In the months leading up to our divorce until about three months after the divorce, I went through what I call the “divorce crazies.” My marriage and my reputation had helped me to keep some semblance of sanity around my addiction, and now that both of those were gone, I caved. Melody and the kids were worth the fight, but Tray was not worth the effort that recovery demanded.
I had a number of friends at this time who were attending Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church, and so I reluctantly began to visit. I was mesmerized by Bob Flayhart’s preaching and began to be exposed to the “waltz”…the Gospel 3-step, as he called it. Sunday after Sunday I heard about grace and God began to show me my own unbelief.
Bob shared an illustration not long after I started visiting that revealed so much about my own path. He said that he had a friend who had a son with very sensitive eyes. The boy was about three or so and had a sandbox in the backyard. When it rained, puddles would form in the sandbox and inevitably the young boy would splash in the puddles and get sand in his eyes. The rule at their house was no playing in the sandbox when puddles were present.
One day after a rain Bob’s friend was looking out the back door and noticed his son playing in the sandbox, obviously breaking the rules. After only a few minutes, the boy had sand in his eyes and sat there crying in the sandbox. As Bob’s friend watched, he wondered how his son would respond to the situation. Would he sit there in the sandbox and condemn himself, feeling that he deserved the pain he was experiencing because of his disobedience? Or, knowing that he had broken the rules, would he come to his dad who could help remove the uncomfortable sand?
The boy came running to his father.
Bob said that the lesson his friend learned that day was that a distant child is harder to love than a dirty child. As soon as Bob said that, I started weeping. In that moment I realized that I had been the distant child my entire life. Rather than coming to my Father covered in the crap I had gotten into, I chose to keep a safe distance and tried in vain to clean myself up. I felt God was disappointed and angry with me for messing up, so I constantly attempted to deal with sin on my own rather than come to the One who died for it once and for all. That lesson was the beginning of many lessons that God would use to break through my own unbelief. With my reputation lying in shambles all around me, God was revealing to me the truth about His grace.
Not long after I started attending Oak Mountain, I found out that my former pastor had called Bob to warn him about me. I was crushed and confused. My former church was so convinced that I was a con-artist that I suppose he felt it was his duty to warn a fellow pastor. On the one hand I was angry and hurt, and on the other hand, this only added more to the shame I was already carrying. I had spent so many years deceiving others and myself, there was a part of me that wondered if maybe he was right. (Years later my anger resurfaced when that pastor’s own struggle with sexual addiction came to light.)
When Melody and I divorced, neither of us hired attorneys. A few couples from our Sunday school class helped us draft our divorce agreement. At the time, I didn’t know there were guidelines for things like child support and I wound up committing to more than I could afford. I stayed current for about nine months, but started falling behind after losing a retainer client. I was self-employed and was not bringing in enough to meet all of my obligations. Financial stress had always been my biggest trigger with my addiction, so at times I was caught in the vicious cycle.
When I started attending Oak Mountain, it was one of the few churches in Birmingham that practiced church discipline. When I decided to join Oak Mountain, I joined under discipline and had Bob and three elders walking closely with me. I was instructed to “live as if I was married” so that if Melody’s heart ever warmed to the idea of reconciliation, I would be available. I felt that with four young kids it would be ten to fifteen years…if ever…before she remarried again. I was supposed to put my life on hold until she moved on with hers? I had a passing thought of simply finding another church that would not give me the same stipulation concerning dating, but even in the throes of my addiction, I felt that I was at Oak Mountain for a reason and that God was up to something.
During the first two years of our divorce, money, or lack of money to be precise, dominated the conversation. After I fell behind on child support, we went to court twice and I honestly feared that at the end of the day I would be in an orange jumpsuit trying to figure out my financial picture from behind bars. Melody was obviously angry that my sin had turned her world upside down and not paying her on time only fanned the flames of her wrath. She was also fearful that if I continued to spiral downward in my addiction that I would eventually harm our four children. It was a painful, chaotic time.
In the summer of 2004 I read Healing the Masculine Soul by Gordon Dalby. I was far enough removed from our marriage to be able to see my relationship with Melody in a different light. Even beyond my struggle with pornography, I began to see what a passive, non-confrontational husband I had been. My lack of leadership in our marriage created vacuums that Melody had to step into and she resented being put in those situations. I began to understand the root of much of her pain and coined the phrase “The bitch comes out in the woman when the man is not being the man.” The wrath and anger from Melody was not fun to deal with, but God was helping me to truly grieve the pain I had brought into her life and to understand the source of her feelings and emotions.
One night alone in my bed, I finally yielded to God and told Him that if He wanted me to reconcile with Melody, I was open to it. For two years I had been trying my best to comply with Oak Mountain’s mandate to live as if I was married, but frankly, my heart had not been in it.
