i'm still not sure about this one

I meet new people all the time. And there's often a point in the conversation that goes something like this:

OPTION A Them: Where are you from? Me: New York. Them: How'd you end up in Atlanta? Me: Well...

OPTION B Them: What do you do? Me: I'm the founder of a ministry in Africa. Them: Oh wow. What are you doing in Atlanta? Me: Well...

OPTION C A variation of A or B.

And then I have to try to follow the "Well..." with some sort of explanation.

It's got me thinking about the words I use to sum up my current life situation.

I'm short and sweet and to the point. I certainly don't unload my two-and-a-half-year heartache on them.

I don't answer with bitterness or anger or resentment. There is sadness in my words, for sure. There's grief in my eyes.

And I simply state the facts.

But now I'm wondering if I still say more than I actually should.

My six-sentence answer usually includes:

  1. I've been married for 9 years.
  2. My husband and I ran a ministry in Africa.
  3. He had an affair.
  4. He decided he wants a divorce.
  5. I'm living in Georgia for a season of restoration.
  6. I'll be going back to Africa.

And all of that is true.

But I wonder if I'm hiding behind #s 3 and 4. Because I feel like I have to mention the affair and point out that he left me.

But I wonder what my motive is.

My unconscious thought in that moment is that simply saying I'm going through a divorce leaves the question of why. And they might think I cheated. Or assume I'm the one who chose to leave.

So I seemingly take on a defensive position right from the get-go. I fight to maintain my image right from the start.

And maybe I shouldn't.

Isn't that just plain ol' ugly arrogance? Or at the very least, insecurity?

The fact that I am the head of a ministry adds to the complexity of this for me. I don't want people to wonder who left who when I'm asking them to trust me to lead Thrive.

But maybe I need to let truth speak for itself.

And let God defend me.

Right from the get-go.

I don't know. I'm still trying to figure this one out.

...and it scares the crap out of me

If you've been around the Grit for any length of time, you know that trust has always been a struggle for me. A struggle I've continued to wrestle with, though, because I know it's worth the fight. Now throw my husband's unfaithfulness into the mix and give it a good shake. Trust is really hard for me right now, at a very core and basic level.

I'm finding it harder than ever to trust others and even God. But the uncertainty runs deeper than that.

I no longer trust myself.

For a year and a half, I was told that my gut instinct was wrong.  It was said over and over and over again that what I knew to be true, wasn't.

Eventually truth was exposed. And even though I had been right all along, any final remnants of confidence had already been evicted from my heart and self-doubt had set up camp.

And now I'm left doubting my intuition. I distrust my ability to perceive what's going on beneath the surface.

The line between discernment and paranoia is blurry. When I sense something is wrong or just "off", I make myself sick wondering if what I'm feeling is valid or if I'm just being hypersensitive.

And I'm not quite sure what to do with that.

I need to learn to trust myself again.

But I don't know how.

it's not all his fault

My marriage was always hard. Our relationship was challenging right from the beginning. We fought. A lot. I always chalked it up to the fact that we were a cross-cultural couple. And we pioneered a ministry together from the ground up. And we worked side-by-side every single day.

It was harder than I ever imagined it would be.

While I'm learning to only own what's mine to own, I just need you to know: I have plenty to own.

I can be extremely impatient and easily frustrated. I made Niel feel small with my critical words. I could be downright mean at times.

I didn't communicate well. I see-sawed between bottling up and exploding. I didn't always let him into the deepest parts of my heart. I didn't often share my most honest thoughts.

I see now that I was seeking to find my happiness and value in my husband, instead of in God. And that contributed largely to the downward spiral of problems in our relationship.

The breakdown of my marriage extends further, deeper, than Niel's affair. I grew lazy, complacent, and selfish, and stopped putting in the effort my marriage needed and deserved. The effort my husband deserved.

Staring my sin in the face wrecked me. It left me broken before the Lord, desperate for His forgiveness and grace. It also left me broken before my husband. I wept in repentance as I apologized to him. Repeatedly.

I believed that despite all our failures, our marriage was still worth saving. It would take a lot of work, but so does anything we're passionate about. I knew restoration was possible and completely worth the effort. My heart broke when Niel disagreed.

