What our testimony taught us.

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Every testimony, every trial, every setback, every story has lessons. Some lessons are obvious and in your face. Other lessons are not so obvious, but as you look over the events you will learn things if you only look. If you fail to learn, you have failed to grow and you have failed to live and will repeat the same mistakes over and over until you learn and apply what you learned. Regardless of how much at fault one party is the other party also carries the burden of fault. If you have always been the victim, you will always be the victim.

1.  There is a difference between God’s permissible will and perfect will. He permits divorce for very specific reasons. His perfect will is that divorce doesn’t exist. He permitted Israel to have a king, His perfect will was they be ruled by Him through judges. The consequences of having our way under His permissive will always carries negative consequences. Living under His perfect will, while not easy, always leads to a better outcome.

2.  The family unit functions best when the spouses fill their purposed roles. God designed the husband to be the head of the home. Not because the wife is a lesser person, but because every organization has to have a leader. Having multiple leaders leads to a divided house. Divided homes function in dysfunction and often fail. God designed the man to be more rational and less emotional and the woman to be more emotional. Each fulfills a necessary function and is critical to a balanced home for raising children. They are equally important roles. The woman’s role is not a lesser role, but of equal importance for a balanced emotional upbringing and nurturing of children. Men are not very good at nurturing, mom’s are great at it.

3.  Men, the buck stops with you. You have the final say and also the responsibility when things fall apart. It’s you who is supposed to handle the finances and make final decisions on big purchases. You consult your wife and you two come to an agreement before a decision is made. It’s wise to not make a decision until you both have prayed about it and are in agreement. In the rare time that you just can’t come to an agreement, men, it’s up to you to make the call.

4.  Take divorce out your vocabulary. As long as that’s an option there really isn’t any incentive to work out the problems. You’ll know there is an exit and the exit is easier than facing your own shortcomings. If you both are in agreement that divorce is not an option the likely hood of successfully navigating through the hard times increases exponentially.

5.  Guard yourself and your marriage. Be very cautious and deliberate about who you hang out with and the situations you find yourself in. Once married your loyalties and responsibilities change. You can no longer live the single lifestyle with the single friends. Often times it’s better to limit the time spent with the single friends in favor of building friendships with those who have been married longer than you. Don’t be going places alone with the opposite sex that you aren’t married to. This opens the door way to wide for trouble. Larry Burkett had this policy and Vice President Mike Pence has held the same policy for years, as well as Billy Graham. They will never be accused of any sexual misconduct like we see with so many who ridicule this policy. It’s not just the accusations, it’s also the appearance. People see a married man dinning with a woman he’s not married to and rumors start to fly. Once they get going you’ll never get them back in the bag. Once your spouse hears them doubt will start to creep in and the enemy will have a field day with that. It also leaves the door open to temptation that otherwise would never rare its ugly head.

6.  Before we got married our relationship was predominately based on clubbing, alcohol and sex. By the time we got married we didn’t really know each other that well. There was a lot of things we never discussed or knew about each other. Remember, I was stationed at Camp Lejeune and she lived two hours away. Our time together was mainly weekends. My last year on active duty was stationed overseas and we married 6 months after I got back. The foundation was non-existent and there was nothing new to bind us after marriage. That’s the biggest indicator of the likely hood of a marriage lasting or failing, did they abstain until marriage or not. Those that did have a much lower divorce rate than those that were extending marriage privileges before marriage.

7.  The Bible tells us that men are to love our wives like Christ loves the church and for women to respect their husbands. If He had to put that in scripture that tells us a couple of things. It’s not our first tendency and we are wired to need & respond to those things. This also speaks to the emotional differences in men and women. When a wife respects her husband he feels loved and valued. Respect is why men will stay in bad jobs, a bad company or a place where he makes less money. When a husband loves his wife she also gains a feeling of respect. If he just respects her she won’t feel the love. A majority of women prefer to be in a marriage that is financially troubled if they know their husband loves them and they are emotionally secure. That speaks volumes when men view that providing a financially secure home is how you show love.

8.  If you have been divorced you are not a marriage expert. If you have had multiple spouses, you are not a marriage expert. If you divorced and remarried the same person and have more than 10 years of a successful marriage then you have something to offer. You might have some wisdom to offer, but my money is on the couple that has lasted 20 plus years and has a successful, fulfilling marriage that has overcome a many hurdles.

9.  Never hang around people who talk down to their spouse, who ridicule and belittle them either with them there or away from them. This allows the same seeds of destruction to worm its way into your brain about your spouse. Once you go down that road it’s easy to start seeing the grass on your side of the fence as dead winter rye and the grass on the other side as lush Kentucky Bluegrass. It’s not as it appears. Guard what you have and fertilize your side of the fence.

The lessons are not limited to these. There are more and maybe if I remember to write them down as they come to me I’ll post another edition.

Andy

 

 

 

 

The Letter Of The Law or The Spirit Of The Law? Our Testimony, part 4.

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I learned that there are two ways to interpret scripture, through the letter of the law or through the spirit of the law. By the letter of the law I was more than covered in seeking a divorce. What I learned is living by the letter of the law is religion. It’s a religious exercise in futility like the Israelites of old trying to keep over 600 laws. The spirit of the law, the edicts and will of God, is where relationship thrives and true witness is born.

Scripture and all the leading pastors of our age agree, divorce is OK in cases of adultery and abandonment. My bases were covered. I was at peace with the decision, everything was progressing smoothly, nothing was being contested in court. Earlier God told me two things very clear. The first was He would restore my family. My thoughts were, that’s great but with who? I wasn’t about to go back down that road again with her. I could see the light of freedom at the end of the tunnel. Because I was being so hard-headed and living by the letter of the law He told me a second thing, you’ll marry Amber again. I stopped praying immediately. I even tried rebuking that saying the devil is a lie! I knew that voice, I knew exactly who spoke that yet I was not having any of it. It was two days before I prayed again. After that I didn’t hear anything else regarding these two things.