About two weeks after I was warming to the idea of reconciliation, Melody came by my office and announced that she was engaged to be married. When those words came out of her mouth, it was like a knife to the gut. I so wanted her to be happy and realized that I had forfeited opportunity after opportunity to make her happy. Now she was closing the door forever on our family being back together again. When she walked out, I fired off emails to my counselor, Bob, and all three elders who were a part of my discipline. I told them I had warmed to the idea of reconciliation and now Melody was engaged and asked them if I should tell Melody what was going on in my heart. All of them answered me back with a resounding “No.”
Melody remarried in December of 2004. When I was fighting the mandate the church had given me for all that time, I would have welcomed her re-marriage as releasing me to date again, but God was doing something in my heart. I was deeply saddened, but could not feel sorry for myself because it was my sin that had brought us to this point. For those who say that pornography doesn’t hurt anyone, I was now facing the cold, hard truth that another man would be tucking my kids in at night.
Unknown to Melody, the man that she married struggled with clinical depression. After 18 months of marriage, he lost his job and eventually left Melody and the kids. God used this second failed marriage to bring Melody face-to-face with her own issues and woundedness, which leveled the playing field for us. Up until that point, her trump card if we ever reached an impasse concerning the kids was to bring up my addiction. I began to see a level of humility in Melody that I had never seen before.
During the two years that Melody was married, I thought everything was great with them. It wasn’t until he left that I began to find out that things had not been good from the beginning. I was very sad because, although I wouldn’t admit it at the time, I still loved her deeply and wanted her to be happy. She deserved to be happy. Here she was wading through the pain of another divorce and all the subtle and not-so-subtle lies that were being communicated to her heart.
Melody and I began to co-parent together very well in the months after her divorce. She continued in counseling and so did I. We were both learning that our “normal” that at first we had worked so hard to get back to was very, very unhealthy. Through counseling and recovery we began to learn how our own childhood wounds provided filters through which we saw the world and helped shape our reality. We started correcting those filters where they were distorted.
In early 2007, I decided to take a break from dating and to really dive into my recovery work. I had just gotten out of a year-long relationship and felt I needed to journey alone with God for a season. I was learning to run to God when I was hurting rather than running to pornography, relationships, or another coping mechanism. My relationship with God was transforming into an adventurous journey rather than the behavioralism I had practiced for so long. I told Melody that I had taken a break from dating one night as I dropped off the kids.
During this period of not dating, I sometimes would casually ask Melody about reconciliation, just to see where her heart was. She would always emphatically shoot down the idea and I would leave it alone. About a year after I had stopped dating, I met someone and considered dating them. In a casual text message to Melody I let her know. Her response the next time I saw her let me know what was going on in her heart.
“What do you mean, you’ve met someone?” she asked.
“I met someone and might ask her out,” I replied.
“I thought you were interested in reconciliation?” she quipped.
“I’m very interested in reconciliation…I just didn’t think you were interested in it at all,” I responded, watching her expression closely.
After seeing her response, I began to tear up. I told her that I still loved her and that I had actually never stopped loving her. I asked for her permission to begin to pursue her heart and she reluctantly agreed. We were both terrified. Her biggest fear was/is getting hurt again. My biggest fear was/is hurting her again. By not being in relationship with each other I could guarantee that my fear would not be realized and she felt much better about her fear not coming to fruition. By walking toward each other, we were both risking being hurt.
Neither of us knew really what to expect or what it looked like to be dating your ex. It was tricky with the kids because as we started dating, obviously there hopes were up. If it didn’t work out, we knew it would be like another divorce for them. Because of this, we didn’t let them know until a few months later. Melody would introduce me as her ex-husband, father of her kids, and boyfriend…all in the same breath. We enjoyed watching folks scratch their head trying to figure out our situation. It was especially fun when the kids would call her “Mom” and me “Dad”, knowing that we both had been divorced.
When I proposed to Melody, I shared excerpts from my journal that I had recorded in 2004 when God was warming me to the idea of reconciliation. I never dreamed that I would be sharing those thoughts with her four years later. We had purchased a gorgeous ring that one large diamond surrounded by four smaller ones. We felt the ring symbolized so much of our story by having a diamond for each child. I put the ring in a box I found that was inscribed with the following,
“Live for Today Hope for Tomorrow Learn from Yesterday”
This has become our motto. We seek each day to live completely and fully in the moment, being grateful for God’s abundant grace and mercy. Because of our story and because God is good, we have so much hope for our future. We also seek to look back and understand our story in order that we can learn and grow and maybe provide wisdom and help for others.
There are so many people who played key roles in this story and Melody and I will be forever grateful. We have gone from being lonely performers and reputation managers to authentic sojourners in our journey. Because of God’s wonderful, scandalous gospel, we don’t have to pretend or hide any longer. We choose to boldly step into the light and to live with others in genuine, authentic community. Our hope and desire is that our story will inspire you to join us.
Here are a few blog posts that I have written that go into further detail about some of the events of our story: