Sweet Mess

suitcase

I always have mixed emotions when I return from an enjoyable vacation. I miss the adventure of being away from home, seeing exciting things, and discovering new places. At the same time, nothing beats the comfort of my own home where everything is familiar and feels safe.

That’s how it was with our most recent vacation. My heart was a little sad about the good-byes we had to say, but my comfy bed with my favorite pillow was a welcome sight. My head wouldn’t be sinking into my soft pillow, however, until after we unpacked our bags and suitcases. Ugh. I do not enjoy unpacking suitcases because it means the laundry basket will be full of items that will need my attention the next morning. Vacation officially ends when laundry begins.

As I opened my suitcase, I was greeted by the sweet scent of “clean linen” fragrance from the sachet I always keep in my luggage. Unfortunately, the sachet had broken open and covered the contents of my suitcase with a fresh-scented and dusty, sandy substance. Everything was a big mess! A big sweet-smelling mess! I was tired from traveling and just wanted to go to bed, so I shut the suitcase and tried not to think about my luggage catastrophe until morning.

Facing the dusty fragrance substance in my suitcase was no less frustrating in the morning, but I got to work. At first, I thought the scented stuff was only on the top layer of clothes, but as I removed each layer, there was more of the dust and sand substance hiding in creases and folds of clothing. Some of the sachet substance fell to the carpet, even though I tried to be very careful about my work. When I got to the bottom of the suitcase, I noticed that even more of the powdery stuff had found its way inside the lining. I ended up having to vacuum, scrub, and shake out as much of the stuff as I could. My cosmetic bag attracted the fragrance dust like a magnet, so it had to be emptied and scrubbed. When all was done, I heaved a sigh of relief and felt good about how my traveling items actually seemed cleaner than they had been for a long while.

I was curious about how this mess happened. I noticed the sachet envelope had been punctured. I checked my suitcase, and sure enough, there was evidence of some hard knocks, including a missing “Samsonsonite” label. My suitcase was all cleaned up but there was no way to get rid of all the scuffs and marks from the most recent episode of baggage abuse.

I kind of feel like my old Samsonite luggage. I’ve been around a while and I’ve endured some emotional abuse that is likely going to leave some scars – scars that will tell my story of renewal. I was thrown into an ugly mess when I learned that my husband is a sex addict. I spent months in denial and tried to keep a lid closed on what was really happening. Eventually, I was able to accept that I needed to work every day on my own healing. As I tried to sort through details and find my way through the layers or different experiences of the healing process, I often discovered more messes that needed cleaning. But I kept working. I worked through it, layer by layer. I’ve been scrubbed, cleaned up, and shaken in order to be someone that God can utilize again. The big difference between me and my luggage is that through Christ, I can be made new.

I admit, this isn’t a very poetic metaphor. It’s just a few thoughts that keep coming back to me this morning as I listen to the washing machine spin my “clean linen” scented clothing.

The Comfort of a Little Workbook

family_support_workbook_small

I’m not even sure how I found out about the Healing Through Christ Family Support Workbook. Maybe I was desperately searching the Internet to find anything, ANYTHING, that would make me feel better. Maybe it was a resource on a blog. I don’t remember. I’m just so, so glad that I discovered this “Christ-centered approach to the 12-step program.”

I do remember that I downloaded a PDF version of the workbook and then read the first 40 pages over and over again. I had just found out about some of my husband’s online activities and I was devastated. I would read a few paragraphs from the workbook, then cry, then read some more, then feel empowered, then pray, then cry some more. At first, the words just floated around in my brain in a blur. Nothing really fit or made much sense to me. I had a hard time accepting that I needed to read this book “for those who have a loved one in addiction” because my own husband was a sex addict! It was all so surreal!

