Apr 26, 2011

Apologies from a Repentant Christian-Chapter Five

 
CHAPTER FIVE: A CHRISTIAN BY NAME ONLY
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Proverbs 11:3 The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them (NKJV).

Even thought I called myself a Christian, I didn’t become a true Christian until age thirty eight. Up until time, I rarely walked with integrity and had not surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. By leading a dishonest life filled with unfaithfulness to my heavenly father, I caused myself years of unnecessary misery and pain. Once I submitted my life to Christ and began to lead an honest life, I found direction and guidance.
As a teenager, my behavior was quite contradictory to my profession of faith. In my heart, I knew I was walking away, day by day, from the light of Christ.  I mastered the art of rationalization and at times even had myself fooled. I told others that I loved the Lord, but I was acting otherwise-drinking, partying and doing anything else that gained attention. It was easy to sway me one way or the other if it meant I gained approval from others.
By the time I met my husband, I had been steadily moving down a path of destruction and sin for years. The pattern was set. While I attended church each week and worked for Christian based employers, it was in my private life, where I surrounded myself with people who gave themselves to sin and were content with that life. I frequented a country western bar to pursue my ideal husband, a “Christian Cowboy.”  I met my husband exactly where I was looking for him- in a bar.
The night we met, he was almost too drunk to stand up. We met when his Navy buddy and the girl friend I was with sought to dance with each other.  My now husband and I were invited to dance on the floor with them. During our dance, the conversation turned personal as he told me he was in the middle of a divorce and about how he had just returned from the war in Iraq. I felt immediate compassion for his situation with his wife. However, I judged him as an unsuitable partner for me based on his excessive drinking, his failed marriage and the fact that he already had children.  It also bothered me that he was enlisted in the military. My mother had convinced me that the military life was not for me. My biological father served in the Air Force and my mother spoke negatively about her experience as a military wife. Because of her stories, I swore never to marry someone serving in the military. Also, I wanted a partner who did not have other children and who desired at least one with me.  
I shared with this man that I had called off my own second engagement just weeks prior and even had the white dress still hanging on my bedroom door.  I spoke about how I was trying to save face with friends and family as I returned wedding presents.
            During this conversation, we decided that we weren’t right for each other. Yet as strangers, we expressed compassion for the pain we were both experiencing. I said to the Navy man as we slow danced, “I am sorry that your wife cheated on you and hurt your son.” He quickly replied, “I am sorry you were hurt too.” I could see how alone and vulnerable he felt and my heart opened to him.
            Today, I think about the dancing we shared. Was God opening the door to a relationship filled with compassion? In my blindness and skewed Christian walk, had I sadly focused on this man’s shortcomings rather than the loving-kindness he was offering? 
I wonder if I were the Christian then that I am today, if I would have taken that moment to share with this broken man how much God loves him. All judgments aside, I could have told this man that he was not alone. I could have offered him hope through scripture or confirmed that we can’t always know why things happen but that they happen to bring glory to God.