As I began picking up the pieces of my life, I became more determined than ever to be open and teachable. I desire to live from a repentant heart. I want to be quick to see and own my sinfulness. And I'm committed to learn new ways of responding. New ways of living.

My beliefs determine my thoughts which impact my actions. So I'm starting at the beginning to change my foundational beliefs. My thinking and my actions will eventually follow.

It's a slow-going, lifelong journey.

But one I know is so worth it.

Because, I'm beginning to see, I'm worth it.

i wish it was just about the sex

"It didn't mean anything. I didn't really love her. It was just about the sex!" Hollywood's portrayal of adultery always includes that explanation. But when my husband's infidelity came to light, he didn't say that.

In fact, he said the exact opposite.

He told me he loved her differently, more deeply than he had loved me. That their relationship was special and intimate in a way we'd never experienced. He said he doesn't love me anymore.

And that he isn't sure he ever really loved me at all.

I wish it had just been an affair that "meant nothing". Sheer, unadulterated (!) lust would've been easier on my heart. But my story didn't come from a Hollywood script.

And even if it had, I know adultery never means nothing.

But what caused the deepest ache inside me is this: My husband chose to share the intimacy of his heart with a woman other than me.

I wish it had just been about the sex.

But it wasn't.

i want to get this right

I have wrestled through each of these posts as I've begun telling my story. I've spent hours writing and rewriting. I've had a friend look them over and make changes. I've slept on them and come back to make more edits the next morning. It's been hard to write them because it's forced me to sit in the hurts all over again. It's been difficult because of the responsibility I feel to the ministry I love, and my desire to represent her well. And it's been impossibly hard because of the weight I feel in how I speak about Niel.

I feel an undeniable tension between wanting to remain honoring of my husband and sharing authentically about what happened and how it's affected me.

I'm laboring over every word I write because I need to get this right. I want to get this right.

And yet I know that without me dressing it up at all, the truth is ugly. It's shocking. It's devastating. Even in the simple telling of facts in the most tactful and respectful way possible, it can seem like I'm being malicious.

But that certainly isn't my intention.

I hope my true heart shines through my words even as I share about the worst season of my life. I pray that in my transparency, you can see more than just my pain. I hope you can also see the love I still have for my husband and my unshakable desire to honor him even in this.

It's been a scary thing for me to feel so vulnerable and exposed by putting my raw heart out there for the masses to see and give their two cents on. But while it frightens me, I crave authenticity. It's been the single greatest intentionality of my blog---to foster authentic community. To share transparently and in doing so, make others feel safe, free, and comfortable to be transparent in return.

So I am committed to continue writing honestly and authentically about my story, while remaining mindful of how my words affect and reflect my ministry and my husband.

And I will continue to choose to honor him.

Because ultimately I desire to honor Him.

eight: years and counting

oldie but a goodieEight years ago I married the man of my dreams. I couldn't believe my luck---cause you know I believe in that sort of thing---I found a man of God who loves me and loves the people of Africa. It doesn't get much better than that! Our marriage has never been easy. I blame that on the fact that we work alongside each other in ministry every day and are from completely different cultures. And because I'm not the easiest person to live with.

Our marriage has always taken work, but so does everything else that I love. Every passion I have takes effort. My marriage is no exception.

And it's worth every ounce of relational sweat.

Right now, Niel and I need to work extra hard. For reasons that are unnecessary to share, we're in a place of needing to dig our heels in deep, and fight. Not each other, but together. For our marriage. And we're both committed to doing whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.

We looked each other in the eyes and committed to put our marriage first.

straight talk to men

Men---all few of you who read my blog---can I talk to you for just a minute? I'll be quick, I promise. The way you love your wife shows her the way Christ loves her. What?! Too much pressure for a fallen man?! I didn't say it; God did. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church..."

Your wife will believe and experience Christ's love for her only to the degree that she believes and experiences your love for her. God can miraculously work in anyone's heart and life, and women with very ungodly husbands can certainly still experience intimacy with Christ. But God puts the responsibility on you to show your wife how much God loves her.

