Saturday, March 6, 2010

Return to Intimacy - Week Two

Well, I'm bringing in the rear of week two today.  I've really had to contemplate what has happened this week because to tell you about it fully means disclosing some rather painful stuff.

What was the disclaimer last week:  Early on, Scott and I agreed that if telling our story helped someone else find their way then we'd do it.  So, with a very deep breath... I commit to telling it as honest as I know how.

One year, two months and six days ago (that is 61 weeks) I was sitting in the living room on Sunday night the weekend after Christmas when I asked to borrow Scott's laptop to sign up for a Scripture Memorization challenge at Beth Moore's Living Proof Ministries Blog. What happened next ROCKED. MY. WORLD.

I was just about to log off when Yahoo messenger popped up a window that said, "_ _ _ _ _ _ is online."  [I'm not using the name of the person because I don't honestly believe that is fair to her. But, this is a story that has born its time to be told.] I asked him who this person was and he responded just a friend from an online game he had been playing for a couple of years. I must admit that I was trying in that moment to suppress all the alarms going off in my head. At this point, Scott had never betrayed my trust and I wanted with all my heart to believe it was just as he said.

I asked him a few more questions, but the one that sticks out in my mind is this: "Do you think it is okay to have private messages online with a woman who is not your wife?"

His answer dealt me another blow of reality 101: "Isn't it the same as what you do on you blog?"

OUCH. Take a moment, breathe... Answer a question with a question. "Ask me how many men I am corresponding with about my blog? Or better yet, ask me how many men I'm corresponding with by email or IM because of my blog?"

He sat there in silence for a moment. "How many?"

I stated, in a calm and even tone, which was a stretch based on the raging inferno building inside of me. "Two. _ _ _ _ _ , a gentleman from a Christian athlete's organization who emailed me about the use of excerpts from Tony Dungy's speech at the Superbowl breakfast shortly after his son died. He emailed me to thank me for showcasing one of the elements of his organization's ministry and sent me several free DVDs to give away on my blog.  We emailed twice and he sent me a package in the mail. The other one is from a man by the last name of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ who is trying to sell me some kind of coding for my blog. He has contacted me directly twice and I recently told him I would be in touch if I become interested in the service he provides. Outside of that, every single person I have a correspondence relationship with online are women."

I opened my inbox and asked, "Would you like for me to show you?"

He quietly sat back quietly shaking his head and said one word. "Oh."

After he had some time to digest what I had said, he replied. "I'm sorry, I didn't know. I'll end it."

About that time the phone rang and I had to go and pick up my daughter from a friend's house.  In the car on the short drive across town, I began to process what was really happening. I felt the first tremors of betrayal and fear settling somewhere deep in my soul.  Anger began to simmer and indignation started to rear it's ugly head. I could hardly fathom that his excuse for entertaining this kind of relationship with a woman was my blog.  MY BLOG. Yes, it was the time I spent on my blog that gave him the notion that I was entertaining all types online. But, MY BLOG. Where I write about God and my love for God and my life with God and my family and our journey and...MY. BLOG.

Once home I sent my daughter inside and dialed my cell phone with a trembling hand. "Hi, _ _ _ _. I need you to pray.  I don't even know what is happening right now.  I don't even know what it means, but I need you to pray that I will forgive Scott before I walk back in this house.  Our marriage is in trouble and if I don't have forgiveness in my heart when I go back in there I'm going to blow my marriage right out of the water."

_ _ _ _ prayed. As she asked God for mercy and truth to come to light, I heard my Daddy speak to my heart.  He said, "I'll forgive him."

In truth, He already had done the forgiving on Calvary more than 2,000 years ago. I opened my mouth and here is what came out, "Father God, please forgive Scott for whatever it is that he has done because I don't even know what that is. Forgive him because right now I can't, but God, work that forgiveness out in me because I want to save my marriage."

I went back in the house and began the tough questions. Why, How Long, Who...

The answers were vague, frustrating. He soft pedaled it.  He was actually online when I got back which landed me in a confused state. I finally asked, "Do you email each other, too?"

His answer, "Yes."

"Well, I want to see them."

