Have you ever sat in a church service and thought, “If only I had heard this message before…”? Wednesday night I had that experience. Our youth pastor, Jonathan, delivered a message out of Proverbs talking about the impact of your significant other. (Husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend etc.) This person is going to monopolize your time, so they have a huge influence on you. He touched on all sorts of uncomfortable topics like sex, marriage and all the other tidbits that go with a talk about significant others. He primarily was preaching from Proverbs 5, but if you read Proverbs (which we did in October) you see many, many references to immoral women, fools etc.
First, let’s put the scripture references in context. This is a father (King) talking to his son. Obviously, he is going to warn his son about women. If he had a daughter the conversation would have focused on immoral men. Now that we understand both genders can be rotten to the core…I will continue.
When I was a teenager the only real relationship message I remember was abstinence. This message addressed how people look and treat one another and whether they are marriageable material. I may refer to Jonathan’s message, but this post is to share a story. A painful story that digs up deep hurts from my past. I have a couple people in mind as I write this. I pray they will glean something from experience. It is with great trepidation that I share this.
17 and Life
I was only 17 when I got engaged. No I was not pregnant. In fact, I was a virgin. A very flirty, like to kiss virgin, but a virgin none-the-less. My fiancé was 24. (Stop freaking out, trust me I know what you are thinking.) My friends hated my fiancé. Okay, let me be fair they were weirded out that I was dating an “old” man. I met him in church. He asked my parents if he could date me and things unfolded from there. He was a youth leader, so I do have a huge soapbox on limited fraternization between youth leaders and teens of the opposite sex. (Yeah-that should have probably been a red flag about the church to someone.)
We started dating when I was 16. We dated almost a year before he proposed. He proposed while we were practicing a special song for church service. The next year was a series of what should have been huge red flags to me and frankly to my family. The summer I turned 17, we visited Southeastern Bible College. I was planning to attend after I graduated. My then fiancé, decided it was time for him to go back to school and suggested we go together so we could enter ministry together. We looked at the married couples housing and seriously looked at a future life in Southeast Florida. During that same trip, we had sex for the first time. I had been convinced, partly by my fiancé and partly by myself, that we were getting married and it was not a big deal.
If you trace back the path of your life you can identify when things fly off the rails. Having sex with my fiancé altered my life in ways I am still trying to unravel. Church quickly became less interesting to me. (That was guilt.) I spent so much time defending my relationship to my friends and some family. I felt like I was being bullied by everyone. At some point, it became me and him against the world.
Eventually, things started to fall apart. Everything came to a nasty head at my senior prom. I was beyond excited to attend. All my friends were going and I love to dance. My excitement fell apart and quickly turned to heartbreak. My fiancé was a jealous man. He did not want to dance. I danced with my friends. My fiancé’s anger grew and in short order we were leaving my prom. I was in tears and I was determined to call off our engagement after his overwhelming show of jealousy. Over the next several days I saw shades of anger and his possessiveness grew immensely. (Perhaps I only noticed it more) The two of us were traveling with my Mom when I suggested waiting on getting married (it was a ploy for more time so I could call off the wedding). He lost his mind. My Mom thought it was just cold feet. When I tried to stand my ground, he announced that we had been intimate to my mother. I cannot express the heartbreak on her face, nor can I explain how much shame I felt in that moment. To have my darkest sin laid bare in front of a person I wanted to please. (It was many, many years before I felt that condemnation lift.)
Whether imagined or real, I felt forced to marry him now. Why? 1. I could not bear to disappoint my parents. My father did not know and my fiancé threatened to tell him if I backed out of the wedding. 2. I did not value myself. I had no self-worth or confidence in myself to stand on my own. I did not want to remain at home, but I did not want to face the world alone. I had been convinced he was my ticket to a bold new world. 3. My relationship with God was shallow. I can see now that had I been tuned in to God and if I had been in his word many of these circumstances would not have evolved. If they had evolved, I would have had the weapons to fight them.
Unhappy Day, Unhappy Life
There is a picture of me in my wedding dress, being walked down the aisle by my Daddy. The church is beautiful, the dress is beautiful and my Daddy a handsome man…my face is that of a mourner, not a blushing bride. I am certain many people thought they were tears of joy or that I was overcome by emotion. If you look closely, you see fear and sadness. When Daddy said, the car was outside (he was joking) I should have grabbed the keys and ran.
During our first year of marriage we fought constantly. He did not support the idea of me going to college. Southeastern Bible College was a distant memory. The scholarship I had for Appalachian State University was turned down. I faced a future of uncertainty. His controlling behavior, possessiveness and unwillingness to see me as his equal fueled the discord between us. During that first year, I was equally guilty with him in physically lashing out. We had once been great friends, it’s sad to me now how sour everything turned.