I kept reading because I really had nothing else to help me at the time. And then, something happened. I actually felt a tiny bit of peace as I read from the HTC book. I tried to imagine a soft comforting voice reading the words to me:

“Keep perspective. . . rest the burden in the hand of the Lord . . . The Lord opens doors of opportunity and provides the strength each of us needs at difficult times in our life” (Elder Richard G. Scott quoted in HTC Workbook, pages 12-13).

Another time of reading, I saw a small faint glimmer of light through my darkness when I read:

“There is hope built within all of us. There is always hope. On the other hand, the thing Satan cannot fight is one who is full of hope – for he is then full of the Spirit of Christ  – and when that hope is perfected or full, Satan has lost completely” (Elder John H. Groberg, quoted in HTC Workbook, page 21).

I already felt battle-weary and scarred, but this quote helped me see myself as a warrior woman. My mighty sword of hope was created and polished through Christ.

With my sword of hope and truth in hand, I asked my husband to leave our home for a few days so I could have some time to heal and think things through. This was the week following his disclosure of adultery. I was so sick at heart. I didn’t know if I ever wanted my husband to return home. Then during one of my many sleepless nights, I read these words from President Thomas S. Monson:

“At times there appears to be no light at the tunnel’s end – no dawn to break the night’s darkness. We feel surrounded by the pain of broken hearts, the disappointment of shattered dreams, and the despair of vanished hopes.  . . . We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone. If you find yourself in such a situation, I plead with you to turn to our Heavenly Father in faith. He will lift you and guide you. He will not always take your afflictions from you, but He will comfort and lead you with love through whatever storm you face” (HTC Workbook, page 29).

I needed my Heavenly Father to lead me and guide me through this storm. So, at 3:00 in the morning, with no sleep, and still wondering what to do about my situation, I finally felt some tiny promptings in my heart. I was exhausted physically, but invigorated spiritually. I felt prompted to send my husband a text. I let him know that he had value and worth, that I loved him, and then I invited him to come home when he felt he was ready.

He was ready. He was repentant and his defensive walls started to come down.

I believe my text was God-inspired. It changed the direction and course of my relationship with my husband. Indeed, Heavenly Father “will comfort and lead you with love through whatever storm you face.” A little workbook gave me the words of counsel I needed at the very moment I need them.HTC

I continue to use the HTC workbook. I keep it with my other recovery work materials and my scriptures. If I have difficulty working through a trigger, I usually start working through my HTC workbook before reaching for any other resource. I love reading the scripture verses quoted in HTC and often mark them in my own set of scripture books. Sometimes, I look up quotes in the workbook and find the original sources so I can read the entire talks.

You might be wondering who helped write this book that contains scriptures, research, quotable quotes from church leaders, and personal stories from others. I assure you the writers are extremely credible. From the HTC introduction:

All those who have contributed to the writing and compiling of this workbook, including the licensed therapists and psychologists, know first-hand the chaos, anxiety, fear, guilt and shame that can be present  . . . when a loved one is trapped in addiction. We know what family members are feeling because we have lived it ourselves (page iv).

The Healing Through Christ Institute has other resources, as well. I invite you to visit their website and take a look. I have no vested interest in this non-profit organization. I am simply grateful for all I’ve gained from the work of the dedicated people who put this book together. Bless them for sharing the tools and practices with others that helped them find peace in their own lives – the long-lasting peace that comes when Christ is at the center.

 

 

Beauty for Ashes

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Provo City Center Temple

I love historical buildings. I love the musty smells and the creaking floor boards. I like to imagine the human stories and events of the past the hardware and walls may have witnessed. Who touched and turned the doorknobs? What sounds reverberated off the high ceilings? Was there singing? Laughter? Crying? Old buildings have stories and I love stories.

When I heard the old Provo City Tabernacle burned down, I was disappointed. I had never been inside the building, but numerous times I had seen the striking exterior. It was a historical icon and I hated to think of losing a building of such magnificence along with its stories. Regarding this event, in October of 2013, Sister Linda S. Reeves recalls the following:

Almost three years ago a devastating fire gutted the interior of the beloved, historic tabernacle in Provo, Utah. Its loss was deemed a great tragedy by both the community and Church members. Many wondered, “Why did the Lord let this happen? Surely He could have prevented the fire or stopped its destruction.”

