Sometimes life happens just like an amazing song: you meet a guy when you’re in 7th grade and think he’s “cute”. Turns out, he thinks you’re pretty cute too and you start a sweet middle school friendship. Then, when you’re 14 and 15 you start dating, and finally get married to the love of your young life when you’re 19 and 20. You spend some time “living on love” while you go through different schools and have two beautiful babies…and then all that hard work finally starts to pay off. Your talented hubby gets a great job, you find your perfect home and your whole family is happily involved at an awesome church. Ten years later the song is still playing and your family (and life!) seem pretty complete.
Here’s the thing though: every single love song likes to throw in a pretty serious curve ball. Things don’t just go smoothly and beautifully “forever after”….they just don’t. And while on the surface everything seemed great for Sara and Clay, she knew that something wasn’t ok.
Sara was working full-time and taking care of two small kids while Clay’s was working his way up the corporate ladder and beginning to travel more and more. He was becoming distant and unengaged. Sara had been praying and asking for a better marraige…but things weren’t changing. She describes the moment when she reached her breaking point:
I will never forget the time when I was at home by myself at midnight folding laundry in the living room. The boys were in bed while Clay was once again out with his friends at the bar. I remember thinking, so this is it? This is what marriage is like? I felt so distant from Clay, he was there but so far away. I longed for him to lead our family and really love me the way Christ loved the church. I could feel us going in different directions but not knowing what to do or how to fix it. I was hurt and felt unloved but wasn’t sure what to do.
It was at this moment Sara realized that she was powerless. She poured it all out to God and stopped trying to do it on her own. Sara completely surrendered her marriage to God, telling Him that if He wanted this marriage to work, then He was going to have to take it from there.
Little did Sara know that her surrender would make space for some mighty works to begin. One evening, three months later on a Friday night she received a voicemail from an unknown pay phone number. It was an older anonymous man calling to let Sara know that Clay was having an affair with a woman at work. When she confronted Clay with the accusation he admitted it, and eventually confessed to the fact that the affair had been going on for an entire year.
Sara describes that night saying;
I experienced feelings that I didn’t even know existed. The amount of hurt, betrayal, rejection, pain, deep despair and depression were all consuming me. How could someone that you have loved since you were 14 do this to you? Was I that horrible? Was I that ugly? Was I that hard to deal with?
Clay was ashamed. He was so sad he had hurt his wife. He said that he had tried to end it many times and was never going to let Sara know to spare her that pain. He called the woman and told her it was over and to never contact him again. At this point Sara knew that God wanted her to stay with her husband; that God wasn’t telling her to leave.
As Sara was leaning into God and drawing strength and comfort from Him, Clay was having a wrestling match of his own. There was more to the story than Sara knew, but Clay didn’t want to hurt her and tell her anything else. He remembers telling God, “I’ve told her the worst part, I can’t hurt her anymore.” But God was saying, “You can’t live in the light if you are still in the darkness.”
A week after the initial discovery the couple was at their son’s soccer game. Sara remembers specifically standing next to a blue trash can and having God prompt her to ask her husband if he had any more affairs (Yes…at the soccer fields in a very public place). Then she asked him about a specific woman. Clay threw up his hands and backed away saying, “No!”. But, a few seconds later he stepped forward and confessed: “Okay. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. Yes I did and probably about ten other women as well.”
Somehow Sara got her boys safely home. She got them bathed, tucked them in, and put them both to bed. Then the anger began to roll over her.
There is not way to fix or heal something like this. I was beyond hurt and was so angry I could picture myself grabbing a knife and physically hurting him.
As Sara was trying to process the situation and protect her children, Clay was wrestling with his own demons. He had gotten in the car and began contemplating suicide. He wanted to drive in front of a semi-truck and end it all. But instead, he calls his parents. They begin praying for him over the phone, reading scripture to him and speaking truth over him. With their help Clay makes it home and collapses to his knees on the garage floor, sobbing uncontrollably.
