How my wife’s ex-husband became by best friend

Note: this is an article from my new blog, What Divorce Taught me about marriage. See blog at http://whatdivorcetaught.wordpress.com/



The clock on my computer reads 3.54 AM. I have been tossing and turning for an hour thinking about this story and I still have no idea what I am going to say. I read somewhere that most people think writers write because they have something in their head they want to capture on paper. In fact, often writers write to discover more than disclose. I really wonder how this piece will go.

Missy and I met when I had been divorced 4 years and she had been divorced one day. Literally. After four years I didn’t feel like I was getting over my divorce as quickly as I had hoped. I was still spending a lot of time crying. So I started a DivorceCare class to see if I could gather some friends to find my way out of the fog. I was a part of a group called Southwest Christian Singles. I managed the web page for the group. I put something on the web about a new DivorceCare class. (Really helpful course, by the way.) Missy found it and came.

Opening night of the class I had everyone introduce themselves: Tell me your name, how long you were married; how long divorced. Missy shared her name and, “17 years married, divorced today.” Less than six months later we were married.

One of the things divorced people who date spend a lot of time talking about is, well, their lives. I told a lot of stories about Sharon and she shared a lot of stories about Chris. That had been our lives up to that point.

Chris’ story was one we have all heard before. It is a story that makes TV headlines. Chris was a successful pastor of a good and growing church. A good preacher. A good dad. A good, normal guy. A good family man. Then, the wheels came off. It seemed for all the world he became a different person and we don’t know who he is. He walked away from a good ministry, from his family, and if it were possible, from his God. Nothing that Missy knew of Chris would have predicted this change. How does that happen?

I had been up close and personal with a similar story years earlier. I was on staff at a church when one day the pastor walked away. I’ll never forget that Friday morning showing up to work and being asked to preach both sermons on Sunday. It wasn’t unusual to be asked to preach. It was unusual to be asked on Friday to preach both sermons on Sunday. Something smelled fishy.

I went over to Cliff’s house. His wife greeted me in tears, explaining that he had left. Like Chris, he walked away from a successful ministry. He was a much-loved pastor, a good preacher. He had three daughters that he loved dearly. And one day, he walked away.

I saw Cliff one more time before he died an untimely death in a one-car accident. It was the day he packed up his books. I asked him why he walked away. He mumbled a one sentence answer about trying to find happiness. Funny thing, he had seemed to be one of the happiest people I knew. As I think of him now I think of a big smile and a contagious laugh.

But, underneath that smile and laugh was, apparently, a very unhappy man. So unhappy it drove him to walk away from a ministry he could only have dreamed of 20 years earlier.

And, so it was with Chris. He was a good minister and family man who had a lot going for him. One day, he walked away. Why does anyone do that?

As strange as it seems, it happens all the time. We have all heard stories. Over the last 12 years I have been in hundreds of churches doing seminars training Bible Study leaders. I have met with hundreds of staff members. Many of them had a story of someone they knew—a good pastor of a good church who one day walked away. You have probably heard a story or two yourself.

What we have not heard is the rest of the story. What we have not heard is why. I heard one sentence from Cliff explaining why he walked away. Not much of an explanation for such a monumental life-change. But, once they walk away, we rarely hear from them again. I asked many-a staff member, “Why did the pastor leave?”

“I have no idea.” Indeed. Once they walk away, we never really know their story.

But, thinking people know there is one. There is a reason. People don’t walk away for no reason at all. Underneath the smiles and the laughter there is something going on that make walking away look not only reasonable, it looks like the only option that makes any sense.

I don’t remember the first time I met Chris, but I do remember the first time we spent more than a passing moment dropping off or picking up kids. We live in a new neighborhood and there was a shortcut through the desert we used to take. For whatever reason some water had eroded part of the road and Chris got stuck—high center—in his truck about 2 blocks from our house. He had dropped of the kids, headed home and now the truck was stuck. He walked over to ask for some help. It was a small problem. I gave the truck a little push while he hit the gas and pretty quickly he was on his way. The whole thing took maybe, 20 minutes.

