I am thankful for the journey of writing (and living) this book, and hope to share it with others who have lived it too. All stories are different, but God can speak to us in the ways they intersect. The subtitle of my book is “When the story of your life takes a turn you didn’t plan“– and there are not many of us who escape that category. I am hoping to hear about the ways you’ve experienced (or not experienced) God as you’ve wrestled and doubted. About the questions you still have. Community is the place where we can do that together.
I begin with my friend Marla, whose story is included in the first chapter of my book. Her journey through the dark has been an inspiration to me, and I hope it will encourage you too.
When Marla married a youth pastor, she had many visions for how her life would unfold. Becoming a single mother was not one of them. Her husband had proposed by taking her up in a plane, and as they looked down, he pointed to a marching band that had spelled out the words “Will you marry me?” After he instructed her to read the words out loud, he was the one who said yes.
His charisma had followed him throughout his life, and he seemed poised for a long and successful ministry career. Because Marla had a deep desire to serve God, she was thrilled to be his teammate. In the months that followed her storybook wedding, a young woman came forward who had been in her husband’s youth group. Apparently there had been an “incident.” Unsure what to believe, the church came to its youth pastor’s defense. It wasn’t until three other women came forward that the truth of what had happened started to become clear.
As the story broke, Marla saw her life crashing down in front of her. She thought she had married a pastor. Instead she had married a sex abuser.
When her husband was let go from his position and told to enter rehabilitation, he was remorseful and heartbroken. Bravely, Marla stayed with him. For one year, she lived with him in an apartment complex, complying with the treatment of daily therapy sessions and processing the reality that ministry was no longer an option for their future. Grace surprised her when, after the year had passed, they received a call from a church three states away. This church had known both of them for many years and was aware of the delicate journey they’d been on. The church’s leaders were willing to give Marla’s husband another chance if he was open to serve in a different capacity under intense accountability. As Marla moved away from family and friends, she thanked God that they had been given a fresh start.
Months passed, and they started settling in, meeting new friends and enjoying life in their new community. As things stabilized, Marla was thrilled to discover she was pregnant. Three weeks after Marla gave birth to their baby boy, her husband came home with an empty look on his face. “Well, you might as well know it’s happened again,” he said in a voice just above a whisper. He took the blanket off their bed and slept on the couch.
As those dreaded words replayed over and over in her mind, Marla lay paralyzed in the silence. A strange mixture of guilt, remorse, and heartbreak washed over her. The following week, she took their baby, got on a plane, and went home to her family.
Two years later, Marla’s marriage ended with a signature.
After the birth of her child and the breakup of her marriage, Marla was offered a youth ministry position at a church just a few hours away from where her ex-husband had served. Amazingly, she became a healing agent for the women who had been victims of his illness. In a stroke of painful grace, Marla became the youth pastor she originally thought she had married.
Ten years later, Marla was courted by a thirty-nine-year-old Christian man who had never married and whose sights were set only on her. It took her three years to open her wounded heart. When she and her teenage son finally stood next to her patient suitor at the altar, those of us who witnessed their marriage saw the longevity of faithfulness displayed.
In John 21, Jesus is talking to Peter, one of his disciples, when suddenly the conversation takes a turn. He says to Peter, “When you were younger you . . . went where you wanted; but when you are old someone else will lead you where you do not want to go” (verse 18). It’s a verse you never really notice until the day you are led there too.
Stories of pain vary in their degree, but at some point they find their way to the same place: Darkness. These are some of the words that propel us to that place:
“We found something on your tests.”
“We are letting you go.”
“I want a divorce.”
“I can’t marry you anymore.”
These phrases descend on us like unwelcome visitors, and we long to send them away. Instead they beckon us to follow, and we don’t get to choose whether or not we go. There is evidence, however, that we don’t go there alone—and our response to where we are led can make a difference in how our story unfolds.
Where have you been led that you didn’t want to go?
How have you experienced (or not experienced) God in those places?
Has the passage of time or your response to your circumstances altered your story at all?