My expectation was for him to open his inbox and show me right there, but he did not. He said, instead as he closed his laptop. "I will show you. But, I've turned it off already."

The next two days were quiet and busy.  We disassembled Christmas decorations and stored them away in the attic. Scott had taken the battery out of his laptop and placed it prominently on his bedside table.  I saw it there Monday night and asked, "What is that doing on the table?"

The longer he waited to respond to my request to see the emails the more suspicious I became. He told me he was going to prove to himself he would not use his computer online for an entire week.

My response, "What about those emails?"

"I'll show them to you after I do this."

It was largely insufficient and left me to my ruminations and imagination which is far worse than anything that could really ever happen.

By Wednesday morning, New Year's Eve, I was in a fit over the delay.  He came out early in the morning and said, "Hey, I'm going out for a while."

My honest-to-God first thought was, "Will you be taking your laptop?"

But, I asked another question. "Is this really your plan?"

He said, "What?"

"To torture me with the suspense of not knowing what is in those emails while you pretend it is no big deal..."

He got angry.  I went on... "Do you really intend to leave me in the middle of this mess imagining the worst when you could end that by letting me see the truth with my own eyes?"

He bowed up then deflated. "Get your computer."

I pulled my laptop into the bedroom and sat with him on our bed.  The house was quiet as the girls were asleep and the televisions were off. I pulled up Yahoo and allowed him to enter his login information. His mailbox popped onto the screen and I opened it.  To my surprise there were no emails from her immediately visible.  HMMMM... Maybe, this was innocent after all. 

I said, "Where are the emails?"

He took the computer and turned it away from me and said, "Let me see."

The hesitation and the fact that he turned the screen away from me caused me to say, "Here, let me try."

I took the computer back, turned the screen back to him and typed one word in the search box. "_ _ _ _ _ _."

I asked one question.  "Before I open these I'm going to ask you one more time, what kind of relationship do you have?"

His response, "She's just a friend."

My heart pounded wildly as the search produced more than two hundred email exchanges. I clicked on the first one... then another.  I read terms of affection and sweet little pet names.  He signed a few "Your Cowboy." And a few had the tell-tell signs of a strikethrough line indicating they were in the trash bin. Some bore the marks of "XOXO..." and the betrayal was clear. Photos were exchanged and more and more intimate details of our life.  He had complained to her about me, and our marriage.

I began reading them aloud and the mingling of pain and rage erupted like volcanic forewarnings.  The shaking had begun. He started to leave and I said, "SIT DOWN."

He did.  That is when I saw it.  "It was good talking to you last night."

Hold the phone.  "You've had conversations by phone?"

He nodded.  "Call her right now, I want to talk to her."

He did exactly what I asked. I would later learn that he had spent the few hours he'd been alone that week systematically setting up a new email address and forwarding as well as directing future correspondence from her to this new email.  We deleted the accounts.

By the end of the afternoon the relationship was revealed as a deeply entangled emotional affair. They had never met face to face nor, based on both of their claims, had they intended to do so.

He ended it with her on the phone and I advised her to tell her husband about the incident.  I administered a strong warning.  Stay away from my husband.  And, with that I advised her to tell her own husband about the relationship she had with Scott. I ended the call.

It took several days of just hacking out the reality of our situation. It was a six month relationship that involved hours and hours of emotional and relational investment in the form of spoken and written words.  Something he attested to me he was incapable of doing for me in our ten years of marriage.

It also clearly displayed the fact that I had severely neglected his needs. The first thing I did after we got off the phone with her was apologize.  Then I asked some questions about what this meant about us. He made it clear he had thought about ending our marriage, but didn't really want to do so.

We talked a lot and at some points his heart seemed tender while at other times he seemed put out and angry that he had gotten caught. He gave me full access to his email and the game where he had met her.  I asked  for some pretty strict boundaries to be set.  1.) No more game - at least not as the character he had been playing in the online virtual world. Which ended up being NO MORE GAME. 2.) Chaperone service on his cell phones and 3.) Full access to his inbox.

