I was literally sitting on the 99 trying to go north but some crazy traffic apocalypse had pretty much shut down 99 and I-5 going north, I was never going to make it to work on time so I sent a text and settled in on the 99 parking lot. When I left home I had put in Steven Curtis Chapman’s new CD in the Cd player thingy and had been totally engaged with every song but then as the rain started and I couldn’t move forward “Together” began to play and tears erupted in me. Every word of that song echoed what I felt about the present state of our marriage. When I got home from work that night I walked up the stairs to our apartment and found Tim sitting in his blue rocker and I said “You have to listen to this song,” I put it in and just stood watching him as his eyes filled with tears and so did mine again…then near the end I walked over knelt in front of him put my arms around him and leaned into his chest and we cried Together.

On Sunday we will celebrate our 29th Wedding Anniversary and I thought it might be a gift to others to talk about the way what we have experienced in the last 3 years has deepened our marriage and strengthened our bond. Trauma brings out the true nature of relationships…what is really there rises to the surface good or bad. Many marriages may not have survived what we have or certainly not grown closer because of it but we did. It was God’s gift to us and now I share it with you.

I am going to be brutally honest so if you do not like that kind of thing, you should probably stop reading now.

On the night that the So Cal District Superintendent forced my husband to resign from our church by threatening him with the approval of the So Cal Executive Presbytery and that threat extended to Tim’s future as well, I was in Sacramento. I knew that I could not be in the same city as this evil man and his vile manipulations so I left. I could tell in Tim’s voice that the evening had been ruthless and ugly and he was destroyed…I said “Rent a car and come to me.”  And he did.   We stayed in the home of friends who are a safe place for us and have been for many years. We stayed for 3 or 4 days, we were safe, we were together and we were with people who gave no judgment and required nothing of us.

When you are hemorrhaging from loss and betrayal, you need to be cocooned in love.

At the end of the week we drove back to the parsonage that we lived in and faced the last Sunday in that church. I walked into that situation with strength and courage and even though it was one of the worst experiences of my life…I stood tall, when you are in battle you just do whatever is necessary to survive.

The next day it started, I woke up swallowed in fear, I was shaking, and I was agitated. I tried to start my devotions and tried to pray but the fear of what was going to happen to us was palatable. I just couldn’t calm down. So I woke Tim up and through tears I tried to explain what was happening to me. He got up and wrapped me into his arms and held me. It took several minutes but I started to calm down. He said all the right things but that wasn’t what helped me it was being surrounded by him. For several days each morning this is how I started the day and he would repeat the process. At night I couldn’t go to sleep until he just held me. Throughout the next 8 months of unemployment and 6 moves we started and ended every day just holding each other, no words, nothing just physical presence. And when some event would cause one of us pain that is how we comforted one another. In the early days we were together constantly, he drove me to the grocery store, we sat together trying to make plans, I wouldn’t let him out of my sight…I needed his physical presence. When life comes at you hard and it doesn’t play fair, BE TOGETHER.

Be physically present for each other.

 We had been told and it was reiterated in the church meeting that we would receive 3 months’ severance which included living in the parsonage. 2 weeks after our last Sunday on a Friday morning a certified letter came to the parsonage. Tim was at the gym working out and I had just come home from walking an hour and half. Physical exercise is necessary when you are dealing with overwhelming anger. Trauma that is seated in betrayal and injustice brings tidal waves of anger and that anger has to be processed and if you don’t deal with it physically it will seep its way into your relationship. Anger has a physicality to it that must be spent. One of the best ways to do that is to exercise. It releases the toxicity of anger in a really healthy way and when you are working out to worship music it gives you a spiritual release as well.

Use physical Exercise to process overwhelming anger.

 I opened the letter and it was from the District Office authorized by the same District Superintendent. It stated that we were no longer going to be receiving the 3 month severance that we had been promised, and that we had 2 weeks to move out of the parsonage (the date given was our Son’s wedding day) and then a page and half lecturing us that we should not be influencing people to leave the church which they had in droves of their own accord. I started to panic and hyperventilate… How in the world could he do this to us? We had done everything we had been asked to do, cooperated fully and bowed out gracefully even though it meant leaving us with nothing. The only thing Tim had asked was that these situations not affect our Son’s wedding day. And with total disregard to what he had agreed to the DS was throwing us out. I called Tim’s cell phone no answer, I called the gym and begged the attendant to please find my husband.