It was one of the most awkward 20 minutes of my life. It is not like meeting someone you don’t know anything about. In that situation we all have some general life questions to ask like where they work and so forth. I knew all that. I probably knew more about Chris than he wanted me to know. I had heard many, many stories, as he had likely told many stories about Missy. That is what divorced people who meet and get married talk about. They talk about their lives and their lives have consisted mostly about a relationship with a person who is now known and the X.

The X. It has a double meaning. It can mean the ex-husband—the previous husband. But, it can mean the X. Like the X files. The files we don’t know what is in them. Like X out.  The X we don’t speak of with the dignity of a name. You hear a lot of people talk to the person they used to be married to and they won’t call them by name. They call them X. It is not an accident.

Now, I was walking down the road with the X to help him get his truck going. Awkward!

What do you talk about? You talk about the weather. You talk a lot about the weather. I don’t ask him about his new life and he doesn’t talk to me about my experience in living with his old wife. We don’t talk about anything of substance. For 20 minutes we talked about the weather. I talked more about the weather that day than I have ever talked about the weather.

Fast forward nearly seven years. Yesterday was Chris’ birthday. He stopped by last night to drop off Eli. He brought Missy and me a couple of pieces of birthday cake.  I invited him in and we ate birthday cake and talked about this blog.

I told him of the unexpected interest in this blog. I used to have an illustration blog where I would post stories as I wrote lessons. Writing lessons for Bible Study groups is my day-job. When I run across a good story, I post it to a blog and WordPress would send an update to Facebook and Twitter. If I posted a lot of illustration, I might get 50 hits a day.

The first day I started this blog I put a post on Facebook at 10 PM and got 50 hits before midnight. The next day I had 315. The next, 720.

The blog is of interest to Chris because I have invited him to participate. He is an effective communicator and he has a story to tell. And, he is my friend, perhaps my best friend at this stage in life.

We talked comfortably for half an hour or so, as we have countless times. Chris led a Bible study in our home every week for about a year and a half. We have shared countless meals together.

Missy and I spent the evening at Chris and Cindy’s house on Saturday night, along with some other friends. Missy and Cindy have been in a Beth Moore Bible study with half a dozen ladies over the last several months and for whatever reason the ladies decided to invite their husbands in for pot luck dinner.

Chris cooked a shrimp and crab leg boil. Huge pot in the back yard with shrimp, Alaskan crab legs, corn, potatoes and Cajun spicing. They spread the whole thing out in the middle of the table Louisiana-style. No plates. No forks. You just grab the food out of the pile in the middle of the table and eat it with your hands off the plastic table-cloth in front of you. I liked everything except the shrimp and the crab legs. I like the potatoes and the corn and Missy had brought a chicken for me. She knows I am a picky eater. We had some great dessert. I like that.

Mostly I liked the company. There are few things more fun to me than being with a house full of friends on a Saturday night. Chris posed a few theology questions and we bantered around a bit. I tried to get the ladies to tell us what they were learning in the Beth Moore Bible Study, but they were all hush-hush. We caught up. We told stories. Their son, Caleb, got all fascinated with spinning  my wedding ring like a top on the table. I held him on my lap and spun my wedding ring and he tried to catch it. He calls me Big Fred. I call him Little Fred. Whole ‘nuther story as to why. Conversations would boil over into laughter as we shared a meal and life together. We didn’t talk about the weather at all.

Saturday night was just like any other Sunday School party I have done a million times. A house full of friends share a meal and talk on a Saturday night. We played a game called Mental Floss Trivia game. I think I won. That actually has nothing to do with the story but I am a guy and I had to point out that I won. This was like any other Saturday night I have experienced a thousand times before. The only difference this time was it was at the home of my wife’s previous husband. It was totally comfortable and normal.

How did that happen?

How did my wife’s ex-husband become my best friend? How did Missy and Cindy reconcile to the point where they could be in a Bible Study together? How did we become the go-to baby sitter for their child, Caleb (age 3)?

Well, much of that is Missy and Chris and Cindy’s story to tell, and they will likely be posting entries in days to come. (I am not exactly sure where this is headed. Do you ever know where the destination is when you follow God?)

This is story of grace and forgiveness and reconciliation and how with Christ all things are possible.