Ten months later, during the October 2011 general conference, there was an audible gasp when President Thomas S. Monson announced that the nearly destroyed tabernacle was to become a holy temple—a house of the Lord! Suddenly we could see what the Lord had always known! He didn’t cause the fire, but He allowed the fire to strip away the interior. He saw the tabernacle as a magnificent temple—a permanent home for making sacred, eternal covenants.

My dear sisters, the Lord allows us to be tried and tested, sometimes to our maximum capacity. We have seen the lives of loved ones—and maybe our own—figuratively burned to the ground and have wondered why a loving and caring Heavenly Father would allow such things to happen. But He does not leave us in the ashes; He stands with open arms, eagerly inviting us to come to Him. He is building our lives into magnificent temples where His Spirit can dwell eternally (October 2013 General Conference. “Claim the Blessings of Your Covenants”).

As my husband and I went through the open house tour for the new Provo City Center Temple, we appreciated that such care was taken to replicate many unique architectural details of the original building. Exquisitely carved railings and wood trim adorned the stairwells. Light filtered through colorful stained glass windows. Detail after detail in each room resonated of times past while at the same time presenting new flourishes and designs.

We felt a reverent awe as we walked hand in hand through each divinely-purposed room. It was our first time together in a temple building since my husband was asked to give up his temple recommend. I was prepared for some emotional triggers, but there were none. Instead, I reveled in the symbolic nature of our experience. We were standing in a holy edifice which portrayed the beauty of its purpose; an edifice that, from blackened rubble, was renewed to something even more glorious and beautiful.

During the early days of betrayal trauma, I felt like my marriage had been totally destroyed. The fragments of memories that were left all seemed to be tarnished by the sooty blackness of deceit, addiction, and broken covenants.

I’ve spent 18 months sifting through the rubble of my marriage. I have found things worth keeping. I have found the foundation to rebuild. And like the magnificent Provo City Center Temple, I hope to work with my husband to create something even more glorious and beautiful than we had before.

I thought we had a great marriage before D-Day when our marriage was gutted, but the Lord knew differently. I have changed. My husband has changed. As Sister Reeves said of our Heavenly Father, “He is building our lives into magnificent temples where His Spirit can dwell eternally.” The prophet Isaiah prophesied that the coming Messiah would “comfort all that mourn” and “give unto them beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:2-3).  I’m still brushing off some of my soot, but I can see the possibility of a beautiful life rising before me in the future.

 

 

 

Whatever Jesus Lays His Hands Upon

I once made a poster for a lesson I was giving with these words from President Howard W. Hunter,

“Whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives. If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives. If he is allowed to lay his hands on the family, it lives.” 

I created that poster years ago while my kids were little. I’ve made countless posters over the years but this one, though the actual poster has long since been gone, stayed in my mind. I remember the comfort of the message. I remember using the words to help others, including my own children. Never in my wildest imagination (and I have a WILD imagination) did I ever think that this message would become a life-line for me and my own marriage!

Hunter quoteI know that my own personal healing from trauma and the rebuilding of my marriage will happen only through the healing power of Christ. I love the visual I see in my mind of actually inviting Christ to lay his healing hands upon me. It is interesting that President Hunter uses the word “lives” to describe the effect of the Master’s hands. To “live” is more than survival. It means to thrive, to be aware, to be part of something vital and organic.  Something that “lives” is able to change, grow, and heal.

I cannot live in the past and expect my life or my marriage to be the same as it was before D-day, when I learned about my husband’s transgressions, if I want to heal. I must embrace the opportunity to make a new and better life, to change and grow. I want to do more than survive my trauma from betrayal. I want to thrive and live! I want to heal and be whole.