In my studies I discovered the thought of adultery that Jesus mentioned was a person having continuous relations with a person not their spouse and not being sorry nor willing to stop. Up until she called me I was still good to go. God getting a hold of her messed up my plans.

Amber called and told me that God had woken her up from a dead sleep and told her she needed to stop running from her and go home. She didn’t tell me the second part that He would restore her family or I might not have been so helpful. She sold everything she could and bought a last-minute plane ticket to RDU with no idea where she would stay. I promised to try to help find her a place short-term, after all she is our kids mom, can’t have her homeless in Raleigh. After numerous phone calls to people I knew that had extra space I couldn’t find her a place. That day my sister called and I told her what was happening and she said she and her husband would pick her up and she could live with them for a while. You want to talk about God’s grace on display! How many people would volunteer without being asked to take in an in-law that had torn their family apart. Separation and divorce affect the whole family, not just the immediate family.

I started taking the kids to my sisters on the weekends so they could see their mom. A group of women from my sisters church took her under their wings and mentored her on being a wife and mother. Two things that no one had bothered to teach her. Her great-aunt never married and consequently in never crossed her mind to teach my wife these things. She soon told me what God promised her, but I was very resistant to say the least. After a couple of weekends I audibly heard the Lord tell me that His promise to me was there, was I going to trust Him? That was a tough one, but He got me with this; you teach and encourage men to have faith and trust me, are you willing to put your actions where your mouth is? That was a cold slap in the face. After that it was put up or shut up, I didn’t see any other choice but to put my money where my mouth was.

Meanwhile, Amber is living life at my sisters on blind faith that somehow God will turn my heart and this thing will work out. She was having very long, completely free, counseling with a couple who had a history of marriage ministry with Family Life’s Weekend to Remember and as missionaries in China to the under ground church. The encouragement and prayers from them with her was pure selflessness. Once I made the decision to walk the faith I claimed to have things moved quick. The couple meeting with her took us both in for marriage counseling. Again, they expected nothing except to see our marriage restored. The people in my sisters church were of great encouragement and support to us.

When we sat down with our pastor and told him what we were doing you could here a pin drop in his office. He truly didn’t know what to say. He eventually gave me his blessing to split my time between the two churches as we went through the counseling process as our home church, in his words “wasn’t equipped” to deal with what we were doing. What a sad statement about the church! The very institution that God created to reflect the relationship between Jesus and the church and the church wasn’t equipped to handle a couple reconciling an impending divorce after a year-long separation. God’s timing was impecable! The divorce papers had been mailed by my attorny the day before my wife called. Two days after her plane touched down in RDU they were in my mailbox waiting our signatures. Litterally just a couple days hesitation in obedience and this would have been a drastically different story, just another statistic.

Not being equipped is true of many churches. As we’ve told our testimony to numerous individuals and congregations we haven’t been to another church that was equipped to handle this. They are pretty good at divorce care but not protecting and strengthening the most sacred covenant God created. That’s totally backwards.

One of the harder things I had to do as the husband was decide how to protect our marriage, the healing and restoration that had to take place. There were many more people speaking death, doubt and negativity over this than were encouraging, supportive and praying over us. We had people who would say ” we hope for the best” or “good luck” and the next breath talk about their fears for us. That’s the same as speaking death. The decision I came to through prayer and trusted advice was to cut out everyone who was not for us or praying for us. Everyone who was speaking fears, doubt, negativity, telling me it wouldn’t work, don’t do it or I was crazy, we cut off completely until they could change their tune. Some of those people we never had contact with again. There are some family relationships that were completely ruined, never to be revived again. What was surprising to us was the number of people in the church speaking negative over us while most people we knew who weren’t churched were very supportive. Again, how backwards is that!

A couple of things we did that helped, and I highly recommend, is Dr. Emerson’s Love and Respect and His Needs, Her Needs series. The second is going to Family Life’s Weekend To Remember. It is not at all a waste of time. This was given to us by the couple that initially mentored us as a gift. We can never repay them for their time, effort and prayers. What we do now is tell our story. We’ve told it on air at a radio station where I hosted a show. We’ve told it in churches, to individuals, couples in a private setting and we will continue to do this as the Lord brings the opportunities to us. There are others that have similar stories but they hide it like they are carrying a scarlet letter instead of sharing it as a gift to share with others in hopes that they will find hope and save their marriage and save their children and families from the heartache and turmoil that comes with it.

The second miracle is my wife was immediately healed from all the mental health issues she had been struggling with. He simple, yet hard, act of obedience brought her total healing. Some people struggling with mental health diagnosis are sometimes seeing spiritual issues affecting the mind. The biggest culprit is unforgiveness that literally poisons the mind. Others, like Saul, are afflicted due to willful disobedience, living a life counter to what they know God has directed them to live. Others the issue truly is a mental health struggle. Unfortunately mental health professionals tend to lean more to the science of medicine to treat the symptoms instead of really drilling down and trying to find out if there is a root cause.

There is more, there’s always more that we remember after we’re done telling our testimony. It’s extremely difficult to get it all in, even in 6 parts. We do hope and pray that those that have read this pass it on to those who need to read it.

Andy

Our Testimony, part 3

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I’m going to back up a little from the last blog. There’s some things I skipped over that are important to what I have for this edition. The time from when I quit my job until Amber’s breakdown was a weird time for me. Not having a job and being a stay at home dad was an odd experience. On one hand I enjoyed not being gone for days on end, but on the other hand there was no real direction or purpose. Sure, I helped keep track of inventory, take deliveries, help set up and tear down any local events she had, but that’s not the same. It’s not good for a man to not have a job, a purpose. That’s when men tend to get in trouble from either being complacent or trying to find things to do that they shouldn’t be doing in the first place. This always makes me think of King David not doing what he was supposed to and staying home while the Army went to war. He got bored, complacent and tempted by the neighbor lady. The rest is history. When men are doing what they are designed to do they tend to not get into trouble.