It was at this moment Sara says, that the Holy Spirit stepped in and took charge. As justifiably furious as she was, she stepped out into the garage and was confronted with the sight of her husband on the floor in front of her, shattered in a million pieces, completely broken and surrendered. Sara knelt down, hugged him, and began praying with him and telling him that they would get through this. This was the same woman whom–seconds before–had wanted to hurt him physically!
God’s presence had never been more present and real in my life. I’ve never seen someone (Clay) so broken. You could literally see the scales coming off of him. He had truly surrendered and was at rock bottom. There was nothing left to hide-he was completely exposed and repentant. there was no more running!
Sara and Clay spent the next few hours sitting and crying and praying together. The song, “My Chains are Gone” came on the radio and they knew God had sent it for them. As they listened to song after song that night–each one seemed to be speaking directly to them. They prayed and tried accept God’s forgiveness. They sat in His presence and believed that He could bring restoration and healing.
The next week the woman with whom Clay had the year-long affair deliberately exposed enough about his situation at work that Clay was forced to immediately resign. This stripped away the last bit of his pride, making him see that he could do nothing without God. The couple had to depend on Sara’s salary and trust God with their finances, as well as with their incredibly fragile relationship. As they began to cautiously commit to a new life together, they made the decision to tell Sara’s parent’s what had happened. She told Clay that it was his job to tell them, and then they invited them over to talk.
My mom had many questions, and of course was heartbroken, but she was so strong and supportive of us making it through this. She loves Clay as her own son. My dad, whom I thought was going to kill him, stood up after all the discussion was over, came over and gave Clay a hug and looked him in the eye and said, “You know, I’ve learned that life is about forgiveness, and I forgive you!” WOW! That is a moment that I will never forget. Clay didn’t deserve that from my dad, but he was given it. FORGIVENESS! WOW!
It wasn’t an easy road after that. The next days, months, and even years were full of struggles and attacks. Sara had a lot of trouble with really letting it go. It was very hard to learn how to trust her husband again. Forgiveness, she found, was something that had to be given not just once–but over and over again. It wasn’t until a year later that she felt she was able to forgive the “other woman”. At a woman’s church conference, Sara chose to fully obey and surrender to God once again; she nailed this woman’s name to the cross and left it at the feet of Jesus.
Two and half years after all of this happened Sara stood at the front of huge gathering of women and opened up about her life. She shared her story then, and continues to share it now to encourage anyone who might be going through something similar. While openly admitting that there are still days when things get tough..that there were certainly times when divorce would have been the easier option…she believes that God used this heartbreaking experience as a way to create a new marriage out of one that was not everything He wanted it to be. Sara encourages others to not give up. She believes that because both she and Clay wanted with all of their hearts to restore their marriage….that because they both surrendered every last thing to God…that because they both asked for and allowed Him to strip away everything and show them their need for Him…He has allowed them to see the other side or the valley; their silver lining.
I’ve had women ask me if you really truly can forgive after that and ever fully trust again. With confidence I can say yes! He WILL restore you and bring you out of your darkness. I know it takes two broken people and both need to want to work it out…but with that being said God can fix anything and I mean anything! Don’t ever doubt that He will get you through, give you blessings along the way, and restore your soul.
Today Clay has a great job with a great company. His promotion has moved the family to a new city where they have become very active with their new church. After all they have been through they enjoy very close relationships with both of their families, and the boys are blessed to see their parents in a strong and grounded relationship with God at its’ center. The couple uses their experience to minister to others who are having difficulties in their marriages. They have begun using their shared love of music as a ministry to reach out to others and share God’s love.
Two of Sara’s favorite quotes are:
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
Be forgiving. When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future.
With God’s help Sara believed that she could experience marriage the way He meant it to be. And you know what? By finding the strength to forgive and let go, her song continues to be pretty darn amazing.