Help your wife believe that Christ thinks she's valued, treasured, and adored today.

forrest gumping

Niel and I basically Forrest Gumped our way around Sicily, literally stumbling into some amazing things that we probably wouldn't have discovered had we even tried.

: :

  • Like an incredible restaurant for our anniversary dinner. With a Dustin Hoffman lookalike as the manager, excellent service, and the best cannoli Niel's ever tasted, this was hands-down our favorite place to eat.

  • Like ancient ruins in the middle of a vineyard. We couldn't resist exploring the old abandoned buildings, surrounded on all sides by row after row of grape vines.

  • Like one of the best wineries in Sicily. We managed to get in on a tour and tasting, even though they're not open for walk-ins!

  • Like amazing pizza at a podunk bakery in a tiny village that we really only stopped at because my bladder was screaming profanities.

  • Like a restaurant that's been around since 1890. They serve the best homemade ravioli---we went back another night just to eat it again!

  • Like an outdoor market festival in the village closest to Europe's largest active volcano. The market was abuzz with locals buying and selling crafts, honey, jam, etc. At one of the meat and cheese stalls, Niel sampled a gelatenous cow tongue concoction that wobbled like an overgrown Jell-o Jiggler gone bad.

  • Like a small trattoria where Niel told the chef, "Surprise me!" He ended up with a whole fish (head, tail, and all!), several large prawns, and a stomach ache!

  • Like a wine shop where you bring your own empty bottle (of any variety) and they fill it with wine from an oak barrel (using a glorified gas pump nozzle).

: :

I love that we saw and experienced the less-touristy side of Sicily. Which goes to show, there are real benefits to not having a clue where you're going or what you're doing!

saying goodbye (again)

As we explored my Grandma's hometown, I saw her all around me: in the expression on an old woman's face, in the butcher shops and bakeries, in people's mannerisms, in the abundance of food and wine. Knowing that the city looks totally different now than it did in 1926 when Gram left for America didn't at all take away from the sense that I was walking where she walked. While the streets and buildings aren't the same ones she saw, the mountains are. The ocean is. I smile even now, just thinking about being where my Gram spent the first thirteen years of her life. I hope she was smiling from Heaven at the sight of Niel and I, hand in hand, walking the streets of her beloved Palermo.

Our last day there, we walked along the pier with a dried rose in our hands. At my Grandma's funeral, Niel saved the rose that was intended to be tossed atop her grave along with the rest of the family's. He brought it back to Africa and then to Italy. We stood together on the pier for a long while; I cried as I held the rose in my hand.

And then I let it go. I tossed it gently into the water. Niel held me and we cried together.

In those moments I was so overwhelmed by both how much I miss my Gram and how much I love my husband. Niel's thoughtfulness to even think about doing this made me feel so loved, and seeing tears stream down his face left me confident of how deeply he loves me.

Walking away from that pier, I felt more peace than I had in a long time...

just a girl

Back when Niel and I were engaged, the Notting Hill movie soundtrack was one of very few CDs I owned. Since we were going budget-style on our wedding, we supplied all the music for the big event. Consequently, many of the songs from Notting Hill were played at our reception.

One night, months before our wedding, Niel and I drove to town to use the ATM. As usual, Notting Hill was in the CD player. In Harrismith, they pretty much roll up the streets at 5:00, so town was fairly empty. As Niel waited in the car while I walked up to the ATM machine, he opened the car windows and blared 98°'s I Do (Cherish You) from the soundtrack. We both laughed really hard as he belted out the words.

Needless to say, our first dance together at our wedding was to that song.

Notting Hill was on TV yesterday while we were holed up inside our rental house at the lake (it was freezing outside!). I hadn’t seen it in years but it still made me laugh. And my favorite part, as always, was when Julia Roberts walks back in to the travel book shop towards the end of the movie and says, “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”

I looked over at Niel and my eyes whispered the very same thing to him.

crazy love

I had to bring my engagement ring to the jewelers' in New York for a cleaning and a li'l fixing. While we were there, Niel asked the saleswoman about upgrading my stone to a larger carat size. (!) She jumped into high-gear and showed us a gorgeous diamond. Niel was all for it, but I told him I thought we should wait due to economic reasons. Ms. Jeweler leaned over the glass counter. "He wants to do it and you're saying no? You're crazy!"