While Amber was building her business I was getting more involved in church. By the time she took the sleeping pills I was considered a “leader” and was well-known by many. The rest of the time was spent with the kids, the gym, running or video games. The video games were an easy escape from what I couldn’t wrap my head around. The fantasy world of the video game made more sense than the real world I was in. That six months was extremely important to me being prepared for the future and building a relationsip with our kids.

The church we were at had an Encounter Ministry. Basically the men would take a weekend to deal with spiritual issues and encounter God. The first one I went on was a pivotal weekend. Popular theology states that when you first get “saved” you receive God’s Holy Spirit and that’s it, there is no second impartation of the Spirit. That weekend, on the last night, as we were praying one of the pastors walked by. As he was praying he touched my chest and what felt like a lightning bolt hit me and literally knocked me off my feet. I struggled to stand up and He hit me again. That was the second filling and it was vital. Not everyone will experience the same thing as dramatically as another so don’t question what you have. The weeks following the encounter the men met for a post-encounter group. One of the nights this same pastor was obedient to the Spirit and sat me in a chair. He told the other men to gather around and pray over me and my family because there was a lot of trial and turmoil coming. Not what you want to hear, but I’m extremely thankful he did. From this point my involvement with the church grew considerably.

Fast forward to after my wife came home from the state hospital. We had to literally rebuild. The church family was good to me and very supportive. As good intentioned as they were, they didn’t know what to do with her. Mental health issues is very daunting for people as it’s hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it. As a default action people tend to avoid what they don’t understand and are uncomfortable with further isolating the person with the mental health issue.

She was like a zombie, a shell of the person she used to be. The meds really messed her head up, but the doc insisted she needed them. She was also battling shame and guilt over what we were facing. She felt isolated from the church and felt as though she was a pariah. She said later that everyone loved me and she was just “Andy’s wife”, a sentiment that we have been told by numerous wives of husbands who are very active in the church. I know this is not intentional on the part of anyone in the church, but it is how it seemed.

At some point she decided to come off the meds because she didn’t like how they made her feel, the weight gain or the side effects. She seemed to be doing OK so we chalked up the past being due to stress and a one-off event. Our situation was different so why shouldn’t she be better? When dealing with mental health things don’t seem as they really are, especially if the person is very good at masking the issue. She was feeling left behind by me and the kids and turned to horses and the horse rescue. They needed her, to her we were doing fine. This lead to such a great involvement that the kids gravitated to me as the one stable thing in the home. She was gone a lot taking care of a horse that was in bad shape. This is where she met the individual she would later leave with.

As events escalated I had to make a demand, Stop the relationship with this other person. That was the only option. We could deal with our issues, but only after that. She said she would think about it and was confused. The next day I took the kids shopping for new bathing suits for that afternoon. When we came back she was gone. All we had was a note on the table saying we didn’t need her and the kids would be better off with me. We had no idea where she went. It took several people a couple of days to track her down. After a month she decided she wanted to work it out and come home, but she was still mentally tormented and felt that she needed to admit herself to another behavioral facility. After two weeks there she came home for a few days then left again while I was at work. This time it would be for almost a full year.

The kids and I had to figure out how to carry on without her. With my job it was very difficult, but thankfully my family was close and a tremendous help. It was at this point that I enrolled in ministry school. We also agreed that we would divorce. She stated that she didn’t intend to come back. It was better this way. We came to an agreement on how to settle things and filed the separation. Sadly the attorney I used went to our church and had plenty of business just from church members in the community.

I didn’t handle everything perfectly. I also didn’t sit around with faith that God was going to miraculously fix things. Frankly I didn’t want Him to. I was burned out and had the blessings of the church leadership and the denominations district superintendents. I did have peace that was very uncommon and knew that I couldn’t let the kids get away with disrespecting their mom regardless of how much my flesh felt like she deserved it. When praying about how to handle things my mind went back to something our pastor used to say. Pray for those your mad at, it’s impossible to stay mad at someone you’re praying for. So every night the kids and I would kneel around the footstool and pray for Amber and the man she was with. These weren’t the “Lord change them” demands we issue disguised as prayers. These were “God, reach them, heal them, forgive them” prayers. It didn’t take long before none of us were mad at her and we were easily able to forgive both of them.

A couple of months in Amber called and told me she had an opportunity to move to Texas and take a job at a well-known reigning horse ranch. I encouraged her to go and build a new life. Her family and the people who knew her where we lived would always view her in-light of recent events. Many in our church held a grudge against her and were very distant when they saw her. I explained this to the kids and they were OK with her moving. We reached an agreement on when and how she would see the kids.

While in Texas she had some serious health issues arise. The kids and I were doing pretty good and had that peace that surpasses all understanding even though we were stressed. They had issues to work through, but they were and they were also building their own faith based on what they saw from me. Then out of the blue she called me while I was at work detailing an unforeseen turn of events that I wasn’t sure I was willing to accept. This took incredible faith on her part and unquestioning obedience to God’s will. That’s for part 4.

Andy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Testimony part 2

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This picture really sums up the first half of our marriage. It was pretty stormy with periods of calm. You could see calm, but couldn’t quite get there. There was so much baggage that we weren’t equipped to deal with that we went from one band-aid to another trying to fix multiple gunshot wounds. The band aids would look like they were working, but really they were just delaying dealing with the problems.

There was no sign of any real problems until our first child was born. Then postpartum depression set in. Neither of us knew what was going on or why. No one who knew us seemed to know either. Part of this was we were both good at masking what was going on. The people we went to church with, our neighbors and my in-laws never really saw the turmoil behind the scenes. postpartum depression effects everyone in the home. If no resolution is found it inevitably wears down one party and drives a wedge. If we had known then what was happening I believe we could have avoided what was to come.