The healing power of the Savior is exemplified in the story of the daughter of Jairus. The loving father, Jairus, with great faith makes his desperate plea to the Savior,“I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.”  President Hunter concludes the story:

“When they got to the home of the ruler of the synagogue, Jesus took the little girl by the hand and raised her from the dead. In like manner, he will lift and raise every man to a new and better life who will permit the Savior to take him by the hand.”

I think the next time I kneel in prayer, I’m going to envision the hands of the Savior reaching toward me. I’m going to work on actually feeling his touch. I’m going to see his hand in mine and let him lift and raise me to a new and better life.

 

What About Me?

The following was written five months after my husband’s excommunication from the LDS Church.

christus-lds-454706-tabletLife is not fair and I am certainly feeling that is true in my life right now as I continue to feel the pain of betrayal trauma. My husband will one day be re-baptized and will be cleansed of all his past sins. He will rise up out of the water perfectly clean of all wrong-doing and he will have to change to begin his life anew. But what about me? While my husband begins life as a new man, I will be left broken, worn, and hurt. How can that be fair or just?

I have struggled with thoughts regarding all the pain my husband has caused my children, extended family, our friends, and mostly me. To count each specific lie and sin throughout our married years would be impossible.

There is no way that my husband could ever pay the price for his sins during his earthly life. That is why we have a Savior.

My husband will do all he can to repent and make amends, but it will never be enough. The Savior will make up the difference. It is the only way.

So, what about me?

A recent experience helped me better understand what might be in store for me. I was dreading the Sunday that my grandchild would be blessed. I would have the painful reminder that my husband was not worthy and would not be in the circle with other good brethren participating in that ordinance. I felt that, after all the years of working to have a gospel-centered home, I was being punished with a broken family and a broken heart.

There was nothing special about the way the meeting began, but I slowly felt a change happen. I was suddenly aware of the good people in my ward and I could feel their love. I felt the powerful testimonies of my faithful adult children sitting on either side of me. I had an overpowering sense that I was at the right place, doing the right thing, and that the Lord approved of my efforts overall. I felt no sense of loss when the circle of brethren, without my husband, surrounded the newborn. I was only aware of a profound sense of love. I thought, “This must be how a healed heart feels.” The feelings lasted just long enough for me to know that a broken heart can be mended through the miraculous power of our Savior’s atoning love.

Just like my husband, I also can rely on the Savior’s ability to make up the difference.

My pain is so acute and my hurt is so deep that it seems impossible that I can ever again experience joy in this lifetime. By myself, I do not know how to heal completely and wholly. I believe that I can learn coping tools, study the gospel, and pray, but it may not be enough. The Savior who paid the price for my husband’s sins will also heal my heart. He will make up the difference for us all.

Teeter Totter

teeter totter

When I was a young girl, I loved playing on a teeter-totter. I don’t see many teeter-totters on playgrounds anymore. Perhaps the need for protective helmets and shin guards take some of the fun out of my childhood playground equipment!

It is necessary to have a partner in order to use a teeter-totter. I remember one of my friends was not a very good totter partner. She and I would get a nice up and down rhythm going. I would love the cool breeze against my skin as I gently swayed toward the sky and then gently glided toward the ground. It was absolutely heavenly until my friend would purposely put her feet out so her seat would hit the ground hard and then she would just sit still without allowing the totter to move. The hard hit always gave me a jolt. I was helpless as I dangled up in the air. There was nothing to reach out to for safety. All I could do was hold on to the metal bar in front of me until the board moved and allowed me to find the safety of the ground again.

Sometimes I feel that living with a sex addict is like riding a teeter-totter.

My husband has been diligently and successfully working on his recovery for a while. I am progressing well in my healing from betrayal trauma. There are days and weeks when my husband and I fall into a nice steady groove of doing our daily self-care of, among other things, praying, studying scriptures, healthy eating, exercising, and getting plenty of rest. It is heavenly as we develop a healthy rhythm to our relationship. Communication is open and transparent. We laugh. We cuddle. We are optimistic about our future.

