it a challenge to make any progress in a hard conversation about marriage issues, for sure!

Something else I realized during the last few days is that both Cherie and I want the same things, and stumble over the same things -- just that they are different aspects of those same things. I want to be accepted. So does she. I struggle to accept her when she does not accept me, and vice-versa. In other words, "I want to be loved, and loved the way I want, because I deserve it!" That is selfish, and the opposite of true love. Real love is unselfish; giving; not counting the cost; not expecting something in return; not demanding respect, but giving respect; honoring rather than dishonoring; building up and not tearing down; being vulnerable and not defending/protecting; reaching out with confidence rather than retreating in fear -- and I'm sure many other things that I haven't learned yet or am forgetting!

As a husband, I need to take the lead in humility, love, and faith. How easy it is to set the tone for life by being proud, self-seeking, and untrusting. Shame on me!

Although I tend to think of my major sins of lust and lying being the bombs that nearly destroyed our marriage, I am beginning to see that PRIDE is not only at the heart of both, but at the heart of so many other aspects of relationship issues. So help me, oh God, to humble myself!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"The Love Chapter"

Last week and this week, I've been working on memorizing I Corinthians 13:4-7, from the well-known "love chapter." In addition to finding those verses really hard to memorize (so many little phrases, and not organized into neatly ordered categories as I might like them to be!), I am finding these principles of love to be a little overwhelming. Let's have a look...

"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

I am reminded of Romans 13:8-9, where we find (in part), "for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For ... are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” No, I am not suggesting anything like law-keeping here. I was struck by how important, how foundational, how pivotal, how pervasive LOVE is in practical righteousness. How vital it is in the Christian life. How love embodies God's ways with us, and should also embody our own ways with each other -- especially our spouse!

And with that in mind, how can I take this description of love and what it does and doesn't do here, as anything other than important? It would be so much easier to take these verses lightly; as romantic poetry; as something rich and literary, and yet superficial. But that is not God's intent -- could I rightly think that way about anything in His Word?

There are very few things about love, listed specifically here, that are not convicting to me now. Perhaps I never gave them individually or collectively much thought as being the very underpinning of "love." Shame on me. I definitely have not mastered any of them, and fall far short in most of them. As I allow God to work in me and in my marriage with Cherie, I can see how many of them apply to me, and how sadly I have failed in them. And I can see some of the impact from my failure.

Just to give you a teeny example: "is not provoked." Wow, that's a tough one. How easily I am provoked, and why? Because I am proud and stubborn, I suppose. If I am in the right, then I have a right to be annoyed, right? Wrong. If I am in the right, I am more likely to be proud of it, and very easily frustrated and provoked to anger, for example. That is not love.

Or look at it from the standpoint of temptation to lust, which I have struggled with. When Satan brings temptation, he is seeking to provoke my fleshly lusts. Those can be stirred up without too much trouble, and provoked with a bit more work, and captured with a bit more effort on his part -- apart from God's grace and His Spirit's transforming work in my life (for which I am very thankful!). That is not love. Love is not provoked. Instead, love rejoices in the truth and temptations are lies. Love does not seek its own but that of my wife -- her honor, for one.

So, as I memorize these verses, it is with a great sense of my own need to learn and grow in love. Love that is part of the fruit of the Spirit. Love that comes from God purely and is to flow out in my life in so many ways. Love that testifies that I am saved and transformed by the loving and gracious hand of God through Jesus Christ. Love that honors Him and does His work here. Love that seeks and upholds the truth. Love that is not self-centered by Christ-centered and other-centered.

Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus!

Monday, April 02, 2012

Last Week...

Last week was a bit of a disappointment because I did not complete my weekly 10 goals, and I really wanted to. The week ended with our family coming down with a stomach bug, but Cherie and I also had some intense discussions earlier in the week that took up a lot of time.

The conversations were difficult, but as usual, God provided grace and we were able to learn from the hard things. Oftentimes I make things harder than they need to be because of stubbornness and pride, which makes it that much more of a challenge to make progress in the conversation. I have come to recognize that Satan does not want our marriage to be successful; that he wants to thwart (if it were possible) God's plan to transform our relationship; and so he probably cares a lot about the conversations we have. Satan no doubt wants to see these talks fail, for us to be driven apart by hurt pride, half-truths, quick anger, resentment, frustration, and you-name-it. In short, the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.

It just reminds me how foundational the work of the Holy Spirit is in my Christian life. I can't do anything right without Him, and that becomes abundantly clear in a marriage relationship. We want to do more than just "do" right, we want to be right -- with God and with each other. We have no hope of that apart from the application of the gospel of Christ to our lives, and that is the work of the Spirit, is it not? So I must pursue that work in me, consciously opening my heart and life for Him to work, and looking for those connections to the gospel that I so much need to make!

Last week I began reading (well, listening) to a great book that I believe will really help me. It has already started me thinking in new directions, and I look forward to being further challenged and changed by it. It is "Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time" by Fred Stoeker and Stephen Arterburn. Hopefully I will be able to share some of what I'm learning as I progress through the book.