Things were so bad at home and so strained between us that I decided to try something I toyed with doing for some time, drive truck. When I told her what I was doing her only response was ” how long will you be gone ?”. I told her two weeks of school then back home and three weeks with a trainer then home again. She said “great, good luck” and that was it. Honestly, the decision was as much to get away from her and have room to breath and figure out what on earth was going as it was to try something that interested me. When I was home everything was great, but the underlying storm was still there, you could sense it but couldn’t quite put a finger on it. Being gone saved our marriage then, but pushed off the inevitable, not fixing anything.

Three years after our first-born she told me she was pregnant with our second. I was pretty excited about it. She wasn’t very thrilled with being pregnant again and was less thrilled with my excitement. What she didn’t tell me then was she was stressed over the health implications she knew was on the horizon and I would be gone for days and sometimes weeks at a time. She was looking at facing this alone, with the exception of her great-aunt and mom. A couple of times my mom came down to help or my sister came up, but I still wasn’t there.

At one point, a couple years after our daughter was born, I was so fed up with the way things were going and her pushing me away that I told her if she wanted out fine, that had to be better than this. I would be home the next weekend, think about it and let me know. That week God really beat me up over that. That next weekend she confessed that she was pushing me away on purpose. In her mind, from what she had seen in her family, I ( the husband ) would leave anyways and it would be her fault so might as well get it over with sooner than later. I was floored with this line of thinking. I told her I was more committed than that and wasn’t leaving. All seemed OK for a bit.

Some ladies at the church we had recently started attending were involved in a home based business. They recruited Amber and she jumped in, all the way in. Once she became a business competitor she was a threat. Instead of helping each other they circled the wagons and tried to scold her. This failed miserably and only spurred her to work harder. The people above her didn’t show her how to build the business for long-term growth and stability, only how to meet short-term monthly and quarterly goals. She did great and reached the point where she was earning more than I was. We agreed that when she earned the mid-level car I would come off the road and help her with the kids and the business. What I didn’t know was the lack of foundation of her business and organization or the stress that she put herself under to excel. This would soon have a tremendous cost.

In about six  months of me being home she missed a benchmark for the top-level car and fell into a depression. She masked it well, I wasn’t as attentive as I should have been. Honestly I was struggling with being home, the business taking priority over everything and constant trips, parties and meetings. We were more distant at this time then we were at any previous point. She made hail marry attempts to sell product and make money that completely undermined any foundation she had. My not paying attention to the books & letting her manage the finances led to a total collapse of her business, her mental breakdown that she mentioned when she took the sleeping pills, loss of the home and bankruptcy.

I was completely blindsided by the whole ordeal. The more I tried to unravel what had happened the less sense it made. While she was at a state facility due to the IVC I was seeking out legal counsel. The predominant advice I got was file for divorce, we can pretty much isolate you from any financial responsibility and get you custody. Thankfully the 6 months leading up to this I had the chance to hook up with some men in the church. I knew this advice was wrong, it didn’t sit well in my spirit. I chose to go back to work and file bankruptcy assuming full responsibility.

Once she was discharged and came home, things seemed just as confusing as before. She either couldn’t remember or had a distorted view of what took place. Her doctor said this was normal with her diagnosis and to never expect a clear answer that made this all make sense. Everybody in her family, except her mom turned on her. They completely shut her out as the black sheep and blamed her as being the only one responsible for the house being lost. They turned her great-aunt against her, the lady who predominently raised her, and secretly had legal papers drawn changing power of attorney behind her back and wouldn’t let her visit unsupervised by a relative who took written notes of the visit. At a time when she needed family the most they turned on her. The ironic thing is they ended up losing a good deal financially over not listening to what we told them and they still have shut her out. Thankfully my family helped even to the point where my parents sold their paid off home and moved to NC to be near us to help.

Although we could sort of see light on the horizon the storm was still threatening and I could feel something more coming but didn’t know what. At this point God had seen us through and I still had a peace that made no sense. In this time of turmoil my relationship with Him grew, my faith grew stronger and grew more full of the Spirit. It was desperately needed for what was coming next.

Andy

Out testimony part 1

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Our past plays a big part in how we view and react to things as an adult. As my wife said, she didn’t grow up with her dad. She didn’t know him until her early teen years and than only a couple of weeks a summer. Couple that with the other things she went through gave her a different lens then mine.

My parents were married in 1966 and last year we celebrated their 50th anniversary. I grew up with a two parent household and all my siblings. We had some lean times after the steel industry collapsed, but dad took whatever jobs he could find to support the family. This often had him away from home for a week at a time. He and mom made a lot of sacrifices during those years and regardless of how tight or un-ideal things were they stuck it out. One of my siblings had a lot of major health challenges as a child that took much of mom’s time. This often left me to my own devices.

Growing up in a small town everybody knew who you belonged to and it didn’t take long for news to beat you home. We could run around town from sunrise to sunset and no one batted an eye. There wasn’t much trouble to get into. Conversely, the city my wife grew up near was around 55,000 people. Although she lived in a little community on the outskirts it was still not the kind of place where you could run around all day unsupervised. When you were out you could go all day and not see anybody you knew or knew your family.

I grew up in a small town in North West Pennsylvania, she grew up in a rural area near a decent sized city in Eastern North Carolina. I had 300 some people in 7th – 12th grade, she graduated with over 400. I grew up predominately in a Pentecostal church, she grew up in a small Southern Baptist church. I grew up a Steeler’s fan, she a Cowboys fan. Our backgrounds were very different. The only thing we really had in common when we met was our lifestyle of rebellion against every thing we knew to be right.

I was stationed at Camp Lejeune NC and she lived in Greenville NC when we met. We met at a club called the Two Step. That was the basis of our relationship, I would leave base on a Friday and go to her apartment and we would go to the club. Saturday and Sunday we would work her horses and that night go to the club. There was not a real foundation that we could fall back on later.