Then, without warning, we experience a rift in our relationship. It is often rooted in a small misunderstanding, but it almost always results in a temporary emotional withdrawal. When my husband suddenly becomes overly defensive, or withdraws emotionally, or is just irritable, I get jolted. The jolt is especially painful after enjoying a period of time when things seem to be moving along smoothly. I feel like he is hitting bottom and I am simply up in the air without many options. I become fearful and begin to believe that I can’t get back to the ground until my husband makes a changing movement.

But I am not helpless in my see-sawing life. There is a strong metal bar or rod in front of me that I can grasp. The bar does not bend. It is always there whether I’m the one in the relationship that is up or the one down. If I can cling to the handlebar long enough, I know things will eventually change. Life, like a teeter-totter, does not stay still for long.

The reliable thing that I can always grasp in order to get a handle on life is the Atonement of Christ. No matter if I’m enjoying a high or a low point in my marital relationship, Christ is always there in front of me. He is always waiting for me to come to Him again. Always waiting for me to reach my hands out and find a tight grip for safety. My life teeters, but Christ is always constant.

Helaman taught his sons this lesson when he reminded them that Christ, the Son of God, is a sure foundation, “a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12). We cannot fall nor will we teeter our way through life if we cling to Christ, our Redeemer and Savior.

Holding On

I used to sit in my church pew knowing that I had it all together. My family was doing the right things. We weren’t perfect, but we were on a righteous path. I often cast my eyes around the congregation and could subconsciously nod approval at the other families who also appeared to be on the right path. Other families were broken. Obviously, they made some choices that took them off the path because if we keep the commandments we will be blessed, or so I assumed.

And then . . .  the bomb dropped! I found out about my husband’s infidelities.

Since that day, my view of the church and the people in it has changed. The church and the people have not changed, but I have. After struggling with questions about Priesthood authority, Divine revelation, and more importantly, the subtle lack of focus on the Savior, I finally settled on this: I need to work on ME!

praying handsI believe in Christ. The church, for me is a vehicle that helps me learn and grow closer to Christ. My understanding of the Atonement has been limited, but that is because of ME. Until now, I never had to rely solely on the power of the Atonement. Christ’s doctrine and teachings have always been spoken and taught through the church curriculum and its leaders but I didn’t fully grasp the meaning because I didn’t think I needed it. I had a very basic understanding of my Savior and, for my life as it was, that was enough.

I’m beginning to feel gratitude for the necessity of reforming my faith. Currently, I sit in the same pew at church but my eyes see things so differently. As an imperfect being with an imperfect life, I am among other imperfect individuals and families. We are all striving for the same things. We want to be happy. We want to secure a place with our Father in the hereafter. And, most importantly, we want to know Christ. We are all at different levels of understanding. When I hear shallow comments during class discussions, I simply remind myself that I was once there. My visions used to be rather shallow. I’m still there some days. I’m still learning. If I begin to feel impatient or judgmental about what I hear or see at church, I remind myself to “let it go.”

I once thought because my kids served missions and got sealed in the temple, and because my husband and I each served in a variety of leadership positions, and because we easily portrayed ourselves as happy and faithful, that my future was secure. But none of those things seem important, now. Ward activities, missionary work, and service projects . . . those things can wait a bit. They are not my primary focus at this time. I need to be right with Christ. Regardless of how many callings I have or how  my children turn out, I need to know Christ. And that’s why I attend church.

I go to church to find Christ. And I feel like He is there.

I have a lot of experience in the church that has built a strong foundation under my feet. I’ve overcome trials, including the death of an infant son, but discovering my husband’s indiscretions has been a trial of my faith like nothing else. I let my questions sit in my heart. I take them to church with me. I know I will find answers as I strengthen my relationship and faith in Christ. That’s all that matters to me. I’m holding on to Christ.

Finally.