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
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
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. 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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