When it came time to get married we used a pastor who was a distant relative through marriage who had been ministering for decades. His premarital counseling was nonexistent. On the first meeting we went over the dates and who was playing the organ. He asked if we were both “saved” and baptized. He asked about the kind of church of I grew up in and his displeasure was evident on his face. An old school Southern Baptist preacher marrying a Southern Baptist girl to a Northern Pentecostal boy didn’t sit well, but he never asked anything else. The second meeting we went over the location, vows and times again. That was it. We were not at all prepared for anything!

When we married the only thing I knew about marriage was you provide. Work hard, provide a roof and be loyal. I knew nothing of the finer and important things other than that and knowing no one in my family had divorced, I wasn’t going to be the first one. That would be tested in later years. She saw multiple divorces in her family and vowed to not be like them, but the example had been set. She thought that I would leave anyhow if things got hard, that’s what the men she knew did, so she expected that from me and she decide if she could push me away it would be her fault. This would come to a head a later.

We had no business getting married when we did. There were too many issues to work through. There were the daddy issues from her dad not being around. Everyone, deep down, craves & needs the masculine, stable, unpredictable hand of a father. Not having that drives one to seek out the approval. We didn’t understand this and the pastor who married us didn’t feel any counseling was important. My lack of understanding the husbands role beyond loyal provider left holes that over time grew bigger and bigger until the time came that she began to try to fill those missing pieces elsewhere. Even the small things like whose family will we see for what holiday had not been discussed. How to discipline kids or budget priorities were never broached.

These things laid the groundwork for much trouble in later years. Those are for the next blogs.

Andy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our testimony from my wife’s perspective part 2.

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In the early years of our marriage it was great. We both had our work and each other. Two years in I became pregnant with our first child. I was overjoyed! Pregnancy was filled with all day sickness but otherwise normal. Until the 7 & 1/2 month mark. He was impatient and came early. This little human that had grown in me, a redemption from my past was now in the neonatal intensive care unit. Was this my fault for past sins? My mind played horrible tricks on me. Postpartum depression was brutal. It wasn’t that heard of then, if it was no one mentioned it to us. He was a great baby. Most days sleeping and eating while I watched him and cried. This person that would love me unconditionally was perfect, but I wasn’t. What if I messed up? This haunted me.

Time went by and it seemed to ease up. Surprise, baby number two! Many months on bed rest lead my mind to wander. I felt alone and doubting that my lack of maternal instinct and ability to care for two children. Our second child was a complete surprise. I was petrified. Since the first child was over a month early, what would happen with this one? There was months of the repeat performance with all day sickness. Other than that we thought everything was fine.

At 23 weeks our girl had all of us in a panic. The ER nurse grabbed the phone and yelled code blue! The horror that flashed through my mind. A week-long stay on the maternity floor. There was talk of taking her early and putting her in the neonatal intensive care unit with posible major side effects. Could this be happening? On top of all of that, I had a massive kidney infection. God intervened. HE saved us both. I spent the rest of the pregnancy on bed rest. She was on time and beautiful. Our daughter even waited for her Daddy to get from Florida to make her entrance. All seemed right in the world.

Home life was full with a new baby. The baby blues had made it’s arrival again. This time it was even harder. Looking back this was the start of a wedge forming between us. Time went by with job changes and growing babies. We seemed to be just Andy and Amber not Mr. And Mrs. Specht. The communication was less than ever. His job had him on the road for weeks at a time. I seemed to be searching to find myself with 2 kids. I took refuge in my horses and new business.

My career had taken off with lightening speed. The high was fantastic. I had my husband’s praise. All seemed perfect on the surface but I was drowning. It ended just a climatically. I had missed a major goal. The executives advice was to brush it off, pick myself up and get back on track. I was crushed.

The next days were a blur. I choked down fear and tears. Andy had no idea the downward spiral that was about to happen. I wasn’t sleeping. My mind never stopped. I decided that was one thing I could fix. As I fixed supper one night, I ate 2 bottle of sleeping pills. In my head if I could get a good nights sleep, tomorrow would be better. I would figure life out. The plan was derailed. A close friend needed my help that night. My visit to her house ended up with me at the ER. Fast forward, I was involuntary committed to a state facility. They thought I was trying to kill myself when all I wanted to do was sleep. She had to wake my husband to tell him. I can not imagine the shock he was in. Andy came every day to visit. I was mentally lost. After being there ten days I was released.

While there they diagnosed with depression and Bi-polar. I was on medicine that I did not like due to the way it made me feel and the fog it kept me in. The doctor said I would always be on making me feel more hopeless, but my husband refused to accept that.

Coming home was terrifying. I could not function properly. I could sleep because of the medication. Yet it surely had not solved my being lost problem. The year continued on a downward spiral. A chain of events from being evicted, to moving and bankruptcy added to this mess. My medicine had me in a fog. The overwhelming knowledge of this train wreck was all my fault. A new year had come but I still felt alone. I needed a change but did not know how that looked. I still did not talk, with anyone.

Communication and trust were still hard for both of us. A few years went by like this and it opened a door for someone who listened. A much older man who knew all the right things to say stabled a horse where we lived. My daddy issues made falling for an older man easy. By this time I had voluntarily taken myself off my meds and threw my self into a horse rescue. After all, the horses needed me. I had an affair and it devastated more people who I loved, especially the kids.

A month later when I thought I could really get it together to leave him, I ended up checking myself into a facility again. It still had no long-lasting effect on me. I came home afterwards with the same diagnosis and new meds. We thought this was the best idea, yet I had no therapy and was no better. Weeks later I left and was gone for almost a year.

Over the next month’s when I would see Andy he was happy and had peace. I was confused and frustrated by that. My life was a mess. The difference He had pressed into God and I just wanted God to fix me.

Right before the year mark, I broke and submitted myself and confessed my sins to God. On my knees, I pleaded for God to restore our family. He had to change Andy’s heart not me.