At the time of our dance, however, the path of my Christian walk was not straight. I communicated mercy the best that I knew how to do that evening. As the night progressed, I watched the man dance with other women. He was acting ridiculously immature in my eyes so I avoided him and danced with another gentleman who had caught my eye earlier. As we left, my girl friend and the Navy man’s friend struck up a conversation outside the bar. Left to stare at each other, the navy man and I resumed talking. He was sobering up. I told him, “My name is Donna,” and he replied, “My name is LeeRoy.” After we introduced ourselves properly we continued to talk. We realized we had much in common. We especially talked about our love for motorcycles. So that night, I gave LeeRoy my phone number. He called the next day and we spoke at length on the phone. I agreed to a date with him on a motorcycle ride.
Surprised at my appearance, as I opened the door on our first date, he said, “Wow, you are pretty!” Apparently, LeeRoy was too drunk to see what I looked like the night we met. I remember thinking on that day, “Oh, well, we can still be friends.”
We rode his motorcycle regularly for the next few months. It became our courting ritual. He began to visit me at work, and on one occasion, brought his son. I fell instantly in love with LeeRoy’s son. I also met his daughter during the first few months, their mother and LeeRoy’s parents. Each person in his family quickly left a positive impression on me.
Our dating experience was filled with laughter and entertainment. We went to a fireworks show during our summer romance, and for the first and only time in my life, I saw heart shaped fireworks light up the sky. We drove to Magic Mountain, swam in the pool, walked on the beach and rode the motorcycle. It was very romantic. Our romance became a beautiful distraction for both of our pain. I still attended church, but my behavior was contradictory to my Christian beliefs. It was very worldly. I invited LeeRoy to attend church with me one Sunday and he agreed. It only took him one service to decide church was not for him. Because of his many negative comments, I did not ask again.
After a few months of dating, I discovered LeeRoy had a tender heart and my feelings began to change. He continued to allow his vulnerable side to shine through his tough exterior. In one conversation, LeeRoy told me about the loss of his first son who died at the age of 2 ½ to a congenital defect called Spinal bifida. He talked about being a teenager at the time of his son’s death. We cried together when he spoke of the profound emotional effect the loss had on him.  He also talked of his failed marriage. I heard his side of the story. I admired his ability to overcome adversity. I began to think about a future with him. Perhaps I really loved him. So when LeeRoy responded positively to the question of having more children, I started to push for my third engagement. We became engaged.
LeeRoy was still active duty when he asked me to marry him. We lived forty miles apart and I was with him at his home many hours each day. For several reasons, I moved in with LeeRoy prior to the wedding and before his divorce was finalized. We slept together and began drinking alcohol regularly. I ignored my conscious mind when it told me to stop and think about the choices I was making.  Everything, including the movies we watched was on display for his fourteen year-old-son and eight year-old-daughter. I set an example for these children as well as my thirteen-year-old niece who spent time with us. As a woman of God, I devalued myself in many ways.
My fiancĂ© agreed with whatever I asked him to do and was very eager to please me. I wanted to please him too. I thought I was compromising by watching his choice of movies which often portrayed violence and sexual content. There were times when I stood up for my values, but they were infrequent and random.  I requested that we meet with the base chaplain for premarital counseling to prepare for our marriage. He complied. However, on several occasions after praying with the Chaplain, we would resume watching his choice of television shows. Even though I wanted God to rule my life, Satan ruled my home.
Once married, God was no longer allowed in our home by my husband. The inability to discuss church, Christ and God made me more judgmental and self-righteous. In our home, I ruled out all drinking, violent content on the television and hanging out in bars: literally, the war began. If LeeRoy didn’t agree with my new changes, I’d react and be mean. I would manipulate, pick on his son, argue, slander him for his past, belittle his education, and gossip about him to my family and friends. He then would retaliate and attack verbally, financially and emotionally. He often attacked me spiritually by demeaning God, church and by point out my hypocrisy.
Merely bringing up God or asking for prayer increased attacks between us. I couldn’t see at the time whom I was fighting against. I thought I was in control of my marriage and our situation. But the more I tried to control, the more powerless I felt.            Throughout these months, I prayed as if I had faith.  I attended the base chapel and required my husband and children accompany me. They begrudgingly went for Easter and Christmas services.
With little understanding of God’s values for marriage, I was determined to be the law in my home. I attempted through threats, guilt and manipulation to lead my new family to Christ. None of my ways worked!
It was my behavior during our courtship and engagement that set an example which my new family expected to continue. For nine months, sinfulness and my attitude of “everything goes” was the way of life. I had given my husband priority over God and sin over righteousness. I didn’t understand that my forcefulness towards my new family to love Christ was actually pushing them away. I neglected to comprehend how confusing and incredibly difficult it is for contemporary society to discuss and even accept Christ. How foreign the concept of God was to my new family! My own guilt gripped me and as a wife I was throwing the entire blame on my husband. Sadly, my life was void of a strong godly foundation and I was living my life allowing Satan to overtake me, not God.
I spent much of my early marriage relying on myself for answers. I did not turn to the Lord for guidance, support and forgiveness. As a result, my life was misdirected and very depressing. My marriage was unhealthy and I was setting a poor example as a Christian.
In late 2008, I finally told God He was first in my life. Next, I started conversations with my husband about my sincere desire for real faith. I prayed for and with LeeRoy everyday. Surprisingly, one night almost a year later, LeeRoy mentioned he wanted to go to church with me. The service was shorter than usual and less church members attended that night. The associate pastor was methodically teaching in the book of Philippians. My husband liked the service and began to attend church weekly. As God would have it, the message we heard every Wednesday night for months was “press on, fight the good fight.”  Through Scripture, we were encouraged to practice humility in our relationship with one another (Philippians 2:5-11). We learned about the road to spiritual maturity and to press on toward the goal which Christ called us to (Philippians 3:12-16). We began to look forward to our future and we began to leave our past failures behind. We began to imitate Paul’s attitude. As a result, for the first time in our turbulent marriage, we were holding hands in church. We both spoke about the peace and enjoyment we felt sitting in that back pew by each others’ side. I often found myself in tears as I heard us turn the pages of our bibles together.
After a church service one night, I heard a song by Josh Wilson called, Before the Morning.  The song confirmed the message we heard for months in church, “There is good for those who love God.” The conscious decision we made to leave our old marriage behind and start over with like-mindedness in Christ transformed our marriage. Over time, the compassion we felt while dating returned and our marriage became stronger and more loving than we could ever had imagined.
Today, LeeRoy and I are seriously considering repeating our marriage vows. This time we plan on inviting Jesus Christ to the ceremony. Each day, we turn to Christ for guidance in our marriage. For the first time, I am happily married and cherish the moments I share with my husband.
We spent a day together recently that I will not soon forget. Last year, my husband had to sell his motorcycle to afford to pay his taxes. I was sad to see him sell his bike.  So, as a present for Father’s day, I surprised LeeRoy with a gift certificate from a Harley dealership. The certificate allowed my husband to rent a motorcycle for one day. I was pleasantly surprised when he asked to take me for a ride.  On the Harley, we rode through the same canyons as on our first date.
            At first, my husband drove under the speed limit. It was very hot outside that day. While he drove slowly, I rode with the face screen in the up position. The Harley we rented came with a radio which my husband immediately tuned to a local Country station. With my face screen up, I could hear the music playing from the motorcycle. I listened as an older country song played. The artist, sang, “Heaven only knows how I've been blessed with the gift of your love… Oh Lord I'd be lost, but for the grace of God.”
The words penetrated my heart. Streams of tears began to role down my cheeks. I looked up to the heavens and thanked God. I shook my head as I realized I had finally fallen in love with my husband and it was because of all that had happened between us.  While saying this little prayer, I realized the crisis from October 2008 was now behind us. All had been forgiven!
             To my husband, I ask your forgiveness for all the years I led you away from a true relationship with Christ. I am sorry for the example I set and for those times I judged you without mercy.  Please forgive me!     
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