I also asked for marriage counseling and finally a few weeks later told him that I didn't want to spend the next year hashing out and making him pay for what was happening between us.  I went to him with my heart in my hands and said, "You know we need to deal with the messy stuff when it comes up, but in between I want to work on us being us again.  Work on our relationship and making us better."

And, as I said in other posts.  I am not without blame.  Manipulation and control have been my game for longer than I can remember.  In truth, I didn't know what was wrong with our marriage or why he often seemed distant and aloof.  After years of begging him to talk to me about it, I became pious and self-righteously indignant.  A martyr for my love. I turned to God and said, "If Scott won't be my husband, Jesus is my Bridegroom.  I will just turn to God and GOD. CAN. TAKE. CARE. OF. SCOTT."

I set him up to fail me.  After all, who can really compete with a perfect Bridegroom.  I wore my offense under my vest and proclaimed my husband trustworthy and myself lucky to have him.  All of these words belied by the true circumstances of my marriage.

The truth is for this one indiscretion on Scott's account there are hundreds of offenses on my side of the camp. I came close to a similar offense a few years back when a godly man spoke flatteringly of me to my children.  The alarms in my Spirit went off and set me running to Scott confessing that had I been in a different place I might have slipped into an indiscretion of my own.

It was the summer before my son died and this man came and ministered to my son.  He took an interest in all of my children while working on a week-long project fixing up a friend of mine's house. Our church was sponsoring this group's ministry and so my kids and I spent several days helping out and going to the evening youth services in a neighboring town.

This man was attractive, attentive and he also was kind.  He said nice things to and about me. He did all the things I wanted Scott to do for my son and he said things I longed to hear from my husband about me. Then one night at the youth service, my kids were invited to come to the circle prayer time after the service.  I agreed to let them attend.  We sang worship and were invited to pair up for prayer.  I was headed for my oldest daughter when this man grasped my hand.  I felt awkward and I was afraid to pull away...In truth it kind of excited me and I didn't want to pull away.

I knew it was wrong to pray with him because Scott and I did not regularly pray together at that time. But, not wanting to make a scene I engaged him.  He prayed over me and my family while I prayed over his. The only way I can describe it is intoxicating.  I found myself looking forward to seeing him the next few days and wrote him a heartfelt letter of thanks for all he did for my friend and our kids.

On the last night, he was sitting at one end of the table and I at the other. He was talking about how pretty I was and telling my kids they should be proud to have such "hot" godly mom.  The sentence didn't seem to fit really. In the car, my girls started saying, "Momma, _ _ _ _ was totally flirting with you."

BUSTED. By my own kids.  They were excited because they all had a crush on him. I said, "I'm sorry you saw that I was hoping you wouldn't notice."

"But, it doesn't hurt anything to flirt right?"

The girls were all in unison as they spoke.

My heart seized with conviction.  "Girls.... No.  It is not ever okay. I shouldn't have let him do that. He has a wife and I have Scott - that is not innocent.  It could be hurtful and ugly and tear two families apart. I'm sorry that you saw that."

That's when I knew I had to tell Scott. I did, and he seemed to understand.

A few months later when Justin's accident happened.  A friend of mine who knew _ _ _ _ and the connection he had made with J called him.  He came and spoke at the funeral.  We apologized to each other at that time and I introduced him to my husband. And for a brief moment we were friends - just friends - he wept with me as we went in to see my son's body in the casket and he shared how Justin's life impacted him. We sat for a long time talking about Justin and then he left.  At the funeral he spoke and left and we have not been in touch with one another again.

Add to that the irresponsible way I've handled money.  Each time it would come up, I could hear a line Ethel delivered to Lucy on that famous black and white comedy series... "How can you stand here in the middle of all this mess  and utter those four horrible words.  'I'VE GOT AN IDEA....'?"

I was a mess, a handful and a disaster waiting to happen most of the time. I did feel lucky to have Scott in my life, but I still longed for something deeper in our relationship.

This week I had a breakthrough. Alan is not only my oversight pastor at work... We are distantly related as cousins. We never really had known each other before we started working together, but the fact remains we have my grandma's bloodline between us.

He asked me how things are in my marriage this week during our weekly catch up time.  My response... "I think I've been too easy on Scott."