My heart swelled in that moment. Not because I was proud to be called crazy, but because I am so blessed to have a husband who wants to love me in crazy ways, just because.

And I was so glad we left the store without another anal incident.

toothpaste, travel mugs, and wedding bells

The only questions I remember were about toothpaste and our kitchen. After we got married, my application for permanent residency in South Africa was expedited. Having a South African husband put me into the fast-track category. But before I'd be granted permanent residency, the government wanted to make sure I wasn't faking our relationship just to stay in the country. They wanted proof that we were really married.

It was like a scene from a movie.

Niel and I were interviewed separately by government officials. They asked us questions that would supposedly help them determine whether or not Niel and I had known each other as long as we said we had.

I was seated across from a large man behind a desk. I was nervous, fidgeting; I felt like I was on The Newlywed Game Show. Things went smoothly until the kind sir asked, "What is your favorite toothpaste?" I started to sweat. Do I answer with what I'd really say or with what I think Niel might say? I mumbled something about my favorite being an American brand that isn't in South Africa. "Just answer the question," he snapped. "Crest...?" I said, with a question mark at the end. He nodded and moved on.


I was asked to describe what our kitchen looked like. I'm way more detail-oriented than Niel is, so I wasn't sure how Niel might have answered that question. I gave vague, general details first---the guy's face remained expressionless---and then I started to give more specifics. When I told him that the top of our cabinets were lined with Starbucks travel mugs, he interrupted me and told me that would be enough. I smiled, and wished I could high-five Niel right then and there.

Needless to say, I received my permanent residency a few months later.

And if we were quizzed with the same questions today, I guarantee we'd both still get them right.

lost in translation

I met my South African husband eleven years ago. I was working at a missions organization in Texas; Niel was going to host our first team to South Africa. Even though it wasn't my department, I was asked to be involved in the planning of the trip. When Niel came into town to go over final logistics---his first time to America---he spent quite a bit of time hanging out in my office.

I'm a snacker---always have been and always will be---and I had a drawer full of snacks in my desk. One of my favorites to stock up on was animal crackers. Mainly because they were cheap. And came in big bags.

On one of Niel's many visits to my office, I offered him a handful. It was his first time to ever see or eat an animal cracker. I don't know if he was more intrigued by the animal-shaped more-cookie-than-cracker snack sensation or the fact that I had a king-sized bag of them in my desk drawer.

A while later Niel came back into my office. He sauntered over to my desk, with his stunning blue eyes, wavy blond hair pulled back in a pony tail, and heart-stopping accent.

"Can I have some more pet biscuits?"

I burst out laughing. "It sounds like you're asking for a dog treat. They're called animal crackers," I told him as I gave him another handful.

Even now, after almost eight years of marriage, things often get lost in translation between us---sometimes comical, sometimes frustrating. But I wouldn't trade my pet-biscuit-eating man for anyone in the world.

four-minute friday: fair trade

Go. Well, it's August 8th: D-Day. In a few hours, I'll be on my way to meet up with my Hombre in Washington DC. We're there until Wednesday, and then we fly back to New York together. By the way, we're staying in a hotel for the first few nights! There will be no saucy details following our rendezvous; your imaginations can tell you all you need to know.

I'm leaving my laptop behind. It's going to miss me immensely, I know. I've already started some counseling sessions with it; we're really tackling separation anxiety right now. Time apart can be healthy, so I really feel like this next week is going to be a good time of growth for ol' lappy.

There will still be action on my blog while I'm gone; maybe Mandy and Cathi will even blog-sit for me. So don't disappoint me with a lack of comment conversations. Half the fun of coming home will be reading what evereybody's written. (Only half? Who am I kidding?!)

I'll miss you guys this week, but I'll have my man (who I've missed for 11 weeks!) so it's a fair trade. I can't wait to see his gorgeous eyes.

On that note, I'm off to finish packing. 

Don't do anything I wouldn't do!