Standing on faith of a promise from God that He would restore my family if I obeyed, I came back. I wound up staying with my sister-in-law, my husbands sister. We plugged into some wonderful Bible base marriage counseling. I had Godly woman speaking into me on how to be a Godly wife and mother. Months later we were a family reunited.

This story happened because two people denied flesh and submitted to God’s restoration. My past is dead and I am renewed. By HIS grace our marriage is better than it ever was and the healing & restoration cast all the mental health issues away.

That sums up my wife’s testimony. In later blogs I’ll elaborate on some of this and add more.
Andy

Our testimony from my wife’s perspective, part 1.

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The next couple blogs will be our testimony from my wife’s perspective. When people come together they bring baggage and skeletons that are not always shared with the other. Our past experiences shape us for better or worse and effect those closest to us. What we are sharing in this post is her testimony up to when we married. The thoughts and feelings are from that time as she remembers them. Some of the thoughts will get the “evangelicals” panties in a wad because to often they can’t look at a testimony as that, a testimony. Testimonies often come with a lot of bad that was not representative of the Christian faith. Keep in mind, if Jesus can redeem you, He can redeem anybody.

The picture above was taken sometime before I was stationed in Japan. I just can’t remember if it was taken at her apartment or the barracks. Judging by the background I think it was the barracks.

Amber:

When I was just a baby my parents got divorced. My Great Aunt took me into raise. I am thankful that she did. This was a tremendous help to my Mother. It was the night before Kindergarten. She asked if I wanted to live with her. It seemed like a silly question to me. I told her, “Yes, I want to stay here this is my home”.
Life went on relatively normal. As normal as it could be having a retired person raising you. It changes the way you view everything, especially the elderly.
She was never married. Growing up in that environment was easy.
When I hit the teen years, it seem the world had changed. The onset of a Father that was not present in my life as a girl had long-lasting ramifications. I had missed that  appropriate male approval in my life. In High school I dated a guy older than me. It seemed great at first. What I was not realizing was the fact that my devotion to him would be the thing that crippled me. Our relationship threw a curve ball. Sex had to come with the package. I was scared for many reasons. He would tell me, “If you love me you will do this” and “I want you to marry me”. Those words were like dread and bliss wrapped into one. When it happened it was not my choice. Something changed in me. I actually stayed with him. So scared to lose what I thought was love because I had never had it. Months later I realized I was pregnant. A close family member drove me to a clinic. At 15 I had no idea or choice in the matter. The abortion was done. I was used and dirty. Forbidden to see him again. The feelings of being alone and abandoned had reared its head again in my life.
These events altered  how I viewed relationships. Later in High school I would reunite with this boyfriend. I now know that my draw to him was a soul tie. History repeated itself when I was 18. My frame of reference was to go back to what I knew. The clinic makes it sound easy, erasable, not murder. About 6 months after that we broke up for good.
Life went on. I still had this drive to prove myself worthy in a mans world. All the while still looking for love. Years pasted. My roommate invited me out for the night.  I walked into this bar and saw my future husband. All the music and sparkly lights were going off inmy head. Thank goodness he did not see or hear any of that!
He was in the Marines. The manliest of men. A protector, just the kind I needed. He had no idea of my past. We dated through short deployments and a year in Japan.  We were married the end of the year he came back from Japan. This man was mine to protect and love me.
The things that have happened from early childhood through teenage years till marriage did have a huge impact. Both of my parents had multiple divorces. This would challenge me. I had a Great Aunt that never married. She had no advice on such a thing. On the other hand I didn’t know exactly what a healthy marriage looked like. As far as home life, children, keeping a house not just seeing folks happy church face.

I was spoiled. Whatever I wanted I got. But that came at a high price. There was no discipline. She loved me as a daughter, but treated me as a granddaughter. In some way she may have thought to discipline me after all I had been through would have been harsh. This proved to be problematic in our marriage quite early on.
Tomorrow will be part 2.
Andy

Keys for a successful long distance relationship.

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The long distance relationship is difficult to say the least. It’s just as difficult on the person gone as the family left at home. You get used to it, you adapt & adjust, but it doesn’t necessarily get easier. Of the 20 years we’ve been married 17 of those have been long distance where I was gone from a few days to four weeks at a time. Our dating life started while I was in the Marines and went through a couple deployments. During this time my wife raised two kids, took care of all sorts of ” issues ” with out me there. These things range from a car breakdown, a kid admitted to the hospital, livestock dying, sick relatives and on and on and on. It’s easy for the one at home to feel alone and overwhelmed and underappreciated. It’s also easy for the one on the road to feel the same.  My wife and I are giving some tips to the couples in a long distance relationship. It doesn’t matter if the  spouse is military, traveling sales, railroad, traveling evangelist or truck driver, the tips apply equally.

The number one thing that has helped us is prayer. Due to our faith, prayer is essential. It’s easy to lose the connection if you don’t see each other for long periods of time. A successful relationship has much more than a strong physical connection, they have a spiritual connection. Even though the divorce statistics average somewhere around 50%, the couples that pray together and for each other fall in the below 10% divorce rate. It’s hard to be mad, stay mad and ignore someone you routinely pray for and with. If both of you focus on the same thing that’s bigger than you it will draw you to the same point.

Communication is huge. So much happens while your apart that communication is essential to stay connected. We talk daily without exception. Some days it’s important stuff, other days is small talk. Some days it’s both. It can’t be avoided to have to discuss serious and heavy things. On the flip side always avoiding these topics drives a wedge between you two for different reasons. Talk about the kids, the pets, the past and the future. Men, your wife wants to hear these things. You opening up emotionally in any way positive makes her feel wanted, important, valued and included. Remember this, the whole time you are gone is preparation for when your home. Jeff Foxworthy said woman are like diesels, they take forever to warm up and men are like bottle rockets. Use the time your gone to keep that diesel warmed up, don’t expect a cold start once you get home.

Make time together outside the home alone, no kids, no family, just the two of you. You need this time away from the distractions of the home. She needs the time away from the house that she has been in every day and night while you’ve been gone. Truck drivers, I know after eating truck stop food for weeks the last thing you want is to go out to eat, but she needs to go out.

