It was around in the morning; a bitterly cold morning in Minnesota. Just as I dozed off to sleep there was a knock on the window of my Chevy Conversion Van. The Ranger of the HennepinCountyPark came to inform me I wasn't allowed on the property after hours. "But I have no where else to go," I whimpered.
With his insistence I reluctantly left in search of another "safe" hiding place. For three days I aimlessly wondered around the affluent Minneapolis suburb in my van and took showers at the YMCA.
Just ten months before my encounter with the ranger’s nightstick my wife, two children and I moved to Maple Grove, Minnesota to plant a new church. I was an up and coming pastor and church planter "wannabe" guru. I'd led mission groups to many parts of the world. Dynamic preaching was my strength. With a "cocky" attitude I went to the state of 10,000 lakes ready to conquer the world. Well, at least my "neck-of-the-woods."
You see, we knew very few people when we moved to Minnesota. Somewhat isolated I buried myself in work.
While I was taking care of the "business" of ministry my marriage was strained. It had endured the stress of multiple relocations. I was failing at effectively communicating with my wife; kind of ironic for a guy who enjoyed preaching. But unbeknownst to me, I was lonely. I longed for romance with my wife.
As unresolved conflicts mounted, I discovered the temptations possible when "surfing" the net. One day, what later became a not so innocent "Instant Message", came courting as a seduction difficult to delete. Without going into all the gory details – words of encouragement with a woman from "cyberspace" soon turned into expressions of endearment. After a few clicks of the "mouse" I fell into adultery which ultimately landed me on the street. Within 48 hours of the announcement of our separation I had lost everything; my ministry, marriage, home and integrity.
It’s been said "when God plants a church – Satan builds a chapel next door." Satan seeks ways to "takeout" those committed to building God’s Church. In 1998 the "Evil One" made an unwelcome visit which became the train wreck of my life. He exploited the "loneliness" chink in my armor; a chink I thought was under control.
In part that was the core of my problem. Someplace in my soul there was a belief I was above sin. Yet Jesus said in Luke, "There will always be temptations to sin." It wasn't until Thad Early, a fine Christian therapist pointed out to me, "like everyone Russ, you're quite capable of committing horrendous needs." Not because I’m a bad guy, but its how humanity is wired. We have a natural attraction to doing what’s wrong. It’s been that way since the Garden of Eden.
For that reason, and that reason alone, we must work diligently to keep Christ in the center of our pain or we'll surely fill it with something destructful. I never imagined my "white picket fence" might one-day fade, yet it did.
TURNING A NEW "LEAF"
Nearly five years later it’s only every other day I recall my "train wreck" of ’98. I’ve come to learn marriage may not last a lifetime, but the consequences of divorce do. For years I sat in the back pew, as far away as I could get from the preacher. Unfortunately, the church was one of the last places I wanted to go, yet I persisted knowing the church was really my only hope for the help, which I needed.
After 15 years of ministry one doesn’t just go find a job. At least I didn't. I sold food for a gourmet food company and did fill-in "temp" work. With a bachelor’s degree in one hand and a Master of Divinity degree in the other – one year I even delivered pizzas so I could afford Christmas presents for my children. However, I knew hope was near when I scored a reporter job for the local NBC affiliate.
Some years later, I've come to acknowledge how my actions caused tremendous pain not only to who is now "ex" wife, but my children and the Body of Christ. Remorse can be difficult, especially when one feels "justified" for their behavior. But this isn’t a "woe" is me story. It’s a pilgrimage of God’s grace and restoration. A topic I’d only preached about, but hadn't truly experienced.
RESTORING THE YEARS THE LOCUST ATE
In 2003 I earned my real estate license. I help people buy and sell their homes. Frequently I find homes that need restoring. I recently purchased a small Victorian bungalow. It was in serious need of restoration. It’s amazing how many people simply "slap" on a coat of paint in hopes of hiding the imperfections. Not wanting to make that same mistake I installed new carpet, flooring, plumbing and paint inside and out. My first try at rehabilitating a home went well. I'm confident this home is in "good repair" and now ready for a young family.
I look at my "brokenness" and divorce the same way. It would have been easier to gloss over my character flows. A matter-of-fact for a while I did that very thing. I ran from one "rebound" relationship to another; not taking the necessary time to heal and allow God restore my soul.
In the Book of Joel the Lord says, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten." This is a huge promise from God, yet we must "want" to be rehabilitated and trust God can do the healing.
THE GOD OF SECOND CHANCES
God says in the Old Testament, "For I hate divorce!.’ Fortunately, this doesn't mean God "hates" me. Yes, He’s indeed disappointed with my actions, but He also again and again calls me back to Him.
King David’s story has become mine. Now out of all the characters in the Bible David isn't the one I'd most like to understand. Being what it is, I suppose it’s now mine to live.
This past year God brought a wonderful woman into my life. She’s a daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher and given me "New Hope" at love, marriage and even ministry. When Jackie and me married last October we also blended two respective children making a family of six (not counting two dogs, half-a-dozen fish, and three chickens).
Her story of redemption from the pain of divorce and the betrayal of a spouse is short of miraculous.
God’s provided a log home on forty acres just north of Wichita, Kansas. It’s here we're laying the foundation for a divorce recovery and blended family ministry called "New Direction." Here on the ranch we fondly call "SonDance" God’s amazing love shines and the year’s the locusts ate are being replaced with new dreams.
As we begin this new stepfamily we occasionally take time to "scrape" away the old paint we thought had already been removed. Through God’s help our "White Picket Fence" is white once again (okay maybe a little "off-white"), but this time protected with a lacquer which only comes from the Blood of Jesus Christ.