I can still hear his words when he found Tim in the restroom and said “It’s your wife and she doesn’t sound good.”  Tim came straight home and read the letter and then he sat in our white chair and for a couple of hours did not move. If you have seen Braveheart, then you know the scene where Wallace realizes it is Robert the Bruce who has attacked his own men, the look on Wallace’s face was exactly the look on Tim’s. He was broken hearted and so angry. I realized that he just couldn’t do another thing. So I made some calls and got the information we needed and later Tim was able to send an email stating what we were going to do and that we were entitled to our severance and there were witnesses who heard the  promises and the District needed to honor its word to us. I did what Tim could not and then he did what I could not. There are moments when to survive trauma you have to do for your spouse what they just are unable to do in the moment. You have to give them room to grieve and process what they are feeling.

Take turns being strong and be compassionate when your spouse is vulnerable.

 When the 3 months came to an end we had no place to go, the DS had lied about recommending us to churches and no one was interested in us. Tim tried one last time to contact him but he never responded and we knew we were on our own. So we decided to come home, and at 50 years old we had to live with our parents. We spent 2 months with Tim’s and 2 month’s with mine. This had challenges all of its own and people have asked us how we did that and wasn’t that hard? Other people who have had to do it said they would find themselves siding with their parents against their spouse…But Tim and I did what we have always practiced, our marriage relationship is the primary relationship of our life and while we love our families, nothing comes before our allegiance to each other. We are always on each other’s side. We are loyal to one another above all others…that is exactly what the scripture says. The husband will leave his mother and father and cleave only unto his wife, and vice versa.  We remained true to that choice even while living in our parent’s homes.

Remain true to your marriage; it is your primary relationship.

 Everything we experience in life, but especially the catastrophic has two aspects to it. There is what is happening to you (the event) and what God is doing in you (the process).  What is happening in us as a result of a traumatic circumstance is where God is at work. This is a complicated process and when you are both in it at the same time it can get messy. It cause tension, stress, emotional instability and that can result in arguments and frustration with each other. When God is at work in us, we rarely just submit and let Him have His way. We cycle through all kinds of questions, regrets, blaming, denial and a plethora of emotions…we come unwillingly to the Refiner’s Fire and when that is happening to both of you at the same time it can make for some pretty serious emotional fireworks in a marriage.

And if you were already struggling with conflict resolution, and did not have the ability to problem solve together, a trauma can become almost impossible for a marriage to survive. But it can also be the invitation to something new and deeper if you are willing to do the work.  There are a couple of relational tools that Tim and I have used often in our marriage and we used them on an even deeper level during this time in our life.

Pray Together

Really come to together for concentrated times of prayer. In all of the difficult circumstances of our lives we have implemented a concentrated prayer time during that period.  One night a week or more, depending on the circumstances. We set aside a period of time and we play worship music and we pray back and forth. We have done this for a very long time so it is easy for us to just slip into this prayer mode and we pray until we feel peace. If you have never done this before you can try just praying 3 lines at a time back and forth for maybe just 10 minutes and grow into to it as you are comfortable. This is the last thing the devil wants you to do together so he will fight it with distraction and hopelessness…at some point one of you just has to insist it gets done, and the funny thing is it’s usually me. Once we start Tim will totally lead us but I am usually the one who says “Ready to pray?”

Don’t walk away

“Don’t go to bed mad, stay up and fight” Phyllis Diller

While this is humorous, there is actually a lot of truth to it. Hard Conversations are a part of facing the trauma and the spiritual growth God is trying to do in you. There will be times when you each have to take on the mentor role and ask tender questions and coax difficult answers from your spouse. There will be times when your voices are raised and you just want to quit and escape but you must stay engaged and come to calm and keep talking until you get to resolve. Problem solving together is hard emotional work but it can bring intimacy that nothing else does if you are willing to feel the pain and keep working through it, if you are willing to forgive and try again. If you are willing to look at patterns you may have fallen into and are willing to try, you can create new, more productive habits. When Tim and I quit caring about who was right and just cared about solving what needed to be solved we created new patterns. I was so glad that this was already a part of our marriage before we ever faced this last ordeal. We work together on the issue not on each other… Well, most of the time 🙂

Surrender to the Spiritual Process and support each other through it!

 It is important to give your spouse space and let them just feel what they are feeling. Sometimes they just need time alone. We are individuals and we need to process in that way also. It is okay to be moody and just grieve. Honor and support that need in your spouse.

 Respect each other’s need for time alone.

 Sometimes you just need to step out of the hard work of survival and growth and just breathe. Going to the movies puts you into another world and lets you have a little relief from your world with all of its hardships.  It’s cheap, it’s only a couple of hours and you can do it together.

Go to the Movies!

This last 3 years have been horrible and wonderful all at the same time and while I still do not understand all of the bends in the road and while there is still much healing to come… there is one thing I know, there is no one else in the world I would want to walk this road with…The only eternal thing is that we finish every challenge TOGETHER.