With Christ and awkward 20 minute conversation about the weather can evolve into a best-friend relationship.

With Christ the other woman can become a good friend.

With Christ, that new baby, Caleb, the half-brother of a step-son can be loved like a son.

I did a photo shoot when he turned three. Would you like to see some pictures?

If you would like to see some more, click here.

How does a conversation about the weather turn into a friendship where I am Chris’ son’s photographer?

In weeks to come, we plan to tell this story to anyone who is interested.  But, for now, I’d just say it happens slowly. It happens gradually. It happens by standing in awkward moments until they become less awkward. And then it means standing again.

It means living a life that is not exactly normal. I told my mom one time about having Chris and Cindy over. That particular night included my ex, Sharon and Bruce. Whole ‘nuther story there. My mom says to me, “You guys are so weird.”

And, I suppose we are. It is weird for your wife’s previous husband to be your best friend. But, if that is weird, why be normal?

It means receiving and extending grace.

It means respect. It means understanding that the situation is and is not. The tendency is to believe that Chris is a sinner and I am not. The tendency is to believe that he is fundamentally different and I am fundamentally better. If you believe that, you don’t believe the Bible. If you believe that, you are outside of the reach of grace. The only people who receive grace are the ones who know they need it.

If you hear the story of someone who walks away and you say, “I would never walk away; I could never do that; I am better than that;” you might consider changing that kind of thinking with the old line that says, “Except for the grace of God, there go I.”

The respect has to be mutual. There is a tendency for some in Chris’ position to look back over their shoulder and church people and think of us, “You pharisaical goody-two shoes who think you are better. You are not better. I have done my sins, but at least I am not a hypocrite. You pretend like you are so perfect. I know better. I know the dirt. I could tell stories. . . At least I don’t pretend. I could never be hypocritical like you. Who was Jesus most opposed to? He was most opposed to the hypocrites.” If you find yourself in that position, you might consider changing that kind of thinking with the old line that says, “Except for the grace of God, there go I.”

Chris and I are friends and brothers in Christ because we both understand two things. The first one is this: we are both sinners. Sinners capable of the worst of sins. Sinners cut from the same stuff as the worst of sinners. Sinners worthy of sharing a place in eternity with the worst of sinners.

I have a theory—unfounded by any chapter and verse—that God lets us sin sometimes so that we will come to know we are sinners. He sees a bit of the older brother pride in us that thinks, “I would never” and He removes His hand and lets us go. He lets us slip and He lets us fall so we will come to understand this basic, fundamental truth: I am a sinner, a real sinner.

We tend to divide the world into two categories: sinners and real sinners. We all know we are sinners. But, we think we are good sinners and they are bad sinners. Bad sinners do drugs and molest children and walk away. Good sinners, well we might gossip and worry be judgmental, but we are not bad sinners.

Great story. In Texas they think the really bad sinners are the drinkers and smokers and swearers and. . . . well, Democrats!

The message of the gospel starts with, “we are all sinners.” As long as there is someone on planet earth that you think you are better than, you don’t yet understand this basic bit of theology and you are outside of the reach of grace. We are all sinners. The Bible says, “There is no difference.” And my theory without a chapter and verse is that if you don’t get that, if you think there is someone—perhaps quite a few people—that you think you are better, God might just remove his hand ever so slightly and let you fall.

I will never forget the night Chris was leading a Bible study in my home and he said, “I have really struggled with forgiving myself at times.” I thought, “I bet you have, and for good reason!”

As I reflected on that I asked myself, “What is that about? What is it in me that thinks he should have struggled to forgive himself but I shouldn’t need to struggle to find forgiveness myself?”

Whatever that is me that thinks that—that is the really bad stuff. As I read the life of Christ and how He interacted with the Pharisees I cannot escape the conclusion that the sin of thinking that I am better than sinners is the worst of sins.

The sin of thinking I am better than sinners is worse than murder or rape or adultery. It is called pride and the Bible has some terrible things to say about the sin of pride.

But that too, God can forgive.

And that is the second thing that Chris and I and every real Christian believes. We all we believe we are sinners. We all believe we are accepted. One more thing. We all believe we are called upon by God to accept as we have been accepted.