The one at home, remember the sacrifice the one away is making to provide. It’s not easy being gone all the time. You miss a lot. The one gone, remember the sacrifice the spouse at home makes while your gone. A lot happens that we tend to overlook or not realize because we aren’t there and they forget to tell us.

Take mini-vacations. This is easier I think for truckers. Request home time somewhere other than home and have your spouse meet you there for a few days. The time away from home is much-needed for the one at home. Often those that travel don’t want to travel on their days off, they want to stay at home. Change it up some. We recently did this. I had my wife and kids come to Chattanooga for 4 days instead of me going home. The kids enjoyed the trip, but my wife really enjoyed it, needed it. It’s easy to forget how much they can get tired of all the hustle and bustle at home and need a break too.

When your home it’s OK to be spontaneous. Not everything needs to be scheduled and predictable. Sometimes the unpredictability is much-needed. Kids especially look forward to it. The older they get the less they acknowledge it, but they do none-the-less.

When the one that travels is home, it’s OK to leave them alone for a couple of hours. Even though they have been gone they still need that time to relax, unwind, decompress and just enjoy the quit of home. Truckers often bring one home home and park it in the driveway with not time between the driver’s seat and the back door to decompress.

Keep a joint calendar. Services like Google have made this easy and free. You can sync your calendars and not be having to always ask whats going on or when a good time is to come home. As long as you remember to look at it, it will reduce surprises like ” I didn’t know THAT was this weekend “.

Men, text your wife first thing in the morning or at night if you sleep days. Her knowing that she is on your mind first thing helps keep that diesel warmed up. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate text.  A simple few words does the trick. It can be sappy or kinky or in between, it can be a screen shot of a meme that lets her know how you fell or just a good morning.

Be in agreement on a budget. If one of you has unexpected expenses come up, talk to the other and come to an agreement. That way there are no financial surprises. The number one marriage killer behind lack of communication is financial stress and arguments, which ties directly to communication. It’s hard to have an argument about finances over the phone or text. These things need ironed out before hand if at all possible.

This one is very important. Watch who you hang out with and talk to. Not everybody has your marital success at heart. Not everybody has the same values as you. People will talk death over your relationship while the other is gone just because they can. The more you listen to this the easier it is to kill and bury the relationship.  Some people think it’s OK to run around while gone. This is totally unacceptable and will eventually kill the marriage. You may think you can get away with it, but it will catch you. Stay away from those that live like this while the other is gone.   A unit I was in at Camp Lejeune had an organization called the Key Wives Club. It was designed to have the wives of the officers and senior enlisted Marines to help the younger wives while the husbands were on deployment. The problem was this group encouraged, condoned and covered for multiple affairs that we knew of. Some of the men sent their wives back home for the duration to keep them away from this group.

I know I list ” spouse ” and not significant other, boyfriend, girlfriend or fiance. Each of these other have different privileges and responsibilities. Be careful to not extend marriage privileges to some one only committed enough to earn boyfriend privileges, The key to any of this working is communication. Communicate to each other what is important to you, don’t expect them to know. Even if you’ve been married 40 years. People change, priorities change, life situations change. What will help along with communication is a short, easy to read book by Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages. You may not be able to take care of the number one love language of your spouse while apart, but you may be able to take care of number 2 & 3 on their list. Again, this involves communication.

Regardless of your family history, your career, amount of time gone, length of time together you can still have a healthy & strong relationship. Be the couple that defies statistics.

Andy

Lessons from the Marine Corps.

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Everybody who has served in any of the military branches has learned innumerable lessons that have been invaluable as a civilian. As the Marines say ” there are no ex-Marines “. It’s true that the transition from Marine to civilian is almost impossible. That’s one reason when asked if we’re a Marine we often say ” yes, the 1st Civ. Div. ” meaning the first civilian division. Although no longer active, still very much a Marine. There’s mindsets in civilians that we will never understand and mindsets that we have that the person who never served will not understand. I hope that in reading this it helps you understand Marines, and other Vets, a little better. The transition from active duty to civilian is hard on us due the difficulty in relating to the civilian, corporate mindset and vise versa.

One is punctuality. We have a saying that if you’re less than 15 minutes early you’re late. Most vets, and just about every Marine will show up early to everything. Often to find their self waiting. A fun game we played on active duty wast to see how early we could show up. It went like this; the battalion C.O. would say we have a battalion formation at 0900. The company commanders would tell the platoon commanders to be in formation at 0830. The platoon commanders would tell the platoon sergeants to be in formation at 0800. They would tell the squad leaders to be in formation at 0730. The squad leaders would tell the squad to be in formation at 0700. So at 0645 the whole platoon would be in formation, usually the whole battalion would be in formation hanging out until the battalion C.O. showed up at 0900. This has permanently effected the actions of the Marine and it can not be shaken off once entering civilian life. So when you set an appointment with a Marine, they will almost always be there waiting on you.

To most civilians the Marines in the workplace appear confrontational. Some have even said intimidating. We don’t see ourselves that way. We just call it straight forward. You want an opinion you’re going to get it in colorful language with no apologies. A job needs done you’re not likely going to hear them asking nicely, they just tell you and thank you later. Sometimes this thanks is in a backhanded compliment. They don’t tend to mumble and look at the floor, They speak clearly and loud enough to be heard while looking at the person they are talking to. This, above all else, has caused many people to be intimidated by me. It’s not intentional at all. I find it disrespectful and rude to mumble, speak softly and look at anything but the person you’re talking to. Our handshakes are firm if not considered hard. Again, not intentional. You’ll probably get a strange look if you give us a weak, limp handshake.