The damaging part of this relationship was not the physical slaps or throwing things at one another. Those were terrible, but for me the mental and sexual abuse was far worse. In retrospect, I truly do not think my first husband realized what he was doing was wrong. We had a Pastor who told him if he could not resist lust to marry. That is why I was proposed too in the first place. This same Pastor told him he would have to raise his wife, because I was so much younger. Hence the reason I was treated like a child. I was younger, but far more mature than my first husband. When we married, I had a bank account, a car and some furniture. I managed my own few bills…insurance and such. His mother managed everything for him and he had nothing. My Pastor of the time thought I was a silly child. My parents raised me to be able to take care of myself. I am so thankful to my parents for that.
Within our first year together I spent multiple weekends away from my husband. I wanted to leave him, but divorce was not something you did. A few weeks after our first anniversary, my parents had a frantic message that I needed to leave. I already had friends helping me. My family returned to pack up all my things and move out of the apartment. I had just found out I was pregnant and his response was it must be someone else’s. I had never known anyone else, so that was impossible. We had a terrible physical fight and he threw my cat down the stairs. (I was honestly angrier about that, than the bruises on my arms and neck.) He was working at the church while my family and I packed everything up. Unfortunately, he arrived in the middle of things. He held a knife on my grandmother and me. I don’t remember all the ugly comments, but ultimately he cut himself and ran off when he learned we had called 911.
The problem with shallow faith is you lack discernment. If you are not tuned into the voice of God, you will get lead astray. After a few months, my husband approached my Mother. He claimed to have repented. He offered to go to counseling. Divorce was a dirty word so reconciliation was encouraged; after all, we were having a child together. Before I knew what happened, he was moved into my parents’ house with me. I once again felt trapped. He attended 2 counseling sessions and refused to go back. Things remained in turmoil for the next 6 years…when I finally took my sons and left for good.
I was pregnant three times. I lost one child and because of the turmoil in the marriage…I was thankful. My two sons are my heart. I love them and would never change the past because to do so would leave me without them. The turmoil of this marriage wounded both of my biological sons; perhaps even more deeply than it wounded me. I did not get to welcome my children into the world with the joy I see in so many families…I was too scared for their future and for mine. The early years of their lives have beautiful memories, but are shadowed by deep aching pain.
There are many other layers to what evolved, but honestly…so memories are better left in the past. Do not be harsh in your judgement of my ex. We were a toxic combination and somehow brought out the absolute worst in one another. I have forgiven my ex-husband. He is a different man now; I believe because he has finally married someone who wants to be with him and I think his faith has become more real over the years. I can forgive him because God has forgiven me. We both had countless sins in our marriage.
People tried to warn me against marrying this man. Friends saw his behavior and eventually so did I. I ignored the signs. I did not enter my marriage or choose my husband with a prayerful heart. God was not first in my life, so how could I wise in my decision.
Do not take lightly the person you date…even if you are in high school. Ask yourself questions and be honest with your answers. Find Godly, loving counsel that will listen to you, pray with you and help you seek God’s voice. A few questions I should have asked…
1. Is God first in our relationship?
2. Do we share the same values? Goals?
3. Can I live without this person?
4. Do they respect me?
5. Do they make me feel better or worse about myself?
6. Do they pressure me? (About anything…we focus on sex, but do they put pressure on you to break rules, to defy your parents etc.…)
7. Do they push me to better myself or do they lessen me?
When I met my husband, Joe, I considered these questions, except the God question. (It was a different time in my life and God was not first in my life then.) I cannot imagine life without my husband. We have had a few opportunities to chase higher paying jobs but they required us to be apart for long periods of time. We have both rejected these because we are better together. We support one another and he has encouraged me to chase my dreams and my goals. He is my best friend. When I rededicated my life to God, he supported every step I took and eventually was not just supporting me, but standing beside me. He makes me a better person. He sharpens me. He does pressure me…but it is pressure to push harder and be better than I was yesterday. He respects me and demands others respect me as well. Joe does not stifle me. He knows I can handle myself and he trusts me to do so. He trusts my judgement. We have balance. We are partners in life. It is what a marriage should look like. We allow each other be our own person within our relationship…that is not the easiest thing to do.
Be Honest with Yourself
I have heard it said you can lie to anyone but yourself. Trust me, I lied to myself for many, many years. Take time to figure out what you want in your life. How do you want to be treated? What makes you happy? Pray about it. Pray hard. Pray daily. Consider the person you are dating or engaged too. Do they lift you up and respect you?
I pray this glimpse into my painful past helps you. Consider the source of your counsel. Whether it is a friend, parent, pastor or teacher does their counsel line up with the Bible. Does your counsel seek to protect you and make you better? If so listen to their concerns and honestly evaluate what they critique. Pastor Jonathan talked about running your race, being focused on God and running your race. He found his wife running the same race as himself, they were not looking for each other. When I found Joe, I had no intention of ever getting married again…we have been together 15 and ½ years now. I thank God that I have my husband, Joe. I am thankful for all four of our children. I am deeply grateful God has his proper place in our life.
PLEASE learn from my story…so mistakes you should not have to suffer through on your own.