I mean he still has no clue to the fact that what he gave her is what I need. And, to make matters worse when I nailed him down the night before about why he did it, he said at first it was just a game.  He broke my heart because he was playing.  And, if that was true then she was just his victim, too.

Alan said, "What we focus on has control over us.  If you are in bondage to the idea that what he gave her is real then yes, you are bound up by the fact that he gave her something that you want and need."

I listened... cautiously.  I didn't really want to admit that was true, but it sounded true. [I'm chuckling at that statement.]

He then explained why the allure of pornography is so captivating to men. He said men are drawn to the safety of an ideal woman who requires nothing of them. No investment, no risk... No rejection....No failure...etc.

He said, "What he gave her was an illusion of who he is - it has to be, because the truth is he is not capable of giving anyone anything real."

He then went on to explain that something she did met a need he had so he kept up the illusion of himself to keep her engaged because what was happening was thrilling to him.

He also shared that based on my description it sounded like Scott is incapable of initiating which means that he is likely been stripped of the true masculine in his nature - or it has never been imparted to him. He said, and the problem with that is men go to women seeking that which only a man can give them.  Only a man can impart to a man the true masculinity that he needs to identify himself as truly masculine.

The truth is, most men never receive it. Most men don't know what it is they need or how it is received.  They spend their lives turning to woman after woman looking for their identity and the truth is only a man can give them what they need as they impart the blessing of masculinity from God.

Alan said, "You can be set free if you would only realize that you don't want what he gave her because what he gave her wasn't real."

It produced a dialogue with Scott that evening that led me to tell him what Alan and I talked about.  Then I told him, "If what Alan said is true and what you had with _ _ _ _ _ _ wasn't real then I've been wrong because I DON'T want what you gave her if it wasn't real.  I want you.  Just you."

My sweet husband was terribly sick at that moment.  He was wrapped in a blanket at the table eating chicken noodle soup when he inched his chair closer to mine and slipped his hand from beneath the hem of the blanket and grasped my hand.

And, then I said something that only he would understand fully how shocking it truly was... "And, when I ask you about what happened and why you did it, and you tell me - 'I don't know.' It is very likely just that - because you don't know. And, if that is the truth then I am sorry I've been angry with you because I've been wrong."

We talked some more and I asked him questions about his sense of being and how he related to women.  To my delight he answered the questions.  I could see us digging around in the sand and unearthing revelation for him in those moments.

Finally, I said the most important thing of the night.  "Scott, you have been going to women and turning to what you think "men do" to find your identity and to fill a deep need in you that only a man can help you discover. I can't meet that need for you, but I know some men who can.  Your father can't even impart this to you if he doesn't have it. And, you can't give it to Travis if you don't have it.  Would you please consider meeting with Pastor Tommy about this?"

He's thinking about it.

Our homework this week was still challenging, but useful.  It helped us to see our differences and it helped Scott to see that he overlooks my need while I saw that my expectations may be unrealistic.

The funniest moment was when we answered the first question.  We were supposed to name one area we would like our spouse to work on this week.  We had gone over this question in the group on Sunday and I answered it.  "Validation.  I need you to validate the fact that I am a priority in your life."

He had said, "I don't know. I can't think of anything."

When we landed on that question in our homework he asked me my answer and I said, "I told you on Sunday, do you remember?"

"No. Would you tell me again?"

So, I told him.

Then I asked for his answer.  "Maybe you should listen a little more."

I sat there dumbfounded.  After the previous exchange we had to hear those words I just felt like saying, "Are you kidding me?"

I didn't but I thought it for a split second.  The look on my face must have been a doozie because he asked, "What?"

I said, "Nothing, let's go on."

The exercises were productive and felt very real for a change.  He was sensitive and listened.  I was able to finally convey to him what meeting my need for quality time means.

Sometimes... This journey is scary because change is scary.  But, right now the picture I have of myself is strapped to a bungee cord, holding onto Scott for dear life while we jump off a bridge into free fall. Where we are cannot be where we stay, but where we are headed right now is so unclear - so uncharted that sometimes I get anxious just thinking about it.

Please keep praying.  We feel the prayers.