We are ingrained with the concept of taking initiative. If you see something that needs done, do it. If it’s wrong you’ll find out later, but don’t let it sit undone waiting for someone to tell you or someone to do it their self. When you do the job do it right the first time. It’s part of the concept ” work smarter not harder “. This initiative includes making decisions that others won’t without asking a superior ( manager ) what to do. For us, in the interest of time and efficiency ( I know, efficiency and military do not really go hand in hand ) we make decisions and go on. It also makes us look like suck ups, over achievers, etc. but really we just don’t like seeing something not done that needs done because ” it’s not my job “.

We typically walk with a bearing of confidence and authority, even in situations where we have no idea what’s going on. I’ve had people mistake me for a cop or a new manager. Even if I don’t know what’s going on or where I’m going it’s done with an air of confidence that is often confused with authority.  This attitude has often intimidated managers. It’s not something meant to, it’s not intentional, it just is. Many people who never served don’t have the sense of self-confidence that many vets, and Marines in particular exude. It’s sometimes confused with arrogance. It really isn’t. We learned early on that you can do tremendously more than your mind tells you. Your mind is weak and meant to be overcome at every opportunity.  This also goes back to the feeling of us being confrontational.

Many vets are always aware of what’s going on and always watching, eyes roaming, backs to the wall or preferring a corner table where the whole room is visible. We are paying attention to you, but we are also watching our surroundings. We are multi-tasking and can tell you exactly what you said. As a result we are rarely taken by surprise or unprepared for what’s coming.

An issue many have is they can’t read our facial expressions. We are trained early on to not show emotions. Keep a neutral expression that often comes across serious or stern. This causes a lot of concern, uncertainty and doubt in the people talking to us, especially if brain storming. It’s often confused with displeasure or disagreement. It really isn’t. We are absorbing what is said and already thinking through the ideas to come to a quick and decisive answer.

We learned leadership traits that are acronymed JJ DID TIE BUCKLE. The military loves acronyms and would fall into disarray without them. You think it’s funny, but I’m convinced it’s true! The acronym above stands for Judgement, Justice, tact, knowledge and so on. Do your self a favor, especially if your management, look up the Marine Corps 14 Leadership Traits and the Leadership Principles. It will absolutely improve your performance and effectiveness as a leader.

Our humor is often considered sick, dark or off-color. It often fits in well with the first responder community. You’ll find a lot of us there and a lot driving truck due to the ability to work without being micro managed. Our humor often makes people uncomfortable and leaving them wondering if we are insane or unbalanced. We might be, but we don’t see a problem with it.

There is so much more I learned that can be listed, but I’ll spare you a 5,000 word blog trying to get them all listed. I hope that you can better understand the mindset of the Marines and other vets you encounter on the job. The exception is Air Force vets. They tend to more like the general population simply because their mission statement is different. There are a few occupations in the Air Force that produce individuals more like the rest of the military like P.J’s, A-10 pilots and Combat Controllers. Overall vet’s can be an assett to your organization if you just understood the mindset they bring. They can intigrate into the workforce or with other volunteers and the others can learn to adapt to them. It will bring a good balance.

Andy

 

 

 

 

 

Where is your identity?

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We live in a consumer driven age where brand names mean everything. There are more brands on the shelf than I could possibly name and they are all marketed to a certain segment of the population. In many groups if you don’t have a certain brand you aren’t cool, hip or chic enough to be a member.

Due to the desire to be accepted, many spend a fortune they don’t have to be accepted by others that often don’t have either. We buy and wear, carry or accessorize with these brands to help define us.

In some area Wrangler jeans and Justin boots are it. Others Wranglers will get you funny looks, but skinny Levi’s are the rage. In other areas it’s Timberland boots or Nike shoes. Others just have to have the MK or Vera Bradley purse to be somebody. Then we have jewelry. Breitling and Rolex  spend fortunes marketing to people who just wear the watch because of the name when a Casio would work just as well.

The question is, what drives people to build an identity or identify as someone who dresses a certain way and hangs with a certain group? What drives this desire? Many have no idea who they are. They don’t have an identity other than their name and they most likely don’t know what that means. To fill that void they look to celebrities and fashion magazines to try to fit a mold they think will give them what they want, but still leaves a hole that they spend more money trying to fill. This is a great thing for business but not for you or your family.

Your identity comes from two places. The first is your parents. They raise you, guide you, speak life to you, build you up or tear you down. This is where you initially get the identity of being a winner, smart, capable, succesful or stupid, worthless, a failure and ugly. What they tell you has a great impact. Often times the reality of that impact is not known until well into adult years. If you have kids, nieces, nephews, grandchildren you can speak life and a positive identity also. It’s not something strictly up to the parents, although what they say carries more weight.

The second place, and the most important yet the most overlooked, is Jesus. The New Testament has numerous references to who you are. Once you have accepted Christ you have a new identity. People and brand names can not define you. Only the truth of the gospel can.

For example in Romans 8:14-17 tells us ” For as many are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out ‘ Abba, Father ‘. The Spirit Himself bears witness that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer Him, that we may also be glorified together. ”

1 Peter 2:9-10 tells us ” But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. ” Believers & followers of Christ are called a royal priesthood back in verse 5. in verses 4-5 it says ” Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus. ”

Just in those couple of passages you see that you are considered precious, a royal priesthood like Jesus, chosen by the King of kings and an heir with Jesus as a child of God to all of His glory. See, it matters not what a teacher, friend, coach or angry parent says about you. They don’t have the final say. The one who created you has the final say and He has said it very clear. In taking the time to learn who you are in Christ, not the latest jeans or shoes, will bring a peace that makes those things unimportant.

Experience has taught me that finding your own faith does everything for your peace of mind. Living, or just accepting, your parents faith as yours doesn’t give the answers or bring the peace that others have who found this. Don’t let GQ, Teen Vogue, Maxime or any other magazine & website tell you who you are and what’s wrong or how to fix it. It’s a marketing plot to get you to the next installment, the next issue. They will never give you the real answers nor the real peace, just a void where you know something is missing but you can’t quite figure out what. The answers are in Jesus.

Andy